Middle East Media Research Institute

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The Middle East Media Research Institute also know as MEMRI [1] is an organization headquartered in Washington, DC.with branch offices in Berlin, London, and Jerusalem. MEMRI research is translated to English, German, Hebrew, Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian.

It was established in February 1998; its objective (as stated on its website) is to explore

the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.

It describes itself as an "independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization". It acquired increased visibility after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. MEMRI is one of the few sources of English language translations of material published in Arabic and Persian. Though the technical accuracy of its translations is generally regarded as accurate, the extent to which their selection of material to translate is representative of Arab/Iranian media is often disputed.

One of the more visible activities of MEMRI is to email (at no charge) translations of articles from the Arabic/Persian press. Since few organizations have the technical capability to produce accurate translations from Arabic/Persian nor the resources to provide these free-of-charge to a widepread audience, since 9/11 MEMRI has become quite influential among journalists and politicians. To give one example, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman relies on MEMRI translations for many of his OpEd pieces.

Contents

Staff and funding

According to the Jerusalem Report, in December, 2003, MEMRI had a worldwide staff of 35 translators and analysts and an annual budget of $2 million (The Jerusalem Report, Dec 29, 2003, MEMRI Games, Jaap van Wesel). Nevertheless, the size of MEMRI's budget is currently a matter of dispute. For instance, in a controversial blog posting in early November 2004 Juan Cole asserted that it receives $60 million a year for its operations. In response to challenges by MEMRI on the accuracy of Cole's claims, Cole responded [2]:

"But that is only the United States. MEMRI is an international organization. It has, for instance, a Berlin branch, which has also brandished lawsuit threats."

On IRS form 990 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2003, MEMRI claimed direct public support of $1745669 [3].

According to a report by Tim Cavanaugh for the Online Journalism Review (associated to USC) [4] "the organization cites mostly small-time expenses in its tax filings - $54,000 in compensation to Meyrav Wurmser, one of the organization's three officers, $13,000 in 'apartment expenses,' and so on." It has been reported by National Review, that MEMRI is funded exclusively by private money from some 250 donors, including various foundations (National Review, May 6, 2002, MEMRI : An institute, and its website, bring the Arab world to light, Jay Nordlinger, available online here). However, according to a report by the Institute for Research Middle Eastern Policy [5], in the year 2000, three donors accounted for over 58% of MEMRI?s income.

Western perception of the Middle East

MEMRI has been criticized for what is perceived to be its selective translation of content from the Arab/Persian press. Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in Middle East History and Religion states

In some instances the translations are not very good, but the main objection is the selectiveness of the material.

In another quote, refering to the inflamatory material originating in the Middle East Press that MEMRI translates and sends out to subscribers, Cole states:

It would sort of be as though al-Jazeera published translations of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Falwell on Islam and the Middle East, but never published opinion pieces on the subject by William Beeman or Dick Bulliet.

MEMRI's threatened lawsuit against Juan Cole

In a letter dated November 8, 2004, and directed to Juan Cole, Colonel Yigal Carmon a former Israeli military intelligence officer, and a founder and currently president of MEMRI, threatened Cole with a lawsuit over comments he made on his blog. In the letter, which Cole claims he received on November 23, 2004, Colonel Carmon makes the following specific demand:

As such, we demand that you retract the false statements you have made about MEMRI. If you will not do so, we will be forced to pursue legal action against you personally and against the University of Michigan, which the article identifies you as an employee of. We hope this will not be necessary.

Cole's comments were mainly in relation to MEMRI's interpretation of bin Laden's pre-election message, but also made claims about the amount of MEMRI's funding. These comments are now available here.

Activism

It is widely believed that the MEMRI's lawsuit is groundless and would possibly be thrown out of court if it ever went to trial. The purpose of such a threat is usually intimidation. This technique, called SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation has been pioneered by polluting industries against environmental activists. Cole asks supporters to send messages of protest to memri@memri.org. To be effective, each message should be polite and to the point, simply urging MEMRI to withdraw its lawsuit threat.

External links

  • DKos diary. Ongoing discussion within the DKos community, including letters sent by DKos members.
  • prwatch.org
  • Wikipedia entry. Contains background information on staff of organization. Some of this information may require alternate verification.
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