Why stonewalling the media is always a bad idea: Nakheel and Arabian Business

Another day, another flood. Nakheel’s attempts to stem the tide of negative PR by not talking to media simply won’t work (image source: arabianbusiness.com

For those that don’t know Nakheel, you’re in for a treat. The Dubai government-owned real estate developer and the name behind the world-famous Palm Jumeirah is a byword for customer relations fiascoes these days. The company has run into a number of public relations calamities over the past two year, including issues such as service fees, numerous floods, and, most recently, a new development with lakes forming from putrid water.

Like any other company, Nakheel has both fans and detractors. However, a recent story on Nakheel by popular Dubai-based news portal Arabian Business raised my interest. The piece, which was about the recent flooding at Nakheel’s Al Furjan development, included a significant paragraph at the end.

* Nakheel no longer responds to media enquiries from Arabian Business, nor does it grant this publication access to any of its media events or announcements.

When a company feels that it has to stonewall, restrict access to and stop all relations with a media outlet there’s something very wrong. Whatever the company expects to gain from this action, I can guarantee all that will result is more negative publicity and an inability to counter negative stories by providing comments from the company itself.

In these cases, my advice to any company facing a barrage of negative media is understand what is at the core is the issue and why there’s so much negativity surrounding the company’s public perception. For Nakheel, maybe their time would be better spent addressing customer service and engineering issues rather than duking it out with the media. In the meantime I’m looking forward to reading more stories about the company on Arabian Business.

The UAE, Egypt and the dangers of an open bias among media

How can a journalist consider him or herself a professional after openly declaring a media bias? (image source: http://www.thepoliticalcarnival.net)

There’s few proverbs which would sum up today’s Middle East more than “may you live in interesting times”. Unfortunately as we are discovering over and over again, that Chinese proverb is not a blessing but rather a curse. When I look at Egypt over the past couple of weeks I would have thought I was watching a Ramadan-season tragi-comedy rather than real life events. The situation is desperate; the sense of hurt and anger is palpable on all sides of what is now a conflict between two opposing forces.

Generally speaking, the media in Egypt is also becoming more polarized. Most media outlets in the region are owned either directly or indirectly by the government or by groups and individuals with a specific agenda. Even those media who don’t have a particular bias still have to self-censor for fear of crossing a red line. However, it’s rare for a (supposed) journalist or media group to come out and openly show a bias.

Two incidents made the headlines this week in the UAE. The first, and the most brazen, was an announcement of a one million Egyptian pound (US$143,000) bounty for information leading to the capture of three Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt. The pledge was made by an Emirati columnist named Hamad Al Mazroui through Twitter (Hamad has been called a journalist but he write columns rather than factual reporting).

This bizarre event was followed by a statement published by the UAE Writers Association in which it stated that “it is against the attempts of the Brotherhood to manipulate the tolerant image of Egypt and moderation.” The statement, which was first published on the country’s national newswire, reiterated the UAE Writers Association’s support for the Egyptian Writers Union, which has listed the Brotherhood in the terrorism list. The Association also commended the UAE’s unwavering support to Egypt.

I have few illusions about national media being influenced by their respective governments’ policies. However, the aim of journalists should be to report the facts and then provide analysis. Research by Gallup has shown that public trust in the media is highest when the media shows no bias; the opposite is true when there is an open bias.

Do such actions help to resolve the situation in another country? Do they help us to understand what is happening on the ground? And do they promote a sense of trust in media outlets here when reporting or commenting on the situation in Egypt? Journalism comes with responsibilities to report and analyse in a manner that is balanced and removed from prejudice. Let’s have more of this please, and less of an no open bias.