Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ tag

The myth of authenticity

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Does authentic mean true? Speaking to Sarah Montague on the Today Programme Captain Leo Docherty said videos of fighting in Afghanistan, recorded by soldiers on their mobile phones, are more authentic “because they are not manipulated by the media”. He went on to say that the fact they were “very brutal” also distinguished them from (implicitly) censored mainstream media coverage.

There is a dangerous myth developing that big media is inherently corrupting. That edited content is manipulated content and therefore less authentic than amateur content produced by ‘real people’. It is a myth inflamed by the current scandals engulfing television broadcasters, and further fuelled by self-righteous – and outrageously hypocritical – anger in the newspapers.

It is a dangerous myth because it equates unedited, raw, amateurish content with authenticity – for which read ‘true’ – and because it corrodes one of the fundamental values of journalism – objectivity.

When a soldier records an event, objectivity is unlikely to be foremost in his mind. He’s not thinking about getting multiple perspectives, or getting background or context, he’s thinking about recording his story, capturing an upcoming firefight, video-ing a daytime patrol, or just giving people an idea as to what his life is like. It’s intensely subjective – that’s the point. Plus, if he doesn’t like what he records, likelihood is he’ll delete it. Or, if there are bits that he’s embarrassed about, or don’t show him in a good light, delete them too.

Journalism is different. Journalism is not ‘objective’, but aspires to objectivity. As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in their book, The Elements of Journalism, objectivity is a process, not an end in itself. Absolute objectivity is impossible, but telling a story as objectively as possible is not. This means recording many different sources, presenting the stories fairly and in context, separating oneself (metaphorically rather than physically) from the action.

Horses mouth footage is inevitably subjective and partial. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it shouldn’t be seen as more truthful simply because it has been recorded by a so-called real person and because it has the immediacy and emotion missing from journalism.

Indeed it can, just like with big media, be stage managed. As Sarah Montague pointed out when talking to Captain Docherty and Major Parks, the soldiers filmed waited and timed their assault to coincide with the video.

But if, as Matthew Parris suggested in The Times last week, we are going through an ‘authenticity crisis’, you can be certain we’ll see lots more un-mediated, ‘authentic’ footage (broadcast on mainstream media), along with more emotion and more partiality.

Written by Martin Moore

August 2nd, 2007 at 6:38 pm

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Afghanistan, a "massive secret"

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In today’s Mirror Pte Ian McIlroy tells Chris Hughes , “I don’t think people realise what it’s like here. It’s as if Afghanistan is a massive secret. Nobody talks about it”.

He’s right, it’s weird that there has been so little coverage of Afghanistan. According to Chris Hughes’ excellent piece, ‘This is not now a counter-insurgency operation but a full-blooded war of devastating intensity’. Last Sunday Nicholas Watt and Ned Temko reported on Lord Inge’s warning that ‘the military campaign in Afghanistan is facing a catastrophic failure’ and that this will have knock effects for terrorism worldwide. Yesterday the Telegraph claimed the Afghan casualty rate had reached the same level as during the Second World War (Thomas Harding). And today we learn from MPs today that there is a desperate shortage of troops (Michael Evans).

Yet despite the dire warnings and murmurs of Vietnam-like fighting, we continue to get only a trickle of coverage – mainly from the Telegraph, plus some very good but unsung programmes on the BBC.

What’s going on? Are we all too punch drunk from Iraq? Is it too difficult to get reporters on the ground in Afghanistan.

The latter can’t be the case since David Loyn even managed to film the most remarkable footage with Taliban themselves last year. But we do seem to be so focused on the ‘war against terrorism’ within Britain that we’re ignoring a real war going on across the world.

Written by Martin Moore

July 18th, 2007 at 11:12 am

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Lights dim on media freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan

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When Bush sought to justify the war in Iraq, back in 2003, he talked alot about a ‘free Iraq’ in which people would have free speech and where there would be a flourishing free media. In December 2005, in his National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, he was still talking about establishing a ‘free, independent and responsible media’ (p.38).
But we read this week that Iraq’s media is ’90% propaganda’. In an interview for the Press Gazette, Jasim Al-Azzawi, presenter of Al Jazeera’s Inside Iraq, says that many newspapers and magazines are now just propaganda outlets for militias. “They spew nothing but hatred” he says, and that “judged by Western standards they would be closed down immediately”.
The situation appears to be no better in Afghanistan. “Effectively we’ve moved from an open media environment to a state-controlled media environment” the spokesman for the UN mission, Adrian Edwards, told CNN. Edwards is particularly worried about a proposed new law, being debated in Parliament in a few weeks which will, amongst other things, prohibit; the “propagation of religions other than the holy religion of Islam”, stories that “affect the stability, national security and territorial integrity of the country,” and “articles and topics that harm the physical, spiritual and moral well-being of people, especially children and adolescents.” (source: CNN).
Sadly it looks like one of the most positive, obvious signs of Iraqi and Afghan freedom flamed briefly but may now be going out.

Written by Martin Moore

March 29th, 2007 at 3:48 pm

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