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Stories of sex are big in the UAE – part 2

Local media outlets

When a story about rape, molestation or murder hits the headlines - does it bother you when it's not even remotely related?

October 31, 2012 6:03 by

It’s been almost two years since Kipp’s Samuel Potter wrote about how stories of sex are big in the UAE and you know what has changed in the last two years? Not much, to be frank. Articles of a sexual nature still tend to grab the ‘most popular’ section on most online outlets and so the media continues to pump them out.

Back then, Kipp argued about the existence of ‘perfectly legitimate reasons’ for media outlets in the Emirates to feature stories of a sexual nature – that many of the incidents are serious – and that news outlets should certainly not shy away from reporting these crimes. That remains an argument that very few would disagree with because after all, in spite of the UAE being a relatively conservative country, shouldn’t awareness of heinous crimes be spread?

“Kipp is glad to live in a country where a rape still makes the headlines – in many parts of the world it wouldn’t make the papers at all,” wrote Sam Potter back then. Until this day, we still stand by that statement but on the other hand, we’re not focusing on news outlets that cover stories of actual significance that need to be raised to the community. We are talking about two things; the tasteless manner in which they are reported and their relevance in terms of proximity.

Theft, murder, rape and other hideous crimes happen all around the world every single day and while it’s a sad reality, to say the least, it is still our reality to deal with. No country is free of all crimes, bad intentions and indecent human beings. However, whether media outlets utilise the news of such incidents as tools to warn or educate the community or simply as a mechanism to attract more traffic is a secondary conversation.

Let’s take the recent story of a man who has reportedly been sneaking around and exposing himself to women in The Gardens area in Dubai. This headline has bounced from one news portal to the other and – while Kipp didn’t write about it – we were glad that others did because it is exactly the kind of community story that is necessary for awareness. Yes, it may be disturbing to read about but it was tastefully handled and since it took place in Dubai, it became both relevant, because readers want to find out the bad aspects of their community and essential, because it pushes towards transparency of crime reporting.

On the other hand, when the most popular stories on local news sites include acts of rape, child molestation and murder that happen in Morocco, Egypt, the United States or even a village in China then we are simply baffled. At that point, it becomes apparent that more than half of the published stories aren’t intended for community awareness or transparency but rather just an easy route to attract readers.

The question is, why do local media outlets continue to report incidents of a sexual nature when they happen thousands of miles away? For obvious reasons, the local media can’t report every single act that happens around the world so shouldn’t we focus on what happens around us?

In 2011, an investigatory article about a four year old girl that was allegedly assaulted by a school’s bus driver went viral, and for more than one reason. Yes, it was shocking, worrying and disturbing to read but it also helped to spread awareness, create conversations between parents and prompt schools to begin installing security cameras on their buses. The point is that it wasn’t reported for the sake of being reported but rather as an essential piece of information that ought to be shared with the community.

Secondly, we come to the lack of sensitivity when reporting such stories. Firstly, Kipp understands more than anyone the desire to attract readers and clicks but there is a more, shall we say, organic way of achieving that.

A headline like “Girl gang raped by 12 drunk men for 12 hours”, that was used by a local news outlet, is without a doubt, an absolutely tasteless and unnecessarily graphic caption, regardless of what angle you’re looking at it from. Kipp refuses to believe that there aren’t more subtle or sensitive ways of spreading awareness of a crime. But that’s just it, isn’t it? This wasn’t an incident that happened  in Deira or the Palm and is therefore important for the local community to hear about. It happened in Morocco and it creates a shocking enough headline for people to want to click it.

The real pickle here is, do we blame the people or the media? After all, it is the people that bring those articles under the spotlight and so the media – hungry for more reads – continues to churn out such stories out.

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