Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Who guards the guardians?

Yes, indeed, dear readers, this is another piece about the MSM and its less than glorious record in some parts of the world. We have followed the crucial Mohammed al-Dura story, with the latest posting in October.

Tomorrow is the day on which France2 will supposedly show the unedited rushes of the episode to the court and, presumably, all other interested parties. Unless there is a fire in the warehouse, of course. Awfully flammable, film is and so are those new-fangled disks.

In the meantime, Richard Landes, the man who must have done more than anybody else to unravel the tale has another long piece on the subject.

His theme is one he has repeated several times before but we, on this blog, do not entirely agree with him.

Freedom of the press, Mr Landes rightly points out, does not exist in vacuum. There have to be certain assumptions around it. We are not talking that canard, produced by politicians or other self-important people who do not like criticism that a free press must mean a responsible press; what is meant here is that there must be no "creation of evidence" and the press or media must avoid being duped by created evidence.

Naturally, we agree with that sentiment. We have followed various stories to do with that dual necessity that, regrettably, the MSM does not always live up to, not least with my colleague uncovering together with the odd helper here and there, the story of Qana.

According to Mr Landes, and we cannot really argue with the theory, this sort of ethics does not exist in various other parts of the world:
And yet, one of the major differences between Western journalism and self-styled “Islamic media men” emerges on just this issue of the permissibility of staging the news and attitudes towards what constitutes honest information.

According to the
Islamic Mass Media Charter (Jakarta, 1980), the sacred task of Muslim media men [sic], is on the one hand to protect the Umma from “imminent dangers,” indeed to “censor all materials,” towards that end, and on the other, “To combat Zionism and its colonialist policy of creating settlements as well as its ruthless suppression of the Palestinian people.

So when asked why he had inserted unconnected footage of an Israeli soldier firing a rifle into the Al Dura sequence in order to make it look like the Israelis had killed the boy in cold blood, an official of PA TV

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth… We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

When Talal abu Rahmah received an award for his footage of Muhammad al Dura in Morocco in 2001, he told a reporter, “I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people.”
This attitude, not by all means a particularly new one in modern history, according to Mr Landes, is what makes it hard for the Western MSM to deal with issues and stories in the Middle East.

When one looks at the al-Dura case, Mr Landes agrees that the Western media was in some ways “in” on the secret, which was not really a secret at all. That things are done differently by Palestinians in the Middle East was shrugged off as being one of those cultural things. And, of course, fake photographs and fake films are shown all the time.

So, Karsenty’s accusations levelled against France2 and their star reporter Charles Enderlin were nonsensical because they were doing what everybody else does all the time. Pooh!

Of course, in certain cases there is a public outcry as the time the BBC faked scenes of a fox allegedly shaking off rainwater. Apparently it was a tame fox that had water played on it with a hose and that is a shocking thing to show after you tell the audience that the film is completely genuine.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Telegraph displayed the same horrified attitude to the staging of pictures in Gaza or in Lebanon? Dream on.

In the Middle East, Mr Landes says, the Western media seems to have accepted the Palestinian view of what journalism is about. As it happens, sometimes the Western media has had no choice in that it was either that or no story.

There is also the problem of the local journalist. On the one hand, they are more likely to know and understand what is going on than outsiders; on the other hand, they and their families are hostages to the authorities and they are more likely to be completely unobjective in their coverage of the story.

But there are always ways of making it clear that what is being shown or written is pure propaganda that bears little resemblance to the truth.

Where we part company with Mr Landes is in his assumption that the Western media is somehow being naïve and almost bamboozled. On the contrary, none of this, not the al-Dura case, not Qana, not that infamous ambulance, not any other manifestation of Pallywood or Hezbollywood could have been so successful without the active participation of our own journalists.

It is this that becomes so hard to disentangle and so very important to do. The media has a great deal of power – numerous important decisions taken in politics and in defence as a result of media coverage or campaigning. It is, therefore, important to remember, as we keep repeating on this blog, that the media has a bias, an agenda.

We are not talking just of getting stories. All too often this is used as an excuse – gore and death makes good copy, so that is what we show. But it is not just any old gore and death but slanted towards a certain political angle.

The second intifada with its plethora of suicide bombers had plenty of gore and death. We saw little enough of it – a first story with a few delicate pictures then “move along, nothing to see here”. There was plenty of nasty Israelis shooting at innocent civilians, particularly children, even if many of those scenes were staged for the benefit of the journalists who could not have not known it.

Those pictures, those stories have been horribly effective. As Richard Landes writes:
More ominously, just as Al Dura represents a “higher truth” for Muslims — a justification for hatred, a call to revenge — so does it carry symbolic freight with Europeans. Catherine Nay, a respected news anchor for Europe1, welcomed the image:

The Death of Muhammad cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the
Warsaw Ghetto.

How ironic! The Europeans use an image produced by those who admire the Nazis and dream of
genocidal victory over the Jews, to erase their own guilt over the Holocaust. In so doing, Europe has “atoned” for its sins against the Jews by empowering its Muslim extremists.

That very telling picture comes from International Action Website. Would it make any difference to people who find the juxtaposition comforting if tomorrow's hearing will prove without any doubt that the al-Dura pictures were staged?

Perhaps there is a need to forget about the Holocaust and making the Jews of Israel into villainous murderous oppressors, child-killers and torturers helps to assuage Europe's conscience. I am not sure about the thinking being quite so cogent in most cases (Mme Nay is clearly an exception).

Or perhaps the West and its self-appointed spokespeople recognize only one story – the victim being oppressed. The Jews have refused to be victims in Israel; they have had to be made into oppressors. The Palestinians seem to be happy to be eternal victims and their story is accepted through staged "documentary" footage.