IPI World Congress panel discussion: media use and regulation in the MENA region

March 21, 2016

In recent years, Internet users in the MENA region have begun to support increased Internet regulation, according to a study on Media Use in the Middle East by Northwestern University in Qatar.

In partnership with NU-Q, the International Press Instituteheld a panel discussion on media use and regulation in the MENA region during the second day of the IPI World Congress.

“You need to know about how people use the media and what they think about them…[it] is a key to understanding the general climate of freedom of expression,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar, who moderated the panel discussion.

This year's data reveals that more than 50 percent of nationals in five out of the six Arab countries surveyed favored more Internet regulation.

“We don’t find public support for freedom of expression,” said Lina Ejeilat, the co-founder and executive editor of 7iber.com in Jordan, an online news publication that started out of citizen journalism.

The region lacks a tradition of upholding press freedom and recognizing other legal measures that can that can hold media accountable without enforcing restrictions, Ejeilat added.

This attitude is seen outside of the region as well, said Jeffrey Cole, founder and director of the World Internet Project.

“The desire to see a clamping down, a restriction, a control [on press freedom] is growing,” said Cole, who is also the director of the Center of the Digital Future at Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California.

“As the Internet has unleashed so much speech…people seem to want to be cleansed of the bad speech,” Cole added.

The study also showed that Internet users have become more concerned with government and corporate surveillance of online activity. Social media use has changed in the region due to these privacy concerns.

During the Arab Spring, social media was a way to connect to the rest of the world and voice the people’s concerns, said Nabeel Rajab, the president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

“There was a period of … relative freedom because the government had not caught up with this space,” Ejeilat said.

“We as social media activists have replaced the classic media outlets,” added Rajab.

Today, however, governments are figuring out how to control and regulate this space and working on doing so, Ejeilat said. Yet there remains a consensus that they can never fully control the Internet, she added.

“We could spread our principle that we fight for, we could spread values that we are struggling for [through social media]. It’s not only [the] government that can control that,” Rajab said.


Oma Seddiq is a journalism major (Class of 2019) at Northwestern University in Qatar.