BEIRUT: The social, cultural and political vacuum in Arab public life has led to the flourishing of youth-generated media, a major component in the uprisings across the region today, according to Joe F. Khalil, visiting assistant professor at the Northwestern University in Qatar.
Khalil gave a lecture titled “The Making and Unmaking of Uprisings: Reflections on Youth-Generated Media” at the American University of Beirut Thursday evening, in which the assistant professor examined the interactions between independent, youth-driven media and mainstream, traditional networks of communication.
Khalil explained that young people in the region today – a region in which people under 25 constitute 60 percent of the population – were passionate about developing secure and prosperous societies but were often not given any opportunity to participate in doing so.
Unfortunately though, mainstream media likes to focus on simple messages or sound bites, and thus, Khalil said, the huge array of voices and widespread grievances of the Egyptian protesters were “often distilled to a single message of ‘Down with the regime.’”
This neglects many of the eclectic desires of Egyptian youth, and as a result, these young, educated people, enthusiastic about contributing to society but overlooked in traditional political and media discourses, are finding their own ways to express themselves and “develop their own identities as individuals in the media.”
Khalil is a veteran of the traditional model, having worked in Arab television production for over 15 years, including for MTV, MBC and CNBC Al-Arabiya, and is now focusing on a study of the role of youth-generated media in the Arab world.
While Facebook and Twitter have received considerable attention throughout the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt over the last few months, and now in Bahrain and other countries, Khalil said it was important not to overlook other methods of media “developed, circulated and consumed” by young people.
He pointed out that when the Internet was blocked in Egypt, word of mouth became the modus operandi of the revolution, as did banners, protest songs, graffiti and jokes, and that these different modes of communication are constantly in flux.
Youth-generated media, Khalil added, often becomes part of a wider movement, or can trigger a movement.
He cited the “I love Beirut” campaign, which started when a couple in New York sent a Lebanese man the pdf file of the image. He then uploaded it on the Web and urged others to print it off, stick it on buildings in their neighborhoods, take photos of it and then in turn upload these images to the Internet.
This campaign went “viral,” allowing people across the Lebanese diaspora to take part in a wider conversation.
Khalil, who is currently working on a new book comparing youth-generated media in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, discussed the difference between youth media in Lebanon and in other Arab countries.
While in Egypt the movement was not mobilized by political parties, during the independence movement in Lebanon in 2005 it did have that aspect, Khalil said, although it was very progressive.
The youth movements and civil society groups in Lebanon in 2005, up until March 14, were “not only spear-heading but they were right ahead of the political leaders in terms of planning, suggesting and organizing themselves and developing creative acts of resistance.” However, Khalil said, “they were constantly being held back by the political organizations to which they report.”