Authored by: Reza Jamali

Affiliation: PhD (Strategic Management), Independent Scholar

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Academic communities and universities are no longer the only places for the growth of knowledge as the mass media currently play an undeniable role in its development and propagation.

The mass media have stopped being the mere broadcasters of information and tend to be more selective of the information they focus on. For the mass media to be neutral, broadcasting whatever ideas are passed to them without prejudice, is an unrealistic proposition. For instance, if we consider television, its structure and nature, and the influence of its message, we can see that it is more than just an amplifier of sound and purveyor of images. Television is something more than a mere mediator and to understand this idea, and that of the complexity of the media, needs media literacy. The question is, what section of society in Arab countries is equipped with media literacy and understands the complexity of the media? While we discuss the power of the mass media in this book, it must be remembered that many people in Arab countries do not have access to these media and the Internet is not as yet the dominant medium in these countries. It must be borne in mind that the leaders of the recent revolutions were the youth, who have at least a minimum of information literacy; the source of Iran’s revolution three decades ago, on the other hand, was the common people, the main body of society, who used traditional media such as the mosque for communication. The traditional media overtook the modern state-run media in Iran’s revolution, while in the case of Arab countries it is the online media that have overtaken the traditional mass media, such as television and newspapers. Another point is the high rate of illiteracy among women in Arab countries, which suggests that women are not as able to lead the revolution as are men.

Information literacy is a step up they may be handed, from standard literacy. According to Wallis (2005), the term ‘information literacy’ covers the skills required to make use of and navigate in the electronic environment. The importance of information literacy is more evident when specific information is needed and the ability to find, evaluate and utilise that information is required. Such needs swelled at the peak of the public movements in Arab countries. People were relying mainly on the social media to find out about public demonstrations, gathering places and information about corrupt leaders. In addition, the people’s inclination to lead the revolution and their need to find first-hand information were further reasons for the expansion of social media during the unrest. This need for information in Arab countries with rich oil resources has always been a challenge. While it is undeniable that information literacy in developed societies powers national growth, what about Arab countries? In spite of societies based on competitive economies in which people are rewarded based on their own work and success, in societies run on the income from oil, groups with more power and money receive a larger proportion of national income and rent. Clearly, bringing down one government and forming a new one is only a matter of replacing people and the system soon returns to its normal track society, in other words, watches a new group of more rich and powerful people replace the old group. An outstanding feature of these societies is the deep doubts that are held regarding the powerful in society as people commonly believe that the rich and the powerful have reached their position not by their competency and work but rather because of their relationships with the new rulers which is true in many cases. Consequently, information needs, even where information literacy exists, are directed to expand mistrust in the leaders. However, this does not lead to fundamental changes, as the built-up hatred targets individuals, not the whole system. Thus the movements for reform replace people rather than systems, giving rise to a vicious circle of underdevelopment in Arab countries. This phenomenon explains why two years after the revolutions in the Arab world, these countries still experience unrest, as there is always a group who oppose the leaders even when the system functions properly. A notable example of this is the huge campaign supporting the presidency of Mohammad Morsi, which at the time of writing, has turned into an ‘anti-Morsi’ campaign and he is currently on trial.

Although information literacy appears to be highly developed in Arab countries, the image is a false one, and as post-revolution events show, a deep information illiteracy has expanded in society. A key factor in this illiteracy is the surge in users of social media, many joining these networks for the first time and only to find information. This widens the gap between real users and immediate users. The latter group can induce serious challenges ahead of the realisation of the actual goals of the revolution, as they make decisions based on their current emotions. They rush to participate in the revolution in the heat of their passion and forget the revolution as fast as they decided to join it in the first place. It is unreasonable to expect public recognition of concepts such as rationality, dialogue and so on, which are appropriate grounds for information literacy education. The pace of technology development is so high as to be unstoppable. There is no solution for the problem when it is too big. Thus Arab countries and others that took part in the recent outbreaks of revolution are not comparable with developed countries and the large numbers of social network users in the former does not mean high levels of information literacy.

The key outcome of information literacy is the removal of limitations by means of which underdeveloped nations may be compensated for the damage they have sustained from colonising countries or their own corrupt leaders. This, unfortunately, is not the case in Arab countries  at least until now, though the future is not bright for them. Underdevelopment, together with the desire to develop, are good motivations for the outbreak of revolution, but a revolution which is led by an illiterate society again leads to underdevelopment. Iran’s revolution is a good example for those believing that revolution leads to development. The question is whether Iranians have enjoyed more development since the recent revolution than they would have if revolution had taken place. This is not an easy question to answer.

However, the growth of government and non-government corruption, emphasized by the recent expansion of mistrust in the government and the system, and the development of quantitative rather that qualitative science, all hint that the Iranian revolution has not been as successful as it is portrayed. Even the development of higher education and literacy in Iran is counterbalanced by a ‘brain drain’. The revolution is therefore diverging from its original goals. To have a better picture, let’s look at the statistics provided by a small-scale study in Mashhad and Tehran, with 1,362 participants:

  • Among the respondents aged below 30, 58% believed Iran’s revolution has failed to reach its goals; this figure for respondents above 30 is 36%. This age-based grouping was intended to create two groups: those who had experienced the revolution and those who had not. The difference between attitudes of the two groups is clear enough.
  • In summary, among those who believed that the revolution has failed to meet its goals, 29% blamed the gap between society and the ruling system, 23% blamed the lack of specialist knowledge among the rulers and the authorities to enable proper decisions to be made, and 18% blamed the rulers’ emphasis on short-term goals just to stay in power; the remaining participants blamed other causes. For a clear result, the information literacy of people at the time of revolution needs to be evaluated, which is not possible.

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