Thursday, February 05, 2009

More questionable reporting

The Times seems to have gone tabloid in today's sensationalist reporting of how the worldwide slump is affecting Dubai.

In the locally printed edition three-quarters of Page 4 is devoted to a piece based on the rumours about dumped cars at the airport. It's datelined Dubai but tells us that we apparently have an Emir called Sheikh Mohammed. An Emir.

The story is highlighted on the front page with a colour photo and headline "Dubai's car crash victims", although it's actually about Brits leaving Dubai.

It's a one-sided story based on hearsay and dinner party rumour rather than verified facts.


Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.

The dinner party rumour is that 3,000 cars have been left at the airport, it's not what the authorities have said. As I said in my last post, the police have reported 3,000 cars abandoned around the city - against a usual number of 1,500.

And that word 'most' pops up to emphasise a point. 'Most' cars had keys left in them? Most? Or some?

The word 'many' is used in the same way:

When the market collapsed and the emirate’s once-booming economy started to slow down, many expatriates were left owning several homes and unable to pay the mortgages without credit.

Many expats owned several homes? Oh yeah?

And what does 'unable to pay the mortgages without credit' mean? A mortgage is credit, it is a loan.

Here's a classic dinner party quote:

...the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Dubai is emptying out,” said a Western diplomat.

Emptying out?

People are still arriving every day; the DNRD have said that they issued 199,000 new resident visas in November and December. It's true that more people than usual are leaving and there's a net decrease in population. Estimates are that we'll end up with about 8% less than now, which means about a 120,000 reduction. Hardly 'emptying out' is it.

Interestingly the 8% figure is listed alongside the article in a highlight numbers column, contradicting the dinner party quote.

Then the emotive word 'fled' is used:

...the (British) embassy has no way of tracking how many have fled back to the UK.


People flee from conflict, flee from a bush fire. These people haven't fled, they've lost their jobs, can't stay without a residence visa so they've gone back home.

The highlight numbers column continues the way the article is slanted:

1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai.

I commented on this figure in my previous post.

60% fall in property values predicted.

50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah

A sudden increase to 60% from the worst figure guessed at, and Palm Jumeirah brought in. Again I commented on this in my previous post. A fall against when? Check the prices since the property was launched and through to now, there's a huge increase in value until the last few months.

By the way, they say their sources include No such thing of course, I assume they mean

With that and Emir you'd be excused for thinking they're laying off people themselves, like proof readers for example.

Or in Timesspeak, proof readers have fled.

I'm far from being a conspiracy theorist on any subject but there does seem to be an agenda here.

I say that because there's also an 'analysis' by none less the the grandly titled World Business Editor, under the headline "With no oil to back it up, desert economy is built on shifting sand'

It starts with the implication that Dubai is a brand new city.

Dubai’s boom was always a mirage made up of fast money, mass immigration, low taxation and gentle regulation. Dubai has almost no oil but cleverly decided to boost its economy as a financial and leisure centre for neighbouring cash-rich but service-poor Gulf economies.

Back here in the real world oil has always been only a small part of Dubai's economy. In any case it only came onstream in the sixties and for most of the forty-odd years it sold for peanuts. Dubai has been a trading and commercial centre for about 150 years, oil has been a short term boost to the economy.

To state that Dubai relates only to its neighbouring Gulf countries is to misrepresent competely. Dubai's business, including finance, is international, as is tourism, which they would know if they'd bothered to check the data on both. But then those facts would have spoilt the slant of the 'analysis'.

Mass immigration? Dubai from its very beginning has had a huge expat population.

It became a magnet for Saudis and Iranians seeking a liberal environment in which to play global financial markets and work off personal stress. A vast community of expatriates arrived to service their whims and their business needs...

Only Saudis and Iranians? That's the suggestion.

The whole thing is a nonsense. They, and any other nationality, can play the financial markets from anywhere. And the rest of us, about a million people, are here to service the whims of Saudis and Iranians?

I bet you didn't realise that's why you were here. I didn't.

There's more;

Two struggling mortgage banks were then bailed out and shuffled into a new state-owned entity. Yesterday the Government of Abu Dhabi was forced to inject a further $4 billion (£3 billion) into three of its banks.

I assume he's referring to Amlak and Tamweel, which are government owned anyway.

And it's hardly worth reporting these days that a government has put liquidity into the financial and banking system. It would only be news if a government somewhere hadn't.

The 'analysis' ends:

For Abu Dhabi, there is always the oil and gas but for its wayward sibling the future is no more solid than the shifting sands of the surrounding desert.

Oh dear, the hackneyed old chestnut about shifting sands. This time used to support the nonsense that Dubai has no future.

It ignores the history of Dubai, from its beginnings a commercial and trading centre, which has gone through all the same periods of boom and downturn as the rest of the world.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the writer started with the cliche. To work it in, the 'analysis' also has to ignore another important fact. This is a worldwide slump. Exactly the same as the rest of the world, Dubai has gone through a boom period which has ended.

It's cyclical. We have downturns, recessions, booms & busts regularly.

Today's paper seems to be part of the new approach to Dubai, which until a few months ago had nothing but fawning rave reports from the international media.

It mirrors something that's annoying me more and more with each passing day too. The glee with which so many people here are talking about the downturn in Dubai.

It's what we call the tall poppy syndrome.

I have no problem with stories talking about the downturn, provided that they are honest. I do have a problem with stories which cherry pick the facts, which use rumours rather than verified facts, which distort the true picture.

Fleeing Brits story.


Anonymous said...

I agree newspaper reporting is frustrating and you have to take with a 'pinch of salt'. However any figures that comes from the government/police is equally as questionable.

Seabee said...

Anon@3.14, I agree. The only way is to believe nothing, check as many sources as possible and arrive at a conclusion based on it all.

ZeTallGerman said...

Over half of Dubai's population is employed in the the real estate and construction industries, so a certain type of expatriate is leaving. I agree, people are still arriving in Dubai every day, but have we stopped and asked who that is? Probably mostely staff for the service industry (hotels, restaurants, cleaners, drivers, etc. etc.) so the future problem I see is that more and more of these type of expatriates in the UAE will arrive, and these are the people who don't contribute to the country by much: they send all of their earnings to their families in developing countries. The expatriates who spent on beach clubs, children's education, cars, dining out, designer labels, etc. are leaving. Just a thought, I could of course be wrong.

EyeOnDubai said...

Well said that man. Shoddy journalism, and from a surprising source. What is the world coming to?


Seabee said...

Over half of Dubai's population is employed in the the real estate and construction industries, so a certain type of expatriate is leaving.

ZTG, people in most countries would be pleased to have fewer real estate agents and builders! ;-)

Mars said...

"tall poppy sydrome"?

Anonymous said...

we apparently have an Emir called Sheikh Mohammed. An Emir.

Is he not an Emir?

Or is your point that he was not the titular Emir of the Emirate of Dubai back in 2004?

WebJunky said...

biased - government driven

Seabee said...

Mars, sorry, it's a phrase we commonly use in Australia. A field of poppies often has one taller than the rest and that's the one people want to cut down. Usually it's used for a person who has been raised up to the top by the public and the media, then when he/she is at the top they start to try to bring him/her down

Anon@8.20, no, he is not an emir, nor a sultan, nor a king. The correct title is Ruler of Dubai.

My post is about poor journalism, of which such inaccuracies are an example.

WebJunkie, what is biased and government driven?

rosh said...

I cannot help but think this is, PR perhaps from conservative powers that be, in the UAE (?)

That said, it's most unfortunate, the state of media today. Sure feels like it's for SALE to those with deep pockets. Transparent and honest reporting seem so few and far between. Thank god, for NPR, PBS and CPSAN.

alexander... said...

Totally agree with your post. Was slightly puzzled to see The Times running the 'poo on the beach' just eight days ago, too - a story that had run its course weeks ago. The beaches The Times reported as fouled were tested as clean, BTW.

And now this crap. I hate stories that contain those silly, insidious errors that tell us they're written by someone that is blowing hot air and has absolutely no understanding, track record or experience of the region. Emir indeed.

Sure, we all whinge about aspects of life here. But I completely agree that watching shoddy journalism completely missing the many marks available and reaching glib conclusions based on baseless assertions is infuriating.

The Times seems to be grinding an axe, though...

Anonymous said...

the times is half way across the world. i got sick of listening to business tonight on dubai eye and their constant "will it won't it" collapse scenarios when the crisis in the US began!

i strongly believe the media locally played a major role in getting people nervous. as a sound byte on dubai eye states: if people think there is going to be a banking crisis they will lead to a banking crisis. and thats exactly what happened. a constant barrage of hopelessness played daily on dubai eye's business tonight by some quite shoddy presenters. "will the bubble burst" "when will it collapse" yadayadayadayada... on and on they went.

today its almost with glee or a sense of accomplishment that these local media folks announce layoffs and bad news.... the whole "we said so" attitude! i place a large portion of the blame on the local media for creating the panic that has resulted in the current economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah? you guys had no issues when your beloved emirate was built on faff and lies by the govt controlled media, as long as it suited your interests and investments. you guys no issues when all criticisms, even blogs were banned. lo and behold, when it touched your personal investment ( in time , or money) in dubai, global media is very bad. wake up and smell the roses, they stink even worse where you are.

Seabee said...

Anon@7.54 we 'had no issues'? You obviously don't read our posts.

And you don't understanding that this post is about sloppy journalism, it's not a defence of Dubai.

I'm fascinated to know how you gathered all the information you claim to have about our personal investments and interests. Would you care to enlighten us on that.

Q to myself. Why do I waste my time to responding to trolls and morons?

Dubai said...

Yes, I raised my eyebrows at that story too, for much the same reasons. I didn't think the Times was so sloppy, so my conspiracy theory is that it was deliberately misleading. What the agenda is, I have no idea. Has a Times editor been turned down for a job in Dubai recently?