Posts Tagged 'Journalism'

Dubai: a mirror to our own failings

Dubai, once hailed as the shining star of Arab enterprise, has hit the headlines in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons.

I am currently watching a BBC Panorama investigation into the horrific conditions faced by foreign workers left destitute by the downturn in the country’s construction industry and last week Johann Hari, of the Independent, wrote an article about how the recession is revealing the corruption at the heart of “Dubai Disneyland”.20380_dubai_towers

As Dubai’s illusory wealth vanishes in the stark reality of recession, the scene is ugly. Yet in the sprit of free debate, I thought it only right to publish a reaction written by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a journalist based in Dubai.

If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country

I recently figured that if British journalists such as Johann Hari (Tuesday, 7 April, The Independent) who come to Dubai don’t send back something sensationalist it won’t get printed and they won’t get paid. After all, sleaze sells. I called a British journalist friend of mine and said: “I’m going to write an article about London, the same way your compatriots write about Dubai.”

By the time I was back at home I had come to my senses, it’s not fair to London, a city so dear to my heart, or Londoners to be judged by the actions of a few. It’s easy to generalise about a country when figures are manipulated to sensationalise and sell papers.

Say for example that I had written an article that states that, in wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets.

Say then that I wrote an article that states that Britain, the so called “jail capital of Western Europe” sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and that up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.

I could have written an article that stated Britain, victor in the Second World War, had given refuge to 400 Nazi war criminals, with all but one of them getting away with it.

Or one stating that the number of Indians who died while serving the British Empire, to build your Tube and grow your tea, is so large it is simply unquantifiable by any historian.

Or say I write an article about the 2.5 million-strong Indian volunteer army who served Britain during the Second World War, where 87,000 of them died for their occupiers’ freedom and yet until recently those who survived continued to be discriminated against in pay and pension.

I could have written an article that stated that, in civilised Britain, one in every 23 teenage girls had an abortion and in 2006 more than 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales involved girls below the age of 18.

torture-abuI could have written an article stating that Britain, the human rights champion, not wanting to get its hands dirty, had resorted to secretly outsourcing torture to Third World states under the guise of rendition by allowing up to 170 so called CIA torture flights to use its bases.

Or that Britain’s MI5 unlawfully shared with the CIA secret material to interrogate suspects and “facilitate interviews” including cases where the suspects were later proven to be innocent.

I could have written an article that stated that the Britain of family values is the only country in the EU that recruits child soldiers as young as 16 into its Army and ships them off battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting it in the same league as African dictatorships and Burma.

I could have written an article that states that Britain either recently did or has yet to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict or the UN’s International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.article-0-05e80fa00000044d-109_468x3681

I could have highlighted the fact that liberal Britain is responsible for the physical and racial abuse of hundreds of failed asylum-seekers at the hands of private security guards during their forced removal from the country.

I could have written about the countless cases of slave-like working conditions of immigrant labours such as the 23 Chinese workers who lost their lives in 2004 as they harvested cockles in the dangerous rising tides in Morecambe Bay.

I could have written about how mortality rates from liver diseases due to alcohol abuse have declined in Europe in recent decades but in Britain the rate trebled in the same period reflecting deep societal failures.

I could have written about how in “Big Brother” Britain maltreatment of minors is so serious that one in 10, or an estimated one million children a year, suffer physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.

Or that according to Oxfam 13.2 million people in the UK live in poverty – a staggering 20 per cent of the population in the sixth richest nation in the world.

I could have written all that, but out of respect for Britain, I decided not to. Because when you stitch together a collection of unconnected facts taken out of context, you end up with a distorted and inaccurate picture: something that Britain’s Dubai-bashers would do well to learn.

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Media 2.0: the saviour of local journalism

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, wrote Charles Dickens as the opening line of his novel of the French revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. Written by one of the most famous journalists of his age, this paradox could well be applied to the plight of the modern media industry, which is currently in the throes of its own cultural revolution.
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Yet the story is fast becoming a tale of two industries: as newspaper circulations decline, online news continues to flourish. Despite the contracting economy, UK online publishers have predicted a 16 per cent growth in digital revenues this year as readers abandon paper for free online sources.

News is going digital and it is hitting traditional media organisations hard. But for regional news outlets, which have felt the worst of the media downturn – a study release last month by Princeton university found that only 15 US cities have competing local papers compare to 689 a century ago – web 2.0 is offering a glimmer of hope for the future.

Linda Preston, creator of local news site Darwenreporter.com, believes that the wealth of information created by web 2.0 means that many beleaguered journalists unable to find work are starting their own local websites to fill the vacuum left by the decline in local papers.

She says: “The public still wants someone who can reach out to them on a local level who has an intimate knowledge of the area. Someone still has to hold corrupt officials to account.

 “I’ve found that many journalists facing redundancy are considering following my example and using their skills and long experience to work their own postcode.”

Even for local papers struggling to survive, the web if offering new possibilities. Elaine Helm, new media editor at the Herald in Everett, Washington state, believes that the power of social media is creating a new golden age for online local news outlets. She says:

“For individual and small groups of journalists, there hasn’t been a better time to be doing what we’re doing and getting it out there.”

During the latest “hundred-year storms to hit Washington state, Helm used social networking to keep local residents informed of the latest developments. She sent out a tweet asking people to use a common hashtag – a metadata naming convention – for all information relating to the storm: #waflood.  

Within minutes, a network of journalists from the area were all using the common tag and soon other contributors from the region were joining in. The information was then picked up by federal and state agencies and soon a mass co-ordination of effort by the state, journalists and locals was providing real-time information on the floods.

For Helm, the wealth of information instantly available on the internet means journalists must stop seeing themselves as the gatekeepers of knowledge, but rather the curators. “There’s a role to play for journalists in sorting through all the stuff that’s out there,” she says.

 “I’ve heard people talk about finding the patterns in the noise. We’re more about looking for and tagging the most relevant and original reporting and trying to bring it to our audiences.”
But relying on citizen journalists has its own pitfalls. Last year the Huffington Post, one of the largest digital media current affairs sites in the world, caused a stir by launching OffTheBus, a project which used 12,000 citizen journalists to cover the US presidential election race.

obama-crossIt was hailed as a resounding success. Mayhill Fowler, a 61-year-old failed novelist with no journalism training, broke two of the most memorable stories of the election: Barack Obamas guns and religion blunder and Bill Clintons fuming at a public rally.

However, the coverage also brought into question the viability and integrity of relying on citizen journalists. Barack Obama’s comments were officially made off-record and while for a citizen journalist they are fair game, for a professional breaking confidentiality could potentially undermine journalistic integrity.
It is the lines of integrity and accountability that will mark out journalists from citizens in media 2.0. “For anyone who wants to be part of the journalism world then having people trust them is the most important thing, says Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media and fellow at  the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. 
Gillmor believes that the advent of web 2.0 will not replace the work of traditional journalists but rather make them more accountable. He says: “I dont think citizen journalists are going to take the place of professionals. They will do things that traditional journalists have never done but we cant replace the good things that they have done. 

A war of words: Islam in the press

Today I went to a conference about Islamophobia in the British media. Run by Media Workers Against the War, ‘Under Siege: Islam, war and the media’ examined the biased treatment of Islam by in mainstream reporting, why this is and how it can be changed.

Addressing the conference Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, railed against the prejudice of the British press and the policies of a government that tells us “the price of peace at home is a bloody war and the price of peace abroad is the curtailment of our civil liberties”.

He said: “The media has too often failed to ask the questions we need to ask if we are to make decisions as informed citizens. Such poor journalism is a recipe for driving people to extremes.”

A survey found that 91 per cent of coverage of Islam in the national press since 2001 has been negative, with more than 4,000 stories written since 9/11. Another found that 35 cent of the language used was alarmist. The most common nouns to be associated with Muslims were: extremism, suicide bombers, militancy, radicalism.

Islamophobia is rife throughout the British media, but nowhere more obviously than in the Daily Star. In the past month they have run four incendiary stories against Muslims, including: ‘Poppies banned in terror hotspots: Muslim snub to forces’, ‘Vile preacher insults our poppies’ and ‘Muslim nutters still preaching hate on our streets.’

Yet a more pervasive form has also made its way into the liberal discourse of the broadsheets. The Times, bastion of the British press, ran an article on how terrorists were using child pornography to pass messages on the internet.

As one comment put it: “This makes as much sense as to hide some crack in a bag of marijuana.”

In the UK media, ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ have become bywords for religious extremism and evil. From the moment that George Bush announced his War on Terror, words have become political tools used to demonise Muslim communities.

Louise Christian, an outspoken human rights lawyer who has represented Guantanamo bay detainees, said: “Words are important things – words are what journalists do”.

“The reaction to 9/11 changed language,” she said. “When [politicians] use the language of war against terror [they] invalidate the protection of international human rights legislation”.

Those captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, held under ‘enemy competence’, are denied the protection of the Geneva convention. There are 270 people held in Guantanamo bay, yet only 16 of these are ‘high-level’ detainees and 90 per cent have no evidence to support their detention.

Muslims have been silenced in the mainstream media, made into a scapegoat for a never ending war of ideologies. Yet in a world where jobs are scarce and scruples scarcer, journalists will do anything for a front page. The more pressure they face, the harder it is for journalists to fight prejudice and the more that minorities will lose their voices.

Speaking at the conference today, Peter Oborne, Daily Mail columnist and author of Muslims under siege, said: “I believe in truth – that’s why I became a journalist. “I remain proud of being British and proud of our traditions, but that tradition in being flouted.”


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