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Arabisc: Are the Americans Bribing Arab Journalists?

Are the Americans bribing Arab journalists? And how should Arab journalists react?

These are the sensitive questions posed by Jordanian blogger and writer Batir Wardam in his blog, Jordan Watch, this week as he discusses the merits of familiarisation trips for Arab journalists, paid for by the US State Department.

Wardam is careful in bringing up the issue for discussion and apologises in advance to his colleagues in the media, who may have benefited from such trips in the past. He also invites them to debate the matter in mainstream media and see what works best for them.

سأكتب في موضوع حساس أرجو أن لا يأخذه أحد من الزملاء الإعلاميين بشكل شخصي، وهدفي الوحيد في هذا المقال هو طرح هذه المسألة للنقاش في وسطنا الإعلامي، واحترام الآراء المختلفة بدون أن نهدف إلى فرض رأي واحد وتوجيه الاتهامات بشكل عشوائي، لأن القضية فعلا تستحق النقاش في البيت الإعلامي الأرد
“I will write about a sensitive topic and I hope that none of my colleagues in the media will take the matter personally. My main aim in bringing up this matter is to open it for discussion in our media circles. I respect all the different opinions without having to impose one view and point fingers at random. This is a topic which should be discussed in the Jordanian media,” he writes.
وما أتحدث عنه هو برنامج السفارة الأميركية في الأردن الذي يوجه الدعوة للإعلاميين سنويا لزيارة الولايات المتحدة والإطلاع على الواقع السياسي والثقافي فيها وتكون هذه الزيارات مدفوعة الثمن بالكامل من ميزانية وزارة الخارجية الأميركية. هذا بالإضافة إلى الدعوات التي تقدمها السفارة الأميركية لبعض الإعلاميين للنقاش معها في السفارة أو في أماكن أخرى على عشاء عمل أو خلال دورات تدريبية وغي
“What I am talking about is the programme sponsored by the Amercian Embassy in Jordan which invites media personalities to visit the United States and learn more about its culture and politics. Those trips are fully funded by the US State Department. In addition, the Embassy also invites media personalities to the embassy for discussions over dinner or during training sessions,” he explains.

While the US is a friend of Jordan, Wardam is quick to point out some of its policies, which aren't being viewed with ease by the general public in Arab countries where people after question the world's superpower's motives.

الولايات المتحدة ليست دولة معادية للأردن، وهي تساهم في التنمية الاقتصادية من خلال تقديم دعم مالي للأردن في مجالات مختلفة، والحوار معها ليس جريمة وطنية. ولكن في المقابل فإن الولايات المتحدة دولة تقدم الدعم الكامل لإسرائيل في جرائمها على الشعب الفلسطيني، وهي تحتل موارد العراق وتنهب ثروته، وتشن مواجهات سياسية واقتصادية مكشزوفة ضد دول أخرى وتهدد بعمل عسكري ضدها، وتتدخل في الخصوصويات الثقافية والسياسية للعالم العربي وتحاول فرض رؤيتها للعالم علينا جميعا.
“The United States isn't an enemy to Jordan and it contributes to our economic development through financial subisidies in different areas. As a result, dialogue with it isn't a national crime. In return, the US is a country which provides full support to Israel in its crimes against the Palestinians, occupies Iraq and steals its resources as well as engineers economic and political confrontations against other countries which it also threatens with military action. It also intervenes in the cultural and political specifics of the Arab world and tries to impose its views of the world on us all,” he says.

Journalists, challenges Wardam, should be wary of the US’ policy since it was directly responsible for the killing of journalists and bombing of television stations in Iraq.

والأهم من ذلك بالنسبة لنا كإعلاميين أن لها رصيدا سيئا في مجال حماية الصحافيين. فقد قتلت القوات الأميركية عمدا وعن سابق إصرار الصحافي الأردني طارق أيوب والصحافي الفلسطيني مازن دعنا في العراق، وقصفت مكاتب لقنوات فضائية عربية كثيرة، وتمارس ضغطا على وسائل الإعلام العربية يتنافي تماما مع الديمقراطية، وبالتالي فإن موقفنا كإعلاميين أصحاب مهنة وضمير تجاه الولايات المتحدة يجب أن ينبثق من هذه الممارسات السلبية.
“What is more important for us in the media is that it has a bad record in protecting journalists. The American forces have purposely killed Jordanian journalist Tariq Ayoub and Palestinian journalist Mazin Da'ana in Iraq. They also bombarded the offices of a number of Arab satellite channels as well as continues to exert pressure on Arab media in a manner which goes against democracy. Therefore, our stance as journalists with a profession and conscience towards the US should stem from these negative practises,” he adds.

Instead of enlightening the Arabs and preaching to them the American democratic model, Wardam says it is the Americans who need reschooling.

ولهذا فإن مسألة السفر على نفقة وزارة الخارجية الأميركية إلى الولايات المتحدة قد لا تكون عملية حكيمة بالنسبة للإعلاميين الأردنيين. ان المبرر الذي يقوله البعض، والمتعلق بأهمية الحوار والانفتاح مع الولايات المتحدة لتجاوز أزمة 11 أيلول نابع من النظرية الأميركية الخاطئة وهي أن هجمات 11 أيلول ناجمة عن “سوء فهم” العرب للسياسة الأميركية، علما بأن هذه الهجمات ناجمة عن حسن الفهم لهذه السياسات السيئة، والمطلوب ليس “تنوير العرب” بمزايا الديمقراطية الأميركية فهذا لا يهمنا كثيرا بل يهمنا كيفية تغيير هذه السياسات لتصبح عادلة تجاه العرب وقضاياهم وهذا يأتي أساسا من خلال “تنوير الأميركيين”.
“This is why travelling to the US at the expense of the US State Department is not something wise for Jordanian media personnel. The excuse repeated by some about the importance of dialogue and opening up to the US to overcome the crisis caused by September 11 is wrong as those attacks were not the result of a misunderstanding on the part of Arabs of the US policy. It should be noted that the attacks are the result of a correct understanding of this wrong policy. What is required now is not enlightening the Arabs of the advantages of the US democracy as this doesn't matter to us a lot. What is more important is how to change those policies to make them just towards the Arabs and their causes and this can only become possible through enlightening the Americans,” he writes.

Wardam also suggests ways to teach the American public more about what Arabs think.

المعلومات عن سياسة الولايات المتحدة موجودة لكل من يتقن اللغة الإنجليزية، وهي موجودة في الوثائق والدراسات والإنترنت وكل مصادر المعرفة للإعلامي الجاد، ولا يحتاج الأمر لزيارة الولايات المتحدة على حساب الخارجية الأميركية للحصول على هذه المعلومات.

الحوار والانفتاح مطلوبان بكل تأكيد، ولكن حسب أولويات عربية ومنها تنوير الرأي العام الأميركي لأنه هو الذي يحتاج للمعرفة، وهذا ما يجعل مهمة الإعلاميين الذين يتقنون الكتابة باللغة الإنجليزية بالأخص مهمة جدا لنشر مقالات في صحف أميركية توضح الرأي العربي، وربما بالتنسيق مع مؤسسات أميركية- عربية، أو مراكز أبحاث مستقلة، ولكن بالتأكيد ليس وزارة الخارجية الأميركية ولا السفار

“Information about the US policies are widely available for all those who can read English. They are found in documents, studies, the Internet and other sources for the serious journalist. The matter doesn't warrant a visit to the US at the expense of its State Department to get such information. Dialogue is necessary no doubt but it should take place according to Arab priorities, including enlightening the American public who is more in need of such information. This makes the role of media personalities, especially those with solid written English skills vital, as they can publish articles in American newspapers explaining Arab opinion. They can also coordinate their efforts with Arab-American organisations and independent research institutes by not the State Department and the US Embassy,” he warns.
الخلاصة أن الانفتاح على الولايات المتحدة يجب أن يكون من جانبنا لأن من يسئ الفهم ليس العرب بل الأميركيين، وهذا الحوار يجب أن يتم خلال مؤسسات عربية أو أميركية مستقلة أو وسائل إعلام مختلفة، ولكن ليس من خلال الاستفادة من اي عرض مادي أو سفرات أو تدريب أو عشاء عمل على حساب الإدارة الأميركية، لأنها طرف غير محايد، وهي الطرف المسؤول على سوء السياسات الأميركية تجاه جاه العرب
“In conclusion, the US should open up to us as they are the ones who misunderstand us and not the other way round. This dialogue should happen through independent Arab or American organisations and different media channels, and not through financial support, travel, dinners and training at the expense of the US administration – which isn't a neutral party but the one responsible for all the bad American policies towards the Arabs,” he says.

3 comments

  • Are Americans Bribing Arab Journalists?…

    When the State Department offers to sponsor familiarization trips to America? A Jordanian blogger examines the question in Global Voices…….

  • This is really interesting Amira. Thanks for taking the time to translate this discussion. You know, the U.S. State Dept has done the same thing in many countries around the world for years – inviting prominent journalists, mid-level policymakers, academics and artists to the U.S. on U.S. Government sponsored trips. They invite a lot of people from China for the same reasons they invite people from the Arab world.

    I have several Chinese friends who have been on such “junkets” and that’s what they tend to treat them as. They often end up using the trip for their own purposes: to build their own professional networks in whatever sector they work in (and in at least one case I know, to do business) and also to have a bit of fun and do some sightseeing on the U.S. government’s dime. There is always a certain amount of propaganda they have to sit through, but they are so conditioned to ignore propaganda they just ignore it. I have heard from some of my friends that they also managed to educate the Americans they met along the way about China and Chinese perspectives. So it doesn’t have to be a completely one way street.

    I agree with Wardam, though, the process of building bridges would be more effective – and less problematic for the invitees – when carried out by independent and neutral organizations rather than by governments.

  • In Dutch there’s an expression: one speaks the word of the person whose bread one eats. (Wiens brood men eet, diens woord met spreekt)

    This saying probably holds true for all media: be it state-run Al-Jazeera, state-run newspapers, and also it’s true for privately owned media like Fox or even PBS (funded by grassroots supporters).

    Independent media is an oxymoron. But: independend/free press comes about by the synergy of opposing ideas that are tolerated to co-exist.
    In this sense, having a pro-American voice being heard in the Arab media will be helpful.

    Conflict is always the expression of lacking tolerance for existing opposing ideas, these oppositions exist if one allows them to surface or not, and if they exist they may be suppressed, but they never disappear out of people’s hearts or minds.

    So bribing or not, I don’t really care who pays for it, but diversification of opinions by peaceful means is always a good thing.

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