Thursday, 3 March 2011

Declining standards at The National?

A reader expresses frustration with declining journalistic standards at the The National: "Shows evidence of really poor writing skills in the first place, with poor subbing letting all these things go's something that has the potential to be a really compelling news piece, but for me anyway, it was ruined by the poor writing and grammar. Instead of focusing on the news interest the story holds, I was tut-tutting at what idiot had written this (or rather, what idiot employed him if he can't even write a concise, error-free news item!?)."
Inmate drug binge touched off prison riot, court hears
Salam al Amir

DUBAI // Two detainees at Al Rashidiya detention centre broke into its clinic and stole medicine, touching off a prison riot, prosecutors said this morning.

Prosecutors said AM, 25, and AA, 22, both Emiratis, with damaged public property, stole drugs worth Dh975 and assaulted and resisted police officers. Both had been detained on drug-consumption charges.

On May 29, 2010, AM requested to go to the bathroom, and while there, he unlocked his cuffs, records show.

He then pushed past a police officer, broke down clinic's door and started swallowing different tablets, prosecutors say. At that point, the charges said, AA got out of his cell and also rushed into the clinic.

Prosecutors said they assaulted the police officers trying to control them and prevent them from swallowing the tablets.

And during the confusion, all the detainees in that area managed to get out and fought with police officers.

Riot police were called in and controlled the detainees, said records.

Records show that both suspects were lying on the floor unconscious from swallowing too much Rivotril, Valium, Xanax and other types of anti-depressants and sleeping pills.

The next hearing was scheduled for March 20 to summon the suspects.


Anonymous said...

Declining standards are what you get when more than a third of the staff bails in under a year. Predictable. Yawn.

That said, writers at the paper have always been all over the map. You can't expect non-native English language speakers to produce perfect copy. They can be great reporters though.
The subs have likewise always displayed widely varying degrees of capability. Some were excellent. Others were ham-fisted and utterly incompetent. As is usually the case, the experience and talent of the candidate is usualy inversely correlated with his ego and self importance. Whatever. Those who have left have, almost without exception, gone on to bigger and better things.

The rest of you still care.

Anonymous said...

As I sit in London, I have news of a few recent events from the National's offices, and thought I would share them with the few people who still give the rag any thought.

1. Hassan Fattah is still around. And if you are looking for the answer to why the paper is failing, this item is all you need to know.

2. The Twitiot is leaving. Yes, DGCosh has decided he can no longer serve as Fat-Arse Doran's whipping boy, so he is going to take his talents back to Canada where they are sorely needed. Let's see if he makes a fool of himself between now and the time he leaves the sandpit.

3. The online team at the National has been decimated - web guru Ben (What's his family name) has been sacked, and no one really knows what is going on. Dave (What's his family name) is still hanging on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks 07 March, 2011 10:45. Much more like the old DMO. I dont work at the National. Please tell me, who - or what - are Twitiot, DGCosh, Fat Arse Doran, Ben and Dave. How many copies of the paper are actually printed? I'd be surprised if it was more than a few thousand. Does anyone know? How is it distributed? By slave workers on push bikes? Where is it available? How many copies are sold (a hundred?) How many hits does the web site get? Any bets on when the rag will close? Anyone seen Martin Newland recently? Whats he upto?. wasnt he supposed to mastermind Abu Dhabis launch as the Hollywood of the Middle East? Any good gossip on Hassan Fatah, everyone's favourite editor? By the way i dont think it is right to say the National is failing because of Hassan. It has never succeeded. Newland was obviously a better editor but the paper never had any readers and only existed because it was part of Abu Dhabis PR push to sell itself as a a Gulf version of democracy. It would be more accurate to say its a worse product under Hassan. Considering the employment situation for hacks in the UK, the States and elsewhere and the wages paid by the National it is interesting that so many people have left. Could it be that hacks arent as shallow as people think and really care about being read? Has anyone looked at the seniority of people who have quit? Are the execs and top writers still there because theycant afford to leave?

Anonymous said...

No, 08 March, 2011 @ 14:05, you can sleep soundly knowing that hacks are every bit as shallow as people thought. Obviously you have an axe to grind and that's no problem, as we all agree DMO is more the site we want when fed by bitterness and personal reprisals, but we should still make a distinction between opinion, fact and misinformation. And so I question the notion that The National "only existed because it was part of Abu Dhabis PR push to sell itself as a a Gulf version of democracy". You might have meant a "free press", and like so many who hail from Western style democracies be making the incorrect assumption that a free press can only exist in a democracy, and as such any claim to a free press is an equal claim to democracy.

Anonymous said...

08 March, 2011 @ 14:05 Yes, so perhaps you could offer facts. How many copies of the National are printed every day? How many are sold? How many people have quit the paper? And why?

Obviously 'the free press' in democracies is constrained by national laws, by the biases of owners and editors and by market forces. But that is entirely different from the restrictions on the media in countries which are not democracies. The UAE is more liberal than many but the media there is censored in many, often subtle, ways. Martin Newland admitted this before he launched the paper and made it clear he would not try to impose Western standards of 'free speech' in Abu Dhabi. For example, could any paper in the UAE question the wisdom of constructing islands in the sea , ask why a multi-billion motor racing track was built or investigate what wealthy Gulfites get up to in the summer in London, Paris and New York?

Anonymous said...

09 March, 2011 14:56 Don't be a dumb mofo.
If the National experiment has proven anything, it's that a truly free press is anathema to undemocratic ideals.

Anonymous said...

Web editor - Gulf News
Gulf News offers a tax free salary and regular benefits - Life Insurance, Medical Insurance, Annual Leave, Annual Ticket Allowance, Gratuity, etc. full details
Salary: £6K-£7K PCM Tax Free + Benefits
Location(s): Dubai, Dubai
Closing date: 22/03/11

Anonymous said...

Nobody is claiming the National actually represents a free press, or denying that a free press is anathema to undemocratic ideals, only pointing out that the terms "free press" and "democracy" are not interchangeable. The National was/is an attempt to sell the idea of a free press in the region, not, as the post claims, an attempt by Abu Dhabi to sell itself as a Gulf version of democracy.

But since you said dumb mofo you win because the free and beautiful Western press teaches us that the one who screams and insults the loudest is always right. Long live the Murdoch owned free press, and the imperfect democracies they exploit for corporate gain.

Anonymous said...

It makes little difference if The National is a truly free press or not, it's a local paper. I can still watch ten different kinds of international news on TV, log on to any international news site I want, check out Human Rights Watch, ILO and Amnesty International online, buy international papers and I'm pretty sure they aren't censoring content for the Gulf market - God knows The Guardian has an archive of Dubai exposes that borders on obsession. We're not in the dark here, even if the local papers don't expose the underbelly with any great vigour.

Who are you kidding? said...

"The National was/is an attempt to sell the idea of a free press in the region."

Bwah ha ha! Yeah, and Emirates Today was about bringing critical scrutiny and community journalism to a mass audience.

Leave aside the colonial impulse of "selling the idea of a free press in the region." (Al Jazeera sold it first, better, and will be here long after every National hack is back giving hand jobs in their home country.)

There was never an intent to have a free press in the UAE, particularly not one kick-started by the government. It was a snow job, PR-pure and simple, with a better layout and some expensive outsourced writing. Why do you think the original mob are all leaving?

Anonymous said...

@ 10 March, 2011 07:27
A) Actually, nobody was claiming that a free press and democracy were the same thing. That's a straw man.

B)The National was never intended to be a free press. The people who bought that line were naive.

C)Pointing out the obvious problems of Western democracies doesn't justify the systemic evils of the Gulf. Your logic fixes nothing, either in Dubai or at home. You're an apologist. Likely a good intellect put to great waste.

Anonymous said...

The post in question stated: "the paper never had any readers and only existed because it was part of Abu Dhabi's PR push to sell itself as a a Gulf version of democracy."

The point being made in response was that its establishment was not about a claim to democracy but free press and that although a free press is essential to a healthy democracy, they aren't the same thing.

Although almost everyone was sceptical of the claim, The National was certainly launched as a move towards a free press. See the NYT article at

Anonymous said...

11 March, 2011 07:38
Um, respectfully, no.

Abu Dhabi launched the National so it could claim the outer pretenses of a free press...As part of a larger PR scheme to sell the Emirate as politically progressive and business friendly.

I have no doubt that journalists involved did start the paper with good intentions. Hell, maybe the government did too, but Abu Dhabi never really let go of the leash. And then Dubai started to tighten it. God only knows what happened in the corner offices of ADMC, but a year in and the government had no need to hold leashes at all; The management was too busy tying knots around their own bloody necks.

That's why people are gone or leaving now. The people near the bottom have lost all faith in the organisation and the people at the top are too overpaid to go elsewhere. The rest don't care, or are cowards.

You know, it's almost not worth dissecting. The fact that we're discussing the paper in the past tense is everything you need to know. The only thing left is the autopsy. The whole thing is just bloody sad.

If there's any lesson to be learned it's that a government can't buy a free press. True freedom is hard-fought and won in direct opposition to the powers that be. It's revolutionary by its very nature.

This is probably not a fight that should be fought be overpaid Westerners anyway. A free press is something that Emiratis themselves need to demand. The rest of us were always exportable.

Anonymous said...

11 March, 2011 10:37 "Abu Dhabi launched the National so it could claim the outer pretenses of a free press". You're half right. They didn't consider it a pretense themselves, they just have a different standard of what "free press" actually means. The fact that it isn't completely free, by your definition, or mine, doesn't mean they don't think it is or intend it to be, according to regional standard anyway. It's a lot more free than the Saudi press, so there are publications on either side of them in the free press spectrum.

It is worth dissecting because it's a local paper, with claims to be considered world class. It's too easy to always take the archly cynical view of everything that happens here but in the end it just starts to sound like superior Western condescension. The National may be a step on the way to more open media, it may not, but the point that you can't buy in a free press is well made. It's the responsibility of the citizenry to step up.

Anonymous said...

Well said 11 March, 2011 07:38 and 11 March, 2011 10:37.

The better young hacks have come, worked, learned, had a good time and gone. Others have replace them. Only dummies stay a long time. The National is an excellent place to spend a year or two. It pays well, the editorial standards are high (compared to the kind of papers junior hacks would be woking on in their home countries) and it's an adventure to be based in the Gulf.

The senior execs are a different matter. They cannot believe their luck. Many would be unemployed at home but here they earn fortunes. All they have to do is not upset the government and its cronies. Often that means censoring or spiking copy written by talented youngsters. But, hey, when you are paid $10,000 a month tax free who cares.

What would Hassan be doing if he was not editing the National? Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

This is probably going to be a bit of a rant. You can take it or leave it.

We can argue about intentions until the end of days. I do agree that part of the problem is a slippery definition of what makes a "free press."

Many, many things failed in the National's case. However, I think the underlying philosophical failure was the doctrine of shway shway incrementalism. The whole idea that if the government buys a bunch of media properties, maybe, in 20 or 30 years, the country will have a free-ish press. Maybe if they outsource government consultants, they can parrot democracy-lite in 75 years, but, you know, still hold on to power.

Well, nowhere in the world has democracy ever worked like that. There are different systems, but there are no increments. It's either a democracy, or it isn't. It's a free press, or it is not. Either the government works for you, or you work for the government.

Look, I actually have a lot of empathy for the brain trusts at the National. Likewise, I don't envy the ruling family because it's easy to see the country is going to go one of two ways.

Either the government is going stop handing its children-citizens obscenely overpaid government jobs and embrace the inevitable revolt. Or, they'll stay the course and the entire culture will continue to stagnate into Vuitton-binge decline until the oil money falls flat.

The National is the canary choking in that ostentatious and stultifying mine.

And 11 March, 2011 13:36, when a country outsources almost all of its intellectually demanding work to Westerners because the local population can't hack it, it's pretty unproductive to then whine about Western condescension. Go tell the imported laborours to be a little more humble about their construction skills, while you're at it.

Did the ruling fam really expect us to do all the heavy lifting, fighting the good fight, arguing with bureaucrats etc. so the pampered populace could one day effortlessly glide in to enjoy the fruits of freedom of expression? Kind of like the skyscra...




Here I thought I was naive.

/Rant. I'm done.

Anonymous said...

That was a rant. Westerners come here for money, position and privilege, not to lend their super brains to the building of nations. What would you have the government do? Put development on hold while it spends twenty years sending its people offshore to learn the ropes before coming back to implement their plans. Your post just sounds like more of the "lazy, rich Arabs" stereotype that, if not condescension, is probably resentment.

Maybe The National is so average because of the failures of the highly paid people brought in to make it great, not the influence and intervention of its owners. Perhaps the journalists and editors brought in to enlighten everyone on how it all works just weren't that good and turned out to be overselling their skills and experience. Maybe it's a bit of both.

And on the labourers, the thing westerners love to cite to support every argument, if you want to make a stand on this issue why not confront your friends who have Dhs1,500 a month maids/child carers (then accuse them of stealing their crappy watch), or those who throw the guy in the parking lot a tenner for cleaning their cars, or their bosses who pay the people called "office boys" a pittance to bring everyone tea? You can act right now and make a difference - launch a campaign for fair pay and conditions for the people you meet everyday in your own life.

Anonymous said...

It may not be a free press, but there's still a lot of space and freedom to do good journalism. When they launched the paper, it was projected as the "NYT of the ME". It's not even close. Do editors put a premium on enterprise reporting? No. Do editors encourage its reporters to think big and go long? No. We're pretty much scrapping off the internet and re-writing wires. OK, so the paper sells 5,000 copies or whatever...but what about the website? Why hasn't it managed to attract quality traffic? I'm a reporter at the paper and I feel like I'm filing day after day into a big black hole. After 3 yrs, I feel stagnant at this job. Sadly I cannot just quit because quality newspapers elsewhere are dying.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head: newspapers are a dying medium, why would they attract top level journalists? People browse them like lifestyle magazines, a bit of local what's happening, who's in town, sports news. Something to flip through while you have a coffee. Who buys them? Hotels, cafes. Print publishing is so quaint.

Anonymous said...

12 March, 2011 11:50 Without newspapers, and professional journalism, which teaches how to describe, reveal and analyse (And yes, I know that journalists cannot be wholly objective) we would have the babble of the Net, much of it rubbish written by morons. How would we know what was happening in Libya or in Japan without newspapers (and television and radio news) Whether there's a long term future for the print versions of newspapers is entirely different.

12 March, 2011 09:34 I don't know your age, sex, personal circumstances or the type of reporting you enjoy. Since most reporters at the National are young you are probably in your mid 20s. Most are single. Many are talented and ambitious. You are probably earning a respectable but not extraordinary salary.

You should not feel trapped. Unlike the execs - who are older and are paid a fortune and are mostly useless - you can leave. There's a big world beyond the malls, secret alcohol shops and proud racism of Abu Dhabi. It is a world where journalists don't have to self censor in case they offend a lazy minister / an incompetent bureaucrat / a violent police officer / a corrupt businessman. In the real world, outside the UAE, journalists can name names and can even make a difference sometimes.


5000 copies? That is interesting. Doesn't the National claim a much larger circulation?

Anonymous said...

12 March, 2011 09:34

You can quit and go freelance. There's a market for stories about the UAE and the Gulf. Or you could go somewhere else. Or you could try another medium, such as the Net. The possibilities are endless. Don't waste your career on a joke paper because it pays decent money.

Anonymous said...

"In the real world, outside the UAE, journalists can name names and can even make a difference sometimes."

If it's so oppressive and corrupt isn't that where the hero journalists should be working their noble craft? Name some names, make a difference, file your story outside the legal reach of your evil paymasters. But please, don't tell us there are prostitutes, or that labourers get a raw deal, a lot of journalists have already done those stories and we can all read the HRW reports. Even from the UAE.

So sick of hearing journalists complain about the cross they bear in the UAE. If you think this is bad you haven't been out much.

Malls, sly booze, racism, corrupt businessmen, a lazy minister, violent police officers! What is this strange and evil place? Welcome to planet Earth, sometimes also known as the real world.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, if print publications in our home countries were doing well, the exodus of talent would have been much swifter.

Stop blaming Emirati officialdom. 12 March, 2011 06.30 is right - "The National is so average because of the failures of the highly paid (editors) brought in to make it great."

What's the biggest illustration of that? Forget the UAE, we don't even cover the rest of the world all that well. The National's foreign coverage - a rehash of wires - is mediocre, at best.

Anonymous said...

"What would Hassan be doing if he was not editing the National? Any ideas?"

Erm probably still working at the New York Times, which is - last time I checked - the greatest newspaper in the world.

With that kind of experience, the man deserves whatever perks he is getting.

Anonymous said...

13 March, 2011 18:06 Hassan left the NYT with many question marks about his competence. (There were serious allegations which I will not repeat here.) He was hired as deputy editor without Martin Newland's knowledge because Abu Dhabi wanted an Arab in a senior executive role. Martin, who was a pro, later dismissed Hassan as a buffoon. But, yes, the NYT is a great paper. And one with standards that Hassan could not meet.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Hassan was a star for the NYT:

In March 2006, the New York Times ran a front-page interview by reporter Hassan M. Fattah with an Iraqi who claimed he was the man hooded and hooked up to wires in the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison picture. The Internet magazine Salon quickly questioned the man's claim, as did the U.S. military, and the Times soon discovered that the man was not really the person in the picture. Furthermore, the Times had run the actual man's name in its own pages several years earlier. It admitted in an editor's note that it did not do enough to establish the man's identity.

Great stuff from Hassan!

Anonymous said...

Where is Newland now ?

Type 'O' said...

Where is Newland? Our "Editorial Director"?

If you were to walk by his office now, the blinds are drawn and the lights are off. However, it still has about as much life as when he's actually at his desk. Newland no longer has a secretary. The room consists of simply a desk, chair and computer. The walls are white and barren. Occasionally, Newland will stroll out across the newsroom (tripping on the wobbly floorboards which for months have been left in a state of disrepair) and speak with the four or five people who give him a laugh. It's always the same people. Then he returns to his desk, leaves at 5pm, and jumps on his Harley.

Meanwhile, with UAE and Saudi troops in Bahrain, senior editors (the good ones that are left) run their hands across their faces as Hassan utters his usual catch phrase: "We have to be very, very careful."

Newland is a ghost. A very expensive one. Blame Hassan if you want, but ultimately, this is Newland's mess.

The sad thing is he knows better, but does nothing about it.

He is exactly what's wrong with The National.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why everyone is so upset, kicking & screaming. Going on & on about this paper. Does anyone really think that The National is a real newspaper? If you want to work for a real paper, leave your cushy jobs & nice fat paychecks & go work for papers in 'the real world'. Let the idiocy under fattah's rule continue in peace. He's a waste of space, but he's what Abu Dhabi wants.

Anonymous said...

New thread?

What do you do when a UAE publishing company owes you more than Dhs40,000 (and has done so for the best part of a year)?
I have emails, text messages and paperwork to prove it. I have been promised the money on many, many occasions - and heard every BS excuse under the sun when it hasn't arrived.
Would those in the know recommend I sue the company, complain to someone or other...or write the money off and just tell as many people as possible?
Any wisdom gratefully received.

Anonymous said...

Newland went to AD because he was getting on, was out of work and they offered him £320,000 a year tax free with perks. Publicly he talked tosh about the National but privately knew what it was. A well designed but basically pointless rag. Under him it was OK given local realities. Dont blame him for the joke it has become under Hassan. Now Newland is cruising around us on his motor bike pretending to be in special forces and earning lots before he retires. So what. Who wouldnt do the same in his position?

Anonymous said...

Cant wait for the National to analyse why the UAE has sent troops to Bahrain to help the Sunni Royal Family hang on to power. Its an important and interesting question worthy of the national's finest minds.

Anonymous said...

anon at 19.18.
I think worthy of a permanent thread, given the number of queries about it on here.
In my (albeit limited) experience, if it is a small company, tell everyone you can. If they are not paying others, it will damage their reputation sooner or later. Don't be afraid to tell colleagues, mention on Facebook and name and shame them on here of course. I would also sue and report them to the Media Council.
If they are a big company, this will do little. What's another gripe about ITP going to do. In this case, report to the Media Council and/or sue.
Good luck with it. Too many charlatans have set up publishing companies here and choose to pay only those they need, until they no longer need them. Most of them get found out sooner or later of course.

mediamonster said...

Have put up a thread about freelance payment.

Anonymous said...

anyone know why:

Chief Sports Writer William Johnson has left The National. Enquiries and press releases can be sent to Sports Editor Robert Mashburn, who can be reached at or to Deputy Sports Editor Kevin Affleck, who can be reached at

Anonymous said...

I have heard a rumor that 20% of the staff at The National was fired this week and that there is a distinct possibility that the newspaper will be shut down shortly.

Anonymous said...

Rumours are rumours. Don't believe them. The National's recruiting a web editor for the business section -

Anonymous said...

I'd be surprised if AD shut the National. Why should they? It's not even loose change to the government. Think how you feel when you find a small foreign coin in your suitcase. You dont know where its from never mind how much its worth. That's the National to the government. It does not matter no one buys / reads it. No one ever did. It's a PR stunt, like the F1 track and the recent 'media conference' journalists from around the world attended because they got to travel first class and stayed in great hotels.

Anonymous said...

Libya at war. Japan irradiated. Bahrain. Syria. Saudi. And this is what the National has to say:

"If there was a moment when Dubai and the UAE came of age in the world of international show jumping, then this was it.

It is January 1982 and the occasion is the inaugural Metropolitan International Show, said to be the first international event of its kind in the Middle East.

To underline the event's importance, it was opened by Princess Anne, the daughter of Britain's Queen Elizabeth and herself a talented equestrian who, in 1976, had become the first member of the royal family to represent her country at the Olympic Games.

For the visit to Dubai she was accompanied by her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, who had won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

A temporary arena designed to international standards was created on football fields next to the Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. The event was last held in 1999 and was succeeded by the Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge, the richest showjumping event in the world.

Royalty and show jumping are almost synonymous in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, is a keen horseman, as is his wife, Princess Haya."

Its bylined james langton, deputy editor of the shortlived saturday national. I bet he is thrilled with his new job as the history of showjumping (UAE only) writer. If the national closes he could set in AD up as a freelance equine expert.

Anonymous said...

Newland was a good editor but nothing special. He did many things right and knocked some young journalists into shape. He had to put up with his bosses taking some things out of his hands (the 13th month payment, some crazy moments prior to launch where people were kicked out of hotels with nowhere to live), but there were also some crazy appointments - including at least one person with a serious drink problem whom he promoted and left to his successor to sack, while no one can be surprised that the web failed to take off given the senior people in charge at launch.

Anonymous said...

It's true that the senior staff in charge of the online division were hacks. Maybe still are—I'm not sure whatever happened to David Green, but he was hated for both his incompetence and his jarring personality.

But, beyond just the online editor and her deputy, it was doomed by virtue of a junior staff only two of whom knew HTML, only three who knew Flash and JavaScript and only one who knew how to put together a CMS.

And, to top it off Koot contracted to have Saxo (the copy management tech company who runs the National's copy) provide the webspace, and didn't even test drive it before she signed on the dotted line. So, you ended up with a staff of 18 or 20 who sat around copying and pasting stories into the web. Seriously.

The blame wasn't all Luciana Blackwell's, although she certainly deserves a large chunk of it. Newland and Fattah and Koot, who were all newsprint refugees, resented the web from the beginning and did what they could to scuttle it by commission or omission.

There was an early revolt against Blackwell, May 2008, I think, by her junior staff and her third in command, Blayne (can't remeber the sod's last name, but he was/is a Kiwi) to overthrow her and her second, Alex. The coup was successful for a week until one of the junior staff misunderstood a command to rewrite a piece of GulfNews and he instead just put it up thinking it had already been rewritten. After that, reactionary that Fattah was/is, he put Blackwell and Kunawitz (Alex) back in charge.

It didn't help that the multimedia department were at each others throats almost from the beginning and needed to have a person in the room with them to keep from killing each other. Because, truly, the multimedia folks were the only ones who had the tech chops to pull it back from the brink. But you can't make people like each other.

I could write a book about the disfunctional early day of the online dept, but I'll stop. Work calls.

Anonymous said...

The National is only three years old. Perhaps it can still be rescued.

Anonymous said...

my internet connection was down and i picked up a copy of the national to find out what was going on in the world. this is what i found. should abu dhabis national newspaper be reprinting weird stuff it has found on other web sites? come on the national, you are better than this.

Martians were the original capitalist running dogs
James Langton

Life on Mars may have died out because the planet's inhabitants developed capitalism, according to Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.

Addressing a conference in Brazil to mark World Water Day, Mr Chavez speculated that the lack of life on Mars might have been caused by "capitalism and imperialism", which "finished off the planet".

He warned that Earth could be heading in the same direction.

"Here on planet Earth, where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts."

He can just buy another one

Furious at what he saw as the Italian car maker's failure to repair his Lamborghini Gallardo, a Chinese millionaire hired a gang of men with hammers to smash the car to pieces in front of TV cameras.

The owner, identified only as a wealthy man from Qingdao, had complained that the vehicle, worth Dh2.5 million, had suffered from starting problems and that the local dealer had dented the car while transporting it for repairs.

After taking his complaint to the head of Lamborghini, the man hired a team of men with sledgehammers to destroy the car on World Consumer Rights Day. A spokesman for Lamborghini said that the owner had acted for "reasons that are unknown to us and that are independent from his relationship with Lamborghini".

Too big for bunny hop

The remains of a giant rabbit that would have been too big to hop have been found on the Mediterranean island of Minorca.

Fossil bones from Nuralagus rex, or "the Minorcan king of the hares", show the creature was six times the size of today's rabbit and weighed up to 12 kilos.

The creature was so large and its spine so short and stiff that it would have only been able to lumber around rather than hop, according to the team of scientists that discovered the remains.

The prehistoric rabbit probably had few predators and became extinct around five million years ago because it "got too comfortable", according to one scientist.

No need to change wallpaper

Alvaro Colom, the president of Guatemala, has announced he is to divorce his wife so that she can run for president after he steps down.

Guatemala's constitution bans close relatives of the president from running for office to succeed him.

With elections due to take place in September, the couple have filed for divorce by mutual consent.

Opposition groups say Mrs Colom has always wielded power behind the scenes and plan to challenge the divorce ruling in the courts.

Ferreting around Edinburgh

A ferret found wandering at Edinburgh's Haymarket station probably arrived on a train from London, animal welfare officers said.

Nickamed "Mickey", the animal was seen shortly after the arrival of the London train.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is now caring for the ferret and says it would like to find its owner.

Anonymous said...

I can assist Anonymous ,27 March, 2011 23:13 who wonders about the origins of Mr Langtons weird stories in the National on 26 March. These very entertaining items had already appeared before the National published them in many newspapers around the world.
1. Martians were the original capitalist running dogs:

CARACAS—Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who routinely blames capitalism for many of this world's troubles, pointed elsewhere in the galaxy for his latest critique, saying Tuesday that the economic system may have destroyed life on Mars.
"I have always said, have heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars," the firebrand socialist said on Venezuela's state television.

Chavez had been discussing water conservation and had meandered onto the subject of Mars after remarking that he believed that some traces of water had been discovered on the Red Planet.

2. He can just buy another one:
Owner Smashes Lamborghini Gallardo to Get Service
March 15, 2011
Posted in Fun, Volkswagen |
The Jasmine Revolution has failed to blossom in China, but March 15, the "Consumer Rights Day" here, saw some real street action. A dissatisfied Lamborghini Gallardo owner in Qingdao, Shandong, vented his angry by having the luxury car publicly pulverized. And thanks to "Weibo" ("microblog" in Chinese), he is quickly gaining the attention he had failed to get.

3. Too big for bunny hop

Last updated at 4:31 PM on 22nd March 2011

The biggest rabbit the world has ever seen, he roamed his island home ruling all he saw before him.
But there was just one problem for Nuralagus rex, also known as the Menorcan King of the Rabbits - he was too big to hop.
Due to his short stiff spine he would have been forced to clumsily haul himself along like a beaver getting out of water, researchers have said.
He also had small ears and small eyes - because there were no predators out hunting him.
The details were revealed by researchers who discovered the first fossil of the bunny who lived on Menorca off the coast of Spain three to five million years ago.

Read more:

4. No need to change wallpaper: 

21 March 2011
Guatemala's Alvaro Colom to divorce wife Sandra Torres
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and his wife Sandra Torres have filed for divorce so she can stand for election to succeed him, officials say.
Ms Torres announced she would be the governing party candidate in September's presidential election earlier this month.
But Guatemala's constitution bans close relatives of the president from standing to succeed him.

5. Ferreting around Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Haymarket ferret 'took London train'
A ferret has been rescued from an Edinburgh station after apparently getting off a train from London.
The male ferret, named Mickey by animal welfare officers, was found at Haymarket train station on Monday.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell, get a life!

Anonymous said...

Journalists should know that 'train station' is incorrect.'Railway station' is correct !

Anonymous said...

a newspaper tolerating such plagarism is not to be trusted in my opinion. not perfect the gulf news always says where its storys has come from.

Anonymous said...

"a newspaper tolerating such plagarism is not to be trusted in my opinion. not perfect the gulf news always says where its storys has come from."

Yeah, because they would never, um, repeat entire press releases word for word and just put "staff report" as the byline... oh, wait.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 23:13, you prat, that column is, and is advertised as, a collection of weird stories from around the world brought together from different sources. It's not meant to be "original", just odd stuff published elsewhere you might not have come across yourself.

And Anonymous 18:59, if there's anything worse than a pedant, it's a would-be pedant who doesn't know what he's talking about. People have been saying "train station" since 1955, at least, it's a perfectly acceptable expression in English, just like "bus station".

Anonymous said...

30 March, 2011 03:24

You say the column : " is advertised as, a collection of weird stories from around the world brought together from different sources. It's not meant to be "original", just odd stuff published elsewhere you might not have come across yourself."

Where does it say that? I couldnt find that blurb on my copy of the paper. please show us.

Why is there a reporter's name on the column? i cant believe this person exists. why pay someone to copy stories from the net? and why not credit the newspapers which have published the stories? thats what real newspapers do.

Anyone with an internet connection can read hundreds of stories like this every day from around the world. You dont need to buy the national.

go to the bbc, the london daily mail,, papers in the states, africa and india you dont need to wait for the national's selection.

interesting that no one from the national has posted a defence.

Anonymous said...

I had a few minutes to read the londondaily mail. What about these stories for the national. the kicking zebra is the photograh. If none suit i keep looking. are there to many cat storys. if the national use them i want AED 100!

A heartbroken seven-year-old girl has issued an emotional plea to help trace a teenage yob who killed her kitten by drop-kicking it 'like a rugby ball' a distance of 40ft.
Tia Duke has been in floods of tears since the pack of thugs were seen manhandling pet Tasmin before one took a run-up and booted the defenceless animal into the air.
A horrified neighbour saw the incident and alerted Tia's mum Julie who then found the stricken animal lying in a crumpled heap in the gutter.

'Devon and Cornwall police yesterday branded those responsible for the attack 'sick and cruel'.
The offender is described as a white male, aged 15 or 16. It is believed he was one of a group of four youths.

It has emerged that a fake bomb was found on a cargo plane that travelled from the UK to Turkey without being detected.
An investigation has been launched after the lapse which the Department for Transport said was taking "very seriously".
The package - including a timer, wires and a detonator - was delivered by a Turkish man to a UPS office in north London two weeks ago
Last week a 26-year-old Turkish man was arrested at his home on suspicion of making a bomb hoax, police have said
A DfT spokesman said: 'The Government is aware of this incident and takes it very seriously. We have already begun an investigation which will look at all aspects of this accident, including UPS's procedures.
'The UK has one of the toughest security regimes for air cargo in the world. All security measures are subject to continuous review.'

Lion regrets making this zebra cross... after he lashes out with a kick to his face
It was like the scene from the hit film Madagascar when hungry Alex the lion sees his friend Marty the zebra as his next meal.
But as in the film this lion was left hungry after he chose to make this particularly zebra cross - and was rewarded with an almighty kick to the face.
These amazing images were captured from the safety of a truck in Ngorongoro Conservation area, Tanzania, by wildlife fanatic Thomas Whetten.

12-year-old British shorthair Smokey has made a bid to be recognised by Guinness as the world's loudest domestic cat
The attempt, at their home, saw the 12-year-old's purr reach 73 decibels - 16 times louder than the average cat.
Mrs Adams said: 'Guinness has very strict criteria and the college has been very helpful in supplying the specialist recording equipment needed to measure Smokey's purr and for arranging the official witnesses.
'Smokey is actually quite camera-shy so I was very conscious not to upset her during the record attempt so we kept it all kept very calm and low-key.

Anonymous said...

I can assure you , your rudeness ,that Railway station is the correct term in British English.

Anonymous said...

How about this for the National.

An Australian woman is suing a five-star UAE hotel after she was drugged and raped by co-workers - but ended up in jail for eight months for having sex outside marriage.
Alicia Gali, 29, had her drink spiked and was raped by four co-workers at the luxury Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in the United Arab Emirates in June 2008.
She is seeking compensation from her former employer for breaching its workplace duty of care after she reported the assault to authorities, only to be jailed for eight months on an adultery charge.

Victim: Alicia Gali had her drink spiked and was raped by four co-workers at the luxury Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in June 2008 but ended up in jail for having sex outside of marriage
Ms Gali spent eight months in prison as having sex outside marriage in the UAE is illegal.
Australian embassy staff advised Ms Gali and her family not to go to the media during her time in custody, when she was locked in a cell with 30 other women.
She has since been pardoned and was released in March 2009.
Ms Gali claims the hotel failed to protect staff against assault and its legal consequences.
She alleges the resort encouraged workers to drink illegally, despite strict laws and the requirement of drinking permits.
The 'harrowing' ordeal has since caused Ms Gali severe post traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, flashbacks, depression and claustrophobia, according to her lawyer Melissa Payne.
Ms Gali said: 'I thought I would be safe and protected in an international hotel group.
'They didn't give me the correct advice and didn't help me when I was charged and imprisoned.
'I still feel angry and upset. It's distressing because I was a victim in all this and I was punished.
'The UAE is being promoted hugely here as a tourism destination - they sponsor things here.
'They are not complying with human rights, women's rights and migrant workers' rights.'
Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort describes itself as 'a paradise on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates'.
The website for the resort says: 'The resort is perfectly placed for guests to make the most of the Emirates' year-round sunshine'.
Ms Payne says the incident could have been avoided, as the hotel should have had segregated quarters for female employees and provide adequate induction training on the local laws and customs.
Ms Payne said: 'When she reported the assault to the human resources manager he did not advise her of the potential consequences of reporting that assault.
'Alicia's employer has let her down in the most terrible, terrible of ways. A company like this should know better.
'The resort promotes itself as paradise on Earth... it wasn't paradise for Alicia.
'Alicia is very concerned there are other women who might find themselves in similar situations. 'She now feels brave enough to speak out.'
Trey Maurice from the resort's parent company Starwood Hotels, said safety and security of staff is a paramount priority.
Mr Maurice says the management of the resort was aware of the unfortunate circumstances and provided support and assistance to Ms Gali and her family during her imprisonment.
Ms Payne said Ms Gali's lawsuit against the resort was likely to take place in court in Queensland, Australia, but could possible happen in the UAE.
An exact figure for the compensation has yet to be determined, Ms Payne said.

Anonymous said...

lets forget the national and langton, who cares if he copies from the web. the poor bloke is probably only obeying orders. to go on about him is cruel.

Anonymous said...

james has been writing funny stories for years.

great to enjoy.

James Langton in Temple, Texas 12:01AM GMT 04 Mar 2007

If it were built, the road would be one of the engineering wonders of the 21st century -a trade route a quarter of a mile wide, carving a path from Mexico through the heart of America to Canada.
In its most radical form, it would allow lorry drivers to travel hundreds of miles from the Mexican border deep into the US before reaching customs and immigration controls in Kansas.

Backers of the idea, labelled the "Nafta Superhighway", after the North American trade pact, say it would revolutionise patterns of commerce across the continent and enhance the economic prospects of millions. But its critics say it could spell the end of US sovereignty. In arguments akin to those deployed by critics of the European Union, opponents say that opening borders will hit businesses, create a terrorist threat and allow illegal immigrants and drugs to flood in.
Opposition is strongest in Texas, where the state's plans for a vast road project, known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, are well advanced. Once complete, the corridor could become the first leg of a Nafta Superhighway, crossing the Mexican border at the Rio Grande, near Laredo, and then pushing north to Kansas. It would include a toll road with 10 lorry and car lanes, a high-speed railway, and oil, gas and water pipelines.
With costs estimated at $183 billion (£94 billion), the 1,200 ft wide road would consume one million acres in Texas alone. Construction could take up to 50 years.

By James Langton 12:01AM GMT 26 Mar 2006

Saddam Hussein planned to use "camels of mass destruction" as weapons to defend Iraq, loading them with bombs and directing them towards invading forces.

The animals were part of a plan to arm and equip foreign insurgents drawn up by the dictator shortly before the American-led invasion three years ago,

By James Langton 12:01AM BST 28 Sep 2005

Space may still be the final frontier, but getting there could soon be almost as simple as stepping into the office lift at the start of the day.
The race is on to build the first "space elevator' - long dismissed as science fiction - to carry people and materials into orbit along a cable thousands of miles long.
In a significant step, American aviation regulators have just given permission for the opening trials of a prototype, while a competition to be launched next month follows in the wake of the $10 million (£5.6 million) "X Prize'', which led to the first privately developed craft leaving the Earth's atmosphere, briefly, last year.
Supporters of the elevator concept promise a future in space that is both cheap and accessible, and contrast it to Nasa's announcement last week that it will be relying on 40-year-old technology from the Apollo programme for its $105 billion plan to return to the Moon by 2018. The companies behind the space elevator say they will be able to lift material into orbit for as little as $400 a pound, compared with $20,000 a pound using existing rockets.
That would open up the possibility of tourists visiting a sky hotel in stationary orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth, with a view previously enjoyed only by astronauts.

Anonymous said...

Spot the difference.

March 1 | Tue Mar 1, 2011 11:49pm GMT NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters Legal) - A banana peel, the torment of many a cartoon character, has allegedly become the real-life downfall of a woman in California. Ida Valentine, 58, is suing the 99 Cents Only store where she slipped on one last April.
She said that she suffered a herniated disk and tissue damage, spent $9,000 on medical bills and is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.
"She fell and landed on her backside," said Courtney Mikolaj of the Quirk Law Firm in Ventura, California, which is representing her.
Mikolaj said the 99 Cents Only store in Fontana, California, refused a proposed settlement of $44,000. Executives from the company, a deep-discount retailer with hundreds of stores in western states, were not immediately available for comment.
The image in popular culture of an unwary pedestrian tripping head over heels on a banana peel stems from the late 19th century, when bananas were a popular street food in American cities and the press portrayed them as a public nuisance.
In 1879, Harper's Weekly groused that "whosoever throws banana skins on the sidewalk does a great unkindness to the public, and is quite likely to be responsible for a broken limb."
(Reporting by Jeff Roberts of Reuters Legal, Editing by Greg McCune))

James Langton
Last Updated: Mar 5, 2011

After slipping on a banana peel, a woman is suing for damages and her medical expenses.

Ida Valentine has brought the action against the 99 Cents Only store in Ventura, California, where the accident took place.

Mrs Valentine, 58, says she suffered tissue damage and a herniated disk needing US$9,000 (Dh33,000) in medical bills. She also wants compensation for her suffering.

The image of slipping on banana skins is believed to date from the 19th century when they became a popular street food.

An editorial in Harper's Weekly in 1879 complained: "Whosoever throws banana skins on the sidewalk does a great unkindness to the public, and is quite likely to be responsible for a broken limb."

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I really don't see what your problem is. "Newspaper prints column of funny stories pulled together from the wires under byline of man who pulled them together." So fucking what?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous pedant 14:56, you can attempt to defend what you think is the only "correct" term as much as you like, but the facts are against you. Search Google News for "train station location:UK" and "railway station location:UK" and you will find four mentions of "train station" in UK publications to every six mentions of "railway station". Any expression used by 40 per cent of British writers is clearly acceptable British English - or do you think we should still be saying "wireless","looking glass" and "scent".

Anonymous said...

02 April, 2011 04:27

Nothing wrong with choosing some amusing stories from the world. but the paper should source them. the Web makes a column like this redundant. you can find many stories like these in a few minutes. james does this column in the time it takes a kettle to boil. he cruises the Web, chooses the stories, cuts and pastes and hey presto, job done. in the latest edition of the national i have just read his story about a house in swansea, wales that looks like hitler. i read that on line in the daily mail days ago. the column is a deception reflecting poorly on the national that is an excellent newspaper by local standards.

Anonymous said...

do you think the national would drop james lanton and pay me for his collection of silly stories? id do it for less and do it better. id be cleverer. like him id copy but id change some words. id choose better stories. come on hasan give me a chance!

Anonymous said...

Poor James Langton ... hasn't the James Bond villain suffered enough?

People aren't really getting laid off, are they?

Anonymous said...

Declining standards indeed! Forget the rampant ineptitude of the editor in chief and the managing editor, or the low morale, or the revolving door. Let's discuss the utter lack of ethics and professionalism exhibited by M, the paper's magazine, under the editorships of Powell and Arthur: running "essays", with photos, of Powell's son, with no editor's note letting readers know that he is her son (there was no other youth available for the piece?). Her children have been in the magazine before - this reeks of amateur journalism. Maureen Gannon allows this to happen, and in turn Koot and Fattah. How about 2-3 pages of valuable space, mainly taken up by photos of vapid "stars" telling readers where they like to holiday? And Powell and Arthur and team actually give themselves credit for the text: "compiled by" -- god, how low can they sink. The magazine costs a lot of money - is there no better way to spend it.

All of the above and more must be laid squarely at the feet of Fattah: these reasons, and more, are further evidence that the paper is being run poorly, and many people are being let down.