Monday, July 2, 2012

The First Draft of History



I wrote this piece, an expanded version of an older blog post, for The Revealer, a wonderful review of religion and media housed at NYU. Check out the rest of the site, like this article on Christianity in South Sudan.



For years, scholars, journalists, and politicians in the Middle East have accused television channels, newspapers, and other media of fueling hostility between religious groups. Policy papers describe how Iraqi media exacerbates hatred between Shi’a, Sunni, Kurdish, and other communities. In 2007, the president of the Lebanese National Media Council “strongly asked” his country’s media to “avoid transmitting news that might lead to strife.” Last month, a media advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused small satellite channels of “inciting sectarian wars, fabricating facts about what’s happening in our country.” In Egypt, presenters on ultraconservative Coptic and Muslim talk shows have attacked one other for years, and on October 9, 2011, Egyptian state media was widely accused of fomenting inter-religious anger and distrust for its coverage of a protest in which Coptic Christians were attacked by the Egyptian military.
But are wire agencies open to such accusations? State-hired and religious reporters in the Middle East have never conceived of their work as neutral, while international news agencies like AFP, AP, and Reuters articulate their mission as neutral, dispassionate, and objective. In 2004, Reuters asked a Canadian newspaper chain to remove the bylines of their reporters because the newspapers had edited the text and replaced words like ‘insurgents’ and ‘rebels’ with ‘terrorists’ in their version of the articles. The global managing editor of Reuters, David A. Schlesinger called these ‘emotive words’ and argued that they had no place in his editorial vision.

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