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UAE and Saudi Arabia are fabricating news through AFP Open in fullscreen

Abbad Yahya

UAE and Saudi Arabia are fabricating news through AFP

Dr Azmi Bishara is a prominent Arab academic and intellectual [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2018

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Comment: Attempts by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to disseminate fake news about Azmi Bishara through the respected news source, AFP, have failed, writes Abbad Yahya.
Any journalist following Gulf news can readily expose the network of fake news production that has developed over the last five years through Saudi Arabia and the UAE's direct control over the Egyptian media.

Many of the reports and articles that appear are almost identical and published as part of a synchronised campaign, and the pattern indicates that such efforts are centralised.

Indeed, there is a clear network of outlets and websites that receive reports - often patchy and urgent - that accuse the state of Qatar of supporting certain organisations. These reports speak of tensions within Qatar's ruling family, or make allegations against other states and public figures considered adversaries by Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

Within just a couple of hours of publishing, these articles spread quickly across the web. The content of such reports published in various outlets is practically identical, a fact easily uncovered by a simple Google search.

In more sophisticated cases, one outlet might publish a report, Youm7 or Dostor for instance, then other news outlets from Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia publish the report with a reference to the original source. They then come up with their editorials and analyses based on that report.

This has now has become the business of "fake news" undertaken by these outlets, not forgetting at times to alternate roles. That's to say the report might first appear in Okaz, then Egyptian and Emirati outlets ascribe it to the "original" source. The media outlets in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have in fact institutionalised the trend of "news laundering".

The report is replete with unsubstantiated claims that it purports to be fact

Such practices in the world of fake news depend on disseminating the same content across multiple websites and outlets, which increases its chances of reaching a wider audience.

As a result, one can often find the same baseless report on scores of websites, regardless of their scope or reach. The aim of this wide-ranging presence of fake news is to create a fake sense of public opinion. More often than not, distortion campaigns and the spread of fake news succeeds, at least in annoying its targets and mobilising local public opinion against an outside enemy.

Today however, this kind of manipulation has been exposed. Readers, too, are increasingly aware that fake or ill-intentioned news is widespread, and the way in which such networks operate has become obvious, even to less expert eyes. 

Alternative techniques for producing hard-hitting fake content that require less time and effort, and that ensure more credibility are therefore being trialled. One favoured option, it seems, is to publish a few articles, every now and then, in selected respectable press agencies around the world.

Having a report published in an agency such as the AFP just once a year for example, is far more effective than all the effort exerted in influencing local tabloids.

The reputation of the agency as credible and neutral ensures readers will attach greater value to its content. In addition, the agency, through its huge global network of subscribers in several languages, serves the purpose of the network the UAE and Saudi Arabia tried to form, only this one's global presence and established reputation makes it particularly effective.

Simply put: A report - commissioned through personal relations with an insider in the agency - is written with slanderous or fabricated messages, all with an air of professionalism. A paid journalist does the dirty business, and the agency publishes the report. Within an hour, the 'news' will be available to subscribers worldwide.

Such methods however, are exposed by the kinds of news websites and media outlets that choose to hurriedly and unquestioningly publish this kind of agency report.

The recent AFP profile of Azmi Bishara is a case in point.

The report was not well-received, except for by news websites affiliated with Saudi Arabia and UAE

The report is replete with unsubstantiated claims that it purports to be fact. There is no comment at all from Dr Bishara, nor from any neutral source of opinion from Qatar, or any other Gulf country. Instead, the article cites the opinions of a couple of foreign experts, one of whom works for the UAE.

In addition, the report was written from the UAE, a country with an infamous track record of political oppression and curbing freedom of expression. Should journalists dare to question the regime's political position on the Gulf crisis and the siege imposed on Qatar, they routinely face prison.

Read more: AFP insults millions of Arabs by endorsing regime-led narrative against leading democrat

Nevertheless, this did not prevent the agency from sending its dubious report to its subscribers in various languages around the world.

Unsurprisingly - and as a testament to its unfounded nature - the report was not well-received, except for by news websites affiliated with Saudi Arabia and UAE.

It is clear then, that the news organisations subscribing to the AFP have better judgement than the agency itself when it comes to discerning fact from fabrication, for they rightly opted not to publish it.

Abbad Yahya is a Palestinian writer and journalist. 

Follow him on Twitter: @abbadyahya

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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