Environmental Journalism in the UAE
When interviewing government officials, many of whom are Emiratis and do not speak English fluently, language was sometimes a problem. This was usually overcome by the presence of a deputy, usually an expatriate, who translated the official’s answers or directly replied to questions. This could cause problems in attributing direct quotes, which were solved by carefully revisiting interview details on record. Dr Christopher Davidson’s books about Abu Dhabi and Dubai (Davidson 2008 and 2009) are detailed and candid studies, which were invaluable for this paper. Peyman Pejman’s recent article about the UAE’s English-language press provided not only a number of useful insights, but also staff and circulation figures (Pejman 2009). Considering that not much has been written about the English-language press and environmental journalism in the UAE, it is hoped that this paper will be able to make a valuable contribution to the research in this field.
Another helpful factor was the emergence of e-government in the UAE, which has made a wide range of official documents and statistics available online. This research was complemented by site visits to an organic farm, an afforestation area, the Masdar construction site and informal conversations with a variety of UAE residents, including a number of journalists.
Since neither The National nor the Khaleej Times can be found on Nexis or other archives and the author was not given access to the papers’ in-house archives, the case study in Section 3 is based on material found through the papers’ websites. According to the City University School of Arts librarian, this was the best available method of accessing the materials. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the material found online is not the entire output that the papers produced on the sample subjects.
While in the UAE, much time was spent arranging interviews and site visits since attempts to secure permissions and interview appointments prior to arrival had failed. Once the author had arrived in the UAE, however, repeated phone calls and personal office visits finally led to results.
The necessary permission for a site visit at Al Dhafra landfill proved impossible to obtain, as did meetings with a number of relevant interviewees. A general wariness of talking to researchers/journalists might have been exacerbated by the timing of the visit, which took place during the hottest time of the year, just before Ramadan, when many people take their holiday.
The meetings that did take place were insightful, with interviewees taking time for detailed, frank conversations.2
Section 1 The international context of environmental journalism in the UAE
1 A wealth of relatively topical environmental information was available on the website of the Abu
Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), which publishes highly useful sector papers and
“state of the environment reports“.
2 Only one interviewee, an EAD official, appeared extremely guarded and preferred the conversation not to be recorded.
3 For details on the history of environmental journalism in the US, see Appendix 5
4 As noted by Stern (2009:16) climate change “involves substantial risk and uncertainty, which, cumulatively, are very large, not only because our knowledge is incomplete, but also because solar, planetary and other processes have an inherent randomness.“
5 After all, stories can range from the presentation of an eco-friendly car (which might fall into the lifestyle section) to the coverage of a new carbon trading scheme (which would be covered by the current affairs or business desks).
6 According to Sachsman’s survey (2006:105), US environmental reporters rely heavily on government sources, who have the democratic duty to provide data to the public. It is worth considering that Sachsman’s survey was undertaken during the presidency of George W. Bush, whose government did not see the environment as a priority. This indicates that democratic systems can ensure a functioning relationship between environmental journalists and government, even when environmental issues are a low priority for government.
7 Corporate associations, on the other hand, were ranked towards the bottom a list of 29 sources, indicating that the relationship between corporations and environmental journalists is tenuous.
8 Unless they pertain to flora and fauna that is in some way connected to national, regional or secular pride.
9 Al-Nakhy, the first newspaper ever published in what is now UAE territory, was written on cardboard and stuck in a shop window by a merchant in the 1920s to attract more customers. The first English-language newspaper, The Recorder, was published by an Indian businessman in 1967 and was dominated by advertisements and trade news.
10 The only reported arrest in recent years was that of V. M. Sathish in 2005, who was briefly held by Dubai police for alleged libel.
11 Various personal interviews summer 2009
12 Various personal interviews summer 2009.
13 The UAE’s first national budget, for example, included generous funding for environmental initiatives, which saw a comparable amount being spent on the establishment of a zoo for endangered species as on national healthcare (Davidson 2009:137).
14 In 2007 it launched the ambitious Masdar City project (a ‘zero-waste, zero-carbon emissions’ ecocity near Abu Dhabi) and in June 2009 it won the bid to house the new headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
15 The reshuffle appears to have caused managerial upheaval, leading to the resignations of several high-ranking editors and culminating in the dissolution of the paper’s board of directors in April 2009 and the appointment of Bikram Vohra, a former editor of the paper, as the new CEO (Hope 2008).
16 According to the paper’s former CEO Didier Brun, the circulation was 75,000 last year (Hope 2008). Seeing as Gulf News has an independently verified circulation of more than 118,000 (Smalley 2009), this would be far from enough to warrant the Khaleej Times’ disputed claim.