Vice vs CNN on Dubai

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Ben Cohen
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Bangladeshi slaves in Dubai

Update: This article has been amended - we first highlighted a program hosted by Piers Morgan on Dubai. The program was from ITV, not CNN. 

One of the reasons I set up The Daily Banter was because of the frustration I had with the mainstream media. I'd spend hours watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC, and realize I had no better understanding of the issues they covered. If you only watched the major network news, you'd think no poor people existed in America, global warming wasn't an issue,  and there was no relevant world outside its borders other than sporadic evil Arab dictators who needed bombing.  The Daily Banter was created to help people understand the news better and to shine light on issues that actually affected regular people. We get that news needs to be engaging and entertaining, but it still needs to be serious. CNN, Fox etc seem to understand the entertainment side of it, but have failed spectacularly to do anything resembling serious journalism. Politics is covered in the same way baseball is, and most of their budget is spent on fancy graphics and holograms rather than on the ground reporting.

We're still growing as a media company, and we hope to do a lot more to combat the malaise in today's news media culture. That being said, there are many other outlets doing a far better job than traditional corporations and doing actual reporting on serious issues in an entertaining and engaging way. One of those outlets, the über cool Vice does a great job bringing attention to issues mainstream companies simply won't touch. Vice has brilliantly tapped into the younger generation's desire to understand the world around them in ways relevant to them. Sure, it's sometimes annoyingly hip, but who else is going into the Congo to interview warlords or doing exposes on religious fundamentalist building a new Jerusalem in Mexico? Vice doesn't pretend to be a serious news organization, but it is honest about what it does. They show up to extreme places and show you what they saw in as unfiltered way as possible.

Take for example, CNN's coverage on Dubai. When searching through the archives, you find articles and video reports on the high life in the rapidly expanding Arab country. There's a report on a lavish annual shopping festival, a five minute report on the fireworks display of the opening of the world's biggest luxury hotel 'the Atlantis',  countless reports on the recession and debt crisis for investors, a nauseating interview with Dubai's leader Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on how wonderful the country is, and barely anything on the despicably treated migrant workers who have built the country from the ground up, other than a three minute report on how the recession has affected foreign laborers (and directs its focus on the employers who have fled Dubai rather than the government).

Vice, on the other hand did a report called "The Slaves of Dubai", a special on the horrendous working conditions workers from Bangladesh are subjected to. Rather than interviewing rich Sheiks, Vice reporter Ben Anderson went undercover (at great risk to himself) to uncover the horrific treatment of the workers, exposing conditions not fit for animals, and a bonded labor system that literally enslaves those traveling from developing countries. It's not the best reporting I've ever seen, but the intention was there. Vice wants to uncover stories ignored by the mainstream media because it understands its audience doesn't like being bullshitted. The CNN produces pieces produced for an affluent audience with advertising in mind (and given CNN was paid by Bahrain to flatter the country and ignore the horrendous crimes it was committing, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine they are taking money from Dubai either). The Vice episode actually spoke to workers, one of them a Bangladeshi worker in tears because his employer wouldn't pay him and he couldn't send money home to his family, or actually feed himself. No migrant workers were interviewed in any of the CNN stories I searched through.

CNN is owned by Time Warner, the second largest media conglomerate in the world. It is owned by rich people and produces content that maximizes profit in order to make the company even richer. Reporting on slavery in Dubai isn't as glamorous (or profitable) as reporting on luxury hotels with gigantic underground fish tanks or the ups and downs of the stock market, so CNN chooses the former.

In the short term, this strategy might work out well for CNN. But in the long term, its credibility as a news organization get flushed down the toilet, and upstarts like Vice get more recognition and ultimately more credibility. It remains to be seen where Vice goes over the next few years. It has an audience, and it certainly has money. There's obviously a chance it may follow the same path as CNN, but right now it is doing reporting no other big US media outlet will touch.

Is it really too much to ask for our news organizations to show up to a place and tell the truth about what they see?

Apparently it is.