Sunday, December 24, 2006

When did wondering become analysis!?

A friend of mine asked me to comment on a story that was published on IraqSlogger yesterday.

The story is presented as "analysis" by the website's editors but I can't figure out how it could fit this description when it's filled with "harder to explain", "even more puzzling", "one has to wonder" and "how can we explain" instead of phrases that are usually used to introduce the author's analysis and conclusions to the readers about a given subject.

The so-called analysis tries to describe and analyze the situation of the local press in Iraq and its inability to provide reliable and timely coverage of topics and news that supposedly interest Iraqis.
Yet all I could read was bewildered and ostensible disappointment with the new press in Iraq, a disappointment that I can feel is hiding morbid satisfaction.

Before I proceed I must say that my aim is not to defend the Iraqi press but rather to inspect failed analysis written by a misinformed commentator.

So here are some of the questions that puzzled the Slogger's writer and here are also some answers that hopefully will ease his puzzlement, maybe:

First of all "Babil" was not the official paper of Saddam's regime. The official papers were basically al-Thawra, al-Jumhoriya and al-Qadisiya while Babil was founded only in the 90's and it was owned by Uday who presented the paper as an independent paper. Yes of course it was never independent but it was not official either.

The second thing is that al-Sabah al-Jadeed (New Sabah) is not based in Erbil. I happen to know its owner and editor in chief (Ismail Zayer) in person.
Mr. Zayer has indeed moved to Erbil but he did not take his paper all the way with him. Al-Sabah al-Jadeed is still based, edited and printed in Baghdad.
Perhaps our friend @ Slogger when he heard that al-Sabah al-Jadeed opened offices in Erbil and Amman assumed that the entire paper relocated. And by the way, I read the paper every day and I never got the feeling that it endorsed the views of the Kurdish parties; perhaps there are some shared opinions out there but that is not equal to "strictly follows the political line of the Kurdish parties".

Mr. Mohsen has obviously little knowledge about the situation in Iraq and the obstacles publishers face, and this lack of knowledge explains his analysis.
For example, trying to compare the coverage offered by local papers with that of news TV is absurd and for a simple reason; you can't expect to find today's news (nor last night's news) on today's papers, but you can wait for them to be in the papers the next day or even two days later in cases of weekends.
This is because of the daily nighttime curfew, occasional unexpected curfews and the weekly Friday morning curfew; journalists, editors and printing houses in Iraq do not have the time they need to publish in the way papers elsewhere do.

Another correction for Mr. Mohsen, he wrote:
How can we explain the fact that the story of the killings in Baghdad's colleges was deemed to be important enough to occupy the most prominent space in a Pan-Arab publication, only to not appear in the local Iraqi version of the same daily? (Both editions share the same editorial board).

As I understood, Mr. Mohsen saw neither of the editions (print edition) since I assume he's living outside Iraq and what he saw was exactly what I saw which is the web edition.

Now if you know Arabic and opened the website of Azzaman you will first find yourself in the homepage from which one can navigate to either the Iraqi or International version, and guess what? The top story at the top-middle portion of the page is occupied by the rape and murder story.

Now why Iraqi papers are not covering the Haditha investigation in a way that pleases Mr. Mohsen?
The reason is simple, it's that they know Iraqis do not view incidents of this sort-that happen like once a year) to be as important as the daily deaths of dozens at the hands of terrorists and gangsters.

Or take a look at this:
Another title in Az-Zaman's International front page reads: "al-Ya`qubi: the Iraqi Coalition is disintegrating!" Compare with the headline of the Iraq edition: "The Coalition: we shall not abandon the Sadr Current".

The stories do not contradict each other in any way; al-Ya'qubi controls only 15 or so of the 130 seats of the UIA and his opinions frequently conflict with those of other bigger factions of the UIA; in this particular case, al-Ya'qubi thinks no solution can be reached while other members are trying to show-or hope for-otherwise. The paper had done nothing wrong in putting both stories. I agree they can use some better coordination but give them a break! All Iraqi papers pay less attention to websites than to print editions.
And by the way, al-Ya'qubi's comments made it to the front page of the website of the Iraqi edition this morning, so like I said, it's only a matter of late publishing rather than policy.

Or this about the Haditha case story:

Even more puzzling, Az-Zaman ‘covered' the story by their correspondent in Washington…

What's puzzling in that? As far as I know, the legal proceedings are conducted by American military courts so it's very natural to let a correspondent in America handle the coverage.

One more thing to assist Mr. Mohsen in better understanding the situation; a couple months ago the government, and as part of the attempts to create appropriate climate for reconciliation, asked (or rather ordered) the local media not to publish stories that might inflame the situation and create tensions. Technically that means the media will have to stop using terms such as "Sunni insurgents" or "Shia militiamen" if they want to keep publishing (Azzaman was just about to get closed if you remember) and so if you can't share the material you have as a journalist this will naturally make you less and less interested in reporting news about violence.

Last but not least I have one language tip for Mr. Mohsen and his colleagues; you cannot take "several" out of "4 or 5", right?
Poor Eason, he screwed up big time in his media career then he hired people to "slog" for him (what the heck does that mean anyway?) and that's what he gets!

If the Slogger team wants to offer analysis or become a better alternative for whatever other sources of Iraq news, they ought to try better than this. Because if they keep writing like this, their site will soon be regarded as just one new waste of bandwidth, the same way that flipping channels looking for the whole image can be a waste of time.

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