Journalism or Propaganda?

Prejudice and Media Perception in the Middle East

Where do authentic images end and biased reporting or even propaganda begin? Media experts and journalists from the Middle East recently discussed all these issues and more at a conference in Germany. Arian Fariborz reports

​​Truth is generally the first casualty of war. The fact that many media players and journalists know this to be the case has not done anything to change the reality of the situation, especially in the conflict regions of the Middle East.

For political reasons, countless journalists still get caught between the fronts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict either because their reports are not in line with the orientation or the profile of the medium in question or because they are quite simply not in a position to conduct comprehensive research that will guarantee an objective report.

The obstacles faced by journalists in conflict regions

This dilemma, which journalists in the world's hot spots face to this day, was discussed by numerous media experts and correspondents from the Arab world at the Global Media Forum organized by Deutsche Welle.

photo: DW
Jacky Sutton, UNDP media project manager for Iraq, Salameh B. Nematt, former head of office at Al-Hayat, and Muamar Orabi of Watan TV discuss the role of the media in the Arab world

​​ Muammar Orabi, director general of the Palestinian television channel Watan-TV, explained why it is so difficult for his television channel to be objective in its reports about Israel and the Palestinian Autonomous Areas. "There are a huge amount of obstacles to be overcome – the checkpoints being just one," says Orabi. His colleagues are not able to move about freely. It is almost impossible for journalists from Watan TV to get to Jerusalem, Nablus, or Gaza.

The problems on the Israeli side are very similar. David Witzthum, presenter and editor in chief of the Israeli television channel TV Channel 1, described the dilemma from the Israeli point of view: it is very difficult for Israeli journalists to get into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

David Witzthum (photo: DW)
David Witzthum: "It is very difficult for Israeli journalists to get into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip"

​​This is why Israeli channels often rely on people who are already there, i.e. on Palestinian camera teams that work mostly for international press agencies. "Sometimes we get permission from the Palestinians or the military authorities to travel there and to report from there," says Witzthum.

Selective perception of the media

Quite apart from the difficult working conditions, the intention behind the news report and the way in which the news is presented, especially on channels like al-Jazeera, is another problem. Salameh B. Nematt, former head of office at Al-Hayat, also criticised the selective perception of some Arabic media.

"There is an arc of conflicts that stretches from Afghanistan, to Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Iraq. And these conflicts are built on a number of lies; one of which is that attacks that target civilians are 'resistance'."

Never entirely neutral

Jacky Sutton (photo: AP)
Signs of hope: the pluralist nature of the Iraqi media landscape - Jacky Sutton of the UNDP

​​Reports from conflict regions can never be entirely objective and neutral. This point was stressed by the UNDP's media project manager for Iraq, Jacky Sutton. As project manager for the media in Iraq, Sutton considers it her job not to judge, but to promote professional, responsible attitudes among journalists.

She also pointed out that despite the enormous difficulties faced by those who want to work freely and without hindrance, there are signs of hope: the pluralist nature of the Iraqi media landscape, for instance. This pluralism allows Iraqi viewers and readers to form their own opinions and decide for themselves what they consider to be propaganda and what they consider to be the truth.

Arian Fariborz

© 2008

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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