Haigazian: Arab press post Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks

March 31, 2004
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Haigazian University-Public Relations Office
PO Box: 11-1748Beirut, Lebanon

Media expert puts US, Arab press in post-Sept. 11 focus
Lecture juxtaposes profit motive with

By Ara Alain Arzoumanian
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

BEIRUT: The Arab world, which has decried the lack of coverage by the US
and European Union media in the past, found itself in the spotlight
following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – although mostly in a slanted and
pejorative manner – says Nichan Havandjian, journalism department
chairperson at California Polytechnic State University.

“It should be clear to everyone that the context of the media in the US and
how it operates is in a totally different manner than that in Lebanon and
the Arab world,” Havandjian said during a lecture titled US Media and Arabs
in Post-Sept. 11 America, at Haigazian University in Beirut last week.

“All media in the US are first and foremost considered commercial
enterprises whose main goal is to achieve a financial profit. In contrast,
virtually all the press in the Arab world is heavily subsidized.”

Havandjian said that the US media are owned by conglomerates with no
governmental subsidies or bailouts and whose main concern remains healthy
profits. A 25 percent profit margin is expected and certain editors leave
when the financial targets are not achieved.

The US consumer market of 290 million people has some 457 daily newspapers,
6,700 weeklies, 1,800 TV stations and 14,000 radio stations.

Voice of America, a radio station established after World War II, and the
all new Al-Hurra TV, with an initial budget of $62 million, are the only
government funded media aimed at the international public. They do not
broadcast domestically, as US legislation prohibits the use of government
funds for public broadcasts.

“Media in the US aim basically to inform and entertain, with lots of fluff,
focusing on local politics and news, and definitely not the Middle East,”
explained Havandjian.

“Taxes, unemployment, social security and safety within America’s borders
are US citizens’ main concerns. How to lose 10 pounds in 3 days or live to
be 121 years old attract more attention than what is happening in our part
of the world,” he said.

According to Havandjian, there are only about 600,000 to 700,000 regular
daily CNN viewers in the US, representing some 0.002 percent of the
population. The only time a higher number of viewers tune in CNN is when
there is news of terrorist acts, threats on US soil or when high-profile
individuals, like O. J. Simpson and his trial developments, are aired.

Foreign news is offered mainly in California and New Mexico and is
comprised mostly of excerpts from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence
France Presse and Itar Tass, he said. This is the only window of the world
offered to the American public. It’s not that the information is not
available – one just has to look for it.

The major networks, following an international incident in a foreign land
where have no correspondents present, will hastily dispatch someone to
cover the event, said Havandjian. This person is expected, within the time
frame of his flight, to become an expert on the destination country and its
internal workings. As such, he called such reporting at best shallow and
highly erroneous.

“People must also rid themselves of misconceptions like all CNN reporters
are CIA or FBI agents,” said Havandjian. “Maybe there are handfuls among
the hundreds of correspondents but definitely not the whole staff.”

Havandjian went on to describe how certain media in the US were blatantly
biased against Arabs and Palestinians. Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch,
known for his conservative and anti-Arab stance, has refered to suicide
bombings as homicide bombings. The New York Post, declaring a state of war,
called Arabs the enemy within. The Washington Times, run by Reverend Moon,
has kept up the idea that, according to reliable sources, weapons of mass
destruction are in Syria.

Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin’s death has been described as “another one
bites the dust.” The New York Post has even run a cartoon of Abdel-Aziz
al-Rantissi, the successor to Ahmed Yassin, it’s spiritual leader –
choosing a coffin in a mortuary as his first decision.

“But not all is negative,” said Havandjian. “The New York Times and The LA
Times have been boycotted by Jewish groups for their impartial reporting of
the news. Another unbiased newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, is one
of the top 10 dailies in the country.”

Havandjian recounted how, following Sept. 11, an EU diplomat told the
Americans to “Get on with it.” After all, the loss of 4,000 lives paled in
comparison to the millions dying around the world. What everyone failed to
comprehend was that this was the first incident since Pearl Harbor where
the US was attacked on its own soil and it left a scar on the American

What made matters worse was that it was carried out by individuals who had
received shelter in the US. The twin towers, symbols of US prosperity and
free enterprise were obliterated. The United States suddenly found itself
governed by the Patriot Act, glorifying a new fortress America.

“But the backlash also had its positive sides,” explained Havandjian. “Arab
Americans suddenly became aware of their roots and never-seen or – heard of
Arab art and poetry came under the spotlight.

“And curiously it was the next-door American who first and foremost stood
in defense of his Arab neighbor when things got sour.”

According to Havandjian, it is the Arab youth who are most angry with the
United States.

“To counter this trend successfully, a deep understanding of the American
psyche is necessary,” said Havandjian.

“Americans love winners and hate losers. And unfortunately, to date, the
Arabs have portrayed themselves as losers, attacking prosperity because
they are unable to achieve it themselves.

“Arabs must also take into consideration the opinion of about 70 million
fundamental Christians based mostly in the southern USA, George W. Bush’s
core constituency, who sometimes are more zealous in backing Israel than
Jews and Israelites,” he added.

Havandjian also blamed the Arabs for the current situation. When the Arab
press reports that thousands of Iraqis are dying daily, instead of a few
dozen, they automatically lose credibility. And the fact that the Syrian
ambassador stood alone, with the other couple of dozen Arab ambassadors
conspicuously absent, to protest the Syria Accountability Act, showed the
extent of disunity among the Arabs.

“The solution remains in improving the Arab image by encouraging future
Arab journalists and communications officers through scholarships,” said

“Sadly, last year only one such scholarship was granted.

“Editors of major regional papers in the US, like those in Kansas or
Oregon, should be invited to Arab countries and given free access to anyone
they wish to meet. These people have the power to shift the Americans’
image of Arabs as they enjoy a huge credibility among their fellow
citizens,” concluded Havandjian.

“Of course not all their reporting would be positive, given the actual real
situation on the ground, but at least the positive aspects will gain
credibility among the US public.”