Reuters wins Pulitzers for Rohingya photography, Philippine coverage of ‘drug war’

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh on September 11, 2017. The Reuters photography staff was honored for images of the violence endured by the Rohingya. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Reuters wins Pulitzers for Rohingya photography, Philippine coverage of ‘drug war’

NEW YORK: Reuters won Pulitzer Prizes on Monday for international reporting and photography while the New York Times and Washington Post shared honors for exposing sexual harassment in America and detailing the US investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
The Pulitzers, the most prestigious awards in American journalism, recognized Reuters in international reporting for exposing the methods of police killing squads in Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, and for feature photography documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“In a year in which many Pulitzers were rightly devoted to US domestic matters, we’re proud at Reuters to shine a light on global issues of profound concern and importance,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said.
It was the first time Reuters has won two prizes in one year.
In the Philippines coverage, Reuters reporters Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall and Manuel Mogato “demonstrated how police in the president’s ‘drug war’ have killed with impunity and consistently been shielded from prosecution,” Adler said.
The coverage included a report that revealed how a police anti-drug squad on the outskirts of Manila had recorded an unusually high number of killings. Many members of the squad came from a distant place that was also Duterte’s hometown, where the campaign’s brutal methods originated during his time as mayor there.
Asked on Monday for comment on the Pulitzer award, Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque offered his congratulations to the Filipino member of the Reuters team, but stood by a campaign he said was lawful and necessary.
“Definitely, I’d have to congratulate Manuel Mogato but the fact remains that the policy of the president on the drug war is that the drug war is legitimate, intended to protect the youth from the ill effect of drugs,” Roque said during a regular news briefing.
Roque said the government would defend state officials involved in drug-related killings who had followed the law, but not those who had broken it.
“If the killings are contrary to law and unjustified, it will cause the criminal prosecution of the policemen themselves,” Roque said.
The Reuters photography staff was honored for images of the violence endured by the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, as they fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.
“The extraordinary photography of the mass exodus of the Rohingya people to Bangladesh demonstrates not only the human cost of conflict but also the essential role photojournalism can play in revealing it,” Adler said.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been jailed in Myanmar since Dec. 12, charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, while investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine state.
In the US, major media took other Pulitzers for reporting that shaped the political and cultural agenda.
The New York Times and the New Yorker magazine shared the honor for public service for their reporting on sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey won for their report on Weinstein, which triggered a series of similar allegations against influential men in politics, journalism and show business and gave rise to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have encouraged victims to come forward.
The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow was recognized for a Weinstein report that detailed the allegations of a woman who reported her accusations to New York police. Authorities have since renewed a criminal investigation of Weinstein.
The Washington Post won the investigative reporting prize for breaking the story that the Alabama US Senate candidate Roy Moore had a history of courting teenage girls. The Moore report came as stories of men abusing their power over women abounded, contributing to changing public attitudes. Moore, a Republican backed by President Donald Trump, had been favored to win the special election but lost to Democrat Doug Jones.
The New York Times and the Washington Post shared the honor for national reporting for their coverage of the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election.


Arabic publishers face struggle to balance books

Updated 16 July 2018
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Arabic publishers face struggle to balance books

  • Low readership rates are a constant source of frustration for Arab authors and their publishers
  • With Arabic bookshops struggling worldwide book fairs provide a vital point of sale for publishers

LONDON: A picture of Bill Gates holding a pile of volumes captioned “switch off your phones and read books” in English and Arabic is displayed on the wall at Al Saqi Bookshop in West London.

Amin Saad Jwad tore it from a magazine and pasted it over the counter he has worked behind for more than 25 years in the hopes of steering customers away from their smartphones.

“People don’t read books enough,” the 70-year-old said, paraphrasing the poster with a shrug. “Leave the iPod, leave the telephone and keep the books.”

Low readership rates are a constant source of frustration for Arab authors and their publishers as they struggle to find space for new releases in a market where books rarely sell more than a thousand copies.

 

It is one of the many challenges facing the beleaguered Arabic publishing industry which, despite an influx of talented writers and rising demand for content from the Arab world, has reached crisis point.

“The situation deteriorated with what is called the Arab Spring,” said Rania Al-Moallem, commissioning editor at Dar Al Saqi, the bookshop’s publishing arm in Beirut.

But the underlying problems, which include piracy, distribution issues and crippling censorship restrictions, have long made holes in publishers’ pockets and eroded author incomes.

Ghassan Fergiani, who founded Darf Publishers in the UK and whose family owns three bookshops in Tripoli, said it is an ongoing struggle for smaller outfits to turn a profit on new books in a market that is constantly undercut by counterfeit copies. Publishing books is “prohibitively expensive,” in the Middle East, and customers go for the cheapest copies available, he said.

Yet while many of the small-time operators appear “destined for the grave,” the industry, amazingly, endures, propped up by government grants and persistent publishers who go from book fair to book fair plying their writers’ wares across the region.

“They are still going strong, long after their physical stores and facilities have, in some cases, been destroyed,” said Charlie Scott, general manager at Motivate Books in Dubai.

With Arabic bookshops struggling worldwide, book fairs provide a vital point of sale for publishers and often attract huge audiences.

More than 500 publishing houses participated in the Riyadh International Book Fair in Saudi Arabia this year, while the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai draws more than 44,000 visitors with its line-up of high-profile literary figures.

It is testament to the demand from readers across the region, where a longstanding literary tradition is belied by poor sales figures.

Samah Idriss, whose family runs the well-known Dar Al Adab publishing house in Lebanon, disputes the oft-cited claim that Arabs read on average for just six minutes a year. The issue is complicated, explained Idriss, who is the editor-in-chief of Beirut-based cultural magazine Al Adab. “It’s not just a matter of Arabs loving to read or not.”

He blames the Internet, social media and television series. “All this stuff is distracting people; it’s also not allowing them to read long books, they’d rather go for quick answers to specific problems than dwell into the world of novels or books.”

Lack of data makes it difficult to assemble an accurate picture of literary uptake among Arab audiences but the Arab Reading Index conducted in 2016 by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Foundation (MBRF) in Dubai in collaboration with the UN Development Program (UNDP) revealed that the average Arab citizen gets through around 17 books and reads for 35 hours per year.

Efforts to instil a culture of reading by some Middle East countries, including the UAE, which launched a “Year of Reading” in 2016, have targeted the younger generation growing up in a digital age.

Many authors and publishers welcomed Amazon’s recent decision to launch 12,000 Arabic language books for Kindle devices as a positive move that will open up access for Arab authors to a wider readership at home and abroad.

Salwa Gaspard, who owns the Al Saqi Bookshop, said that the impact of e-books on Arabic booksellers is very minimal at this stage but welcomed it as a “potentially very exciting” step.

Speaking to Arab News last month, best-selling Algerian author Ahlam Mosteghanemi said: “I am thrilled that Amazon has opened this service, breaking the distances between the Arabic book and its readers.”

With more works being translated and published in digital formats, Arab authors are increasingly accessing wider audiences overseas, where the appetite — for Arabic fiction in particular — is being fueled by the success of writers like Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi, whose award-winning novel “Frankenstein in Baghdad” was also longlisted for The Man Booker International Prize this year.

“Arab artists are pushing into the mainstream,” Eckhard Thiemann, artistic director at Shubbak, a biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture in London, told Arab News.

This year’s edition featured a range of writers working in the Arab world and diaspora communities, including Syrian-British writer Robin Yassin-Kassab, journalist, novelist and psychiatrist Basma Abdel Aziz, novelist and editor Mohammad Rabie, and New York-based poet and translator Mona Kareem, among many other prominent names.

But in the Arab world, digitization has yet to catch on in the publishing industry.

“E-books do not garner as much interest as the vast majority of readers prefer paper books, and because of the fluctuating price of the dollar or euro, they end up costing too much anyway,” said Fadi Jaris, owner of Anglo-Egyptian House.

Publisher Mohamed Hisham Abieh, director of Delta Printing and Publishing House in Egypt, said that because of the increase in forgeries, as well as a rise in the cost of printing, “the publication business in the Arab world is on the decline.”

The Arab Publishers’ Association launched a “No Forgeries” campaign to tackle the issue but fake copies continue to circulate in countries across the region.

Journalist and novelist Wajdi Al-Koumi told Arab News the factories that produce counterfeit copies are “draining the publishing industry.”

“They need to control the counterfeit bookstores and arrest the well-known counterfeiters who display their goods in known places,” he said.

It’s not only in the Middle East. Salwa’s daughter Lynn Gaspard, who runs the UK publishing arm Saqi Books, recently came across pirated copies of one of their publications on sale in London’s Edgware Road.

On a global level, the rise of the e-book and online sales through corporate giants like Amazon has changed the shape of the industry, with independent retailers struggling to turn a profit and even big chains, including Borders, going into administration.

Every few weeks a small-scale bookseller will tweet to say they have made little over $10 in one day. “It breaks your heart,” Lynn said.

From her office at the back of the shop, she can see people coming in to browse the shelves before taking a photo then “presumably buying it online,” where they can access deals that independent stores can’t afford.

Catering to an Arabic-speaking clientele in the UK, Al Saqi occupies a niche, which has “sustained us,” she said, in the face of mounting market challenges.

There are just a handful of places in the UK where readers can source books in Arabic by Middle East and North African writers, which is one of the reasons why late author and artist Mai Ghoussoub, who founded the store with Salwa’s husband Andre Gaspard, decided to set up shop in London, rather than Paris.

At the time, Westbourne Grove was a hub for the Arab community but gentrification has pushed up prices and changed the demographic over the years. Today a BoConcept furniture branch occupies the space once used by an Islamic book shop a few doors down.

Then, as now, the bookshop provided a safe haven from the censorship restrictions in the Middle East. “We used to joke about having a banned books section,” Lynn said.

Behind the counter, a colorful poster advertising “Don’t Panic I’m Islamic: Words and Pictures on How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Alien Next Door” — a satire collection with contributions by 34 authors and artists — offers a glimpse into current tastes.

Comedy, as well as self-help and religious books are the only steady sellers in a climate where people are looking for “guidance, humor and entertainment,” rather than political commentary and current affairs, Lynn said.

In these troubled times, her focus is on finding “new voices” that remind readers of “our shared humanity” and encourage people to embrace other cultures, something Al Saqi has advocated across the decades from its cosmopolitan corner of West London.

FACTOID

17 — Number of books the average Arab citizen gets through a year / 35 — Hours a year spent reading per individual / 500 — Publishing houses who participated in the Riyadh International Book Fair this year / 44,000 — Attendees to the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai / 12,000 — Number of Arabic-language books recently launched on the Amazon Kindle