A guest post by CAMERA Arabic
As a media-criticism blog, CAMERA-UK often focuses not only on the content of British media outlets, but also on what is absent from their coverage. Every so often, it’s the omissions that reveal a lot more about their lack of impartiality than their careless approach to fact-checking or the biased terminology they use.
However, rarely do we encounter a radical shift from covering a certain issue relentlessly to blatantly ignoring it. Such was the case of Independent Arabia’s complete disregard of the 2020 Nakba Day (May 15th) events and press releases, after treating the subject as cause célèbre just last year.
In 2019, seven news items regarding the commemorations of 71st Nakba Day were published in Independent Arabia between May 9th and May 25th: two from the West Bank, three from the Gaza Strip, one from northern Israel and one translated piece which originated in London (two of the seven addressed the fact that Nakba Day was coinciding with the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv).
Throughout 2019, IA’s first year in operation, the outlet kept five correspondents between Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The five maintain their positions today as well; nevertheless, none of them published even the shortest news item about the 2020 Nakba Day. Furthermore, since last year not a single report was tagged with the many Nakba-related tags the IA website keeps (“#Palestinian_Nakba_anniversary”, “#Palestinian_Nakba”, “#1948_Nakba”, “The_Nakba” and “The_Nakba_Year”).
To further illustrate just how extraordinary this is, it bears mentioning that despite Nakba Day being overshadowed by Covid-19 this year, its occurrence was addressed in one way or another by most other Western-identified media outlets in Arabic: Alhurra, BBC, France24, Sky News Arabia and Reuters. Even the Independent in English dedicated a (recycled, two year old) report to the annual Palestinian day of grief.
What could be the reason for this sudden change at an outlet that would normally jump at any opportunity to smear Israel as illegitimate and colonialist (with Nakba Day widely regarded as one of the best in the calendar year for that purpose)? The answer, we believe, lies in the fact that Independent Arabia, albeit headquartered in London, is fully owned by the Riyadh-based Saudi Research and Marketing Group. In turn, SRMG is headed by ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin Ibrahim ar-Ruwayta’, an associate of the Saudi royal family; it is also responsible for the publishing of the well renown pro-Saudi London newspaper ash-Sharq al-Awsat.
Our estimation is that IA’s decision to act as if Nakba Day 2020 never happened is an outcome of a Saudi directive, coming as a response to Palestinian gloating at the collapse of global oil prices and the financial crisis it sparked in Saudi Arabia. Thus, just before the holy month of Ramadan began in late April, a Palestinian Al-Jazeera employee published a cartoon he drew that was seen in Riyadh as an insult aimed at the Gulf States. In the following days, Saudis and Palestinians launched a widespread social media quarrel surrounding the Kingdom supporting the Palestinians financially and the nature of its relationship with Israel, with several Saudi public figures using the provocative hashtag “#Palestine_Is_Not_My_Cause”.
On April 26th, the following statement appeared in the twitter account of none else than the outlet’s editor in chief, ‘Adwan al-Ahmary (translation, emphases and in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic):
“We want an announcement from the good and great among the Palestinians, against this old [habit] of profanity that has been going on for decades. The wishes for the Saudi economy to collapse due to the decline in oil [prices], and thirty years ago standing alongside Saddam and the joy at [the sight of] him launching missiles on Riyadh. The reason that the new generation of Saudis is forgoing its sentiments towards the importance of the Palestinian cause is what its views as insults, schadenfreude and ingratitude.”
Judging by IA’s attempt to forcefully push 2020 Nakba Day off the media agenda in the passing weeks, it seems like al-Ahmary did not receive the public disavowal he was hoping for.
Unfortunately, the day’s under-reporting (as positive towards Israel as it may turn out) likely doesn’t hold any promise concerning the outlet’s future impartiality, no more than 2019 Nakba Day’s over-reporting; in this particular case, both indicate that whoever is really in control of the editorial board sits in Riyadh, not in London.
(Research and writing by CAMERA Arabic. Edited by CAMERA UK)