Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: Al Jazeera (page 1 of 2)

Objections to AJE Aren’t Really About Lara Logan

As Jonathan Capehart noted in PostPartisan last Thursday, the Lara Logan assualt story has “a pernicious staying power.” Indeed, what happened to Logan during her time in Egypt is both horrifying and inexcusable. Logan was, according to reports, brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by a crowd while reporting from Cairo. She was rescued by a group of locals, including women, and is recovering.

The attack on Logan should not be diminished by the media. She is brave for speaking out about experiencing sexual assault, something that happens to women (but not only women) every single day in every single country in the world, including Egypt and including the United States. It happens all too frequently to reporters, who all too infrequently report their own experience.

That said, the media frenzy surrounding Logan’s assault–again, by no means Logan’s fault–has become a circus. On the one hand, as Jezebel and Salon have pointed out, you have the American media focusing on Logan’s “Hollywood good looks” as the impetus for the rape. Um, no. Rape doesn’t happen because you’re pretty.

Then, you’ve got the racists and Islamophobes using Logan’s attack as an excuse to blame the Mooslims. The abhorrent Debbie Schlussel’s comments are but one extreme example (“t bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how ‘peaceful’ Muslims and Islam really are. In fact, it kinda warms my heart”), but others like the LA Weekly chose an only slightly more subtle approach (“In a rush of frenzied excitement, some Egyptian protestors apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter”).

Capehart, on the other hand, has used Logan’s assault as an opportunity to vilify Al Jazeera. Now, let me start by saying this: Yes, Al Jazeera and all media could have reported better on Logan’s assault, using the opportunity to educate the world about what is an incredibly pervasive issue. I do think it’s okay to criticize Al Jazeera on this.

That said, I don’t honestly believe that improvement on Al Jazeera’s part is what Capehart was after, rather, his harsh criticism seems more an attempt to undermine Al Jazeera’s popularity–and their seriousness in covering sexual assault. In doing so, Capehart is implicitly continuing the right wing fight to exclude Al Jazeera from American airwaves.

Capehart’s second piece, on Friday, nailed that theory for me (and many of his commenters). In it, he writes:

Nevermind that what happened to Logan IS a story. Leave aside the fact that she is a correspondent for an American broadcaster. How about the fact that a woman could be swarmed by a mob of 200 people, attacked and sexually assaulted and was only saved by the actions of a group of women and 20 Egyptian soldiers? Was Logan the only one? Is that not newsworthy? I’m at a loss for what would drive a news network to ignore news.

But what could Al Jazeera really have done better? Seek out witnesses? They didn’t have the chance to speak directly with the victim who, as Capehart correctly notes, asked specifically for privacy during this time. They had no video footage. Instead, they chose not to follow the pack of US media ruminating on the Logan story like a pack of wild dogs and noted it, briefly, then moved on.

In fact, what Al Jazeera is so good at is picking up those stories missed by the rest of the world’s media, rather than glomming on as a follower. And that includes their coverage of sexual assault. Al Jazeera’s coverage of systematic rape from the Congo to the US military–has been excellent, at times better than coverage from equivalent outlets in the United States. And just as Capehart “proved” that Al Jazeera hadn’t covered Logan’s story well on their website, a quick Google search for “sexual assault” and “rape” within Al Jazeera’s English site shows stories like “Rape Threat Stalks Kenya’s Slums,” and “Rape Rampant in US Military”.

Al Jazeera aside, does Capehart think that the US media does a sufficient job of covering the plight of non-American journalists and the brutality they often face? Did the Washington Post, for which Capehart writes, cover the story of Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya, who in 2000 was raped, kidnapped, and beaten while doing her job? (Hint: the answer is no). The fact is, while foreign correspondents abroad often face brutality, the brutality faced by journalists in their own countries is often far worse…and rarely receives the same attention.

Capehart could have used his column to point out how common brutality toward female journalists is. He could have discussed the sexual harassment faced by Egyptian women daily. Instead, he chose to smear Al Jazeera, adding to the cacophony of American voices protesting Al Jazeera’s entree into the US media scene. We should be asking why.

Demand Al Jazeera!

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Al Jazeera has instituted a campaign for Americans to demand the channel from their cable providers. I’ve been writing about Al Jazeera in the United States for three years now (see my 2008 Global Voices piece), and have continuously lobbied Comcast, my cable provider, for the channel, to no avail.

Today, Al Jazeera has a damning report on US media bias in the case of Egypt, yet another reason that we need the channel:

I owe more lengthy pieces on this subject to more than one person at the moment, so I’ll leave it at this: American readers, please demand Al Jazeera…because you deserve better than CNN.

Critique of media coverage of Egypt is a strong case for Twitter

In the summer of 2009, I watched, like the rest of the world, as Iranians rose up against their government, protesting rigged elections. Not speaking Persian or knowing anyone on the ground, I was limited in context and understanding of the core issues, and reliant on Western media–skewed hostile toward Ahmadinejad–for news. Though mainstream media sources were, at the time, relying heavily on Twitter for sources, it was unclear to me (and, frankly, lots of people) whether most tweets were actually coming from within Iran or not. And as solidarity activists the world around changed their locations to Tehran (in retrospect, kind of a terrible idea), it became more and more difficult to tell who was reporting from the ground and who was just sympathetic. In other words, it was not a Twitter revolution, but a Twitter clusterf&*%.

By the time Tunisians were demonstrating, the media was clearly wary of using social media as sources; that, coupled with Tunisia’s low Twitter penetration rate, meant that there weren’t many tweets being flashed across CNN; rather, media relied on traditional sourcing (as well as Facebook and other social media) for reporting.

Enter Egypt. I, for one, followed a large number of Egyptians on Twitter prior to January 25, so was able to watch as protests were planned and hashtags decided upon. As the day neared, I began following more and more Egyptians, and by January 25, had a pretty decent (private) list to watch. And then Twitter was blocked, and the Internet mostly down, but a few remaining sources (often people I’d met in person or had a mutual “real life” friend with) continued to tweet from the Noor ISP or other methods. And once Internet was turned back on completely a few days ago, Egyptian Twitter users were back in droves, tweeting not only from their homes but from Tahrir Square and other public spaces across Cairo and the country.

Photo by Hossam Hamalawy (@3arabawy)

Admittedly, I’ve watched little television coverage throughout, though without Al Jazeera here in the US (sidebar: Demand Al Jazeera!) it often doesn’t seem worthwhile, as many of the major news channels focus all their time on the Muslim Brotherhood or Americans trapped in Cairo. Today, Sheila Carapico, professor at the American University of Cairo, has an interesting piece on Foreign Policy that contends that the media coverage of the uprising in Cairo–including Al Jazeera’s–is skewed toward Tahrir Square, often ignoring what’s happening across the rest of the city and elsewhere.

Being here in Cambridge, I obviously can’t vouch for the article’s accuracy. I’m not on the ground, so I’m wary of making proclamations about the piece. For the sake of argument, however, I’d like to assume it’s true, as it presents an extremely interesting case for Twitter.

We already know that Twitter is unparalleled for sourcing opinions from Egyptians (note: I’m going to use “Egyptians” throughout the piece for the sake of clarity, but we should also assume that this argument could apply to similar situations elsewhere). Lots of people tend toward “uncensored” on Twitter anyway, so it seeks to reason that in discussing thoughts on live events, those in the thick of it might be compelled to spill out what’s on the top of their mind.

Photo by Tarek Amr (@gr33ndata)

But beyond opinion, I believe there’s a strong case to be made for Twitter reporting, not necessarily as standalone media but as a complement to the major news networks. Two nights ago, as violence broke out between pro-Mubarak hired thugs and anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square after curfew, journalists–both local and foreign–were relegated to the sidelines, reporting from balconies and hotel rooms, some ducking low to the ground with the lights off to report their stories. Meanwhile, young Egyptians (like Mona Seif, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts) were in the thick of things, mobile phones at the ready, often live-tweeting as skirmishes broke out. Others in various parts of the city uploaded photographs and pictures from the day’s events, not just from Tahrir Square but from side streets as well, documenting graffiti, ordinary life, and those now-famous leagues of neighborhood protection committees. Still others tweeted from more remote locations, and from cities without the benefit of dispatched reporters.

It also strikes me that, this time around (compared to, let’s say, Iran of 2009), the media and the public have a better grasp on who to follow on Twitter. I think there are a number of reasons for this–the Arabic-speaking world encompasses 20+ countries, while Iran is a single country with a solitary diaspora, which means there’s a far greater network of Arabs and experts on the region’s social media to discern which tweets to follow. We’re also two years out from Iran and 5 years after the creation of Twitter, meaning Egypt has a far more established Twitter community than did Iran in 2009. And the fact that no one has changed their avatars green and their locations to Cairo certainly helps as well.

Of course, just with any form of citizen journalism, there’s always a risk of false or incorrect information, but I would posit that similar risks exist within traditional, mainstream media, despite more stringent fact-checking. The advantage of citizen journalism in this case, of course, might outweigh the risk: Egyptians know their country better than CNN, MSNBC, or even Al Jazeera possibly could.

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