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Saudi Arabia must encourage professionals in the press versed in languages beyond Arabic
Earlier last week, in a shooting rampage, a 25-year-old Texas gunman opened fire on the student body in an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas killing 19 children and 2 adults. He was eventually shot dead by law enforcement authorities as he barricaded himself in a classroom with his victims.
Not many days earlier in the US, in Buffalo New York, an 18-year-old white male dressed in body armour opened fire at a supermarket, killing ten, including a security guard, and wounding three others.
Four people were killed Wednesday in a shooting at a Tulsa medical building on a hospital campus. St. Francis Health System locked down its campus because of the situation at the Natalie Medical Building. The Natalie building houses an outpatient surgery centre and a breast health center. Aerial footage from a TV helicopter appeared to show first responders wheeling patients on a stretcher away from the hospital building.
But the surprise of all surprises, none of the media or wire services were quick to tag labels on these two offenders. There was no cry of ‘Christian’ extremist or terrorist in any of the headlines. And there shouldn’t have been any.
But had a member of Islamic been involved, then I have no doubt about the immediacy of faith coming under attack with headlines blaring ‘Muslim terrorist’ or ‘Islamist’ extremist goes on a killing frenzy, killing the innocent. And the coverage would have been extensive.
This brings me to the point of this column.
Ministers of information from several Islamic countries regularly gather to deal with the rising negativity in the world press against Islam and its people. Many issues and ideas are brought up, and final resolutions are agreed to in their parting.
But is what they are coming up with enough? Little mention is given to the fact that while we have reporters and writers, almost all of them are confined by the limitations of penning the languages of the world.
The media profession in Saudi Arabia needs to buckle up further because in my opinion it still searching for the light. Whilst it has graduated from the mundane reporting like some bland fare of dates production in some remote village in some remote province of this country, it still lags professionals versed in languages beyond Arabic.
We can holler much as we want about blatant double standards by western media. But yet we lack consistency in preparing a generation of able graduates in the field of political science and international relations, students who may be tempted one day to pursue a profession in the media and in languages that carry understanding beyond our borders.
A generation who is capable of correcting biases, not through spin, but through factual evidence and in a language understood by those shouldering such biases. True, most of today’s news flies fast through channels of social media, but someone has to assemble the words and sentences for such entries.
A relative recently told me of his failure to secure a scholarship for his daughter in the media field, as a bureaucrat bluntly told him that such fields of study were considered unimportant. This Ministry may fawn over the numbers it is preparing for higher studies, but are we all to become only doctors, engineers, or computer programmers?
We are losing the media war, not because we do not hold controlling interests in western media outlets, nor because we have no collective approach by Islamic countries to combat growing media distortion by the world’s press. It is our own failure to recognise our shortcomings and our inactivity to tackle this problem.
There are among the Arab youth today those who desire to venture into this profession. But without suitable support, their desire remains an elusive dream. And in a profession whose virtues demand that you be active, they are just the opposite … reactive!
Why not work on promoting our messages through the written word by our very qualified own, rather than the retainers of western public relations outfits or the demonstrations of a frenzied mob of thugs?
An honest and unbiased reporting of events in a factual manner, an art that is quickly disappearing in a world of fake news snippets would lead to better understanding among people of all nations.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena

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