It is okay to take side: new journalism paradigm

Opinion Article

In my previous article on journalism published by the Post about one month ago, we discussed about the unavoidable situation for journalists to feel attached with whatever they were covering. It is called journalism of attachment. A Show of emotion is acceptable in certain cases of coverage; such as tragedy, disaster, human right violation, and the likes.

Now, faced by the atrocity in Gaza Strip, I dare to proclaim -concerning journalism practice- that it is also okay to take side. Cover both sides or balanced reporting has become too luxurious and impractical in covering Palestine. You simply cannot wait for the Israel military spoke-person to give statement (of whatever kind) to print or broadcast the painful reality in the region. In addition to that: the other side statement may be merely deceitful propaganda.

For instance, despite the sickening images of destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, and even UN shelters; or the latest: a baby’s body being eaten by dogs; Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni still insists that “there is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. And that is as much as you get from “balanced reporting”: a propaganda that undermines humans’ logics.

How could journalists restrain themselves from reporting devastating facts? In the words of Uri Avnery (Israeli writer and human right activist), the situasion is like this: “Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas “terrorist”. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a ‘symbol of Hamas rule’.” It is not a fiction. Journalists bear a lot of burden if we expect them to cover both sides; meaning: wait till you get the other side to publish your reports.

In my opinion, no one will blame journalists for being one-sided and for breaking the reporting standard when they report the facts in Gaza as they are. No one will complain about why reporters do not seek for the other-side version of the story. Is it prejudice? Is it judgemental? Is it libel? Every one of us, deep in our heart, knows the answer.

Surpsiringly enough, what I believe about the acceptability of being one-sided is supported by several prominent entities throughout the world. First of all, of course, the number of journalists following the step of Robert Fisk is increasing. More and more journalists are aware of their power: that they can influence the world opinion about what happen by what and how they report. In the long run, they can influence the ending of aggression. The news reports produced during the last three weeks from the war zone have successfully degraded the image of the Israeli as uncivilized, even inhuman, kind of men. The end of attacks by the Israel military at the moment may be resulted from the boycotts of Israel around the world, which boycott is endorsed by the one-sided reports from Gaza Strip. Journalists have the power to change the cause of conflict.

At present, academicians, scientists, and artists in UK do not want to be left behind by their fellow journalists. Their petition clearly agrees on the importance to take side: “If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.”

They add, “We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.”

Those intellectual people, many of them are Jewish, would prefer to see Israel loose than win. It reminds me of a book I read in 2004, “How Israel Lost” by journalist Richard Ben Cramer, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East Reporting in 1979 (he reported from the area since the 60s until recently). I was attracted by the title, which decisively implied that Israel had lost the war against the Palestinian. The book explains how it lost it. In fact, the book tells human stories in both sides of the green line, the Arabs and the Jews; and it implicitly notifies that the Israeli has lost its cause becaue of their own strategy and conducts. The Palestinian might loose physically, indeed, everything is destroyed in their area; but the Israeli has lost its respect and dignity througout the world.

The media have a very important role in this situation. Probably there are still many media institutions owned and moved by the Zionists, which still spread out myths that “Hamas attacked us first” and “We have the right to defende ourselves”, and the likes. But the number of reporters, photographers, and media institutions taking side with the victims is increasing. In fact, the non-traditional media, the cyber media, have become effective in the course of the Palestinian struggle. Blogs, websites, mailing lists throughout the world are producing and spreading horrible images of what the Israeli say as “pre-emptive actions”.

In the words of IDF spokeswoman, Major Avital Leibovich, “The blogosphere
and new media are another war zone.” Anticipating the impact of the cyber media reporting, the Israeli government, particularly military officials, are busy defending their savage attacks through media propaganda; and at the same time, banning international news networks from covering the zone.

It may be more acceptable for bloggers to be one-sided, because blog is a personal medium. Other traditional media like print and broadcast media are considered public, unpersonal; they work for the goal of serving a vast number of diversed mass. For more than a century (since Joseph Pulitzer started his news business in New York), journalism has been portrayed as a journal of objectivity, an expression of neutrality. Perhaps the change of the world today shall also change the paradigma of journalism. It is not like partisant media, which is a voice of a certain party or community; but more of a journal of conscience, which idealism is for all humankinds to achieve freedom and peace. I have faith in journalists covering Palestine, that the new world is formed by what and how they report to the world.

Sirikit Syah, a media observer and lecturer


Perihal LKM Media Watch
Mass media are watchdogs. But who watch the media? Let's do it together. Watch this very powerful entity, for better journalism, better Indonesia, better world.

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