The College of Communication dean aims to eliminate stereotypes of Arab journalists.
By Anna Marum
Lawrence Pintak, founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, aims to dissolve stereotypes of Arab journalists and help Americans and policy makers better understand Middle Eastern media with his newest book, “The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil.”
The book, which comes out in February, centers on the transformation that has overtaken media outlets in the Middle East. Pintak said there has been a revolution in Arab media since the success and growth of the Qatar-based international news network Al Jazeera, which covered the Iraq War. Arab journalists are now in the forefront of social and political issues in the Middle East, Pintak said.
This is a sharp contrast to the region’s media in the 1980s. Pintak said Arab reporters used to be embarrassed by their profession because the news organizations were controlled by governments, politicians and militias. Now there is a sense of excitement in Arab newsrooms, he said.
“Today many of those same guys … are now running news organizations and pushing the envelope,” he said. “They’re creating change.”
At the core of the book is a survey of Arab journalists. Pintak found that 70 percent of the region’s reporters said their purpose is to drive political and social change. Pintak led the Middle East’s only graduate journalism program at the American University in Cairo, and acknowledged that journalism is still a dangerous profession in the Arab world.
In places like Saudi Arabia, a reporter can be thrown in jail for doing something the government does not like, while in Yemen or Beirut a journalist can be assassinated, he said.
“There was a journalist in Algeria who was beaten, had all of his fingers cut off and then was shot, just for good measure,” he said. “So literally not a week goes by where a journalist isn’t attacked in some form or another.”
Despite the constant danger, Pintak said journalists in the Middle East remain committed to balanced reporting.
He said the Arab brand of journalism is not the “watchdog” investigative journalism of Western media. Arab journalists openly seek to create change with their reporting.
Pintak said journalism in the Middle East is not as highly politicized as in Western media outlets such as Fox and MSNBC. Arab reporters try not to offend readers and look for a balance between responsibility and respect, he said.
While most Arab journalists are committed to truthful reporting, there is a lack of ethics and professionalism in the region, Pintak said. These problems are perpetuated by poor training, low pay and the dangers of the profession.
Western media does not have a monopoly on international news anymore, he said. “We can no longer say one thing and do another,” Pintak said.
Arabs were only seeing international news through a Western perspective, but now Middle Eastern reporters are covering events through an Arab prism, Pintak said.
Philip Seib, journalism and public diplomacy professor at the University of Southern California, met Pintak when the dean was a correspondent in the Middle East. Pintak asked Seib to look over the book’s proofs while writing it. Seib said he has a very high opinion of Pintak as a journalist and enjoyed the book.
“I know when Dean Pintak writes about Middle Eastern journalism, many people pay attention because he knows so much about the field,” he said.