The Next Century Foundation and ‘internet black hole: can development journalism take place offline in the Middle East?

William Morris of ‘The Next Century Foundation‘, warned earlier today that parts of the Middle East were operating in an ‘internet black hole’, with inadequate online access for swaths of the region. This from Journalism.co.uk:

“In Iraq, for example, many landlines in the country have been down since the war,” he said, at Monday’s Voices Online Blogging Conference, organised by the Next Century Foundation (NCF).

“There are some seminal Iraqi bloggers, like Salam Pax. But the average Iraqi uses [the Internet on] a mobile phone. It is a vacuum for conventional Internet for the ordinary population.”

Morris said the difficulties of digital engagement in the Middle East were compounded by the fact that only 0.4 per cent of the web’s content is written in Arabic.”

The question this leads us to is whether there can be development journalism, and new media, in the Middle East without the Internet? Radio has not become as a significant force in the region as it has in Africa, and television remains dominated by state players or large, pan-Arabian players, namely Al-Jazeera or Al Arabiya. We’d be hard pressed in any modern context to describe newspapers as new media, and those in the Middle East rarely cover development journalism.

It’s easy to take for granted the existence of development journalism but the medium on which it is presented is worth noting. Seemingly, in the Middle East at least we come to expect development journalism to be online: given the degree of censorship over most national broadcast and print mediums, if journalists are also faced with the inability to publish online, might they be put off covering development issues at all?

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