Media myopia perpetuates savage conflict

In Jerusalem a few weeks ago, a suicide bomber detonated himself on a bus at a crowded intersection, killing nineteen people. This was the worst attack in Jerusalem in six years, according to the Star Tribune. Then, the following day, a second terrorist attack killed seven more.

The recent tragedies and bloodshed in the Middle East represent some of the worst atrocities in the bitter struggle: a conflict that rekindles its old violent flame despite every new possibility of peace, a struggle that shows no signs of ending.

To begin, this isn’t a column placing blame on one side or the other for the current tragedies. Yes, I do have an opinion on the Middle East situation, but who doesn’t? On the whole, I believe most Jews and Palestinians would prefer peace. After all, it’s obvious no solution will ever be reached so long as the bloodshed continues. Of course there are some exceptions, some who would rather kill the enemy than live beside them – Hamas comes to mind (ever notice how they always detonate a suicide bomber at the dawn of a new peace plan?).

Simply put: I have no interest in igniting that debate in the letters page once again. I also
didn’t write this column to propose an all-encompassing solution to ending this crisis. There’s too much history and animosity here for a quick-fix solution – not to mention, I’m just not clever enough to come up with such a thing anyway.

Instead, I wrote this column to illuminate what I see as a contributing factor to the seeming perpetual conflict in the Middle East. Perhaps by identifying these factors, we can come closer to easing the tensions that inhibit the achievement of peace.

One of these factors is the bias apparent in the way the media presents the conflict. The coverage by some of the major media networks in the Middle East makes me question their desire for peace. A recent article in Time followed a journalist as he moved about different cafes in Cairo. The Qatar-based al-Jazeera network runs news reports there – on the hour, every hour. Yes, this is the same network that felt the bin Laden video – in which he said the killing of innocents and civilians was permissible by Islamic law – was not deemed newsworthy.

According to the Time report, the news clips shown on al-Jazeera routinely show dead Palestinians lying in the streets, Israeli snipers targeting children, and Palestinian buildings aflame. All of this is intertwined at times with shots of Israeli children “frolicking in lush green fields.” It goes without saying: The view here is a little slanted.

All of this of course isn’t to say those who watch Arabic television are the only ones who are fed such a biased report. It is probable that Israeli stations, with the roles reversed, broadcast under similar biased guidelines – or perhaps they just conceal the situation all together.

For instance, when Israeli soldiers marched into Jenin, no media personnel were allowed within the city limits. Because of this, no one knows for sure what happened in there. It seems media silence can be just as effective at deploying the desired message as constant media suffocation.

I am by no means exempting American television in this critique. American papers and television stations receive mail daily, complaining of deliberate bias toward one side or the other, sometimes concerning the same story!

The danger with propaganda in the media is that it continues to fuel the animosity in the hearts of those on both sides of the conflict. The Time report classified al-Jazeera’s broadcasts of being, at times, tantamount to pro-war videos: images of Arafat’s compound being overrun, video clips of speeches by a younger, healthier Arafat, and his recent clip declaring that he wishes to be a martyr himself. Couple these images with those of the dead and the enemy living without pain, and it’s easy to see why the bonfires of hatred continue to rage.

If both sides are serious, truly serious, about bringing peace to their region, they must start by taking a look at the messages conveyed to their citizens. No close quarters – urban war such as this is fought without casualties on either side. Both peoples need to see that the other side is suffering as well and get a handle on their media representatives to convey it. Freedom of the press should not apply to those who spread propaganda.

Perhaps if the al-Jazeera network were to run footage of the recent suicide bombings and the victims huddled around the charred bus, it would open eyes. Perhaps if Israeli stations were to run footage of the dead Palestinians killed in combat, and the crushed and bulldozed homes that were once Palestinian settlements, things would begin to roll toward a change for peace.

All of this is purely suggestion, of course. I’m fully aware that I’m merely a mild-mannered college student, living a pampered, comfortable life in Minnesota – a world removed from the atrocities in the Middle East. I don’t purport to be an expert on this situation or to have the best manner to fix it. But I do know that, every day, individuals on both sides of this war wake up to the news and see the latest casualties suffered by their side.

Wouldn’t it be better if the media had nothing to report, and everyone could simply wake up without being assaulted by dreadful images of innocents being sacrificed to the bloody maw of this savage conflict? Wouldn’t it be better if we could wake up and see all of our children “frolicking in lush fields”?


Chris Schafer’s columns appear alternate weeks. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to [email protected]