Ethical considerations for working in the Middle East
Before entering into any observations on right or wrong - I’m extremely aware that I’m an outsider in the Middle East. This is not my ‘home’, even though I’ve lived here for the past 14 years.
Also as PR practitioners we should all be professionally critical - and cynical even - of what we see and read in the popular press. If the international media will report what US and British politicians say without question - how likely are they to offer credible reportage on a part of the world that is both mysterious and a ‘million’ miles away.
With that in mind I ask you to forget everything you know or think you know that you may have learned from third party sources. And if you haven’t been to the region and seen for yourself - you really should, it’s quite an amazing place.
Let me put a couple of things in context. When I lived in the UK I was always anxious that two in three of my childhood friends came from broken marriages.
Coming into the region I met with a large number of young people from Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. Out of all my friends with whom I would play volleyball on the beach or sing karaoke with after work, I would learn that two out of three had been shot at or had lived in an active war zone.
Where some ‘friends’ in the UK would boast about how they managed to run and hide from the ‘5-0’ for tipping over dustbins, the story that haunts me still is of how one of my young female colleagues and friends had teased and evaded the Israeli armed police somewhere near their national border.
And then think how you might discuss professional standards with a young account executive who is trying to find a satellite phone to so she can contact her family in Iraq - when you are sitting next to her knowing that your country is in the Gulf firing the missiles that are putting her parents in danger.
The ethical issues developed to address issues in the UK or Europe should therefore be applied with deep respect for what is happening here, today - as well as in context with the rich local history and culture. This is especially the case when you are faced with dealing with stakeholders in this very ‘difficult neighbourhood’ - and you are asked to advise between a bad or terrible option, where lives and not lifestyles are at risk.
And this in a nutshell is the challenge when trying to introduce alien standards - some would argue double-standards - into a region which has centuries of issues and its own way of managing and dealing with them.
So when outsiders consider the ‘wealth’ of the GCC and rush to criticise for largesse of the extravagant launch parties, gifts and receptions - or even the blurry lines between advertising and editorial - we may reflect that the peoples are potentially doing no more than mirroring what they see on TMZ or in the Financial Times, and simply making hay whilst the sun shines.
And although it’s almost always sunny - when it does rain, it’s truly devastating.
By Steve King.