THE war and occupation of Ukraine has taken over our media, particularly radio and television, as well as all aspects of our lives arts and culture, especially football. (The spineless Fifa can say No to War/invasion, but for years ignored campaigns such as Red Card Israel.)
The wall-to-wall coverage of Ukraine in the first weeks has crowded out other communities in distress and in similar situations that have long been under-reported or ignored, such as in Yemen and Somalia much closer to home.
Why? Is it media ownership? Are our media beholden to the global North and Europe? Or simply whitecentric after years of colonialism and imperialism?
The South African media have been largely silent about the war in Yemen, and the plight of other refugees.
Let me be upfront here: war kills mostly innocent people, ordinary folk, largely poor and the marginalised. As much as bombings and shelling in Ukraine is unjust, so is the almost eight-year-long relentless bombing of Yemen by the Us-saudi coalition.
Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries with 15.6 million Yemenis living in extreme poverty, and 8.6 million suffering from under-nutrition.
The Us-saudi coalition have blood on their hands. They are largely responsible for an estimated 377000 deaths (most of them children), according to the UN. These killings seem to go on daily with disgusting impunity.
I do not recall any media from here questioning either the Saudi ambassador or the UK and US envoys about their violations of human rights. Why? Whatever the answer, it is clear that our media reporting, generally, mirrors that from the global North.
It can be concluded that class, colour, geography, race and power determine how media are marshalled
behind the goals and objectives of the imperial power of the US and the pretending powers (of the UK, France and Russia, among others).
Our media generally have not reported on the racism and elitism of the global media’s Ukraine coverage. Some of the luminaries – the BBC, CBS, Al Jazeera, NBC, The Telegraph, all oxygenated racism and failed to call it out when they had to.
My favourite is CBS foreign correspondent Charlie D’agata, speaking of Ukraine’s suffering: “This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European city.”
NBC’S Kelly Cobiella reminded us: “These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine … These are Christians, they’re white. They’re very similar [to us].”
Are human rights not indivisible? The struggle to regain our humanity is not solely the task of journalists, but they have a role. Some, like comedian/tv host Trevor Noah, made a mockery of their racism by letting them speak. Others tried to remedy the harm caused by other parts of their own organisation.
Take the brief inserts by MSNBC’S Mehdi Hasan and Ayman Mohyeldin. They reminded us that it was Europe, the “civilised” continent, that was responsible for the last two world wars,
among other things.
In her MSNBC slot, Zerlina Maxwell explored with Professor Eddie Glaude geography and the architecture of global apartheid. The civilised Europe was the cause of the holocaust, racism and they concluded that journalists had to de-centre whiteness and they need to understand its workings, if the world has to be made better.
Finally, I turn to Israeli scholar Iian Pappé writing in Palestine Chronicle about USA Today and a photo that went viral about a high-rise building bombing, supposedly by the Russians of the Ukraine. In fact the photo was of a high-rise in the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble by the Israeli Air Force in May 2021. It did not surprise him.
Pappe points out that it was no “coincidence that photos” were confused
as not many high-rise buildings were destroyed in the Ukraine, “but there is an abundance of ruined highrises in the Gaza Strip”.
He adds that “it is not only the hypocrisy about Palestine that emerges when we consider the Ukraine crisis in a wider context”, and looking overall notes Western double standards “without … being indifferent to news and images coming to us from the war zone in the Ukraine”.
Pappe ends with four lessons we must tackle if we are to gain our humanity:
¡ Lesson 1: white refugees are
welcome; others less so.
¡ Lesson 2: you can invade Iraq but
not the Ukraine.
¡ Lesson 3: sometimes neo-nazism
can be tolerated.
¡ Lesson 4: hitting high-rise buildings is only a war crime in Europe. I have added a fifth:
¡ Lesson 5: mainstream media (even in the global South) still shape the news agenda to satisfy the powerful elites.
How else can one explain the swooning over refugees with blue eyes and blond hair while ignoring less deserving darker victims?
The time to de-centre whiteness and elite power is now and everyday.
Thank you Ukraine for this. Russia stop bombs! Live peace.
HASSEN LORGAT Lorgat has worked in the trade union movement, civic associations, the anti-apartheid sports movement and for NGOS. He writes in his personal capacity
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