Between Media Realism and Acting

This is what is intended to be the first in a series of translated pieces by my friend Saed Karzoun, a journalist, musician, and blogger from Ramallah.

Original piece in Arabic by Saed Karzoun
Translated by Raghda Butros

As I sit watching television, listening to the radio, reading the papers or browsing the Internet, amidst this massive influx of news and information from endless magical sources, I look at journalists and media personalities and feel that many of them have been transformed into actors and acrobats.

While at university, we learned how a message should be devised by journalists in a way that our grandmothers would be able to understand, using language which is both simple and meaningful.

Viewers, readers and listeners have now developed an uncanny ability to analyze the language of the media and to sense when journalists are acting and when they are being genuine. When they sense that there is covert and vile form of acting involved, they switch the channel, turn the page or destroy the radio.

When I assess the performance of journalists or program presenters on say “Al-Jazeera”, I sense a very clever professionalism—a combination of acting and reality—presented in simple terms and mixed with a clear ideology, wherein lays the danger of manipulating the minds of the viewer. When I watch “Al-Itijah Al-Mua’akes,” I feel like my insides are being ripped apart because of the “cleverly stupid” way in which issues are presented and discussions are managed. The presenter becomes no more than a judge in a wrestling match or an actor in a play or in a film whose predictable ending resembles that of a cheap Egyptian movie.

The live TV show “Sabah Il-‘Arabiyyah” infuriates me most. The presenter Mohammad Abu Obaid reeks of arrogance. I don’t know him personally, but I can sense this from his presenting style, from his tone and from his body language which indicates that he has forgotten the fact that it is the audience who is important in the media equation. This leads to a lack of focus and consistency in the messages presented by the program, which, coupled with the presenters constant interruptions and arrogance, muddles the message and confuses the viewer, who then simply changes the channel.

By contrast, “Khaleek Bil Bait” whose presenter Zahi Wahbeh deserves recognition and respect, is a show which enjoys a large viewership, solid content and a commendable presentation style. These qualities guarantee success for the message and the messenger, and ensure that that the audience receives clear and focused information.

As for radio presenters, they seem to always be trying to imitate others and lack genuineness and spontaneity, straining their vocal cords to the point of strangulation, not to mention the flirtatious tone that is sometimes used and those times when the host turns into the guest, answering his/her own questions and interrupting the guest. A radio presenter does need to vary his/her tone to match the spirit of the subject at hand, but not to the point of insanity!

Columnists on the other hand, seem to only be writing for show. They present an idea and then run off without looking back or bothering to practice what they preach. This results in a loss of readership and credibility which leads to the reader turning the page.

What promoted me to write about “media acting” is also the issues of sheikhs and preachers who have turned into super-sheikhs and celebrities, resorting to acting as a means of getting their message across. This is exacerbated by the speed at which religious outlets in print, on television, radio and online are expanding. These outlets are tackling dangerous personal and social issues from a religious perspective that is built on the notion of denying the other and claiming exclusivity of opinion.

Yet another reason for wanting to discuss this issue is watching the presenter Hala Sarhan, who has got to be the best actress ever. She manipulates her voice and the sounds she makes to a disgusting degree and could not be further from presenting real value or accuracy of information. The same can be said of shows like “Il-Khat Il-‘Areed” on LBC where people commercialize their personal stories and cheapen them for votes from the audience. Such shows reflect total lack of professionalism and are no more than a farce with no meaning or value.

At the end of my discussion on this media charade, I recall the words of a theater producer while speaking to his students: “You are an actor, but you must not act. When you act, you should refrain from acting.”

I will continue to closely monitor the reality of Arab media in terms of methods of presentation and manipulation of facts and information. The plethora of media outlets has led to a situation where it has become necessary to grab people’s attention at any cost. The profession has moved so far away from content and added value that it is seemingly coming from another planet.

Our audience is smarter than we are and they deserve simplicity in approach, depth of content and true respect. I urge “the actors” of the media profession to stop commercializing the individual through the degradation of issues and ideas and their presentation, as evidenced by the prevalence of cheap films and commercialized programs.

“Remember that culture is our means of reflecting our true selves to the outside world. We are people with souls and we should exist with dignity and respect or not at all. Children fly above the wall and the tunes of the accordion still play on and on and on.”


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