Matt J. Duffy :: Thoughts on Journalism, Culture, and Global Communication

Thoughts On Journalism, Culture, and Global Communication
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Dr. Matt J. Duffy serves as an assistant professor in the School of Communication and Media at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, USA. He enjoys teaching the art of good journalism, a noble profession and powerful tool for social change. Duffy worked as a journalist for several news outlets including the Boston Herald and the Marietta Daily Journal. He now teaches journalism and media law.
Duffy's research focuses on international approaches to media law. Wolters Kluwer will publish the second edition of his"Media Laws in the United Arab Emirates" in 2016. He has published more than a dozen academic articles and writes occasionally for niche publications. Duffy enjoyed a visit to Pakistan in May 2016 as part of the Fulbright Scholar program from the US State Department. Since 2012, Duffy has served on the board of the Arab-United States Association for Communication Educators, an organization that aims to improve journalism in the Middle East. He also owns Oxford Editing that he started in 2007.

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Cherish value of public dialogue

posted on February 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Last few paragraphs of my recent Gulf News column which addresses freedom of speech in the Arab world:

Public dialogues in the Arab world are vital during this time of change. Many important issues require discussion.

The upheaval seen in many Middle East countries can be linked to the feeling from some citizens that they couldn’t speak freely about important topics such as the relationship of the government to the governed, the role of women in society, or the deteriorating economy and crippling lack of jobs.

In order for societies to thrive, we must work to cherish public dialogue and help to encourage ideal speech conditions.

Governments should not take actions that could cause speakers to avoid engaging in public dialogue. Arresting people for the things they’ve said or written invariably has a dampening effect on public speech. Yes, some limits are required. But, restrictions should focus on speech that calls for violence — which, of course, has nothing to do with healthy dialogue.

Discussions must also remain civil. Many animated discussions are taking place on Twitter, an environment that appears to meet many of Habermas’ requirements for ideal speech. However, one complaint among the local Twitter community is that people who disagree with other viewpoints often accuse them of being “traitors.” Death threats have also been lobbed. These types of responses create an ‘external coercion’ that impedes healthy public dialogue.

Blasphemy laws also have an unintended effect of stifling public discussion. Take, for instance, the recent case of Hamza Kashgari, the Saudi journalist (currently under arrest and facing the death penalty) who tweeted words offensive to many Muslims. The Grand Mufti of Egypt recently commented on the case by saying: “We don’t kill our sons, we talk to them.” His words offer powerful support for the benefit of public dialogue — even in matters concerning religion.

Despite these impediments, technological advances appear to be helping create more healthy public dialogues. Vibrant discussions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms are raising issues in the public sphere that once would have gone unspoken beyond private settings. Engaging in dialogue can be a learning process and social media is providing a good platform for this education.

Hopefully, the Middle East will continue to move toward more acceptance of public dialogue. After all, today’s public discussion could alleviate tomorrow’s public unrest.

I delivered this column as part of a talk at last week’s BOLDtalks event in Dubai. Will post the video later.

One comment

  • Manal Al Qubaisi on 7 March 2012

    The UAE definitely has a lot to improve in terms of giving people the right to say what is on their mind, but I think technology, namely social networks, is one reason why this task may seem hard. I remember you once mentioned that in order for a country to be successful and achieving, this country must allow its people to speak their minds without fearing the consequences. The freedom of speech is a power in itself where even the smallest, most insignificant individual can have a voice that can impact change. To be able to reflect honestly and speak freely in ones own country is a privilege not to be underestimated or taken for granted.

    Whatever form that communication takes can have an implication. In the 21st century it is no longer necessary to be in the same physical space to have dialogue, constructive or otherwise. When face to face and speaking freely there is always the possibility of discussion becoming heated if participants disagree. This has the potential of leading to people reacting rather than responding. Emotions can cloud our thoughts and lead to outbursts that are regrettable. However, using social networks as a “soap box” where you can freely speak your mind or respond to someone else’s post would hopefully mean that the response would take more time and be more considered. A person could write and rewrite until the appropriate tone of the writing was achieved before posting. The key is being brave enough to own your own statements instead of hiding behind false names or anonymity.

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