More tramps, less prostitutes, please!

According to Joe Ghanem, what Arab journalism needs is more tramps, or 'saalik', to make up for all the 'prostitutes' in the profession.
By Joe Ghanem
One of the oldest professions in the world is the "selling of the flesh;" one might argue that the second oldest profession is the "selling of the conscience."

In my opinion, there is no difference between someone who sells his or her body and someone who sells his or her conscience.

I'm talking about the media in the Arab world.

In terms of technology, the media has moved into an area that is nothing short of miraculous when compared with ancient times.

But what has really changed since the days of Omro’ al-Qais Bin Hojr al-Kindi, the famous ancient Arab poet?

In ancient times, the poet was the main media channel. It was the poet's job to praise the leader of the tribe, and to tarnish the image of any rival leaders that might exist.

The word of the poet was of great cruelty and influence and it spread fast between the tribes, exactly as newspapers and TV do today.

But today, the sheikh or the leader receives news that a journalist of another tribe has harshly criticized him, or even just praised his own leader, and he immediately sends for his own royal poets (royal journalists) asking them to praise him with even better words, or to criticize the other leader with harsher words. Then, he showers them with gifts. 

The new poet/journalist sits like al-Moutanabi (he was the poet of Saif al-Dawla, in ancient times) in the presence of the modern leader, resembling Kafur al-Ikhshidi (the first slave to be freed and elected King), to cite the most praising poems, after which Kafur throws him 1000 dinars.

The only difference is that today's poet/journalist no longer travels by horseback but by plane, and that his words are no longer spread from mouth to ear but through technology. 

Other than that, little has changed.

In Lebanon, for instance, is it possible for a 'poet' of the opposition (the 'March 8 tribe') to stand before the government (the 'March 14 tribe') and recite his poems?

Today’s journalists have all the tools of the modern age at their disposal, but most of them are still in the Jahiliah [the time of ignorance, before the prophet Mohammed, Ed.], and they are still exercising the oldest profession in the world.

Not long ago, I read an interview with a famous Lebanese media figure who was saying that he sees no competitor facing him in Lebanon.

When I searched the interview for a reason behind his conviction, I found only this comment: "I enter the house of the leader whenever I want, as if it was my own."

The leader in question being the famous billionaire and owner of the TV station where this media personality works. He didn’t say a word about objectivity in journalism, or how to best bring across the agony of the people and the nation.  

In short, today’s media landscape is that of a leader with a lot of money and many slaves, professionals in the art of hypocrisy. 

Goebbels changed the image of German media during the Third Reich with his theory that, "If you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Ahmad Said (*) did the same in 1967 as did Mohamad Said Sahhaf (**) in 2003.

Today, most journalists would make fun of Goebbels, Said and Sahhaf, who all claimed that they lied for the sake of their nations in critical times.

But many of today’s journalists are worse than those mentioned above, for they lie not out of conviction but only for the sake of the money that is thrown at them by the leader.

Perhaps we need to look back to ancient times again for inspiration of a different kind.

Because there were some poets in those days who refused to bow to the power of the leader, and whose words only reflected the truth.

They were known as the "saalik", the tramps, presumably because they were penniless as a result. The most famous of them was called Ourwa bin al-Ward.

These "saalik" still have some descendants today. They are the very few giants in their profession, whose pen never bends, except to their own conscience, and who are not for sale.

I hope, for my sake and yours, that I will always be able to turn on the television and find a descendant of Ourwa bin al-Ward, and not of al-Moutanabi, however eloquent he might be.

I hope we can all find a decent "saalouk" to speak in our name.

Him, we would call "the Giant."

Joe Ghanem is a Lebanese blogger. His blog is at

* Ahmad Said: renowned Arab journalist and broadcaster; he gained his fame during the 1967 crisis for constantly reporting about the victories of the Arab armies. After their defeat, the Arab people were shocked to find out that the reports had been made up in order to boost morale.

** Mohmad Said Sahhaf: Iraqi Information Minister during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He became famous for continuing to deny the presence of U.S. soldiers in Baghdad even as they were visible behind him.