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The media has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in modern day due to the huge influence it has over the society. It is able to affect people since the reports it provides inform individuals and help them to gain new perceptions on issues going on around them.
A person’s opinion on various issues is coloured by the media since it provides the “backdrop against which we make sense of new conditions and information” (Gentz & Kramer 2006, p.32). Journalists, who are the professionals charged with collecting information and reporting it to the public, are an integral part of the media.
They act as societal “watchdogs”; always looking for newsworthy material and publicly critiquing any action that runs contrary to the ideals of the society. By doing this, they are able to accurately reflect the mood of the society and promote worthy causes for the betterment of the society.
However, the last 2 decades have witnessed a significant shift in the manner in which journalists carry out their work. Over this period, journalism has become market driven with reports tending to be structured in such a manner as to appeal to the public often at the expense of the integrity that characterised traditional journalism.
Franklin (2005) refers to this trend as McJournalism which is the emergence of a “highly standardised, packaged journalism” (p.2). In the United Arab Emirates, the government has a tight leash on the media which means that journalists cannot report as liberally as their western counterparts.
This paper will set out to argue that while McJournalism in the UAE is still low, it is taking hold and might be expected to rise significantly in the near future.
The paper will review the reasons behind the low level of McJournalism at present and provide an analysis of how McJournalism is taking a hold in the UAE with relevant examples to reinforce this.
Reasons for Low Levels of McJournalism
As it currently stands, journalists in the UAE are discouraged from reporting on matters that may be too controversial.
The media law which was promulgated by the National Media Council contains sections which impose fines on journalists who disseminated information that can be deemed to “disingenuous” on the country’s’ economy or any information that could tarnish the image of the UAE (Ibrahim Al-Abed et al. 2006).
Journalists stand at the risk of being fined up to AED 500,000 for violating this clause and an even more outrageous penalty of 5 million is to be imposed on journalists who report on matters that are reproachful to a royal family member of officials of the UAE government.
Under such stringent conditions, journalists are unlikely to resort to the sensational reporting that characterises McJournalism.
An important dimension to McDonalization is control which involves being in command of both workers and the consumers in the industry.
Franklin (2005) states that control has led to the isolation of journalism making them individuals rather than team workers and they therefore have to produce news that the market will want to read or else face cuts since they have reduced bargaining power.
Journalists in the UAE are not as exposed to this form of control due to government influence on media houses. The government’s media law requires media houses to make hefty security deposits which are to be used as collateral in case of any fine imposed if a journalist for the particular media house contravenes the law.
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Rugh (2004) declares that such security deposits acts as clear indications that the government has the media under its control and journalists have to operate in a restricted manner.
Kadragic (2010) reveals that while articles are not censored by the government prior to publication, “everyone working from the editor-in-chief on down has a clear idea of what stories cannot be printed” (p.249).
This self censorship arises from the fact that most of the English speaking journalists are expatriates who are in the UAE for economic reasons. Kadragic (2010) reveals that for this expatriates, publishing material that is critical of the government will lead to deportation which would be undesirable.
The journalists therefore have to engage in self-censorship and ensure that their work is acceptable by the government.
Mcjournalism has led to the media being obsessed with rating and circulation numbers which are indicators of commercial success. This trend has been encouraged by the dimension of calculability where the ability to quantify news is emphasised on.
McJournalism therefore promotes the aggressive following of stories that are likely to increase revenue for the media house. However, journalists in the UAE do not have the incentive to follow up on popular stories.
For example, there was a tape which alleged torture carried out by a royal family member against an Afghan businessman. The tape which was aired by ABC News had a wide viewership on the international market.
While the story also sparked interest within the local population, there was little attempt by the UAE media houses to report on the issue since it involved a nephew of a Dubai ruler.
Ginges and Pintak (2009) observe that only one daily newspaper based in Dubai, the National, ran the story and even then, the incident was fuzzy with little account of what really happened.
The follow up report on the issue was even more blurred with mentions of an investigation being underway made and no indication of what was being investigated being given.
The reason for this underreporting of a news story that would have appealed to the public was because of the repercussions that would have followed for any journalist who followed the story too closely (Ginges & Pintak 2009).
Finances play a major role in the operations of media houses. High efficiency is aimed at increasing production while reducing cost.
Pure commercial considerations therefore guide the operations of most media houses in the world which results in an adoption of the most effective formats of reporting and taking up sensational news that are bound to increase readership or readership.
Some of UAE media is shielded from these financial considerations since they are either owned by the government or by rich individuals whose major motivation is not excessive profits from their media operations.
Kadragic (2010) states that the Abu Dhabi government owns most of the important news installations in the region.
Public service media workers are less inclined to engage in the kind of journalism that engenders McJournalism. They are unlikely to report on scandals that affect the government or members of the Royal Family.
Evidence of McJournalism in the UAE
One of the evident marks of McJournalism in the UAE is the introduction of “7 Days” which is a freely distributed newspaper that is characterised by short articles and eye-catching headlines.
The paper is structured in a manner similar to the British Metro which demonstrates the concept of standardisation based on the principles of efficiency and predictability since the British Metro newspaper has been a huge success especially in gathering advertisement revenues for its owners.
The CEO of the paper, Mark Rix, confesses that the paper mimics the British Metro in that it provides entertaining material for the readers (The National, 2012).
This newspaper is structured in such a manner that it attracts the readers “but not so appealing that (it) diverts readers away from the advertising content of the paper (Franklin 2005, p.5). This is significant considering the fact that 7 Days has as much advertisement as it has articles in any issue.
An aspect of McJournalism is making news readily accessible to readers by offering it in “nuggets” which the consumer can easily consume. Accessibility has meant making use of big headlines with short words and making use of humour and big pictures (Aggarwal & Gupta 2001).
This aspect is evident with the Gulfnews newspaper which issues news in a form that is accessible to its readers. In a report on unsafe transformers in Sharjah, the reporter puts the heading as “Shock in Sharjah over 11,000 volts” (Masudi, 2012).
This clever word play is accompanied by a big picture of an exposed transformer. The story is not lengthy which means that the reader does not have to spend a lot of time to get the necessary information.
McJournalism has also resulted in the “dumbing down” of news agenda due to a number of reasons. McNair (2009) reveals that quality news production is an expensive endeavour and in some instances it takes significant amounts of times to develop stories.
Even then, there is no guarantee that the stories will be published or if they will be of interest to consumers. In contrast to this, human interest, consumer, and lifestyle coverage are not only cheap to come up with but they also guarantee readability.
For this reason, media houses in the UAE like the Gulfnews are giving more space to such news as opposed to quality news.
Franklin (2005) asserts that such a trend is in line with McJournalism were human interest story which translate to greater sales or views are given prevalence to other important stories which may not attract a wide readership or viewership.
The second reason is increased competition in the market. Franklin (1999) states that the media agenda has been dictated by the increasingly competitive market under which journalists are obliged to operate.
Editorial priorities therefore have to change with the need to entertain audiences and readers taking precedence over the need to inform them.
In the current age, the ideal media, which reports news and stories that are of value to the public in an unbiased manner and without any vested interest, is non-existent. Instead, the media industry is driven by a number of factors most prominent of which are economics and politics.
The UAE presents a unique environment for journalism since the media has to abide by strict government restrictions.
Unlike in Western nations where statutory press regulations do not exist, the UAE has laws which not only limit what the press can report on but also forbids any defamation of the royal family and government officials.
This heavy regulation has meant that media in the UAE cannot engage in McJournalism fully.
However, the government is relaxing its hold on the media as a result of international pressure and criticism by the Non Governmental Organizations operating in the region.
In an attempt to demonstrate its openness and dynamic nature, the government has relaxed some of its holds on the media. A decree in 2007 by Sheikh Mohammed who is a ruler in Dubai stated that no journalist could be jailed for performing their job.
Ibrahim Al-Abed et al. (2006) observe that freedom from arbitrary incarceration greatly empowers journalists to take part in reports that are of interest to the public in a list inhibited manner.
It can be forecasted that in the near future, UAE readers and viewers will be subjected to a more uniform and predictable diet of news as journalism in the region becomes more McDolnadized.
This paper is set out to argue that while McJournalism in the UAE is currently low, it can be expected to rise in the near future as government regulations on media eases.
The paper began by reviewing why McJournalism is not as prevalent in UAE as it is in many Western Nations. It then highlighted how this concept is taking root in UAE media and how some aspects of McJournalism are already evident in the UAE media.
As government restrictions ease up and the media is allowed to report freely on topics of public interest, it can be projected that the UAE media will adopt a McJournalism culture which will be characterised by sensational reporting and issuing people with news material in a user-friendly manner with the hope of increasing viewership and readership.
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