My Colleague, Dr. Mamoun Fandy, wrote in an article ‘The Doctored Photo’, in which he stated that “for many years, Asharq Al-Awsat held an esteemed reputation in the Arab press, as a result of its column ‘journalistic observation’, which criticized the newspaper and the mistakes on its pages. This did not harm Asharq Al-Awsat in any way, but rather it increased its credibility. I wish that this column, which lasted for years, would return once more, because journalism is a profession full of errors, but it is also a profession of apologies and a profession that aspires to be accurate in its information”.
My colleague’s opinion regarding the accuracy [of journalism] is correct, therefore we find that many studies, most recently the one published by the ‘New York Times’, say that people continue to receive their information from traditional media, even if they access it via the internet, and continue to rely on newspapers as their primary source, in addition to radio and television. The significance of this is that people place great trust in those who verify this information. The [verification of this information] requires a high financial cost and effort in order for media organs to establish sources and provide exclusive content. This is not happening these days in our region. The content of newspapers is being stolen without taking intellectual property laws into account. This ‘theft’ is being committed by websites and some television channels, which treat newspapers like their own newsroom!
At a time when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking to prosecute all who violate intellectual property laws in America (notice the warning messages at the beginning of any American film) we find that some in the Arab media are committing theft, without impunity, and then classifying themselves as prestigious media outlets. However, this is a risk to the economy equivalent to that of money laundering, and we are not as wealthy as Bill Gates!
Returning to the subject of ‘journalistic observation’, as touched upon by Dr. Fandy, this has been a long running tradition in acclaimed Western newspapers, and Asharq Al-Awsat was the first Arab newspaper publish such a feature It was ended due to unforeseen circumstances – for what readers do not know, not even those who work for the paper, is that the column was written by the late Dr. Ahmed Al-Rabei, may God have mercy on him.
When I first became Editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, I proposed the idea [of a journalistic observation column] to him [Al-Rabei], and he approved. However, he hesitated, for fear of embarrassment, and said “great idea; however our people won’t stand for it”. I convinced him that his name would not be published, and it would be a secret between us, which he accepted. Indeed it was a well-kept secret!
It was the late Al-Rabei’s free choice [to write the column], but he once wrote “last week was such a week of errors that it was unforgivable for the newspaper. It is true that Asharq al-Awsat has the virtue of recognition, and dedicates a daily column for corrections, but this has not reduced the danger of major errors. Thus we would reiterate that errors in language and printing will continue to exist, but [the situation] will be much better than it was”. That day, one of my colleagues came to me expressing his dismay, saying “I do not know who writes these words, but they offend us”. My response was “improve your performance, and nobody will have anything to criticize”1
That column was a unique aspect of this paper, until Dr. Al-Rabei fell ill, then past away. He could no longer post his ‘journalistic observation’ article, which had earned the newspaper respect even within the British legal domain, which claimed that Asharq al-Awsat was the first Arab newspaper to publish a ‘journalistic observation’ column.
Today, we will announce that the newspaper will recommence its publication of the ‘journalistic observation’ section, God willing, in the forthcoming media supplement, published every Thursday. It will be written by a journalist we trust, with professionalism.