Arab world has ‘no journalists’

By WND Staff

An Arab media expert says the Arab world has no true, professional journalists as evidenced, among other things, by coverage in Iraq, which has “given us nothing but many slogans.”

Dr. Mamoun Fandy, writing in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, contends the Arab media does not provide a platform for the diverse views in the region, according to a translation by Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI.

Fandy quotes the editor of an Arabic paper, who when asked why a particular story was not being covered, said, “There are no journalists in the Arab world.”

Fandy said he “heard the exact same complaint from one publisher who said, ‘We have authors, but no journalists.'”

“[Judging by] the Arab media coverage of events such as the trial of Saddam and the situation in Iraq in general, this lack of [Arab] journalists is embarrassingly obvious,” Fandy wrote. “We know little about Saddam, who ruled Iraq for over 30 years, except for a single hackneyed story about a doorman or greengrocer in Egypt, where Saddam lived in his youth. If only this story was true! This greengrocer has already changed his story more than once.”

Fandy says it is “interesting to know why Arab journalists have not succeeded in conducting hundreds of interviews with people who knew Saddam up close, or with entire families that were victims of the Saddam era. Weren’t some 300,000 Iraqis buried in mass graves? Or is this, too, an American lie? Didn’t [the victims] have families and relatives who can be interviewed, or aren’t their pain and their lives important?”

“It would be interesting to know, for example, about the life of a woman whose husband and children were murdered by Saddam,” he continued.” [It would be interesting to know] how exiled Iraqis moved from place to place and country to country, and whether their children speak Arabic. [It would also be interesting to know] how the French or German-speaking [raised in exile] children will adapt to the Arabic language in the new Iraq. What is their attitude towards the Arab resistance fighters and al-Zarqawi’s cronies? Do they prefer to maintain relations with the neighboring Arab [countries] or with Europe? These are all people with names and with opinions on these matters.”

Fandy said thousands of stories “should be written on the lives of Iraqis — but where are the journalists?! Is it the lack of professional journalists that [makes] these journalistic stories remain unknown?”

Newspapers in the Arab world, he said, focus “only on heroic deeds.”

An Arab editor would have difficulty trying to cover problems facing ordinary people, such as experiences with oppression or emigration, Fandy said.

“The first [difficulty] is that our culture is not like the Catholic culture that emphasizes confession, particularly when the individual has sinned,” he noted. “Likewise, an individual confessing a crime against himself or others [is considered] unacceptable among us. We raise our sons [with the belief] that it is not manly to confess, to cry, or to acknowledge that repression and oppression have broken an individual’s determination and perhaps damaged his masculinity.

“Our newspapers will focus only on heroic deeds and overcoming difficulties,” he continued. “This is praiseworthy. But there are many personal defeats, retreats and torments, and we must let those who have experienced them talk about them. This requires change in the newspaper culture, or in the so-called newsroom culture.”

Newspapers must also recognize that columnists don’t necessarily represent the view of all citizens.

“Why, for example, doesn’t a soldier who has confronted [terrorists] write about terrorism?” he asked. “Why can’t we hear the opinion of the commander of the urban patrol of an Arab capital where there are clashes with terrorists, or his comments on our [i.e., journalists] role … [that is,] are we helping or hindering them? What is their view on the entire matter? Up until this very moment, we have heard no detailed explanation of their view from any of them — except for a statement here and there, conveyed by a novice journalist, as a sidebar.”

Arab officials should also be willing to explain their policies in guest opinion pieces, said Fandy, similar to articles in major U.S. newspapers by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“Powell and Rumsfeld write [in the press] to persuade the public of their policy, and if they feel that the public grumbles after one article, we find they write another one … ,” he said. “In our case, the senior [Arab] official sees no need to explain his policy because he thinks the people support him unquestioningly, and that there is no need for explanation and no need to seek their support.”

Arab officials behave differently than officials in the West, Fandy contended.

“Instead of rebutting the author of an article by [writing another] article, he picks up the telephone and talks to the newspaper’s owner to [have him] silence the author,” he said.

“The main [problem] is that we still have no professional journalists,” stated Fandy. “The proof of this is [first], that the [media] coverage of [events in] Iraq to date have given us nothing but many slogans, [and second], that the [Arab] officials do not respect the press.”