The editor in chief of a London-based Saudi newspaper has criticized Arab media coverage of the war in Iraq, saying most of the Arab press simply act as a mouthpiece for Saddam and censor everything that doesn’t fit established opinion.
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed of the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat presented his views in three recent editorials translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
“When we examine the Arab media, [we find] that little has changed since the previous century,” he wrote. “It seems as if today’s wars are no different than those of 40 years ago. At that time, the Arab media jumped ahead of the Arab armies by making false predictions. They assumed that publishing a headline about downing 100 Israeli warplanes in the war of 1967 would build self-confidence and may even come true in the future. However, those who doze off and wake up in front of Arab TV will not forgive the [Arab] media [for] its lies when the smoke clears up and the truth is seen in full.”
Al-Rashed gives his peers a lesson in journalism, charging them with using emotion in reporting the news.
“I [understand] the feelings of my colleagues, the Arab journalists, who deal with events emotionally rather than reasonably. They collect fragments of news reports that suit their hopes. But professionally, a journalist who stays within the limits of the news he has, and does that impartially, renders the best service to his readers and viewers, who will thus be able to see reality as it really is,” wrote Al-Rashed.
The editor then takes on the prevalent attitude in Arab media that lying in reporting is somehow an honorable act.
Wrote Al-Rashed: “I know that adopting an impartial stand in the [Arab] media world is akin to suicide, because there are many who push the media into extremes and take ‘nationalistic’ positions and maintain that whoever thinks differently is committing treason against the [national] cause. [They maintain] that lying for the sake of the cause is moral and honorable. The Arab media [of today], in these hard times, is slowly turning into the 1967 media; at that time, radio announcers, analysts and journalists exaggerated acts of courage and covered up defeats, which – historically – became a mockery.”
He says Arab media reports rarely have anything to do with reality, charging his TV colleagues with “replicating the old media, despite the fact that it is broadcasting in color and using electronic technologies. …”
Summarized Al-Rashed: “The best service that [the Arab media] can provide to the public is the truth. This way it will save its reputation that was tarnished in the past, to the point that it became the twin-sister of the inferior political regimes.”
In a follow-up article a few days later, Al-Rashed responded to criticisms of his previous editorial, claiming Arab media censor anything that doesn’t fit their ideologies:
“… The Arab media intentionally censored the proposals of the Iraqi opposition, although it represents segments of the Iraqi people. … More importantly, they censored any reports that contradicted their [ideological] positions, such as the reports about Iraqi secret service units firing on Iraqis who were trying to escape. [Instead], the Arab media published stories reminiscent of the adventures of Sindibad, such as the story about the one farmer who downed an Apache helicopter with an old rifle. Some of the Arab media highlighted reports that the coalition forces used chemical weapons, a claim that even the Iraqi information minister did not make. Tens of stories were axed just because they contradicted what Baghdad was saying, or because their sources were American.
“The question is then, how do we know the truth when a journalist turns himself into a biased censor?” Al-Rashed asked rhetorically.
“Today, it is a battle of information just like 1967. Every editor sits with his scissors and tells the people: This is what you are going to see, and this is what you are not allowed to hear because it features an Iraqi as Washington’s supporter, or it describes the defeat of the brave [Iraqi] troops, or it looks like a propaganda campaign. There is a difference between a media tool that acts like a sifter and one that acts as a distributor. The later is better.”
The Saudi editor says Arab reporters should take a tip from Western journalists:
“Notice the difference in press conferences on both sides. In the West, journalists are not satisfied with listening. They probe, express opposing opinions and expose lies. In our media, anything [the Iraqi Information Minister] Al-Sahhaf says is broadcast as if he was a Friday preacher in a mosque. …”