(Not) reporting homosexuality in the Middle East

Media in the Middle East do not report gay issues in the same way as they would other news. By Brian Pellot.

The case

Homosexuality is a taboo subject mainstream Arabic news outlets regularly avoid. If reported at all, stories typically address homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon or loathsome disease unique to the west. Journalist Brian Whitaker explores how Middle Eastern media self-censor homosexuality in his 2006 book Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East.According to Whitaker, regional governments routinely censor positive portrayals of homosexuality. When the topic is discussed in mainstream media, the Arabic word shadh, loaded with negative connotations equivalent to pervert in English, is most often used to mean gay. Journalists improperly trained on homosexuality are also to blame for the dearth of accurate coverage, allowing grossly inaccurate stereotypes of this minority group to pass as fact. Outside of the newsroom, fear of legal and cultural backlash has also stymied homosexuality as a topic of literary exploration.Proving its point, Unspeakable Love is banned in many Middle Eastern countries.

Author opinion

If an event is timely, happens locally, involves conflict and has significant impact, it’s a story. Events that fit this classic definition of news happen every day in the Middle East and are reported as routine. When stories involve critical elements considered culturally taboo like homosexuality, they are often ignored by state and independent media in an attempt to preserve cultural sensitivities. News is news, and facts should be reported without biases. Al-Jazeera English’s relatively balanced reports on regional gay issues do not give its Arabic counterpart carte blanche to avoid or vilify the subject. News is seldom pleasant. Just because some audiences in the Middle East might be offended by homosexuality does not mean significant stories should be wiped from the evening news.

- Brian Pellot

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Comments (3)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. I believe that while all have an opinion, a story is a story no matter who the subject is. If the event is important it shouldn’t matter the sexuality of the people involved. It is a personal choice to simply omit this lifestyle, but it is 2012 and the world deserves to hear everything going on and recognize that gay people simply aren’t going to ‘disappear’ .

  2. Fated by oppressive regimes,religious leaders and their descendents,gay men stay out of view in the Middle East.In the Arabian World,most of places,homosexual sex remains illegal.Being homosexual is hard everywhere,but seems that in the Middle East or the homosexual is transparent or the men will be undergo to extreme punishments,where death is the only output.As Hussein Ibrahim pointed once , “Respect of human rights is now a concern for all peoples.”.Gay men shall no longer be afraid.Even though the Middle East tries to oppress their gay issue,it cannot be hidden forever.

  3. I was currently reading some interesting articles about homosexuality in the Gulf, which seems to have its own unique issues with sexual orientation. Particularly, this 2007 story from The Atlantic regarding homosexuality in Saudi Arabia – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/05/the-kingdom-in-the-closet/5774/ – seemed interesting. While some of the Saudis quoted in the article claimed that it was easier to be homosexual in a place where you virtually cannot have any contact with those of the opposite sex, it seems so much more complicated than that. I just can’t imagine living a life in fear of persecution from family, friends AND the government… especially when the punishment for displaying affection can be the end of one’s life.

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