This is the time to do a quick check on embedded journalism. You know,those journalists who sleep with the enemy of good media practises by forsaking objectivity,for ‘national objectives’ during the time of war? Remember the invasion of Iraq when journalists accompanied advancing allied forces and therefore,told the story of the entire ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’,from the vantage point of US or British tanks?
Well,we could return to just that kind of reporting with the current US and European air and sea strikes. It’s early days since Saturday’s first attacks and we have seen reporters from BBC World and CNN in Tripoli describe the attacks from there. However,there’s much more information coming out from London,Washington or Paris. So,already,there is an imbalance in the flow of information. And,the grainy,green footage interspersed with sudden explosions of firecracker-like sparks that we saw on Sunday,of the air strikes,was poignantly reminiscent of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It was a reminder of how the only perspectives we got were from the allied forces or those Afghans supporting them. Likewise in Iraq.
It’s interesting to compare the media coverage of Libyan supremo,Col Gaddafi with Egypt’s former President Mubarak who had also faced a people’s revolt. Gaddafi has been portrayed as a violent,erratic despot,Mubarak a corrupt dictator who had overstayed his welcome. Of course,the cases are very different but not so very long ago,Libya was almost as important a western ally as Mubarak.
In both cases,the western media seems to be supporting the rebels as do the western governments. I haven’t watched enough of the television coverage yet to say that the coverage is biased but certainly,a great deal of time is spent in explaining the US and European points of view,if not justifying them. So far,there seems to be an effort to report the facts and let the officials do the talking for themselves. But as I said,this is given a great deal of space while those who support Gaddafi’s cause get no where near as much time. With first reports coming in of possible civilian casualties in the air strikes,we are on the cusp: how will civilian deaths be treated by the western media? Will there be the same kind of sympathy shown to the victims of Libyan government forces?
The reporting by Indian TV channels have been of the travelogue variety with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt travelling through sand-swept territory,looking dry,hot and bothered and trying to give you a feel of a country at war with itself. We still await the nitty-gritty of conflict zone reporting. Will it come,or will we continue to rely heavily on western sources?
Time will tell.