Thursday 27 October 2011

Latest Twitter updates on social media and war reporting

Thursday 20 October 2011

BBC Editor says he was advised to pull journalists from Libya by Foreign Office

On the eve of the fall of Sirte, the BBC’s World News Editor has revealed that the Foreign Office “strongly recommended” to broadcasters that they pull their journalists out of Libya prior to the start of NATO’s bombing campaign.
Speaking at yesterday evening’s Frontline Club event on the pressures of reporting conflict, Jon Williams said officials at the Foreign Office were concerned that they could not guarantee the safety of journalists on the ground.
Williams playfully described the advice as “very generous”, but said broadcasters told the Foreign Office that they would “accept responsibility” for having their journalists report from dangerous locations.
Williams also claimed there were “lots of hints from the British” that BBC Correspondent Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Colonel Gaddafi in February “really wasn’t very helpful”.
NATO officially took control of all aspects of the military campaign in Libya on 31 March although British, French and US airstrikes had begun on 19 March two days after UN Resolution 1973 had been passed.
The resolution called for a no fly zone and measures to protect the civilian population from Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Voices at the Arabic Bloggers Meeting

The BBC's Jamillah Knowles visited the Arabic Bloggers Meeting in Tunis recently. In this podcast she talks to Egyptian, Iraqi and Palestinian bloggers....worth a listen.

Global Voices has a couple of podcasts too and Al-Jazeera English interviewed a number of bloggers for this article.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Notes on 'Reporting Libya and the Arab Spring' at the Media Society

So yesterday I tried to fit too many things at too many different places into one day and ended up being late for the Media Society event on reporting Libya and the 'Arab Spring'.

But here are a few incomplete notes on the panel discussion...(cross-posted at the Frontline Club)

1. BBC vs Sky News reporting of Tripoli

I think this has largely been put to bed. The general consensus seems to be that while Correspondent Alex Crawford and her Sky team did a great job of covering the fall of Tripoli, criticism of the BBC's reporters on the ground was not justified.

ITV's Bill Neely described flak levelled at the BBC team who decided not to proceed with the rebel convoy as "grossly distasteful". But...

2. BBC: Live vs Bulletins

...we did learn from Kevin Bakhurst, Deputy Head of the BBC Newsroom, that one of the reasons Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team did not follow the story into Tripoli was because they stopped to file a piece for the Six O'Clock News.

While they were doing this, Bakhurst said they became detached from the rebel convoy and the team adjudged that it would have been highly dangerous to try to rejoin it - "the right decision for the situation they were in".

Of course, the team may still have made a decision that it was not safe to travel with the convoy even if they had not become detached. It is worth pointing out that Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was caught in an ambush the following morning while travelling with the rebels.

Although secondary to safety concerns, therefore, this does nevertheless raise the question of whether the BBC should prioritise rolling news or bulletins.

On the 'bulletins' side of the argument is the fact that bulletins have much larger audience figures than rolling news (Ten O'Clock News, 5 million; BBC News Channel 9.6 million per week).

For the 'rolling news' case, Sky's Alex Crawford was deemed to have "owned the story" and there is a feeling that increasingly audiences are consuming news live, a point raised by the BBC's Jon Leyne. Further research anyone?

3. Blown budgets

It appears that money for international news in 2011 has already run out.Both Kevin Bakhurst and Sky's Head of International News, Sarah Whitehead, said they had blown their budgets and had asked bosses for additional funds.

Ben De Pear from Channel 4 News said he had spent his "tiny" budget by July and had been forced to raid the coffers of other departments. When Bakhurst was asked what he would do if another major international news story broke later in the year he said: "I don't know".

4. Social Media

(Unless I missed something at the beginning)...there wasn't much discussion of social media.

Professor Tim Luckhurst argued that the 'Arab Spring' had stressed the importance of traditional media journalists. Initially, he was talking about 'citizen journalists' not replacing professional reporters which I'd agree with.

But I'm not convinced about the statement that followed from that premise:
"Yes, social media makes a contribution but it makes the least contribution when you need it most. And it cannot always be relied upon. And it can only be relied upon when it is curated by professional journalists".
The first problem here is the identification of 'social media' with 'citizen journalists' when all and sundry are now using social media - especially professional journalists.

Leaving that aside, the crux of the issue is the idea that people who are not professional journalists make least contribution to the news through social media when 'we' need it most. I'm just not sure I agree.

I would argue that generally people who are not professional journalists have much less desire to spend the time, energy, trouble and money to report the news on social media platforms when there is no great pressing need.

The Arab Spring has shown that in the context of state censorship of traditional media and political repression, social media provides a (nevertheless contested) space where people who have a frustrated need to share news, ideas and information can do so.

You might call this a very different form of 'journalism'.

You might reject that understanding of 'journalism', but surely the contribution of these individuals to the news and even 'traditional journalism' when 'we' needed it, has been rather important (even if their contribution was subsequently often curated and brought to a broader audience by professional journalists)?

It's both, not one or the other.


I'd be interested in your thoughts...

The book launched at the event, Mirage in the Desert? 'Reporting the Arab Spring', is available on Amazon and includes a chapter by me on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog.

Monday 3 October 2011

Reporting the Arab Spring: the mirage of the ‘authentic voice’

I’m breaking the radio silence on the blog to post the introduction to my latest book chapter for Mirage in the Desert: Reporting the Arab Spring. (Not to be confused with Mirage in the Dessert…that is something entirely different.)
My chapter uses the case of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, (a hoax which purported to chronicle the uprisings in Syria earlier this year), to explore how journalists are approaching the challenges of a world where the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ are becoming increasingly blurred.
(It’s an issue that seems relevant at the moment. Only last week, an ITV documentary about Colonel Gaddafi’s support of the IRA mistakenly represented material from a computer game as footage from a secret film.)
If you want to read more, come to the launch next Tuesday and buy yourself a copy of the book. It also features contributions from more illustrious types such as Alex Crawford, Lindsey Hilsum, Jon Leyne and Kevin Marsh among others.
In the meantime here is your teaser…
A ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’, the mirage of the ‘authentic voice’ and the future of journalism
Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari regarded herself as the “ultimate outsider”. On her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, she claimed to be 35 years old, female, half-American, half-Syrian and gay.
Inspired by the revolutionary fervour of the “Arab Spring”, her blog posts compellingly documented her personal life as a gay woman and her involvement in the political protests against the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.
In April 2011, a post describing how her father had stopped Syrian security services from arresting her led to coverage in the Guardian, CNN, CBS and Global Voices.
Amina Araf was a pseudonym which had been adopted to conceal her identity, but based on her blog posts and email correspondence with journalists she was represented in the media as an “authentic voice” for the movement against al-Assad’s repressive government.
Too unlikely, as it happened. Several months later Amina Araf was unmasked as a fictional character created by Tom MacMaster – a 40-year old American studying at Edinburgh University.
In an apology to the blog’s readers, the postgraduate student maintained that “while the narrative voice may have been fictional”, “the facts on this blog” were “true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground”.
He believed he had created an “important voice” for issues which he “felt strongly about”. Members of the gay community in the Middle East, however, claimed that he had put people at risk, while journalists criticised his“offensive”, “arrogant” and “Orientalist” fantasy.
MacMaster’s fictional blog had spiralled out of control but his experiment had inadvertently exemplified the difficulties of performing journalism in the digital era.
By removing the physical body and collapsing the geographic, the internet allows us to alter, switch, conceal and simulate our identities more easily and to a greater extent than we have done in the past. (See Turkle, Life on the Screen, 1990).
In contexts such as the Syrian uprising, when it was difficult for journalists to access individuals in “real life”, many reporters were reliant on the digital representations of individuals as a starting point for their journalism.
The story of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” highlights how journalists and readers alike can be seduced by the mirage of the “authentic voice”online, but it also demonstrates that traditional journalistic fact-checking and verification practices were inadequate despite news organisations’ emphasis on them in the aftermath.
Uncovering “the truth” of Amina Araf’s blog was, instead, made possible by a collaborative investigation and verification process facilitated by online networks. 
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