June 28, 2008
I received many comments regarding my previous piece “On Building Bridges and Winning Hearts”, mostly of readers accusing me of being “Pro-Western Media” and turning a blind eye to the many biases and inaccuracies that occur in American and European media.
To those I say please go back and read what I wrote again, I never said that ‘Western’ media is flawless or argued that biases or mistakes don’t occur.
In fact I am a fierce critic of any mistakes or imbalanced reporting, whereever it happens.
I would also like to invite you to read my opening statement of “The Truth Behind The Myth” which was story I wrote last year for Asharq Al Awsat after visiting a number of media outlets and meeting with top journalists in the US (as part of an International Visitors Programme that coincidentally carries the name of American journalism icon, Edward R. Murrow).
If you have read that piece ( available on http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=5&id=9052) you would have understood that I am with the school of thought that argues that there is absolutely no such thing as completely unbiased media to start with.
However, where Western media is at an advantage is that is exists in a democracy, which in theory means that the media is there to serve the public interest and that it is subject to accountability on what it reports; which also means you can ultimately correct an inaccuracy or shame a bias once spotted and proved.
Of course democracy has its flaws, I agree, especially when mixed with capitalism.
One could argue that this has resulted in many media outlets serving advertisers’ and owners’ interests rather than the public’s, and that spin doctors and pressuare groups will always find ways to sway you away from the truth. (and one should also mention that the West itself realizes these issues and debates them all the time).
Having said that, there are two points to consider here, first: what is the alternative? and the second is the fact that with all the plagues that Western media is infected with, it still is able to produce ‘breakthrough’ journalism.
We have to admit, although I know many might not want to, that Watergate and Abu Ghraib were not a work of fiction… and that those were real stories written by real journalists (who are still alive) and have achieved real results.
But the issue doesn’t end there, the interesting part is that the reporters who have worked on those stories weren’t later banned from writing, labelled as traitors, arrested or suddenly killed in a car accident (or a car bomb for that matter!) as the case was several times in the Arab World when journalists sought to challenge authority.
Once we have admitted that the above is true, we could discuss Western media’s biases and inaccuracies all you want… and the beauty of it is that in theory; we can actually do something about it… that is the advantage of democracy.
June 25, 2008
It almost seems to me that many broadcasters forget that the trick is not to simply get the channel on air, but to become an influencial voice in a very cynical region.
Amina Khairy, a fellow journalist working with Al Hayat newspaper in Cairo, summarizes the situation in a very simple and straightforward answer; when asked recently by The Washington Post about her opinion in the American Al-Hurra channel, she answered: “Nobody ever says, ‘Did you see what al-Hurra did yesterday?’ ”, and I could add that the same can be applied to most of these recent ventures, such as Russia Today, France 24 and BBC Arabic Television.
But if you are one of those channels I just mentioned, please don’t be offended with what I said, as a person whose job it is to monitor Arab and international media closely, I can safely add that the situation is similar with even the Arab owned news channels, such as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera.
It could be that I’ve become so involved in the news-gathering business that everything I see on screen seems dull to me, but the truth of the matter is I am looking for a channel that reveals another Abu Ghraib or gives us a talk show that ‘grills’ guests for honest answers as the original ‘Hard Talk’ did.
Sometimes, I even dare to dream of our own version of Frost Vs. Nixon or better yet, our own Watergate!
However, if Arab media is excused for not being able to achieve these honors, due to political and ownership issues, what is the Western media’s excuse? I don’t think it should have one.
Please don’t get the impression that I am against European and American governments attempts to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of Arabs and Muslims through the media, on the contrary I say to them in all honesty: please be my guest!
In fact, the mixing of the two cultures would have tremendous value… Western journalists need to understand the region and its people better, and Arab journalists need to get exposed to Western methods of investigation and reporting… the way I see it everyone is a winner.
Even though the notion “winning hearts and minds” that we keep hearing may blow a channel’s intergrity and claim to unbaised reporting, I still respect the fact that many countries are trying to reach out to my region of the world and try to build bridges, despite the fact that the traffic on these bridges goes one way.
Sometimes, I really think things should be the other way around, we are the ones always complaining about being misunderstood, about the West turning a blind eye to our causes and agonies… thus, we are the ones who should be launching channels and getting spokespeople out there to explain and re-explain over and over again.
Al Jazeera International would have been a great tool and it still could be, if it manages to pull its act together that is. Whereas one of the most praise-worthy attempts to reach out and explain the realities of Arab and Muslim views came as a personal effort from non other than Queen Rania of Jordan.
If you haven’t checked out Her Majesty’s YouTube page http://www.youtube.com/queenrania , I really recommend you do so, simply because it portrays what a true debate should look like: opinions from people living in the West which includes even criticizing and even insulting Islam and Arabs, and postings by others (including vlogs The Queen herself) to clarify and set the facts straight.
All this is happening on YouTube, while a Western broadcaster that recently launched an Arabic channel was hesistant to report on homosexuality , because one of its Arab producers thought that the topic “didn’t fit the culture and traditions of our region”… I really wonder what is next, perhaps not report anything at all? You know, because one could argue that corruption, abuse of power, crime, rasicim and secetrianism for example are not relevant to our culture as well.