Treating fake Qatar news as gospel truth unfortunate: Experts

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The news about Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia and the Saudi Arabia-owned al-Arabiya, mouthpieces of two governments, broadcasting a false statement attributed to Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, appears to have taken journalism to a new low, and has received strong criticism from a cross section of society in India as well.

Viewers across the world, including in India, were stunned Wednesday after the Saudi and Emirati media outlets picked up the story from Qatar News agency, which is believed to have been hacked, saying that Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani had said at a recent military ceremony that Qatar had "tensions" with the Donald Trump Administration, and had rejected President Trump's missive to Arab and Muslim leaders to "work together to isolate Iran".

The emir was further quoted by the hacked Qatar News Agency website, as saying that there was "no wisdom in harbouring hostility toward Iran" and that it was a "big power in the stabilisation of the (Middle East or Gulf) region".

The Twitter feed of QNA also quoted the foreign minister, as saying that there is a plot to "discredit" Qatar, and that this had been uncovered, and that ambassadors had been withdrawn from five Arab states.

He was also reported to have described relations with Israel as "good" and called the militant Hamas the "legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".

What was astonishing was the biased manner in which the news outlets covered the fabricated story. Despite the Government of Qatar denying the inconceivable report, Sky News and Al Arabiya scrambled to run the bogus news.

By not considering the other side of the story and investigating its veracity, the news outlets defied all norms of ethical journalism.

Instead, they exploited the manufactured statement to launch an attack on the Government of Qatar.

The quotes were reported across the region and caused a global media stir.

In India, the reaction to the hacking and unethical purloining of media content was predictable.

Former Foreign Secretary, Shashank, said, "Lot of advanced countries are complaining about hacking. A report stated that the CIA developed the hacking tool. It was later picked up by radical elements. I am sure Saudi is engaging in close consultations with Qatar. They have lot of influence in the Arab countries."

He further stated, "Lot of rethinking and considerations have been going on post Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi has been firm on containing terrorism. They recently declared that they will invest 350 billion USD in developmental projects in the U.S. Moreover, Saudi views Iran as a destabiliser in Middle East and wants to contain it. Saudi has alleged that Iran backs terrorism."

"Media bias in Saudi and the UAE is real and it's not new. Some of their news contents are filled with government and corporate propaganda," he added.

Senior journalist Venkat Narayan, who is also president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of South Asia, said: "The running of fake news attributing certain controversial remarks to the Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani by state-owned media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates despite denials by the Qatari News Agency is unfortunate, dangerous and can lead to serious complications and unintended consequences in an already volatile region such as the Middle East."

He further stated, "Professionalism demands that media outlets which were running the fake news withdraw it the moment the agency which put it out in the first place withdraws it. It is unfortunate that, instead of withdrawing the fake news, state-owned TV channels in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were actually broadcasting discussions and commentaries treating the fake news like gospel truth."

"Such irresponsible conduct by state-owned media outlets can adversely affect their credibility and can lead to worsening of relations between states in the Gulf, which are already tense. For the sake of peace in the Middle East, media outlets in the region should behave responsibly and not give publicity to fake news that can cause more tension in the region," he added.

One person, who did not want to be named, said: "As far as news reporting and media ethics are concerned, the hacking incident puts UAE and Saudi in poor light."

This distasteful act by the offenders has provoked outrage among commentators in the Gulf and beyond. The journalist fraternity believes this is a dangerous act and has the potential to forever blemish whatever little authenticity media in these regions have. (ANI)
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