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Saudi editor says virtue commission criticism leads to improvements

BBC Monitoring

Text of report by Saudi newspaper Al-Watan website on 2 October

[Report by Udwan al-Ahmari, Hani Hajji in Riyadh: Khashuqji: Media Criticism of the Virtue Commission Has Prompted Its Development]

Al-Watan editor-in-chief Jamal Khashuqji has said that Al-Watan aimed to be number one newspaper for every citizen, which is an objective it does not plan to abandon or deviate from. He said it also aimed that each reader would buy Al-Watan as well as their local paper, noting that Al-Watan was the only paper to be printed in four regions around the Kingdom.

Khashuqji noted that the fact the press has criticized the Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue has forced it to look into the practices of its members, raise their standard, organize courses for them, and improve their treatment of the public. He added that neither Al-Watan nor other papers were against the commission, noting that the other papers only reported on the commission when Al-Watan had done so.

At a lecture he delivered ! at the dialogue podium at Riyadh literary club on 30 September about "Al-Watan's experience in the past seven years," during which it was run by Muhammad al-Huwaymil, Khashuqji denied the paper's writers had any ideologically classified, stressing that the standard of its writers varied intellectually in terms of their treatment of issues.

Khashuqji noted that Al-Watan's founders paid attention to the local scene and handled sensitive local issues. He added that Al-Watan quickly took note of an important void on the local scene in a big country that has become a major economic and political force of influence in a world full of ideas and issues in a changing time. This interesting area caught their attention so they rushed to fill the void by rearranging the paper's pages and planning to make it the top national Saudi paper.

As for the difference Al-Watan has made in the local press, Khashuqji said that the paper addressed citizens first then officials, putting ! the citizens first. He noted that other papers adopted this approach a nd others, imitating Al-Watan, including its small size and coloured pages. He added Al-Watan was the first Saudi newspaper to be fully printed in colour.

The chief editor said the still-nascent paper arrived just in time since the 11 September events took place less than one year after its establishment. He added: Al-Watan was first issued on 30 September 2000 and the 11 September events followed less than one year later, with which we awoke to the fact that extremism had emerged from our midst. Al-Watan resisted the state of denial we were in and attempted to draw the attention of its people to the truth and the fact that our lives, values, political entity, even us were the targets of this extremism, even if it hid under the pretext of fighting an unbeliever distant enemy. It was only natural to turn every rock to look under it to see what was the reason for the delinquency of some of our sons. So, Al-Watan established a true dialogue with oneself. As a result, brav! e and esteemed writers such as Dr Hamzah al-Muzayini, Khalid al-Ghannami, Abdallah al-Fawzan, Qaynan al-Ghamidi, and others dedicated themselves to discover the truth or at least discuss it.

This was followed by audience comments, which started with Abdallah al-Washmi, vice president of the Riyadh literary club, and poet Sa'd al-Hamazani who discussed the cultural pages and their content. This was followed by comments by writer Dr Muhammad al-Hudayf about Al-Watan's tendency to exclude writers and attract those who had views common with it. He noted that reports published in the paper alleging that school curricula bred terrorism were untrue. However, he praised the professionalism of Al-Watan in comparison with other Saudi papers.

Khashuqji responded to the accusations by saying that the paper did attract a certain type of writers but focused on the quality of the article and the idea. He noted that the paper's approach focused on the type of treatment and the ! issues being defended, adding that certain writers addressed certain i ssues and defended the Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue and their articles were published.

As for the curricula, Khashuqji said: "Regarding the curricula, we cannot deceive ourselves. Without discussing religious textbooks, anyone can read the geography textbooks for the second preparatory level and find a question about the major political alliances that conspire against Islam and Muslims and see whether the answer was the United Nations and NATO."

Source: Al-Watan website, Abha, in Arabic 2 Oct 07



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