Thursday, April 26, 2007

How the Media Partnered With Hezbollah

From World Politics Watch, 22 Apr 2007, by Frida Ghitis ....

While the war between Israel and Hezbollah raged in Lebanon and Israel last summer, it became clear that media coverage had itself started to play an important role in determining the ultimate outcome of that war..... And it quickly transpired that Hezbollah would become the beneficiary of the media's manipulation.

A close examination of the media's role during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon comes now from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, in an analysis of the war published in a paper whose subtitle should give pause to journalists covering international conflict: "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict." Marvin Kalb, of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, methodically traces the transformation of the media "from objective observer to fiery advocate." Kalb painstakingly details how Hezbollah exercised absolute control over how journalists portrayed its side of the conflict, while Israel became "victimized by its own openness."

....Journalists did Hezbollah's work, offering little resistance to the Islamic militia's effort to portray itself as an idealistic and heroic army of the people, facing an aggressive and ruthless enemy. With Hezbollah's unchallenged control of journalists' access within its territory, it managed to almost completely eliminate from the narrative crucial facts, such as the fact that it deliberately fired its weapons from deep within civilian population centers, counting on Israeli forces to have no choice but defend themselves by targeting rocket launchers where they stood. Hezbollah's strong support from Syria and Iran -- including the provision of deadly weapons -- faded in the coverage, as the conflict increasingly became portrayed as pitting one powerful army against a band of heroic defenders of a civilian population.

Gradually lost in the coverage was the fact that the war began when Hezbollah infiltrated Israel, kidnapping two of its soldiers (still held to this day) and killing eight Israelis. Despite the undisputed fact that Hezbollah triggered the war, Israel was painted as the aggressor, as images of the war overtook the context.

Israelis by the hundreds of thousands became the target of rocket fire aimed at civilian centers. Women and children, Jews and Arabs, young and old, spent more than a month living in underground shelters while nearly 4000 Hezbollah rockets rained on Israel. The coverage from Israel, however, quickly moved away from the anxiety-filled civilian areas, which were not terribly telegenic, and onto the front lines where armed, uniformed soldiers could be seen by television cameramen and reporters.

By contrast, armed Hezbollah fighters were all but invisible to the media. Also invisible were Hezbollah's thousands of rockets and rocket launchers strategically positioned near schools, hospitals and apartment buildings.

..... On more than one occasion, Hezbollah choreographed theater for visiting journalists, with ambulances ordered to parade on command for journalists, who rarely challenged the inconsistencies in what they saw. Bloggers, for example, noticed a perfectly unharmed Lebanese man standing in a picture, not long after he had been seen being "rescued" from the crushing rubble of a building.

Before long, Hezbollah had achieved a definitive propaganda victory. The media had not only acquiesced to tell Hezbollah's version of the war, they had started contributing to the creation of the narrative, with at least one Reuters photographer altering photographs to make Israeli attacks look more damaging.

And many reporters simply failed to offer much context. The study quotes the New York Times' Stephen Erlanger commenting on a satellite picture published by his paper. The picture showed a southern suburb of Beirut, which was largely destroyed. Erlanger said it "bothered me a great deal," because the image with no context failed to show that this was a small part of a Beirut, and the rest of the city was largely undamaged by the war.

According to the Harvard paper, Arab TV network Al Arabiya portrayed Arabs as the victims in 95 percent of its stories, while Al Jazeera did it in 70 percent of its reports. Arab journalists' bias against Israel is hardly surprising, but consider this: Al Jazeera's coverage portrayed Israel as the aggressor just as often as did the four main German television programs. And if you think American journalists held no bias against Israel, you may be surprised to know that "On the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, Israel was portrayed as the aggressor nearly twice as often in the headlines and exactly three times as often in the photos."

The Harvard paper shows the need for journalists to brace themselves and remain vigilant when they cover conflicts between open societies on one side, and media-controlling militias on the other. These conflicts, which we will undoubtedly continue to see, demand that journalists make a greater effort to provide context and to keep from become willing collaborators with one side.

Islamic militant groups, such as al-Qaida and others, have openly described their strategy of manipulating the media and winning on the "information battlefield." Hezbollah, too, had a well crafted, and ultimately successful media plan.The challenge to keep from being used will be greatest for journalists in the field, but editors back in the newsroom also must look closely at what their organizations produce. They must be aware that their reporters on the ground are the target of media campaigns by those they cover, and that reporters can become emotionally allied with one side, as we saw last summer in Lebanon.

Arab MK suspected of aiding Hizbullah

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Apr. 25, 2007, by Staff ...

[Arab Member of the Knesset] Azmi Bishara is suspected of having aided Israel's enemies during the Second Lebanon War.

Bishara is suspected of transferring information to Hizbullah during the war, of maintaining contacts with a foreign agent, and of money laundering.

Bishara denied the accusations on Wednesday an interview with Al-Jazeera TV ....
Bishara added that he had no intention of sitting in an Israeli court "like a common criminal," and that at this stage he also had no intention of returning to the country.... He also referred to the Israeli press as "totalitarian and hysterical."

Recently Bishara tendered his resignation from the Knesset, but as a former MK he continues to hold many of the privileges of an elected official ... including the more than NIS 72,000-a-year pension that he will receive for the next decade

....Bishara was last known to be in Egypt, but even his colleagues in Balad said they did not know his current whereabouts. ....

Monday, April 23, 2007

Footballer fined for 'Nazi' insult

From The Age, April 18, 2007, by Jamie Berry ...

An Ocean Grove footballer has been convicted and fined $1000 for abusing a Jewish businessman.

Magistrate Barbara Cotterell earlier blasted footballer Simon Phillip Christian's "extremely racist" behaviour ....Christian chanted "go Nazis" to Menachem Vorchheimer as he walked to a synagogue with his two young children on October 14....

...Mr Vorchheimer was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse coming from the bus filled with Christian's teammates who had earlier attended the Caulfield Racecourse during the Spring Racing Carnival...."As he was being held by the arms, the victim was punched to the face, causing him to suffer an injury to the area around his left eye," Mr Sutton [his lawyer] said.

...Magistrate Barbara Cotterell found the charge of using insulting words in a public place proven against Christian, an economics student at Deakin University....Ms Cotterell said the comment was "not a slip".In sentencing Christian, Ms Cotterell said that other people should be deterred from behaving in this way in this county. "We pride ourselves on being tolerant and when episodes of this nature take place they besmirch every one of us," she said. She said that the term "Go Nazis" echoed back to one of the most horrific events of the 20th century and using them was difficult to define. "I find they encouraged and supported other members of the group."... she said that "mob mentality" had taken over. "The group on the bus of which you were a part demonstrated great cowardice by yelling insults from a moving bus."

...Christian's lawyer, Brian Bourke... said his client had no comment. "He's got nothing to say. Do you understand me, he's got nothing to say," Mr Bourke told reporters. "He's got nothing to say - do you understand bloody English?"

Two other Ocean Grove footballers will appear in court over the incident in June.

Run-off for President turns into classic Right-Left duel

From The Times (UK), April 23, 2007, by Charles Bremner in Paris [see our previous posting on this subject] ....

Voters sent Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal into the run-off for the French presidency yesterday, confounding the hopes of their centrist and far-right challengers in the most closely contested campaign for decades.
Mr Sarkozy, 52, who is promising radical reform to haul France out of stagnation, took 31 per cent of the votes, and Ms Royal, 53, whose unorthodox campaign unsettled many on the Left, won solid endorsement from her own camp with nearly 26 per cent.
François Bayrou, 55, the centrist who had threatened to overtake Ms Royal, earned just over 18 per cent — a strong score for a third candidate but a blow for his attempt to forge a “third-way” revolution in French politics.
The biggest disappointment was suffered by Jean-Marie Le Pen, 78, the veteran National Front leader, who scored only about 11 per cent [my biggest "disappointment" was that he scored anything at all - SL]. This was far below the 17 per cent that took him into the second round in 2002, eliminating the Socialist candidate.

...As the unsuccessful candidates from the Far Left called on their voters to support Ms Royal, Mr Sarkozy made his first play for the centrist voters who were deterred by his rightwing rhetoric and backed Mr Bayrou. Eight million people voted for him but it remains unclear which way they will swing in the run-off. To the cheers of supporters in his Paris headquarters, Mr Sarkozy promised “to rally the French people around a new French dream”.

...The winner of the run-off will succeed President Chirac, who leaves the Elysée Palace in mid-May after 12 years in office. The results of various polls released last night suggested that Mr Sarkozy would win the May 6 ballot with between 52 and 54 per cent of the vote against 46 to 48 per cent for Ms Royal....

Syria’s one-party poll

From The Financial Times, April 19 2007, by Ferry Biedermann in Beirut ...

...when even Syria’s government-controlled Tishreen newspaper sees fit to point out a distinct lack of “enthusiasm” for the coming elections, interest must be at rock-bottom....Not mentioned in Tishreen were calls for a boycott by the exiled opposition National Salvation Front, which includes the banned Muslim Brotherhood and former vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam.

...voters will choose from almost 10,000 government-vetted candidates for 250 parliamentary seats, of which 170 are reserved for the ruling Ba’ath party and its allies. The other 80 go to independents, including many rich businessmen and industrialists who in practice do not dare diverge from the government line.

The authorities have cracked down hard on political opponents and human rights activists over the past year. Prominent writers such as Michel Kilo and human rights lawyers such as Anwar Bunni are still in jail, ostensibly for criticising the government’s policies in Lebanon. Dissidents such as Kamal Labwani are still locked up after having had contacts with opposition groups abroad. Some have chosen exile and others have stopped speaking out.

It all seems part of a consolidation of power in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited the mantle from his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000. Mr Assad is set to have himself reconfirmed as president later this year in a referendum in which he will be the only candidate.

The young ruler is regarded as having recovered from a wobbly period after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the not altogether voluntary withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005. His relations with important Arab countries and the west nose-dived during this time over his alleged support for militants in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

But in recent months he appears to have mended fences – meeting the Saudi king twice at the recent Arab summit in Riyadh and welcoming an increasing flow of western politicians to Damascus, including the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Iranians want low inflation, not fission

From The Australian, April 23, 2007, by Marie Colvin ...

Bread prices may be Ahmadinejad's undoing

... Ahmadinejad - who once claimed to have been surrounded by an aura while speaking to the UN and who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map - is becoming, in the words of one Western official, "increasingly divorced from reality".

Diplomats find it hard to judge who really speaks for Iran today. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has the ultimate power but says little in public, while his President's rhetoric is often at variance with more business-like statements from other senior officials in parallel power structures.

Ahmadinejad, head of the conservative hardliners whose scant knowledge of the outside world is a source of pride, has found himself pitted against a group of conservative pragmatists such as Ali Larijani, secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who represents a more sophisticated approach to international relations.

...The saga of the 15 British sailors and marines detained in the Shatt al-Arab waterway last month highlighted a fault line of growing significance in Iranian politics. The Revolutionary Guards, one of the pillars of support for Ahmadinejad, imprisoned them and made talks about their release all but impossible. They are said to have shown no sense of urgency and no understanding of the pressures faced by the British Government.

In the end, Larijani - who believes that, to survive, the regime has to engage with the West - stepped in and defused the crisis. He recommended to the supreme leader that the servicemen be freed and then had a long talk about it with Nigel Sheinwald, Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser.

Ahmadinejad and Larijani ran against each other for the presidency in 2005 and represent factions vying for power in parliamentary elections next year and presidential elections in 2009.
Many Iranians believe that Ahmadinejad's international posturing on the nuclear issue and UN sanctions may have backfired at home. A steep drop in support since he was voted in on a populist platform two years ago was in evidence when his Sweet Smell of Service party suffered dramatic losses in municipal elections last December. It is Ahmadinejad's apparent detachment from the economic realities facing ordinary Iranians that now threatens his position, according to critics who also argue that his nuclear obsessions have left the country isolated and vulnerable to attack.

Some rivals accuse him of using confrontation with the West to distract people from the mundane but pressing concerns of stagnant wages, skyrocketing prices and imminent petrol rationing, an extraordinary prospect in a country that earns $240million a day from oil.
Every conversation here last week seemed to revolve around the imposition of petrol rationing on May 21. Subsidised petrol will rise from 10.7 cents to 13.5 cents per litre. Far worse in this sprawling traffic-choked city, only three litres a day will be available at that price. Ration cards will be issued and any purchase over the limit will be at a non-subsidised rate that has yet to be decided.

"It is one of the most sensitive decisions ever taken in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran," said Saeed Laylaz, an Iranian economist. "There will be dissatisfaction, unrest and more inflation. At worst, there will be an explosion in the social structure."

Iranians have already been hit by a 50 per cent rise in fares last month. Shared taxis, the favourite way to get around town, rose from 13.5c to 20c for the shortest journey. Every such increase counts in a country where a teacher is paid about $70 a week.

... the people who voted Ahmadinejad into power ... are furious that their salaries remain pitifully low while the price of food rises at a rate unofficially estimated at between 20 and 40 per cent per annum. They feel betrayed and say they will not vote for him again.

Some Iranian analysts say Ahmadinejad's theatrics have not only sent his popularity into freefall but have also earned the displeasure of Khamenei - who could remove him. Such a radical move seems unlikely, not least because it might give the impression that Iran was bowing to Western demands. But Ahmadinejad will face an uphill battle to win a second term, given the state of the economy and the impression that he is a demagogue.

The dark horse positioning himself to challenge the President is Mohamed Baqer Qalibaf, Ahmadinejad's successor as mayor of Tehran.

Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard now seen as a conservative pragmatist but who straddles both camps, is one of the few politicians earning praise in Tehran by concentrating on practical matters such as building parks and new pavements. In a contest with a mystic obsessed with nuclear matters, the practical man preoccupied with pavements and the price of bread may just prove to be the winner.

The Sunday Times

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mystery of the Obvious

From GLORIA, April 17, 2007, by Barry Rubin ...

...we must be profoundly grateful when someone discovers the obvious. Here are three examples of this phenomenon.

The first comes from David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, April 8. Brooks attended one of the endless series of dialogues... supposed to be getting "Americans and moderate Arab reformers together to talk about Iraq, Iran, and any remaining prospects for democracy in the Middle East." ...All the Arab speakers wanted to discuss was Israel and its alleged control over U.S. policy. ....all the problems within the Middle East, too, stemmed from Israel. That includes not only the Arab-Israeli dispute but also all the crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and stemming from Iran's ambitions. The Americans tried to get their counterparts to discuss other things, including the need for modernization in the Arab world. They failed....

Another example of discovery comes from the well-known blogger who calls himself IraqPundit, an Iraqi exile. He writes of watching an al-Jazira television show, on which a Somali guest complained about Islamist terrorists making miserable the lives of Somalis.

The host responded, "You sound like the Iraqi government when it calls any act of resistance 'terrorism.'" This sent IraqPundit into a spin. Suddenly, all he could think of was, "Iraqi men, women, and children choking to death in a cloud of chlorine gas released by one of the noble resistance's truck bombs....I saw Iraqi girls who had gone to school and Iraqi mothers who had gone to the market, all murdered and lying in a sea of Iraqi blood."

He concludes, "But that's Arab Nationalism, isn't it? When the Baathist regime was overthrown, hardcore nationalists equated Arab 'honor' with the survival of brutal and tyrannical trash. Now, they equate 'resistance' with our slaughter."

My final example comes from an Islamist Internet site, courtesy of MEMRI's translation. One member posted an article opposing a nuclear attack on America by Islamists since the resulting U.S. retaliation against Muslims would be devastating. He also stated the Muslim religion permitted revenge only on those who directly commit an act of aggression and not on unarmed civilians.

Most responses strongly disagreed, starting with one that began, "This article was not written by a Muslim...but by an American... [probably from] one of their strategic centers for countering the Islamic jihad...." The notion was that anyone who opposed attacking a stronger adversary by killing millions of people must be an enemy agent. Of course, the great majority of Muslims reject doing any such thing, but the argument that those who speak in real-world terms are traitors is widespread, a constantly employed tactic.

There are two basically wrong responses to all this in the West. The first, the radical one, is that these claims about Israel's omnipotence, the virtues of Arab nationalist "resistance," and the right to murder Westerners are correct. The alternative, more "moderate" stance, which appeals to a far wider circle, is that since Arabs or Muslims truly believe these things, such grievances must be addressed by apologies, policy changes, and concessions.

When it comes to the Middle East, there is often nothing more difficult than discovering the obvious.