Sunday, April 16, 2006

Journalistic Standards At Arab Newspapers

(All emphases by Always On Watch)

Recently Fawaz Turki, formerly the senior op-ed columnist for Arab News, an English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, was fired from his job because he had criticized various Islamic rulers. His commentary, "How to Lose Your Job at a Saudi Newspaper," appeared in the April 15, 2006 edition of the Washington Post. Fawaz Turki explains why he lost his job:
“…I had committed one of the three cardinal sins an Arab journalist must avoid when working for the Arab press: I criticized the government.

“The other two? Bringing up Islam as an issue and criticizing, by name, political leaders in the Arab or Islamic world for their brazen excesses, dismal failures and blatant abuses.”
As one might expect, much of Fawaz Turki’s commentary chronicles the sequence of stories which led to his dismissal But he also goes a bit deeper to share the underlying causes and the implications of his dismissal:
“...[T]his is not just the story of an Arab journalist losing his job. It is a story with implications for the current American administration's efforts to ‘introduce’ the Arab countries to democracy, of which independent, free media are a major building block….

Democracy may be a political system, but it is also a social ethos. How responsive can a country be to such an ethos when its people have, for generations, existed with an ethic of fear—fear of originality, fear of innovation, fear of spontaneity, fear of life itself—and have had instilled in them the need to accept orthodoxy, dependence and submission?"
Fawaz Turki’s article concludes with the following two paragraphs:
“In this atmosphere, it is regarded as an example of reportorial acumen to write on the op-ed pages of prominent Arab journals about how the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were the work of Israeli agents, how the death of Princess Diana was the result of some diabolical plot by British intelligence to end her life rather than see her married to an Arab Muslim, how Monica Lewinsky was an agent-in-place, put in the White House by the 'Jewish lobby'—and so on with other infantile whimsies.

For Arabs, there is still a great divide between word and world. You can embrace conspiracy theories with impressive ease, and be accorded by your editors the right to pontificate about any foolish thing you want, but don't dare write about the malfeasance of political leaders in Egypt and Palestine, or the atrocities of a fellow-Muslim government in East Timor.”
The Arab concept of journalism is far removed from what we Westerners take for granted—logical conclusions based on facts. Under the conditions which Fawaz Turki describes, the proposed propaganda war with the aim of convincing Muslim nations of joining the Twenty-first Century might be a foregone failure—at least in the short term. Even modern Arab newspapers such as Arab News operate on a different journalistic level.

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