RE: Differing TV images feed Arab, US views

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed 09 Apr 2003 - 13:10:08 GMT

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    Hi Wade,

    Comments here from me, are about media coverage of the war NOT POLITICAL ONES! (Besides, at the time of typing, it looks like it's nearly over, so the debates may be overtaken by events).

    As a media researcher the war has been very interesting as it has been one of the first wars in which Western news agenices have not had it all their own way in terms of representing or framing events as they did in the first Gulf War. The Middle East is a curious place in the sense that whilst politically most of the states are a long way from notions of democracy and press freedom, economically many M.Eastern states are more than rich enough to have very high levels of TV ownership, including satellite TV. Qatari based al-jazeera reaches 10s of millions across the region, for example, despite Qatar's population being only in the hundreds of thousands. Their differential access to the warzone compared to the 'embedded' hacks from Britain and the US has offered a very different view of the war indeed, but more than that the Western news agencies have had to use much of their footage- e.g. in terms of the Baghdad bombings, as the Arab states' networks had their cameras in better positions a lot of the time. A report for Newsnight here in the UK a few days ago, showed that at least some British muslims routinely watched al-jazeera rather than the BBC, or CNN say, and I believe that's true amongst muslims/arab communities in the US as well.

    One of the things this does, alongside the sense in which parts of the war are being conducted under the glare of the cameras, is undermine the Western news-media's self-censorship by appeals to taste and deceny, basically meaning there's all sorts of stuff they won't show us because they think audiences can't take it, dead bodies in close-up for example. I thought it was rather ironic, for example, when the issue of filming POWs and the Geneva convention came up and they said oh we're not going to show coalition POWs on TV as it breaches the Geneva convention, and then quickly realised they'd already shown Iraqi prisoners on the their knees at gunpoint, so thought they might as well show the yanks.

    Anyway, memetically speaking what the net has been, IMHO, is a kind of revelation- for audiences- of the extent to which Western news media frame events. This is not to suggest that Western journalists aren't trying to be factually accurate, impartial and objective by any means, because most of them do try and do this most of the time, but that their efforts are heavily influenced by the very particular social situations they find themselves in. In previous international conflicts this has not been as clear- again, to audiences- because there haven't been these alternative voices (I'm discounting the media output of the beseiged regimes in this). (Actually, as an aside there's some very good work done on the relationship between British soldiers and journalists in the Falklands War (By David Morrision and Howard Tumber), where, not disimilar to the current war, journalists were embedded in military units (although that term wasn't used at the time). It offers some useful insights for judging the reporting from such journalists travelling with military units.)

    Memes can thrive when presented in an uncontested environment (e.g. the failure to contest terminology like 'friendly fire' and 'collatoral damage' is perhaps once of the biggest failings of news media), but as soon as the environment allows a meme to be contested by another then it's much more problematic (e.g. the mythical Basra uprising). This is why the producers of memes are often so keen to restrict alternatives and stick to dogma.

    Sorry, waffle, waffle, waffle...


    > ----------
    > From: Wade T. Smith
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 12:56 PM
    > To: Memetics Listserv
    > Subject: Fwd: Differing TV images feed Arab, US views
    > This is a report about some of the active cultural performances that
    > are presently being made available in the landscape- but notice the
    > different landscapes being tilled and furrowed. Memetic activity
    > modifies and shapes and effects the cultural landscape. Cultural
    > absorption and presence shape the memories of the individuals. Remember
    > that many individuals live only in a landscape walled by a single
    > ideology.
    > - Wade
    > ******
    > Differing TV images feed Arab, US views
    > By John Donnelly and Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 3/26/2003
    > Differing_TV_images_feed_Arab_US_viewsP.shtml
    > WASHINGTON -- The Arab world sees pictures of bloodied bodies of young
    > children. They watch scenes crowded with corpses, including gruesome
    > images of dead American soldiers.
    > Americans see almost none of that. Their view of the war in Iraq,
    > through television and print, is dominated by long-distance photos of
    > bombs going off in Baghdad and intimate battlefield scenes conveyed by
    > reporters who are traveling with US and British soldiers.
    > The two contrasting visions of this war, one seen by Americans and the
    > other seen in the Middle East, help to sharpen differences over the
    > conflict, say analysts and diplomats.
    > ''Friends from Syria are sending e-mails to me, asking what are the
    > people in the US telling you about the images of civilian casualties,''
    > said Imad Moustapha, chief of public diplomacy at the Syrian Embassy in
    > Washington. ''My answer to them is very simple and sad: `Sorry, no one
    > is seeing those images here.' ''
    > In the Middle East, one US diplomat, speaking on condition of
    > anonymity, spoke of watching CNN and Fox News one minute and Al-Jazeera
    > and Abu Dhabi TV the next, thinking he was watching different battles.
    > ''The Arab world is seeing trips to the hospitals, grieving parents,
    > while the American cable stations and networks are showing the troops
    > in the field,'' said the diplomat. ''The trouble is, it is creating
    > different memories of the war, and it will reinforce the anger here
    > about what the US is doing.''
    > US media have shown pictures and written stories about civilian
    > casualties, especially from Baghdad. Television stations and print
    > publications have also shown still photographs and edited video footage
    > of seven US prisoners of war. News executives have said that their
    > ability to independently cover civilian casualties, especially in the
    > southern city of Basra, has been limited because of the dangers of
    > battle there.
    > In contrast, Arab newspapers and television stations in Abu Dhabi,
    > Lebanon, Dubai, Qatar, and elsewhere in the region have placed a heavy
    > emphasis on civilian casualties, especially those involving children.
    > One station showed the scalp of a child that reporters said had been
    > blown off in a bombing. The segment showed the scalp from three
    > different angles.
    > In recent days, both television and newspapers have featured the image
    > of a young girl being pulled from rubble by an older man in a kaffiyeh.
    > It was impossible to know if the girl was dead or alive. She was
    > wrapped in a purple shawl, and both her legs were partially cut off.
    > Some US stations have approached Iraqi casualties with skepticism. In
    > some segments of children in a hospital, reporters have added a caveat
    > that there was no way to independently verify whether the victims had
    > been hurt in air raids.
    > In the most controversial broadcast, Al-Jazeera decided to air gruesome
    > pictures taped by Iraqi television of dead American soldiers outside of
    > Nasiriyah. American television stations declined to do so.
    > During a televised briefing in Qatar, Army Lieutenant General John
    > Abizaid, deputy commander of Combined Forces Command, chided a reporter
    > for Al-Jazeera for the network's decision to air the video. ''The
    > pictures were disgusting,'' Abizaid said, adding that he would not want
    > other stations to show the video.
    > A reporter from Xinghua News Agency of China asked whether such
    > pictures would badly influence the morale of the US troops or the
    > American people. Abizaid said he believed it would not hurt troop
    > morale or damage ''the resolve of our people.''
    > ''We're a pretty tough people,'' he said.
    > But some analysts said that if Americans viewed the pictures shown to
    > the Arab world, their view of the battles would probably change.
    > Edward S. Walker Jr., president of the Middle East Institute and a
    > former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said the
    > difference in media coverage is ''one of the huge reasons there is such
    > a disconnect between us and the Arabs.''
    > ''They have one view of the world, and we have another view,'' he said.
    > ''We are going to treat this war differently than almost any other
    > country will. We don't want to undermine the morale or support of the
    > troops. It's not a time when people want to attack the president, so I
    > believe it is natural that there is a certain amount of self-censorship
    > going on.''
    > Jeffrey Schneider, a vice president at ABC News, said that some
    > pictures of bodies, including those of American troops, won't be shown
    > because they would violate the network's standards. ''We're confident
    > we are giving our viewers a full and accurate and balanced
    > understanding of this war and all that that entails,'' he said.
    > Schneider contrasted Al-Jazeera's broadcast of the dead American
    > soldiers with a report by Ted Koppel that showed dead Iraqi troops on a
    > battlefield. The ABC cameraman took the pictures ''at a distance, so
    > you couldn't identify their faces,'' he said. ''You told the story that
    > people were killed on this particular battlefield without exploiting
    > those images.''
    > Hafez al-Mirazi, Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, said he was
    > surprised by the reaction in the United States to the broadcast of the
    > footage of the dead Americans and pointed out that his network had
    > carried equally gruesome footage of dead Iraqis.
    > ''The US media did not carry anything from us of those casualties,'' he
    > said. ''The American TV carries us live when there is bombing in the
    > skies of Baghdad, the shock and awe. But when it comes to the
    > casualties from the Iraqi or the American side, they don't want to see
    > it.''
    > Mirazi said those graphic images have disturbed people in the Arab
    > world, but there hasn't been outrage of showing the pictures.
    > ''If we didn't show them, that would not be realistic journalism,'' he
    > said. ''In America, there is some kind of difference of perspective and
    > environment. The American audience are more accustomed of video games,
    > particularly after the Gulf War of 1991.
    > ''In the Middle East and the Arab world, people are accustomed to
    > seeing the corpses,'' he said. ''They see the victims of these
    > conflicts.''
    > Mark Jurkowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. John
    > Donnelly reported from Washington; Anne Barnard from Qatar. Donnelly
    > can be reached at
    > This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/26/2003. Copyright
    > 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
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