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Gap between Arab, Western media overstated – conference

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Amani Soliman of BBC Monitoring on 16 May

    The "gap" between pan-Arab and Western media in reporting on key Middle East issues such as Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was closely scrutinized at a conference in London this week.

    Arab and Western journalists working in media outlets across the world gathered at the School of Oriental and African Studies on 14 May. They debated the increasingly central role the media is playing in conflicts in the Middle East, and the disparities between Western and Arab media coverage.


Iraq dominates

    During a session entitled "The way to save Iraq is for US and UK troops to leave", Jonathan Steele of the Guardian disagreed with Anne Leslie from the Daily Mail over whether the Iraqis approved of the invasion of their country by "foreign troops".

    Steele, who has recently returned from a visit to Iraq, said: "There is no way Arabs and Iraqis could have welcomed the invasion of Iraq."

    "Unless there is a specific timetable set for the withdrawal of the US and UK troops, the situation will never end peacefully in Iraq," he added.

    Questions were raised over whether the presence of the US and UK troops was fuelling the violence in Iraq. Omayma Abd-al-Latif, from the Carnegie Centre for International Peace, said that the Iraqi parties who want the troops to remain in Iraq have no influence on the escalating violence.

    Pressures from domestic public opinion in both the UK and the US would eventually force the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, the panel agreed, as Iraq remains the top election item for the leaders of these countries.

    The debate concluded that the coverage of Iraq in Arab and Western media was determined by the different agendas and the political affiliations of the financiers of the outlets.


Degrees of freedom

    The different degrees of freedom of expression or the lack of it in Western and Arab countries and the impact on media performance emerged as a contentious issue.

    Stephen Grey, a British freelance journalist, told the gathering of the difficulties he had faced in finding funding in the UK for a book he recently wrote on "extraordinary rendition".

    He said that he eventually had to fund it himself, "despite being in a Western country which enjoys freedom of expression." He added that while researching the book in Egypt and Syria, he had faced many challenges.

    Sharon Schmickle from the Minneapolis Star Tribune said that in the US, journalists had to "struggle to reach the bottom line."

    She commented: "Unlike the Arab press, in the US we have hyper-local coverage; we are going local rather than global."

    There was consensus that all over the world, it was becoming more difficult for journalists to do their jobs with no restrictions. However, in the West it was more a case of self-censorship than government-imposed controls.

    Source: BBC Monitoring research 16 May 07



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