In October, National Geographic magazine will launch its new Arabic edition, which will be distributed to 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including the United Arab Emirates.
Also in October: the United Arab Emirates plans to cut off Blackberry service within its borders.
Why do UAE officials welcome National Geographic but want to ban Blackberries? According to one columnist, the government considers its population “vulnerable to foreign cultural influences.” Blackberries exacerbate that vulnerability, but evidently NGM does not. Which is logical when you consider the feature stories in this month’s issue of the magazine:
King Tut’s DNA (more Egyptian mummies from our friend Zahi Hawass)
A Fabled Aussie Island (landscapes)
Madagascar’s Pierced Heart (natural resources)
Dazzling Insect Eggs
The Mystery of Eels
Of the 92 photographs in this issue, only 24 of them include people, and most of those people are not named. They’re just local folks, faceless natives — without a voice, without an identity, and without a point of view. By removing people from the pages of NGM and focusing instead on The Planet, our Society has eliminated those pesky “cultural influences” that might restrict the growth of our global media brand into regions where democracy and freedom of speech are not priorities.
Short term, we see the logic: NGM gets to publish in places like the UAE, Libya, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. But this globalizing mentality distorts the Magazine’s content, and infuriates plenty of former Society members who have kissed National Geographic goodbye.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (above) — one of the richest men in the world, and President of the UAE — is smiling.