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World media and ‘us’

Mar 09,2014 - Last updated at Mar 09,2014

An article on Jordan published this week in a reputable international weekly was not only biased and weak, it was also riddled with factual errors about the country.

The magazine that published it is one of many international publications that have been given privileged access to our officials and analysts, and that raises the very important question: Why do we invest any time in this or any other similar entity instead of investing in our own?

And why do we treat with respect media outlets that do not understand us, but turn around and dismiss or even turn away from others that speak to our people?

We seem to seek out and try to spin the “un-spinnable” giving some of these international reports credibility by the mere fact that we meet them and try to win their understanding of our situation, when the truth is that our efforts should be focussed on raising the standards of our own media so that they could become credible, well-informed and plugged in information sources on Jordan.

Of course, there are international media personalities who command respect and show knowledge of our region and its socioeconomic and political complexities, and I mention here Lyse Doucet, of the BBC, who not only knows Jordan well, having lived here, but is able to mix hard analysis and knowledge with a warm heart for the region. I would also mention, Ian Black, Curtis Ryan, Jane Arraf, Robert Fisk, Harriet Sherwood and the late Marie Calvin, among many more.

But what we see with many other international media outlets is a decision at the institutional level to misrepresent Jordan or at best to treat it with minimum understanding and research.

The problem in the above-mentioned article is not that its author has a different opinion or even a critical one, but that he/she has an opinion based on faulty facts, which means that the writer is not knowledgeable — at the most basic level — and more worryingly, hasn’t done his/her homework.

But to return to the important issue here.

The “misinformed and biased” reporting on Jordan by “some” international media outlets highlights a crucial weakness in our media strategy, which seems to have targeted “high-profile” international bodies instead of supporting a politically independent and financially and logistically viable media environment here — which these international organisations can in turn use as a resource for their reporting on Jordan.

Why isn’t Jordan’s media strategy machine working to empower the Jordanian media and journalists instead of wasting its efforts on lost causes like this weekly publication?

And here is a quick blueprint of what is needed (although I suspect everyone knows what is needed, but fears a stronger media at home that cannot be controlled).

The Press and Publications Law must be amended to empower journalists and keep them safe from the risk of official bullying, harassment, financial manipulation, threat to their physical, emotional, professional and financial security, and all the other “tools” employed to keep Jordanian journalists humble and subordinate.

Jordan Television must be targeted for a professional overhaul, removing “age-old beneficiaries” and scrapping “even more antiquated 1960s-style propaganda strategies”, and turning it into a business operation built on formulas of profit and professionalism (in that order).

No more archaic and sad “patriotic” songs to backgrounds of waving flags and shrieking choruses; no more talk shows to polish up old guards and herald in their offspring as the next generation of “decision makers”. No more news programmes to drag out drivel on “bilateral relations” and very little constructive criticism needed to build viable and respectable nations and states.

The Jordan Press Association must be relieved of its security mentality and allowed to grow into an inclusive professional incubator of professional conduct, ethical reporting and competition, 21st century technology and, more importantly, critical political, social and economic debate and narrative.

Local large-scale media organisations, in which the government has a huge financial and, I believe, moral stake, must immediately employ a management body of professional business managers and performance experts to raise the standards of their financial management and business operations and lay out exact plans for consolidation of their offerings, both journalistically and commercially.

The concerned authorities must regularly meet with journalists and discuss with them candidly, and with respect and integrity, their policies and plans for the future, as well as respond to their questions and queries with the same level of respect.

And I stress here the word journalists, and not columnists, who serve a completely different purpose, because for decades now, the powers that be in the country have somehow replaced journalists with this unique class of journalist-columnist type, which appears to have superseded reporting and investigative journalism, reducing those to the lower ranks of the profession.

Social media should be allowed to develop organically into a body of critical and scrutinising body of citizen-journalists so that we can build buy-in and interest from our youth in the affairs of our country.

We need to trust that their love for country is not any less than that of the most conservative security types.

Does it sound like a long and tedious list?

Maybe, but it is a necessary list and a priority for Jordan that cannot be ignored any longer.

We cannot continue to depend on the goodwill of individual journalist friends internationally; we must create a credible media environment locally that the international media can draw on.

That is the only formula that has worked for many developed or developing countries, and it is the only one that will work for us.

Jordan’s best friends, we must trust, are from us and among us, and only need us to reach out to them, professionally and with respect.

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