BBC documentary asks: Was the Arab Spring a Pandora’s box for media hate speech?
Nour Zorgui Interviewing Mohammed Saber, Safa Channel’s lead presenter

CAIRO:  BBC Arabic will launch a documentary Monday entitled “Freedom to Broadcast Hate,” examining the growing phenomenon of sectarian hate speech through media involvement in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The documentary travels to Iraq, Egypt and Kuwait, three of the countries where religious media – much of which has severely sectarian overtones – saw the largest upsurge. In an attempt to trace the power networks that support these media outlets, the documentary examines the Arab Gulf region, and Kuwait in particular, where the majority of their funding comes from.

The documentary largely focuses on the issue from a Sunni-Shiite perspective, and it argues that violence is the result of media outlets’ role in the region’s power dynamics. Their role feeds into the major regional conflicts, such as that between Saudi Arabia and Iran, according to Nour Zorgui, a BBC journalist and the documentary’s narrator, as it examines different countries.

“This is not about minorities or religious sects, it’s about the media dangerously using the benefits that were reaped after the Arab Spring, and it’s about who is behind them and who is funding them,” Zorgui told The Cairo Post.

Though internal politics do play into the subject matter, such as the downfall of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent takeover of the Shiite majority in Iraq, “[they] were not looking for a phenomenon; it happened spontaneously.”

“Politicians are supporting these channels,” Zorgui said. “Iraqis who I met said this, and they told me they wanted to go back to the way things were.”

However, the documentary seems to tread softly around other issues, such as the way in which the same kind of media targets other minorities, such as the sizeable Christian minority in Egypt and other minorities at hand.

However, Zorgui stressed that while these minorities have been dealt with in other BBC documentaries, “Freedom to Broadcast Hate” aims to specifically trace the kinds of media outlets that are funded by Gulf money, and as such are likely to play into the aforementioned regional conflicts.

However, there are many who would attribute the sectarian violence that has blown up over recent years to the security lapse that resulted from the Arab revolutions, rather than the media. Indeed, Zorgui stated that there is no way to directly trace the incidents of sectarian violence to the media’s effect.

However, as the documentary highlights, there is no doubt that there has been a major rise in sectarian violence in the past three years. While the documentary does limit the matter to the Sunni-Shiite conflict, this is perhaps justifiable in light of the fact that the killing of Hassan Shehata in Zawyet Abu Musallam would have been unheard of just before the revolution.

“Freedom to Broadcast Hate” is a BBC Arabic production organized by Omar Abdul Razek with the help of a team of journalist and producers. The documentary premiers on BBC ِArabic on Monday.

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