If you are not amused by government censorship, let me make you laugh, cry, or shout in rage. Here goes...
Years ago I used to write a weekly column for the Saudi newspaper Arab News. Over the years, Arab News was editing, adding and basically changing the tone of what I wrote and I was the last to know about it. In fact I only found out when I opened their webpage on Thursday morning and found my words screwed up. I complained. Nothing happened. At times some sentences got picked up on the Net and I was either praised or trashed for something I did not really say. I don't mind either trashing or praising, but I'd rather earn it myself.
When they did not respond to my complaints or have the courtesy of sending me the 'edited' version of my articles before publication, I quit. I stayed away for many years. This caused them more trouble than it cost me. Bragging? Yes. I simply earned it. The Editor-in-Chief at the time told me that on Thursdays the site got 800,000 extra hits. A Congressman visiting with a delegation from the US House of Representatives told me as I was interviewing some of the delegation members that I was 'required reading on the Hill.' That is a direct quote. Needless to say, I was rather pleased and thoroughly amused -as Queen V would not have it.
A few months ago, there was a change at the top with Arab News. The new Editor-in-Chief and I agreed that I would return. This time on Sundays. Fine by me. The first Sunday I wrote an article explaining my return in the most tender diction. That went well. The following Sunday I wrote an article about the crisis in the Euro zone. By my standards (!), the article was rather mild in tone and heavy on 'facts.'
I simply asked the Europeans to spend their money to save themselves and not ruin the world and inflict pain again on all of us. I reminded the Europeans that two world wars were enough damage and a financial one is needless. The response was massive. Generally, people either agreed or critically analyzed. The volume was heavy and the article seemed to hit a tender and valid spot. What is journalism, after all, but that? On the third day of publication, there was a bombshell.
His Excellency the French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, no less, personally wrote a scathing comment that smelled of rotten French cheese and personal venom. Not to mention lying and outright personal attack accusing me of all sorts of things. As a point of principle, I very rarely answer comments. But this time I took the man to task and asked Arab News to publish my answer. They hesitated, then published. Within two hours of my answer appearing on their website, however, it was withdrawn while the comment by the Frenchman was still there.
I tried contacting the paper, but no one answered my calls. No one. Zilch. I did my investigation (I am a journalist of sorts after all) and found out what happened. The French Embassy pressured and complained officially. They got the comments off the air, as it were. Worse, they demanded I be off Arab News altogether. That was the end of my brief return to the paper. I have yet to hear anything from Arab News. I simply sent the next article for the next Sunday, but it was not there. I got the message they were too coy to tell me, either personally or officially.
All of this was of course too late. The whole thing got picked up and went online all over the place. You can see for yourself and read the whole thing on Arab News itself, if it is still there after this article, or go to www.d-corner.com to see and read the French farce in its entirety. Indeed, Google it.
If ever there was a hat in one's feather, or is it a feather in one's hat --one never knows dealing with French diplomacy-- this is it. As for the irony reaching us from the French in particular about 'freedom of the press,' 'democracy,' and this and that, I leave to you to figure out and measure --provided you have a bucket big enough to contain it. An insulting cartoon is 'freedom of the press'; a seemingly measured article gets banned in a foreign country and its author banned from writing in his country and his press. In all honesty, I don't know who to blame, the French or the people who complied with their demands? You tell me.