Survey reveals mistrust of UK media coverage of Arab world

Updated 26 September 2017

Survey reveals mistrust of UK media coverage of Arab world

LONDON: “Don’t believe what you read” is the main takeaway from a poll of attitudes toward UK media coverage of the Arab world.
Some 22 percent of respondents to an Arab News/YouGov survey perceived UK media coverage of the region to be accurate while 39 percent thought it was inaccurate. Another 39 percent did not have a view either way.
Media experts said that while the poll results reflect an often sensationalist and reductionist rendering of events by the UK media, outlets in the Arab world also need to tell the story of their own region better.
More than 2,000 people were polled in the “UK attitudes toward the Arab world” survey conducted in August — a month when many news sites were busy covering a string of attacks across Europe perpetrated by extremist groups such as Daesh and so-called “lone wolf” terrorists.
Such terror attacks on the streets of London, Paris and Madrid increasingly represent the prism through which people in the UK and Europe see the Middle East, according to media experts.
But there is more to see in the region and Arab commentators have a part to play in that, according to Noha Mellor, professor of media at the University of Bedfordshire.
“There are not many Arab voices in the British media save for very few who are usually interviewed about issues pertaining to terrorism,” she said.
“Unfortunately, stories about terrorism have come to define the whole region, which means few nuanced stories about daily lives in Arab societies.”
Fawaz Gerges from the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics agrees that as consumers of media, we have all become “obsessed” with terror at the expense of other themes which touch the lives of more people in the Arab world.
He highlights the symbiotic appeal of sensationalist headlines based on the media’s need to write them, our desire to read them and the willingness of Daesh and other such groups to ultimately and ironically benefit from them.
“We are terrorizing ourselves,” he said. “This plays into their hands and provides the social oxygen that allows them to exist.
“As bloody as the Middle East is, terrorism is still a tiny fraction. In a sense it is not the most important topic. Think about the poverty, the civil wars, the fracturing of the post-independence states — or youth unemployment, which is the most significant challenge facing the region.”
Mellor believes Arab media outlets also need to change their approach.
“Despite the proliferation of pan-Arab outlets since the 1990s, Arab media outlets also need to do more in order to project a new image of the region and appeal to British audiences’ unsaturated interest in knowing more about the region.
“There could be more English-language outlets in the region to feed Western news outlets with new stories which otherwise will go unreported in Europe,” she said.
While UK media coverage of the Middle East may suffer from terror overload, it could also be collateral damage in the wider depletion of newsrooms worldwide.
The migration of advertising revenues from newspapers and broadcasters to technology companies such as Facebook and Google has forced publishers to cut costs.
Foreign news coverage often suffers as a consequence.
“Not every British outlet can afford to send a foreign correspondent to every Arab city,” said Mellor.
“The result is that most reports will originate either from international news agencies such as Reuters, which means a unified version of the same story circulating to many British outlets, or from a handful of correspondents sent to one location in the Middle East, usually Jerusalem where life can be drastically different from surrounding cities and countries.”
Despite the findings of the survey, Gerges believes the UK media is comparatively sophisticated and its audience discerning.
“The British public is highly educated. There is a big difference between British readers and their American counterparts. They are very much interested in the world and particularly in the Middle East — so in that sense I think the British public demands more.”

• For full report and related articles please visit: How Brits view Arab world
 


Arabs fed up with corruption, survey suggests

Updated 2 min 46 sec ago

Arabs fed up with corruption, survey suggests

  • Arabs rank corruption as the number one problem in the region, finds YouGov poll
  • Corruption contributes to the weakening of economies in the MENA region, say experts

DUBAI: Corruption is considered by a large majority of Arabs to be one of the major problems facing their home country, according to an Arab News-Arab Strategy Forum public opinion research study.
The survey, conducted in 18 countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, found that out of 3,079 respondents, a combined average of 57 percent said corruption is the leading problem in their home country. The study, which was carried out by YouGov, also found that Arabs see corruption as the leading cause of conflict in the Arab world.
Independent experts consider corruption, whether grand, petty or political, to be a leading factor behind the wave of protests sweeping the region.
Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, said that “outrage over corruption and financial mismanagement by governments” has underpinned mass protests in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon over the past two months. 
Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, said corruption was “the source of a legitimacy deficit” that sparked the 2011 protest movements known as the Arab Spring. 
Corruption is not an “isolated” phenomenon but widely prevalent in the region, Salamey said, adding that it is “a product of weak and unaccountable governments that lack institutional checks and balances.”
He cited Tunisia and Lebanon as examples of corrupt countries where “nepotistic networks” are linked to politicians.
By contrast, he attributed Lebanon’s “rampant corruption” to the country’s political elite placing “incompetent followers (belonging to their own sects) in public offices in exchange for loyalties.” 
However, Salamey argued that “yet more serious corruption is associated with political leaders who grant immunity to illicit networks involved in cross-border armed smuggling and drug harvesting.”
The YouGov study shows that nationals of economically challenged Arab states are the most worried about corruption, with 63 percent selecting it as a top concern.
In the GCC countries, just under half of respondents (48 percent) named corruption as the top problem, while in the Levant this rose to 57 percent and was still higher in North Africa (64 percent).
The findings suggest that corruption is seen as more blameworthy by people in struggling economies such as Egypt, Salamey said. The same cannot be said about the oil-rich states, he told Arab News, since these countries find it relatively easy to make good any losses caused by corruption.
Abeer Alnajjar, a professor at the American University of Sharjah and researcher in Middle East politics, described corruption as a “marriage of convenience” between business and politics in the MENA region.
Abuse of power for private gain has not only helped tip many countries into the category of fragile or failed states, but its ripple effect also causes considerable hardship to large segments of the population, including women and marginalized people.
“Corruption is feeding on the lack of political and economic accountability of Arab political and business leaders,” said Alnajjar. 
Arab countries with transparency watchdogs designed to enforce accountability are no different in the sense that their political and economic structures are likely to be interconnected.
In the YouGov poll, 65 percent of respondents in Iraq and 53 percent in Lebanon listed corruption as one their country’s top problems.
The two nationalities were also the most conclusive in thinking that religion is affecting their country’s political decisions, with 75 percent in Iraq and 57 percent in Lebanon agreeing with the statement.
Talking about the two countries, Alnajjar said that both have suffered from sectarianism and other forms of political and religious polarization for decades.
“The good news,” she said, “is that people in Lebanon and Iraq have realized that sectarianism is just an instrument of the rich and the powerful to divert their attention from their real enemies — corrupt politicians and complacent business leaders.”