Pressing Matters: Media Coverage and the Arab Gulf States

The GCC needs to address how its image is perceived around the world. Illustration: Omar El-Mansoury

Is the Western media biased in its reporting of Gulf affairs?

By Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi


Over the past few years Western media’s negative coverage of the Arab Gulf states has increased so much that it is starting to look more like a rite of passage for some journalists and news organisations. Meanwhile, what’s notable is that most Western media outlets have softened their tone when reporting on Iran.

For instance, the reprehensible use of the death penalty by Middle Eastern states highlights the western media’s glaring infatuation with the Iranian government.

Most of those following news from the Middle East, encounter one article after the other on the increased use of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia [and China], where 175 executions were carried this year alone, an unprecedented number according to Amnesty International.

Yet, according to Amnesty International, Iran has far exceeded that number by executing nearly 700 people in just six months, a story that isn’t reported on in the Western press as often as they do with similar news from Saudi Arabia.

In a similar vein, the case of Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed who were unfairly detained in Egypt for over a year was rightly highlighted around the globe. In fact when the journalists were handed a politicized verdict in June 2014, hundreds of journalists gathered in front of BBC’s New Broadcasting House in London to condemn the sentence.

Meanwhile the equally condemnable case of Washington Post’s journalist Jason Rezaian, an American citizen detained in Iran since July 2014, warranted no such reaction or widespread coverage and is suspiciously ignored by international media, which seems to have found a new fondness for Iran following the nuclear deal.

However, the western media isn’t the only party guilty of this bias. Last August, the London based Saudi newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat published an article with the ironic headline that read “The Suffering of Female Civil Society Activists in Iran Continues Under (President) Rouhani”. Needless to say, the GCC countries’ own press would do well to focus their attention internally where few, if any, civil society activities are tolerated in the first place.

That said, there’s no question that the GCC struggles with image perceptions, many of which are unfairly labeled against them.

A recent article published in The Telegraph about Dubai by a journalist who never bothered visiting the emirate, was so laughable it was lampooned online by a fellow British writer. (Contrast with The Telegraph’s 11 reasons (why) you should go to Iran).

GCC officials recently met in Bahrain to endorse a media strategy to “rectify” their image abroad. To achieve this goal their plan included “holding seminars and meetings with research centers or organizing events at international functions,” according to UAE’s English daily, Gulf News.

However if the GCC States truly want to “rectify” their image, they need not mount expensive PR campaigns in Washington DC or hold international seminars and conferences abroad.

The best way to improve their image, is to start working from within their own countries. It is also the cheaper and more sustainable solution.

In order to truly correct their “image problem”, GCC states should consider releasing detained activists via a general amnesty, suspend capital punishment, allow political participation, and eliminate the ‘sponsorship system’. They should also consider expanding women’s rights, enacting environmental protections, and bolstering freedom of expression.



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