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Sun 5 Jul 2009 03:49 PM

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Gov't rules still main barrier for Mideast journalists - survey

Region's reporters also say they are under more pressure amid collapse in ad revenues.

Government rules and regulations remain the greatest barrier to journalists in the Middle East covering stories as they would like, according to a new survey published on Sunday.

In general, the region’s reporters felt under increased pressure as the global economic crisis led to a collapse in advertising revenues, resulting in publication closures, redundancies and recruitment freezes, found the MediaSource/Insight Middle East Journalist Survey 2009.

Of greatest irritation for both the Arabic and English media was the sending of irrelevant press releases, the report said.

It highlighted a pressing need for the public relations industry to become more targeted and develop a greater understanding of subjects covered by media outlets they were dealing with, rather than adopting a scattergun approach to distribution.

The survey canvassed the opinions of 219 journalists working for Arabic and English-language print, broadcast and online media in 13 countries across the Middle East.

It noted the region was becoming more PR-savvy, with a growing number of businesses and organisations using public relations as part of their marketing strategy than in 2007, when it conducted a similar survey.

Journalists were receiving and using more press releases than they did two years ago, it said.

Failure to respect deadlines, an inability to supply further information when requested and the holding of unnecessary press conferences were other gripes raised by journalists.

A total of 62 percent of Arabic and 74 percent of English-language reporters viewed the importance of social media including blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a source of information in a neutral of negative light, but they agreed it had a role to play in providing greater interaction with their audience.

"The aim in conducting the survey is to assist PR practitioners better understand the concerns, frustrations and pressures placed on journalists,” said Oliver Blofeld, managing partner, Insight.

Echoing the view of the director general of Al Jazeera news service, journalists cited government rules and regulations as top of the list of hindrances to journalists writing stories.

Wadah Khanfar told Arabian Business on Thursday that despite a flurry of new satellite channels hitting the airwaves since the Qatar-based network launched in 1996, there had been little progress in overhauling legislation governing freedom of speech and local governments’ tolerance of criticism.

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