The Diversity of Arabic Media

News XChange 2004, Algarve
Thursday, 18 November 2004

Emad El Din Adeeb (Host / Presenter, Orbit TV): In reaction to what His Majesty has said I want to start with Nart Bouran of Abu Dhabi TV. Sir, what did you find interesting and thought needed to be underlined in what His Majesty said in answer to some of the questions?

Nart Bouran (Editor-in-Chief, Abu Dhabi TV): Since we are talking about the Arab media and the effect of it, there was one point that His Majesty raised that is very important when he talked about the Western media--that a diversity and range of different views is actually available in the Western media. In a lot of these conferences and sessions that go on, there is a lot of concern that the Arab media is constantly being bundled together as one element that has to be discussed and dissected and I think it's very important, as His Majesty mentioned, that there are different points of view. There are people saying different things in the Arab media and it's very important for our Western media colleagues to identify and distinguish between them and there is a language issue I'm sure in doing that. But if you think about us negatively in some ways, I'd hate to think how you would think if you actually understood Arabic as well, most of you. But that is one of the main things His Majesty mentioned that I just wanted to reiterate that as well.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Hosam El-Sokkari, you were warning me that this conference would not be pro-Al Jazeera or anti-Jazeera as some conferences are. What did you mean by this when we were talking before this session took place?

Hosam El-Sokkari (Head of Arabic Service, BBC World Service): I think it is probably an extension of what Nart has just said. It seems to me that very often people are very curious about what is happening in the Middle East, including what is happening in the media scene and so on and so forth. What they tend to see is very little about it, some video tapes in which bin Laden is addressing the Muslims across the world, and it's coming from Al Jazeera, so it is coming from an Arab station, and these are the Arab stations, and Arab journalists, and Arab media. So there is a tendency to generalize quite a lot about what is there in the Middle East. I feel very uncomfortable when I hear somebody saying, "the Western media" because I don't know what we are talking about. If we are talking about the printed media, you have The Sun on one side and The Guardian and The Independent. It is quite a diversity of views and treatments of information that we are receiving, and the same thing applies in the Middle East. And the same thing applies in every individual station. You have different views, different elements, different ways of treatment, and you have different programmes. So I think what I would like to do is to get people to understand the diversity there, and to understand that we are getting a little bit of a one-sided picture, not the totality of it. And when I talked about Al Jazeera I was just worried that sometimes it ends up being focused on one issue--what Al Jazeera is saying, and why is bin Laden appearing very often on Al Jazeera, and so on and so forth, rather than the bigger issues of the media, like ethics of journalism and so on and so forth.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I would like to call Mr Salah Negm of Al Arabiya. Sir, if we are talking about Bin Laden or whoever is coming with a statement, do you give a chance for anybody to say anything, whatever is fit to be published, or do you have a judgment what to show or what not to show?

Salah Negm (Assistant to General Manager, Al Arabiya): Of course the first rule is to get what is of editorial value, what is important for people to know, what new information it adds, what new opinions or positions towards several other issues Bin Laden or somebody else is talking about. If you find all these elements, then you are going to broadcast what is exact about these elements. There is a lot of rhetoric, and let's say propaganda, in each of these speeches, but you have to avoid that and take exactly what is of news value. It is a difficult process.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Mouafac Harb, Alhurra, do you have the same judgment or do you have a special red line for some considerations of what's good or bad for American national interests, for instance?

Mouafac Harb (Editor-in-Chief, Alhurra): It's not a matter of red lines because in our business we don't believe in red lines. We believe, as my friend Salah said, in whether it is newsworthy or not. But we have to address the overall issue of how we deal with terrorist messages nowadays. We journalists love to believe that we cannot be manipulated or influenced by anyone. A good relationship between a journalist and a government official is one that is based on mistrust. I know that that person is trying to manipulate me, and at the same time I'm trying to get information. So you always have to take a look at the overall picture. Why are we being used by terrorists today? If you want to buy a thirty second spot on the television today, if you're the President or a candidate for the presidency, you have to pay a lot of money, and bin Laden can get it for free anytime he wants. These are questions that I think are not only specific to the Arab media, we need maybe a Geneva Convention to talk about what we can do about these messages that we are receiving because it also affecting our business, not just the Arab media. What is the definition of a good scoop today? Sitting in your office waiting for the next delivery?

Emad El Din Adeeb: What is the definition of a good scoop? Before moving to Dohar and Beirut, I have a question. All of you are professional journalists, all of you are of the highest calibre in covering the events of the world. I'll not talk about you; I'll talk about myself because I can talk about myself. I have a problem of conscience, I sometimes have sleepless nights. Why? Because I pose a question: Working for a scoop, running after a major story--am I, while doing this, a part of a crime of trying to help agitation? To help looking at the other in a wrong way? Am I helping more hatred? Am I helping my fellow citizens? Am I helping, in helping others who look to America as a monster, in not giving the other point of view? And is there someone like me on the other side who feels that his conscience is not clear? That he is helping to make Arabs and Muslims look bad? And is he not feeling that while he is trying to work on covering a scoop he is doing damage to the idea of truth and reality? Think of this question. I know it is a conscience judgment. Not necessarily everyone will have a problem with it, but I'm talking about my problem. If you have the same problem please join us in this discussion.

We will now go to Doha and Beirut. In Doha we have our colleague Ahmed Al-Sheikh. Good morning sir. The question is: Do you at Al Jazeera report everything and anything? Or do you have a judgment?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh (Editor-in-Chief, Al Jazeera): Well, at Al Jazeera we have judgment. We are journalists. We are professionals, and before we put anything on air, we judge it, we verify it, and we try to give a judgment on that. Whether it is air-worthy or not? Of course we have judgment. We do not put anything we receive on air, like any other journalist.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Do you feel that you are in part directly or indirectly creating the image or the myth of Osama bin Laden?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: I don't think so. We are not a part of it. This question in the first place, should be directed to the very first point where the world was divided into camps of evil and camps of good. Since that very first day when the world was divided into camps of evil and camps of good then we created an equation of two parties. Osama bin Laden has become an essential part of that equation, and as such his views have to be covered, but in a news context, and this is how we deal with it. This is how we deal with it, as other American networks of course deal with it. Just ten days ago or two weeks ago you will remember, Emad, that Fox News and ABC News broadcast a fourteen minute tape. They did not broadcast the whole tape; they broadcast five minutes of a fourteen minute tape of a masked Al-Qaeda man threatening the United States with destruction and all these things. So Al Jazeera is not unique in that they took only five minutes out of fourteen minutes and this is our judgment and this is how we feel about the tapes of Osama bin Laden. We feel that we have a moral responsibility of showing to our audience what is happening in the so-called camp of evil, so we judge these tapes by this and accordingly we put what we feel is newsworthy on air.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I will move to Beirut to my colleague Mr Ibrahim Mousawi, from Al Manar Television, Salaam alaykum. Do you at Al Manar feel that you can put across a point of view that you think would be the enemy point of view? Let's say the enemy is the Israeli point of view, or the American point of view, even if it is against Hezbollah or against your friends in Syria and Iran?

Ibrahim Mousawi: First of all thank you for making it easy for me to contribute to this conference. I should like to congratulate you for this. As an answer to your question, we are working under the calibre of the standards of professionalism at Manar TV. Yes, of course, indeed we do cover all the points of view while we are talking about the problems in the Middle East or the conflicts all over the world. Lebanon is officially in a state of war with Israel because part of its land has been under occupation for quite some time. Palestine is under occupation, and we all know that we are Arabs, we are Muslims, we do support the Palestinian cause and the struggle of the Palestinian people to restore their rights. While we are doing that, we do allow space for the Israeli officials and even other officials who support the Israelis to show what they think about anything. Let's say that there has been an operation inside Tel Aviv or in any part of occupied Palestine. We do cover this story. We take direct input from Israeli TV, with all the commentaries and the comments of the Israeli officials. They say that this is terrorist aggression towards them, and we do show this to our audience. After all, you're talking about journalism. You're talking about media. You have to be smart enough to respect your audience and to let them understand the whole scope and the whole image and they will have a better judgment for what's really going on. We are very sure and very positive that we are rightful in our cause and we don't need to make a lot of propaganda to convince others of our cause.

Emad El Din Adeeb: OK, I would like to move to all of you and to our colleagues in Beirut and Dohar for a question. What recently happened in Falluja? How was Falluja covered through an international camera and through an Arab camera? NBC had its camera and its judgment and Al Jazeera had its camera and its judgment. We can now see how they both covered it together.

(RUNS VT)

Emad El Din Adeeb: This is the material that we have seen lately. NBC had the whole tape, but did not show the killing. Al Jazeera showed the killing. You had the same stuff for two networks one is American and one is Arab, one showed the killing and the other did not. The question, I need to see if Mr. Bill Wheatley from NBC is here. The question sir is what was your judgment in not showing the killing?

Bill Wheatley (Vice President, NBC News): Generally speaking at NBC, we don't show specific acts of violence if we deem them too graphic for our audience, particularly in the evening when that programme and that report was aired. So we think it's important that we are consistent on this. Similarly, we don't show the full graphic nature of executions, of kidnapping cases, and that sort of thing.

Emad El Din Adeeb: This could show 'army brutality,' which is against the principles you are promoting. You are not promoting the army to be killing civilians or even people who have surrendered. The question is would you still not show this killing? You would not use it as a document to say that this a wrong deed?

Bill Wheatley: We of course measure each case on its own merit, but generally speaking we do not show graphic pictures of those sorts of killings, or indeed of the beheadings that we see, which I suppose one could argue also make a case graphically, but we don't. What we do try to do is tell people as much as possible about the circumstances under which any individual event occurred, and that's why we devoted a great deal of time in that report to the context for what had happened in the field and gave people as much information as we could to tell them what the circumstances were. I should tell you that that report in the United States, and those of other networks who shared the footage, has created a big controversy among some people in the United States as to whether we should have reported it all. But we felt confident that the way we approached it was the right way.

Emad El Din Adeeb: What about the right to know? We had American professors teaching us in Mass Media about the right of the people to know. The right to know what your army is doing, the right to know how they are operating. What is their code of ethics during wartime? Is this part of what is worrying you, the right to know?

Bill Wheatley: No. We're not worried at all about the right to know, and we think we properly informed people in the case of that report as to what had happened. What we didn't do was show it in all its brutality and gruesomeness.

Emad El Din Adeeb: My final question sir: If this material was of, let's say, an Arab soldier killing an American civilian, or an American soldier, and an Arab TV station declined to show it, would you accept the same measures or would you say that we were biased and we are not trying to show the truth and that we are trying to deceive our audience?

Bill Wheatley: I'm not sure that it's a matter of bias involved in these situations. It is often a matter of taste, and I know that Arab television doesn't always show the most gruesome material it obtains. Therefore, I think each in its own way is making judgments about what's appropriate.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Thank you sir. I'll move to Dohar to ask Mr. Al-Sheikh from Al Jazeera what was your judgment in Al Jazeera when you showed the killing? How it was based on your judgment or how you measured your decision?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: Thank you Emad. First of all when I came into the newsroom that morning and I saw those pictures we started studying them and we felt that was editorial policy. As you probably know, we are also like NBC. We do not show gruesome scenes or pictures. But when we looked at the shots, first of all the shot was a medium wide shot and was not showing the actual shooting in the head of the man. It was a medium-wide shot, and in this case our editorial policy is that we can show these things. And we felt that we did not have to cut any part of this thing because it actually happened within that Mosque and the question we asked when we were deliberating the issue was why didn't NBC first of all blacken that shot when they gave it to the wires? They didn't make it black, which means that those who received the pictures from Reuters or APTN were allowed to put it on air as it is. And the other thing is then if you do not show it, will you be, as you said when you were talking, telling your audience the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? That's what we were talking about when we viewed that tape. We felt that we had to show it.

Bill Wheatley: Well, to clarify in the case of NBC deciding to send out the pictures blacked out: We were members of a pool there, and there was a discussion between the pool members after this incident as to what was appropriate to distribute, especially via satellite where others can intercept pictures, and what was appropriate to distribute to the membership so that they might make their own decisions. In fact we did distribute the actual shooting pictures to the membership, but we distributed them on a close circuit line and it was for each member of the pool to decide, but we thought that the members of the pool who jointly owned the material, if you will, should have that opportunity first. Now in terms of the NBC coverage versus the Al Jazeera coverage, I'm a little at a loss because the only thing we've seen here this morning are the actual pictures, so I don't know how Al Jazeera handled the editorial information that goes with the pictures, what context it put them in. I do know that we made a very strong effort to give complete editorial information to the entire pool prior to the members using the pictures.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Thank you sir, now I move to Al Arabiya, you've heard to what NBC has said and what Al Jazeera have said. Where do you stand?

Salah Negm: We broadcast the pictures as they stand and what struck me about the NBC report was that that was the story of the day. That was the important angle of the story of Falluja. Falluja was an ongoing battle for about 8 or 9 days but this was extraordinary. And the most important thing about it was that the Abu Ghraib story started with one picture. So the question is, is this an isolated action? Is this the tip of the iceberg in the whole of Iraq? It needs further investigation. In the NBC story that event was concealed in a four or five minute report that talked about Falluja in general and very shyly about this event.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Alhurra, how do you report such a story?

Mouafac Harb: Our judgment was closer to NBC, not because we are based in Washington, but again it's a matter of taste. What is key here is to get the story out, not what kind of shots we have used or not. I did not see, in at least the piece you have shown here, that Al jazeera did report--that they just got the pictures and showed them. And this is not helping the truth because sometimes in our business shots can be deceiving. They didn't work. They put an extra effort to place them in context, and it didn't work. And I think this is the main problem we have right now between the Arab media and the rest of the world.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Our old friend Mohammed Gohar you are operating in Iraq and several places could you tell me what you think about this?

Mohammed Gohar (CEO, Video Cairosat): I think we are getting a little bit mixed up between the right of the audience to know and ethics. As professionals, we should all stick to ethics, but the right to know what's going on is not there. It's always covered from one side. …There was no good coverage of Falluja except from the cameraman in the American pool who was allowed to follow the Americans.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Hold on. You are in Iraq, you are covering this day and night and there is material, footage, given to the network. For instance, you are covering it for an American network. Do you give material that shows some mistakes made by the Americans or done by the Iraqis? Because we are not only here to hang the Americans, there can be mistakes made by Iraqis also. Do we give such material and we don't see it as a final product either on Arab or American television? Your teams, do they deliver material to either Arab or American television and we don't see it?

Mohammed Gohar: It is not our job to see what is going to be shown or what is done with it editorially, but our duty from day one is to be there and cover it.

Emad El Din Adeeb: You get surprised?

Mohammed Gohar: Yes of course, we've been in Iraq during the start of the attack on Iraq with the rocket launch we were there to see where the rockets were hitting. We filmed every child and every hospital and every street in Baghdad which was hit, and that's our duty and we will keep doing it. What I'm trying to say is that now the chances and judgment of the coverage are on one side.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I will move to Paris to our colleague in Paris, Nahida Nakad. Good morning Nahida. Our question is how do you see how this discussion is going? We have an American point of view in which the judgment was not to show, and the Al Jazeera point of view was to show. What is the European point of view? To show or not to show?

Nahida Nakad (Senior Correspondent, TF1): I think it's important to be consistent. If we decide to show terrible pictures, we should not forget our viewers. Viewers don't always accept gruesome pictures, but then again, if we decide to show some of them, I don't see why we wouldn't decide to show others. The most important thing is to show that if this is real information, and if we have decided in our bulletins terrible images like killing. You've been talking about mistakes, and I suppose this is a soldier shooting cold-bloodedly a civilian. This is more than a mistake; it could almost be a crime. But we can't show it just like that. I think explanations have to be given and this is not only with shooting. Remember all the prisoners that we've shown on television? We've shown them during the first Iraqi war. We've shown Iraqi prisoners on their knees in front of American soldiers, and then we decide that maybe this isn't a good idea, and then we cover their faces, but after they've been shown everywhere. I think we are taking a lot of time before we make decisions as to what can be shown and what can't be shown, and probably because there's a problem with legislation. Every country has its own legislation, but we have international satellite media. Therefore maybe it would be time to talk about rules of what can be shown and what can't be shown and to be fair amongst all nationalities, all different countries. Why show people who are suffering in developing countries while we are not allowed to show them in democracies? So I think mainly the problem is that we should get together, we should have rules as to what can and can't be shown. Because we cannot only depend on the laws of our countries, since television is now worldwide.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Now I would like to move to our veteran colleague, Mr Abdallah Schleifer, who is our analyst for this panel discussion. Abdallah, you've been in this job since Rameses the Second! (laughter) You know everyone. You know everything. Where are we now with ethics and the guidelines of what to show and what not to show?

Abdallah Schleifer (Director, Adham Centre for TV Journalism, and Publisher, Transnational Broadcasting Studies): We have to know where we came from. It's very important, we're always talking about context, and we tend, because we are today's news today, to lose a sense of where we came from, where Arab broadcasting came from. Now we have some footage, which was selected randomly. It was not a chosen day. It was what was chosen randomly, and we will watch it for a minute or two before I continue with my remarks. This is coverage of events in Gaza, Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza, and its footage taken from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Al Ekhbariya, which is a relatively new Saudi state television station. We may also have some footage from Al Manar.

Let's watch it and then let's talk about it.

(RUNS VT)

Abdallah Schleifer: Well, you know everybody always says that we don't hear what the Arabs say in English so that's why we voiced this over, so that's why today we did hear it. I think what I want to say is that before we rush to judgment about excesses in Arab satellite television, we have to put this in context. First, historic context, and then observe where Arab satellite broadcasting and state broadcasting are going. Fourteen years ago, there was no such thing as Arab television journalism; it didn't exist. You've got to understand that, it did not exist. There were news bulletins but there was no journalism. A cameraman would go out and cover a minister opening a factory or perhaps the president receiving a guest or a cabinet meeting full of people sipping coffee and that was the beginning and the end of television journalism. There were no reporters. The readers would simply take wire copy from the state news organization, which maybe did or maybe did not coincide with the pictures we were seeing. There was no such thing as the State of Israel. It was the occupied territory of Palestine. The Zionists, Israeli thinkers who struggled for peace and Israeli people who opposed peace. It didn't exist. There was a big blank there. Those were the conditions fourteen years ago. What changed everything? Well, there were several things that changed everything. The first thing was the Gulf war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, CNN international providing coverage suddenly, because remember, television before satellite is the most provincial news form there is. You couldn't even see anything that was more than fifty miles transmittable away. ... Suddenly the whole Arab world could see what news coverage was. The Gulf war was being covered by CNN International. People were rushing to anybody who had a satellite dish. They were very rare then, but the momentum began over that nine-month campaign with people getting dishes and decisions being taken such as the decision that had been taken before the war to bring CNN into Egypt and the decision taken by Saudi businessmen to get into the satellite business themselves, and that's what changed everything. MBC was the first up; MBC is like the father of Al Ekhbariya. It's now 24/7 news. When MBC started, it was just a news bulletin, twice a day, three times a day, but they were doing field reporting. For the first time in the history of Arab television news, you had television journalism, and I can tell you that at that moment, MBC, wherever it was retransmitted terrestrially, like in eastern Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain, became the most popular channel in the Arab world. Next up was the BBC, putting out an Arab television product which was funded by Orbit, and again we had professional field reporting. It was an experiment that only lasted two years, because we had a quarrel over editorial content but something else was going on: A whole cadre of Arab journalists was born thanks to this BBC/Orbit coalition and from them would come Al Jazeera, its staff, its core, staffed by BBC-trained Arab journalists. They would be the ones who would respond to the Emir of Qatar's decision to have an independent kind of BBC public broadcasting unit, which we know as Al Jazeera.

The other very major change was the fact that Orbit introduced--and it was our colleague Emad El Din Adeeb who chaired it--Orbit introduced public affairs programming, a talk show where people could actually call in from all parts of the Arab world and express themselves, something absolutely unheard of. And you could have an Israeli appearing on Arab television being challenged and debated by Arabs. Unheard of. So this is the context, and when we think of excess, we've got to think about how it's like anyone here who is really mature. If you went back to your college years, I know if I went back to my college years, it would be a scandal. I think they made a movie of it called Animal House! And now I'm a pious Muslim; I try to be at least. So the point is, excess is in the nature of things. Let's just talk about the question of gruesome images. Now I don't think--and this is my own personal call--I don't think there's any iron clad rule. I would agree with Ahmed that if you're dealing with wide shots, that's different to dealing with a close up. Now during the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Al Jazeera in its coverage enthusiasm and following its heart, did show close ups of Iraqi children that were really heart-rending and upsetting. One could say gruesome, and some of you may have seen that in the film Control Room, which we screened yesterday. Some of you thought that that was an issue of contention, but Al Jazeera has revised its code, and now has a code of ethics, and now has a policy of avoiding the very same shot that they went with just a year and a half ago. And making policy decisions, I think that's a sign of the professionalism that has become the keyword. Everywhere I travel now when I go and visit in Doha and go to visit in Dubai, everybody is talking about striving for professionalism and I think they are striving for it and I think that we've got to avoid stereotypical thinking--the stereotype that Al Jazeera is the radical one and somebody else is the moderate one. In the very footage we saw, Al Jazeera's correspondent took a more detached view of the violence in Gaza than Al Arabiya's correspondent, so the stereotype of Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera as locked in some sort of combat of moderate versus extremist doesn't really necessarily hold up. And that becomes the case more and more. And I think Emad will elaborate on this.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Sir, before taking some questions from the floor I would like to call on Beirut to ask our friend Ibrahim from Al Manar. The question, Ibrahim, is how much do you look towards what are called suicide operations or terrorist operations? What is the dividing line?

Ibrahim Mousawi (News Director , Al Manar): First of all, we do not define such operations as suicide operations. You're talking about different situations that might take place around the world maybe. If you go to Sri Lanka and talk about the Tamil, then killing people by blowing themselves up in a marketplace full of people, you might call this a terrorist action. I believe we have to find a real definition about what's terrorism and what is, if you want to put it like this, what are suicide operations or self-sacrifice or martyrdom operations. What's been considered as suicide operations, as a terrorist operation by the Western media, is being considered or viewed by millions of other viewers in the Arab world or the Muslim world as the supreme or highest source of inspiration, of martyrdom, of self-sacrifice for the cause. So this is something that is very confusing, and we have to find a certain definition for it. When it comes to the Palestinian territory, we do consider what's happening there as a kind of self-sacrifice operation, but not suicide operations or terrorist operations because we have to define the cause and define the action and then we will be able to judge it in a better way.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I'm looking for my good friend Ahmed Fawzi. You all know Ahmed, he's an old friend and colleague and works with the UN, and whenever we need him he comes out and tells us what is really happening. Ahmed, you were in Iraq and you were able to tell us what was happening in Palestine. I know this is a very difficult question for you but where is the dividing line between resistance and terrorism, between suicidal and liberation? I know it's a difficult question

Ahmed Fawzi ( Director News and Media dept of Public Information, UN): Emad, you should have warned me and I could have come with a prepared text…..

Emad El Din Adeeb: I'm paid to do this!

Ahmed Fawzi: I could have sought guidance from headquarters! I don't think I have an answer for you. We suffered immense casualties on the 19th of August last year when what I call, and I speak from a personal perspective, a terrorist attack on the UN headquarters happened, and for the first time in the history of the organization, the UN became a direct target of terrorism. We had of course been in the crossfire before in dangerous areas of conflict, where our humanitarians and international civil servants were killed, as well as our blue-helmet peacekeepers, but this was the first time in the history of the organization that we were targeted, and we lost twenty-two of our finest civil servants. I don't think that the international community has yet reached a definition of terrorism, and we have all struggled between a definition of who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter. We have not reached that stage yet where we have a definite definition of a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Do you think in the media we should call a spade a spade or should we just say that an explosion led to the death of Mr Vieira De Melo? Should we call it a terrorist attack? Should we judge?

Ahmed Fawzi: I think it depends on what your definition of a spade is! At the end of the day, that is the dilemma that we all face. It was a terrorist attack because it was totally unprovoked, and a group came out and claimed responsibility for the attack, so there is no definite answer to your question

Emad El Din Adeeb: OK, Ahmed, I'll ask Al Arabiya. Did you call it a terrorist attack or did you say an explosion only?

Salah Negm: I don't recall, it was a long time ago now, but I don't think we used the word terrorist. We would have talked about explosions because we try to avoid judging.

Emad El Din Adeeb: BBC?

Hosam El-Sokkari (Head, BBC World Arabic Service): I think this is a bit difficult because I don't think we are in the business of making judgments on events. We are in the business of supplying people with as much news and views as possible and giving them a chance to make up their minds about it.

Emad El Din Adeeb: My good friend from Israel, the question is when something like that happens in Baghdad or when it happens in Tel Aviv, what does your media call it?

Gaby Rosenberg ( Managing Director, Jerusalem Capital Studio): First of all, I must say that I'm not a journalist, so I won't be able to answer from that standpoint. I think that generally speaking, in Israel, we tend not to judge. (laughter)

Emad El Din Adeeb: OK, so generally speaking you don't judge. Ok well let me move to a point which is a question I have raised about your conscience and the way you feel while you're doing your job, running after a scoop. Have you made a mistake? I have an outstanding question from an hour ago from our colleague at the back. Time for confessions!

Philip Cox (documentary filmmaker, with the Rory Peck Trust, as an award winner): My question is really to Al Jazeera and the editors of the Arabic channels regarding a story that I made in Sudan, Darfur earlier on this year. I was the first filmmaker to travel extensively independently in Darfur and being one of the first in, travelling with the SLF for four or five weeks, I knew that I had to make a very journalistically grounded story so with that I recorded the conversations of the Antinov bombers as the pilots in Arabic talked about targeting civilians. I interviewed captured Sudanese government prisoners as well as many testimonies from the rebels, the refugees, and the story broke across the Western media. This report was widely ignored by Al Jazeera and the other Arabic channels when I offered it to them. Also, offering it for free because I believed it was very important report, so my question really comes back to your first question. In how they considered it, whether it was seen as a scoop but not newsworthy, or whether it was a question of conscience and that they decided not to run with it because it might agitate the region. Thank you.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Do you want to comment on what is a scoop and what is not a scoop?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: Yes I really agree it's like the Geneva Convention; there is a minimum line that we all agree over. What is considered to be news and what is considered to be newsworthy?

Emad El Din Adeeb: Yes but people dying in the Sudan, either by massacre or by hunger?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: We are journalists, we are not censors. We suffer censorship.

Mouafac Harb: Since you've said it's time for confessions, let's talk about things that we rarely hear about in the Arab media, and as Ahmed said, to understand where we're going, we need to know where we came from, the raison d'etre of Arab media. Why the princes and sheikhs decided, I used to own a private plane, a soccer team, and all of a sudden I decided to own a satellite channel. It's not like any normal industry around the world; it did not develop from need, and it's not an economically feasible operation. All of them are losing money. So why is it? And if you have answers to these questions, you can understand a lot of things that are going on in the Arab media. Going back to Sudan and Darfur, I'm glad that you mentioned something about it. We had an experience at al Darfur. When we first launched the channel, everyone was looking at the channel as American propaganda and how they were going to cover up the issue of Palestine and Iraq. We covered them like we had an obligation. People have a right to know and you cannot fool people nowadays because they have options. But let me finish my point here. We went and covered Sudan extensively because we believed what happened in Darfur is a major event. And the next day, you would read in the Arab newspapers "You see what they're trying to do with Darfur, they're trying to divert attention from what's going on in Palestine and Iraq"…

Emad El Din Adeeb: They are politicising what you are doing.

Mouafac Harb: Yes, exactly, they are politicising what we are doing and this is something that you see a lot in the Arab media.

Salah Negm: I think the issue of Darfur is part of the misconception about Arab media and the Western media. The story wasn't broken by Western media; it was broadcast by Sudanese journalists who were working for Arab satellite channels, and these satellite channels paid the price for broadcasting about Darfur very early on. After we broadcast the story, then it died down a little. It was a very difficult area to get to until a Western journalist arrived there and had pictures and it became a story again. And in defence of Arab media, you are ignoring it, and we are not.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I would like to ask my colleague, MG, you sell pictures. Is it sexy enough to sell pictures from Darfur, or only Palestine and Baghdad is interesting enough?

Mohammed Gohar: No, I sell pictures from Darfur, but the real thing we have to discuss for Arab television is that Arab television has other topics. There is religion, there is politics, there is their own interior politics, which they are about before doing information and picture delivery. If, in Darfur, a Muslim is killing a non-Muslim, then it doesn't really interest the Arabic media, but if it's vice versa it will be a hit for them, and they will take it. We have to admit that there are other topics being presented in the Arabic media rather than just doing their journalistic professionalism.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Do you mean we are biased? We are racist? Admit it.

Mohammed Gohar: We are biased. We work under pressure. There are millions of factors. We refused for a long time in the Middle East to consider Israel. We are not covered well by the other side, and Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera are not allowed to work in Iraq at this moment, so how can you ban them from working and then judge their ethics?

Emad El Din Adeeb: Gentlemen, this session has a president and it's me!

Chuck Lustig (ABC news): I didn't want this session to end before we talked about conscience, and my conscience, and that's about the employees of Arab networks who are doing the dirty work in Iraq and for that we all owe them a great deal of gratitude because as it gets more and more dangerous for Westerners to go out in Iraq, it is your employees who are covering what is going on in the country today. And for that, we owe you a great deal of thanks.

Joel Campagna (Senior Program Editor, Committee for the Protection of Journalists): I just wanted to say that I think it's very healthy to have this dialogue on ethics in the media, and I think it's certainly preferable to censorship, as we saw people referencing the closure of Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera in Baghdad. I think I'd like to agree with Abdallah that the trend in Arab satellite broadcasting is towards greater professionalism and integrity because of this debate that's taking place. One other point: I think it's important to provide some context to the coverage of why we are seeing the type of coverage we do and if we look at Arab satellite channels, they are virtually all not commercially driven entities, rather they are driven by the need to have maximum viewership, I think that explains the varying degrees of coverage we see.

Virginia Miranda (International Committee of the Red Cross): I've heard some of you referring to talking about the Geneva convention, properly mentioning the need and necessity of having a code of conduct on reporting the violation of international humanitarian law, so I really would just like to make a point here to all of you, there is a need for an international conduct of journalism and of ethics and I really encourage you to find it from the universal values that you share. It is your responsibility to find it, as the Geneva convention regulates laws and military action, so please, I encourage you to talk about that.

Tim Williams (Operations Director, institute for war & peace reporting): We're involved in training journalists in the region using Arabic journalists as well as international journalists, and I think there's been a lot of discussion today about ethics and selection for pictures, and I'd also like to point out something my Arabic trainer colleagues are saying, which is also that words are equally important. Selection of words is very limiting and restricting with Arabic. Western journalists particularly may not be aware of the restrictions that Arabic puts on journalists in broadcasting the media. We've just produced a handbook for journalists working in crisis areas. It's caused us a huge amount of problems because there are certain discussions such as how do you translate the word future? How do you translate the word community? It's something that also needs to be understood and underlined in the West.

Margaret Ward (Foreign Editor, RTE (The Irish Public Service Broadcasting Organisation): I just wanted to move back again to the issue of the use of pictures. We talked earlier in relation to the NBC report about the taste issue and gruesomeness, which is obviously an issue for all of us when it comes to videos from Iraq and in terms of hostages--both the pleadings of hostages and the beheading of hostages. But apart from the gruesomeness and the taste issue involved, I'm sure most of us don't use the worst elements of these. I'm just interested in what the level of debate among other broadcasters is about the propaganda element about using these videos, because this is quite a live debate in our channel, and we are still using some of the pictures to show that some of these people are hostages, but we are not using the pleadings. I'm interested to see what other people are doing about this. I'm also interested in the Al Jazeera decision not to use the video of Margaret Hassan and how they arrived at that decision

Emad El Din Adeeb: Now we move to a very interesting part. Foreign media might die and become victims in Palestine and in Iraq or wherever there are wars or tension, but only Arab media people go to prison or are killed looking at democracies or corruption in their own countries. We are victims when we start talking about the most sensitive issues which is what happens inside our own Arab systems. You don't go to prison because you are talking about war, you go to prison when you are talking about election, democracy, about transition of power or about what's happening in this corrupt government that you are covering. Now, how much is the West and Arab media covering the issues of democracy and corruption? And how much are we all in the Arab world and the West responsible for the making of Saddam Hussein? When it was reported that he was our ally, facing the Satan of Iran during the Khomeini times? A lot of money was paid to Saddam; there was a lot of good press for him in the West, that he was our ally, that he was the one who would stand against this Iranian terrorist, these Iranian killers. Also, how much are we partners in making the case for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and creating the myth of Bin Laden? How much money was paid from the Arab world and how much good reporting was there? If you return to the meeting of the Taliban delegation in Washington, the last Taliban delegation, to be received by an American president, and the reporting in the American media was favourable. Now we discover that the Taliban are so and so and so. Now we discover Bin Laden is a killer. Now we discover that some Arab systems are not democratic. But my God, they've been undemocratic for a thousand years! Since the Pharaohs! But only now when you're not happy with them, only now when things are changing, there are double standards. Let us talk about corruption and democratisation.

Let's start with Al Jazeera because this is the station that suffered most from covering such stories. Ahmed, what do you say about democratisation, corruption, and what is happening inside our Arab countries?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: Well, before I answer that Emad, can I just come back to something regarding the situation in Darfur? My colleague said that we ignored the situation there. I must make it clear in the first place that our office in Khartoum was closed down by the Sudanese government and now it has been closed down for almost a year, and we were not allowed to go to Darfur to cover things there. However, as of late, we have been on the borders of Darfur and Chad and we managed to send some reports from the part of the rebels. We are still waiting for the Sudanese government to allow us to start our activities again in Khartoum. Having said that, now we come to the question of democratisation and all these things. I think because Al Jazeera raised the banner of democracy and freedom of speech in the Arab world, we are now suffering. If you look at our bureau map over the Arab world, you will find that in many places, we are not allowed to work. Take as I said, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, many Arab countries are not allowing us to open up our bureaus there and start working. The main reason they always give is what we broadcast in our talk show programmes, which are always focused on democracy and freedom of speech and the necessity for a greater degree of transparency in the Arab world. So this is why I think Al Jazeera is suffering more than the others who might not be as forthcoming and as courageous as Al Jazeera in covering these issues. But regarding what you said about Bin Laden and who made the myth of Bin Laden, this is a very good question that I think should be addressed from the very beginning. It is not Al Jazeera who made the myth of bin Laden, when we try to blame Al Jazeera for reporting the Bin Laden tapes, we are in this case blaming the messenger.

Emad El Din Adeeb: We are not accusing Al Jazeera of this, we are not blaming Al Jazeera for everything, but there is a question coming to me from everyone, which is why Al Jazeera did not broadcast the beheading scenes lately?

Ahmed Al-Sheikh: You're talking about the Margaret Hassan tape. Never before have we shown any beheading tape, whether hers or not. Nicholas Berg, whoever, the Italian guy who was killed earlier this year, we never showed these tapes, not a single frame. It's a policy, it's a longstanding editorial policy of Al Jazeera not to show these tapes.

Nart Bouran: We have a similar policy towards the tapes, and we have been consistent with that policy from the beginning. These tapes are always available to us and usually they ask for money, and we made a decision right from the beginning that we will never pay for anything such as that. We had a tape of the killing of Mr Bigley that we had decided as well after consideration that we were not going to use. It's a consistent policy, it doesn't go back and forth and as with the Bigley tape, we decided it was not for us to act as a mouthpiece for any of these organizations that are kidnapping and killing hostages.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I want to return again to the corruption issue and let me be a little bit naughty and talk about it. OK, if you can talk about corruption at Al Jazeera in a country like Egypt, or a country like Jordan, or in Al Arabiya, you can talk about corruption in a country like Sudan. The question is can Al Jazeera talk about corruption in Qatar? Can Al Arabiya talk about it in Saudi Arabia? Can I in Orbit talk about corruption in Saudi Arabia, because the ownership comes from Saudis? Can Egyptian television talk about corruption in Egypt? We are very good about being transparent in other Arab countries, but not transparent about the sponsors of our networks, and we have to confess here that we are not 100 hundred percent free doing our jobs and I need to challenge anybody who can tell me the opposite of this. Can anybody from the Arab media challenge me?

Salah Negm: I think we have to draw the distinction between the Arab satellite channels and the local channels. Pan-Arab channels or satellite channels will deal with issues that are of interest to 22 countries, and these issues are the major political issues like Palestine and democratisation in general, and it doesn't go to specifics. If it does, it does that in a three-minute report about corruption in Egypt or Morocco or wherever, but it is the role of local television which are financed by these governments and which should represent the diversity of that society locally to talk about corruption, democracy, about local elections, about raising taxes, and actually being the fourth estate for supervising all the functions of government and guide the legislature and create and guide public opinion

Emad El Din Adeeb: You know and I know that we are selective in our channels. We talk about democratisation when we want to, but not really when it is necessary. This is my judgment, this is your judgment

Mouafac Harb: I've heard it several times today in this meeting, and I would like to make an observation. We say local channels in the Arab media that are controlled and funded by the state, as if the pan-Arab satellite ones are free and funded by Jefferson. They are all funded by the state somehow. It's a myth that the pan-Arab satellite channels are free and independent, and you know more than I do, and if anybody can challenge me and point to one satellite channel in the Arab world that is not linked to an Arab regime money-wise, or an intelligence apparatus, or the son of a king or the nephew of a prince.

Emad El Din Adeeb: And also I would like to challenge you to prove to me that Alhurra is not funded by the American government or by the CIA or FBI!

Mouafac Harb: I will take that challenge. Your point is a legitimate one. It's very important. However, it is deceiving on the surface, and I'll tell you why. If the political system in every single Arab country were similar to the United States political system then I would take your argument. We are not a mouthpiece of an administration, it is not a one party rule. If the president of the US were elected like the kings and the princes in the Arab world, then I would take your analogy and draw that parallel, but that is not the case. We are publicly funded by taxpayers. However, Arab media outlets are the mouthpieces of Arab governments

Emad El Din Adeeb: We are funded by tax takers, you are funded by taxpayers!

Tony Maddox (VP news, CNN): We thought we were objectively moving the barriers and nothing like the excuses I've heard--the Socialist party was against us, the Catholics were against us, so surely we were doing something right. Anyway, thank you for asking the question, I think we have to recognise that by having a greater visibility in the Arab world, with the pan-Arabic channels, something has been unleashed. Now our keynote speaker has clearly said that he is in favour of democratic liberal media, at the same time, he says in the keynote that he closes down Al Jazeera when their reporting gets a little bit too hot under his feet. The question is, some of you have worked for state media in the Arab world and some are still working for state media in the Arab world, so the question is, is something moving? Are you moving into freer reporting--not necessarily as extreme as exposing corruption in Egypt--but is there a movement? Do you sense a movement that on a national, local level, you are beginning to have an effect on the debate in your country?

Abdallah Schleifer: I think partially to answer that I have to start with Mouafac Harb's comments that everything is all the same. There is a relative difference between satellite channels, which may be state funded, but given a great deal of independence, except when it touches perhaps on the one home base, and local channels, state channels, where the relationship is very clear, the minister of information usually makes his office in the very building of local state television. Local state television is totally under the direction of the state, which is not the case for the satellite channels, which have to bend over backwards on a story that touches on Saudi Arabia or Qatar, but generally function independently. I think the whole point of what I was trying to say in my first presentation is that there is obvious movement towards professionalism and greater reporting but I want to clarify one thing. That was that when I said there was no Arab satellite channel reporting fourteen years ago, I was talking about Arab television. Journalism was not born in the Arab world fourteen years ago. There is an honourable tradition in print journalism which predates the nationalizations and predates the heavy investment in technology which goes back to the nineteenth century, and I think that's something to look back towards, both for good points and weak points, and I don't think we should lose track of that.

Meliza Pepic (Media Diversity London): My background is neither in the Arab world nor the West, but in the so called third-block, post-communist countries, so we have experienced all that you have been discussing. I have been to all the News Xchange conferences, and this is the first one where I have seen my colleagues being so confessional and so self-critical, I think they are setting the tone for this conference, I think we should follow your example and be more self-critical than observing how it is happening and what is happening generally. So let's follow your example. Thank you.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I want to ask my colleague Ibrahiim Mousawi, when you report at Al Manar, do you have self-criticism? When you report on Hezbollah do you have it? Or when you report on Iran as a friendly country to your party?

Ibrahim Mousawi: First of all, I'm representing Manar television here, not Hezbollah or any other party. We do support the cause of liberation in Lebanon so we don't go into certain things. I do agree that there should be a certain transparency that should be supported or provided, but when you talk about causes and issues, we cannot raise our voices when there is battle or strife as we say, but we do have self-critical things at Manar TV, we do make mistakes. I would like to pinpoint this trend towards professionalism in the Arab world. We once displayed a newsflash about the Statue of Liberty with blood coming out of it. We wanted to highlight the atrocities and aggression of the American occupation in Iraq, and we recognized directly that this may cause offence to the American people and citizens, something which we didn't mean in any way so we withdrew it directly. There is this kind of continuous assessment and evaluation. We see what we can do and what we can talk about and what we cannot talk about at certain times. Yes, we do have certain criticisms, but they are minor ones. It doesn't go up to the level that you like or that we like, but this is the situation that you're talking about.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I would like to move to Paris and ask a question about Arabs living in a country like let's say, France. There are six million Muslims living there. how much are they affected by what's being aired on pan-Arab television? Also, How do you look at the case of the hijab, and the way the media reported it either Western or Arab media? How much did this create more or less tension in your society?

Nahida Nakad: This is one of the major problems in French society. It is first of all a secular society, very much so. It is legally secular. Therefore we had all this problem with the hijab that hasn't been very well understood in some countries because hijab is not allowed in public schools if you remember and then there was a law that banned it totally from public schools. The Muslim community in France is about five to six million and they've been receiving the satellite channels for about the past three years and they've had two things happen. First of all, they are discovering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which they didn't really understand because they came mainly from north Africa and they are living it through images that are really strong and commentaries that are really strong, so it is giving them a point of view that they are believing and they are taking for granted what is being said in the Arab media in general. Al Jazeera is the channel that is mainly looked at. As for the hijab, in fact being in a secular state that encourages secularism, the hijab question was covered by the French media in a totally different fashion. The French media went parallel to what the government said and they covered the hijab question as something that should be banned. There was a bias about it in the French media because it's very much anchored in the French republic and French secularism so it was the way it was presented, while on the Arab channels, it was shown as an undemocratic decision and an undemocratic law, so the people who were looking at it were encouraged, especially the Arab women and families who wanted them to wear it.

Emad El Din Adeeb: Was there any chance to explain the other position? Or was it only one-sided? For instance we have fallen into the trap of saying what the French government is proposing is anti-democratic, and not sensitive to Islamic virtues while also the same image came from France that they have been covering it, that this is a decision that can only be taken by the French government and nobody else should interfere in this, and if you don't like it, get out of the country. Did anybody play the part of trying to explain the situation to the other or try and build a bridge of understanding and ask why you are looking at me this way?

Nahida Nakad: This is the problem. It came out so quickly, and that is the problem with the media. We started talking about this problem when we saw women going into schools with the hijab, but it's not only the hijab, it is any religious sign. A cross is not allowed in the school, it's such a passionate discussion that no one really listened to the other. There is now an organisation which is the French Muslims who are now in a dialogue with the government, but the real problem is that there was no explanation for the Arab world of the French view, although it is so important to the French. They are not saying go out, all they are saying is that you cannot go in with a hijab, although you can cover your head as long as it is not an ostentatious religious sign

Emad El Din Adeeb: Did they report when the French Muslims went to Iraq and said that they stood by their government and took a very positive decision and a very understanding decision? Was that reported in a fair way in the French media?

Nahida Nakad: Yes very much so. It was a chance somehow because things were really at breaking point, it's quite interesting from a French point of view receiving the Arab media because this is a question that all Arab media should ask itself is what to do with religion in a democracy? In fact, religion should be totally separated from the state, because religion isn't democratic, it's your faith, it's a private thing and it's not very democratic. When I look at the Arab media, because I'm an Arab speaker myself, there is an enormous part given up to religion and religious programmes and the question we ought to ask is, is democracy compatible with religion? Can we really talk about democracy in countries where religion is taking over?

Mohammed Gohar: We have to admit that we cannot discuss and handle our little problems like handling power or democracy or implementing the Sharia law and we are facing many difficulties discussing these problems. Like our friend Ezz El-Din who criticised the minister of agriculture in Egypt, and has now spent three years in prison. The minister of agriculture was himself kicked out by his own government, for the same accusation the journalist made, and we have another friend, Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid, who lives in asylum because he asked to discuss publicly the implementation of Sharia law in Egypt, so these are little problems that we suffer, but we do have full democracy in criticising Bush and Sharon.

Hosam El-Sokkari: I would like to take your challenge about being funded as a public service. We in the BBC are funded by a grant in aid from the British government and I can claim that we don't have any pressure to be friendly towards British policies or the policies of any country friendly to the British government. However, I would like to point out that at the same time, I am seeing and sensing a very positive move towards being self-critical, and together with that, I'm also sensing that journalism is a profession with a cause, be it mobilising forces towards resistance against the occupiers or mobilizing forces towards democracy and against corruption. I think there is a third way. In the BBC, we don't see ourselves as a medium with a political message. We are a platform for debate. Since we started our phone-in, we discussed issues like corruption and democracy but at the same time we offered as much diversity as possible for people to discuss these issues. We don't see that our job is to mobilize forces or mobilize the streets against governments.

Emad El Din Adeeb: In this room, we have something like 420 veteran journalists or people that are interested in the matter. I'll ask a question: Do you believe that big media, sponsored by millions, whoever is the sponsor, that there is any media without a political message? If you think there is any media without a political message, raise your hand. If you believe that there is no media without a political message, raise your hand now. It's both, it's complex.

Do you think your job is only to report or to report with a cherry on the pie, which is a conscience? Only to report--raise your hand now-to report with a view, raise your hand now.

The question is can anybody define, what is your job?

Yes I'm asking the question, somebody tell me in one sentence what is it your job to do with your camera and mike?

(Unknown): My job is to report and to make money out of that.

Emad El Din Adeeb: That is a point of view.

Hosam El-Sokkari: We can see a camp here of people that say they have a political agenda. We would like people to do this and that, we are promoting our own cause and ideas, and there is a difficult camp to be part of which says "I'm not part of this. I'm there to promote public debate and to give people the chance to get as much information as possible about a particular event."

Emad El Din Adeeb: Point well taken, but is there a sugar-free gum? Is there a political-free reporter?

Svenning Algaard (correspondent, TV2 Denmark): I think you are off the point. In the past two or three years, I have traveled around and done a lot of reporting on Muslim and immigrant societies in Europe. I think when you take the question of the veil in France, you have to talk to Muslims that are in favour as well as against, try to show to the Danish viewers why this can be so important for you from a religious point of view but also why can you as a Muslim living in Paris say to your fellow citizens, that you have to accept the secular state of France because it is a level of freedom that gives you freedom within the ghetto to say no because the state is on your side. I think when you are reporting you have to give the background, and that's not a question of having your own point of view, you have to give the background.

Emad El Din Adeeb: I would like to thank our colleagues that have joined us from Dohar and from Paris and from Beirut, thank you for joining us and for your contribution to this discussion. For the ladies that are asking what is my name and you have got mixed up with Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise, my name is Emad Adeeb and I was your host for today! Thank you.

 

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