Looking at ‘Investigative Journalism in the Arab World’

State control over media is an obstacle to Arab investigative journalism.

Cover of Saba Bebawi’s book, “Investigative Journalism in the Arab World: Issues and Challenges.”

2017/05/07 Issue: 105 Page: 23

The Arab Weekly
Dunia El-Zobaidi

Investigative journalism in the Arab world needs reform, especially with the newfound freedoms the media has secured after the “Arab spring.” This is one of the main points of Saba Bebawi’s new book, “Investigative Journal­ism in the Arab World: Issues and Challenges.”

Bebawi’s book is based on her experiences working for Radio Jordan English, CNN and Dubai TV. When she addresses hindrances to such reform, it comes from time spent on the front lines of the media’s battles for access to information.

Bebawi’s book deals with the is­sues and challenges facing investi­gative reporting in the Arab world in great depth. She provides illu­minating case studies, such as how job advertisements in Jordanian newspapers lure women for sexual purposes, as well as the story of a Syrian refugee trying to regain her daughter’s identity documents from Jordanian authorities, whom she accused of trying to make money out of refugees.

Although finding funding for investigative journalism is a problem everywhere it is of particular concern in the arab world. Bebawi makes the case that arab media should make more of an effort to find sponsors to fund costly investigative projects, similar to what propublica does in the united states.

Saad hattar, an editorial consultant for arab reporters for investigative journalism (arij), a non-profit organi­sation established in 2005 to promote investigative journalism, said in the book that the arab world lacked sustainable journalism training for students living in the internet age, and that current university courses were “stagnant and old.”

Bebawi pointed out that while large media operations such as al jazeera and al arabiya have budgets to launch training ventures and long-term projects, newsrooms on state and local levels need financial aid to break from the traditional report­ing cycle. She said that when young journalists receive training in inves­tigative reporting, old-school editors rarely allow them the opportunity to implement their skills.

Another problem in arab media, bebawi said, is journal­ists’ inability to distinguish between truth-telling and activist-driven writing that is based in political opinions and emotion. This point is stressed by training coaches at arij, who said arab journalists tend to base an investigation on hearsay rather than evidence.

Access to information in the arab world is also a problem, with state media often functioning as government mouthpiec­es. News archives are limited and laws on free­dom of information are sometimes restricted.

However, arij executive direc­tor rana sabbagh notes in bebawi’s book that the “arab spring” “broke the wall of fear” and the media became polarised, either supporting or opposing various regimes. This posed a problem for new independ­ent media, which found hardly any space to provide alternative coverage of events.

Sabbagh said she noticed that students often graduated without knowing the difference between investigative journalism and daily reporting. Her organisa­tion invited professors to its annual conference but learned they were resistant to teaching investigative reporting methods. Many of the professors taught in gov­ernment-owned institutions and said they would be unable to protect their students in their probing as they were not professionals.

Hattar also explained that online platforms, such as social media, pose a threat to the gov­ernment since state institutions cannot control them. This has created a turbulent environment, Bebawi said, with some platforms sometimes being shut down overnight, making it harder to do investigative reporting.

Dunia El-Zobaidi is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262


Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved