Is the revolution contagious? And could what started as a one-man act in Sidi Bouzid, in Tunisia, be reverberating across the Arab world, where many of today's young men and women grew up with the same ageing heads of state ruling them, and every other aspect of their lives?

My Twitterfeed is abuzz with hashtags, calling for revolutions across the region, from Algeria to my very own Bahrain. There is even a calendar of events being circulated, which I didn't get - making me feel like Cinderella, whose ugly step sisters were invited to the party while I was shunned.

The fast-paced events taking the Arab world by storm since December 17 have left many of us in awe, riding on the revolution tide. From my vantage point, I am seeing an influx of reactions even from the most downtrodden people, making me worry about their safety and security, knowing too well that even expressing your feelings could very well carry a price tag in certain countries in our region.

I have spent the previous painful hour talking to a hardcore journalist from New York - at least that is what he described himself as. I explained to him the work we do at Global Voices Online and how we aggregate material written by the people, for the people. He said he knew all that and wasn't interested. He wanted hard news. He wanted facts. I told him we are publishing what we have and finding the facts was his job. He asked me what was next. I told him that is for the clairvoyant to tell us. He explained to me over and over again how he was a professional journalist, implying that I was a novice, who has started to learn how to type yesterday. What is Bahrain? he asked. And then added: "Bahrain is Bahrain, I suppose!" He asked if I have a television set? He said that he would stream Al Jazeera now and watch the developments online. I shook my head in horror and didn't tell him that Al Jazeera was a stone's throw away, and that if I look out of my window, and gaze into the horizon I will be able to see its shed-like building (that is how I saw it last! No offence, but please tell me you have grand offices now, with the splendour we are used to here in the Gulf!) in the glare of the distant desert.

I know that I have started my career as a journalist and have worked in the field for a good 15 years. But some of the specimens out there leave a lot to desire in what was once a profession I cherished and romanticised. I wrote that in the past tense, because my more recent work in citizen media over the past five years puts some of those larger-than-thou characters to shame. This journalist I was speaking to, responded to every word I uttered with "I know!!" If you know everything, and I am not offering you anything new or newsworthy, why are you wasting my time and yours at 5am in the morning your time?

In all my years as a journalist, I had thought that my role was to listen with compassion and understanding, and ask the relevant questions, at the right time. There were times I had to be aggressive and many others where the conversation would naturally flow until I got the story I desired. But that is how we do our business here, in the Gulf, where respect still has a place in people's code of ethics and it's difficult to find a lot of people talking down to people in a condescending manner.


The hard-hitting questions I was asked are: What is happening now in Egypt? What will happen next? Who will be the next president? What do you know about Mohammed ElBaradei? Where will Mubarak go to? And how many people were killed and injured in #Jan25? He was also the one who told me that the Arab League was circulating a calendar of events noting where the next revolutions will start across the Arab world. The Arab League? Yeah, right. Please splatter that across all the headlines of all the major newspapers across the US and A, so that they know how much the Arab League is in touch with the grievances of its own people, and how blessed we all are to have such a spineless organisation!

Seriously? The Arab League?

The truth is that all those questions are legitimate but I am not the person to answer them. I consume the news just like the rest of us, with the only bonus point being, is that I am able to string citizen media reactions and post articles on an international platform, that only deals with citizen media reactions!

Burnt out, I will now go and play with my cats. At least, since they have no access to the Internet, I can rest assured that there will never be a mutiny in my household and none of them would ever aspire to have my life!

7 comments:

suonnoch said...

sounds as if you were speaking with an American who doesn't even have a passport.

W said...

Think that reporter was an embarrassment? Imagine having only such corporate drivel to turn to when one flips the channel :(

There is a reason why television and newspapers are dieing....

Pretty bad when even people our age are turning to the Daily show for "news". His commercials are better too :)

programmer craig said...

suonnoch: sounds as if you were speaking with an American who doesn't even have a passport.

Wishful thinking! Most Americans don't have passports, but it's also true most Americans have never even heard of Bahrain. As an American in good standing myself, I could make several assumptions about the journalist in question and be reasonably sure I'm right, but lack of a passport isn't one of them :)

I'll go out on a limb right here and now and state I think this person considers himself an "internationalist".

W: There is a reason why television and newspapers are dieing....

Television is dying? I think you're over-reaching pretty badly there. Although I can sympathize with your position. I watched very little TV during the 1990s... mostly because I found it an annoying distraction from work, which was very important to me back then :)

Sarah said...

I found out fairly quickly after I started traveling and living abroad 30 years ago why 'traditional' American journalists are such a face-clawing embarrassment: they rarely travel abroad, don't speak any language but English and get most of their 'stories' from other journalists in bars. They have an almost uncanny ability to find their single 'native' contact among the ranks of secret police, the ultra-rich and expats who haven't been back to the country of their birth for 20 years.

Since they don't speak ANY other language they are completely oblivious to the possibility of misunderstanding- much less deliberate mistranslation. It never seems to occur to them that accepting the services of a translator or guide recommended by a repressive government could be in any way problematic. And they are not above keeping themselves out of harm's way by sending a 'local' to take pictures of or film a 'hot spot', accepting said person's word on where the footage was shot and what it represents.

On the rare occasions when they are forced to travel they go with their stories already set and ask questions only until they get enough confirming quotes to qualify for the 'news' page instead of the opinion section where it belongs.

The one thing they are likely to know about Muslim-majority nations is that Islam forbids alcohol- which makes them even more than normally unwilling to venture beyond the bounds of their hotel bar.

I wish I could blame this on the radical right wing that has taken over my country, but back in the day when there were a lot more of them I found the left wing reporters often just as prone to this kind of idiocy.

Okay, I admit I know a lot of talented, multilingual reporters with deep knowledge of other countries-- some of them even Americans. Unfortunately, as a New York Times reporter once explained to me condescendingly, a locally based reporter- even if American- is very unlikely to get a story in any of the major news outlets. If an editor deemed there was a story no doubt someone like the NYT reporter- with his close contacts with the much-hated former ruling class- would be sent to cover it.

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Tikno said...

Hardcore journalist tend to write stories with tendentious phrase. That's the one I really don't like it. I like balanced and proportional news and worthy to be read.

As many people focus on Western intervention on the turmoil in the Middle East region, I think western countries are also a bit worried if there is widespread unrest in the Arab world, where western countries are still highly dependent on their oil.

gih said...

that's a great article as I read too.


wfs

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