Sunday, 18 November 2012

reporting and social media

Modern media outlets face many challenges one being with the Internet news travel fast, much faster than before and the enormous amount of news being seen at any given moment in the world is more than any human being can reasonably absorb. Meaning that any journalist must produce and be on his or her proverbial toes all the time. Some journalists here I follow in Ottawa are on Twitter all the time, they report what they hear and comment, though in 140 characters.

So editors decided to report only on news that will be of most interest to its readers. Per example hurricane Sandy travelled a very large distance and crossed and touched many countries, in the end all you heard was how Sandy had devastated New York City. What it did elsewhere in the Caribbean or in other US States or cities or even how it ended up in Canada was barely mentioned.
An almost universal decision was made to talk only about NYC because most news readers could understand the story quickly. Do editors talk to each other or merely follow what the other guy is doing. It seems that quickly is also the operative word in the news nowadays, this leads to often to factual errors and other mistakes, hard to correct once the story is out.

In the Arab Spring context, editors and journalists have labelled the different parties, in the arab world they are usually called rebels or militants, the word terrorist is not use because the rebels or militants fight an established authority in their own country. They would be terrorists if they attacked foreigners.
However there is no time for context to explain how or why this happened. Take Nigeria where groups have planted bombs and attacked civilians, these incidents are described as a fight between Muslims in the North and Christians in the South, in reality it is about land distribution, property rights and perceived injustices, the religious part of it is another issue not necessarily connected to this economic one. It would be too difficult to start explaining to the public at large the economic discrepancies of a country like Nigeria, so the media stick to the easy religious explanation though it is not factual.

The civil war in Syria is another example, a minority the Alawites have ruled Syria for 45 years and run the country like a mafia fief, ruining the economy in the process and setting the country up as a haven for various violent groups who could use their base in Damascus with impunity. Syria a transit point between Iran and Lebanon. Such detailed explanation of the situation would be too complicated and most news readers barely know where Syria is on a map.

This approach makes serious or grave news trivial matters. Everything is so quick and so simplified that our basic understanding goes out the proverbial window and the average person starts to think in terms of black and white issues. Also it de-humanizes the persons involved in such conflicts, they are so far away from us and we have such little understanding of them that generalities start taking precedence over hard facts. One fanatic becomes millions of fanatics or an entire countries population can all be put in one bag because it is all the same, an example Iran, all Iranians must be fanatics given the government they have, final conclusion is, they are not like us.

We now have the situation with Gaza in the middle-east which to me geographically would be more accurately described as the Near East but the media has made the middle-east a grab bag of all the countries from Morocco to Iran, easier for simple folks to understand. Leading a lot of people to automatically assume that Turks and Iranians are also Arabs because they are Muslims. A bit like saying that all Catholics are Italian. Forgetting that in all those countries in the grab bag that is dubbed the Middle-East you have ancient Christian and Jewish populations, though small still they are there and have been part of the fabric for a long time. Yes there are Palestinian Christians and Iraqi Jews and Christians and Egyptian Jews and Christians. But the media will not talk of this so as not to confuse the basic simplistic message of good against evil. Thus instead of informing the media spreads ignorance and stereotypes.

Here is Canada we have a similar situation, the media has always divided the country between the English and the French. Very simplistic but so much easier to do, spreading stereotypes and falsehoods all around. It continues to this day, despite the fact that we are now a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nation. There is nothing quite like a good stereotype to get the readers agitated and confused.

So in the latest reporting on the eternal conflict between the Israeli government against the Palestinians, they became Militants or is Hamas the Militants, what does the word militant mean? The Libyans are described as rebels to this day despite the fact that Ghaddafi is gone from power. Why then the word militants instead of simply the Palestinians in Gaza. At any rate this is not explained and neither is it explained that the millions living in that little strip of land called Gaza are just ordinary folks who cannot exit, leave or do anything, they are captive since the borders are closed by Israël. But you could be excused if you thought that all Palestinians where with the militants or worse. Do the Palestinians desire peace and a better life in a secure country, yes, they all do like any human being, but that is rarely discussed by the media.

The media loves to use all kinds of images and words to inject meaning, the other day a reporter for the CBC spoke of the Sacred City being shelled, then in the next phrased used Jerusalem. Sacred to whom, did this reporter mean Jews, Christians and Muslims? No she meant to the Israelis. Another CBC reporter called Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, not correct, Tel Aviv is the capital of modern Israel.
Ancient Biblical texts do not make international law today.

Then the BBC got into the act and presents lopsided reporting, it would appear from the perspective of the BBC News that Israel is far more at risk and suffers far more than anyone in Gaza. Given the terrible living conditions in Gaza compared to modern affluent Israel, one wonders where does this comparison come from. What is missing is the context, what Gaza is really like as a place to live for millions of people, a huge poor ghetto where people are contained in squalor and surrounded by a powerful modern, well equipped Israëli army who is preparing to invade, up to 75,000 soldiers ready to march and already staging an invasion. Given the population density of Gaza it is going to be a civilian blood bath.

The New York Times has a series of photos showing the two sides of that border, in Israel people lead modern affluent lives, this could be Florida. One photo shows a young women in a luxury car, talking on her cell phone next to a huge army tank, another photo shows Israeli citizens in a shelter, all are well dressed, they look worried but otherwise the photo could be a community centre in North America.

On the other side of the border in Gaza, people are poorly dressed, dirty, amongst ruins, desperate scared, some are injured looking bewildered, this is the third world. One comment says that a family has gathered together so if Israel attacks they will at least die together. All is devastation and despair, so far 45 civilians have been killed and 390 injured, medical support is weak due to the economic and military siege of Gaza by Israel. There is something totally unnerving about such photos and the inequality is stark.

What is truly obscene, is the IDF, Israel Defence Force on social media justifying their actions against civilians. Even if you accept that in politics and war there is no morality and no ethical behaviour, in the 21 century, there are laws on how civilians will be treated. Israel claims to be a modern state ruled by laws and says it abides by international treaties, so then why the social media PR campaign to try to justify its actions. I am not convinced and find no credibility in the explanations given by Israel so far on action in Gaza. It is not the first time in the last 35 years that Israel has launched military campaigns in the region against much weaker rivals.

Despite the fact that Israel claims it is only defending itself, an editorial yesterday in the Jerusalem Post by Gershon Baskin entitled ''Israel shortsighted assassination'' says that this campaign is not what it appears and Israel provoked this crisis by killing Al-Jabari, Security Chief of Hamas. An election is coming next year in Israel, PM Netanyahu wants to retain power at all cost and this type of action is a vote getter amongst the fanatical settlers and other groups who would like ''a final solution'' to the Palestinian question. He is politically in trouble and his war mongering against Iran during the USA Election campaign and his open support of Mitt Romney backfired badly so now he has to try something else.

We can still be hopeful that some foreign government will call Israel's bluff and refuse to look the other way. The argument of self-defence does not hold water anymore. It is high time for the Israeli government to find a true path to peace and a living arrangement with its neighbours, bellicose attitudes will not do.


  1. oh what a headache trying to sort all this out. I wish I could find an impartial historian to teach my the history of the Middle East. Right now, in my emotional frustration, I am all for letting them blow each other up, which is not nice I know.

  2. Here is a famous quote by Albert Einstein on the conflict; I hope the Zionists will not do to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to us. Food for thought.

  3. I agree about the Gaza tragedy - it's so much in the 'here and now' that few reporters can get the nuanced back-history in to the frame. I was interested to read a commenter suggesting that photos of children wounded in the conflict should just say 'casualty/casualties of war' and not mention the side.

  4. I agree that photos should just say ''casualties of war'' makes people think about what war is really all about.