Tuesday, 2 December 2014


One of the reasons I planned to base this company in the Middle East is because at present, there is no other company that actively searches for and provides internships to journalism students and media graduates.

The reason this is so is because all of these nations have only recently developed, as opposed to First World countries that have long-established institutions of journalism that are today well-known and instantly recognised throughout the world.

Because of this, journalism in the Middle East is still very much a word-of-mouth business. Given the manner in which companies are growing, though, they will sooner or later begin and maintain their own internship links.

Potentially, should this company get off the ground, it could, when the time comes, handle their internship divisions for them.

That being said, however, there are still three primary sources of competition for this company.

Company internship portals

Most companies in the Middle East have internship portals where they advertise internships that people can apply for. This, however, pertains primarily to companies that have a widespread presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), such as oil and gas companies (like Shell and British Petroleum) and financial firms such as KPMG.

However, at present, no media firms have online internship links, which I feel is extremely important given the manner in which the Middle Eastern media industry is growing. The industry is expected to grow by about seven percent in the next five years, with its value growing from $16 billion to $24 billion by 2019.

Much of this is because of the availability of high-speed internet connections over computers and mobile telephones. There are over 196 million registered SIM cards in the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is twice the population of the region.

This upswing in mobile connectivity has actually seen CNN Arabia re-engineer its website for better adaptation to phones and tablets. While this restructuring is seen as a pilot project, should it turn out to be successful, other CNN sites could follow suit.

A study by Abu Dhabi-based data firm Strategy& revealed that the younger generation of Arabs are searching for better local news. It is here where it would help for the natives of these Arab nations to report news themselves, because it is journalists who live among the people who best capture their sentiments, which is what they must be conveying in their news stories.

In addition, many Arab nations are now actively pursuing programmes to provide jobs to many of their own people. The unemployment rate in the Middle East stands at about 15%, and the reason this number is so is because of a recent population boom in the region, which saw a growth of 42% in population, as compared to a growth around the mid-twenties in the rest of the world.

That this growth in media would automatically absorb some of the unemployed would nominally be a win-win situation, but the Arab youth at present do not have the requisite technical skills to be competent at their jobs. While some of them will have journalistic contacts in companies, plenty of them will not, and this is where my company would come in.

The internships my company would find these people would tick several boxes, chiefly the ones listed above. Having helped these media organisations during their latest expansion phases, and more importantly, having helped their resident nations successfully achieve the transition from immigrant to nationalised labour, will help the company gain instant recognition and assist in its future growth.

Online Job Application sites

While media organisations in the Middle East themselves don’t have internship opportunities listed, there are many online jobsites that list media openings and work experience vacancies at companies throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council, a collective of six Arab nations: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.

It is sites such as these that will be the biggest competitors to my new hypothetical company, as they will have several listed internship opportunities that people will apply for. However, in order to maximise the number of applications for a particular role, it is quite common for companies to advertise the same opening on several jobsites.

But, most companies have no listings when it comes to vacancies at media organisations, which is quite surprising, as there are always people required to replace those who leave. This is unlike companies in the First World, who regularly advertise media positions on jobsites.

Moreover, a majority of jobs listed on such sites are to do with full-time vacancies, not internship opportunities. The primary reason for this is that unlike in the First World, the practice of students going to intern at companies is not yet institutionalised in the Middle East.

Seek.com.au, for example, caters to Australia, while journalism.co.uk has many national and international postings. Naukrigulf.com, however, does not have many.

However, based on my experiences living and working in the Gulf, it is very evident that companies need talented interns on board in order to ensure the smooth running of the day-to-day aspects of publications. With the current job market the way it is, interns will be glad to have access to an online database that lists creative posts that have been categorised for their convenience.

In order to gain access to an available list of internship opportunities available at a company, it will be important for me and my potential colleagues to intensely network with the concerned people at these companies, so that the aforementioned opportunities can be listed on the site.

For this reason, it is important that I expand my list of contacts using my existing ones, so that the site in question can list as many available internship opportunities from a maximum number of companies.

By providing a steady stream of competent interns who excel during their time at these companies, my company will be able to make a name for itself in the market, thereby gaining more clients, paving the way for growth, expansion and recognition.

Direct competitors

At present, there is only one direct competitor to the idea of a dedicated company that finds internships to students, but, as I found out on further exploration of this site, there are no media and/or creative internship listings on this site, which is called Interns ME and caters to jobseekers in the UAE.

The idea of therefore developing a site wherein media internships are provided would therefore be my USP. Given the expansion that the market is currently set to undergo and the ongoing desire by young Arabs to slake their thirst for more local news and this company provides fertile ground for both parties to meet their needs.

In addition, investment in media is one of the many portfolios the Gulf nations are currently pursuing as they attempt to divest from the traditional fossil fuel-centric economies that one associates the Middle East with.

Two Minute Video: How my company works

As my previous video explained, my hypothetical organisation as part of my Enterprise studies will find media internships for journalism students at companies that need them.

This company will be in the Middle East because the region's media will increase in value by $5 billion by 2019, partly because Arabia now has some of the world's best mobile internet connectivity, in terms of both speed and subscribers, meaning more visits of news sites via phones.

This means new jobs, and with the current unemployment rate across the Middle East, these jobs would be welcomed. However, Arab locals lack the requisite technical skills these jobs demand. At the same time, these nations are tightening their immigration laws because they're now institutionalising a locals-first scheme to cope with the worrying unemployment rate in their countries, which is between 11 and 15% in most Arab nations, twice the global average.

Locals first

My target audience will therefore be Arab journalism students who wish to enter the field of journalism, which has encouraging signs since the Arab youth now want more local news stories, and who better to cover this increasing interest in journalism than the current generation?

That they are locals mean they will also be able to gauge the mood of the readers they are writing for as they will be able to relate to the problems that people are facing.

Global Unemployment Rates per country in the year 2014. In the Middle East and North Africa, the economic growth rate in 2013 proved too low to generate sufficient employment opportunities for a fast growing population, and unemployment remained the highest in the world.
Stats courtesy International Labour Organization. Reproduced for academic purposes only. 

The advantages of this idea are manifold, since they will help locals learn the technical skills they do lack on the job at a much faster rate than they normally would in classrooms. Secondly, it will introduce them to the work culture in the media market and help them acclimatise to the demands of the job.

Social climate

The third and fourth benefits are more social in nature, and this is one of the aspects of the company that I wish to emphasise. Media students who become interns are more likely to find a job either at the companies in which they are interning or in other companies where they might have heard of jobs, thereby reducing the unemployment rate for the nation in question.

These interns who develop competency through their internships and then get full-time jobs would also help wean their home nations of the dependency on expatriate labour that the Gulf has had since its very inception.

My next step is to get in touch with experts in the field and financial analysts who will help me shape this company so that it best caters to the needs of its customers and develops a steady revenue model so that it is sustainable in the long-term.

I will also carry out academic research to find out more about how this company can help students develop their job skills and analyse the social and economic background of the Middle East to see how best to structure my company so that the internships found for potential customers best reflect the needs of the nations they live in.

Feedback on the above is most welcome.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Business Proposal for my Enterprise module: A firm that finds media internships for aspiring journalists

It was with some trepidation that I began to consider a Business Proposal for my Enterprise module, and like with all this creative, my idea came to me when I least expected it: five minutes before I'd decided to go to bed.

My Business Proposal for my MA Enterprise module involves the creation of an agency that provides internships and work experience for aspiring journalists at other media companies.

While those who choose to make a career for themselves in other fields find it easy to obtain internships, that is not always the case in journalism, as the industry is still very much a word-of-mouth business.

The creation and nurturing of journalistic contacts is very important in this industry as it is these contacts who will have your name in mind and recommend you when they hear of a new job opening that suits you.

Work Experience

Work experience is often vital if people need to start a successful career in journalism, but in order to secure a stint at a company, it is important to have the right contacts. This is where my organisation comes in.

Through contacts that I have established, I can offer aspiring journalism students internships at companies that require interns.

The demand for those who pursue work experience shifts is likely to be there for a long time in the field of journalism as it is currently one of the world's fastest-growing fields.

For example, in Australia, as of November 2012, 29,800 journalists were employed. That number is expected to rise between 5,000 and 10,000 in the next five years, with the Australian media market growing at about the rate of 3% per annum.

Rate of growth of journalism jobs in Australia. Image courtesy: Open Colleges Australia.
Sources: Job Outlook Government website. ABS Labour Force Survey, DEEWR trend data to November 2012 and DEEWR projections to 2017. Estimates have been rounded.
Reproduced for academic purposes only

With the journalism market growing the way it is at present and with companies requiring more people to work, there will always be room for interns.

In addition to picking up valuable skills at these companies, should those on work experience impress their employers sufficiently, they may also be offered a job at that company, or be referred to another company where they may find gainful work that best suits their strengths, thereby putting them on the path to a long and successful career and securing their long-term future.

Journalism in Practice

Learning about the office environment at media organisations aside, those on work experience can also put into practice first hand the laws that they've learned so much about during their time at university.

Scores for Freedom of the Press in the Sultanate of
Oman as issued by Freedom House. Oman has some of
the most restrictive press laws in the Arab world, a
region itself known for strict controls on Freedom of
Expression. Image courtesy: Freedom House.
Reproduced for academic purposes only
In addition, these trainee journalists will also gain practical knowledge on how to construct their stories while following the ethical considerations set out for them and the laws of the country that they're working in.

Just like I have, the lessons they learn from practising journalism while following the guidelines of that particular country will be permanently ingrained in them.

Also, the manner in which they shape their pieces in order to work according to/around the laws in their respective nations will make them better journalists.

I, for example, work for publications in the Sultanate of Oman, where the press laws are extremely strict.

In order to ensure that my articles are well received but still follow the guidelines of the Sultanate, I have had to work around the laws, which has helped me become a better journalist.

Costs and Educational Agreements

Not only is the hiring of interns beneficial to them, it also helps companies keep costs down, which is important in the current economic climate, making this a win-win situation for both parties.

In addition to working one-on-one with prospective interns, I also plan on coordinating with universities and colleges, wherein my company signs a contract with them to provide their students with work experience at media organisations.

The company could also arrange for them to take competitive exams such as the TOEFL, TOEIC and IELTS if they wish, to help further their career.

Friday, 10 October 2014

10 ways in which the internet has helped society

As part of the Enterprise module of my MA Online Journalism course at Birmingham City University, I am required to take a look at how the internet has helped changed society for the better.

Here are ten ways in which that has been achieved.

  • Voice-over Internet Protocol

Skype was probably the first mass-produced video-calling software that made use of the internet's Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system, and its quite clear that the technology is here to stay. Skype helps individuals keep in touch with families and friends over time periods that are far shorter that those employed by conventional methods of communication. 

Google too have entered the VOIP race with their Hangouts feature that is built into their email facilities. While both of these products are mass-produced, national mobile-phone service providers have also made this facility available to their customers.

One of the advantages of VOIP facilities is the fact that they're free, and everyone likes free stuff, yes? (or was that just me).

However, certain nations have also taken to blocking programmes such as Skype in order to promote their own more expensive VOIP services. The Sultanate of Oman, for example, has blocked the service on the account of it being against the "societal and cultural norms of the Sultanate".

Standard Block Site Management notice on websites blocked in the Sultanate of Oman.
These services are more expensive, and are at times barely affordable to migrant labourers in nations that need to use these services in order to speak to their families at home. A call from Oman to India, for example, where many of these labourers come from, is about 50 cents a minute using Omantel, Oman's national mobile service provider. 

They're only paid, however, about $250 a month, which would mean a significant portions of their salaries go towards VOIP services when the same could be accessed via an internet connection which, which most of them already have access to.

Moreover, while most people tend to own their own mobile phone(s), it is quite common for groups of people to jointly own and maintain an internet connection, which would further reduce costs incurred.

VOIP call rates issued by Omantel, Oman's national mobile telephony provider.

  • Faster journalism

The arrival of high-speed internet makes it extremely simple for journalists to conduct research which is oriented towards the stories they write. 

While digging up archives and going to the library to obtain information can sometimes be a time-consuming and painstaking task, the internet allows easy access to papers, articles and books that penned by people journalists would like to quote in their articles.

The internet has also allowed journalists to refer to other articles written on the same subject by journalists at different publications. This allows journalists to construct their own articles more quickly, assuming they wish to quote another article written by another journalist in their newspaper.

This practice is now commonly followed throughout the world, which means that news stories broken by one publication are now shared in a matter of hours the world over by other publications as well. 

In a world where online publications are dependant on the number of visitors that access their sites, this helps significantly increase the visits their sites would receive. In addition, while some might say that online publications can be accessed the world over, there is still a certain comfort zone that people maintain when it comes to finding sources of news. 

Most people would prefer their news coming from one publication than a host of different publications and to see a particular piece of news in the newspaper of their choice - even if that newspaper didn't break the story first - would make them believe that story more, thereby further increasing the trust they might carry in that paper.

The exclusive article from the Times newspaper which broke the news about the Qatar Dream League, a proposed football tournament to be held in the Gulf state of Qatar. The story later turned out to be a hoax and the newspaper issued a full apology. Image courtesy: The Guardian. 
However, faster journalism doesn't necessarily mean better journalism. Last year, a Times exclusive broke the news about a proposed pre-season football tournament titled the Qatar Dream League. The story was shared by newspapers throughout the world.

But the story turned out to be a hoax and a few days later, Tony Evans, the paper's Football Editor, issued an unconditional apology regarding a story, which surely caused the Times embarrassment that would've been multiplied the world over on account of so many other publications sharing the original story.

Extract from the apology issued by Tony Evans, Football Editor at the Times newspaper following the discovery of the Qatar Dream League being a hoax. Image courtesy: the Times. 

  • Online libraries

While there are some nations where library access is easy available to most, those who live in other countries are not as fortunate.

The Sultanate of Oman, where I am based, is one such example. Libraries found here are few and far between, which makes it extremely difficult to look for books from either an academic or leisure perspective.

While the presence of bookshops in the Sultanate does meet the requirements of leisure that one might have, the Oman Chamber of Commerce lists only five academic libraries, four of which are in the capital, Muscat.

For those who are pursuing academic courses, or those who wish to know more about a particular topic, online libraries are very important. It is because of resources such as Google Books and technology that has inspired products such as the Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers that has allowed people to access books when libraries aren't available for the same purpose.

The same can be said for those who live in areas that are severely affected by weather which would not normally allow people to go outside, the Scandinavian countries being a prime example, where temperatures often plummet below freezing during the winters. 

Another advantage of electronic libraries is its near-constant availability. Most physical libraries are only open for certain hours of the day, which means they are inaccessible at times.  

  • Distance education

While many around the world can afford to attend university, that number drops significantly when costs for travel, board & lodging and other day-to-day expenses are factored in.

From personal experience in the UK, I've found out that the above costs are roughly the same as the course fees that one would pay at university level.

This would mean that aspiring students would need to pay twice as much in order to go to a first-world nation and study, but the ability for students to study from their home countries fully negates the amount of money they'd have to shell out towards accommodation, travel and other supporting expenses.

To borrow that old adage 'time is money', distance learning also serves to help working professionals who wish to continue working full-time while attempting a part-time course. Given that these courses carry the same merit that on-campus courses do and cost less, have proved to be an excellent method of education.

  • Work from home

From the period of 2007-2011, telecommuting grew by 73% in the United States. According to a report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four American workers now works from home.

This has been brought about because of the availability of high-speed internet and the fact that jobs which involve telecommuting are often done via computers. The working from home option may appeal to working parents who need to care for their children, or when a particularly skilled employer is based in a location different from the office he/she works for.

While it also proves to be very effective in areas which suffer from extreme weather conditions, working from home does not bring with it the motivation that comes from working in an office. 

Extract of the letter written to Yahoo! employees by CEO Marissa Meyer, who rescinded the company's worker's rights to work from home, stating a decrease in efficiency and output as the reason. Image and quote courtesy: Forbes magazine.
However, as Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo! said in an open letter written to her employees, working from home leads to a lack of competitive work culture, which in turn leads to a lack of motivation, resulting in a lower output, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

She then rescinded her workers' rights to telecommute. Motivation and discipline are therefore key when it comes to working from home

  • Teleconferencing

With companies increasingly outsourcing their work to other nations where labour is cheaper or as part of restructuring, coordination between different departments of a company or between two companies that are in different time zones often becomes vital when working towards a common goal.

Teleconferencing between different employees across borders ensures that all parties involved in a project are brought up to speed quickly and also enables individuals to share ideas with their colleagues who are in other time zones. 

While larger corporations may not consider money allocated towards telephone bills a significant part of their budget, that might be an issue for smaller companies and start-ups. Teleconferencing through a VOIP service negates that necessity.

However, job outsourcing and coordinating across nations to meet targets means people in countries have to work night shifts, and those who work said shifts often throw their body clocks into disarray, leading to long-term negative medical and health effects.

  • Live streaming and Video On Demand

Sometimes, it may not be possible for people to watch their favourite television shows when they're scheduled to appear on TV. Television channels have, however, made those shows available online via Video on Demand (VoD) services that allow people to catch up with their chosen TV shows whenever they require.

Several channels throughout the world have launched such services, with the BBC IPlayer and Sky Sports' SkyGo being some of the best examples of the same. A similar service is provided by major channels throughout the world.

Shows are also broadcast 'as live' on the internet these days. For example, football's UEFA Champions League is one of the most watched tournaments in the world: more than 360 million people from 230 nations watched the 2012-13 final which was held at Wembley Stadium.

Graphic showing the viewing figures of the UEFA
Champions League Final. At its peak, the final
attracted more than 360 million viewers.
Image courtesy: UEFA.com. Image has been
reproduced for academic purposes only
While the match was available on TV, the game was also available to watch online via stream from UEFA.com.

Regional broadcasters who had been awarded the rights to air the Champions League in their respective regions also offered stream options.

What services like these do is provide those who do not have or cannot afford a TV connection an opportunity to watch TV for either a nominal fee or for free. 

However, the process of streaming has been used for activities termed illegal by world governments as well. Sporting events in particular are featured on sites which use pirated streams to broadcast them.

The United States Government's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center launched Operation In Our Sites in 2000, with a view to crack down on illegal streaming.

One such sight that was blocked on the orders of USG was popular sports streaming site rojadirecta.com.

However, a United States court quashed the government's indictment of the website on the grounds that rojadirecta was only an intermediary for other streaming links and provided none of its own.

Similar indictments were overturned in Spain but the website now faces a similar legal battle in Italy.

  • Social Media

In 2004, before Facebook captured everyone's imaginations and minds, there was Orkut, the world's first ever successful social media site. What it did was provide unprecedented access for friends around the world to get in touch with each other, thereby negating the distance between them.

Fast forward ten years and social media networking has become an integral part of millions of internet users throughout the world, so much so that companies now have dedicated Social Media Executives maintaining and monitoring their organisations' Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Marco Camacho of Orlando, FL, was
arrested in December, 2013 for posting
lewd messages on the Facebook wall of
his 11-year-old female neighbour. Image
courtesy: NBC News. 
The rise of the instant messaging feature of these sites saw further development in this field, as was characterised by the arrival of WhatsApp, which allowed people to keep in touch with each other on the go, without the service charges attached to Short Messaging Services (SMS).

Social media sites are now considered the water cooler of the online world, where people stop to meet and discuss ideas. 

However, social media sites have been used in the past to prey on unsuspecting children and adolescents. 

For example, in December last year, 37-year-old Marco Camacho of Orlando, Florida, was arrested for sending his 11-year-old neighbour lewd messages on Facebook. Camacho was arrested after his neighbour's mother found these messages on her daughter's wall.  

  • Torrent downloads

While the downloading of Torrent files is most definitely illegal, there is little doubt that this method of peer-to-peer sharing is here to stay.

This is because only a fraction of those who download a particular torrent (leechers) will be from a country that enforces its laws against piracy, which makes cracking down on global leechers nigh impossible.

While countries like the UK have blocked popular torrent sites like The Pirate Bay, thereby blocking torrent downloads at source, it is also easy to bypass these controls via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Proxy sites for the same are also available.

While the bottom line regarding torrent downloads is because all downloadable data on these sites is free, people primarily frequent them because more often than not, they cannot afford the prices of the latest game releases and may not have access to the channels that carry their favourite TV shows.

Essential software such as MS Word and video editing suites such as Adobe's Premiere Pro are also available on torrent sites and while torrent downloads may not help the producers of TV shows or the developers of games, what they've done is provide millions of people with tools and entertainment that they would otherwise have to pay a fortune for.

The wildly popular joint HBO-BBC TV series Game of Thrones for example, is considered to be the world's most pirated TV show at present. accounting for more than a quarter of all pirated downloads. The show's popularity wouldn't have come about if people hadn't downloaded it via torrents, because several countries don't have access to the channels that carry this show. 

Given the current economic climate that is currently sweeping the world, working class individuals also consider torrent downloads to be an act of defiance against major corporations, given the amount of money they've amassed over the years.

Governments and agencies are of course taking steps to combat this, but they've so far amounted to little. In 2013, Canadian torrent site IsoHunt.com was taken down on charges of piracy and its owner and founder Gary Fung was ordered to pay $110 million in fines to the Motion Picture Association of America. 

However, less that three months later, the site was back online and continues to operate to this day.

  • Online shopping

Why go to the shop when you can bring the shop to you? That is the modus operandi behind online shopping sites. In addition to enabling customers to shop from the comfort of their homes, e-retailers also have access to a variety of goods that traditional stores may not stock.

Promotional content for The Big Billion Day sale
by Indian retailer Flipkart.com. Online stores are
increasingly common and offer people the comfort
of shopping from their homes.
Image courtesy: Flipkart,com
Amazon and EBay were the first sites that embraced the idea of shopping via the internet and while they cater to an international clientèle, sites that cater to more local customers are now springing up all over the world.

On the internet, it is now possible to by everything from furniture and electronics to health supplements and even groceries without leaving home. In an era where people are pressed for time, online shopping has enabled people to get more out of less.

In addition, e-retailers do not require physical shop floor space, thereby saving on operating costs such as maintenance and rent. They therefore need less income to balance the books, which means their products can be sold at cheaper prices, thereby passing the savings onto the customer.

Shopping aside, the internet has allowed for a myriad number of services to be accessed from home. With services such as banking and ticket-booking accessible via the internet, what this has done is not only save customers the time taken for many potential trips, but also shorten queues at travel agents and banks, where only matters that cannot be resolved online or pressing issues can be attended to.

While online services are welcomed by customers everywhere, the people they will most help are those who suffer from mobility-related disabilities. Regular trips to places they must frequent often will require painstaking efforts from them, often at great cost to their time and energy. What services like these do is enable them to live more normal lives. 

However, while online shopping services have opened up new vistas for people, they've also caused people problems. For example, just six days ago, police in San Jose, California, opened investigations regarding the theft of more than $200,000 via credit card fraud

It is also becoming increasingly common to see internet vendor sell counterfeit medicines to unsuspecting customers. Not only does this cause financial harm to them, it can also fatally affect their health.

A study in 2012 conducted by the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found out that 97% of the 10,000 sites they sampled were of ill repute. It is quite common to see counterfeit drugs that claim to promote sexual stimulation and anabolic steroids that increase muscle growth routinely advertised online.

All images in this post have been attributed to their respective owners and have been reproduced for academic purposes only.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

My experiences on working with the media industry in the Sultanate of Oman

 I’ve always wanted to analyse the problems faced by journalists who work for organisations that are based in the Middle East, because doing so provides a challenge seldom found in the West.

This report lists the work I had been assigned by the publications, how the press laws in Oman played a hand in shaping my articles, how they are detrimental to society, how I was able to work around them and what I learned from this experience.

Overview: Omani media industry

Like most of the other Arab nations, (Fenton, 2009), the press in Oman has strict limits on freedom of free speech and expression. Global freedom watchdog Freedom House categorises Oman’s press as ‘Not Free’ (Freedom House, 2012).

Issued in 1984, Oman’s press laws are highly restrictive (Freedom House, 2012). Omani publications are heavily censored and criticism of the government is banned (O'Rourke, 2011), even if it is found guilty of shirking its duties.

For example, three years ago, two Omani journalists were jailed for exposing a corruption racket inside the Ministry of Justice (Al-Shaibany, 2011). This is because the government views the press as a tool for ‘nation building and reinforcing social integration’. (Hetherington & Najem, 2013).

This blanket ban also restricts the media from criticising governmental policies across all walks of life.

For example, financial magazine Oman Economic Review recently conducted a survey of banks in Oman and reported positively on all of them. The magazine had to, because Omani banks are partly owned by the government (Bologna & Prasad, 2010).

These included interviews with the banks’ top brass and didn’t question their long-term sustainability and growth. How these banks were going to continue to function once the nation’s fleeting oil reserves had dried up wasn’t mentioned, since it is known that most Arab states have oil-based economies (Winckler, 2005).

This is very dangerous, as it means people can lose their savings overnight without being forewarned. 

The government uses publications to pass information to people. Readers’ feedback is rarely entertained. (Rugh, 2004)

Attempting to bypass this censorship, several online discussion forums have sprung up, chief among them being Sablat Oman, with close to 100,000 registered users (Reality in Oman, 2009). Topics here range from international discussions such as Iran’s nuclear programme to domestic ones such as forced marriage.

But even these sites aren’t wholly free. Although Oman only experienced minor protests during the Arab Spring three years ago, the call to protest against the government was instigated by sites such as Sablat Oman (Worrall, 2012), just as social media was (and still is) being used throughout the rest of the Arab world to coordinate action (Lindsey, 2013) during the Arab Spring.

As a consequence, Sablat Oman was temporarily blocked (Freedom House, 2012).

The changing Omani labour market

One of a journalist’s most important tools is his list of contacts because they provide information that is vital to stories (Keeble, 2007). These lists take years to develop – like mine did – and are constantly added to and subtracted from (Stephenson, 1998).

It is because of these contacts that I was able to get a foothold into Omani media market.

My father knew Mr. Sandeep Sehgal, CEO of media house United Media Services (UMS), who required freelancers.

Journalists in Oman require a license to practise their profession (Ministry of Information, 2002), and at news conferences, must carry ID. Because of a lack of skilled locals, companies hire expatriates to fill vacancies.
As the country developed, the government continued to invite foreigners to fill jobs in an expanding labour market.

Since 2003, the government has introduced Omanisation, where locals are given preference over expatriates. Ergo, the government has been reducing the number of work visas for expatriates (Vaidya, 2013).

This is because of a recent population boom in Arabia. In 2006, there was a 42% increase in the number of people who were below the age of 15 years in the Arab world, compared to 20% in the developed world and 35% in the developing world (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2006). This increased labour pool would therefore need to be given preference when it comes to employment. Correspondingly, 40% of all Omanis are between 20 and 44 years old (Watfa, 2009).

Unfortunately, there is a lack of skilled Omanis across the media (Josephi, 2010) and other sectors. Training the next generation of Omanis is time consuming (Oxford Business Group, 2013).
Here, freelancers like me come in. Although technically not allowed under law (Freedom House, 2012), there are no listed work restrictions on those who come to Oman on visit or resident visas as listed on UK visas.

Freelancers are allowed to write articles and conduct interviews.

My work

During this assignment, I’d done two articles. The first was a piece on travel titled “10 Tourist Destinations of Myth and Legend” for Signature magazine, a lifestyle magazine run by UMS.

The second was an exclusive interview with former Arsenal winger Fredrik Ljungberg.

In addition, I went for a week-long internship with the editorial department at UMS, to get a feel of how those who are responsible for the content of publications in Oman do so within the framework of the law.

My first article

How the law shaped its construction

The article was about ten relatively unheard-of tourist destinations. Five of these were set in the Middle East, the other five were from the rest of the world.

The first instruction I was given was that there were to be no destinations which were located in nations that had poor diplomatic relations with the Sultanate of Oman.  The second was that there were to be no tourist places that had a direct connection to religion.

That first directive meant that I could not mention places that were located in Israel, because Oman is one of 31 nations to not recognise the sovereignty of the Jewish State (U.S. Congress, 2008).

I had initially wanted to write about visiting the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Held in great reverence by Muslims, Jews and Christians (Ring, et al., 1996), it was also supposed to be the original resting place of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (Loud, 2010).

The second instruction meant that I couldn’t write about places that were primarily famous for religious reasons. In Oman, many laws are based on Islamic law. Publications must cover articles of culture, religion and tradition without criticism and promoting religion via media is prohibited (Josephi, 2010).

Islam is the dominant religion here and is central to life (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2006) and there are still disagreements among Arabs regarding religious practice. Promoting religion might therefore lead to popular dissent (Figenschou, 2014 ).

For example, seven months ago, local magazine The Week published an interview with a gay expatriate living in Oman who said that the nation was quite tolerant to homosexuals. The magazine later had to apologise for this article (AFP, 2013), despite speaking about Oman positively, since Islam forbids homosexuality (Al-Haqq Kugle, 2010) and is punished in Oman via imprisonment (AFP, 2013).

I couldn’t therefore write about Easter Island, which is famous for its massive monolithic head constructs called Moai, which were constructed by its former inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, between 1250 and 1500 AD (Fischer, 2005).

These heads were considered by the Rapa Nui to be deified versions of their ancestors, which are why this island is famous (Hunt & Lipo, 2011). To mention them would therefore be promoting religion. 

My workaround

Some of the other areas I described did have religious significance, but were also famous otherwise. I therefore omitted their religious significance.

Delphi was where the most powerful Ancient Greek Oracles resided, and it was believed that they could foretell the future because they were blessed by the gods (Kofsky, 2000). Similarly, the Egyptians constructed pyramids were constructed to honour the gods, besides serving as their Pharaohs’ tombs (Munt, 2013).

I therefore mentioned that the oracles were blessed with the ability to predict the future, but didn’t mention a divine connection. The Egyptians however believed that mummification was a cultural, not a religious belief (Rockwood, 2014) and so that could be mentioned.

Tenochtitlan and Chichen Itza involved the Aztec and Mayan civilisations, which practiced religiously-motivated human sacrifice (Palmer-Fernandez, 2004) to please the gods in exchange for plentiful harvests and rainfall (Page, 2010).

Most interesting here was that they waged war to capture people to sacrifice (Perl, 2008), which draws parallels with the Islamic concept of jihad or war for the sake of religion (Habeck, 2006).

I therefore described these cities as architectural marvels and made sure my piece spoke about Aztec and Mayan society, not religious acts.

I’d written on Petra, a UN Heritage Site that was only discovered by the West in the early 19th century (Walker, 2009). But it had long been a place of great significance for the Arabs even during Biblical times.

Petra was where Moses ‘raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.’ (Wantang, 2013). That could therefore not be mentioned and I focused on Petra from an archaeological perspective.

I’d also mentioned Hornstrandir in Iceland, where Viking leader Erik the Red reportedly settled before sailing for Greenland (Agnarsdóttir, 2001). The Vikings practised paganism as a form of religion (Strmiska, 2005), which couldn’t be mentioned.

I’d added three alternative locations in case one of the ten were unacceptable. Machu Picchu was one. Even here, I’d only mentioned the names of temples because they were architectural marvels that were years ahead of its time in terms of construction, (Peterson, 2006) with no mention of religious practices.

But while writing about Zanzibar, which was once part of Oman’s empire, I couldn’t mention the thriving slave trade in that region (Dumper & Stanley, 2007), because it goes against Oman’s current establishment. I therefore completely excluded the slave trade while describing Zanzibar’s trade.

However, guided tours of Petra (Walker, 2009), Machu Picchu, Zanzibar and Iceland all involve the above as part of the tour.

My second article

While freelancing for UMS, I received the opportunity to interview Arsenal legend Fredrik Ljungberg, who’d come to visit Oman’s Arsenal Soccer School.

A meet and greet had been organised for the press, after which he would take part in training sessions with the children at the School. That was only open to the school’s children and their parents.

Because my editor knew Mr Mihir Khimji, the director at the School, he could arrange for an exclusive interview. The visit of a footballer of Mr. Ljungberg’s calibre is quite a prestigious event and the publication that has his interview would certainly have a competitive edge in the media market.

Timing was of the essence here as this interview would have to be included in his itinerary. I was informed of the interview a good two days before Mr. Ljungberg arrived. Mr. Ljungberg was in Oman for less than a day and he had a packed schedule. Someone who’d not known Mr. Khimji would’ve had to make the request to interview him through the official channels at the Soccer School. They might have been rejected because his time was extremely limited.

Meeting Mr. Ljungberg was a great experience as it taught me not to get carried away while interviewing celebrities. As a football journalist, there will be many personages I will interview during my career and I have to remember to behave professionally.

Psychological and social consequences of these press laws
Because I had to censor my travel article, it might provide a skewed perspective of these locations. People therefore become unaware and ignorant (de Baets, 2002) of the great histories of these places.
For example, it is widely believed (Raj & Morpeth, 2007) that Machu Picchu was a pagan centre of spiritual energy around the world, similar to Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids that made people more spiritually aware. To learn about these places would greatly add to the cultural and spiritual education of people.

Similarly, people are missing out on learning about Christian history because informing them about Biblical sites in Petra isn’t allowed. Learning about these places makes people religiously tolerant (Knauth, 2013). Religion has long been a source of conflict and learning about other religions could lead to conflict resolution (Garfinkel, 2008).

I believe that for a society to advance properly, it must be provided with uncensored information. People can then make informed opinions based on the complete set of facts to allow for social pluralism and an open discussion of ideas (Council of Europe, 1982).

Despite the light tone of my work, I was scared of even accidentally breaking these laws. I was therefore forced to self-censor my work, thereby foregoing my freedom of expression, a cornerstone of creative and artistic freedom (Cuny & Polacek, 2012), which is essential for human development (Short, 2009).

This lack of freedom of free speech stunts mental growth and robs humans of the tools required to develop their minds. It prevents people from using their minds to form and then ask questions against the system, making society backward (Baggini & Southwell, 2012).

Most articles I wrote during my internship were leisure pieces, with little political investigative journalism happening. Ergo, there was no application of the mind, leading to little creative journalistic development 

While there a little investigative journalism, that centres on social events which uplift society. A majority of pieces in magazines are leisure articles. It is the same with editorial columns.

That Freedom of Expression was included in the Rights of Man (Brett, 1998) shows how important it is for human development. When governments enforce absolute censorship, it is quite likely that this lack of forming questions will spread to other aspects of life, thereby further stunting mental growth and society can never develop.

Qatar is one Middle East nation that has realised this. The Al-Jazeera Network was the first to introduce free speech to the Arab world and went so far as to criticise the Saudi Arabian, Bahraini and even Qatari governments (Falk, 2008).

But other Arab nations do not seem to agree with this line of thought. In 2008, they signed a restrictive media charter which instructed broadcasters ‘not to not damage social harmony, public unity, national order or traditional virtues’ (Zweiri & Murphy, 2011)

Qatar was the only nation that refused to sign this document because it realised that unrestricted media was necessary for the country’s social development (Miles, 2005).

This aside, the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community development hosts the Doha Debates which are televised on BBC World and are viewed as a forum of dialogue and free speech. They are no holds barred discussions where controversial topics are argued for and against by a live audience and a panel of experts (Oxford Business Group, 2007).

Also, in 2006, an Arabic programme named Lakoom Al Karaar (The Decision is Yours) began broadcasting on Qatar National TV. This programme offered children the opportunity to question decision-makers on issues that mattered to them, encouraging them to talk to their government from an early age (Oxford Business Group, 2009).

What this does is promote free speech and will surely benefit future generations of Qataris.

What I learned

There is much that I’ve learned here. I was able to think out of the box. As journalists, we are trained to strike at the heart of the matter and flesh out the story from there (Iorio, 2004). But because there were some things I had to overlook, it taught me to look change the heart of the matter and construct a story around that.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution says that there should be creative freedom for self-determination (Corey, 1994) and these restrictions actually helped me realise that it was possible to create informative pieces that people would want to read even with all these censors in place and that ability to form a story with only limited information at your disposal is I think a very handy talent to have.

For example, during my internship, I wrote a piece on Five Inspirational TED Talks by Women. One of them was delivered by Liberian Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. She empowered women to vote against corrupt officials, but centring the story on that meant it would be considered against the government. I therefore centred it around her providing education to African women so that they could remain self-sufficient, which meant it was still thought-provoking journalism.

A version of the travel article I would’ve written has been posted on my blog: www.gbvishjourno.blogspot.com. Also on the blog is the write-up on Leymah Gbowee’s talk that. I’d initially planned on writing

I also learnt that having access to people in power helps bypass administrative ‘gatekeepers’ (Randall, 2007) such as secretaries who might control access to potential interviewees. This can help provide the competitive edge for your publication to stand out from the rest.

But the negatives here dwarf the positive lessons. The government claims that these restrictions have been placed for positive social construction, but society cannot be positively constructed without unrestricted access to free media (Miles, 2005).

What I’ve also experienced here is that journalists and editors are under constant pressure to censor their work, because even an accidental slip-up might mean breaking the law.

This constant pressure is extremely detrimental to one’s mental and physical wellbeing (Cooper & Burnham, 2009). That makes the pursuing of a career involving in-depth investigative and political journalism highly for most Middle Eastern publications extremely unfeasible.

Unless, therefore, these sanctions are lifted or eased forthwith, not only will skilled journalists seek out other countries for employment, but more importantly, it’ll be extremely difficult for a broad-minded society to be formed in Oman and by extension, other places that have such draconian press laws.


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