by Saeed Shabazz
UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com)—Members of international
television and newspaper outlets engaged in a lively discussion Dec. 6,
sharing their views on media coverage in the context of the Dec. 10
annual observance of UN’s agenda for human rights.
The media reps did not disappoint the packed meeting room, taking
swipes at the Pentagon, the UN and Israel. They questioned not just the
violations of human rights of people, but also the press.
"This is a day set aside to reaffirm faith in the fundamental human
rights of all people," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a prepared
The UN Department of Information (DPI) convened the lively
conference, titled, "News vs. Propaganda: The Gatekeepers’ Dilemma." The
moderator, Shashi Tharoor, interim head of the DPI, set the tone for the
discussion, noting that 24-hour television news coverage is shaping
public opinion the world over and has revolutionized international
Media outlets represented included: Hafez Al-Mirazi, Washington
bureau chief of Al Jazeera television; Steve Williams, British
Broadcasting World News senior editor; Barbara Crossette,
correspondent for the New York Times; Mathatha Tsedu, deputy
chief of News, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC);
Karen Curry, vice president and New York bureau chief, CNN; and
Abdel Bari, editor in chief of the London-based newspaper, Al Quds
UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson appeared from Geneva via
live video transmission. She focused on the media’s coverage of the
Middle East issue during the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held
in Durban, South Africa, which she said, "overshadowed" other issues.
She called the conference a "well intentioned, but ultimately flawed
Ms. Robinson said the "ongoing plot by some countries to attack the
West and Israel was not covered by the media." The media, in a rush to
exploit the Palestinian/Israeli debate, missed the essence of the WCAR,
Ms. Robinson said.
"We are well aware of the allegation that the western press
deliberately focused on one issue," Ms. Curry of CNN said,
adding, "we did set out to cover the conference in its entirety."
"The western media was decidedly biased, matching the attitudes of
their governments," charged Mr. Al-Mirazi. "We at Al Jazeera
considered the Middle East issue an integral part of the Durban
conference. The attitude that the Middle East should not have been
discussed was not a position held by most of the media."
The BBC’s Steve Williams said, "On the Middle East issue,
about 90 percent of the outlets appeared to be in the Israeli camp." He
even suggested that the Israeli government dictates the overall coverage
of the Middle East.
Mr. Tsedu said the problem at the SABC was that most of management
was still white, "a problem we have inherited from our years of colonial
He admitted that even though the conference was held in Durban, the
Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and reparations took a back seat to the
western view of the "Zionism as racism" story.
The discussion then turned to the war in Afghanistan and the human
rights issues facing the Afghan people.
CNN did not lose track of the situation in Afghanistan after the
Russians were pushed out, Ms. Curry said. "Over the years we have done
extensive reports on what was happening there," she added.
The BBC had six reporters in there ahead of everybody else,
claimed Mr. Williams. "One thing we know for sure is that first-hand
reporting can be uncomfortable for governments," he said.
"That is very true, because the war in Afghanistan is being covered
from the point of view of the Pentagon," claimed Ms. Crossette of the
Mr. Al-Mirazi angrily questioned the bombing of Al Jazeera’s studios
in Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan. "That bombing is very suspicious,
given all the criticism we received for airing the interview sent us by
Osama bin Laden," he said.
"We have broken into our news casts to feature press conferences of
President George Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell. But when we air
ten minutes of bin Laden, we are crucified," Mr. Al-Mirazi said.
A student in the audience asked Ms. Crossette why there was so little
coverage of the peace movement.
"The peace movement is not as large as many people want it to be. The
area getting the most attention by columnists and editorialists is the
fear of civil rights violations because of the war on terrorism," Ms.
Ms. Curry agreed that actions by the Justice Department were moving
to the forefront of most media outlets.
"I think that the organization of this event was more symbolic than
of any substance," charged Omawale Clay of the December 12th Movement,
who attended. "Where are the Black media outlets that focus on the human
rights violations of Black people in this country?
"This is a reflection of how the UN has been curtailed in its effort
to define human rights," Mr. Clay said.