The mix of news and politics is usually not a good thing, particularly when the politicians can manufacture news at will. Asharq Alawsat Editor in Chief Tariq Alhomayed just touches on the problem in this editorial.
He points out that Hamas politicians make public statements—loaded with emotional cargo—that simply cannot be true. That doesn’t stop news media from reporting them, nor does it stop audiences from believing them. He notes, too, the use of ‘sock puppets’ on various Internet fora, where Arabs assume Israeli names to make outrageous statements or simply invent a fact, the denial of which puts people in jeopardy of physical violence. Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood… they all use it, he claims.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to observers who note the rise of ‘Pallywood’ and ‘Fauxtography’. These are terms used to describe photos and video clips that are posed, mis-captioned, deceptively arranged and then transmitted to the media in order to drive a political agenda. Astute observers note that the same Palestinian women, for instance, may appear in several different photos over a period of months, each time decrying some disaster visited upon her by Israel. Unfortunately, each time she describes a different disaster, with different consequences. Either she’s incredibly unlucky or she’s being used politically. Then there’s the ‘Green Helmet Guy’ who appears carrying dead children after Israeli attacks on Qana (2006) and Gaza (2008/9)… the same dead children. Even the iconic images of Mohammad Durrah, are severely questioned and have been the subject of court cases in Europe, long after they made an impact in the Arab world.
Manipulating the news, of course, is not exclusive to the Arab world. Iran was caught in a poor attempt to cover up a failed missile launch. The former Soviet Union was noted for erasing, in the darkroom, the images of those no longer in political favor. Nor is the US immune. In addition to major newspapers’ picking up and running with the fake Iranian photo, among others, politicians are often on the receiving end of malicious (or sometimes, only humorous) photo manipulations.
It seems that the adage ‘Seeing is believing’ can no longer hold its own weight. If images can be so easily manipulated, how much easier to play with words!
What’s worse than money laundering in our Arab world is news laundering.
This happens around the clock without any consequences or supervision. In the world of the internet, satellite channels, and SMS text messaging, it is clear to see that news laundering is widely popular and some media organs are contributing to this whether intentionally or unintentionally.
The simplest example of news laundering can be seen in the comments made by Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Politburo Mousa Abu Marzook during a recent lecture he gave in Damascus. He said, “We lost 1500 martyrs but our strong women and our hard-working sisters gave birth to over 3500 Palestinian babies during the [Israeli] attacks.”
This information was published as a news item on January 19 in one of the Saudi newspapers. That day, I spoke to the Editor of that publication as we were both in Kuwait, and I asked him how that could have happened when the hospitals were being bombed. Do you realize that you are acquitting Israel [of its attacks on hospitals], particularly since the news item could not be corroborated!
He seemed perturbed by the headline and said, “This cheapens Palestinian blood.” However, I was surprised by Abu Marzook’s comments on the Hamas victory, citing this unsubstantiated information, as if life and death had no value at all!