It takes a flight to UK to read the other version of the newspaper and examine the ethics of media By Iqbal Tamimi

20 September, 2008

Source: Palestinian Think Tank

Iqbal Tamini

Iqbal Tamini

After eight years of working on production of current affairs programmes and the news at a TV station in the Middle East, and subsequently an ample number of press and media episodes and articles, I found what I have worked on was built on only half the truth.

The nature of working on press related TV programmes depends heavily on the online versions of newspapers, since the news on the internet travels faster than the flight carrying the paper over the oceans, only to reach its destination outdated by the end of the flight.

I used to work the night shift so that I could work like an engine at the moment the websites update their contents, scanning every update after midnight to get all the interesting articles and comments ready for the early news summaries and the press reviews.

While working in the Middle East I had an illusion about the UK press. I used to think that their newspapers always stick to the ethics of journalism with up-to-the-minute details. Its content was unquestionable.  We were brought up since an early age to trust only BBC radio and British newspapers. Should we have any doubts about anything, we would immediately rush towards British media for a fair perspective.

But much later in life I moved to the UK to get the biggest shock of my life, British media is not the saint I used to believe carried the truth in every single word. I found out lots of bias, most of the time the content is treated as a business only, a machine that has to yield the biggest revenue possible, regardless of how balanced or fair it might be. Most newspapers are hens that lay golden eggs for the shareholders, never mind if they were edible for history or not. Many times I discovered the media is conspiring to hide a great deal of the truth, or to overexpose some isolated incidents. When I talked to many colleagues of mine working in UK newspapers, they were extremely humane and very professional. Many even disagreed with the policies of their own establishments.  I have been told many times that they are told what they should write about and how the whole work should be constructed, leaving them with a very negligible margin of self expression or personal views. They are simply the fingers of their establishments, not the brains.

After arriving in the UK, my first step was to start a blog because I was addicted to writing, and I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. I used to think that any newspaper is good enough, that’s why when I started my first blog. I never doubted that I can write anywhere. And since it was easy to start a blog on the Daily Telegraph I had just done so for technical reasons. All the people who used to know me as a human rights activist showered me with looks of shock. Every time I was asked about my new blog and I answered ‘The Daily Telegraph’, people would gasp sucking all the air in the room. I never understood their response; I thought they must be mistaken. I never knew that the general policy of a newspaper is reflected on the magnet that draws certain people to start their blogs there. I thought ‘mistakenly’ that I would be welcomed as a new voice with a different point of view; I was even naive enough to think that a journalist from the other side of the spectrum might add something that would shed some light on another spot, thus bringing more understanding, enriching the content, and would encourage healthy debate. But again I was mistaken.

I was so proud and so stupid maybe to add to my profile my picture wearing Hijab, and I was even more naive to brag about being Palestinian. I was immediately attacked heavily; my original picture was taken off and then after awhile reinstalled leaving a hazy image. One of my most active posts about me being attacked racially was deleted even though there was nothing in the content breaking the rules at all. Besides, this was almost the only post that attracted sympathizers who felt the stings of being discriminated against. The feedback was extremely helpful to a point that it eased my pain. The Daily Telegraph left the controversial title but removed my post after it had become one of the most read articles – without informing me. Such action would give readers the impression that I must have written something that contradicts the publishing policies or caused harm to someone, which was not the case at all. The page was left with the screaming title ‘How often do you use the F word?’ with the word NUL next to it, and no article? Inspiring act of freedom of speech, isn’t it?

During my short experience of blogging on that website I discovered how many racist people are active on that website, and how many are ignorant of some issues happening in other parts of the world, and how stubborn they are in defending their points of view even though they have never been in the country where they claim more knowledge than the people who came from there. The discussion clearly shows that they never read anything about the matter discussed, but still they would argue for days. It was more like an organised attack on the contributor. One lady insisted that I should drive the Lebanese out of my country before talking about the atrocities of Israel against my people. I tried to tell her many times that, in no period of Palestinian history has there ever been any Lebanese invasion of Palestine, thus no Lebanese people invaded my country, and there is no single Lebanese in Palestine, but still she was so stubborn and satisfied by the information she heard from a friend of one of her relatives. Others were abusive and aggressive regardless of the content of the article. A very limited number was fair or willing to debate in a sensible way. Others took advantage of my limited knowledge of English then to flex their muscles to hurt me even more by using medieval texts and phrases where it would be very difficult for me to understand the meaning or context. And even though the website gave itself the right to tamper with my picture and delete one of my posts, and redeem it NUL, no action was taken to deal with the unreasonable aggressive attack on me. I guess they choose when they can say that their policies are never to interfere with the public point of view and when to enjoy the crowd shredding a new shade of media colour to small ribbons.

In general I found out that the participants of the blogs on the Daily Telegraph were almost all from the same shade, there were no other colours of views to enhance a construction of a rainbow of views. I later found that this was encouraged by the same policy the newspaper adopts. The bloggers have an almost identical voice tinted with discrimination, looking down on others.

When I started comparing the print version of the newspaper with the one online, I found a striking clear policy of publishing some articles on its print edition that were different from those published on the same issue at the online version. The online version missed those articles that I would describe as containing hidden discrimination towards certain groups like Arabs, immigrants and Palestinians.

Why would that happen? I guess they knew well enough that they need the revenue they receive from published ads and business that bring money through the website that is read in most oil-rich Arab countries, even though it was obvious that the newspaper does not hold respect or admiration for them. Most of the time, Arab figures are described as an appendix to their wealth, never mentioned as individuals with accomplishments to be proud of. So they kept the online version balanced. But looking at the paper version that is distributed in UK you will find what satisfies the people who thrive on stories of discrimination, and ignite their hatred even more.

I would like to put few examples here. The Daily Telegraph published the following articles in the newspaper lately, but has not published them on its website… I wonder why? Maybe someone else can detect the common denominator of such articles, concealed from some people who receive the online version only and contribute to the newspaper’s piggy bank by advertising on it.

By the way, the article that described the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi who invested in Manchester City team as a Sheikh who has deep pockets did not appear online… What a coincidence.

On 1/9/2008
Muslim woman quits hospital job over hygiene rules

“A Muslim woman quit her job at a hospital after refusing to bare her arms in order to comply with new hygiene rules.” (not available online)

Female Islamists ‘radicalise women at UK mosque’

“Hardline female Islamists are attempting to radicalise Muslim women at one of Britain’s most influential mosques.” (not available online)

Lesbians on beach jailed in Dubai

“Two foreign women have been jailed in Dubai for kissing and engaging in “indecent acts” on a public beach.” (not available online)

Sheikh with a deep love of sport – and deeper pockets

“He may be an unknown on the Hyde Road, but Manchester City fans will soon come to recognise Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – the real tycoon behind yesterday’s extraordinary takeover” (not available online).

I would like to thank whoever invented online journalism. From my humble point of view as a journalist, I would crown the Guardian as the Queen of online newspapers in the UK for many reasons, but most important of all, its decency and unbiased views that would offer every citizen a platform to express his views. Next to it comes the Independent.

Every single day there are projects, forums, discussions, debates, conferences… all of which are trying to conjure the perfect recipe for a loving society of all backgrounds. People of all colours, faiths and political affiliations are working hand in hand to build the international village. But still no one has succeeded 100%, because the media has never been independent, and rarely gives them the opportunity to act outside the lines of its own agenda.

It took me a trip to UK to find out how many times I have introduced to my viewers half the truth because I did not compare the newspaper with its online version, and because I was not living within that society victimized by such small doses of manipulation. I dare say the majority of my colleagues are humane and sensitive towards issues touching the lives of others, but their establishments that distribute the roles and hold the strings are not. The price they pay for their bread must go through the kitchen that lost its original message of journalism, and stripped them from their choice of showing compassion.

The link that shows my picture after being tampered with at the Daily Telegraph blog

On the same link you can read on the right side some of my previous blogs, amongst them How often do you use the F WORD? The rest of my posts were deleted by the DT without informing me or mentioning why.

Another post they have tampered with without any obvious reason was the following:

St George the Palestinian Hero

Even my own commenting back was deleted while other comments from other readers were still there, you can find on the following link:

you say and I quote you
Iqbal Tamimi

June 08, 2007

03:51 PM CST

St George the Palestinian Hero

The DT deleted the quote that would make my point valid

On the same blog you can read one of the contributors own testimony

Looking at some of the aggressively hostile comments on this blog I see visions of ganging up against one person – someone perhaps who has a point just as valid as our own but may lack the ability to put it over quite so lucidly. It is a pity, as I have seen this happen on other blogs too.


June 08, 2007, 12:13 PM CST

If you try to read the comments on this link, you will find that they filtered and removed all the indecent verbal attacks on me, which they were happy with for a long time, leaving the comments to give an impression of half told truth, and a very weak argument. You can see that the same comments from the same person follow right after his or her other comment, which does not make any sense. People used to comment and get comments back. But by removing a large number of some aggressive comments without mentioning that, they produced something far from being ethical and really have nothing to do with journalism or even common sense.

Today is 5th of June the 40th anniversary of pain

I would like to also say that they totally removed most of my posts on my blog after I became part of EJN and my articles everywhere where signed as a Media Freedom Press Officer for EJN… would that be a coincidence? Does that mean as long as an individual is not backed up by a journalist body that can question them, they will pay disregard to a person’s human right of freedom of expression. The manipulations were quite far from being accidental.

So long balanced journalism for all, and so long democracy and freedom of speech, and so long claiming there are ethics in the present media. Manipulation of the media on line by deleting, obscuring and tampering with pictures and the sequence of the comments…tells a good story.

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