Monday, August 25, 2008

bbc presenter criticizes afghanistan coverage

Veteran BBC correspondent and presenter Lyse Doucet has criticized the coverage of the Afghan war on British TV. According to the Daily Mail, Doucet told the Edinburgh International Television Conference:
What's lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of the humanity of the Afghans... You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got a sense of how Afghans are as a people.
In what turned out to be a controversial statement, Doucet called on her colleagues to also show the "humanity" of the Taliban. You just need to read the "comments" column to find out that this proposal does not get down well with at least the Daily Mail readership... which doesn't change the fact that she has a point there, of course. Just consider that even in "Lions for Lambs" which was widely regarded as an anti-war movie, there was no attempt at all to understand the Afghans in the story. It was all about the US discussion about the war in Afghanistan, but without any Afghanistan actually shown...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

musharraf resigns - second thoughts from pakistan

What I find most interesting about Pakistani media reactions the day after is how openly Musharraf is criticized for his policy on Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Daily Times writes that Musharraf derived legitimacy for his rule from serving both the interests of the army and the Americans...

...until a clash of legitimacies (army versus NATO-ISAF) made it difficult for him to pass off his double-dealing as political ambivalence. This began to happen after his policy of giving shelter to the Taliban leadership of
Afghanistan in Quetta could not be maintained without adverse reaction from Washington, and his strategy of retaining domination of Afghanistan resulted in cross-border Taliban raids into Afghanistan.

And Yousuf Nazar demands in DAWN that Musharraf "face an open trial":
His greatest crime was that he compromised Pakistan’s national interests to consolidate his power when he was an international pariah and brought Pakistan to the brink of Balkanisation by his dual track policy of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban while allowing the Americans to conduct air strikes on Pakistan.

He elaborates:

A section of our English-speaking elite believe Musharraf was trying to save them from the Taliban. This makes you wonder how ignorant one can be. He secured the evacuation of more than 3,000 Taliban and militants between Nov 15 and 23, 2001 from Kunduz in Afghanistan, where they had been trapped, to Pakistan’s tribal areas from where they were to later organise and conduct terrorist attacks.

Musharraf used the intelligence agencies to rig the 2002 elections to enable the supporters of religious militants and Lal Masjid extremists, such as Chaudhry Shujaat and Ijazul Haq, to gain power in the centre and the religious elements to gain ground in the NWFP and Balochistan. The politics of fear and blackmail was practised, fully exploiting the apprehensions of Pakistanis and the West of religious extremists.

Many people have criticized the ISI's involvement in the making of the alliance of religious parties, the MMA on many occasions, but Musharraf's links to the Taliban have generally not been exposed in this way in the Pakistani media, I believe. Could be helpful for an honest debate.

And finally, a bold claim by political scientist Rasul Bakhsh Rais, also in the Daily Times - wonder if he's right here, specially in the second half:

The real credit for causing Musharraf’s fall goes to civil society and the media, both new actors on Pakistan’s social and political scene. In all new democracies, where the transition from military to civilian rule has taken place, these two actors have proved catalysts of political change, and the agenda-setters and messengers of political forces.

Monday, August 18, 2008

musharraf resigns - first reactions by international media

Pervez Musharraf’s resignation announcement could have beaten Hitchcock at his best in terms of suspense. (Times of India)

"Until the last minute he was in two minds, facing a choice between fight and flight," a close aide, who had strongly advised him to cling to power, told AFP.

The speech was as much an attempt to secure his historical legacy as it was an effort to refute critics who said that he had undermined the country's stability by clinging to the presidency. (Wall Street Journal)

In the end, the Pakistani ruling coalition only needed to summon the courage — something they found in short supply for nearly five months — to go for the kill. (

Pervez Musharraf, who resigned on Monday, took Pakistan to the brink of war with India during the 1999 Kargil hostilities only to launch a sustained peace process a few years later. (

Critics say he suffered from a "saviour complex" and believed he was indispensable. (Reuters)

If the president retained substantial powers, Zardari might want the position, although he has has hinted the next president may be a woman. Analysts speculate that the ethnic Pashtun leader Asfandyar Wali Khan is a frontrunner because he is liberal and it would be a sign of national unity. (Guardian)

If over the coming months the weak civilian partners fail to arrest the decline of the economy and the rise of militancy, they may face a galling nostalgia for the one-man rule of the Musharraf years. (Time)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

some comments on "Guardians of Power"

Dear David Edwards and David Cromwell,

I have read your book „Guardians of Power“ with great interest. As a working journalist myself for the last decade, I find it extremely thought-provoking and disturbing. It certainly deserves to be read and debated among journalists and media scholars. There can be no excuse for the serious mistakes which you expose, the obvious bias and the arrogance shown by senior representatives of the British media especially before the invasion of Iraq.

Nevertheless, I would like to raise a few questions and share my experience with how editorial teams in "mainstream media" work. And I think, while far from dismissing your criticism, I'd suggest you look more closely into the daily decision-making process in the media, because this is where the main problems are - and where we should look for solutions. Whereas more "citizen journalism" might help, what we really need - in my opinion - is more professionalism in the media, not less.

I am not entirely convinced about your analysis of the reasons for biased media coverage. You talk about the media doing „propaganda“ – mainly for big business and the establishment. You talk about the influence of the corporate sector over the media and claim it is responsible for suppressing stories. In certain cases, this may be true. There are large media conglomerates run by business tycoons in many countries, and they also follow certain editorial policies. But what is more surprising is that even supposedly independent institutions like public service broadcasters fail in their job.

And: How do you explain, for example, that German and French media never supported the war in Iraq? That they heavily criticized the practice of „embedded journalism“ and remain staunch critics of George W. Bush? Surely the major German and French companies don’t have so totally different interests from the British and Americans? Why does a widely read and respected critical newspaper such as „Le Monde diplomatique“ exist in France, but not in Britain? How do you explain that, in Pakistan, mainstream private commercial TV channels have over the last more than a year been extremely critical of the pro-American, pro-business President Musharraf? And instead upheld democratic ideals of an independent judiciary and human rights? That mainstream TV journalism helped force Musharraf to step down as army chief and hold free elections? It just doesn’t make sense at all according to your theoretical framework.

In my experience, this is more about political cultures, mindsets – and work routines. These days, most journalists are not very creative people. Journalists themselves are the biggest media consumers. A few news agencies define their news agenda for the day. It’s a well-established daily routine to follow the others, and not to be different.

This is true for single news stories, but even more for „angles“ or „frames“ for certain ongoing developments – such as the „war on terror“. Or for what, for want of better terminology, I’d like to call a „discourse“. There is an enormous power in established ways of seeing the world, and it requires enormous efforts (not just of journalists) to shift these paradigms – to question who are the good and who are the bad guys, for example.

Because we don’t have a global public sphere, these mindsets, frames and discourses can vary from country to country. There is a strong anti-Bush public discourse or even anti-American stereotype in countries such as France, Germany and Pakistan. Any number of influential multinational companies won’t prevent critical coverage of the Iraq war here. (Though we have other blind spots which we don’t recognize.)

If this is true, it makes changing the media much easier. Most journalists I have met are ambitious about their job. They want to be good, and there is a lot of journalistic training in different fields such as techniques of writing and presenting – though hardly in editorial independence and investigative journalism, for example. If all the talk about the media controlling the government and being the fourth pillar of the state were true, the first training should be how to fulfil this role. Just as a lawyer is trained to defend his client no matter what he himself thinks about the case, a journalist must learn to doubt the version of the Prime Minister’s spokesman. In my experience, this is easier for journalists who know they are working in an authoritarian country - such as Pakistan, and even China. But we tend to get complacent in democracies, where chances are high that a majority of us have voted for this government ourselves. On the other hand, if lawyers and judges could learn their job over the centuries, why can’t we?

I'd like to draw your attention to an article published more than 20 years ago by an anthropologist and journalist, James Lett. He writes:
To be recognized as a journalist, you simply have to work as a journalist--and that’s true in very few other professions. Lacking both a reliable methodology for gathering information and a sound theoretical basis for organizing knowledge, journalists have little choice but to practice a journalism that is both uninformed and unanalytical. From an anthropological point of view, journalism is exceedingly uncritical.
I am convinced these are the crucial issues: There is not enough reflection – in fact, most of the time, there is no reflection at all – among journalists about their role and their work. Instead, there is a strange obsession with "news" – though, as James Lett, whom I have quoted before, puts it:
Television news rarely makes people examine their world view or question their ethos. Instead, television news regularly re-affirms their preconceptions and reinforces their prejudices. There’s nothing new about the news.
Our media are full of stereotypes, full of boring repetitions every day. To avoid this, we need more critical minds, more serious professionals. We certainly don’t need less professional journalism, as you suggest. There is a role for „citizen journalists“ such as bloggers (as there is for juries in courts, for example), but don’t overestimate it! We need people who monitor the media, as you do it, and we need a broadly based public debate. But „netizens“ will also be prone to spread rumours and hate speech. They should inspire, correct and supplement broadcasters and newspapers, but cannot replace credible, critical mass media.

Thanks for an important book, and keep up your work!

Best regards,

Thomas Bärthlein