Media take a YouTube turn

News revolution has led to taboo topics being 
aired openly today


Nivriti Butalia

Published: Thu 22 May 2014, 11:56 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:44 PM

Green headscarfed Mona al-Beheiri, the Egyptian woman who became famous as the ‘Shut up your mouse, Obama’ lady, was the star of a panel discussion on ‘Margins of revolution’ at the Arab Media Forum on Day 2.

Beheiri, who says she comes from a humble background, rose to stardom when a YouTube clip with her one-line message to the President of the United States went viral, subsequently spawning a remix parody of her diction and grammar.

She was in the audience, trademark green headscarf in place, as the panel discussed the emergence of new media (including YouTube, the medium that made her famous) and how main players were pushed to the margins, their places taken by platforms earlier considered insignificant.

Dawood Al Shirian, MBC anchor, said, “When YouTube entered our lives, people started talking of concerns they would earlier evade. What is today new media was once marginal media.”

Mohamed Al Hammadi, editor-in-chief of Al Ittihad newspaper and the youngest member on the panel, said the idea of media and margin has changed: “The public now sets the agenda. The agenda is no longer set in and restricted to newsrooms of conventional media.”

‘The age of hashtags’ is how the new media was described by the panel. But not every panelist concurred with what was perceived as the margin and what was the centre.

Ayman Al Sayyad, editor-in-chief of Weghat Nazar magazine in Egypt, was wary of according labels to phenomena. However, he did agree that it is shortsighted of media persons to imagine they can set their own agenda without the public’s take: “I have to be cautious and remain distant from topics that take on a nationalistic approach or are about politics, but I will talk about the profession per se… Arabic is a very rich language and media is not the media we used to know. The very term ‘media person’ needs to be reviewed.”

Sayyad asked if a person who works in a media organisation was a media person or someone who uploads thousands of hours of YouTube clips. People should respect the diversity of different customers’ tastes and preferences, he said.

The implied question was, just because Beheiri had attained a degree of popularity, here she was at the Arab Media Forum and people were taking photos with her; but was it everyone’s cup of tea?

Abdelilah Belkeziz, a Morocco-based writer, said for him the meaning of ‘margin’ was different. It meant being able to discuss openly today topics in the media that were earlier taboo. Popular theatrics on social media were irrelevant to him, even though they may have moved towards the centre from perceived margins.

Being able to address human rights issues, marginalised earlier but now in the open, was the true revolution.

When the floor was opened for questions, a woman in the audience objected to the celebrity status of Beheiri, calling her “ignorant” and guilty of “using a certain language”.

“Is this what I should teach my children?” the interjector asked and the panelists had to come to the defence of Beheiri, with Al Hammadi saying one should remain respectful of others, even though they were less educated.

This was received with thunderous applause and Beheiri then took the microphone, getting an even louder applause.

“I apologise,” she said. “But I am not ignorant. My English may not be good but I know what is happening to my country, and I have a right to object.”

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