Op-Ed: David Vs Goliath, Afifi Vs BBC Arabic and the Exploitation of the Political Pundits
By Ahmed Fathi
New York: In an unusual precedent on the air during the BBC Arabic newscast, political analyst Mehdi Afifi, while discussing President Biden's statements regarding the crisis in Ukraine, raised his personal complaint, which is that he did not receive his financial dues from the station for a period of two years, despite sending all the required data from him, and his communication with their offices in Cairo, Amman, Dubai, London and Washington, but without reaching any result.
Needless to say, there are reservations about the method that Afifi used, which was a literal and professional kidnapping. I consider it a suicide guerrilla attack that will have repercussions on Mehdi Afifi’s professional future, as he expected and certainly expected by others. He was pushed to this by the station ignoring his demands for years, and it turned out later, through comments from many, that this problem concerns a large number of contributors with the Arabic section of the BBC, including myself, which makes me have a prior bias and I cannot follow the story in my capacity as a journalist, and for this reason, I will present it in the form of an opinion article expressing my personal opinion as a journalist and political analyst who has been affected by the non fulfillment of the financial dues owed to me for years from the institution and led to my position of turning down their invitations to appear on their station.
There was a difference in reactions to the unprecedented method and style used by Mehdi Afifi, and they ranged between agreeing and rejection, between approval and disapproval, and what is permissible or not. While each option have its merit we must deal with the issue in a pragmatic manner and try to reach solutions first and secondly by opening the files of commentators and political analysts who are used by Arabic-speaking channels, whether from Europe or America or the Middle East and North Africa, which for myself stopped accepting invitations to appearing on them temporarily until I review their policies and direct my efforts to provide my expertise primarily in the English language and drop the Arabic media markets from my accounts because it consumes a lot of time in preparation and a longer time in following up on obtaining the payments.
I can not imagine a fair and principled person disagrees with the seriousness and importance of the subject of the complaint, which represents the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the western Arabic-speaking channels and the exploitation of the guests. This was evident in the broad solidarity and support that Afifi received in the circles of political analysts and those dealing with the station from different regions of the world and was not limited to media and journalists but also to academics.
In order not to get out of the main topic, which is to refute the position of the administration in BBC Arabic, I will be committed to responding to the points that were mentioned in their statements published by them on the social networking sites, to which they closed the responses from the followers after the attack on them increased, and it is a serious fall that does not affect only BBC Arabic , but it goes beyond that by compromising the integrity and credibility of the BBC in general, which is based on the principles of freedom of opinions, which the channel’s management failed to emulate, a professional failure and a first-class public relations disaster, which I thought that institutions like the BBC is immune from.
I can be summarize my comments in the following points:
1- The management of BBC Arabic, with their first statement, showed their apparent confusion and sudden horror, which they did not calculate on Thursday, January 20, and the first statement was issued by them on the next day in a form that contained more denials and the use of expressions in Arabic language that demeaned the complainants and tried to hijack the discussion to A sub-point, which is the definition of what the guest receives and is it a “direct fee” or, as they described it, a “symbolic amount” for the guest’s time??
And by the way, it is an attempt to degrade the person who is claiming his right, and on the basis of this, there is no payment but merely a nominal amount!! ( Why the fuss?!)
Regardless of the monetary value in exchange, and in order not to confuse some, the origin of the word recognized in the circles of television stations and public speaking in the whole world is “Honorarium”, that translates to appreciation meaning that the station shows its appreciation and honor to the guest in exchange for his time and acceptance of donating his ideas and his research on the subject to which he is invited to speak on, of course, if we are speaking remuneration, this is subject to completely different criteria and valuation methods, and I have not heard of any other name on any station around the world, and I deal with many of them on an ongoing basis using any other term or name as did the management of the station, and they are supposed to represent a British and global institution of the first order such as the BBC.
As a “symbolic payment”(translated from Arabic) indicative of its small value, or as a “remuneration” indicating that it is a discretionary matter maybe that belongs to them and not the principle of time spent contributing to filling air time itself, and I do not know if they know the commonly used professional term in all television stations around the world, including the parent institution or not? Even if their excuse, for example, is that the term is in English, which is their second language, and not because they want to insult the complainants! Or that they, for example, think that they can transfer the philosophy of the Arab administration to the heart of Britain, and I am ashamed to tell them “For Shame” if this was the case.
2- After that, they issued a statement asking the previous guests to contact the channel via an e-mail. The strange thing is that the e-mail was not on the server of the Arabic Service (bbcarabic.com. ) but on the main server of the institution!! (www.bbc.co.uk) which indicates that the issue is also being followed up by the administration of the parent institution, and not only the Arabic Service. The e-mail for those who wish to file claims is firstname.lastname@example.org
3- Until yesterday evening, the BBC Arabic continues to use arrogance and justifications, including that there is a technical defect in the payment system within the institution!! and this has led to delays in the dues of some guests!! They failed to mention what are the criteria for the lucky guests who did not have problems in obtaining the cash resulting from their participation. Are they, for example, from certain countries or from certain professional backgrounds? Through the interactions that I witnessed from many of them, I found out that many had the same problems with them, including political analysts in Israel!!
In conclusion, I salute Mehdi Afifi, who has done a job that I may differ with him in the way and style, but he is certainly bold and courageous, and unfortunately it will have repercussions on his career path and his appearances on the channels, and retribution against him will become a deterrence for any whistleblower and they will discredit him on this basis.
Afifi is lucky that he is an American citizen and perhaps if he was residing in an Arab country, or if his appearance was with an Arab Station broadcasting from the region, he would have been arrested and abused together with his family.
The British and the American laws prohibits retribution as a result of dispute specially with the size and weight of the BBC and I hope that the matter be contained to a satisfactory closure to all parties, however the story have the ingredients of a transformational results and several teaching moments and this will be in my opinion the next chapter in this story, which I imagine will not subside soon.
Journalist & Global Affairs Analyst
Jan 23 2022