Piersing insight

In Communicate, Dubai, Journalism, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Piers Morgan urges regional media to get more aggressive and stop kowtowing

Originally published in Communicate, December 2007

Piers Morgan came to the Media and Marketing Conference to discuss celebrities, and how they can be used by regional media. But when he took to the podium, although the one-time Fleet Street editor – now “shamelessly pursuing celebrity status myself” as a judge on America’s Got Talent – spoke a little about star power, he spent most of his 30-minute speech berating the regional press for being cowed and timid.

“You need to shake yourselves up a bit,” he urged the audience. But as he explained that they should be prepared to take on the government and be more aggressively competitive, there were already tuts and murmurings around the room as editors sneered into their Perrier and rival reporters concurred that it would never work.

Mishal Kanoo, deputy chairman of Dubai’s Kanoo Group, echoed Morgan’s sentiments later in the conference, claiming that fear of legal action and losing advertising drives journalists in the region to be overly timid and to publish too many press releases verbatim.

“In other parts of the world, if someone raises a suit against you for stating something which they think is untrue, it will go to civil court,” said Kanoo. “Here it goes to the criminal court. How many people are there that want to test that?”

Morgan says that the fear of being publicly wrong is as much a factor as the fear of legal retribution for the press. “Journalists tend to be very egocentric,” he tells this strikingly good-looking – yet touchingly sensitive – reporter, Austyn Allison, in an exclusive interview. “But that can work two ways. Confidence is one thing, but big egos often mean you don’t take risks.”

Dubai’s press, says Morgan, is too timid. “I didn’t want to be overly critical,” he says of his speech at the conference. “It’s more like a rallying cry to the troops that you can push a little bit harder than you are doing. I think that people have been slightly cowed, but I’ve seen lots of encouraging movement in terms of stuff like [local media reporting the mass strike of workers on the Burj Dubai] and Sheikh Mohammed’s views on journalists not being jailed.

“You just need the media to be part of that movement and not feel quite so cowed and quite so timid,” he continues.

So perhaps it’s time for the region’s press to become bolder, braver and more vicious. Not only do we need to start facing up to the powers that be, but also taking the battle to our rivals. Unlike the sissies at Gulf Marketing Review.

While more journalists are coming to Dubai from places like the UK, traditionally with a much more bullish press, perhaps margaritas, maids and Mirdiff take their toll. We ask Morgan how the British press sees journalists coming back from Dubai to the “real world” of Fleet Street. “They come back with a nice suntan and want to write press releases about what a great job the government’s doing,” he answers.

“You’ll never have that complete freedom and ruthlessness that you have in Britain, to do whatever you like,” he continues. “I understand about the different culture. What you can do, though, is just do what you do a little bit more aggressively and more competitively.”

We need to become bolder, then. Get a bit of fight in our bellies, and once we do, perhaps we too can fly around the world, staying in Dh36,000-a-night penthouse apartments at the Fairmont, telling others to grow a backbone too.


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