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Poor Arabic journalism and its effects 5, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Middle East.
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You do not have to be able to read or understand Arabic to understand what I’m trying to say with this post. Simply have a look at the Arabic/squiggles below. This is an article taken from the Saudi daily newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat. In bold are the names, titles and roles of the ministers involved in this meeting. As you can plainly see, they take up, what, 80% of the article? This article is, therefore, little more than a list of who attended the meeting. The rest of it is just the usual kind of fluff “met to discuss improving economic relations etc etc etc” that, along with lists of names and titles, plagues swathes of Arab journalism. This is turgidly bad journalism and wouldn’t be tolerated in a University newspaper in the UK.

When people read this kind of thing I fear two things. One, that they automatically dismiss it as government controlled fluff with no real content, analysis and certainly no independence. Two, that this automatic dismissal of ‘official’ newspapers infects peoples’ views about the media as a whole. That they subsequently do not trust other mainstream newspapers and instead seek their information from irregular sources be it on the internet, the local shisha bar or the Mosque. That they grow to automatically reject any kind of media consensus or what any government says.

I wonder how far to push this logic: can it stretch to some notion of it pushes some people to ‘divine their news from religious sources’ which is, after all if you’re that way inclined, the one true truth that there is. Does this embedded anti-establishment antagonism essentially guarantee that instead of reasonable discussion and analysis conspiracy theories take a vicious hold of society? Does this hold true or is the leap of logic and a generalization too far?



استقبل الأمير سلطان بن عبد العزيز ولي العهد نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام السعودي، في قصره بأغادير أول من أمس، الشيخ الدكتور محمد صباح السالم الصباح نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الخارجية بدولة الكويت، والشيخ خالد بن أحمد بن محمد آل خليفة وزير الخارجية بمملكة البحرين، والشيخ عبد الله بن زايد آل نهيان وزير الخارجية بدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة، ووزير الخارجية الأردني ناصر جودة، الذين نقلوا له تحيات وتقدير قادة بلدانهم.

وقد استمع ولي العهد خلال اللقاء من وزراء الخارجية لإيجاز عن أعمال الاجتماع الوزاري السادس لمنتدى المستقبل الذي عقدت أعماله أول من أمس في مدينة مراكش المغربية والتي ستسهم في تعزيز التطور الاقتصادي والسياسي والاجتماعي في شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط. وأقام الأمير سلطان مأدبة غداء تكريما للوزراء.

حضر الاستقبال ومأدبة الغداء الأمير سلمان بن عبد العزيز أمير منطقة الرياض، والأمير سعود الفيصل وزير الخارجية، والأمير خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير خالد بن سعد بن فهد، والأمير سطام بن سعود بن عبد العزيز، والأمير فيصل بن سلطان بن عبد العزيز الأمين العام لمؤسسة سلطان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود الخيرية، والأمير فهد بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير سعود بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير عبد الله بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير محمد بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، والأمير نايف بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، والأمير بندر بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، وعبد الله بن سعد الغريري رئيس مراسم ولي العهد، وحمد بن عبد العزيز السويلم نائب رئيس ديوان ولي العهد، ومحمد بن سالم المري السكرتير الخاص لولي العهد، وعبد الله بن مشبب الشهري رئيس المكتب الخاص لولي العهد، ومحمد بن عبد العزيز الشثري رئيس الشؤون الخاصة بمكتب وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام، والدكتور محمد البشر سفير السعودية لدى المغرب، واللواء ركن عبد الرحمن بن صالح البنيان مساعد مدير عام مكتب ولي العهد نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام، واللواء ركن علي الدحيم الملحق العسكري السعودي في المغرب، والشيخ خالد بن سلمان آل خليفة سفير البحرين لدى المغرب، ووزيرة الدولة في دولة الإمارات ريم الهاشمي، وسفير الكويت لدى المغرب محمد صالح الذويخ، وسفير الإمارات لدى المغرب سعيد الكتبي.

وكان وزراء الخارجية الأمير سعود الفيصل والشيخ الدكتور محمد صباح السالم الصباح والشيخ خالد بن أحمد بن محمد آل خليفة والشيخ عبد الله بن زايد آل نهيان وناصر جودة، قد وصلوا في وقت سابق أول من أمس إلى أغادير، وكان في استقبالهم بالمطار الأمير سلمان بن عبد العزيز أمير منطقة الرياض وعدد من الأمراء والمسؤولين


1. budhouston - 5, November 2009

Thanks. Nice post.

Couldn’t the same be said of the American media? While we tend to speak in coded language… it strikes me that the rants of the right are based on the assumption of “divine” news sources. And no matter how outrageous and flawed are the arguments (thinking sources like “Fox News” here)… their continued assertions are taken as “truth” by so many and represent a danger to stability in this country.

Bud Houston

2. davidbroberts - 5, November 2009

Thanks for your thoughts Bud.

You make an interesting analogy. I am certainly no fan of Fox news in any way, shape or form. Their strap-line of ‘Fair and Balanced’ is, I think, to a large degree, something of a knowing joke. Of course, as you point out, the problem is with those that don’t see the irony in Fox’s purported righteousness. For them I suppose that there is a fair analogy: they just get their conspiracy theories from a more ‘regular’ source.

However, the crucial difference (so far as I see it) is that there is a plethora of news media in the States to choose from. Each one caters slightly differently to its audience. People have the choice of finding ‘their’ news from a mainstream source that still might reflect their personal proclivities or biases without necessarily being ‘forced’ to go somewhere truly bizarre for their news. So, overall, as much of an irritant as Fox news is, I don’t think they can be deemed to be any kind of large-scale threat to stability.

Your point about Fox semi-equating itself with “the one true truth” is a fair one i think. It’s a powerful draw and basis for them which, in their own eyes, might endow them with extra legitimacy. Yet, to others, this very same quasi-religious legitimacy that they claim will foster antipathy and – inshallah, as they say around here – make sure that Fox perennially have a good, good chunk of opposition.

Not sure if I’ve accurately spoken to the points you’ve raised, but c’est la vie…!

3. budhouston - 5, November 2009

You spoke to it just fine.

The crucial difference as you cited is that lack of competing sources for news or truth. Duly noted.

Bud Houston

4. T S - 7, November 2009

In the UAE there’s one exceptional Arabic language paper – Emarat Alyoum (http://emaratalyoum.com/Pages/Default.aspx). It;s the exception because instead of looking incredibly dull and having a front-page picture of one sheikh or another sitting on a chair with someone else nearby on another chair, it is instead a chirpy populist and daring tabloid with decent use of pix and graphics. Its website attracts hundreds of user comments each day and while its “sister” English language version Emirates Today was simply too rubbish to survive, probably because it already had competition in the form of the tabloid 7Days and the mostly bearable Gulf News, Emarat Alyoum has thrived, partly I imagine because there aren;t any other entertaining Arabic-language newspapers in the UAE. Rather than being designed to attract the reader, broadsheets such as Al Ittihad and Al Bayan give the impression that its contents are of such gravitas as to be beyond the capacity to understand of the average citizen/resident and not something they should trouble their tiny brains with. When you actually look at th contents of some of the articles, it;s even worse – as you say, “His Excellency [ruling sheikh] met [long list of dignitaries] and said he would continue to mintain high standards in [whatever]”. There’s no criticism and barely any information. I think this style of newspaper fits very well with traditional Gulf power structures. However, since the UAE government also writes the Friday sermon for the imams {for fear of extremist/critical voices gaining influence} I’m not sure the mosque is much of a source of different material. I think in a country like the UAE, where there are so many different ethnic groups living side by side but not mingling much, each community has its own kind of newswire, including simple gossip not channelled through any medium. For Emiratis, talk radio is really big. Radio works well in general because many people spend a lot of time in their cars, not everyone is literate and because many Emiratis don’t live in the bigger urban centres and are thus less likely to come across a newspaper every day. I don;t know what the newspaper reading rate among Gulf Arabs in general is but I would imagine it’s lower than in the west, partly, as you say, because what real info of interest can they find in their newspapers? I;m not sure that these Arabs are thus more likely to look to “divine sources” for a worldview and thus become more religious, but I think the fact that they are not encouraged to assess information critically may make them more gullible in some respects. It may actually increase their trust in their own government rather than decreasing it. Again, this suits their rulers. Still, the media doesn;t rule everything and there are some independent and critical Emirati thinkers, but they don;t have much of a forum for their ideas.

5. Facebook more popular than all Arab newspapers « The Gulf blog - 26, May 2010

[…] surprise. Not only is the standard of Middle Eastern journalism fairly abysmal [as I've argued here, here, here and here] but given the youth bulge in many Middle Eastern societies not to mention the […]

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