Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Out of context

I'm getting irritated with our 'journalists' again.

It's a constant state with me but every so often it peaks, as it has this morning.

First item on the radio news was "Property prices may drop by up to 50% in Dubai this year!"

As usual it's nothing more than a guess from an 'expert', some crystal-ball gazing.

Taking just one guess from one person and making it the headline news is hardly responsible journalism.

Nor is announcing figures without putting them in context.

A drop against what? Against when?

If you'd bought a 2-bedroom apartment for Dh450,000 as so many people originally did, or a villa for a million, you haven't seen anything less than a huge increase in value.

If you're going to quote figures you must put them in context but all too often our 'journalists' don't bother with the context.

There's another example with the recent statement that Pakistanis are the most dangerous drivers in Dubai, police data shows. Indians were number two on the list.

Apart from finding lists like this based on nationality offensive, I also have a problem with the presentation of the data.

Firstly, the list wasn't of dangerous drivers, it was of drivers involved in fatal crashes. They are not the same thing.

And there was no context of percentage of drivers by nationality. Of our total drivers, what percentage are Pakistani, and Indian, and all the rest of us. With so many Pakistani HGV drivers, and with the fact that a high percentage of the population - thus drivers - are from the sub-continent, you would expect their numbers involved in crashes to be higher than the smaller represented nationalities.

If you're going to list dangerous drivers by nationality then at least give the context of the percentage by which each nationality is represented in the total number of drivers.

It was the same with the recent '1500 visas a day being cancelled' reports.

That was used as part of the panic stories that Dubai is being hit by the worldwide economic crisis.

Dubai has always been a transient, guest worker society. People have always come and gone on a daily basis.

So where's the context? How does the figure compare with previous years? How many new visas are being issued - and how does that compare with previous years? What is the actual effect on our population?

We can't get a true picture without the context.

There's a chink of light though, examples getting closer to how information should be presented, in EmBiz247 this morning and in The National last month.

An EmBiz247 article tells us:

Property prices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have fallen by an average of 25 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively, since their peak in September 2008.

It is difficult to determine the actual change in property prices given the lack of official data about transactions and costs.

...a data sample compiled on a monthly basis from Better Homes, a property broker in the UAE, apartment prices fell by five per cent in December 2008 from their September peak."We think these numbers are misleading to some extent given the current market circumstances, where some asking prices for the same unit have not changed for months, which, in turn, has inflated average prices"

There's more in similar vein, giving figures but trying to present them in context, which gives a much more accurate picture. The drop is against the peak, so in reality prices are probably back to where they were about the middle of last year.

The National had a much misrepresented story on abandoned cars. The general hysteria has turned the story into thousands of cars being dumped at Dubai airport by fleeing expats.

In reality, being the transient society that it is, Dubai has always had a dumped car problem. I remember it way back in the seventies.

Thankfully, the article puts some context:

More than 3,000 cars have been abandoned by owners to escape loan payments, just over double the figure in 2007.

A UAE bank official, who requested anonymity, said people who dumped their cars and fled the country were known as “skips”.

“This isn’t unusual here,” he said. “A lot of times people just leave. You get a credit card and loans and then you lose your job. What to do? Go home."

Oh, and it does say that police recently moved not thousands, as the rumours have it, but 22 cars from the airport.

So, abandoning cars isn't unusual but the number has doubled. We have context, so we can make sense of the figures.

Would the rest of our 'journalists' please take note.

It isn't difficult. You get information that cars are being abandoned. You don't simply write it up. First you check the facts with the appropriate authority. Then you ask how that compares with last year. Then you write the story giving the numbers and the context.

Dangerous drivers.
1500 visas cancelled daily.
Property drops by 25%.
Abandoned cars.


Saurabh said...

I had the exact same thoughts when I read the article on the risky drivers.

This kind of journalism is not only bad in it's own, but it's highly irresponsible, creating a social bias of sorts.

Even after hundreds of years of newspapers, it seems it's just impossible for people to learn the right way of reporting!

Magnus said...

Me too when I saw the article on drivers. I started writing a blog post but then thought it won't do any good so I canceled. Thanks for giving this attention!

Anonymous said...

as if there is any kind of audit or data that is real, and available from the govt. in dubai. hell, they dont even accept there might be a problem and people might be leaving dubai due to economic issues. then how do you expect them to release data on cars left at airport. i know from internal sources hsbc picked up 175 cars in first two weeks of jan from airport.

ZeTallGerman said...

Seabee, I wrote to the Gulf News after their "dangerous driver" list... naturally, the letter wasn't published. I critisised the exact same issue: how many Pakistanis and Indians are there in the UAE? I'd say they make up the biggest numer of expats by far! And then, let's look at spot number 3 on the list: Emiratis. We all know how FEW UAE Nationals actually live in this country, so for them to make it into the top 3, percentage-wise and per capita within that nationality, that shows there must be quite a big number of dangerous drives... No? Remember what good old Albert always said: "It's all relative." ;-)

Also, the Gulf News website's daily poll about 2 weeks ago asked: "What do you think of the standard of the media in the UAE?" Over 40% of all respondents said it's basically "abysmal"... was an article published about this poll result? Of course not...

Abid said...

Its because the National is written by Western journalists. But at the end of the day, sensationalism sells newspapers and that makes money,

CG said...

The scariest thing is that I actually read these articles and accept them, without my brain even deviating for a second to wonder about the context. I accept the stories as they are. I have been conditioned to. Wow, how enlightening.

WebJunky said...

never do that again - not in dubai at least. there is no free speech here. no such thing as free journalism. everything is skewed to favor the city/country. such is a one man ruled city/state/emirate

Jman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jman said...

As a pakistani, i want to comment on the dangerous driving news...but uigjhbkijy kji;i ipoi p 4345 k45k hkjnb oit iti ....its quite hard to type at 70mph!!!! :)


WebJunky said...

lol @ jma. that was hilarious!!