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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 17:10 UK time, Wednesday, 9 August 2006

More aid workers were killed in July in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur than in the entire preceding three years - that was the stark statement from the UN and aid agencies this week.

The World TonightThere has also been the killing of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka - both of these have received a lot less attention from the world's media than would have been the case if attention wasn't focussed on the Middle East crisis.

My colleague, Craig Oliver of the ten o'clock TV news, blogged recently to explain why the Middle East got more attention than Congo and Iraq in his programme. I could have written the same for The World Tonight.

But there is a danger in this - which came up in a conversation I was having with an MP the other day - which is that while the world's attention is focussed on the Middle East, others may take advantage to get up to no good in the hope no-one will notice much.

Apart from Darfur and Sri Lanka - both of which have seen more violence in the past few weeks, other former hot spots are getting warmer again. In East Timor, the Australian-led peacekeepers have still to restore complete order and 150,000 people (more then 10% of the entire population) remain in camps living in very poor conditions.

And closer to home in Kosovo, there are growing fears that there could be a return to violence because it looks like the international community is going to make the province independent and oblige the Serbs in the north of the province - where they remain a majority - to leave the country they were born in and want to continue living in.

On the World Tonight, we made space for the latter last Thursday (listen to it here) but not yet made space for the former. Why? Because we've been giving so much space to the Middle East.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight


  • 1.
  • At 09:10 AM on 10 Aug 2006,
  • Govert Arends wrote:

Of course the BBC are biased in how they select news and picture the conflict in Israel/ Labanon.

I work in African countries and I watch the horrors in Sudan, Congo and elsewhere go unmentioned.

Where are the probing journalists asking questions why soutern Thailand, India/Pakistan, Philipinnes.... are being destabilised through Islamic militants?

Why are Israel pictured as the aggressor
while Lebanon appears as innocent bystanders?

The BBC is biased.

  • 2.
  • At 12:18 PM on 10 Aug 2006,
  • David Kowalski wrote:

I see the issues of 'hotspots' as a fallacy in a sense.

The media glare is usually the only source of heat that is often brought to bare on issues and this has the paradoxical effect of making governments act (sometimes.)

I recall the BBC a couple of years back trying to make the issue of the conflict in the so-called Democratic Repulbic of Congo a 'hot-spot'; but it just became luke-warm in my view.

The simple reason the middle-east is such a 'hot-spot' is in my opinion manifold.

1.) There's alot of muslims and anxiety about Islam.

2.) Israel is seen as a western tool of oppression and therefore some sort of proxy for focus on globalization, neo-con worldviews and leftist ideals about national struggles.

3.) The critical mass of journalists already ensconced in the region makes it prima facie a hot-spot.

If this world wasn't driven so much by populist sentiment then conflicts could be resolved without the glare of the media, maybe even being under the radar might benefit some of these heated conflicts fizzle out.

  • 3.
  • At 01:07 AM on 11 Aug 2006,
  • stephanie gutmann wrote:

Having written a book about media coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and having spent considerable time in that area--usually with journalists--I can tell the previous poster why the Israel vs. it's neighbors conflict is covered so disproportionately. It is not a Jewish conspiracy, I assure you. The people of Israel would love to have the huge press corps scrambling all over their tiny country just go away. They don't go away because it is easier for journalists to cover Israel than to cover the much bigger injustices occuring in Africa:

Journalists take the path of least resistance. Let's go back in time a bit to what I consider the ultimate path-of-least resistance quote from none other than Mr. Ted Koppel—that God of journalistic virtue: In his autobiograhy Nightline: History in the Making and the Making of Television, Koppel describes how he came to be involved with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (he would end up doing many specials, series and reports from the region.)
Koppel had had a great critical and ratings success with a series of shows apartheid-ridden South Africa. After sweeping reforms were instituted and—at least in media eyes—the problems there were considered solved, Koppel writes that he began looking for "the next South Africa"--"another conflict with international relevance, with complexities suitable for a weeklong examination, with political adversaries who were ready and willing to debate." He would also need a conflict that was "situated somewhere suitable," because they would need to do live broadcasts. (He does not specify what "suitable" entails, but this is the kind of book in which the most important details—as in much MSM coverage—are referred to with delicate euphemisms.)
"We had thought about going to Northern Ireland," he muses to the reader. "And I suppose theoretically, we could have done something with the Iranians and the Iraqis, but that would have been such a huge problem in terms of language and such a huge problem in terms of getting permission to travel around the country and shoot." (My italics.)
One day (it is by now the late eighties and Israel is in the middle of the so-called "first intifada") while sitting in front of a TV watching Palestinian youths throw rocks at IDF soldiers, Koppel had a brainstorm: "The video of children throwing stones at men with Uzi machine guns suggested a replay of the biblical tale of David and Goliath. Except this time Israel was Goliath."
He realized he had found his "South Africa II."
"It was Israel," he writes, " The equivalent of Bishop Tutu and Foreign Minister Botha would be the Palestinians versus the Israelis."
As far as I am concerned most of the many reasons for media bias are compressed in these few sentences: Here is a television star, at the top of his game, but at the end of the day he is still looking for convenience over truth. After all, he has deadlines, budgets and ratings to think about.
Producers are looking for "sexy" stories, stories that can be squeezed into simple dramatic templates—good versus evil, win versus lose-- and they want stories that are reasonably easy to "get" in the speeded-up time frames they deal with. Covering, say, the genocide in Darfur (probably the greatest outrage of recent times) would be as Koppel might put it, "a huge problem": The local government would not be cooperative; very likely—like the Hezbollah--it would attempt to steer coverage—and if reporters didn’t herd properly, the powers that be might get mad and put the reporters in jail--or worse. (The annals of covering Africa, South America, China, but especially the countries of the Arab League and the Palestinian territories are full of accounts of detensions, jail sentences, threats, destruction of equipment and out-and-out murder.)
Then there would be language problems, and it’s hot, and the telephone and data transmission lines are probably lousy, and there are probably no good hotels, and the parties to the conflict are black and/or Muslim which would entail reporting not flattering things about someone who is black and/or Muslim.
Meanwhile there sits Jerusalem (where upwards of 350 foreign media outlets have permanent bureaus), the shining city on a hill. It is modern yet crammed with history. It has hotels, bars, girls in miniskirts—but it’s only a half an hour drive from scenes of real "bang-bang" (a photographer’s slang term) shooting war. In fact, it’s one of the few cities in the world where your average headline or prize-seeking reporter can zip across a border in the morning, find scenes of genuine exotica (camels, women in veils, mosques) and war, get his quotes or his shots, then be back at his hotel room in time for cocktails around the pool. As a writer for the Columbia Journalism Review put it "it’s a beat that offers unparalleled exposure…[and] it is much easier to be a war correspondent here because reporters don’t have to travel far. The West Bank city of Bethlehem is just a ten-minute drive from Jerusalem."
Then there is the factor which Koppel delicately referred to as "the trouble" he would have in Iran and Iraq "in getting permission to move around the country and shoot."
Israel, by and large, is like the U.S. in its respect for the freedom of the press. That freedom of the press is obvious the minute one walks into Ben Gurion airport. Upwards of five daily newspapers—running the gamut from far left to far right—blare their usually government-chastizing headlines from every newstand; there is a cacophony of electronic media supplied by local Israeli stations also BBC, SKY, FOX, and CNN all of whom have bureaus. Reporters from Abu Dahbi television, Al-Jazzeera, the Lebanon Daily Star, and Le Monde, just to name a few, can be seen scurrying everywhere.

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