Tag Archives democracy

Bolstering the blogosphere

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Good News™: More people noticing that blogging is no longer a phenomenon:

The blogosphere, as media expert Dr. Mark Lynch points out, is able to ‘escape the state driven red lines which even the most independent of Arab media is forced to acknowledge’. As such, they fit in with the EU’s agenda, enshrined in the Barcelona Process and European Neighbourhood Policy, of promoting a freer media in the Middle East. Not only does the internet allow Middle Eastern citizens to hold their (often unelected) leaders to account, it also provides a medium through which citizens can engage with politics and with each other. Empowering pluralism and strengthening civil society have also been among the much heralded side-effects of the blogosphere, both of which are central tenets in the EU’s relationship with the Middle East.


We’ve done a UN!

90 minutes, lots of talk from opinionated people, and no conclusion. Does that sound like the Arab League or the UN or any other gathering fueled by world media…

What I liked about it is that no matter what these people do, and no matter how much they attack blogs and bloggers, they will come to the eventual realisation that blogging is here to stay. It has ceased to be a phenomenon a long time ago, but they are still holding on to that dream of the “big red switch”.

Well, let them dream, the Internet and the free and easy availability of blogging platforms has unleashed the Arab imagination and capability to criticise their governments and write about things they are passionate about.

Dr. Anwar Gergash, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, UAE

I loved what the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the UAE, Dr. Anwar Gergash said in response to a question by the moderator which he laid out how blogs should be regarded as far as laws are concerned and that is the traditional press should use the strictest rules of journalistic ethics, a little bit more leeway should be given to TV and radio, while blogs should be the least controlled, and their owners most certainly should not be chased with libel lawsuits.

Why? He explained that theory specifically well which demonstrates his deep understanding of new media in general and his preparedness to accept criticism. He said that there should be a separation between news and opinions; news must be reported with full journalist ethics as the cascading effects of reporting incorrect news might have some adverse reactions; while in the case of opinions and comments, those should be regarded as the essence of freedom of expression and their instigators should be left alone. I suspect he also holds the opinion that if someone takes umbrage with those opinions, then they should be resolved by posting a response to that opinion or comment, or even creating a blog and posting their competing thoughts on that.

Dr. Gergash says that he follows blogs as he gets the raw information from them, rather than the editor doctored content from the traditional main stream media. He says that if there are 4 television stations in a country and maybe 30 newspapers, there are more than 500 blogs in that country possibly and if those 500 bloggers are talking about a unique particular subject then that has weight and indicates the unadulterated feeling on the street. Something that you cannot get from traditional media.

This is what I call a responsible way of thinking of things. Blogs are as varied as those people writing in them and it is impossible to hold them to a code of ethics should they choose to ignore that, and more importantly, as most blogs are opinions of individuals they should be respected as such and left alone.

Lawrence Pintak (director, Adham Centre for Television Journalism, American University of Cairo) goes a bit further; he asserts that in the US specifically if a person chooses to be in a public persona, be that an entertainer or the president of the United States, the ability of the people to criticise them – in person and/or the position they hold – becomes a free for all, in law! The burden of proof then shift to that public persona to prove malicious intent on the part of the critic rather than the other way around. The situation changes completely when one unfairly libels his neighbour for instance, then that neighbour could take his critic to court and thence to the cleaners.

Obviously what we have in our little world is the complete opposite; once a person gains the status of public persona, a further status of inviolate demigod is also bestowed upon him or her. In fact, if a person holds any position in government, be that a janitor or a clerk, one – taking the Penal Code and the Press and Publications Law of 2002 into consideration – one should be very careful and research that person’s familial and tribal affiliation before daring to criticise! Even if that person can claim that he played marbles with the son of the 2nd cousin of the divorced wife of the middle manager whose father once helped change the punctured tyre of a dead minister’s blind uncle – once removed – is a dangerous enterprise and would ensure that the law when applied to you will be double as that would be through the “extraneous circumstances”!

Another person who not only demonstrated that he and his organisation understood the emerging power of bloggers, but also is actively trying to harness that power is Major Gen. William Caldwell, (Spokesperson, Multinational Force in Iraq) who says that a year ago they have one person following blogs, 6 months ago they had 4 (if I remember correctly) and now not only do they have people following what is written in blogs, but they have weekly conference calls with bloggers in order to apprise them of operations and field information of the front! Smart, very smart. I hope that others in our area will emulate this pattern.

The whole session took a life of its own with blogs and blogging ethics taking centre stage. Which I personally think is unfortunate as the published topic of the session I think is much more important and should be investigated more fully without this distraction of non-bloggers issuing fatwas on the dos and don’ts of blogging.

I was particularly dismayed by how Abdellatif Al-Menawy, (head of news, ERTU) has hijacked the session, doing an Ameen Omar on us. The guy was talking like a machine-gun going at the highest setting not even stopping for breath once in a while defending the great Egyptian government and condoning the authorities reaction to “wayward” bloggers. He suggested that there never was any harassment of women in the streets of Cairo and it was a bloggers’ conspiracy which exploded the issue needlessly! He waxed lyrical on how great the system was and bloggers should be (and I paraphrase) hung, or at least have their opinions disregarded and never used as sources.

He was seconded by a blond Egyptian bimbo in the audience who went a few steps more in categorising bloggers basically as vermin (my feeling, not her words.)

I personally don’t know why I was included in this panel. I was the only blogger in there (as far as I can tell) who was not asked about what I think blogging is and who the typical bloggers are, but was set there – I think – to be lynched as the “irresponsible blogger” who published an unsubstantiated deposit slip, forgetting that I took pains to indicate that I wanted it authenticated and I took it upon myself to investigated by calling the receiving bank and then publishing the findings and offering and apology. And of course forgetting that that particular slip was heavily distributed through chain-mails.

No matter, at least it brings these issues to the fore, and I am thrilled to hear government decision makers like Dr. Gergash and Major Gen. Caldwell now “clicking on”, so there is hope that other high-ranking officials in this region’s governments would do so too.

As you can tell, the session could have been managed a bit better, though Husam did try and I empathise with him, but people were just wanting to hear themselves talk and argue; it is their moment of being in a historic multicast and didn’t want to give that chance up.

Conclusions? None really, the basic discussion of The Battle for Democracy in the Arab World should have been the central theme and although it was touched upon, it most certainly was not the main theme of the session. My suggestion for future sessions is to have less people on the panel, be more methodical in asking questions and directing and redirecting errant observations back to the central theme.

Still, I enjoyed the experience tremendously. This is a first for me and I look forward to doing more, it’s a lot of fun!

Now I’ll go have another coffee and wait for the delayed Gulf Air flight to take me back home. Thank goodness that tomorrow is yet another holiday in Bahrain, I can sleep in a bit!


It’s those Joooz! That’s who’se behind Darfur!

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I found and sat next to our friend Mr. Ameen Hassan Omar at lunch. I wanted to talk to him to see where his aligations that the International Crises Group is a biased source and that they should never be trusted.

He obliged and explained his position more fully:

He claims that the ICG has conducted seminars in London about Darfur in the Haulocaust memorial, meaning, (to him) that they are Jewish Zionists against Sudan’s Islmamic government specifically. It is a conspiracy, he contends, against not only Sudan and Darfur but the whole Muslim world.

When I suggested that their holding their seminar at the Haulacaust memorial might be because they wanted to draw attention to parallels, he scoffed. It’s the Jooze!

I chose to have my dessert elsewhere.


A moment in history, a MULTICAST!

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The next session, which I am part of, is supposed to make history in that it is going to be broadcast on Al-Jazeera live, Abu Dhabi TV, on BBC radio and streamed on bbcarabic.com and will accept not only audience participation but also through email.

The interesting thing is that Egyptian judge who is suing 21 Egyptian blogs is supposed to make an appearance via satellite. Other than the plagiarism issue, do you have any other issues you would like to put to him?

Send your questions (and plenty of them!) to [email protected]

Somebody go and tell the Egyptian bloggers about this please!

It should be interesting. Obviously I’ll blog about them later.

update: the guy chickened out and sent his lawyer in his stead who successfully epitomised and justified all those jokes about lawyers.


Investigative journalism in TV

investigative journalism

Is superficial to say the least, especially considering the “sound bite” culture that we live in now. This is another aspect that is being talked about in this session now. Again I find that rather than these esteemed TV personalities, journalists and editors face the issue directly, they are amplifying excuses.

What I would like to hear is that these leaders would have a sudden light-bulb moment and look 5 years or more in the future and realise that they should invest in both technology and people and envisage a time where a viewer can not only choose the channel he watches, but click on an item and get more information about that information.

Okay, that might be too far away in the future for this region, but there is nothing stopping them to do investigative reporting and publishing that on their internet site, and a summary (full of sound bites) being broadcast. That would mean that the internet site would drive TV content, rather than the other way around as is happening now.

That doesn’t mean of course that all of the TV content does not rise to the required standard, but it – like the traditional newspapers – need to really re-invent themselves. People are much more sofisticated now and require much more in-depth knowledge in order for them to make informed decisions.


ABF: ‘Journalism of Depth: Covering the Middle East’

Leila Sheikhali moderating the ABF

Television is the king of “sound bites”!

That’s all it is, everyone at this conference admitted that they – as television companies and editors – cannot offer full coverage, but at least try to provide context. Or at least they try to. But the depth of context actually can only come from media formats that people can actually peruse without the limitations of space and time requirements: books, and I personally thing, specialty blogs!

Or maybe specialty TV stations which concentrates on a specific subject, and that probably would be a “swarm TV” channel with various people contributing content, much like a specialised YouTube channel.

I’ve listened to respected and esteemed speakers for the last half hour since I wrote the above, and there is nothing new other than moans… “ooh mummy they won’t let me in and it’s so difficult” type of moans…

The Canadian CBC channel represented by Tony Burman showed the Arab television networks up by showing a clip of some of the things his TV and crew get up to and that is getting right in the event, like katyusha rockets going around them lobbed at the Israeli side by Hizbollah and talk shows which seemingly go deep in the issue.

Hosam El Sokkari (head, BBC Arabic Network) just confirmed by point above and that is blogs have become much more effective in broadcasting and researching news than established TV channels.

Samira Kawar (editor, Middle East Report, Reuters TV) disagrees and suggests (again!) that blogs and blogging cannot be used as a “source” but rather used just as a “tip off” for a real journalist to go after the news and confirm it!

It sounds like these TV channels need to reinvent themselves and do that very quickly or be gone with them!


‘Darfur, it’s so difficult to get there!’

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Darfur refugees

The session was titled “Darfur, the forgotten crisis” and its scope is

Are the Arab media turning a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in their own backyard. Many Western journalists along with former U.S. Secretary Powell have characterized Darfur as a genocide. Sudan’s President Bashir accuses Western media and NGOs of greatly exaggerating the crisis. But are the Arab media reporting fully the events in Darfur and holding those responsible for it to account?

Let me first disclose that I arrived at the latter half of the session, so I did miss a lot. However, thinking that the second half of any session is where decisions and positions are reached, it was anything but! The esteemed journalists were complaining of the difficulty of getting visas to enter the Sudan!

The government representative – if he is indeed – was a gentleman who heads the Sudan TV & Radio apparatus, Mr. Ameen Hassan Omar said that all the figures of the dead, destitute and migrants are “rubbish”! All lies! It is not 2 million, it is not even in the thousands!

The NGOs responded that even if it is one life lost, 9 lives, 200,000 lives (as the UN suggests) it is still too much and something needs to be done to eliminate the problem and end the fighting!

That positions was not amplified by the other guests unfortunately, but mulled again on the logistical issues to get to the area to report from.

Ali Al-Ahmed, the director of Abu Dhabi TV – which ceased to be a news channel and is now focusing on general entertainment – interjected rather forcefully that journalists should stop whining and get on with the job; and if they “can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen!”

I met with Ali in the break and asked him his views on the dearth of Darfur coverage, and asked him directly why that is when if we compare it with the Lebanese/Israeli recent war, and even though Lebanon suffered a lot less destruction and lasted a lot shorter, Darfur is completely ignored. He suggested that because of the “internationality” of the Lebanese/Israeli conflict and the Israeli dimension necessitated the “blow-by-blow” coverage. Darfur, he suggests, is a localised problem and is distant from the centre of the Arab psyche.

When the Arab networks were pushed to answer the allegation that they do not and did not cover Darfur effectively and certainly inadequately. Al-Arabiya and Jazeera vehemently denied the allegations and suggested that they have and do give it good importance. I would not be able to judge as I do not watch either channel; but the atmosphere of the venue suggests that they could at least do more.

I must admit that I do not know much about this conflict; the Abu Dhabi TV reporter suggested that the whole conflict started due to a conflict about camels! And that some of the beneficiaries of the continued fighting are some of the Darfurians themselves and gave examples that some Darfurians choose to live in refugee camps and rent their houses and live on international NGOs handouts!

This conflict must be brought to center-stage, as that is a conflict that must be understood and treated globally. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying needlessly and millions are destitute because of – what I understand – government rigidness and prevarication.


ABF: ‘The Battle for Democracy in the Arab World’

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Organiser: Arab Broadcast Forum

Venue: Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Date and Time: The conference will be 29-30 April, the session will be at 3pm on 30 April.

Format: No written contributions or speeches are needed. This is more of a chat with friends and colleagues who are interested in your views. There will be contributions from the audiences and email contributions from the public. Expect your views to be challenged and be ready for lots of fun!

Language: Arabic. Ar-E and E-Ar simultaneous translation will be available for audiences and panelists. The Arabic stream will be taken for tv and radio.

Key questions: It is more than a decade since the launch of the first Arab satellite tv news channels. Have such channels contributed in developing a better understanding of democracy? Should the media promote and advocate democracy or only report the the debate? Who do satellite channels speak for? the majority or the minority? Do they represent the masses or the voices of descent? Do they reflect the range of views in the Arab World? Are they being challenged by the bloggers and does the increasing influence of Arab bloggers mean that the media failed in reflecting the diversity of opinions in the Arab World?

Moderator: Hosam El Sokkari, head, BBC Arabic Network
Featured Speakers: Abdellatif Al-Menawy, head of news, ERTU; Lawrence Pintak, director, Adham Centre for Television Journalism, American University in Cairo, Mahmood Al-Yousif, blogger and activist, Bahrain; Saad Bin Tifla Al-Ajami, academic ex-minister of information in Kuwait; Major Gen. William Caldwell, Spokesperson, Multinational Force in Iraq.

This session will be produced with live audience participation from the audience. It will be broadcast live on BBC Arabic radio and streamed on BBCArabic.com in co-operation with Abu Dhabi Television.

This is going to be very interesting indeed. I’ll blog about it from Abu Dhabi if I get the chance, but expect to hear about it when I get back. This is going to be a day trip (a very long one mind you, I’ll be leaving at approximately 5am and returning just after midnight on the same day – I hope!)


The minister recants and withdraws case

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Very quickly after lodging an official complaint with the Public Prosecution, the Minister of Electricity and Water has recanted and withdrawn the libel case against a municipal councillor after mediation efforts by the councilor’s colleagues.

استجاب وزير الكهرباء الشيخ عبد الله بن سلمان آل خليفة للجهود المكثفة التي قام بها رئيسا مجلسي بلدي الشمالية والوسطى يوسف البوري وعبدالرحمن الحسن، وقرر سحب الشكوى التي كانت الوزارة قد تقدمت بها للنيابة العامة ضد عضو بلدي الوسطى صادق ربيع، على خلفية اتهاماته للوزارة بالفساد في مؤتمر صحافي عقده الشهر الماضي.

وكان الوزير، قد استقبل أمس (الخميس) وفداً بلدياً ضم رئيس بلدي الشمالية يوسف البوري والوسطى عبدالرحمن الحسن، ونائبه عباس محفوظ، إضافة إلى عضو بلدي الوسطى صادق ربيع، وذلك للتفاهم والتنسيق بشأن القضية المشار إليها، فيما ثمن بلدي الوسطى، موقف الوزير واستجابته مشكورا بسحب القضية من النيابة العامة، على أن تسلم جميع الملفات ذات العلاقة للوزير لدراستها ومتابعتها مع المجلس البلدي
الوقت – ٢٠/Ù¤/٢٠٠٧

This is good news of course. Apart from the fact that – in an impartial judicial system – there is no way that the minister would win this case; the Ministry of Electricity’s reputation in particular is far from pure, he has shown complete intolerance to criticism and rather than asking for the allegations to be brought forward to be rationally discussed and any shortcomings identified and eradicated, he has taken the now fashionable line which is “sue now, ask questions later.”

What was the end result of this action then? A meeting between the two protagonists took place and promises were made that the shortcomings identified by the municipal councillor will be documented and treated.

Why this was not done from day one and save time and spent reputations is anyone’s guess. The result as far as I can see is that it has now become de rigeur to sue without any thought at what these actions by high officials actually do to the reputation of the country as a whole.


mum’s the word

This sounds SO familiar!

وقال العضو البلدي ربيع في رده على الاتهام الموجه له: أنا قلت ما قلت من باب ممارسة دوري الرقابي الذي يكفله الدستور لي كمواطن وكعضو بلدي، وقد ناشدت جلالة الملك بالتدخل لإصلاح أوضاع الوزارة إصلاحاً كلياً.

وأكد «أنا لم أهن أية سلطة، وإنما كنت أمارس دوري الرقابي، وهدفي كان الصالح العام وليس توجيه الإهانة لأي أحد».

يشار إلى أن المادة (216) من قانون العقوبات تنص على أنه «يعاقب بالحبس أو الغرامة من أهان بإحدى طرق العلانية المجلس الوطني أو غيره من الهيئات النظامية أو الجيش أو المحاكم أو السلطات أو المصالح العامة».
الوسط – ١٩/Ù¤/٢٠٠٧

The councillor stated that: “I did not insult any authority, what I did was exercise my oversight responsibility and my intention was to the general good of the country rather than purposefully insulting anyone“.

In an email interview, the Jerusalem Post reporter asked me whether the troubles I am facing are symptomatic of attempts by the government of Bahrain to silence criticism. I answered no, of course not, I don’t believe in conspiracies.

I would like to change my answer now to the affirmative.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any shadow of a doubt any more. Any criticism is not taken as just that any more, an attempt from concerned citizens to better their lot and to act in a supervisory role and attempt with their criticism to correct or at least highlight the various ills they experience on a daily basis in their own country, but as personal attacks and summary insults that hurt delicate feelings of purer than pure government organs and their officials.

More gardening and photography posts coming up!