Our press and their press

Fadi Abu Sada, director of the Palestine News Network (PNN), comes to some sobering conclusions about Arab journalism after a visit to the Chicago Tribune newsroom.
By Fadi Abu Sada, Palestine Correspondent
Palestinian journalists protest. ©AFP / Abbas Momani
© Fadi Abu Sada & Abbas Momani / AFP

CHICAGO (MENASSAT.COM) - It was almost three in the afternoon when we entered the editing department of the Chicago Tribune, the third-biggest U.S. newspaper. Over 600 journalists and editors work at the Chicago Tribune in addition to dozens of correspondents all around the world. On a regular day, the newspaper sells 650,000 copies; on Sundays as much as 900,000.

In Palestine, the biggest-selling newspaper sells 50,000 copies and the number of journalists is laughable by comparison.

The meeting of the editorial board included fifteen people. Between them, they had to decide which stories would make it to the front page. There were stories about international news, local news, business news and sports. Each department lobbied hard to get their stories included in the front page selection. After reviewing all the articles, a vote was taken to decide which ones would be held over for that day's front page.

In Palestine, all reports are political and they have little or no value. Most of the time, they are mere praise for our leaders or factions; objectivity be damned. There is no debate about which journalists will see their name in print on the front page: they are always the same names, and they belong to the self-proclaimed "Masters of the Press." If you buy a newspaper today, and the same one a month later, little information will have changed except for the date.

The Chicago Tribune has anywhere from five to ten columnists who are called "opinion makers". What they write sometimes forces the U.S. administration to hold meetings to come up with a suitable response.

This is not only non-existent in Palestine but also in the entire Arab world. No one from the authorities ever convenes to discuss what was written in the press or to come up with an answer to questions posed by journalists. In any case, most of our "opinion makers" only write what pleases the regime under which they live, with complete disregard to the concerns of ordinary citizens.

It was their press that uncovered the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and the torture at Guantanamo prison before that. It was also their press, you might recall, that unveiled the Haditha massacre in Iraq, as well as the existence of secret CIA-affiliated prisons around the world.

As for our press, its only job seems to be to mislead public opinion and to take readers to places far removed from reality and from objective journalism.

In November, their press was very anxious about the possibility of failure at the Annapolis peace conference. The topic was discussed with some sarcasm as the general feeling seemed to be that the current U.S. administration is incapable of achieving any real progress.

We, on the other hand, were talking about a possible breakthrough. We placed all our hopes in the conference, and may God help us if the conference was a failure because the results would be disastrous. If only our press would wake up and tell the truth about these developments.

In the West, when introduce yourself as a journalist, you are respected and appreciated. In our Arab countries, and especially when you are traveling and moving between countries, your freedom is violated, your time is wasted and you are interrogated as if you were a member of a terrorist organization in your country.

This is not to say that there are no excellent journalists in the Arab world. There are continuous attempts by organizations and individual journalists to liberate and revive or media, and to allow it to be competitive on a global level.

Comparing our press to their press will not help us solve the existing problems. But doing so clearly shows how low the media level in the Arab world has stooped.

Among the major problems in our press is a noticeable difference in professionalism, as well as a much narrower margin of freedom in comparison with Western journalists but also with journalists working for Arab newspapers published in London or elsewhere.

In the end, my visit to the Chicago Tribune leaves me with one conclusion: Yes, it is true that their press doesn't always write the whole story at the right time, but you can always find the truth after a while. In our press, you will never find the story and there is nothing for you to read.

Fadi Abu Sada is the director of the Palestinian News Network, www.pnn.ps. His personal blog is at http://fadipnn.wordpress.com and http://pnn.maktoob.blog.