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Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Dark Side of Journalism

A debate over the Hari article and other Dubai-bashing stories, such as a recent piece in the Toronto Star titled 'Dubai how not to build a city' (this one in the whole "city of superlatives" sub-genre, and equally as bad as Hari's, laced with just as many cliches and factual and historical errors) is raging in the blogosphere, particularly on UAE blogs such as Grape Shisha, who posts about the Toronto story; Secret Dubai Diary (a blogger who surprisingly liked Hari's piece); and the UAE Community Blog, where SamuraiSam posts a hilarious piece titled Dark Side, in which he writes: "Dear international media, You need to write more articles that reference the 'dark side of Dubai', there are clearly not enough." Sam links to 12 articles, including stories by the BBC, The Guardian, ABC News, The Times, Time, and Bloomberg, which all use the 'Dark Side' in their melodramatic headlines. This is exactly why I thought Hari's piece was a parody. There's the 'Dark side of the Dubai dream', the 'Dark Side of Dubai's Boomtown', the Dark side of Dubai’s economic boom..., Carole Cadwalladr explores the dark side of Dubai, and - my favorite - 'The Dark Side of Splendor." What about 'The Dark Side of Journalism'?

Terry has written a particularly fine post on the subject (his last), 'This is my last Dubai goodbye', over at his blog Wide Angles Wine & Wanderlust. Do take a read.


AngelaCorrias said...

I've never been to Dubai so I can't really judge. I have a couple of friends though (who live in London and don't know each other) that went to Dubai and, as soon as they came back to London, started preparing to move to Dubai permanently...

As for the dark side of journalism, yes, it exists and it can be really dangerous, but luckily I've never found anywhere the level of brainwashing I found in the UK (and much of Europe), maybe because all over the world people have a much clearer idea of what imperialism is, while in Europe, which is the public mind that matters, we live with our eyes covered, preferring not to know.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Angela - Dubai has that effect on people (re your friends wanting to move there), especially English people. I have many English friends in Dubai, and so many are there for the long haul - 10, 15, 25 years - they've brought their kids up there, some of their children were even born there. They love it and while they visit their families in the UK over summer, they could never imagine returning to the UK. The British expats actually comprise the largest group after the Arabs/other Middle Easterners, Persians, and peoples from the Sub-Continent, which is why I always find the Dubai-bashing that goes on in the British press so baffling.

You are so right, but I think everyone is brainwashed to some extent - not only the British, but Americans, and Australians - and they remain so until they've travelled widely and learnt for themselves. If it's not imperialism, it's capitalism or nationalism, and once upon a time communism. That's why I find travel so vital. If Hari would have spent longer than 3 days in Dubai, and met more people than the stereotypical characters he imagined, his report might have been different. But then again, it might not, because it seems he went with his own agenda.

I think the agenda here is a complex one - but I also imagine it might also be very simplistic - about selling papers. These Dubai stories are getting lots of hits and lots of comments; times are tough, papers are folding all over the world, and readership is more important now more than ever for the survival of these papers.

Thanks for your intelligent comments - greatly appreciated! said...

Haven't been to Dubai yet. The impression from media in Chinese, the city is modern, fancy, luxury, and full of crazy construction/buildings. I think it's better to see the city by oneself, and then you get a more comprehensive view.

OurExplorer - Travel through the eyes of a local

Happy Hotelier said...

Happy Easter Lara!

Just learned from Chrispitality he had been working in Dubai without access to his websites because of very restrictive internet rules in Dubai....

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Guido

Happy Easter!

As long as your friend's websites don't have pornography, nudity, or anything else that may be offensive to the Islamic religion and local customs, then they should be fine.

All he has to do is contact Etisalat, the main ISP, and give them the link, they'll check it out and let him know. If there's nothing offensive there, they'll unblock it. It's an easy process to go through.

When I worked at a local women's university, we would discover all kinds of crazy sites blocked, like art sites because they might have featured images of sculptures of nude women, but we just contacted them and explained what it was and they unblocked them. It's not hard.

In the moment here in Australia they have put tens of thousands of websites on a list of forbidden sites - mainly because they feature pornography and adult content - if people access these then they face hefty fines from the government. Unfortunately it seems lots of innocent websites have got on the list so there's quite a furor over it.

Susan said...

The dark side of journalism indeed ! Thanks for your comment on my blog at:

Can't wait to meet you when you come back to Dubai Lara.

previously.bitten said...

I think a lot of people need to learn a tad bit more about Dubai. Any country where it's illegal to be gay, or to kiss your girlfriend - well I think one should think very carefully about what other implications that may make.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi OurExplorer

Yes, it's a shame that all people know about are the luxury hotels and crazy projects - this is one reason why there are so many negative perceptions of the place - in everything we have ever published we have tried to communicate more about the reality that most people live everyday, including ourselves, and fascinating backstreets, historic parts to the city, and the youthful contemporary art scene. It is possible to experience that - especially if you read our books - but most people prefer to stick to the beaches and malls.

Hi Susan - no problem! Let's definitely meet when we're back in town next month.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi previously-bitten

Good to hear from you. Yes, totally agree with you, people do need to learn more about Dubai...

For one, Dubai is not a country, it's a city-state in the United Arab Emirates which is the country and the capital is Abu Dhabi.

Secondly, regarding homosexuality, you will actually find that the same laws apply right across most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, parts of the Americas, and the Chechen Republic where it earns the death penalty - I am not saying this is right, I am just pointing it out: for some strange reason people seem to think the UAE is alone in this, but take a look at the list on Public Agenda, a pro-democracy site:

As for kissing your girlfriend, you can do that in the privacy of your home, hotel room, at friends' homes, just not in public. AND you will also find this to be the case in most Muslim countries, where they are uncomfortable with public demonstrations of affection between the opposite sex.

In fact it is not acceptable in many religiously devout countries, like India and Thailand - most people in those countries also disapprove of Westerners wearing bikinis on public beaches - there are always discussions about this on Thai and Indian blogs, about the loss of and offense to local culture and customs due to tourism, however, those in tourism choose to ignore this because they want the dollars.

Thanks for commenting!

Erica said...

I can understand the rule for PDA in Dubai, but I have no respect for the laws regarding homosexuality.

Anyway, I read that piece "The Dark Side of Dubai..." in The Independent a couple of days ago. When reading about the international workers who were basically stuck in the UAE and couldn't leave, it brought me to tears.

jen laceda said...

Why is Dubai getting all this (bad) press? I just don't get it. Dubai, like all other countries, has its positives and its flaws. But why is everyone jumping in the bandwagon in a seemingly ruthless 'attack' on Dubai? Seriously, I'm sure journalists will NOT find it hard to write about the 'dark side' of, say,...USA or Canada.
And re: kissing / homosexuality -Dubai is a Muslim country, and we can't expect them to stray from their religious beliefs. I'm not saying their views are right either, but we all have to understand that homosexuality is a struggle in most country. Case in point: hazing in the American Midwest of the openly gay. It happens all over the world. It's an issue that is not exclusive to Dubai or other Middle Eastern countries.
P.S. I have many Filipino friends who are overseas worker with great jobs in Engeneering, Construction, BioMed, etc. and they are treated and rewarded very well! They certainly are better able to support their families with the just wages they receive here than they would in their own country.
Thanks, Lara.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Erica

Sadly, 3/4 of the world has the same laws regarding homosexuality - most of Asia, Africa, the Pacific islands, parts of the Americas (even some of the Caribe), and the Middle East - it doesn't make them right, but I don't think the world is as open and tolerant as Europeans like to think.

As for the workers being stuck in Dubai... as far as the construction workers go, it's terribly sad, there's no denying that, and they must take action to improve their circumstances... but the woman in the Range Rover? I don't have sympathy for her. I think her and her husband would get themselves into trouble wherever they went. I wouldn't even resign from a job in Australia without paying off my debts first. It's a crazy thing to do.

Hi Jen

I find the consistent attacks on one city-state bizarre too, as you've read. I think it's partly racism, wanting to see Arabs fail, and it's a bit of jealousy, that they have been so successful. It's funny that it's mainly the English, Australian and North American media being so critical, when there are so many English, Australians and North Americans in Dubai enjoying the high life.

Like you, I also know Filipinos in Dubai who absolutely love it. But nobody wants to hear the good news stories - only the bad it seems.

Thanks for your comments!

Vietnam Traveler said...

Lots of interesting information. I learned quite a few things from your blog! Thanks!

Lara Dunston said...

Thanks! Hopefully I'll learn a lot about Vietnam from your site. Hoping to get there this year.