Sunday, 10 January 2010
Dubai: the victim of fear and loathing?
Source: Gulf News (no surprises there)
The spiteful campaign unleashed by the western media, especially in the UK, regarding the issue of Dubai's debt restructuring can only be described as purely rabid. And were it not for a few exceptions, such as the balanced and professional coverage in the serious business daily the Financial Times, one would assume that the British media is suffering from a credibility and ethics crisis.
We are not talking about newspapers that conveyed the news as received from their sources in line with professional standards. What is in question here is the vicious attack on Dubai launched by newspapers and magazines that allowed their writers to distort the image of the emirate and the UAE, defaming the very people who worked hard to make this country an international success story and a business and tourism hub.
This was carried out for unknown reasons through inaccurate analysis and commentaries that can only be described as rabid.
This campaign continued despite statements by international officials from financial institutions, including their very own British bankers, confirming that the debt restructuring issue was not something that Dubai and the UAE economy could not tackle.
Nevertheless, western newspapers ignored these views and went ahead with unreasonable and biased campaigns.
This makes it look as if these media outlets have a political agenda against the UAE, which reminded some of us of the colonial past that some western writers (and those behind them) are still dreaming of.
These people cannot believe that a small country has rapidly emerged as an international player and succeeded in taking its seat among the world's top players.
The same scenario was witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s with the so-called Asian Tigers, which surprised and are still surprising the world with their vast development, growth rates and economic progress. The economies of countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea have become stronger than those of many western countries.
Out of context
A recent incident stands as evidence of the attempts by the western media to twist the facts. An inter-office memo was issued by the style editor in Gulf News regarding the use of specific economic terms related to the debt issue. This is a professional guideline that all credible international newspapers follow in order to unify terms according to their styles.
A foreign press agency operating in the UAE picked up the memo and turned it into an international news story by twisting facts to make it appear as if the government was interfering with the press.
The Wall Street Journal, in turn, further blew the story up by claiming that the Dubai Government instructed its official newspapers to stop using certain terms while reporting about the issue.
This example clearly shows not only the rabid nature of some media outlets, but their low level of professionalism and complete disregard for credibility. They have failed to carry out their professional duties of investigating news and verifying information before publishing stories related to Dubai's debt restructuring.
Any junior reporter in the UAE knows that Gulf News is an independent newspaper, not a government newspaper. It is also known that regulation of terminology in any newspaper is an internal matter related to standards and style, nothing else.
What is becoming increasingly obvious is that (apparently, by sidelining professionalism), some media outlets are resorting to tabloid-type sensationalism, which does not see the full picture, but instead focuses on small details.
Otherwise, they would have noticed that Dubai's debts are not big compared to those of other countries.
The entire world knows that Luxembourg's foreign debts amount to $2 trillion. Spain and Italy each have $2.4 trillion in debt. Ireland and Holland's debts total $2.4 trillion and $2.5 trillion respectively.
The debts of Germany and France are $4.94 trillion and $5.2 trillion respectively, while those of the UK and US, whose newspapers have attacked the UAE, have reached $9 trillion and $13.75 trillion respectively.
On the other hand, the UAE ranks 33rd on the list of indebted countries with $135 billion (billion, not trillion), according to economic and intelligence sources, including the CIA.
The same sources reported that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the UAE was $100 billion in 2008, which clearly means that the UAE's debts, including Dubai's, are not big compared to the debts of other countries.
It also means that its GDP allows the UAE to fulfill its financial obligations much more than other countries.
Furthermore, the debts of many of these countries are sovereign. Many of them, such as the US and the UK, are powerless to pay back their debts.
There are other countries that have stopped paying back their debts. They only pay debt service charges because their economies are too weak.
The newspapers in question have ignored all these facts and figures, as well as the UAE economy's points of strength, such as being an oil-exporting country with huge oil revenues that allow it to fulfill its obligations while carrying on the development process.
Also, the UAE's many assets, investments, infrastructure and strong economic fundamentals place it in a much better position than other countries.
Therefore, the vicious attack on Dubai and its economy, and the UAE in general, is not supported by facts and figures.
It is simply politically motivated slander to which the western media added a demagogic aspect through writers and commentators who failed to take another look at their articles after writing them. They did not search for the proper facts and figures before writing. These writers can be described as demagogic, so as to avoid saying that they lack the standards of professional journalism, which looks for the truth, not twists it.
To avoid being misunderstood, we do not claim that the economic conditions in the UAE in general and Dubai in particular are perfect, and that there is no problem. We are part of the global economy.
The UAE's economy in the past few years has become intertwined with the global economy. Hence, we are bound to feel the repercussions of any downturn that affects the global economy, such as recession, debts, lack of liquidity, depression, bankruptcy, unemployment and other symptoms that may affect open, free-market economies.
What we are against is the exaggeration practised by western newspapers. We are against doubting the UAE's ability to overcome the financial crisis, which these rabid media campaigns continue to do.
We cannot even imagine what these newspapers would say if Dubai and the UAE behaved like other countries and announced that they will stop paying back their debts, or if their indebted companies announced bankruptcy and asked their creditors, whether companies, banks or individuals, to bear the loss after reaping huge profits during the economic boom.
Many US and UK banks and companies took this course of action in line with the mechanisms, rules and nature of a capitalist economy.
Are these western and specifically British newspapers, or those behind them, fair-weather friends who want to share the benefits and profits with us during the good times, as they did earlier during the boom preceding the downturn, and then pull back to avoid sharing in the loss? We wonder.