Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Problem With Numbers

Cropped version of :Image:Domino effect.jpgImage via WikipediaToday's edition of Dubai tabloid 7Days carries the Sharjah taxi driver's protest as its front page splash under the headline "Take the deal or go home". It's precisely what the cabbies were told by the UAE's Ministry of Labour, which has upheld the right of the five Sharjah taxi companies to unilaterally impose a charge on all drivers of 52 fils ($0.14) for every kilometer they drive. That 7Days gives the story such prominence is highly laudable - particularly as the other newspapers treat it as a minor and unimportant story barely worthy of metion.

Charging a taxi driver paid on a commission-only basis for actually driving is an act of genius, you'd have to admit.

I have posted before at some length about the awful conditions under which these drivers are working - and about the lack of coverage being afforded the whole dispute by the local news media who, while quick to protest their disintermediation with cries of context and analysis, have given us little more than compliance and silence. Gulf News, in particular has chosen to bury the story, something it rather does again today by featuring the dispute as a decoration to the gutter on page 6 under the roaring headline, 'Taxi drivers protest salary deduction'.

Gulf News says that 'More than 100 taxi drivers gathered yesterday morning outside the Ministry of Labour...' which is interesting given 7Days' claim that 'An estimated 2,000 drivers descended on the Ministry's offices in the emirate yesterday'. The National agrees with 7Days' figure of 2,000 protesting drivers, further reporting on the resignations of 600 drivers and police dispersing the crowd with the threat of fines. All rather different to Gulf News' sparse report.

So what is it? More than 100 or some 2,000? Can Gulf News really not tell the difference? Presumably not, as it goes on to report that 'dozens' of drivers have refused to return to work, which is also a slightly different scale to 2,000 protestors, 600 resignations on the spot and previous reports of hundreds of striking drivers.

Khaleej Times also relegates the story to page 6, but gives it more space. It rather conveniently omits any tally of protestors. Those pesky numbers again.

Estimates vary wildly, but of something like 5,000 taxi drivers employed in Sharjah, over the past month the vast majority have been on strike or taken some form of action to protest the new charges, which render their lives here virtually untenable. Many have said they will now cancel their visas and leave - and every driver I have spoken to has expressed an intention to quit as soon as they can. I can quite believe The National's figure of 600 resignations yesterday alone - and that this number was only limited by the Ministry of Labour's ability to manage the flood of resignations.

So there we have it. This is either the largest ever labour dispute in the UAE or its a few dozen cabbies making trouble. What do you think?

Just think. These resignations could even affect demand for new Ford Mondeos...

(I am actually amazed at how much ranting I've done on this subject in the past - it's all linked here if you want to trawl the backstory.)

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Tom Gara said...

Doesn't the disintermediation argument you peddle seem particularly bullshit in this case, given that the ONLY coverage of these strikes has been through the useless / stale / out of touch etc traditional media?

Unless you can point me to a rich trove of social media covering this story that I have missed. In fact, from my perspective the print media has shown much more interest in these people than the new media newsmakers, who can typically push a paper to cover a story these days just by talking about it among themselves.

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Good to have a lonesome Ozzie, on the day of Brenda's visit, have a moan.

Like Don Quixote, I fear Tom is "tilt"ing at windmills! ( )

BTW happy and bountiful evening to the other disgruntled folks as they celebrate Thanksgiving. ;-)

alexander... said...

Not true, Tom. See the link I posted at the bottom of the piece - I've been writing about the lot of Sharjah cabbies for a long time, including these strikes.

This isn't a new media/old media story, though. It's about media failing to serve the public interest and dig down into a story that quite obviously merits more than a brief on page 6.

Quite where you get a new/old media take on it, I don't know.

hemlock said...

for all those who leave because of meager salaries and bad living conditions, more will come willing to live in worse conditions for even less.

it's all relative.

as for the discrepancies in news reporting... potato, potahto.

Tom Gara said...

"the local news media who, while quick to protest their disintermediation with cries of context and analysis, have given us little more than compliance and silence"

My guess is in this case, compliance and silence would mean not reporting the story, or reporting it as an illegal strike that was not approved by the ministry of labour, according to lieutenant-general x at the police.

The disintermediation of newspapers, which you refer to here and also is a recurring theme of yours, is a genuine phenomena, and is really happening. But in this case it is worth noting that the opposite is going on.

These people are not blessed with either the technology to go direct to an audience, or a particularly sympathetic audience of people interested in talking with them in the first place (your great blogging on the subject aside...)

The only intermediary seems to be newspapers, and my point was seems an interesting, and quite significant, exception to the disintermediation process.

the real nick said...

Disintermediation my arse. Bloggers and especially Twitters are vain solipsistic attention whores only interested in apparing cool and 'in the loop'. I note how the buzzword 'disintermediation' has become synonymous with 'jumping on the ole' bandwagon'.

That said, if Alexander McNabb started a Twitter topic about the poor Sharjah taxi drivers I have no doubt at all that it would spread like the proverbial wildfire in the desert and cause a real turnaround at the Labour ministry, because, you know, of the power or new media and disintermediation.

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