Image by the_repairman via FlickrGulf News carries the story today of the award of Dhs 100,000 to a Saudi Prince in compensation against Al Arabiya TV for choosing NOT to air an interview with him. According to Dubai Civil Court, quoted by GN, Al Arabiya had "failed to adhere to the media code of ethics and breached the nobility and morality of journalism."
The nobility and morality of journalism? Are they having a laugh?
This was the appeal in the case, which went through the Civil Court last year. It is the latest in a number of precedents and announcements that are of concern to media in the Middle East as it tries to perform something approaching a mild version of what an unfettered media would be doing.
According to the GN piece, Arabiya brought Prince Dr Saif Al Islam Bin Saud Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud to Dubai to record an interview, which it subsequently promoted but chose not to air. The Prince wrote a letter to Arabiya, which the channel apparently ignored. As a consequence, according to the prince's lawyer, the prince suffered "...moral and social damage on the prince's status as a royal and academician. His fame was affected before his family, students and the social circles to which he belongs."
"According to article 293 of the Civil Procedures Law, the claimant is entitled compensation because the defendant damaged his reputation and social status."The channel's argument that, as the producer and copyright holder to the work, it had the right to do what it wanted with it fell on deaf ears.
The case goes to the court of cassation now, so all is not yet lost, but this is yet another worrying precedent at a time when bad news for media has been breaking here, in Jordan and in Kuwait.
It is by no means unknown for a journalist to carry out an interview and then not run it - newspaper, radio, TV and all. For instance, if the interview is deadly dull (and boy have I seen a few of those) and lacks any content of interest to the reader. Or if it veers so far off topic that the journalist hasn't got enough to hang the piece on. I have also seen interviews not run because events have overtaken the interview and rendered it irrelevant. And, yes, I have also seen interviews not run because journalists have been lazy or daft and generally just goofed it up.
But the right to run the piece or not, to do a news in brief or a double page spread, to be nice about you or to be horrid lie entirely with the journalist. By undertaking an interview, spokespeople sign up to a well defined 'bill of rights' that includes the fact that the interview may well not run and also may well not run in the interviewee's interest. There's a whole load of stuff you can do to try and ensure that you give good interview and so get coverage. But there are no guarantees. None whatsoever. It's a contact sport and only a fool would engage with media without any appreciation of that media and how it comports itself.
At the end of the day, the journalist (and his/her editor) are responsible for providing us with stuff that we want to read/watch/listen to. It's their job to increase their audience by delivering great content. And so it's only right and proper that what content to use when is entirely their decision.
Now we would appear to be questioning that, and it is not good news at all.