Narrating war in 140 characters: “Protective edge” as covered by Western mainstream media, by citizen reporters & by those who got caught between the two
A few weeks ago, Giuditta Fontana of King’s College London contacted me and invited me to give a lecture to her students on Media & Conflict in the Middle-East. It was a four-hour class, so I had plenty of time to dwell on the long history of wartime media in the Arab world.
In the first part of the presentation, I was going to present a sort of archaeology of Arab media practices in times of war; I wanted to start with the 1952 revolution in Egypt, and explain how the Voice of the Arabs radio (established in 1953 by Gamal Abdel Nasser) and Al-Ahram newspaper accompanied Nasser in his 1956 and 1967 wars with Israel. I also wanted to talk about the production of wartime music during that same period, and explain the role of music icons like Oum Koulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez in promoting the secular, pan-Arab narrative of the 50s-70s in the Middle-East and Northern Africa.
The second part of the presentation was going to be focused on the rise of political Islam in the Arab world in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. My aim was to introduce students to the shifts in Hezbollah media strategies, since their production of guerilla military videos in the early eighties, to music videos and video games during their 2006 war with Israel. I was also going to highlight the role of satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Manar in covering the 2006 war, and in fostering the re-emergence of a pan-Arab narrative of the conflict with Israel. Finally, I was going to end my presentation with an analysis of the use of Twitter and alternative social media platforms in organising field humanitarian aid during the #Jan25 revolution in Egypt. The plan was to cover 60 years of Arab media and war in 60 slides.
Then Israel launched its new war on Gaza on July 8, 2014.
“Protective Edge” stats on July 23, 2014 (source @AP)
631 killed, 161 children
4010 wounded, including 1213 children & 698 women
29 killed, 27 soldiers
Dozens of wounded troops
By the third day of the conflict, I was frenetically archiving Western media coverage of the war on Gaza and comparing that to the live-coverage, on alternative social media networks, by Gazan citizen reporters on the ground.
And the inconsistency was astonishing.
It all of a sudden sounded completely insignificant to spend four hours narrating the history of Arab media in times of conflict when there was a war raging at the moment. So I decided to drop the historical archaeology of media practices, and presented yesterday an initial mapping of how Western mainstream media was covering operation “Protective Edge”, what activists on the ground were saying, and how some mainstream media journalists were trying to challenge dominant media narratives of the Gaza conflict.
Here are my slides.
& A shout-out to @JohnHorneUK for his amazing help curating these the last 48 hours!