I am currently out in Beirut and I will assist tomorrow to the big demostration for the Ashura religious celebration that is going to become a political demostration against Israelis’ attacks on Gaza. Everybody is waiting for Hasan Nasrallah‘s speech cause it is clear that it will have a political added value. In this moment Hezbollah’s position on what’s happening in Gaza is very key. Hezbollah is the only power that could respond to Israel by opening a new military front. For the moment, Hezbollah’s spokeperson Husein Rahhal has denied that a military response is going to happen by saying that: “Our position has been expressed by our secretary general” he told The Daily Star, referring to Nasrallah. “There is nothing new to add”. But the same magazine reported about Israel intensifying violations of Lebanon airspace which could raise the tension if Hezbollah decides to “answer”. Hasan Nasrallah’s speech will go live on Al Manar, Hezbollah’s TV station headquartered in Beirut.
As Global Voices reports today, it seems that many “pro-Gaza” Facebook groups have been hacked, apparently by the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) who states to be “leading the fight against antisemitism and antiterrorism on the web” and “promoting jewish pride, knowledge and unity”. So it now seems that a parallel “war” is now happening on the virtual world of the Internet..
..have a look to those websites: Menassat, which is a Lebanon based project very much focused on media. They have a very good Arab media community which you could eventually join. Today their homepage headlines is: “Ground offensive continues amid media blackout”. Global Voices’ Middle East section is also doing a great job and gives an idea of how the bloggers’ community here in the Region has been very active trying to fill the information gap on Gaza.
It seems that Al Jazeera is now alone reporting from Gaza. We are witnessing a massacre through its screens. Few minutes ago it was also broadcasting Gaza live on one side, and President Sarkozy on the other side, involved in many diplomatic talks to stop Israeli’s attacks. Also Al Jazeera English is doing a good job, after many months -and some years- of not so brilliant news coverage- is now like revitalised, doing a very extensive coverage with interesting political analysis and live reports. Where are Western channels??Is it Gaza not a “story”in journalistic terms?
It’s something strange those days to read on Western press about “Al Jazeera‘s biased coverage” (Al Jazeera is always taken as the symbol which stands for the entire Arab media) on the Gaza issue. I am frankly doing all my best to try to be “objective”, by watching the Arab media coverage without making any political statement on it, just as an analyst. But, after hearing such kind of comments on Western newspapers, it is very difficult to stay even calm. I remember very well what happened in “my” media (I am Italian, European, Westerner: therefore here I mean Italian, European, Western media) after 9/11. News objectivity meant at that period to strictly stick to the “us” imperative: those attacks were against “us” as the “West”, “we” were hit, and therefore the “united West” should start a war against terrorism, for which we know that “our soldier” were bravely engaged in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. “We are all Americans”, this was the slogan always heard, in the majority of all the media. In Italian media, would you have dared to ask even a small question or to introduce a doubt in this theorema you would have been immediately accused to be anti-American, therefore anti-Western, therefore almost a terrorist.
My question now is: how we can expect the Arab media to be cold and rational in front of what’s happening to an Arab land, Gaza? How we pretend to have this objectivity while we never had it, at least in the past few years after 9/11? And why do we pretend the Arab media to stick to news values that our media themselves don’t have anymore?
The shift towards different news values from the past “English school” of being impartial, objective, without caring about the context in which the news are given is something which begun during the nineties. The scholar Daniel Hallin calls this trend “commercialisation of news” and states it is a global trend, which has being raising in popularity during the all news stations booms. To gain audiences, those new born stations should involve and engage the viewers emotionally in order to create a “story” that could grab people’s attention for a long time. It’s during this period – and for commercial reasons, first- that the old British school “commandaments” to impartiality have been replaced by those of emotional proximity and involvement. It’s during this period that the anchors start to address with the word “us” to the viewers.
Later, 9/11 has emphasized this situation with a political colour, too, which it didn’t have at the beginning.
The Arab scholars El Nawawy and Iskandar speak about “contextual objectivity” in the case of Al Jazeera. They state that maybe the “objectivity” at its large has never existed, so the concept should be replaced by the “contexual objectivity” which means to be objective to the respect of that particular context where journalists or media professionals are operating.
Al Jazeera is an Arab station, and Gaza is Arab, too. Al Jazeera’s correspondents live and operates in Gaza, so they are experiencing the same tragedy people are experiencing there. As we Westerners did in 9/11, being “all Americans”, even if the Twin Towers where not located in Rome or Paris.
Al Jazeera is giving airtime to the reasons of the Israelis, and has interviewed Livni and other Israeli officials. This is their duty as journalists, and they made it professionally: but, then, can we reproach to them to be on the Gaza’s side?
On the contrary, very sadly I don’t see many “other opinions” on our media, overwhelmed by the “we” issue. But, at this time, who is “we”?
I try to be objective in the context where I am, which is the Arab world. On a personal level, I could never state that what’s happening in Gaza is not a humanitarian tragedy. On a professional level, as an Arab media analyst, after watching “their” coverage and “our” coverage of Gaza, I could never state “we” won the battle.
Zapping with the remote control on different Arab TV stations yesterday would have shown immediately two things. Al Jazeera is doing an impressive and extensive coverage, having four correspondents on the ground and now also heading this big operation of the humaritarian ship “Dignity”. One of Al Jazeera correspondents is on the boat, whit his crew (with them there is also Sami Al Hajj, the former Al Jazeera cameram held prisoner in Guantanamo), and this have been extensively documented and advertised by the channel, which is putting lots of efforts on the coverage of the humanitarian side of the crisis. Lots of media analysts and journalists are attacking the channel for his alleged biased coverage in favor of Hamas, and among the most critical people there is also Fatah (to be honest, they were always very much against Al Jazeera, even during Arafat’s time). True, Al Jazeera is giving lots of TV space to the demonstrations happening across the Arab world, and of course all its live coverage coming from its correspondents is very critical of the Israeli attack. How do you expect otherwise when you are living in a place which is undergoing this situation?It is an old critic moved to Al Jazeera, to which many scholars have already responded by speaking about “contextual objectivity” suggesting to use this concept instead that the one of “impartiality” (and not only for Al Jazeera, actually). But the point is that Al Jazeera, as reminded by The Guardian yesterday, is also giving room for the Israeli counterpart, and it has interviewed Israel’s foreign minister Tipzi Livni despite her accusing the channel to be biased against her country. When it comes to its editorial policy of “the opinion and counter opinion” (the channel motto) Al Jazeera is always very careful not to loose this original touch that is the very key of its success being at the same time the source of all the attacks and critics to the station. Then, if the space given to the Israelis is not so “sexy” and appealing as the space given to the coverage of the Palestinian side, this is another story, but it’s not so difficult to tell the reasons why. Some coverage was also devoted to the minority of Israelis that are demonstrating against the attacks on Gaza, against their own government. We can’t say the same when it comes to the Arab state TV channels, many of them being engaged in proving how much the “Arab street” is demonstrating but hiding many other important sides of this complex regional situation brought up by the last days attacks.
It’s very difficult to express wishful thinkings for the 2009, particularly if you are watching the new year dawn from this part of the world which is the Middle East. Many Arab countries have cancelled New Year’s celebrations yesterday in solidarity with the Gaza strip. In Syria no live music performances and dances where allowed, in order to retain a sober atmosphere. Other Arab countries, like Lebanon and many places in Egypt for example, just didn’t care and went on with the bookings and parties. What about the West? I am just wondering how this last Palestinian tragedy looks like from Europe, and what the people that watching it on TV channels are feeling. I guess that seeing it from a Middle Eastern perspective, being based here in the Arab Region, should be something really different, even if you still have to watch it through the mediation of the TV screens..