Interesting Spin

I just came across two news reports about the same event. It’s interesting to make note of the way that the info is presented.

The event in question was the release of the third Arab Human Development Report. (Sorry, I can’t find a copy of it online as of this writing.) The previous reports were rather heartening to people who genuinely want to see the Arab world embrace democracy and economic progress, since they recognized the fact that it was mainly Arab culture that was holding them back.

This BBC item about the latest report has the headline REPORT URGES ARAB WORLD REFORMS. The author, Jon Leyne, states that the problems facing Arab culture come from within, mainly due to a lack of human rights and an abundance of judicial compliance. He goes on to note in passing that the AHDR also condemns the US for our support of Israel, and the invasion of Iraq. But the criticisms of the US and Israel are hardly the main subject of the news item.

Then we have this rather shrill item from Reuters, written by Suleiman al-Khalidi. (The full text is cut-n-pasted below, because both Reuters and Yahoo have a habit of changing the content of their news items without explanation or apology.)

The headline reads ARAB REPORT SEES LITTLE REFORM, FAULTS US ACTION. It looks to me that the author was rather desperate to find something critical to say about the US, and even goes so far as to accuse the United States of wide scale theft. Abu Ghraib is mentioned as well, although it’s very unclear how a scandal in one prison could keep the entire Arab world from enacting reforms.

It looks to me that the Reuters report is a prime example of how Arab culture will only improve after they start to take responsibility for their own actions.

Remember the BBC reaction to the invasion? How they were practically begging their imbedded reporters to find atrocities committed by US troops, or instances where Saddam’s soldiers defeated American units?

I never would have thought that I’d think of the BBC as the voice of reason when it came to the Middle East.

AMMAN (Reuters) – In a long-awaited report, Arab intellectuals and reformers say they have seen no significant advances toward democracy in the Arab world past year

The third Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), released on Tuesday under U.N. auspices, said most reforms were “embryonic and fragmentary” and did not amount to a serious effort to end repression in the region, which has some of the world’s most authoritarian governments.

The United States, which says it aims to promote democracy in the region, contributed to an international context that hampered progress through its policy toward Israel, its actions in Iraq and security measures affecting Arabs, the report said.

Both the U.S. and Egyptian governments criticized parts of an early draft of the report, leading to a dispute that held up its release for at least three months.

The report, which covers the year from Oct. 2003, was written before elections in Iraq and street protests in Lebanon that the Bush administration has cited as evidence of change.

Rima Khalaf, the senior UNDP official who presided over the intellectuals and reformers who wrote the report, said Arab states had to embark on reforms that expanded public freedom.

To do nothing would deepen the imbalance in the distribution of power and wealth, and “lead some to perpetrate more violence and deepen internal conflicts,” she told Reuters.


Following the American and Egyptian objections, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) eventually decided to put the report out under its logo, with a disclaimer in the preface.

“Some of the views expressed by the authors are not shared by UNDP or the U.N. … (But) This report clearly reflects a very real anger and concern felt across the region,” wrote Mark Malloch Brown, UNDP Administrator at the time it was written.

The most controversial sections described the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies as violations of freedom and obstacles to development.

Khalaf said in the launch address that over a 10th of Arabs now lived under foreign occupation.

“Occupation is a confiscation of rights by violence,” she said, adding that last year’s Abu Ghraib scandal, when U.S. interrogators tortured Iraqi prisoners, meant detainees’ basic rights were no longer protected by international jurisdiction.

The report said occupation of Arab land had given governments an excuse to postpone democratization, forced Arab reformers to divert energy away from reform and strengthened groups that advocate violence.

It also accused the United States of undermining the international system by repeatedly using or threatening to use its U.N. Security Council veto, enabling Israel to build new Jewish settlements and extend its barrier in the West Bank.

In Iraq, the occupation increased human suffering and, because the United States failed to protect citizens, there was “an unprecedented loss of internal security,” it said.

It said U.S.-led authorities had dismantled the old state but made little progress in building a new one.


The U.S. response to the September 2001 attacks on the United States added to the ambiguity in the Western attitude to human rights in the Middle East, it said.

“The ‘war on terror’ has cut into many Arab freedoms … An unfortunate by-product in some countries has been that Arabs are increasingly the victims of stereotyping, disproportionately harassed or detained without cause,” it said.

“The fact that some Western countries … have taken steps widely perceived to be discriminatory and repressive, has weakened the position of those reformers calling for Arab governments … to change their course.”

The report noted an increase in activity by civic groups pressing for changes inside Arab countries, some reform initiatives by Arab governments, some improvements in education and some empowerment of women in the Arab world.

But it added: “There is a near-complete consensus that there is a serious failing in the Arab world, and that this is located specifically in the political sphere …

“Disaster can be averted. The alternative is to pursue an historic, peaceful and deep process of negotiated political alternation … The desired outcome is a redistribution of power within Arab societies, restoring sovereignty to its rightful owners, the vast majority of people in the Arab world.”

6 thoughts on “Interesting Spin”

  1. “contributed to an international context” Oh no, not the dreaded international context!

    Blaming Arabs’ troubles on America and Israel is the act of a childish mind, a defect which journalists and academics have done much to encourage.

  2. It is sad that the BBC has taken such a far swing to the left. There was a time years ago when BBC was the only reliable news source in the parts of the world I was in. What ever happened to just reporting the news without a political spin?

  3. –What ever happened to just reporting the news without a political spin?–

    BBC can’t have that, might actually make US look OK to the world.

  4. “What ever happened to just reporting without spin?”

    Yes, indeed.

    However, I have read that before WWII the BBC pushed appeasement and suppressed reporting of Winston Churchill’s warnings of the fascist danger.

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