Monday, June 13, 2011

Why the international media gets Egypt wrong

An article by the Associated Press today began, “the long banned Muslim Brotherhood has been recognized as the Freedom and Justice Party.”

That’s not quite true.

What the article means to say is that the Freedom and Justice Party, founded by the long banned Muslim Brotherhood, has been recognized.

The difference is significant.

While Egypt’s political scene has accepted the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate actor, the organization which has been banned for decades is still, officially, banned. The Freedom and Justice Party was indeed founded by the Brotherhood and in the party the Brotherhood has its first legal political entity.

However, the party does not exclusively contain Brotherhood members, nor are all members of the Brotherhood automatically members of the party. According to one of the party’s founders, 25 percent of its members are not affiliated with the Brotherhood. What’s more, around 8 percent are women and Coptic Christians.

It remains to be seen how the party’s relationship with the Brotherhood will play out, but technically the Associated Press got its facts wrong.

This is only one small example of the international media’s frequent mistake when it comes to Egypt and the wider Arab world: they see only the surface and do not know, or do not understand, the nuances.

The problem is twofold: first, manpower and resources. Second, the target audience is, usually, not the Middle East.

The issue of distributing resources is something all newspapers and news agencies must come to terms with. International agencies must cover the entire world and consequently cannot devote too many resources to any one area. That said, the entire world is watching the Middle East now more than ever and consequently it is more important to get the facts straight than ever before. Small slip-ups could have far-reaching implications.

The second issue is arguably more important. News agencies want their stories to be understandable. It is one of the fundamental principles of journalism: convey your story to your reader so they understand what you’re talking about. But oversimplification to this extent does not help anyone. It certainly does not help the “West” understand the Arab world.

Journalism’s goal is not to defeat misperceptions, but the international media must learn to balance the simple goal of telling the news with a more complex duty to portray more than the surface of its subject.

When it comes to the Arab world, too often foreign media takes the easy road: they report what they see with their own eyes and talk with people it’s easy to talk to. Namely, other journalists and people who speak their language or are of their own social class.

Watching coverage of the Egyptian Revolution in the United States, many Americans thought to themselves, “Hey, it looks like America succeeded in Egypt. Everyone speaks English.”

Those reporting the world-changing events taking place in Cairo’s now-iconic Tahrir Square made the vital mistake of interviewing predominantly English-speaking Egyptians, probably because it was easier.

In the short-term such reporting may be easier. In the long-term, however, this sort of reporting misses what’s actually happening on the ground; it misses the opportunity to portray a different culture and a different way of thinking in a way its target audience – in this case, the Western world – can understand.

This is why the international media consistently gets Egypt wrong, and probably part of the reasons misconceptions about the region continue to prevail. It is no longer acceptable to skim the surface and write the easy story – if it ever was. The world does not only want the surface news. The world wants to understand Egypt.

This article was originally published at Youm7 English Edition on June 7, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. excellent article!

    the real reason why western media is skewed by the western media is not man power or resources it is that the western media is a complete and utter slave to the corporate interests that are in turn subservient to the zionist entity. they will always mutate every article that goes through their presses. ALWAYS

    the truth will come out ... but not through the western media.. ever