Hazem Al Amin

Sorry BlackBerry Lebanon

The media community all over the world is witnessing a dilemma represented by the major disparity between technological progress on the one hand, and, on the other, journalists’ capacity to keep up with it. Newsrooms and management bodies in newspapers and mass media are bustling with an extensive debate seeking to bridge this gap. 

Of course, this is not what we care about nowadays in Lebanon, even if we import new technologies and use them to spread, broadcast and distribute our various media contents. Recently, the technological arsenal in use on the local level witnessed the addition if the BlackBerry, which – in addition to phone services – grants users access to the internet, chatting and other services. However, as is the case with technology, we have made terrible use of the BlackBerry. The local company operating this originally-Canadian technology offered its subscribers a local news service in the shape of breaking news bits following in the evening by a news bulletin e-mailed to subscribers.

When a trade company undertakes to distribute such a news service, we suppose – or expect – that it would abide by an exaggerated level of caution when publishing and distributing the news, since the slightest of mistakes, in this case, could damage the company’s credibility. Biased and subjective coverage is likely to scare away customers who support the other side.

This was not the case with the Lebanese company that has the BlackBerry license. Indeed, when sending news to its subscribers, it committed many forbidden practices professionally and politically, and weirdly underestimated its subscribers’ intelligence. Its coverage was ambiguous characteristic of a telecom company where political media constitutes a marginal section of its trade activity. For instance, when sending the following news item “Scandal in a Lebanese ministry … more to come on Monday,” this is a news bit released by the company or, at least, publicity for some upcoming news. But Monday comes and goes, and the company does not deliver on its promise. The answer on Tuesday is even more ambiguous, since the function of the news we received is to stifle a scandal, rather than reveal what is hidden. The details made no mention of the ministry, the minister, the director or the company involved in the scandal. What BlackBerry is really saying is that it doesn’t want to provide us with all this information it possesses. Suffice it for us to know that there is a corrupt minister and stolen public funds, something which – according to the company – we are ignorant of.

This is not but a vocational lapse, but other kinds of lapses that will cost subscribers time and money. For instance, everybody knows that when covering the health of late Shia cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a company like BlackBerry should abide by more caution than ever. The company even announced his death two times before recanting its story without apologizing to subscribers.

The political lapses that affect the neutrality of the news are the gravest, since they reveal a disruption in the company’s commercial function. This holds especially true as it is not abiding by caution and indicating beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is acquiring a political identity, something which the company is supposed to avoid at all costs. For example, BlackBerry users received, one day, the following news item: “Attorney Franjieh says the “Geagea is a criminal” campaign has succeeded!” First, who is Attorney Franjieh? Naturally, he is not former Minister Sleiman Franjieh, who is not a lawyer? What is the “Geagea is a criminal” campaign about? Moreover, a news overview sent rapidly to subscribers via their phones is supposed to list as priority news that is far more important than a campaign with a regional division as a backdrop. When the company attempts to include such a news item in the mainstream of political events, then it becomes a part of this division.

One can mention multiple examples when talking about our dilemma with BlackBerry, which is – nonetheless – part of a wider dilemma we should start thinking about, i.e. how to bridge this gap between tremendous technological advancement on the one hand and, on the other, the low levels of awareness and perception plaguing the media community. In fact, misusing advanced technology transforms it into a tool of backwardness instead of putting it at the service of knowledge. When Mohammad Atta learned how to fly a plane, he destroyed the World Trade Center. Of course, Lebanese BlackBerry’s lapses are not that dangerous, but such a reminder might prove useful.

This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on Friday July 9, 2010