Monday, August 07, 2006


One of the challenges in reporting on one's observations is providing proper balance. In one of today's UAE Community posts, GULF NEWS: the "happy meal" of UAE journalism?, the writer was peeved at what he perceived to be the lack of balance in a Gulf News report on a survey it had taken. Had the editors or reporters deliberately set out to mislead or was their perspective simply skewed?

Another post I came upon today provided a link to a news article which attempts to portray the hardships faced by laborers in Dubai, Dark Side of Dubai (alt. link). It does so by way of contrasting the lifestyles of the rich and privileged who live or vacation in Dubai with those of the many laborers who struggle in destitution. The graphic representation of the laborers' plight makes for insightful reading, however, I could not help but feel that the article failed to provide the proper perspective.

Suffering of the Poor

To take the story of the laborer as a case in point, the writer of Dark Side... asserts,
Mohammed Gurang, 34, wakes at 3am to join the 60-deep queue for the filthy bathrooms.The stench of the sewers makes you gag, the water in the showers is a dirty trickle, and there is no electricity.He shares his fetid 12ft-by-12ft breeze block cell with 11 other Indians. Eight have beds, the others sleep on dirty blankets on the concrete floor. A broken fan hangs limply from the corrugated iron ceiling.
The image is shocking, and having been written as a narrative it is probably real; but it appears to offer an extreme rather than a typical case, no less than the haughty description of the rich, spoilt princess,
It is 36C in the shade and, as the woman gazes dreamily across the shimmering bay at rows of gleaming skyscrapers, three beads of sweat have formed on her immaculately smooth brow. Quick as a flash, a poolside butler is at her side, liveried arm brandishing a cold towel, with Evian facial spray and a cloth to buff her Gucci sunglasses. Crisis averted, she flips over on her padded sunlounger, adjusts her purple thong for maximum exposure and starts planning the rest of her stay at Dubai's Burj Al Arab.
Not to be guilty of presenting excerpts out of context, I will admit that the writer is providing a contrast for the sake of illustrating a point. But the article never acknowledges that these are perhaps the extreme. It leaves the reader to accept the presumption that life for the laborer is nothing short of hell on earth. The writer offers no alternative scenarios nor does he/she ever bring into question what responsibility the laborer has for having placed himself into such a predicament.

Excesses of the Rich

Not to focus singularly on the issue of the laborer, the other main implication in the article is that the wealthy are frivolous and uncaring. Dubai's new towers and rampant development are referred to with some amount of derision. Beginning with a quote from Khalid, 28, a carpenter from Kerala it laments,
'This isn't a real life - it's a nightmare. They treat us like animals. I was told it was the city of dreams.' And so it is, for the Rolex-wearing building contractors, who can't build it quickly enough. Forty-storey tower blocks go from conception to opening ceremony in just two years. Half the world's supply of cranes are here working flat out.
Once again, perspective is lost. The city of dreams which Dubai has become is not only about the rich becoming richer through grandiose schemes--though there is some of that--it is also about the dreams of the hardworking, middle-class expatriates who are now fighting to stay afloat as rental rates spiral out of control. It includes overseas, soon to retire pensioners in the UK who are ready to surrender their hard-earned savings and investments for the promise of a dream home in a distant land, with prospects uncertain.

Responsiblity in Reporting

Perspective in this report, or any, should attempt to offer a broader view which includes some "big picture" analysis. It should also take into account some of the contributing factors behind the circumstances being highlighted.

We see the question of perspective arising in reporting and discussions on the current Lebanon crisis--as referenced in the opening. Those wanting to highlight one issue over another will neglect (whether purposefully or unwittingly) the all important contributing factors. They often fail to position their comments within the wider context of the Palestinian/Israeli/Middle East conflict.

My suggestion is not that one rehash, for example, the history of the Middle East conflict going back to 1947, just to make a cursory comment. It is when one is attempting to characterize an issue, such as that of laborer conditions in Dubai (as in Dark Side of Dubai) or that of public opinion in the UAE (as in the Gulf News article, It is the right of Hezbollah to defend their interests), that one must be careful to include a generous amount of perspective.

As an aside, Dark Side... is a fascinating and informative read, in that much of it is presented as a narrative, with apparent quotes from laborers. Thus, one is able to hear these workers describe conditions and their feelings about them in their own words. Just remember, however, to overlay that with a bit of perspective.

905 words
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