The Bubble

The freedom of the press under the past two Presidents has been increasingly restricted when it comes to the President’s image. Santiago Lyon in the NY Times points out the increasing use of President Obama to label all events as private, thus preventing media from covering these occurrences. The restriction over access to the President did not start with President Obama, but with the 200o Presidential campaigns where both candidates limited their accessibility to the press. Before this the press were frequently with the President and other politicians, especially on campaigns. The media covered both good and bad images of the president,  but with new restrictions on the President’s image, there’s been a movement away from reporters moving with different campaigns. Different reasons are at fault for this including the increasing cost of supporting reporters, restriction to candidates, and most importantly the problem of crowd mentality or “the bubble” from the reporters themselves. Paul Farhi describes the effects of being in the bubble as being “…dimly aware of information and important decisions that are being made elsewhere“. However, there is an even darker side to the bubble. The bubble simplifies political ideals in order to not confuse the reader and that the bubble helps to control coverage of a politician, effectively making it a propaganda tool which can manipulate a person’s image. The consequences of violating the bubble include denying access to the candidate and a denial of one’s work as a journalist.
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There does seem to be a way to escape the soapy sphere though as non-traditional reporters are able to bypass the bubble by just not being a part of it. Bloggers such as Mayhill Fowler was able to get candidate’s true opinions by just asking as part of a campaign contributor. Other reporters forgo 24 hour access to the candidates, instead opting to travel independently allowing them to get a different scoop.

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A brief summary of the War on Terror and Iraq

Iraq has been a central country of focus in the War on Terror and has been greatly impacted by it. There has been evidence of state-sponsored terrorism since the early 1980’s in the form of attacking Kurdish nationals to prevent the formation of a Kurdish nation. Initial support for war against Iraq was high due to the recent attacks of 9/11 two years previously as well as former American resentment against Saddam Hussein’s regime. One major argument for the war included the concept of preventative war, or war to prevent further terrorist attacks. The assumption made by many, including President Bush, was there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. Ultimately these allegations were proven false and disputed during the war.  Another reason for falling support was the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction found. There is still disputes today over if US intelligence was deceived or if these weapons did or still continue exist. With the rising death toll of both civilians and military personnel, support for the war declined further and it was announced that all Iraq troops would be withdrawn by August of 2008. Troops were fully withdrawn by December of 2011.

There were many consequences to the War on Terror in Iraq.  One of the biggest results is the declining image of the United States. In particular, the declaration of war was contested by the UN. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United States stated “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal“. Another important consequences of the Iraq war are the result of increasing terrorism in the area, including the newly declared Islamic state (formerly ISIS/ISIL).

July 12th Baghdad Air Strikes

One of the most important wikileaks to occur coming from Iraq, hasn’t happened recently but had  far reaching repercussions after its disclosure. The July 12th Baghdad air strikes, which killed 12 civilians including two Reuters reporters, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldean . The two reporters were mistaken to have guns on them (they were carrying video cameras and cellphones). What was most shocking about the videos was the knowledge that you were about to watch someone be murdered alongside the callous responses of those committing these actions. These airstrikes were mentioned briefly in the NY Times piece we read that week and also has links to the original post done by NY Times. The wikileaks article describing the events is found here.

The immediate backlash to the release of these videos was questioning of the United States policies on rules of engagement. Some of the press conference responding to the 2007 Baghdad incident can be found in this youtube video, which also focused on Ethan McCord’s own account of what being in the US Army and the events of that day.

Part of what made this video so controversial was that Reuters had attempted for two years to obtain the video and Wikileaks was able to receive it and publish it. A big part of Wikileaks is the anonymity of their sources which both protects whistleblowers and makes the organization seem like a hacking site. Wikileaks continues to be a pain for governments everywhere, as it releases graphic and important news that these institutions were prefer to remain secret.

Buzzfeed on Iraqi Refugee problems

I’ve always had a particular interest in refugee interests, so I’ve been following the Yazidis within Iraq, as well as other minority groups, as they have fled persecution by the new Islamic state (ISIS/ISIL).  As I looked into this issue, I came across this buzzfeed article which detailed some of the human rights violations the new Islamic state has committed against the Yazidi. Buzzfeed is a non-traditional and web-based media news source. It’s general feed consists of articles such as “16 Puppies Shaking it off is the cute you need today” and “27 Make-Ahead Recipes that Freeze Well and make Great Leftovers“. However, the Buzzfeed news section focuses on more serious stories from domestic and international news to personal publications on a variety of issues.

 

Buzzfeed as a non-traditional web based news source communicates news differently than traditional media sources such as the New York Times. Buzzfeed’s news articles feature more gifs and pictures than traditional stories, and will cover similar stories using less text than its established counterpart. Despite the difference in formats, Buzzfeed presented similar information to New York Times articles such as this Times video “Yazidi refugee: Islamic State took women ‘for themselves‘” and “Islamic State Propagandists Boast of Sexual Enslavement of Women and Girls“.  Both articles cited a report by Human Rights Watch on the treatment of Yazidis by the Islamic State. Additionally, Buzzfeed and NYTimes used a video made by HRW either re-edited into a similar video (NYTimes) or images from the video itself (Buzzfeed) within their own articles. Compared to the original report done by Human Rights Watch, both articles had considerably less information and instead focused on summarizing key points from the initial story. With that stated, the NYTimes article did go into more detail compared to the Buzzfeed article.

Buzzfeed’s format, despite having less information through a more visual approach is an effective means of communicating news. That stated, I would compare Buzzfeed to a Wikipedia page, where both are useful in understanding general concepts of news. Additionally, the gifs and pictures presented in Buzzfeed articles appeal to an audience’s limited attention span for news. While Buzzfeed is great at explaining the important aspects of a story, it does lack more details that traditional media or the source itself can provide.

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Although Buzzfeed and other non-traditional web media presents news differently than more traditional sources, it still needs to uphold the same impartiality and rules that apply to traditional sources. Any time news is being reported for dissemination, it is important to follow impartiality, collaborating sources, presenting a story without a bias, etc. to ensure the integrity of the story and to prevent wrong information from spreading. If any news source, including web-based media such as Buzzfeed, Vox, Huffington Post, or Vice, publish stories without doing these steps they run the risk of circulating lies, creating propaganda, or committing libel. Buzzfeed has been criticized for publishing articles with information that latter turned out to be false and additionally, was criticized for blurring the lines between advertising and journalism in this The Guardian article. It’s important to remember that journalism is still journalism regardless of whether it is web-based or more traditional.

 

Social media within the last five years has had a significant impact on journalism within the Middle East from the Arab spring in 2010 to more recent beheadings of journalists within Iraq. Similar to the other places,  Iraq suffers and gains from the consequences of increased social media use. More people have access to news instantly as citizen journalists can post and explore hostile areas easier. However, false reports and prominence of more graphic topics also flood facebook and twitter feeds. Violence against journalists in Iraq is nothing new, especially since targeting of journalists occurs from both the Iraqi governments and terrorist groups. Citizen journalists through the use of social media have been successful in informing the public about events in Iraq.

On the other side, the use of social media by ISIS has created reasons for censorship of the internet in Iraq. ISIS’s app automatically upload tweets and other status updates for its followers creating an image of unified support that can trend on social media accounts as this The Atlantic article explains. The use of its beheading videos have been successful in drawing international public attention through its terror marketing.

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ISIS’s social media presence has been so effective that one woman, Aqsa Mahmood, left Glasglow to become a martyr for the group. Her decision to leave was documented by CNN and highlighted how effective ISIS’s campaigns were in attracting supporters. Although Ms. Mahmood’s whereabouts were unknown, her last known location was in Syria. Her decision to join ISIS reflects upon the success of social media by members of ISIS. A negative side effect of this campaign is the conflation of all or the majority of Iraqis and/or Muslims as supporters of extremists groups, such as ISIS. It is too soon to tell what effects this will have on representation of Iraqis and Muslims in other forms of media.

“Journalists in Iraq face a double threat, from armed gangs gunning them down and prosecutors charging them, all because of what they write. The recent spate of assassinations of journalists has had a chilling effect on journalists, who risk being prosecuted by the very authorities that are supposed to protect them.” -Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director (Human Rights Watch, 2013)

Iraq is listed as number one on the Impunity Index by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, which has linked 93 unsolved murders of journalists. Clearly, the dangers of working as a journalist in Iraq were illustrated by Sarah Leah Whitson who showed that both prosecution and danger comes from authorities and gangs alike. If a journalist is murdered, Iraq has the worst conviction rate out of all countries. The danger of journalism also effects citizen journalists, such as Al Hamdani. Al Hamdani, was a citizen journalist within Iraq stopped reporting after a sticky bomb on his car exploded near him.

Authorities in Iraq have used intimidation tactics such as citing license infringement, threats, and imprisonment for negative coverage of events. Additionally, a proposed cybercrime bill is targeting journalists as it could imprison anyone who harms the reputation of the country or publishes harsh or misleading facts as CPJ reports.

As I’ve mentioned in an early post, journalists also face the threat of censorship and a lack of access to internet as the Iraqi minister of Telecommunications has stopped internet or enforced blackouts of internet at certain times. The ministry has claimed that this is to thwart efforts by radical groups such as ISIS from encouraging more supporters to join them, and also to prevent more videos, such as those of journalists beheadings, from being posted.

Social media plays a crucial role in any citizen journalists mode of publication. Social media sites such as facebook and twitter are frequent mediums for publishing reports. Many citizen journalists will use video on whatever is available, such as their cellphones to film recent events. Cellphones and other cameras can also capture occurrences as well.

In addition to Al Hamdani, Michael Yon (his photo, Little Girl, was covered here) is listed as a prominent citizen journalist in Iraq by NPR. He has been embedded with American troops in Iraq for several years and covers a variety of topics such as bio-surveillance, events in Thailand, and situations in Burma; however, he focuses mostly on events in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of his funding comes from his supporters, who contribute to his writing through a pay account.

Restrepo

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Our comm class recently watched Restrepo, a film by Sebastian Junger and Tim Herthington. The film focused on small group of soldiers in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan as they struggle to maintain both the physical outpost of Restrepo and deal with the emotional effects war has on them. As a form of journalism promoting awareness, I found this film to be balanced when dealing with most issues these soldiers are exploring, however, I would criticize the film for being self-censoring. The film deals aggressively with the realities of the war and moves gracefully between periods of realization that these men are in a war zone and happiness these men also experience at the same time. My criticism of self-censorship comes from the way the men’s personal lives are presented. I feel that there was more raw emotion, more sexism, and other methods of coping that were not presented. I would venture that these portions were cut to prevent insulting the men or were censored by the American government.

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My own personal response to the film was jarring. It was much more in depth then articles such as the NYTimes or Vanity Fair had covered, and I felt more emotional ties to the story presented as a result of the video over the articles. I personally found watching the film the most effective way of communicating these events, particularly regarding the reality of the conflict.

Ethics of Death in Media

Although death is a component of life, there is still major debate on the ethics of showing the dead or dying within media. Critics of showing death often state that respect for the grieving and for the dead are reasons to not show death. Additionally, many photos of the dead that are published are not white, prompting other critics to ask if these photos would be published if they were white. Lastly, some persons are also worried about the effect seeing death will have on children or easily impressionable people. Advocates for publishing death argue that photos and videos humanize atrocities, natural disasters, and epidemics. Posting death makes events “real” for the readers and helps readers to understand the pain caused by the loss of a loved one or the cruelty in which the deceased was killed. Additionally, photos of dead often influence opinions which later influence policy to stop or continue actions, such as drone attacks or withholding aid.

In my own opinion, I believe that we should show death, regardless of the status of a person who has died. Although it would be difficult to see my own family posted on media, I believe that censorship of these images would hinder efforts to stop whatever atrocity happened. Additionally, humans have a fascination with violence and death and I believe that regardless of whatever journalists don’t post online, people will still find a way to see these images if they want.

Specifically in Iraq, I had seen an image of a solider holding a small child, that I later found out had died from a car bomb. I believe the image both humanized the situation and swayed reader’s opinions on the terrorist group that planted the bomb. The article, written by photographer Michael Yon can be found here. If you are interested in seeing the photo, please feel free to look up Michael Yon’s “Little Girl” or use the link to see the image.

Covering a Natural Disaster

As Chimamanda Adichie has pointed out, , there are dangers to covering a single story. Within Iraq, this has never been truer where frequently coverage of events focus on Western governments attacking extremist and militant terrorist groups. When a series of massive floods destroyed cities and infrastructures in southern and central Iraq from May 2013 to November 2013, I was predicting a single story coverage of the events.

An image used to represent the flooding

An image used to represent the flooding

I was expecting to see stories of inept government responses to the crisis alongside pictures or interviews of struggling Iraqis who were not being helped by these agencies. Finding coverage of the natural disaster, I was not that shocked to see exactly those themes covered. In “Floods Cause Severe Damage in Southern Iraq” by Al Monitor, the one image available was that of Iraqis wading in flood waters. Much of the article stressed the government’s reaction to the flooding including the evacuation of people, the promise to compensate people for their crops, and officials reacting to the collapse of a dam. In another article, it suggested that previous historical events were to blame for the response to the flooding. Other articles such as “Floods in Iraq, May 2013” and “Flooding in Southern, Central Iraq kills 11” just added to the single story presented, one of struggling people and incompetent government.

Another image showing flooding in Iraq

Another image showing flooding in Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I was most disappointed on after reading about these floods, was the lack of other reporting being done. Out of the three articles, I found they all gave similar reporting on the floods.  I was left with questions of what happened after the floods, why wasn’t the government’s or other agencies reactions to the floods shown or documented in photos, and why did this flooding take such as low importance in international journalism during these weeks?

 

Not normally what you’d expect to find when searching for “Iraq” and “Bombing”

 

 

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After the shocking explosions of the Boston Marathon bombings, this image began to circulate on the internet of two youngIraqi boys holding a sign expressing sympathy for the victims of the bombing that day. Additionally, two more children identified here as Redha & Oma, also from Iraq, expressed concern about the event.

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What is particularly interesting about these photos is that the same day of the Boston Marathon bombing occurred is that 33 people were killed and 160 people were wounded from bombing occurring in Iraq. According to this source, the boys were able to sympathize with the violence occurring because suicide bombing and car bombings are a daily occurrence within Iraq.

 

Perhaps what is most surprising about this story is not that these Iraqi children were compassionate but the realization that Iraqi citizens have to cope with the terror and violence that Boston experienced on April 15, 2013. Frequently, when Iraq violence is mentioned, victims of the brutality are faceless, mere statistics. Even worse graphic pictures of disfigured adults or wounded children are used without making a connection to the reader because savagery is not known to most western readers, who the news stories target. What seemed most shocking about these images was the realization that bombing is a normal occurrence that young children frequently have to endure in Iraq.

The success of this piece in creating a different perspective of Iraq citizens was effective, but varied. People commented on this facebook page expressing both support for the boys and concern if the photos were in fact real due to the same sign being held by another man. While there was a variety of response, most of the comments focused on gratitude for the sympathy, a wish for all wars to end, and a sorrow for the devastation the Iraqi war has specifically caused. After seeing these images, people are left understanding for the shared experience of violence Iraqi citizens go through.