Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ramadan Kareem: 7DAYS

This is the second bit of my deep thoughts for the weekend, or tirade, lecture, therapy - as you will! If you're going to plough through this, you might as well do the other bit first. See below ;P

I must salute the management and editorial team of 7DAYS for their success in providing UAE readers with the closest thing we have to Britain's Daily Mirror - your campaigning newspaper. With its gung-ho editorial style, its tireless self-promotion as the people's champion against - ohhhh - anything at all really - and its dedication to testing the limits of sensationalism in this socio-political context, 7DAYS has consistently coaxed and nurtured dissatisfaction and applauded self-righteousness in its readership since its inception.

The letters page has become a byword for complaint and frustration, attack and counter-attack. And now, in Ramadan, they've hit the motherlode: intercultural respect; societal norms; standards of public decency; personal codes of behaviour; and lots and lots and lots of name-calling. All that this sniping and self-righteous grandstanding does is erode goodwill and create bitterness. Ramadan Kareem. It is so sad.

Yes, I'm leaving soon. No, I don't like it here very much. Yes, there are issues to be resolved, progress can seem painfully slow, I strongly disagree with certain things, and sometimes I'd like to poke someone in the eye. The traffic sucks, the cost of living is rising faster than the hundreds of tower blocks, and you can't sunbathe naked as roast suckling pig on Jumeirah Beach with your Tequila Sunrise (not that I would want to!) But look at this place in the context of the rest of the Middle East. And in the span of time. Some countries are centuries old: this one's very young, and arguably trying to run before it can walk, but is home perfect?

And let us briefly consider the behaviour of the human race as a whole...... hmmmmm...... We're really good at getting on with each other, aren't we?

So maybe we should just sigh and get on with it. And make the most of the good stuff?

As for the press, I believe that press freedom is utterly essential to the development of a civilised and cultured society. I've said that before.
BUT. (I've said this before too!)


How many times does it have to be said that with freedom comes responsibility?

Those of us who live in Dubai are all caught in the maelstrom of apparently unreined development. Many expats are reconsidering their presence here. Many Emiratis are bewildered at the way their home - both physically and culturally - is evolving into something unknowable. We need to keep our sense of perspective and our sense of humour, or hug a pillow, or moan at our friends, or gnash our teeth, or play squash, go hashing, eat chocolate, drink wine, jump up and down on a mattress yelling "GNEEEAAARGHGH!!!!"

Then again, there's always the option of writing an open letter to the moron in the silver 4x4 who cut you up at the junction, for publication in a national newspaper. Because this is what we have national newspapers for, yes?

Forgive me if I disagree. This isn't a democracy. We knew that when we came here, but of course, knowing it and living with it are rather different things!
(Of course, when you look at democracy at work in Britain and the US - ohhhhh - that's why you left....?! Ahhhhh... Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah...)

Most of us don't know who's in charge of what, and we're reluctant to write to anyone with real authority because we're not entirely confident that criticism won't have repercussions. The press is the vox populi. Free, fearless and objective, dedicated to the dissemination of truth and the encouragement of open debate in pursuit of a civilised society.

Yes, I know. I live in the real world too. I'm not suggesting for one moment that it's easy, but it is important, isn't it? The press here is freer now than it has ever been, certainly than in some neighbouring countries, and it has an important role to play in this developing nation.

And the letters page is important for all us anonymous drones who have a point of view on the place we live and times we live in: it's our forum for debate (not a whinge-fest); our direct and secure line to distant policy makers and executives; and a heads-up to the editorial staff on what we care about, good and bad.

Three months of letters from fed-up motorists is boring, depressing, and may ultimately encourage road-rage. An editorial brainstorm identifying the underlying issue in response to half a dozen similar letters, followed by an indepth investigation, interviews with the appropriate people, and follow-up features a month, and six months, and a year, down the line, with a view to getting something done - now that sounds useful. Both in tackling the immediate issue, and in countering the us-and-them mentality so easily engendered in a diverse society.

Where repercussions are a factor, the letters page is there for the lone voice, the whistle-blower. From time to time The Gulf News has carried letters from parents regarding, for example, inhumane or unsafe school transport or something equally unacceptable at a particular school, addressing their letter to 'the concerned authority' and with the tagline 'Name and address withheld by request'. They daren't complain to the school directly, out of anxiety that their child will be removed from the register for a spurious reason which will then appear on his school record. In the letters page, David has his weapon against Goliath.

In short (ok- medium) we need balanced and clear-headed reporting of local and international news; we need responsible investigative and campaigning journalism. We need a forum where the general public, the business sector, health and welfare professionals, government ministers and executive officers can find out what everyone else thinks and feels about plans, events, decisions and actions that affect them, and engage in the exchange of views. Bravo 7DAYS for tackling Etisalat over YouTube, Hi5 etc.

What we do not need, especially in this place, at this time, with the human race apparently hurtling scarlet-faced and screaming towards Armageddon, is a national newspaper sponsoring the polarisation of our society.

1 comment:

Mme Cyn said...

Extremely well put, MamaDuck. And I agree with you. But when people feel either voiceless or gagged, they want an outlet for expression. I agree it would be proacitve (and much more useful) if the paper in question took your advice and actually did something, but... they live here too.