Between the ‘hammer attack’ and the anvil of British press

Any media outlet has the right to address any issue, but there are ethics and best practices that must be taken into consideration

Faisal J. Abbas
Faisal J. Abbas
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It was interesting to observe how the British media dealt with last week’s “hammer attack” against three Emirati women at a Central London hotel.

Often a point of reference to many when it comes to professionalism, most British dailies and news channels covered the incident, which occurred only miles away from their newsrooms. It is worth noting that in general, the story was covered without sensationalism or exaggeration.

However, one cannot help but wonder how many of these same British media outlets would have reacted had this hideous incident — hypothetically — occurred to British tourists in the UAE? The answer is simple: They (the papers and the channels) would have turned the world upside down and the hypothetical attack — despite it being an anomalous incident — would have been portrayed as the “beginning of the end” of tourism in the UAE. Moreover, ALL Arabs and Muslims would have been stereotyped as thugs and murderers who “have a conflict with western values.” We have seen how the British media, particularly tabloids, dealt with certain issues in the past: Incidents were exaggerated and often, for the sole purpose of serving a stereotype that “sells,” the guilty party was portrayed as the victim!

For example, how often do you read articles about the majority of British expats who are residing here in the UAE? And by the majority, I mean the ones characterized by being respectable, law-abiding, hard-working and successful. Rather, you most likely would have heard or read about reports such as the one voicing surprise that a British couple was detained because they were caught having sex on a public beach in Dubai, as if having sex publicly is allowed in Hyde Park!

Needless to say, the press in the United Kingdom is free to write as it wishes. However, for its part, the British government was quick to condemn the hammer attack as it voiced sympathy for the Emirati victims via its Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Hugh Robertson. The Metropolitan Police arrested the suspects and charged one of them within a few days of the incident. This is an achievement that is definitely worth noting.

Moreover, one cannot deny the UAE government’s role — whether via its foreign policies, which established solid relations based on mutual respect with the UK, or via its domestic policy, which puts its citizens’ interests and happiness above all other considerations — in speeding up the British authorities’ response to the incident, which could have gone unnoticed like other unfortunate incidents.

How would British tabloids feel if UAE papers were spreading a false stereotype that depicts ALL British people as thieves and thugs?

Faisal J. Abbas

Obviously, no apology or judicial sentence can now fix the damage caused by the hammer attack to the lives of these Emirati victims. Yet, it is important to follow up on the issue nevertheless. The case must be addressed through various legal means in order to achieve justice and prevent such a tragic incident from happening again.

Furthermore, lawyers must be consulted on whether the concerned hotel lacked security measures. If neglect is proven on the part of the hotel, the issue must be legally addressed. It is also important to release the case developments in the English-speaking media, but in a professional manner, without making any sweeping generalizations.

A message to the media

On that note, what I would like to say to colleagues at some British tabloids, who seem to think that the end justifies the mean, is that they only need to imagine what would happen if Emirati dailies adopt this sensationalist style of theirs? How would they, for example, feel if the UAE papers were spreading a false stereotype that depicts ALL British people as thieves and thugs? Or, if a headline that says “Great Britain becomes Hate Britain” was published based on nothing more than a sub-editor’s urge to demonstrate his creative-writing abilities? In all cases, any media outlet has the right to address any issue but there are ethics and best practices that must be taken into consideration in the media industry. Perhaps the simplest of these standards is the guarantee of the other party’s right to explain its point of view.

However, one cannot help but wonder what happens to these standards when even a reputable daily like the Guardian publishes a piece falsely claiming that the office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has published an advert in Italy seeking 60 ladies to work as shopping assistants. The newspaper later backed down and apologized after it turned out that the story was completely baseless.

With all due respect to the Guardian, it should have checked the facts of the story and contacted the relevant media office, or indicated that it tried to do so, BEFORE publishing such a piece. Needless to say, such a process is not only considered “journalism 101,” but it prevents media outlets from falling into the trap of having a story based on a single source.

This article was first published in Gulf News on April 18, 2014.


Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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