Monday, June 06, 2011

An example of far from outstanding journalism

The very respectable Guardian today published a story ( on the armed conflict (are we allowed to call it a War?) in Libya with the headline, "Gaddafi regime fails to fool media over injured child".

The sub-text read "Journalists taken to see 'bomb victim' in Libyan hospital find out child was hurt in road accident".

The story involves the Libyan government inviting journalists to observe an injured infant, probably in an effort to showcase how NATO bombs were killing children, hoping that the picture of an innocent girl in a hospital ward would appall most Westerners, putting pressure on NATO countries to stop bombing Libya. The narrative continues with the Libyan government being exposed whilst organizing a media circus around a lie – the girl was injured in a car crash.

Excellent investigative reporting, one might think, at first glance; the government won't fool us this time, lads.

However, a closer look and the story fails shockingly, on many levels.

Perhaps most importantly, even if the note on "hospital stationery" bore the truth, what of the larger issue of civilian casualties in a war? This girl was (probably) not struck by a bomb. What of the others who were? The article completely ignores this issue.

Perhaps Libyan babies aren't really that interesting

Note that the seven-month-old girl, Nasib, is completely ignored. We don't know where she is from, or where her parents are from, or whether her parents are really glad that she's survived, and if the entire family is praying for a swift and complete recovery. No one from the medical team is asked what her chances are. How did the road accident (if it indeed was a road accident) take place? Was there anyone else hurt? Were the parents in the same car?

As any reader of the UK press (the Guardian being a UK newspaper) might tell you, this sort of thing would be very conspicuous in its absence, were it to involve a seven-month-old accident victim in the UK.

Let's examine the headline again - it highlights a failed attempt at fooling the media. The media has triumphed. The media is all-powerful. Apart from being distastefully self-congratulatory, surely there are more urgent issues here that are pushed to the background?

Let us examine how they media found out they were being hoodwinked.

> But a member of the medical staff slipped a note written in English on hospital stationery to a reporter, which was seen by Reuters, that said: "This is a case of road traffic accident. This is the truth."

How did the media know that this person was a member of the medical staff? Did they check ID and employment records? Or was he wearing a whitish-sort of uniform? Or because he had his hand on a piece of "hospital stationery"? How strictly controlled is access to said hospital stationery? How do they know that the note is to be believed? Apart from the fact that he wrote "This is the truth", of course.

Assuming that the girl in this particular case wasn't really hurt by a bomb, but in a car accident, may we assume that NATO bombing is not to blame? What if the driver became nervous at the wheel because he heard a bomb explode in the distance and imagined that he might be hit soon? What if traffic was not properly controlled because the war situation had shifted resources away from traffic control? What if the girl will die because there aren't enough doctors to treat her, or medicines, because of the interrupted supply chains?

>” The government says that 700 civilians have died in bombing raids, but have offered little evidence to support the claim.”

Well, what evidence did they offer? Or is this a figure of speech, and absolutely no evidence was forthcoming? That's good, we want our journalists to probe, to ask for proof. What would have sufficed? 700 dead bodies? But they could have drowned whilst on a pleasure cruise to Italy or something, so 700 dead bodies with autopsy reports, perhaps? But the government might be faking those, so 700 autopsy reports from independent doctors. That ought to do the job. They have a war going on over there, and seven-month-old girls hooked up to (some sort of unidentifiable) medical equipment, so it might take a little bit of time. The key question in this context is: do standards of truth in the war-zone apply universally? Would we believe the statistics of the government of Australia? Better still, may we believe them, in a similar case? And whilst we are trying to figure out the truth, ought military action to be put on hold?

A member of the government is quoted:

> "We want to be as credible as much as possible."

Our journalist ignores this question-begging statement.

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