Be an Intelligent Viewer Through Fog of War

Media outlets have long faced challenges in covering wars. The obvious challenge is the sheer physical danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org) reports that 28 journalists have been killed in 2014.  The deadliest country for reporters this year is Syria, where five have died.  Ukraine, Iraq, Israel/Palestinian Territories and Brazil round out the top five. Men are more likely to be killed than women.

They say that Vietnam was the first war that was really televised, but even so there were no live shots from the battlefield. Today I watched a report from Iraq where locals were watching a battle on their TVs that was taking place just 20 miles away. Technology gives news outlets the ability to report live or in just a few minutes from almost anywhere.

A few things come to mind though:

With massive media resources focused on Israel and Gaza, there was almost no reporting from Syria, Iraq or Nigeria.

  • Remember those 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? Well, they’re still being held.
  • The death toll in the Syrian civil war has by some estimates not exceeded 160,000, but you’d be hard pressed to find more than a few minutes of reporting about it on either the cable networks or the broadcast news shows.

Part of the problem is access. Media outlets have had a difficult time getting into Syria since the war started and their safety hasn’t been guaranteed by any of the factions. A few have made it across the border, but many of the reports have been from the Turkish side.  The same goes for Africa. Distance, cost, infrastructure and safety issues mean there are very few reporters there on a regular basis. CNN is an exception, which has a 30 minute daily program on CNN International called “Inside Africa.”

Keep in mind that the network evening news shows are only about 23 minutes long (with commercials) so there’s no way they’re going to get every major story in there. There’s an effort to balance the hard news with a little bit of feature there as well, so some of that news “real estate” is taken up with “Making A Difference” type stories. Of course, we have U.S. politics to cover as well.  All worthy issues and topics.

The instantaneous nature of news means that online, cable and wire services are pushed to post news quickly, often reporting without context or important background.  The networks have also cut their staffs, so they just don’t have the resources to cover the world the way they should, or they way viewers think they do.

The point is, just because you don’t see a story on your evening news, it doesn’t mean it’s over.  You can always go online and get additional news from international outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, and even some Palestinian bloggers.  Every media outlet has some sort of bias based on where they’re from, who their reporters are, etc.  If you go into your viewing and reading with that in mind, and try to understand different perspectives, you’ll broaden your perception of how the rest of the world sees these conflicts.

Journalists also have to deal with their local “handlers,” be they military or governmental. In any conflict, all sides will seek to give journalists only their side of the story, so influence the final news product.  Viewers have no idea what they’re not being told, so it’s up to the reporter to be transparent about where they’re getting their information and whether it’s verified or not.  As importantly, they should be clear about what they’re not seeing, whether that’s a rocket site, a tunnel or the scene of an attack.

Want to learn more?  Read this piece that gives some great examples of these issues.  It’s written by Mark Lavie, a former AP, NPR, NBC and CBC reporter who’s reported extensively in the Middle East. http://www.thetower.org/article/why-everything-reported-from-gaza-is-crazy-twisted/

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