Sunday, July 14, 2024

Gulf allies lack media clout in the US

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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I recently flew home from one of my regular visits to the most powerful nation on the planet, the United States, a country with some of the greatest people anywhere. I am always made welcome and afforded warm hospitality wherever I go.

On this occasion, I held discussions with ordinary folk, politicians and top-level doers and shakers but was disappointed how few have any grasp of our positions on the global stage. I concluded that this sorry state of affairs is not their fault, it is ours. We have neglected to use modern tools to get our messages across.

The fact is that public opinion in America is largely shaped by the media which in our day and age is more opinion-centric than focused on neutral reporting. Mainstream television networks and newspapers give stories a lick of paint according to the political persuasions of their owners, investors, major advertisers and editors.

Note the massive disparity in the way that CNN and Fox News handle breaking news for instance. Whereas CNN’s anchors called for gun control following yet another tragic school shooting, Fox News – that is in bed with the National Rifle Association (NRA) – cited mental illness of the Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz who killed 17 people.

Moreover, it was the corporate media that sold the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the unsuspecting American people who were misled into believing that the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

In the same way that the American left and right vie with each other on-air and in print to influence minds, some countries among them the smallest and weakest are sufficiently media-savvy to manipulate US opinion at all levels.

They flood popular talk shows with their political emissaries and inject massive funds into media campaigns, self-promotion – via advertisements or even sponsorships – as well as public relations and lobbying firms.

The same goes for groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders have been photographed visiting the White House, the Department of State and the UK’s House of Commons as part of their efforts to persuade high-level officials that theirs is a benign organization when as we are only too well aware in my part of the world just the opposite is true.

For more than half-a-century Israel and its American backers have perfected the art of manipulating minds via Hollywood movies depicting Jewish immigrants to Palestine as courageous pioneers rolling up their sleeves in “A land without a people for a people without a land”, an oft-quoted phrase in Zionist literature.

Conversely – and until today – Arabs are almost always portrayed in a negative light. Israel’s promoters bought up film studios and later, major newspapers and television channels. It is no wonder the majority of Americans are more supportive of Israelis than Palestinians following a decades-long drip-drip of indoctrination.

Self-promotion has been a huge winner for the Jewish state. Despite being the only nuclear-armed entity in the Middle East that occupies Palestinian lands contrary to the United Nations Charter and Geneva Conventions, it has been able to convince a large percentage of the US public that it is a victim of hostile Arab neighbours deserving of the billions of dollars in aid it receives from America’s coffers each year.

Is it not beyond time that our GCC leaderships take the power of the media with the seriousness it deserves?

Whether we agree with aspects of American foreign policy or not, the reality is that we need the United States to be in our camp diplomatically, economically and militarily if we were ever aggressed.

Let us not forget former US President George H.W. Bush’s determined response to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 saved the day. I should add that it was thanks to the pressure heaped on the UK, France and Israel by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1956 Suez Crisis besides fierce Egyptian resistance that British, French and Israeli troops were forced to withdraw from Egyptian soil.

As things stand, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, including my own homeland the United Arab Emirates, are in no position to push back against the scurrilous, propagandist attacks of our enemies.

We have no meaningful platforms on which to effectively counter fake news with truth. Perhaps because we naively believed that righteousness would be recognized by the people who count. However, it seems that some American decision makers have also fallen under the spell of our enemies’ spokespeople who receive a sympathetic airing on their television screens.

I fail to understand why we have not sought to establish international satellite channels broadcasting around the world in English. Although news networks in Arabic abound as well as English-language channels covering local news and entertainment programs – apart from one that works against our collective interests – there are none capable of attracting a substantial American viewership. This should be step one.

Step two should involve mega movie productions and documentaries aimed at displaying the finest aspects of our culture, heritage, modern achievements and philanthropic endeavours.

Step three requires extensive diplomatic networking, the use of professional PR consultancies, advertorials, opinion editorials, sports sponsorships, charitable works and use of social media.

In brief, we need to use the Western media to our advantage to show the world all the good that we do in terms of fighting terrorism and eradicating extremist ideologies as well as the challenges we are battling to overcome in a region unsettled by sectarian violence, proxy wars and poverty under the dark shadow of the greatest terrorist-sponsor, Iran.

I would like to shine a light on the United Arab Emirates that has proven to be a haven of stability, a template for those parts of our Arab world currently in distress; it is a place where people of all ethnicities live and work in security.

Let us shout out loud our successes. Let Americans see who we really are and where we aspire to getting. Let us speak the language America speaks through the media and all other relevant mediums. No time to delay while others are intent on working the system against us. It is not enough to be right in the current climate. We must be transparent, clear and most of all well heard.

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