The Listening Post

The politics of conflict(ing) narratives

A look at how media has presented Gaza as a short-term conflict and why in India freedom of speech is being challenged.

The Israeli assault on Gaza looked like a case of a story repeating itself. There are plenty of recurring story lines –  each side accusing the other of ‘starting it’, the fact that there is an election coming up in Israel, and the hugely disproportionate number of casualties on the Palestinian side. But there are some big differences between this outbreak and what the Israelis called ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

Back in 2008-2009, Israel locked most of the global media out of its 23-day attack on Gaza. This time round, journalists have flooded into the Strip, giving the world a much better view of the bombardment, and some of the buildings they work out of have been targeted. And this is the first war on Gaza fought after the Arab Spring. So there are some new governments in the neighbourhood and lots of new media outlets in those countries reporting this story.

In this week’s News Divide, we report on the coverage of Gaza 2012.

In News Bytes this week: In Pakistan, six witnesses agreed to testify in the case of dead journalist Wali Babar Khan, all of them are now dead too; in Greece, the journalist who published a list of 2000 names of Greeks who were allegedly evading taxes during the country’s financial crisis thought he had won his legal case – but the prosecutor has ordered a retrial and he is going back to court; in Britain, two key former members of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire are facing new criminal charges, this time relating to the alleged bribery of police and public officials.

It has been a tumultuous couple of years in Indian politics – a challenging time for freedom of speech there. There was a test case earlier this month when two young women in Mumbai were arrested for Facebook posts they put up following the death of a prominent politician. For a country that proudly calls itself the world’s largest democracy, Indian institutions are proving to be pretty touchy over what gets said online.

It is a media market of 1.2 billion people and the news industry there keeps growing. But quantity and quality do not always go hand in hand. The journalism, certainly the televised version, has a uniform look to it, regardless of what news channel you are tuning into. One person whose voice does stand out is Tarun Tejpal, the founder and editor of India’s leading independent news and current affairs magazine, Tehelka.

Finally, remember Kony 2012, that online NGO video that broke viral records earlier this year? It got all kinds of attention, a good deal of praise, but also some criticism for its cliched portrayal of Africans as helpless and dependent on Western and foreign aid. Here is a video that turns that cliche on its head. Produced by a group of Norwegian students and academics, it is a charity single in which Africans are asked to donate generously and provide relief and redemption to the desperate people of Norway. Africa for Norway is our video of the week.


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