Photo: Y Magazine cover this week. Twice in 2 months Muscat Confidential has graced the pages of Oman's print media. Note to self: Must up the ad rates...
The full interview is at the end of this post, and it discusses a lot of things that didn't end up in the article.
Big thanks to Kiran and Y magazine for the opportunity for Muscat Confidential to reach a new audience. Must admit, I sent my dear ol' Mum an e-copy. [Dragon's ARE vain, after all].
This is your last chance to register for the Hi FM free ticket to awesome comedy draw. It will be drawn at midnight tomorrow! Keep watching for the even harder to get Sir Tom Jones tickets coming soon... [big thanks to Hi FM and Darren Shortt]
Meanwhile, speaking of Social Media...
I know many of you are on Facebook, but I was surprised to see some enterprising Omani fans had created a Facebook Fan Page for Muscat Confidential.
Don't be mis-lead by their flagrant ripping of my avatar, it's not me running the site, but they seem to be doing a good job. You can easily find it by searching Facebook for 'Muscat Confidential'. It lets you see the posts, nicely summarised for important points, and participate in the occasional discussion.
It's also beyond the reach of Omantel's evil net filters, so even if you're on a local dial up you can still see what's been posted if I get blocked yet again... I'll try and bring you an interview with the founders next month.
And in a sign I hope, of progress against the huge rise in crime, Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What you gonna do?
Hats off to the ROP for actually publishing the initials and mug-shots of 5 local Omani youths who were arrested for smashing the windows of 15 cars in Seeb to steal ashtray change.
This is real progress.
If they are found guilty, I hope they make the spoiled little bastards do community service for 3 months, 12 hrs a day, cleaning streets in orange cover-alls all summer with "I'm a stupid useless Twat" stenciled on the outfit. Only after having spent a couple of days entertaining 'Big Abdul' in the local prison, obviously. Don't pick up the soap boys!
Seriously. They haven't even been convicted yet. And if you know them (hey, yes you Ahmed!), you'd be able to recognise them despite the wonderfully old school little black rectangles.
Excellent. A huge thumbs up to the ROP for issuing the press release and for being up front that they are Omani. And well done to Muscat Daily for being on the case and printing it first. (I am noticing improvement...)
More please ROP. When people are convicted, it should NOT be illegal to publish their full names, photos (without the rectangles), the crime and their sentence. Let's start to incentivise parents to take a little more control of their kids.
And Y Magazine: how about an article on what its like inside Oman's prisons? It might encourage these wastrels to stop being such anti-social dickheads...
Finally, as promised:
Interview between Undercover Dragon and Y Magazine.
Y Magazine: Why do you blog, particularly about such controversial subjects that could ultimately land you in trouble?
Undercover Dragon: There are many reasons I blog. Its a hobby, for example, and I'm not a big fan of TV. So I guess it helps to keep me off the streets and out of the health clubs. But primarily I blog because I think the cultural tendency in Oman to avoid bad news, or to not discuss or even acknowledge in public many things that go on in the country, will prove to be a limiting factor to the nation's economic and cultural growth.
That many of the topics are 'controversial' is because these are things not being talked about in the public domain, or are even things many people would prefer didn't exist. A lot a 'good news' stories I could write about are already out there, and so the blog does therefore inherit a 'negative bias'. In order to counter this general negativity I try to use a tabloid style and to use sarcastic or ironic humour, as otherwise I doubt as many people would want to read the stuff I publish. This approach is deliberate.
I also include controversial topics to experiment with where the 'edge' actually is, because the location of this 'boundary' between what is culturally and legally accepted is not well known. Again, it's deliberate, to push the boundaries a little and see what happens.
Y: Were you involved in blogging or politics before you left your home country?
UD: No, not at all. But I've always been interested in politics and economics. Being in the Middle East stimulated my thinking on the issues of how Government policies get decided and assessed, and especially the observation that the core principals of democracy are far better served through a free media and public debate than simply the act of 'voting'. This continues to be a theme.
Y: Was there any particular event which spurred you on to write your first blog and begin writing?
UD:I was shown a few local blogs at the time and started lurking. But when I realised that there were so many stories about life in Muscat that were still not getting into the public domain - at least not in English - I realised I could stop complaining and start my own blog. So I did!
There was - and is - so much corruption and incompetence in Omani society that seemed to be being actively suppressed by the very people who needed to be exposed.
Y: In your opinion, how do the two worlds of professional print media and ‘citizen journalism’ relate? Do you agree that there is the threat that print media could ultimately suffer at the hand of good quality unofficial e-media and if so, how can this be reconciled?
UD:The growth of technology - internet, camera phones, wifi, twitter etc - have created a vast amount of information that is generally publicly available, in real time. The professional print media are exploiting that, and have the advantage of resources, revenue and a dedicated audience. I don't think there is a threat to professionalism in media however. No-one has the time to review 1,000,000 blogs and twitter feeds, so people to collect and turn this data stream into information that is tailored to an audience will be needed even more than before.
Printed media may fade with time as the stone tablet did, and develop into a Huffington Post type outfit, especially once the technology enables this and there is a better funding/revenue model. The real competition will perhaps come from the organic news sharing network that SMS and twitter has become, so that news and stories become self organised.
The lack of reliability and professionalism remain an issue with Citizen Journalism, and society still requires a filter for this news as well as resources to execute real investigative journalism. But I predict so-called newspapers, printed on paper, that simply reprint stories from the wire services will be a thing of the past in future.
Y: How reliable are blogs? Is there a danger that misconstrued information can be spread or inexperienced bloggers are in danger of releasing information without it being sufficiently fact-checked? The results of this could ultimately mean further restrictions on professional media, so how do you ensure your information is accurate?
UD:Bogs are usually opinions, observations and rumours. People should doubt these as they appear on some internet website as much as they would the same thing in real life. When the blog is anonymous this caution is even more applicable. Fact checking is essential but can be difficult - although there again the net is very good at self correcting, with people pointing out errors or alternate points of view or conflicting facts. I don't think it will have a big impact on professional media except to make them subject to the same correcting mechanisms.
I try to double check stories via independent sources. I haven't been doing the blog for long, but my list of reliable and confidential sources keeps increasing, so this fact checking gets easier. The main motivation for this is to build and maintain the brand reputation of Muscat Confidential. If I kept publishing things that aren't true, pretty soon people would simply stop reading.
The law in Oman still acts as a significant blocker to a lot of stories I would like to publish. While I'm anonymous to you and my readers, I am under no illusions when it comes to the real professionals, who I know do know where to find me if required. So I continually make huge efforts to remain within both the letter and the spirit of the law in Oman. Muscat Confidential is legal, (at least according to my very well qualified legal advisors) and will remain so. I think the fact that I have not been blocked (except for a couple of times over trivial technicalities) demonstrates that Muscat Confidential has the support of the right people.
Y: Why do you blog anonymously?
UD:First, I do have a professional life, and the blog would probably impact that, which I don't want.
Second, the legislation for media and publishing in Oman is very poorly defined (in law) as to what is legal and what is not. As it stands now, it would be easy to publish something that is arguably illegal, and I don't want the hassle and expense of defending myself in the courts against either the Government or an individual, especially as the penalties include significant periods in jail. There have been so few cases tried in the courts that there is also no legal precedent to help in this regard (and what precious little there is is not encouraging).
Lastly, I'm saying things on the blog that are, to a few people, threatening and offensive. Unfortunately, there are some of these people who might decide to act on their opinions and do me or my family harm. I have received death threats from people who seem deranged and capable of violence, and I'd rather not have to deal with that, as its not like I'm getting paid to do this, and it would allow a tiny minority of embittered nutcases to deny people something they clearly enjoy and appreciate.
Y: Why do you believe you are such a successful blogger?
UD:What constitutes "a successful blogger"? All I know is that I'm getting growing readership numbers and lots of supportive emails. This is probably because they want to read what I write, at least more often than not, and is probably because there is not a lot of competition either (at least in English).
Y: What threats have you faced from blogging and have there been any particular moments when you thought about giving up blogging?
UD:I discussed the threats earlier. And I'm sure there are a few people of some influence would would make efforts to see me in court or to at least have the blog at least blocked/banned in Oman (in fact, I know several of them have made efforts to use 'wasta' to have me banned).
I have thought about stopping blogging a few times, either when I'm depressed by evidence that things are not really changing in Oman, or by the idea that I might be risking my family's physical or economic security. And sometimes because it can seem like a lot of work, as to sustain a blog for more than a few months takes a certain amount of dedication to just keep publishing regular stories that people might be interested in!
Y: Where do you get your leads? Would you send information of such leads to mainstream media publications if it was a significant story which needed breaking?
UD:See The great Times Of Oman Story. Yes, I do send leads to mainstream media, but not very often to those in Oman, as if I can't publish it, they certainly can't/won't.
Y: You are very critical of the media in this country, but do you not believe that the parameters change once you use your real name in print journalism?
UD:The owners of the media in Oman seem focused on making short-term profits by pandering to special interests and the Government. They treat with contempt the greater goals of protecting and addressing the public good and their traditional role in influencing politics and society that are both common elsewhere and were the actual drivers of their origin. This is partially the publics' own fault, in that subscription is no longer how such media are funded, and most advertising is controlled by the business interests and Government.
The anonymous argument is a cop-out. If there was a story of obvious public interest it could be published under the name of the paper rather than an individual with a byline. The editors could stand up for themselves, as they seem to be able to do in much more draconian societies such as Egypt, Iran, Russia or China. This massive failure and intellectual poverty of the mainstream Omani media is probably because (1) the papers are generally owned and controlled by people aligned with those same special interests and (2)because the staff are predominantly expats who are both vulnerable to the law, here for money and lifestyle, and do not have the same long term interest in improving Omani society as locals would have.
Y: When there are restrictions to the freedom of press how can bloggers help rectify this situation?
UD:Bloggers are allowing the printed media to print more daring stories because they are already being openly discussed. Plus, when a journalist is thrown in jail it will be the internet media and bloggers/forums that get them out!