(Nearly) All the news that’s fit to print

The National’s coverage of the activists on trial in Abu Dhabi has been reasonably good given the lack of complete press freedom enjoyed in this country. Yesterday’s article contained robust coverage of Sunday’s court appearance. The article included defense criticisms that the accused weren’t given access to prosecution documents and were being held in solitary confinement. However, the article which appeared in print and now appears on the website, differs slightly from the original report.

The third paragraph from the original report (which I copied after it appeared online) is missing:

Some (of the accused) have have been harassed by other prisoners, gotten lice and suffered foot injuries from being kept in chains, according to the lawyers, Abdul Hameed Al Kumaiti and Mohammed Al Rukun.

I have no idea who made the decision to delete this paragraph, but the details certainly seem relevant. Perhaps the editors at the paper don’t want to repeat unproven allegations about mistreatment. But, the lawyers made these allegations in open court at a public hearing, so it seems well within in the boundaries of good journalism to report them.

By | October 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Gulf News editor’s tips for better FNC elections

Abdul Hamid Ahmad offers a critical take on the election campaign in the UAE so far. His suggestions for the next elections:

The next time round we need to encourage these people to engage more voters. We should have drawn up a plan to pave the path for them by taking certain measures. For example, government-owned television and radio should have opened their doors to them to be guests to present their manifestos and debate on issues related to the FNC. Newspapers could have given 50 per cent discount on advertisements.

Municipalities could have earmarked certain locations on crowded streets for candidates to stick their posters. But none of this happened. Everything was left to public relations companies to bargain and make money from these poor campaigners. I hope that the National Election Committee will learn from this and draw up a better plan to help candidates run successful campaigns by encouraging them, especially since donations for campaigns is not a part of the culture in the UAE.

Good points.

Public debates would also serve the electorate as would a comprehensive news site with information on all the candidate positions. I was in talks with another organization to put together an election information site but we scrapped the plans because of the time constraints. With only a few weeks between the announcement of candidates and the elections, time is too short to build true awareness of the candidates.

Hopefully next time, as Abdul Hamid Ahmad says, the National Elections Council can capitalize on these lessons.

By | September 18th, 2011|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Twitter feeds for UAE candidates

Here are twitter feeds for candidates in some of the Emirates of the UAE:

Abu Dhabi

The Arabic-language elections site UAE40 created and curates those feeds. Nobody’s created one for the other four Emirates — Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Quwain. Separate Twitter lists for each Emirate makes sense because voters can only vote for candidates in their Emirate of residence.

The UAE40 site appears to have recently launched and also offers a list of candidates with contact information and links to Twitter and Facebook accounts. A nice public service for the elections.

By | September 8th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

UAE elections, campaign speech and civil participation

As the country gears up for the second election in its 40-year history, some observers have worried that campaign speech rules set by the government are too stringent and could stifle public speech.

For instance, one rule states that candidates should not make promises to solve problems since they won’t have the power to do that. The Federal National Council is a deliberative body of 40 members with no formal authority.

Nonetheless, some candidates have promised in newspaper advertisements to solve issues including more rights for women, ending unemployment and even increasing the power of the FNC.

Recent comments from Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and chairman of the National Election Committee, should help assuage worries that candidates will be penalized for this type of campaign speech.

In a front-page article in The National newspaper, Dr. Gargash said:

I reiterate that the National Election Committee is ultimately a committee that aims to regulate and oversee the election process, without intervening in every single detail. The committee tries as much as possible not to intervene unless there is a clear and explicit violation.

This is a powerful statement from the man in charge of the elections. He appears to be saying that the NEC does not plan on getting too involved in campaign speech, a signal which should allow for a more robust discussion of issues in the public sphere. Hopefully, the candidates will not curb their opinions as they attempt to persuade voters to elect them.

With 468 candidates and only 20 seats (the other half are appointed), the Sept. 24 elections pose quite a challenge for indecisive voters.

While many of my Western peers may scoff at this election (since the elected body has no true authority), I find myself supportive of this track. This is a young country with no history of public participation in government. Part of what the government is trying to accomplish is creating a culture of participation among its citizenry.

As Dr. Gargash said yesterday on Twitter: “It is not enough to remain as bystanders on the national debate but to be actively engaged.”

This election, in which one out of every six Emiratis will vote, will certainly help the country move toward engagement and public participation. Universal suffrage and legislative authority will surely follow.

By | September 6th, 2011|Uncategorized|1 Comment

How to define ‘news’ in UAE

Newspapers in the United Arab Emirates
This photo shows the recent front pages of four UAE newspapers — The National, Gulf News, Khaleej Times and Al Bayan (Arabic). Three of the four papers featured a photo of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid visiting with other leaders of the country while The National chose a picture of events in Libya.

The decision in which artwork to run shows how different newsrooms hold different values about what is “news.” I tell my Emirati journalism students that editors weigh potential news based on many criteria including relevance, usefulness and impact. It’s a subjective decision but the choices news producers make have a great impact on society. This example should lead to some good discussions in my journalism classes this semester.

By | September 3rd, 2011|Uncategorized|1 Comment