The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 12-18-2001




UN Report: Reporters bash UN, Pentagon and Israel

by Saeed Shabazz
Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS (—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 statement.

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 political communications.

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 Al-Arabi.

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 event."

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 rule."

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 Times.

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. Crossette responded.

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.

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