x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Arab media take the straight approach over bin Laden death

As the US press goes into 'cheering mode', most outlets in the region choose a neutral tone in reporting the al Qa'eda leader's death.

A vendor arranges magazines as newspapers report the death of Osama bin Laden in Beirut, Lebanon.
A vendor arranges magazines as newspapers report the death of Osama bin Laden in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Arab media, including postings on social networking sites, was relatively neutral in how it reported the death of Osama bin Laden.

Most news reports and social-media posts from Arab sources did not express overtly pro- or anti-American bias in reporting his killing by US forces, according to the Dubai-based media monitoring firm News Group International.

While the Arab media did contain elements of both pro- and anti-American sentiment over the issue, such elements were in the minority, said Mazen Nahawi, the founder and president of News Group International.

"Generally, the neutral block seems to be the largest," said Mr Nahawi, whose firm monitors newspapers, broadcasters and social media across the Arab world.

Anti-American sentiment over the killing of bin Laden came from the "predictable religious extremists", Mr Nahawi added, pointing to media sources such as al Qa'eda-affiliated websites.

Mr Nahawi said the death had attracted "very, very heavy" coverage in the region, across broadcast, print and social media.

Most newspapers in the UAE yesterday featured front-page images of the global terrorist. The National's headline read "A world without bin Laden". Gulf News proclaimed the "End of a Terrorist", but emphasised that the war on terror was not over. This was echoed by the tabloid newspaper 7DAYS with the headline "Dead but still a Threat".

Commentators point to more emotive headlines in several US newspapers. New York's Daily News featured the headline "Rot in Hell!"; and the New York Post ran with "Got Him!".

There were many more measured headlines in the US press, including the straightforward "US Forces Kill Osama Bin Laden" in The Wall Street Journal, while the Chicago Sun-Times chose a black and white image, with the single word "Dead".

Alma Kadragic, an academic programme developer at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, who specialises in media and PR, said that the media in the UAE told the story straight.

"The American press was in cheering mode," said Dr Kadragic. "Here, though people were not displeased, there certainly wasn't that kind of response."

Ali Jaber, a media consultant and dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication at the American University of Dubai, agreed that the reaction to the death of bin Laden in the Arab press had been more "sober" and "rational".

"The American and western media is adopting the kind of reaction that you would expect from the Arab world: all the 'burn in hell', irrational stuff," he said. "They are switching roles."

Speaking from Lebanon, Mr Jaber said he had seen overwhelming coverage of the death there. "In Lebanon, people are not fond of him [bin Laden]. You won't find sympathetic press here at all," he said.

However, the mainstream Arab media did vary in the way it handled the story, Mr Jaber said.

He pointed to the Qatari TV-news station Al Jazeera Arabic as standing out from the crowd, given its history of broadcasting videos from al Qa'eda. "I cannot find in Al Jazeera's coverage as much celebration as I find elsewhere," said Mr Jaber.

News that bin Laden was killed first emerged as a 77-character tweet, and quickly became one of the biggest stories of the international media.

Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is credited with first reporting the news, having tweeted: "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn."

The tweet was sent late on Sunday evening and, as US newspapers rushed to rework front pages to meet their print deadlines, online media and social-networking sites erupted. Websites went down under the weight of online traffic.

Twitter reported "the highest sustained rate of Tweets ever", with more than 5,000 tweets a second at the end of the US president Barack Obama's address on Sunday evening.

A bombardment of activity ensued, as media outlets ranging from conservative-leaning newspapers in the US to al Qa'eda sympathisers elsewhere, presenting their own take on the news.

Some mainstream news websites in the UK reported record traffic figures following the death. Guardian.co.uk, one of the most-popular news websites in the UK, on Monday had its largest-ever volume of traffic, a spokeswoman for Guardian News & Media, said.

"Initial statistics suggest that the site saw around 4.5 million unique browsers," the spokeswoman said.

This eclipsed the website traffic reported by The Guardian during the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton last Friday.

"What happened with the [bin Laden] story is that it eclipsed the royal wedding," said Mr Jaber. "Now William and Kate will enjoy some quiet moments on honeymoon."