Experts discussing digital media trends at a key forum here yesterday said the Internet had become ‘out of control’ and there was the need to regulate it, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa region.
A panelist said that it would make sense for regional governments to regulate the Internet because of challenges it presented in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
“Because of its very nature, I can publish anything on the Internet right now, and there would be no way to control the content or verify it,” Atef Al Saadawi, a scholar of W Wilson based in Cairo, said.
The discussion was taking place at the Doha Forum, which concludes today.
Panelists, however, agreed that Middle East and GCC countries needed to embrace the changes brought about by the new media rather than fighting a losing battle in the form of censorship.
Soud Haider, a senior analyst at Al Jazeera, argued that once societies open up, it would be impossible for them to go back.
Even in the case of Saudi Arabia, the government is embracing the changes or else they would have been disconnected a long time ago.
“The issue in Saudi Arabia is that people are talking about unemployment, poverty and economic issues. They are calling the government to account, and in some cases, the government is responding,” Haider said.
The governments today have realised the repercussions of shutting down the Internet and are now working on strategies to safeguard their national interests.
Qatar, for instance, was already building its capacity to counter cyber threats.
“When Al Jazeera was attacked by the Syrian army, we had government agencies coming in, putting people in a room and asking exactly what had happened,” Haider said.
He said Syria and Iran are collaborating on building ‘cyber war fighters’. Many countries in this region were already building internal capacity against persistent threats.
“Whether or not that capacity is misused depends on the leadership. For Qatar, even if the government was looking at the possibility, it is based on national interests rather than anything else,” he said, adding that because Qatar has been a victim of attacks by the Syrian Electronic Army, the country was taking more serious security measures.
He said that although countries in this region were moving towards progressive, open societies, which is inevitable, they would adapt to changes at their own pace.
“Governments have to change and at the same time also see where they have to draw the line.”
E-diplomacy, a new emerging trend was also discussed by panelists, along with the organisational competency of diplomatic mission in the digital age as well as the parameters and rules of using communication through the Internet.
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