Tag Archives: media

Using the Holocaust to Sell Double Glazing?

With adverts like this for Israeli telecommunications company cellcom, you might as well be.

Or am I being overly moralistic about this?

The tag line at the end says “After all, we’re what are we all after? Just a bit of fun.”

Activists in the West Bank village of Bi’lin staged their own mock advert where the rest of the wall is being constructed. Instead of a reciprocal kickabout, they were greeted with tear gas.


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Khameni on the Streets?

The other day I spoke with a former colleague based in Tehran. Someone with a knack for getting stupid foreign journalists out of Iran’s more logistical minefields. She’s had to switch phones regularly to avoid having his mobile connection blocked. It’s the first time I’ve spoken to her since election day.

“It’s going to be difficult to report from Iran without jeopardising yourself. Even me. I’m local, I have all the right papers. But I don’t know if someone will come for me tonight. I’m old. I saw this the first time round. It’s not paranoia when you know what’s possible.”
My friend begins to wax lyrical about the days before 1979. The days when a diva known as Googoosh gyrated her way into every man’s fantasy and children had Kanoon illustrating their books and stories.
I’ve heard my friend’s stories before. They sound just as good the twentieth time as they did the first time because I know the sparkle in my friend’s eyes as the wrinkles relax and the stress ebbs away as they recount jaunts and japes.
Foreign media have been pervented from reporting on the streets. Almost all of them are based in Tehran and whoever is left is probably at the Esteglal Hotel. They’ve been instructed to stay in their offices or hotels refreshing websites on crap internet connections, make phone interviews that get cut off mid-way, and watch state television.
I mention that a mutual friend, a British television correspondent, has been ‘invited to leave’ by the Iranian government ahead of Friday prayers.
“That’s because Khameni [the Supreme Leader] will be addressing a crowd at Friday prayers. He’s bussing in people from around the country in a show of force, to build up the numbers.
I honestly can’t say what’ll happen. My daughter comes back late at night from spending the day marching in the streets. My spouse does the same. I fear for them but I’m secretly envious. Hey. Work’s work.”
Work, in this case, is being a journalist’s odd job man. They’re called fixers. They organise everything from filming permissions to interviews with politicians. To doing the odd bit of reporting on the side. They make sure you have a discreet driver, find you contraband alcohol and dope, and might even fix you up with a prostitute. Or they report your activities directly to the authorities who facilitate your speedy and permanent exit from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I ask how Press TV has been doing. Press TV is an English language state-owned news channel. Like Russia Today without correspondents who look like they charge for your time by the hour.
“Press TV…I couldn’t believe my fucking eyes! The guy on the ground at a Mousavi demo was upping the numbers of protestors while the guy in the studio was trying to dumb it down. But he just kept going saying ‘you are not here to see this with your own eyes…there are thousands…it’s incredible’. I mean, I do a bit of reporting for them. I can speak very freely on Press TV. No problems whatsoever.”
For now?
“Yes. For now. If there’s a major crackdown, this could be the last time I could be speaking to you, my friend.”
Broken silence.
“You know the Ministry said I should sue the shit out of [an American television network]. You know [female television correspondent]? I saw that bitch the other day in….”
Dead line.
Dead line.
Busy line.
Dead line.

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Palestinians Are Losing the PR War

“Your coverage of the Gaza Holocaust continues to appear biased. How can you be so cruel? don’t you have children yourselves? Why do you carry on giving the Israel officials airtime and refuse similar time to Palestine officials? What about interviewing doctors/ UN Officials/ journalists in Gaza? Why have you not tried to send someone into Gaza to see for yourselves how the children are being massacred? Show some truth. Shame on you!”

Some punter called John Hill on the Sky News website.

That sort of thing shouldn’t and normally doesn’t bother me. Detractions are taken in the same humor as praise. But it’s late at night/early in the morning and I haven’t slept well.

I donned the cap of anonymity and posted a riposte.

The reality is this. A news channel or news organization, especially one whose bread and butter is continuous rolling news, cannot afford to be “biased”. It is far to concerned with getting the raw facts of who what where when… usually before the competition. The why and how come in if there is enough time in the running order. Call it news by time code.

The airtime thing with Israeli talking heads is due to characters like Mark Regev, the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesperson, virtually setting up camp at buildings in Jerusalem where the major news organizations have offices. When there is an Israel-related story to react to, he hops up and down the building tarting himself out to any broadcaster.

Spokespeople for the primarily Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas are based in Ramallah. Western broadcasters don’t have offices in Ramallah (unless you want to count Al Jazeera English) due to the unbelievable amount of red tape, logistical nightmare, and expense involved with setting up an office in the West Bank which is, if you pardon the analogy, a stone’s throw away from Jerusalem.

For interviews from Ramallah, we hire a television studio. But the Palestinian Authority do not have a Mark Regev-type creature who has the freedom to slope from TV station to TV station saying, “You guys need a voice on this?”. There’s a rather large wall between Ramallah and Israel. The gaps in the wall are called checkpoints. They can take a very long time to pass through. And you need a permit to get through them. And these permits have a curfew… an inflexible curfew that will not allow you to appear live on the ten o’clock news.

Israel also has a system whereby every journalist working that patch receives text messages on their mobile phone whenever something happens. “Qassam hits Sderot. No injured”, an arrest here, a suspected terrorist there, an update on the shekel-dollar exchange rate. You can wake up in the morning to upwards of twenty unread text messages… none of which actually say anything. The Palestinian Authority has no such service. No such infrastructure for that service.

Gaza. The western organizations that operate from within Gaza do so cautiously… especially since the Alan Johnston kidnap thing. Firms that have a permanent presence in Gaza usually have an office with its own studio. Everyone else hires studios when they’re needed. And keeps a fixer on retainer. The fixer serves as your eyes and ears… they’ll look out for stories for you and you can call them at inhospitable hours to ask them about the significance of something that is ultimately mundane. Or you ring them with something obvious like, “There are air strikes over Gaza”. They will get you guests, alert you to the latest happenings, and help your team when/if they get into “theater”.

Guests from Gaza on the phone… easy. Getting them into a television studio when you know and they know they are risking their lives by walking out into the street takes a bit more negotiation. Especially if you are trying to get members of an organization called Hamas that a country called Israel is actively targeting with heavy firepower called a missile.

When shit hits fan, Israel pulls the PR guns out of the bag along with the rest of the armaments they have. Newsdesks and producers are inundated with offers for guests, offers for comment….

Palestinian PR? We have to chase them. All the time. Messages left, few calls returned. There is no Palestinian PR machine that kicks into gear once something happens. Journalists detest PR unless it can do something useful, like make work easier for them. At heart, journalists are sloth-like creatures who like things at their fingertips. We like people ready, accessible. Now.

As for why we haven’t sent anyone into Gaza, ask Israel. Gaza is a “closed military zone”. Meaning unless you were in that walled-off strip of land before it was declared a “closed military zone”, you aren’t going in until after the next lot of invading soldiers. And nobody’s coming out either. Everyone is hanging out in the buffer zone. Or sometimes sneaks into the loading bay bit at Kerem Shalom to see the aid trickle through after the previous night’s bombardment.

Ultimately, the pictures gleaned by news agencies like Reuters or the Associated Press do a better job of explaining the reality on the ground than any commentator could. Images of children being pulled from smoking rubble are more eloquent than a man in a suit talking to another man in a suit. Video released from the cockpit of an Israeli aircraft showing people walking around the back of a flatbed truck then going fuzzy after the missile impacts…the mass of humanity and collective wailing at a funeral…kids dirtied by soot, mud and blood.

Speaking to a doctor who works at Gaza’s Shifa hospital, he had no time to return home… and definitely no time to swan in front of a television camera. The conversations we have are stolen moments when he is moving from one ward to another or when his attempts at sleep prove fruitless. “I’ve dedicated my life to saving life. These people. All these people. They are dedicated to killing. Palestinian. Jew. Killing. Let us say we have an unsustainable relationship,” was the last conversation we had. I’ve heard nothing from him tonight. He was going to try to go home for a day.

If Hamas or the Palestinian Authority want to redress the balance on Western news and get a little bit more “face time”, please reach out to us. Return our phone calls. Keep us in the loop. Don’t depend on “friendly” Arab media stations because you have no idea how hungry we “mainstream” outlets are for you. Our numbers don’t change and our leaders rarely get assassinated. We’ll pay for the studio time because we need your voice. You pay the risk because you need your voice heard.


This article was first published on The Comment Factory on 31 December 2008. All rights reserved.

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Police Get Shirty At London Gaza Protests

“If you don’t move, we’ll move you!”


The line of fluorescent yellow police officers pushed. A sea of bodies wavered, toppled, then crashed on the Kensington street.

“Angela!!!” I was holding on to the tripod. The camera and cameraman had long since vanished to another part of the steadily advancing police line. I grabbed Angela’s red-coated arm…she was slipping away into the maw of the Metropolitan Police. The police kept pushing. The protesters behind me were standing firm. Resisting. Sky News reporter Angela Corpe was folding in half as the police line forced forward. She was being trampled. I was being crushed. Anchoring myself to the tripod, I lifted her up with the aid of a man sporting a keffiyeh. We became entangled in a microphone cable as the pushing resumed. Somehow I managed to grab her handbag and the kit bag in the melee. Dragged her, the tripod, and the bags. More pushing. More forcing. More resisting. The protesters were screaming “shame on you” at the police.

“Move! Move!” screamed back the bellicose plods.
“I bloody well would if I had somewhere to move to,” was our response.

A pain to my head. Another to my leg. Coshed by our own tripod and kicked by who knows. Angela limps.
“You ok? Let’s get you out of here.”

We wind our way to the pavement near a hotel entrance. Gordon, our cameraman, finds us. He had his own story to tell. Squeezed between protesters and police. We start folding the tripod down. Tidying cables. Angela has lost her comms kit, the device that lets her communicate with the main control room in the newsroom for her live reports.
The phone rings. “Can we have you live at five minutes past five?” In twenty minutes.
“Er…yeah. It’s kicked off a bit here. Let us sort ourselves out ok?”
“Why don’t you fuck off and move?” yells a police officer. We make note of his ID number. He greets us with the politeness his colleagues gave us moments before.

Nearly 2,000 protesters calling for Israel to stop the aerial attacks on the Gaza Strip gathered at the gates of London’s Israeli Embassy on Kensington High Street. The day started off serenely, with around 150 people bearing banners, placards and a megaphone behind flimsy crash barriers. Sometime in the afternoon, the numbers swelled. The “big names” turned up…a Palestinian ambassador here, a fiery Member of Parliament there. The Neturei Karta, Orthodox Jews against Zionism, rocked up to show their support to a round of applause and the flash of cameras.

Then two men approached the gates of the road leading up to the Israeli Embassy and threw their shoes. A protest inspired, we think, by an Iraqi journalist and George W Bush. The first man was bundled off by the police. The second man made more a fuss and was floored by half a dozen officers. The swelling crowd over the road who were struggling to keep behind the barriers streamed forward…aghast…agape…angry. They quickly overwhelmed the meager police presence and occupied one of London’s busiest shopping roads on a weekend afternoon.

Muslims laid out prayer mats, families chanted slogans in English and Arabic. The demonstration, called a mere 24 hours before by groups from Stop the War to the Friends of Al Aqsa, was in full flow. Community leaders, MPs, former MPs, activists…all took turns on a megaphone stood atop street furniture near the embassy gates. Nobody could hear them but they served to keep the energy going.

They were calling for a cessation of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza – the ones that have killed nearly 300 people, injured more than double that. The ones that have sent Gaza’s hospitals into meltdown as they are running out of room to treat the hurt, store the dead. The ones that have sent a population where half rely on humanitarian aid to the unknown wastes of homelessness. They were joining voices from Iran to Lebanon to Turkey in proclaiming their anger at what’s often called “the situation”.

As I write, Hamas have just reported that Israeli aeroplanes have bombed the Islamic University in Gaza City. The airstrikes continue and through the miracle of modern technology, you can watch it live. I remember my one and only trip to the IUG. It was an oasis of a campus where you could amble along the promenade surrounded by students buzzing with the learning and the gossip of university life. The buildings were either whitewashed or a pinky stone that shone well in the Mediterranean sun. It was nice. And you could forget you were in the middle of Gaza City for a while.

“As long as Hamas controls Gaza, there is no hope for peace or the creation of a Palestinian state,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said. “We are determined, this is not a one day operation.” She agreed that the idea behind the initial attacks were a form of “shock and awe”. She maintains that they were pushed into these attacks due to the “constant bombardment” of Israeli targets by Gazan militants firing rockets into Israel’s heartland. And that they have allowed aid to enter…will allow aid to enter. Slowly. Hurt then heal. Bomb then balm.

Israel has called up some 6500 reservists. They are massing ground troops along the Gazan border. Its government says that they are not ruling out a ground incursion.

In an article by the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont he says that Israel has “supplied a rallying point”. That Gaza is something that can now be ranked with Deir Yassin. With Sabra and Shatila. A tangible massacre as opposed to the slow strangling of the world’s largest open air prison.

Angela Corpe’s comms kit, it transpires, is currently held at Kensington police station. At least ten people were arrested at the London demonstration. Countless others are massaging their injuries as the police camp out outside the Israeli Embassy for the night in readiness for another demonstration called for the next day. Israel holds all the cards. We are again watching which one they play.


This article was first published on The Comment Factory on 29 December 2008. All rights reserved.

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