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18 October 2018

Best way to respond to the disappearance of Khashoggi

By: Daoud Kuttab
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There are two indisputable facts in the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance trauma. He was seen entering and never leaving the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and there is no doubt that Saudi leaders did not like what Khashoggi was writing and saying in The Washington Post and other media outlets.

This means that the disappearance of Khashoggi is related directly to his professional journalistic work and not to any political activism or rebellious efforts or even a particular ideological affiliation.

While governments, political leaders and even media organisations are trying to get to the bottom of this story and hold those responsible accountable, there is an equally important issue that must be addressed immediately.

Someone or more than one person must be given a chance to fill the gap that is now empty in the absence of Khashoggi and his important work of telling a different side of the story.

Strengthening independent journalism must be given a much higher priority. While it is crucial that such effort is needed in various Arab countries, there is a parallel need to fill the pages of newspapers, like The Washington Post, with the same type of credible journalistic opinions based on facts that are aimed at constructive criticism.

Some would argue that what we need is a revolutionary talk and a total rejection of the current autocratic rule in the Arab world. That is maybe important, but from our most recent experience with the Arab Spring unless such ideas are well thought out and properly planned, this can often represent a setback rather than a step forward.

Saudi authorities have many bombastic opponents around the world but the one that bothered them the most was the moderate voice of a professional journalist who is patriotic, yet, wanting a gradual change to a more accountable government, less reckless wars outside of the Kingdom and a respect for dissident voices.

Therefore, what we need is not a bombastic revolutionary talk as much as level headed realistic prose which speaks to the reality on the ground with the aim of moving it in the right direction.

International and regional media outlets should take a proactive effort to recruit and give space to independent Arab journalists who will apply rigorous professional standards in their writings.

One way of doing that can be creating content networking efforts. Cyber companies who have managed to win over the majority of humankind as their audience can play a great role in giving such voices airtime and space. Syndicate efforts, such as Project Syndicate, can also be put to work to propagate and give space to new ideas and original Saudi and Arab writers.

By giving space and airtime to independent Arab thinkers and writers, media outlets (both analogue and digital) around the world would be able to respond in a much more effective manner than simply curse the darkness.

An enlightening tsunami can do more to shake up autocratic rule than any political action or economic sanctions.

A serious effort giving space to independent Arab journalists will also have a critical side effect. It would ensure that any anti-freedom forces think twice and thrice before carrying efforts of silencing opposing views.

The disappearance of Khashoggi was clearly an attack against free press and independent journalism. This development can be an amazing opportunity to give voice to the voiceless and ensure that the voice of independent journalism will rise above and beyond attempts of world leaders to call independent journalism the enemy of the people and to falsely call professional content fake news.

Anyone that is serious about responding to this act will make a major contribution to an Arab awakening that exists just below the surface. This awakening is seen daily on alternative media, social media and on mobile WhatsApp groups. The majority of the Arab world today is young and wired and are eager to shed the past by looking to a future of freedom equality and democracy. Giving their voices space and time will unite the forces of good against those wishing to silence honest journalists.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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