Covering Lebanon? Child’s play

Thoughtful Telegraph column by Vicky Woods about coverage of the conflict in Lebanon…

Disinterested observers of the Middle East wars (ie journalists) do better without hanging their emotions out for all to share. Fergal Keane’s throbbing outrage (for BBC news) over the deconstruction of Lebanon and the “Qana massacre” is driving half the viewers wild with rage and giving the other half (me) stress headaches. I put “massacre” in quotes, because some people insist it was a carefully staged Hizbollah photo-op, not a massacre. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the Beeb should think of pulling Keane out of Lebanon for a bit of quiet R & R before he has to see any more massacres. (Or “massacres”.)

The BBC is taking a lot of stick for its coverage of the conflict. It is charged with being, a) generally anti-war (in a sloppy-liberal, bien-pensant way) and b) anti-Israeli (and therefore pro-Hizbollah, pro-Palestinian, pro-terrorist). And therefore anti-Semitic. I don’t think anti-Semitic sticks, but the anti-war/anti-Israeli charge is harder to defend.

She’s right about Keane. His self-righteous cant makes one cringe. And to think that he is a fellow-countryman of mine…

The more general issue Woods raises is really difficult. TV coverage of a conflict like this is fraught with problems. On the one hand, there is a proper army, with tanks, aircraft and terrifying firepower. Back home, their folks cower in properly-constructed bunkers, which is why Hizbollah rockets seem to kill very few Israelis.

On the other hand, there is a guerrilla outfit which blends with the civilian population (and allegedly hides rocket launchers in village streets). There’s a population of desperately poor civilians who have no protection — no bunkers — and no means of escaping the war zone. Whenever the Israeli forces destroy something, there are civilian casualties, many of whom are — inevitably — children.

TV goes for images — always. The more memorable the better. And suffering generally makes for better TV. Remember the reporter on Drop the Dead Donkey who, when sent to cover a disaster, always brought with him a little teddy bear that he could place strategically in the wreckage for that heart-wrenching footage?

Formal armies are easier to film, and the footage shows professionals purposefully embarked on a killing mission. It’s rationality applied to destruction — and that’s a repellent prospect for most of us liberals.

But Hizbollah can’t (and probably wouldn’t allow itself to) be filmed in the same way. Yet it’s just as intent on destruction as are the Israeli forces. It too, is applying rationality to its mission. But TV apparently cannot show that. So its coverage is always going to be ‘unbalanced’ even while cameramen argue that they are just filming what’s happening. Imbalance is, in a way, an unintended consequence of TV coverage, just as bias is an unintended consequence of US media outlets’ obsession with balance (Fox News excepted).

Thanks to Neville Stack for the link.