A lack of adequate reporting of the Middle East and “bigotry” among some Western media outlets leads to a poor understanding of the Arab world, journalism experts told an Al Arabiya News panel on Saturday.
Speaking at the Al Arabiya News Global Discussion forum held in Dubai, four panelists discussed the theme “Lost in translation: Does the West really understand the Middle East?”
Ignorance of the Middle East is partly fuelled by “inherent bigotry” among some Western media outlets, according to Talal al-Haj, Al Arabiya News Channel’s New York and U.N. bureau chief.
Many important Arab issues are not adequately reported in the Western media, al-Haj said.
“There is… no conscience or acknowledgement [of Arab issues in Western media]. There is inherent bigotry between the media,” he added.
While Western perceptions of the Arab world were “hijacked” in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, they created a “paradoxical” situation where many people became interested in learning more about the Middle East, according to George Brock, head of journalism studies at London’s City University.
“[The September 11 attacks] made a lot of people think more about the Middle East than they ever have done before, and a result, they probably know more,” Brock told the Al Arabiya News panel. “So actually, it attacks ignorance… It brings more knowledge. It brings more interchange,” he added.
Western perceptions of Saudi Arabia have been skewed by some who do not represent the kingdom’s people or its government, said Khaled al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of English-language newspaper Saudi Gazette.
“We have allowed these people that don’t want women to drive, we have allowed these people who are the ‘agents of darkness’ to take over, and the fault lies with the media, and the fault lies with the general public at hand,” said al-Maeena.
A lack of knowledge and understanding from the West on Arab issues could also be due to shrinking budgets from U.S. and European news outlets, according to Charles Glass, a former ABC News chief correspondent covering the Middle East.
The debate, moderated by Al Arabiya senior anchor Rima Maktabi, was part of an event held to mark the relaunch of the Al Arabiya News website.
The new site includes a subtitling service that allows English-speaking audiences to follow Arabic news bulletins and programs broadcast by its parent TV channel.