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On Major Media Coverage

by the Con Man (July 24th, 2006).


There are two sides to every story, and fault is a matter of perspective. Deciding who is wrong or right (or less wrong) depends on access to adequate, contextually accurate information. It’s not the media’s job to motivate and entice. Their job is to report. A news outlet wishing to preserve its credibility should maintain itself as a source of balanced news. So given this relationship between event, reporter, and viewer: what is the prevailing paradigm for major media coverage? Essentially, what is relevant, good reporting?


The truth is that major international conflict needs international attention, and media coverage is a necessary evil we embrace on the one hand, and then criticize over methodology and content utilized to derive and report news. And why does the international community maintain its callous distance? We expect nothing different, and then we object to the status quo. The reasons behind our responses (or lack thereof) to media stimuli are less related to the topic covered, but more to characteristics inherent in the unique relationships we have with the media. In international conflict, these characteristics are the main lenses through which we receive news. Two of these are identifying with a victim, and identifying with a prevailing international environment.



So Why Not Find the Victim?


A major international story almost always has major victims. Audiences love victims, and news corporations will behave in a formulaic fashion to harness the predictable impact victims have on ratings. Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are off the radar. Now, viewers tune in to the “Real Humanitarian Crisis – Lebanon,” and coming up next is “The Unraveling of Lebanon’s Economic and Social Fabric.” We thank the media for catering to our subconscious addiction to victims appealing, reminding us of everything we value most. Alternatively, the victim has nothing left to value, and we accuse the media of exploiting or ignoring the people and issues that matter most.


Camera crews and correspondents must be on the ground to witness and report hate, fear, anxiety and death, live and first-hand. News professionals are to be heroes, lending microphones and airtime to anyone with a good enough story. This is why some parts of Beirut are just as crowded with displaced civilians as they are with news trucks, vans and crews.


The problem here is not the bearer of bad news but that victims are rarely emotionally removed, and this inevitably results in bias reporting. One might argue that no reason exists to neglect a victim’s bias – and it would be hard to counter. But the fact is: such coverage contaminates news delivery, making some facts and many contextual elements of the story ambiguous and irrelevant to the viewer. This is unjust first and foremost to the victim who ultimately wishes to be heard and understood, and secondly it is a disservice to the issue and topic covered, and to the audience as well.


Unlike Israeli forces who are unambiguously dressed and outfitted with military purpose, Hizballah’s guerilla tactics and ambiguous appearance subject innocent civilians to attacks. With such tactics, there will inevitably be more relative victims. The innocent Lebanese victim’s plight, if the result of an Israeli attack, must be coupled with the factor that exposed the victim in the first place. This adds a relevant dimension to the Lebanese death toll - now exceeding that of Israelis on the order of 10.


In addition to the victim-factor, another aspect of our relationship to major media is characterized by filtering news through the lens of the prevailing international conflict du jour. In the 20th century the prevailing story was the Cold War. Today, it’s the War on Terror. This is not too complicated: every international news story has its place on the international stage of epic conflict.



So What’s Wrong with Categorizing Lebanon in this Manner?


Nothing – Lebanon could not be better situated: The “expulsion” of Syria from Lebanon gave Lebanon a prominence among international viewers it deserved and longed for. Now people are dying, and a country still recovering from civil strife must confront the notion that its future remains in the hands of others. Lebanon, once semi-sovereign, has found itself a new front for the War on Terror, and it’s always been just a matter of time.


In this story, citizens of the world are reacquainting themselves with the major actors and plot lines: Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, the US, and the UN. In the greater context, we have the still unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and wars in the Afghanistan and Iraq. Lebanon’s weight can’t escape the gravitational pull of regional instability. At the center are Hezbollah and Israel, backed by Iran/Syria, and the United States respectively. More or less, two of the three permanent members of the Axis of Evil are pitted against the world’s only superpower. The innocent Lebanese are in the middle. Sounds like a good story…


The current chapter of Lebanon’s history should have been written free of external, negative affiliations, such as Islamic terrorism. But this is wishful thinking – thinking that would have betrayed Lebanon’s ethnically diverse and divided past and distracted viewers about the simple fact that Lebanon’s most powerful and successful terrorist organization is an active political party in the Lebanese government.


This is just one of the many twists of this compelling story. To understand the whole story is best left to academics. To understand a perspective, become acquainted with the actors, their alliances, their histories and objectives, but be wary of victims. Understand the timelines. And try as much as possible to fragment the subplots.


The media’s responsibility is to report, not alleviate or comfort. And since most people don’t understand the limits of news, major news coverage will stand accused by many for being partial or bias, especially by innocent Lebanese who are already beginning to blame the international community for not doing enough to stop the violence.


The story of Lebanon is a long and tedious one, but nonetheless one that audiences can relate to. In fact you’ve heard it before… Beirut, representing the resilient Lebanese person, rose over the rubble in record time to become great once again – arguably the greatest ever.


And it will rise once again…but that won’t be a major story.












Copyright Kompashun 2006

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