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Mediterranean Network: Civil Society and Independent Media Alliance for Development

A civil society can not survive without knowledge and information, for which the media are the vehicles. Independent media and namely social media have played a major role in the uprising of the Arab societies during the past three years, nurturing the protest, spreading the information, calling the people to gather in squares and streets to demonstrate against. Nevertheless, independent media have more impact on individuals than organised groups and CSOs seem not to take enough advantage of the power of media in their struggle for democracy and civic rights. New social media help citizens to get more informed but also open new spaces for social inclusivity, group recognition and participation. People in the Arab world as elsewhere use widely the independent media to advocate for their needs, interact with the Government, do business or engage in civil society movements. The uptake and use of new social media across different Arab countries has steadily increased citizens' engagement via Internet, expected to attract 100 million Arab users by 2015. Nevertheless, the role of media and communication tools to serve CSOs aims to mobilisation, civic engagement, political participation in the democratisation process, and not just the uprising movements, should increase to reach policy-making circles, national and regional levels. Social media usage has grown significantly across the Arab world, from a tool for social networking and entertainment, now infiltrate almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs. With a critical mass of users in many countries, Governments have also begun to recognise social media’s potential to develop more transparent, participatory and inclusive governance models; to support the action of organised civil society to create an environment conducive to dialogue, human rights and democratic participation in the Mediterranean region, enhancing the rôle of independent and social media as a tool for CSOs to achieve their goals : people’s representation, information, lobbying and advocacy for democratic reforms and freedom of expression and association. Following the post-revolutionary wave, now CSOs face more difficulties in their action, due to the worsening and uncertainty of the political situation, which shifted from repressive systems denying the right of assembly and civil liberties to military-ruled Governments, fundamentalism, strong internal divisions and restrictions to personal freedom, autocratic-non-democratic rules governing civil society through censorship. Target groups are deceived by hopes arising from the 2011 revolutions and promising political changes and CSOs have not yet been involved in the process of democratic reforms. If the role of independent media in the Arab world is more and more important to produce and spread first-hand information, inform, explain, give voice to people, it is also crucial that CSOs can use these media, in their different forms, to support their actions, promote human and civic rights, represent the interest of the people, develop their advocacy capacity and their ability to monitor reforms.

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Maria Donata Rinaldi
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8 October 2014

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