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Journalism, Democracy and Shoes! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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If the Iraqi man who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush on Sunday was just an ordinary citizen who took such action on one of Baghdad’s streets then perhaps it could be argued that he simply has no decency. But for a television reporter to take such action is a matter that should be condemned.

The reporter could have asked the American president a difficult or uncomfortable question as Bush stood next to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, but instead he chose to use shoes over words, forgetting that journalism does not debate and communicate using violence and vulgarity.

What we saw in the press conference was nothing but an insult to the profession of journalism and an indicator that the nature of journalism has been misunderstood. A journalist is not a Mujahid nor is he a fighter; he is the one who communicates information. The journalist is not a spokesperson for the nation, or for its conscience, as some unprofessional figures within this profession claim!

However, it is important to mention here that the shoe-throwing incident that took place in Baghdad demonstrates the flip side to what we witnessed the day that Paul Bremer, the then US Administrator in Iraq, announced the capture of [the deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein when journalists cheered and applauded loudly at the announcement.

There is no room for applause, insults or throwing shoes at others in journalism, regardless of any reasons for this. Unfortunately, figures of our Arab satellite channels have celebrated the embarrassing shoe-throwing incident and some have even gone as far as justifying this action unlike a respectable press let alone a respectable journalist.

These words are not in defense of the American president; they come in defense of our culture that does not approve of such behavior. These words are for defending the professionalism of journalism that is beginning to suffer from a lack of professionalism.

We were expecting the journalist, who attended the press conference, and those like him, to present the American president and the Iraqi Prime Minister with a tough question in order for us to fully understand what signing the Security Pact would mean for all parties, especially for the Iraqi nation.

We were expecting to hear answers from the officials about how they will protect Iraq from continuous sectarian deterioration and how they will protect Iraq’s present and future from being handed over to destructive foreign forces, most prominently Iran. How would that be dealt with?

We were certainly not expecting someone to exchange words for shoes, forgetting that the era of Saddam Hussein that has come to an end, did not allow press conferences [to take place]. In fact, if a journalist dared to say a bad word against Saddam Hussein then his entire tribe would have to come out to wash its hands of him and demand that he suffered the worst punishment.

Some forget that the minister of falsehood, Mohammed Saeed al Sahhaf, would lead journalists like a flock of sheep in whatever direction he wanted and not one person would dare question him or even attempt to cross the line that had been drawn for journalists.

However this Iraqi journalist, who today has the right to ask questions and to hold a politician responsible and remind him of his lies, decided not to do that; he decided that shoes were powerful than words, reason and argument, as this is some people’s idea of democracy. Unfortunately, this is how some people affiliated with journalism understand the concept of journalism, forgetting that they belong to a profession that is based on words and knowledge, not on throwing shoes!

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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