People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 13, 2006
Lebanon And The Media War
AS most progressive people realise, there are two wars going on in the Middle East: one is the military conflict and the other is the media war. And just as the fight on the military front is unequal, with US and the entire might of the Imperialist world behind Israel, so is the media war. Al Jazeera and Arab networks are hardly in a position to combat the effects of the lies perpetrated through the globalised western media.
We heard of the embedded journalist during the Iraq war: the prevalence of such embededness has now become routine, and by virtue of being routine has gained wide acceptance as a phenomenon that is ‘natural’ and ‘given’. Therefore even if one takes the details of what is being said with a pinch of salt, one feels that what one has ‘seen’ for oneself on TV cannot but be true. Worse still, one does not recognise that the very premises within which one is questioning the details of a ‘report’ have in themselves become circumscribed through repeated ‘access’ to ‘information’ from ‘so many sources’. In short one does not realise that one’s outlook has already been conditioned through the use of repeated discussions and images deliberately fed to us by the mainstream media. So even when we question, it is within certain limits.
FRAMING OF THE CURRENT WAR
This remains true with regard to the Israeli attack on Lebanon, even when we are no friends of Zionism. And this is not merely due to lack of alternate information, but due to a lack of an alternate mode of thinking. All over the world people have been made to believe that the war started on July 12, 2006 with the capture of Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah. Therefore: Israel didn’t start this war. Hezbollah did. “This is the stark framing of the current war between Israel and Lebanon that remains unquestioned” (Kaminer Ray, Omission vs. Repitition, ZNet), even as the details of bombings of civilians cause anguish. All major news channels, including BBC and Reuters present the fateful incident of the capture of Israeli soldiers as the starting point of the current fighting (despite information available that preparedness for the attack goes back to more than a year and that the conflict has a history where Israel is aggressor) and a kind of moral equivalence is quickly and decisively created. Moreover, the attack becomes a ‘war’.
World leaders come forward to help the Israeli ‘cause’. The UN secretary general Kofi Annan "condemned Hezbollah for sparking the latest violence in the country," according to BBC news. Condoleeza Rice gave the US position as: “We fully understand the need of Israel to defend itself,” against “all of the carnage that Hezbollah launched by its illegal activities, abducting the soldiers and then launching rocket attacks.” Bush frames the attack in terms of war on terrorism with its axis in Palestine. There are endless discussions with experts who repeatedly give such views as "They want to drive the Jews into the sea".
“It's as simple as that. Not even a superficial attempt at analysis; just the message that the Arab world is trying to finish off the genocide started by Europe…And… a lot of Americans buy that stuff.” (ZNet). And nobody asks the question as to why the Israeli government “could not give a single moment for diplomacy, negotiations, or even cool reflection over the situation.”
Characterisations are deliberately confused: while the Arab world sees Hizbollah as freedom fighters, the western world has characterised them “terrorists” and identical with Al Qaeda. Images on TV of Hizbollah fighters bearing arms aid this confusion (as if American soldiers don’t bear arms when they fight, or don’t kill during conflicts and wars!), and continuous images of Arabs in their headgear and women in burqas have already become synonymous with Islam as sectarian and fundamentalist. Nowhere in the world has the mainstream media clarified that although Hizbollah is an Islamicist organisation, it arose as a resistance movement to Israeli occupation, and its aims do not include turning Lebanon into a theocratic state. Nor have people been told that it arose as a guerrilla force, but today while it still maintains a militia it is an influential political party in Lebanese parliament and cabinet, and has alliances with other secular and non-Muslim political groupings as well. To be exact it has 12 members in parliament and two in cabinet.
In keeping with the characterization of Hizbollah as Al Qaeda-like, the western media has also perpetrated other related myths (and also to somewhat justify/condone the Israeli attacks on civilian settlements) such as that the Hizbollah has been deliberately using civilian human shields. Proving the utter falsity of this “human shields” theory, the Human Rights Watch report has, instead, clearly stated that its researchers “found numerous cases in which the IDF [Israeli army] launched artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military objectives but excessive civilian cost. In many cases, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.” HRW has analysed the casualty figures from two dozen Israeli air strikes and found that more than 40 per cent of the dead are children.
Yet the western media continues in its presentation of Israeli attacks as acts of self defense, to perpetuate the lie that while Hizbollah targets civilians the Israelis aim only at terrorists. Although 33 Lebanese civilians have died for every one Israeli, the US media deems it necessary to give the Israeli agenda ten minutes of airtime for every minute allotted to the Lebanese voice. (Remi Kanazi, Counterpunch). Other media commentators on progressive websites have also pointed out that “the Western television networks seem to send most of their resources to Israel, when most of the “action” is across the border”, that “the big-name correspondents are in Israel”, and “western television networks have most of their resources focused on the Israeli side of the equation, perhaps for reasons of safety and accessibility, or perhaps because there is a feeling that more viewers in the Western world are interested in what is happening to Israel than to Lebanon — unless it involves the emergency evacuation of Westerners from Lebanese shores.”
Israeli censorship laws ensure that only the version of events Israel wants can be really disseminated. Any reports touching on “security matters” are supposed to be submitted to the country’s military censor, and self-censorship by the western media “to avoid delays” and “controversies” is quite normal in the days of “embedded” journalism that we live in. Often on “security matters” much of the western media relies on “what has already been published in the Israeli media on the assumption that in these ways they are unlikely to contravene the rules.” (ZNet)
The Israeli government has a very well organised system of feeding the media: the handouts from the field, the opinions, photographs, and ‘news’. “Information warfare is a major weapon in its arsenal as its planes pound cell phone towers and TV station antennas. It pumps out its own version of events like a 24 hour cable channel.” (Danny Schechter, The Media War In The Middle East Targets The Truth, ZNet). Israelis maintain an enormous press centre on the West Bank, where journalists are provided with handouts in several languages, along with ready-made quotes etc. Schechter has written on a professional US based PR organization called The Israel Project which describes itself an "an international non-profit organisation devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel while promoting security, freedom and peace" and is on the ground in Israel working with its government to "provide" journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel."
And then, influencing the press is apparently no longer enough. “The Israeli government, through its Consul General in New York, in what may be an illegal attempt by a foreign government to manipulate domestic public opinion, is now reaching out directly to the American public. It is an attempt to get Israel's supporters to become their "megaphone” in what's described as "a new battleground:" the Internet. Here's a direct solicitation from the Consulate received on July 24: "Dear friend, During the last couple of weeks we have received many phone calls and emails from people who are asking what can be done to support Israel during the current situation. Many of us recognise the importance of the Internet as the new battleground for explaining Israel' position. With that in mind, an Israeli software company has recently developed a free, safe and useful tool - the Internet Megaphone. Please go to www.giyus.org, download the Megaphone, and you will receive daily updates with instant links to important internet polls, articles that require a talk back, etc." (Schechter).
With media management reaching such levels, it becomes a matter of concern for us here, since much of the news in our corporate owned media is sourced precisely from such mainstream western media. On Lebanon it has been no different. If it were not for some courageous and progressive journalists and progressive web sites, we would have little means of knowing what is going on in this war. Some of these progressive sites have almost a day to day update on the happenings in Lebanon.