Stardust across the Middle East – how Arab media covered the New Zealand election

News is not in short supply in the Middle East, and at the weekend, Arabic-language media remained firmly focused on the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, the New Zealand election and above all Jacinda Ardern’s personal success still received significant attention from Arabic-language TV news channels, newspapers and particularly on social media.

Echoes of March 15 mosque attacks

In this respect, the election coverage was a small echo of the attention New Zealand received in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019. For a brief moment in March that year, the New Zealand attacks dominated Arabic-language media. On March 15 itself, numerous news channels took Jacinda Ardern’s statements live, simultaneously translating them into Arabic:

In the days that followed, the aftermath of the attacks – and Jacinda Ardern’s response to them – were covered extensively in the press and online. Al Jazeera Arabic, the oldest and probably the most influential of the 24-hour Arabic news channels, immediately dispatched a senior presenter and correspondent – Zein Tawfik – to Christchurch, who interviewed Jacinda Ardern live on air from the city at breakfast time back in the Middle East. That interview may have been one of the most important Jacinda Ardern has ever done.

It was no surprise then that Zein Tawfik tweeted about the election result on Sunday to his 500,000 followers, recalling his trip to New Zealand. Tawfik wrote in Arabic: “Happy to hear about the deserved victory of the great @jacindaardern in the New Zealand elections. I had the honour to meet her publicly after the double mosque massacre last year, when she chose Al-Jazeera for her first interview after the massacre.”

24- hour TV news channels

A myriad of pan-Arab satellite news channels broadcast throughout the Middle East, including Al Arabiya (Abu Dhabi), Al Ghad, Al Araby, Sky News Arabia, Al Mayadeen, France 24 Arabic, BBC Arabic, US-government funded Al Hurra and countless others. The most popular of these channels probably remains the Middle East’s original 24-hour news outlet, Al Jazeera Arabic TV. It covered Saturday’s election result with a brief 45-second report – which used a phrase repeated across many outlets, “landslide victory”. Al Jazeera’s biggest rival, Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia, aired a slightly longer package – focusing mainly on Ardern and her reputation for success against the coronavirus:

Other outlets that aired similar short reports included Morocco’s M24 TV, Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen, London-based Al Araby and Saudi state TV: The most comprehensive treatment came from Al Jazeera Arabic’s live events channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher, which broadcast Jacinda Ardern’s election victory speech in full:

Social media videos

On the even more popular social media, a large number of media outlets produced shareable videos summarising Jacinda Ardern’s life and political career. See the examples from Al Jazeera, UAE newspaper Al Roeya, Kuwait’s Al Jarida, Jordan’s Al Mamlaka, Independent Arabia, Meem Magazine, the UAE’s Mohtawa, London’s Ana Alaraby and Egypt’s Rassd News.

The video from Mohtawa which led with video from Ardern’s victory speech before providing 10 facts “that you might not know about her”, ending with Ardern’s previous role as an advisor to Tony Blair proved to be particularly popular on social media:

Rassd’s video also carried extracts from Jacinda Ardern’s victory speech, quoting her line “We live in a polarized world”:

The social media reach of some of these outlets should not be underestimated Rassd’s Twitter account alone has 3.3m followers, before even considering the much wider reach provided by the outlet’s Facebook page, which has some 12 million followers. Rassd was set up during the Arab spring in 2011 specifically to be a news platform for social media – and is particularly popular with younger people.

In fact, a number of the more traditional news outlets – such as Al Jazeera itself – have set up their own dedicated social media platforms to try and reach this younger audience. Al Jazeera Arabic TV now airs a nightly social media programme, called “Nasharatkom”, or “Your bulletin”, which on Sunday included this segment rounding up the New Zealand election:


Other social media outlets produced attractive infographics, such as these ones from Al Ain (UAE) and Iraq’s Al Sharqiya TV:

Arabic newspapers

While social media reached the biggest audience, the most in-depth and analytical coverage of the New Zealand election came in the Arab press. Of all the newspapers, Asharq Al-Awsat (or “The Middle East”), a London-based but largely Saudi-funded, pan-Arab newspaper sometimes described as the Arab world’s equivalent of the New York Times, probably provided the most comprehensive treatment. It published both a preview piece on the morning of October 17 and a follow-up the next day with the election outcome.

In its report on 18 October, Al Sharq al Awsat wrote that Jacinda Ardern had been “rewarded by voters for her decisive response to Covid-19 and far-right terrorism”. Noting the emphatic nature of the victory, the paper said that the “mandate” for Ardern meant that she could “meet the challenge of implementing the gradual transformation she promised but failed to achieve in her first term”.

The paper also observed that the demise of New Zealand First would mean that Labour would need to only consider the Greens, which it said “are more willing to support Ardern’s programmes in the area of ​​facilitating access to housing and reducing poverty among children. Ardern’s rival in the National Party tried to brandish the threat posed by environmentalists, arguing that the higher taxes they are demanding would stifle the middle class.”

UAE newspaper Al Khaleej published another report, with a photo of Labour’s election night event and yet another description of the outcome as a “landslide”:

Another Arabic newspaper that covered the election heavily was Kuwait’s Al Qabas. It published a large article in its Sunday edition, with the headline ‘Jacinda Ardern…positive thinking and the power of ambition’. Like other outlets, the article focused heavily on Ardern’s personal story and what it called the “unprecedented challenges” during Ardern’s first term, particularly the March 15 mosque attacks. The paper also published an infographic, highlighting key points.

A common theme

Regardless of the outlet, or the medium, the common theme to almost every item in Arabic on the New Zealand elections was the near-total focus on Jacinda Ardern جاسيندا أرديرن herself. While the reports were nominally about the New Zealand election result, the subtext to much of the coverage, particularly on social media, was that Jacinda Ardern and her skills in crisis management were a model for others to follow. Ultimately, social media comments from rank-and-file summed up this sentiment best. An Egyptian doctor called for Ardern to be awarded the Nobel Prize, adding: “How wonderful [Jacinda Ardern’s] speech is today on the occasion of victory and her call to overcome the election disputes and be united.

And another particularly poignant tweet read: ‘I wish our Arab rulers would learn and emulate the Prime Minister of New Zealand Ms. Jacinda Ardern in the way she governs and manages the affairs of her homeland and deals with everything that has gone through her country. Learning from others is not a shame. But our misfortune is in the petrified minds, backward ideas and the corrupt robbed hands that govern us. Congratulations to the people of New Zealand’.

This article was originally published on the Democracy Project.

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