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Let us not allow 'a Gay Girl in Damascus' to discredit all blogging

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It was clearly the moment traditionalists and new-media sceptics were eagerly anticipating; for as soon as it emerged that the blog known as 'A Gay Girl in Damascus' turned out to be a hoax and that the sensational Syrian Lesbian, 'Amina Arraf', was in fact a married man in Scotland by the name of Tom MacMaster -- a worldwide anti-blogging cry of 'We Gotcha!' seemed to have occurred.

First things first, there is no question that what MacMaster did was absolutely wrong; he himself acknowledged that what he has committed was awful in a published apology where he admitted that he betrayed the trust of many people who believed what he blogged about.

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(A snap-shot of MacMaster's apology)

On the other hand, this in no way, shape or form should be used as a way to generalize or demonize ALL bloggers and citizen journalists.

Let us not forget that it is thanks to these 'new media' activists that nearly no story can be hidden anymore and I am not just referring to the atrocities happening at the hands of Middle Eastern dictators, but also to worldwide events where by an image or a few sentences tweeted helped us become better informed.

From the first pictures of the 2004 Tsunami, the London 7/7 bombings to serving as evidence in a rape case in Saudi Arabia to Twitter being the first to reveal the killing of Osama Bin Laden to the vital role social media is currently playing in the Arab uprising areas - images and videos uploaded by the Average Joes of the world are proving more helpful every day.

Yes, there are those who abuse what the new technology has blessed us with, but isn't this true of any new innovation? Just think of both the amazingly useful or disastrous usages of nuclear technology for example, or even a much simpler matter... a mere knife.

Traditional Journalists Shouldn't Criticize

But if anyone is to criticize, it certainly should not be the 'traditional' media - and I am not only talking about the shameful Middle Eastern editors who criticize everything that happens in other countries but fail to speak when something happens in their own nations, I am talking about even the CNNs, BBCs and the established newspapers of this world.

If anything, traditional media outlets -- such as newspapers, magazines and television channels -- should be held more accountable than bloggers and citizen journalists, for the mistake or ill-judgement of someone who doesn't know any better will always be more acceptable than that of a professional journalist, or one who claims to be.

For example, only last week the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)'s journalistic standards were yet again put into question when its own governing trust questioned the authenticity of footage broadcast by its flagship television programme 'Panorama' in an investigation into the ethical standards of the fashion giant Primark.

Let us not forget that the BBC's 2004 crisis known as the 'Hutton Report' and a whole list of other blunders which occurred at the hands of well-trained journalists at this esteemed media institution.

Established American media outlets aren't any better - one only has to remember The New York Times scandal which only ended by the resignation of its scandalous reporter Jayson Blair in May 2003 in the wake of the discovery of plagiarism and fabrication in his stories.

But if you really want to be swept away with how unprofessional traditional media can be, I suggest you go out and rent a DVD copy of Shattered Glass (2003) to witness how a young journalist by the name of Stephen Glass managed to rise a star at The New Republic during the 1990s, only for his widespread journalist fraud to be exposed shortly after.


A new source of information

Unsurprisingly, Syrian state-television was quickly to condemn the 'Gay Girl in Damascus' hoax -- as it should be -- but this hoax shouldn't be taken out of its context of being one deceptive person who acted in a rather unprofessional and unethical matter.

One man's actions (or even that of a few) can hardly classify as a conspiracy and the local media is better off investigating the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people who have long-lived under oppression, poverty and absence of their basic rights as citizens. If they, they might be surprised to find out what the recent protests are actually about and the world wouldn't need the likes of MacMaster to tell us what us going on.

Of course, the bulk of Syrian media is either state-owned or state-controlled... so that chances of an independent investigation are highly remote.

Similarly, journalists who were quoting the blog or have reported the untruthful 'arrest' of the alleged Amina Arraf should apologize and be more careful.

We must all admit that blogs, Twitter feeds and images or videos posted online are all a new source of information -- these should be treated with the same caution and filtering process that an anonymous call received at the newsroom does.

Instead of pointing fingers at each other, journalists and bloggers should work hand-in-hand and the only direction fingers should pointed at is toward the Arab World's ruthless dictators who are slaughtering their own people for no reason but their own madness with power.

*This article was originally published on 20/06/2011 the website of Libya TV, the Doha-based newly established channel which calls its self 'a Voice of Free Libya' .