What’s In The News?

Since most of the Westerners working in KSA don’t speak Arabic, we rely on English language periodicals to provide us with local news and color. One of the primary sources for this, at least in Riyadh, is Arab News, which boasts itself as, “The Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily.”

Certainly, there is bias in the paper, but that’s not unlike any periodical published anywhere – including in the United States. The key is to be aware of the bias and determine if it compromises the value of the information being put forth. In most cases, assuming some discerning intelligence in the reader, it does not.

I happen to have yesterday’s Arab News right here on my desk. So, let’s take a look at what made the paper yesterday, Thursday, April 26, 2007. (This will probably end up being a longer blog entry. I apologize in advance and hope the information proves worthwhile.)

The Front Page:
The banner is composed of two parts: a broad 2″ strip across the top, which contains the periodical name and slogan, an block on the left that announces a special six-page sports section offered each Friday, and an advertisement for the Al-Jawal mobile phone service; below that is a quarter-inch strip with the date, the volume and copy number, page count, URL (http://www.arabnews.com/), the email address (arabnews@arabnews.com), and spot prices on OPEC basket crude, as well as the price of gold. At the bottom is a thin ribbon that shows various currency pricings, though it doesn’t indicate the comparative currency.

The lead story is out of Jeddah, where the Mawaddah Social Center has called for compulsory premarital counseling for all couples getting married in Saudi Arabia. They’re concerned that the divorce rate has risen to 19%. The second lead is about the UN chastising the Iraqi government for underreporting the number of civilian deaths in that country due to the war. There’s a Reuters piece about how the discovery of some fossils in the Arctic point to a change in climate in that region some 55 million years ago.

By far the most interesting story to me is the one concerning the Labor Ministries effort to put a halt to the problem of runaway maids in the Kingdom. Apparently, maids are brought in, mostly from countries in Southern and Southeastern Asia, and a good number of them runaway from their employers seeking relief from abuse or seeking higher wages. The story seems to send a mixed message in that, while the alleged mistreatment should be dealt with, this is costing a lot of Saudi families a lot of money. Some of the maids appear to be kidnapped, as well, and forced into prostitution by unsavory expatriates – the example given being a Bangladeshi cab driver running a prostitution ring in Riyadh with kidnapped maids.

In a related article on page two, there is an article about Sri Lanka’s decision to place restrictions on the recruitment of maids. There’s also an article on how credit card companies are exploiting low-income workers by drawing them into deeper and deeper debt. My favorite on this page, though, is a bit piece titled, Bikers Assault Five Chivalrous Saudis. Turns out that there is an African motorcycle gang in Jeddah, and they were bothering women in cars at a stoplight. Five Saudi men stepped forward to defend the honor of the women and were rewarded by being beaten and having their cars damaged.  The bikers were arrested.  Who knew?

Page three announces that the Japanese PM will be here on Saturday for a 2-day visit, and there was a discussion at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai regarding the concept “…of freedom and journalistic privileges…” on the closing day of that forum. Additionally, there is an editorial attacking Imam University for opening up media courses to women, then making the schedule for lab time such that the women cannot complete their work in a timely fashion.

Page four highlights news from the Middle East, while page five covers South Asia. The big story on page four is a surprisingly balanced story on Israel’s threat to conduct a “tough operation” in Gaza. The news on page five covers news from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Did you know that India expects to host 1/2-billion phone lines by 2010?

Page six and seven are the Op-Ed/Opinion pages. There’s a piece from a Jewish man named Uri Avnery, whose opinion probably is not very popular in Israel (and certainly would not be with Jews in the USA), and a piece by American David Dumke on how Americans need to broaden the scope of their political issues to include issues other than Iraq and the 2008 presidential campaign. There are also letters to the editor covering a broad range of subjects. The letter of the day describes the difficulty non-Arabic speaking residents have in dealing with traffic citations and traffic cops when involved in accidents with Arabic speaking citizens or residents.

Page eight covers news in The Phillipines. One of the more interesting items is the photo of prisoners peering out between bars of an overcrowded jail cell on the hottest day of the year (so far) in Manila.

Page nine starts the eight-page Review section, which covers flower gardens, new books (including the Washington Post bestseller list), a Dave Barry column, recipes, a trend in European fashion called Fusion Muslim Chic, the movie Redline, travel, a crossword puzzle and a kid’s page with a Jumble, a word seek, Slylock Fox and some original artwork.

The news picks up again on page nine with the International section. The big story there is a piece on Kevin Tillman and Jessica Lynch decrying the US Army’s attempts to turn Pat Tillman and Lynch, herself, in to heroes by lying about what actually happened to them. There is also a piece on Boris Yeltsin’s funeral.

Pages eighteen and nineteen cover the economy and business news. Dow 13,000 is big news, as is the takeover of Dutch banking group ABN Amro, despite an accepted bid from Barclays. There’s also a big article on the growing market niche for home and personal care products in the Gulf States.

Page twenty has stock quotes from around the world, while page twenty-one is the Leisure page. The Leisure page has several comic strips such as Dilbert, Hagar, and Peanuts (just a sampling). There’s a sudoku puzzle, another crossword, a science quiz, a wordseek, a crossnumber puzzle called Challenger, and a column on bridge.

Pages twenty-two and twenty-three provide a worldwide sports round-up, including such items as Manchester United’s victory over AC Milan, Australia’s defeat of South Africa in the cricket World Cup, the Chicago Bulls series lead over the Miami Heat, and scores from Major League Baseball.

Page twenty-four highlights entertainment news and miscellaneous pieces. There’s at least one episode of Dancing With The Stars I don’t have to watch, now. And, did you know that Rosie O’Donnel is leaving The View? Or, that a kid got his head stuck in a toilet seat in London? My favorite is the one about the drunk guy in Berlin who parked his horse inside a bank foyer.

Yep, that’s the way it was on Thursday, April 26, 2007 – at least in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  I hope you gained some insight along the way.

Copyright 2007, Greg Hubbard

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