Bad, dishonest journalism

Ah, the games the media loves to play! For far too long, the Middle East media has been routinely run down for mediocrity and often dancing to the powers that be. Unfortunately, more often than not, these accusations are not far off the mark, even if a bit exaggerated.

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Published: Thu 23 Sep 2010, 9:29 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:52 PM

That said, experienced media professionals, especially from news media, working around the world know full well that it is all relative and often depends on one’s perspective. All freedom, including that of journalists, writers and artistes, comes with responsibility. There’s no such thing as absolute freedom.

If the media in the Middle East still finds itself working within the framework of official curbs and norms, because it is still young and in its formative stages in this part of the world.

On the other hand, the media in the region must take some credit for some of its woes and inadequacies. For many of our problems, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. We bend over backwards in our eagerness to woo, appease and ingratiate ourselves with powers that be. In fact, when asked to bend, we crawl on all fours. Take, for instance, the interesting case of Al Ahram, Egypt’s and region’s oldest newspaper. The state-run Arabic daily finds itself in the media spotlight after it chose to doctor — there’s no other word for it! — the photograph of President Hosni Mubarak’s US visit earlier this month during the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks hosted by President Barack Obama.

The original photo showed Obama in the lead on a red carpet, with Israel’s Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mubarak slightly behind. However, Al-Ahram ‘photoshopped’ and edited the image in its Tuesday edition to show Mubarak in the lead, with Obama slightly behind him to his right and carried the picture with an article titled “Road to Sharm El Sheikh,” referring to the Egyptian Red Sea resort that hosted the second round of negotiations.

Although in its defence Al-Ahram says it “edited” the photograph to make its point that Egypt is playing a leading role in the peace talks, the photograph has both shocked and delighted Western media networks. For this gives them yet another opportunity to slam the Middle East and the curbs under which the media functions in this part of the world. Frankly speaking though, it is unfair to blame government curbs, in this case the Egyptian regime, for this blooper. If anyone is to take rap for this, it is not the Egyptian authorities but the overzealous journalists and editors concerned. No one asked them to put the Egyptian leader in the forefront. Clearly, they did it to gratify and curry favour with Egypt’s strongman.

This is not just irresponsible, unethical and dishonest journalism but a sad commentary on the state of affairs in most institutions in the Middle East. Of course, it could be all blamed on the general democratic deficit, bad governance, lack of education and all-round underdevelopment in the region.

But isn’t the media supposed to play the role of a watchdog, guide and conscience keeper of society? If this is how the largest circulated and most respected newspaper functions in a country considered leader of the Arab world, what hope is there for others?

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