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International Media: Fourth Estate or Hostage? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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On the second of October 2000, shortly after the breakout of the Intifada, the TV footage showing the assassination of the Palestinian child &#34Muhammad Al-Durra&#34 shocked the world and tainted the memory of humanity. &#34Al-Durra&#34 became a symbol for innocent childhood deprived of life viciously and deliberately. His blood stained shoes toured the world along with the possessions of the first hundred martyrs of Intifada, a testimony to the cruelty and criminality of the Occupation.

Ever since that day, the Israeli Occupation Forces, in their suppression of Palestinian demands for freedom and independence, have assassinated hundreds of Palestinian Children in Gaza and the West Bank. Assassination, expulsion and oppression were described by &#34Israeli leaders&#34 as policies that reduce the &#34threat&#34 of the &#34Palestinian demographic increase.&#34 Al-Durra remains the martyr child in the conscience of the world, however, not the rightfully first name in a long list of martyrs. This is not due to any change in Israeli Occupation policies; it is the result of prudent Israeli media strategies. Ever since the world media witnessed the assassination of Al-Durra, Israel has made sure that no similar testimony to its ethnic cleansing crimes ever enjoys a similar coverage. This has been realized through two policies: first terrorizing peace activists to prevent them from coming to Palestine, and secondly deliberately targeting some international journalists to raise the risks of coverage.

In consequence to these two policies, Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist, was mercilessly and intentionally crushed by Israeli bulldozers in full view of the world. Later, Thomas Hurrndall, a British Journalist, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while he was trying to shield with his body a couple of Palestinian children. Then there was James Miller who was shooting a film on the suffering and killing of Palestinian children under occupation. The film was lost with the journalist”s life. Along with those blatant murders, there were oppressive legal restrictions that have made access to the scene very difficult to journalists — as was done in Ginin, and as the Americans did with Falluja. Many journalists were killed in Iraq; many surviving witnesses have confirmed that it has been a pre-determined policy and no accident.

Reminiscent of the time of Stalin, media policies, such as &#34embedded journalism,&#34 evolved to prevent free coverage of events and reshape reality with a predefined perspective. Armless civilians have become easy targets, with no preventive or opposing world opinion mobilized by objective coverage of war crimes. Arab media, however, have not provided the alternative presenting the world with the actual picture of reality. Names, ages and life stories of victims are hardly ever mentioned. Following the example of Western media, Arab war victims in Iraq and Palestine have become mere numbers, with no connotation to the human suffering and tragedies they represent. Arab victims have become all activists, armed civilians, or terrorists, giving the enemy war criminal the legitimizing justifications.

American bereaved mothers who have lost their children to the war on Iraq have recently realized the importance of giving numbers faces and names. Cindy Shihan has made her lost son &#34Casey&#34 the most famous American soldier killed in Iraq, telling the world his and his fellow victims” life stories. This is especially at a time when the American government has forbidden handing dead soldiers over to their families in military ceremonies and under media coverage. They are given back in silence and away from preying cameras. On the other side of the front, tragedy continues in Iraq in numbers, with &#34a hundred killed, out of which are 25 children and 35 women.&#34

On the fifth anniversary of murdering Muhammad Al-Durra, cameramen and journalists have become regular visitors of prisons, and media blackouts have become a vital element of pre-designed policies that secure &#34freedom of speech&#34 for war criminals and occupiers. News such as destroying the school of &#34Al-Arkom&#34 in Gaza is lost on screen next to oil prices and natural disasters. Since the killing of Al-Durra, more than 660 Palestinian children have been killed, among whom is Iman AL-Hams deliberately killed by an Israeli officer in public, and more than 295 Palestinian schools have been destroyed, while others turned into military barricades.

The least Arab scholars, thinkers and writers could do is register the individual stories of the victims, archive the occupation crimes and disseminate them to the world. Justice might then, even after a hundred years, be reached. The suffering of the victims should remain present in our lives and in the conscience of humanity. Only then, free media can regain its status in presenting reality, instead of propagating lies. Today, media is no longer the fourth estate. It has become hostage to politicians and generals who use it to cover up their crimes, undermining international legitimacy, human dignity and human rights.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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