The Listening Post

Mali’s ‘war without images’

As violence in Mali continues, we examine why journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to cover the story.

By now the images are familiar. Military airplanes from a rich industrial nation taking off to bomb an insurgency. Irregular fighters with AK-47s riding pickup trucks. Foreign journalists standing in front of the national monument telling you the latest. Turn on the news coverage of the Mali conflict and you would be forgiven for thinking you have seen all this before.

War in the media has become generic and some of the problems are practical. How do you report on a war in the remote northeast when you are stuck in a hotel in Bamako, hundreds of miles away in the southwest? Embedding with friendly forces and reporting from the capital can keep you far from the action and even further from the truth. Some say Mali has been a “war without images”, and if that is because the French government want the story told their way then journalists have a problem.

But the responsibility of reporters is more than just being in the right place at the right time. There is no such thing as observation without interpretation and words like ‘Islamist’, ‘atrocity’ and – especially – ‘terrorist’ are easy to say but not so easy to define. When journalists slip into the standard narratives there is plenty that does not fit in the picture.

Our News Divide this week picks apart the media coverage of the Mali conflict with the author and expert on the Western Sahel, Peter Chilson; Nii Akuetteh of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute; James Creedon, who has been reporting from Mali for France 24; and political analyst Imad Mesdoua.

In our Newsbytes this week we come back to a subject we wish we never had to. The deaths of journalists in Syria and Somalia mean that 2013 is continuing how 2012 ended – as a lethal year for journalists. We also return to Thailand to report the latest journalist to be jailed for criticising the king. Lastly, a look at Alberto Baptista da Silva who, for months, beguiled the Portuguese media with his analysis of the economic crisis before being outed as a fake and a fraud.

Venezuela’s invisible president

This week’s feature story takes us to Venezuela where who else but President Hugo Chavez could be the centre of attention – except that he is nowhere to be seen. For six weeks he has been in a hospital bed in Cuba after treatment for cancer. His supporters say he is still ruling the shop and sending kisses from his sickbed. But the state-run Telesur – or ‘Tele-Chavez’ as its critics see it – is finding it hard to fill airtime with their main man away from the cameras, especially while the opposition are raising uncomfortable questions not only about the Chavez’s health but also about the political future of the country.

The Listening Post’s Marcela Pizarro delves into the media battle surrounding Venezuela’s invisible president. She talks to former Venezuelan communications minister, Andres Izarra; Sebastian de la Nuez, from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello; Elsy Barroeta, the executive producer for Globovision News; and the author Oscar Guardiola-Rivera.

Our web video of the week usually ends the show on a lighter note – serious topics but with a creative twist. But this week we have taken a turn towards the dark side. Steve Cutts, an East London-based designer, artist and animator has taken on edgy subjects before: the life of a man flashing before his eyes, arguing lovers going for each others’ throats and even a zombie apocalypse at the design office where he works in Shoreditch. With his latest work, “MAN”, he takes on his biggest challenge – rewriting the story of human evolution in a horrifying yet humorous race through humanity’s conquest of nature.


Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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