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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In the Middle East: The Necessity of Pessimism

The level of public expectation about what might happen next in the Middle East is low for many people. Some suggest that a true democratic expression is unlikely to occur. The reasons they cite are historical, cultural and largely fearful.

That doesn't mean that the pessimists are wrong. But when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many observers of the region choose pessimism as their default mode.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, western media types (we used to be called journalists) were particularly optimistic and naive about Iran especially after the Shah was deposed. One prominent CBC journalist Carole Jerome, fell in love with a leader of the Iranian revolution Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, with tragic consequences. That may have been an extreme response, but many journalists at that time saw the Iranian revolution as an exotic expression of essentially western values that could be literally and figuratively embraced.

With the Arab Spring, some of the same ideals and instincts are at play. And some of the cold water being thrown - yet again - is coming from those who see danger in getting too close, especially from pro-Israel advocates.

Complicating it is Seymour Hersh's article in this week's New Yorker about the lack of a credible nuclear threat from Iran. Iran plays a key role in the demonology of the Middle East. Hersh's article must be creating a lot of concern in Arab capitals (not that they don't have enough to worry about), the White House and in Jerusalem. The timing of Hersh's article (for Israel especially) is not good.

Compounding all of this are media environments in Arab and almost all Muslim countries which are profoundly limited, repressed and reeling with self-censorship. Turkish media remains a prominent exception.

Any point of light in this dark and shifting glass may now be coming from Pakistan, of all places. Pakistani journalism has a long tradition of fearlessness and never more than now.

Matiullah Jan, Dawn News
A recent article in Slate pointed to a young TV journalist called Matiullah Jan. Mr. Jan is only 26 years old, but in his short career has been working as an independent ombudsman, calling out his colleagues to do the right thing: i.e., not to accept bribes, report the truth, stay true to the best values of serving the public with reliable information.

As Slate reports: "Jan, an anchor for Dawn News in Islamabad, launched a new show in January called Apna Gareban—the name means "under our collar," an Urdu idiom that translates as "our own underbelly"—in which Jan investigates the conduct of his fellow journalists. On the show, he acts as a kind of one-man ombudsman for all of Pakistan, badgering reporters, ambushing them Bill O'Reilly-style, and guilt-tripping them on air for their alleged misdeeds—behavior unheard of in the Pakistani media. "This is a very revolutionary thing," says Mehmal Sarfraz, op-ed editor at the Daily Times in Lahore. "Somebody had to do it."

"In February, Jan aired an hourlong report outing the journalists who visited Mecca on the government's dime. Many of the reporters defended themselves. One said God had called him to Mecca, and he had to obey, despite having gone on hajj twice before. "God called you three times?" Jan asked, incredulous. Others said they didn't know where the funds had come from, and they never bothered to ask. Pakistan's supreme court soon ordered the reporters to pay back the money, though some have appealed the decision."

Mr. Jan is engaged in some of the most dangerous journalism in the planet. While he clearly has the right instincts, he also needs someone at his back. So at the Organization of News Ombudsmen, we offered Mr. Jan an invitation to join us and to help him publicize his important work through the ONO website.

We found him on Facebook (another good use of social media), and he immediately agreed to be part of our group.

So welcome to ONO, Matiullah. I'm optimistic and I think we all have much to learn from you.

1 comment:

  1. that is great honour for us to join matiullah jan with such web site to provide good guide line to our younger.