Training Middle East journalists is a noble cause

09 November 2005
I have heard in the last fortnight about initiatives by two leading UK universities to set up Gulf institutions for training journalists. This is good news, but it could be better.
I have heard in the last fortnight about initiatives by two leading UK universities to set up Gulf institutions for training journalists. This is good news, but it could be better.

It is cheaper for young people to stay within the region to study. Families prefer daughters to stay close to home. And then there is the profit motive. Western universities have woken up to the Middle East oil boom.

The needs are great. The media industry is expanding on soaring advertising expenditure and Middle East population growth rates of up to 8 per cent a year. Demand for skilled journalists is outstripping supply.

That gap is being filled by people from outside the region. This can only be a short-term solution. Writers define as well as describe a culture. The region should be reported about by people from the region, not by newcomers or temporary residents.

That is why I welcome local journalism schools. But I have doubts about the way they may be financed. Plans call for costs to be covered from fees. This means students will pay about $18,000 for a one-year postgraduate journalism degree course, about as much as the equivalent in the UK.

But would standards be the same? Established British universities have mature cultures and government money. Satellite Middle East institutions dependent on fees may be unable to cope with any loss of income. The fear is that the children of the wealthy may, in effect, be able to buy Western university degrees which will do no-one much good.

Few things are more important to the future of relations between the West and the Middle East than the way that events in the region and the world are reported. The BBC World Service's decision to launch an Arabic-language satellite television channel is principally driven by Britain's desire to win back a generation of young Arabs alienated by its government's failure to protect Palestinian civilians and participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It won't work.

A better use of government money would be in financial support for new journalism institutes adhering to the highest professional standards. This would enable them to offer tuition and subsistence scholarships to worthy students from low-income backgrounds. Western companies spending millions on propaganda would do far more long-term good for themselves by diverting some of this money in the new school's direction. The result would be new journalists capable of contributing constructively towards the development of vibrant Middle East societies.

This is a noble cause. It deserves everyone's support.

The IMF learns to love high oil prices

Since its birth in 1944, the IMF has regarded itself as superior to its twin the World Bank, which is based a block away in the nicer part of Washington DC. Its staff are brainier, its management more efficient and its analysis more penetrating than those of its counterpart. Even the IMF's atrium is smarter.

Butself-doubt permeates the corridors of an institution that once struck fear into the hearts of every finance minister. The IMF prescriptions of the 1990s did not work. 'Their recommendations didn't make things better and failed to prevent financial crises,' one Arab central bank governor told me last month.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable to read the passages in the IMF's annual World Economic Outlook about the impact of higher oil prices on the world economy. 'In contrast with the experience of the 1970s, however, the significant increase in oil prices since 2003 appears so far to have had a limited impact on the global economy,' the IMF intones. In fact, rather than slowing, the world economy in 2005 has grown even quicker, the fund observes.

The IMF then ties itself in knots in an attempt to explain why what it previously said could not happen has happened. But it cannot avoid the

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