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Media Profiles

Profiles of journalists in the Middle east

Caroline Faraj - CNN Arabic

Thomas Wharton

A major player in the Arab media world is tucked away in Dubai’s Media City, in an office at the end of a corridor.

CNN Arabic runs a social media platform and a news website for CNN International in the Arabic language.

The Vice President, Caroline Faraj, runs the 24-hour  operation. And with a staff of nine reaches an audience of millions.

Photograph by Andrew Dodd

Photograph by Andrew Dodd

The website translates international news to an Arabic speaking audience and, inversely, Arabic news to CNN International’s viewers and readers.

Faraj is responsible for upholding CNN’s brand name. She does this through a combination of “editorial independence and impartiality.”

However, managing a Western media outlet in the United Arab Emirates is wrought with difficulties.

The UAE has dropped from 86th to 120th in the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index in the past five years.

Criticising the UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan or the government can result in severe penalties.

Journalists from local publications claim this can result in editorial self-censorship.

Faraj downplays these issues, “Clearly you must respect the laws of the country in which you operate, but I think the impact of this can sometimes be overstated. CNN operates freely in the UAE.

“I think regimes around the world are beginning to understand that a free press is not something to be afraid of, and actually allowing criticism is a sign of confidence. I hope and believe we will eventually see that more progressive mindset take hold more widely around the world.”

Faraj was behind the establishment of CNN’s headquarters in Dubai, passing over both Jordan and Bahrain.

When the office opened in January 2002, the region was in turmoil and the audience was wary of an American company reporting to and for the Arabic speaking world.

However, Faraj was confident.

“By and large we have always been welcomed here by Arabic speakers. We’re finding that ever greater numbers are turning to us now and they accept that our commitment to the region and to Arabic language news is sincere and wholehearted.”

CNN Arabic is dissimilar to the company’s franchises in Turkey or Japan because it is fully integrated within CNN International’s corporate structure, along with its information arteries and networks of stringers.

The website features short form journalism liberally punctuated with photographs and videos, reflecting Faraj’s view on the need for news to be digestible.

Stories are rarely longer than 400 words, doing away with the need for in depth background information by utilising hyperlinks and embedded multimedia.

The social media platforms - Twitter, Google+ and Facebook - augment the website’s reach and encourages user engagement.

These applications are a vehicle for the expression of social justice issues in some countries in which freedom of association rights are curtailed.

Online grassroots discussions a rich source of stories for CNN Arabic.

When asked how CNN Arabic reports on politics in the region, Faraj is unequivocal.

“Without fear or favour.”