There is an assumption that journalists, correspondents and photographers are confronted with a certain degree of risk when covering conflicts and wars. However, these dangers are relative in accordance with the region or the variety of situations where these stories unfold and come under the sharp scrutiny of the media’s eye. Of course, there are limits to the courage and risk-taking that can be experienced through journalism – except the higher the limits and levels of threat, the weaker the stories become with little or no impact.
As Arabs and Muslims, we need to contemplate and examine these matters especially that there are a number of thorny issues, tragedies and explosive crises to shed light upon and which require open-mindedness in dealing with the media and the press. This open-mindedness has been lacking among us particularly in light of the interlocked relation between some Western governments and their respective media outlets, which has caused us to confuse situations and to generalize criticism in a random manner.
In the age of image, various media outlets have consolidated their positions.
This reality has been coupled with specific escalation in the patterns of wars and crises, which require the sphere of news coverage around the globe to be expanded. Our region perhaps has embodied one pinnacle of the interlaced relation between journalism and the ongoing disputes. In general, both reporters and civilians have become direct targets. There are several examples in living memory, and we do not need to recall images of the trembling voices, the desperate looks or the severed heads.
Calls and action for the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza over a month ago, surfaced once again last week. Johnston was kidnapped amid vague and incomprehensible circumstances and his fate and the circumstances of his capture remain inexplicable. What is clear, however, is that Johnston was a target for the kidnappers, and what is even clearer is that there are those who want to see another Iraq in the Palestinian territories as reporters have been repeatedly targeted there.
It is time to think and to put ourselves in the shoes of the executioner – the kidnapper – who presumably has a cause. By kidnapping the BBC reporter, this “victimized” executioner has lost one of the world’s leading and most reliable media outlets. Without further engaging in unacceptable arguments on Western bias, let us recall our numerous rightful issues that were revealed by the Western rather than the Arab press – Abu Ghraib is just one example. Can we imagine what it would mean to hide the stories of Palestinian suffering from the global press?
Let us imagine what lies ahead for Gaza and the Palestinian territories if Johnston’s capture continues and if such kidnapping and threatening behavior recurs.
We could think about the recent bombing in Baghdad’s Sadr City that claimed approximately 200 civilian lives and may have been the most deadly bombing since the outset of such suicide attacks. But how was it dealt with by the media? The gravity of the crime failed to be more than a piece of news and a figure because the press is barely alive in Iraq today.
Iraq has many cameras and even more victims. However, the story between the numbers and the image no longer exists.
Let us look at Iraq and hope the Palestinians will not fall down the same trap.