Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reuters' big problem

Over the last two and a half years and some 700 posts, we think we've done a reasonably convincing job of demonstrating Reuters' systematic (some might say axiomatic) pro-Arab and anti-Israel bias.  This leads to the next logical question:


Why are Reuters correspondents biased in this way?  How are their interests served by writing story after story which advocates for Arab national or religious interests and defecates on Jewish national and religious interests?

There are of course, many possible explanations, not all of which are mutually exclusive.

As a transnational corporation with a presence in over 200 cities globally (the largest multimedia news agency in the world according to its website), Thomson Reuters is always seeking to grow markets, profits, and shareholder returns.  Indeed, this is the raison d'etre of all corporations operating under an Anglo business model.

Thus, the agency is obviously keen to deliver a media product which feeds this growth.

Much of the developed world -- North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Latin America -- are mature and competitive markets, already saturated by a host of media companies, including of course, Reuters.  There may be some opportunities for incremental growth here, but nothing that will support the kind of double-digit growth in audiences and profits corporations crave.

That type of growth can only be found in the emerging markets like, for example, the audience of 350 million Arabs in the Middle East.

Does such a market opportunity present any obvious conflicts with Thomson Reuters much ballyhooed Trust Principles?

Well, consider this video to which we linked last summer.  It documents a symposium at the 2009 World Economic Forum entitled "Race for an Audience; Media in the Middle East" and is hosted by Caroline Drees, formerly Reuters Middle East Editor and now Managing Editor for the Middle East and Africa.  (Yes, she was promoted).

The video is rather long so we'll draw your attention to 28:15 where Nakhle El Hage, Director of News and Current Affairs at Al Arabiya, admits that by and large, stories appearing in the Arab media are contrived so as to win audiences:
We tell people what they want to hear.  If they want to see pictures of massacres, we show them.  If they want us to tell them that any Arab or Muslim killed in any part of the world, even if he or she are terrorists, are martyrs, also we can win the people.
Later, at 40:53, El Hage goes on to acknowedge that Arab media has a "big problem" in that their audience is "very emotional" and has been "trained" since the time they were children to adopt a cause, to have an enemy and to believe that the media should be part of the political campaign against that enemy.

El Hage notes that Arab audiences watching conflicts like the 2006 war in Lebanon and the 2008 war in Gaza behave like spectators at a football match, cheering for the Arabs, who want to see more blood and more fighting and that media firms which offer this, like Al Arabiya, successfully increase the size of their audience.  To this, Reuters' Drees asks:
Why is it a problem?  Who are we to educate the audience of what they should want?
El Hage is compelled to explain to Drees that they are in the news industry and should give people the news, not football matches.

We think the mad scramble for audience share and profits in one of the fastest growing media markets in the world, along with the desire of that audience for a very specific type of news product, a fabricated news product where the media is part of the political campaign as described by El Hage, goes a long way in explaining Reuters' systematic bias in its reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

And for a corporation committed to a policy of accurate and unbiased reporting, this represents a big problem.

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