Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Media restrictions and Al-Akhbar

I am sorry to see Max leave Al-Akhbar.  But I have a few observations.  Are there people who write for Al-Akhbar that I disagree with? Of course, just as there ware people at Al-Akhbar (English and Arabic) who don't like my views at all.  I know that some can't stand me.  But I disagree with Max's reasoning.  First, yes there were people who left Al-Akhbar in the last year or so but it is not all about Syria.  There are new media in Lebanon and they are better funded than Al-Akhbar and they are luring journalists right and left, although some did leave on matters of principle.  Some left for media that are less critical of the Syrian regime or for media that are tied to right-wing or Saudi interests of for media that are critical of the Syrian regime but from a Lebanese right-wing and racist perspective.  I am not judgmental of course especially if you are a journalist who wants to work in the Middle East.  There are no perfect or even good alternatives damn it.   I just don't like Max's reference to the Nation magazine and support for Stalin.  The example implies that the Nation magazine is now perfect and without any problems.  If he feels that Al-Akhbar is not courageous enough against the Syrian regime does that mean that he thinks that the Nation magazine is courageous enough against the Israeli regime, or does he think that one lack of courage is worse than another?   Max, I noticed,, did not complain at all about censorship because I believe he has the freedom to write what he wanted:  I believe that this is the strength of Al-Akhbar in relative terms: editorial control is most lax compared to all Arab media and even to Western media.  There are articles in Al-Akhbar Arabic and English that are very critical of the Syrian regime and that call for its overthrow.  Some of Ibrahim Amin's articles (including his last one on the topic) are also very critical of the regime although he does not support its downfall.  But what is the alternative?  I talk about this with Arab journalists.  There are people I know who left Al-Akhbar and went to work for media with far more restrictions and far more financial entanglements with oil and gas money.  One has to make a decision for oneself of course.  But if Max is unhappy to write alongside people who support the Syrian regime (with whom I disagree of course), how will he feel about writing for, say, Huffington Post where there are apologists for Israeli war crimes?  Or for   In the Huffington Post Max is writing alongside Abe Foxman, for potato's sake. Does that bother him? I am not saying that he should leave and I want to read him in both media.  What worries me is that the regime that the US happens to oppose at a particular point becomes worse than any other regime but for political reasons and not purely for human rights reason.  I mean, support for Syrian regime is considered anathema nowadays but not support for the Saudi or Bahraini or Jordanian or Mubarak regime.  Al-Akhbar is a work in progress and our efforts can strengthen the project.  It is a least centralized media that I know of and departments are quite independent (sometimes that is good and sometimes that is not but it is not tightly controlled like most Arab media).  Al-Akhbar Arabic and English have published many articles critical of the Syrian regime: just today there is a very strong article against the regime by none other than Salamah Kilah (who was recently arrested and tortured and expelled by the Syrian regime but I hove to say that his article is so badly written that it is a mess but the paper published it to provoke the Syrian regime, which is good).  There are yet things in the paper that I don't like: on Syria or on Lebanon but what is important (and here is something that Max may not see because he does not read Arabic) is that the paper is pioneering on secularism and on challenging religious authorities (Sunnis and Shi`ite and Christian and even published an article about corruption of Hizbullah clerics).  The culture section is promoting sexual liberties and homosexual rights: no other Arab media--NONE--dare do that.  If there is a freer and better alternative to Al-Akhbar, I don't know it because there is none.  I believe that through our efforts we can and should strive to make the paper better and more daring and more critical.  I am staying.

PS And it occurred to me as I was swimming: which is more critical: Al-Akhbar on Syria or the Nation on Israel?  The answer is too obvious.