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[] arabisches Medientreffen zum Image-Krieg,

In Dubai fand letzte Woche eine Konferenz mit über 1000 Medienvertretern
statt. Das Thema: Der Image-Krieg zwischen Ost und West (gemeint ist
nicht der Kalte Krieg, sondern Orient und Okzident).

Al-Ahram Weekly Online
2 - 8 May 2002
Issue No.584
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A hazy mirror

The image war between East and West will continue full speed ahead
despite this week's high-profile Arab Media Summit in Dubai. Tarek Atia

The sad state of the Arab media, and of the image of the Arab world in
the Western media, were brought into sharp focus at the highly-charged
meeting of over a thousand media professionals from the Arab world and
the West in Dubai this week. 

The venue was the luxurious Emirates Towers Hotel, new landmark in a
city whose enthusiastic drive towards ultra- modernity is considered by
some a model of where the Arab world should be heading. 

Can the basic picture of Arabs -- backwards, barbaric, oblivious -- that
dominates the Western media, more so than ever following the 11
September and the escalating Palestinian-Israeli crisis, be changed? 

The forecast did not look good. Arab League Secretary-General Amr
Moussa, whose speech opened the summit, said Arabs were facing an attack
not just on their culture and way of thinking, but on their humanity. In
confronting this "campaign of forgery" Arabs had to "be serious, our
intentions have to be pure... and we have to stop being suspicious of
one other." 

Youssef Al-Hassan, an Emirati diplomat and writer, agreed, telling Al-
Ahram Weekly that those Arab journalists who take the easy route of
blanket criticism of the West reveal one of the fundamental weaknesses
in Arab discourse. "Our discourse should first be critical of ourselves.
When we speak of others we should do so with an aim to find
commonalities not just differences. We have to have the courage to
reconsider the stereotypes on both sides." 

Al-Hassan emphasised that there was "no guarantee that good media will
bring people together in peace. But there is a guarantee that bad media
will bring conflict and bloody wars." 

Several speakers concentrated on the need to improve Arab society and
media before attempting to improve its dialogue with the West. Al-Ahram
writer Fahmy Howeidy argued that improving democracy in the Arab world
was the doorway to improving the Arab image abroad. 

Al-Hayat columnist Jihad Al- Khazen also painted a sad picture of Arab
media, partly by saying that the total revenues of all Arab papers
hardly equaled that of a single big US paper like The New York Times. 

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post received a predictable
bashing for their bias. Helena Cobban, a journalist with the Christian
Science Monitor, said the Post's opinion pages had become dominated by
war mongers. "It's a pity that the US media elite have allowed it to
become this way," she said. 

Two prominent members of that elite --- longtime Washington Post editor
Ben Bradlee, and New York Times columnist Tomas Friedman -- participated
in some of the summit's first sessions, but soon disappeared. Real
dialogue with the conference participants over the two days of talks was
apparently not on their agenda. 

Before his departure Bradlee said he understood that "pictures of
American flags burning do not represent the Arab world -- they represent
what a few people were doing at a particular time." The fact that
Western readers and viewers were seeing little else he blamed not on the
Western media, but on the lack of Arab efforts to reach out to the
Western media. 

And even when they did, Bradlee said, the approach was wrong. Arabs
should do more to explain the details of the situation, rather than
overtly try to convince the Western reader of the justice of their
cause, he argued. "We won't get anywhere if the only goal of any
argument is to change the other person's mind. Think like me or leave
the room is the wrong approach." 

Friedman might have done well to listen to Bradlee's advice. During the
summit's stormy first session a comment from the audience about
Friedman's coverage of the Saudi peace plan resulted in the columnist
leaving the room in a huff. Asked by the Weekly about regular
accusations that his writing on the Middle East over-simplifies the
situation for an American audience lacking the historical perspective to
put it in the proper context, Friedman said, "Simplification is
inevitable when you're writing a column of 740 words. I would hope that
people judge me by all my columns, not just one. Any individual column
may be simplified, but we all do that as journalists, don't we?" 

Perhaps not all. Le Monde Diplomatique's Eric Rouleau, a former French
ambassador to Tunisia and François Mitterand's Middle East advisor,
described his own style of writing as "Cartesian". Journalists, he said,
should be critical thinkers who try to be objective. 

Al-Hayat's Al-Khazen suggested that people like Friedman were far from
the worst, and that Arabs should work with anyone who wasn't flagrantly
pro- Israeli in the way that Charles Krauthammer and William Safire are. 

Al-Khazen was less enthusiastic, though, about suggestions the Arab
world establish a media operation the main goal of which being to
present the true picture of the Middle East. That picture was so bad,
the popular columnist said, that it would be better to "cover it up than
to actually cover it." 

In a similar vein, Ali Mohamed Fahkro, who heads a Bahraini think tank,
said participants should come out of summits like this not just with an
idea of how to improve dialogue with the West, but how to better
ourselves, so that we are "dialoguing with the West on equal terms."

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