Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Israel: media spin war, bomb blast eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth retaliation

tel aviv bus bombing

Ceasefire cancelled?

UPDATE: Ceasefire agreed despite Tel Aviv bus bomb outrage.

Spiegel Online does it again! My daily email alert provides two stories about the Israel-Gaza “confrontation”.

I suspect they employ an online editor with an acute sense of macabre irony. Why else would these stories be featured consecutively? Be that as it may, the short reports make for interesting reading. Here are quotes from each news item.

israeli media spin offensive

Click on the image to go to the article.

“Israel’s new media strategy takes into account the cultural differences and tries to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation. And the name of the latest Gaza offensive alone, Pillar of Defense, is already easier to process than the chunkier official title, Operation Amud Anan, a biblical reference to the pillar of cloud that God transformed himself into in order to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and protect them from the Pharoah’s army.”

Phew! How bloody grandiloquent [my emphasis, above].

israeli retaliation

Click on the image to go to the article.

“After such an attack there can be no cease-fire,” says Ginat [a self-proclaimed Israeli moderate]. “How can someone negotiate an end to the violence and then do something like this? With that the negotiations have come to an end.” Though no one has claimed responsibility [my emphasis] for the attack, hardly anyone in Israel doubts that Hamas was behind it [hysteria, propaganda? – my question]. In the Gaza Strip the radical Islamic army and party was said to have celebrated the news of the attack.”

That last sentence – if true: Hamas idiots, a**eholes – unless they have an awful, cataclysmic agenda in mind, including one for even their own civilian population.

It’s interesting that, in the case of the suicide bombing in Varna, Bulgaria, back in mid-July, that killed 5 Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian (Muslim) driver, as well as injuring another 32 Jewish tourists, Israel (and the US) almost immediately publicly declared that it was the work of Hezbollah. Bulgarian security, anti-terrorism forces and spokespersons still refuse, after 4 months, to be fully drawn on this, despite admitting the possibility, while they continue their investigation.

In a rabidly hysterical society (Israel), it’s all too easy to instigate a primitive witch hunt, isn’t it? Let’s wait for some real proof, even in this lamentable case. Thankfully, no one was actually killed in this attack, unlike…

[1]: Spiegel Online International

[2]: Spiegel Online International

Image: Spiegel Online International


Gideon Levy: ‘What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a state like this?’ *

gideon levy haaretz journalist

‘The most hated man in Israel?’

I was hoping to move away from the ongoing Israel-Gaza tragedy, but chance intervened today, in the form of an extended interview by Johann Hari with the renowned  award-winning Jewish journalist at Haaretz, Gideon Levy. (* It’s his own quote, above, by the way.)

The son of a WWII refugee from Sudetenland, Levy admits he grew up as an Israeli nationalist, not questing the general, majority dismissal of, and contempt – or worse – towards, Palestinians.

His attitude changed when he started reporting for Haaretz[2] from the West Bank and Gaza, and in the intervening 30 years, he has become a rare voice speaking up for peace, tolerance and  understanding.

In so doing, he has enraged majority Israeli opinion, regularly receives hate mail, has been physically threatened many times, been deliberately shot at by the Israeli army, and was even the target of a legal amendment that now precludes him from setting foot in Gaza. He’s also regarded as a “security risk”.

A few quotes from the interview

“My biggest struggle,” he says, “is to rehumanize the Palestinians. There’s a whole machinery of brainwashing in Israel which really accompanies each of us from early childhood, and I’m a product of this machinery as much as anyone else. [We are taught] a few narratives that it’s very hard to break. That we Israelis are the ultimate and only victims. That the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational. That the Palestinians are not human beings like us… So you get a society without any moral doubts, without any questions marks, with hardly public debate. To raise your voice against all this is very hard.”

On the episode when Israeli forces targeted him

“In the summer of 2003, he was travelling in a clearly marked Israeli taxi on the West Bank. He explains: “At a certain stage the army stopped us and asked what we were doing there. We showed them our papers, which were all in order. They sent us up a road – and when we went onto this road, they shot us. They directed their fire to the centre of the front window. Straight at the head. No shooting in the air, no megaphone calling to stop, no shooting at the wheels. Shoot to kill immediately. If it hadn’t been bullet-proof, I wouldn’t be here now. I don’t think they knew who we were. They shot us like they would shoot anyone else. They were trigger-happy, as they always are. It was like having a cigarette. They didn’t shoot just one bullet. The whole car was full of bullets. Do they know who they are going to kill? No. They don’t know and don’t care. They shoot at the Palestinians like this on a daily basis. You have only heard about this because, for once, they shot at an Israeli.”

On living in the Israeli village of Sheikh Munis

“It is built on the wreckage of “one of the 416 Palestinian villages Israel wiped off the face of the earth in 1948,” he says. “The swimming pool where I swim every morning was the irrigation grove they used to water the village’s groves. My house stands on one of the groves. The land was ‘redeemed’ by force, its 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return.”

On Israel as a democracy

 “Today we have three kinds of people living under Israeli rule,” he explains. “We have Jewish Israelis, who have full democracy and have full civil rights. We have the Israeli Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship but are severely discriminated against. And we have the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, who live without any civil rights, and without any human rights. Is that a democracy?”

I could go on, extensively. My recommendation is that you follow the link below[1] for a thought-provoking encounter with a courageous, committed man.


Blogger “bimo”[3] has some balanced observations to make on the subject. One of his recent Palestine items has useful links to two condemnations of biased reporting of the current conflict by western media – one of which is an open letter signed by, among others, Naom Chomsky. So, if you’re interested… yet another coincidence today.

[1]: The Independent

[2]: Haaretz

[3]: bimo

Image: Anja Meulenbelt

Biting the hand that feeds you

Neelie Kroes EC Vice-President

A cross Neelie Kroes points the finger at Azerbaijan.

The other evening, I was recounting an incident that occurred in Sofia about 3 years ago. A group of foreigners arrived at Sofia airport, jumped into a taxi, and were taken to their city-centre hotel.

The fare came to 102 leva. They paid up, but thought it rather excessive.

The group had fallen foul of a common trick – excessive charging by rogue taxi companies operating out of the airport.

The problem was, the extortionate tariff per kilometre was clearly posted on the cab window – 8.60 leva/km – so the unfortunate mugs had to pay up. At the standard taxi rate in 2009, they’d have paid 11 or 12 leva.

By now, there’s at least more of a semblance of order at the airport, with 2 local companies licensed to pick up passengers. It isn’t perfect, but it’s at least a welcome improvement.

Why am I reminiscing about such an old and all-too-frequent story?[1]

The visitors were attending an anti-fraud conference in Sofia. No, wait, there’s more!

They were all, in fact, officials of OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office.

History repeats itself

Azerbaijan hosted a conference on internet security last week. An EC delegation, led by Vice-President Neelie Kroes, attended the Internet Governance Forum held in the capital, Baku.

On her blog, Kroes, who is responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, had already expressed some advance misgivings about the situation in Azerbaijan:

“Azerbaijan is a country with serious issues of media freedom – where journalists regularly face arrest or imprisonment, and the suppression of very basic human rights. While I’m there I’ll be raising a number of concerns about how protection and promotion of human rights.”[sic – no second verb][2]

(It’s worth checking this brief post[2] on Kroes’ blog, as there’s a linked reference to Bulgaria’s media situation, a topic she’s also actively following.)

Then, on Saturday – the very day I was regaling friends with the OLAF mishap – Kroes blogged again:

“The reality in Azerbaijan is harsh. We see many arbitrary restrictions on the media. We see the exercise of free speech effectively criminalised. We see violent attacks on journalists.”

“Here in Azerbaijan the Internet is a double-edged sword. Unlike neighbouring Turkey and Iran, everyone in Azerbaijan has access – but on the other hand, they face the consequences if they use the Internet in a way the government doesn’t like.”[3]

Again, why am I going on about this?

Kroes also reported on Saturday that, while attending the forum, and at their hotel:

My advisers had their computers hacked.
So much for openness

So much, indeed!

I was alerted to the Baku hacking story by The Washington Post[4]

[1]: The Sofia Echo 

[2]: Kroes first blog entry

[3]: Kroes follow-up blog entry

[4]: The Washington Post


BBC: ‘How I missed the boat’

BBC Director-General George Entwistle

The shortest-serving BBC Director-General ever?

Well, I truly blew it!

I must have been “peddling my ewn cenoe” at the time.

I had started drafting a post earlier today (10th. November) about the ongoing troubles of the BBC in the wake of the sex scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile, and the latest fiasco concerning the resulting accusations of systemic child molestation in the UK, as broadcast (or not) by the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, and the new DG’s (lack of) knowledge as to what, editorially, was going on in this evidently troubled department.

My drafted headline was:

BBC top dog: ‘Big crisis of trust’,

a very recent quote from the very man, George Entwistle.

It’s just been announced that Entwistle has resigned, on 10th. November, 2012. He took up his position as long ago as… 17th. September, 2012.[1]

Where did I learn this? From a direct news subscriber feed to the BBC.

More to follow (as they say). I was going to tell the story backwards, in any case!

[1]: BBC Online


That 10-yearly orgasm: ‘Theory, not practice’

Chinese Congress 2012

“All together, now, all together, now (The Beatles).

I have admit to being amused, yet again, by western media reports of what is apparently going on in China in preparation for their 10-year orgasm – this time around, the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th. National Congress.

Some 2,300 delegates will meet in Beijing for the next official transition of leadership power in China. The congress will continue for x days – I can’t find out how many, but never mind, it’s all planned, of course.

A UK press item describes the situation:

“Beijing is in security lockdown – kitchen knives have reportedly been removed from shop shelves, racing pigeons are confined to their lofts, and the window controls removed from passenger seats in taxis across the city to stop people furtively passing out dissenting messages from the back seat.”[1]

The article continues:

“Few surprises are expected at the very top. Xi Jinping is due to replace Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the party that has ruled China since 1949. Li Keqiang is set to succeed Wen Jiabao as Premier.”[1]

Local quotes

“There is too much unfairness here and the government controls everything. I have to say we need more human rights. I don’t feel disappointed with the current leadership, but there’s nothing to be very cheerful about either.”

“The main problem is unfairness, and that people’s basic rights cannot be assured, such as land rights, property rights, food security and environmental safety. I don’t know if I am disappointed, and I’m not sure what the result will be if some wise leaders are replaced … The government should strictly implement the laws.”

“The thing most needed in this country is supervision of the Communist Party and an independent legal system, but this seems unlikely in a country with one-party rule, so the rules and regulations lack justice and are in the service of the rulers.”

“The most disappointing thing is corruption. From the government to the ordinary people, everyone here is attached to a code which represents a theory that nothing is real except money.”

“It is not possible to have change or political reform because the leadership is all about extending the leadership. I cannot see hope unless there is more freedom and supervision of the leadership.”

Please note the above are selective quotes from  the article in The Independent, as already cited.[1]

Why am I amused?

For purely personal reasons.

Two anecdotes, from my own time as a trainer with The Thomson Foundation (a UK NGO) over the years, which gave me an unexpected but authentic view of the mind-sets of Chinese media players.

1: Production course, Beijing, 1995

The international media training NGO I worked for finally succeeded in organising a course for central and regional TV producers, to be held in Beijing. It proved to be a fortnight of hilarity, serious work and deep frustration.

First, the “trainees” went on strike, because they didn’t want to be challenged and asked about what they actually did, followed up by practical exercises as to how they did it; instead, they insisted on “lectures”, so as write down and “understand what to do”, not to be “shown how to do it”. As the rebel leader told us “We want to learn theory, not practice!”

A 36-hour stand-off was eventually resolved (we even threatened to return to UK), and we continued with practical shooting and editing exercises.

Then: permission and authority, and the inability to do the stories “we want”

Without wishing to denigrate the media personnel in attendance, it’s fair to say they were scared shitless of “authority”. They had some lovely ideas: “let’s do an item on Beijing Zoo”, “what about a street market, interviewing the sellers and buyers”, “what does Tiananmen Square really mean to us” (some 2 years after the events there). All ideas they, the participants, proposed, only to come back to us trainers saying “Not possible! ‘They’ won’t give us any permission”.

Well, we managed to get all those three things (and more) done, and the “trainees” were astonished by their own (aided) success.

My personal part was to take on the challenge of filming in Tiananmen Square. I simply took a video camera, commandeered one of our drivers, and told him to drive slowly around the square several times, while I shot out of the rear window, and on the pavement itself. He was terrified!

Ironically, and totally unexpectedly, as well as general shots of the square and the “mausoleum”, I returned with a sequence of shots of a formal 21-gun-salute being given in honour of the visit of the Lithuanian President. The “trainees” were amazed, and aghast. The driver was still shaking. They asked how I “got permission”. I told them it was a public space, so I never thought of asking, as a tourist with a video camera.  Why didn’t they approach it in the same, bold (admittedly more discretionary) manner, in insisting on their (?) rights? But, yes, I could well have been arrested by an earnest, pimple-faced, ideological adolescent twat, in a (compulsory) green uniform.

Similarly, we eventually gained access to the zoo, and to the street market (the best story of all, as it happened).

I hope we “big-nosed, red-faced” Brit trainers, as they amusingly saw us,  managed to instil some more courage into those young, aspiring journalists. Who knows, given the system within which they still have to operate?


I did feel ashamed, when telling one of the colleagues on the course, that I had to fly for over 10 hours to get home to UK. He replied that he had a 96-hour journey by rail ahead of him to get home to his province – I suppose he missed that wonderful Congress.

2: Management and planning course, Guangzhou

On my own, this time, I had a 3-week training course to deliver to top managers of CCTV and some other (carefully selected) TV stations. Needless to say, the “others” were the keenest, the most challenging participants.

This was about 10 years ago – you get the drift, now?

I’d realised, while preparing for the course, that the previous (2002) Congress would overlap the final 2 days of the course, and prepared some material that I hoped might be relevant.

Well, what a waste of time! With 3 days to go on the course, my interpreter informed me, quite seriously: Mr. Trainer, you may not be aware, but the most important event in China is about to begin tomorrow”.

So, to cut it short, the course was prematurely terminated: “Maybe you can tell us everything for the next 3 days, today,” was the suggestion I was given.

My Welsh answer (non -PR) was succinct: “Piss off! We were supposed to be discussing planning… your bosses had 10  years to plan this course in relation to the Congress.”

The course collapsed, and I spent a delightful couple of days in sight-seeing. I just felt sorry for those media participants who’d also been well aware of a small timing problem, but were too scared, or polite, or powerless, to mention it to their superiors.

Post-script: Albanian Christmas

This all reminds me of another wonderful occasion. Working in Tiranë, capital of Albania, one December, I was again caught out by a totally distraught TV producer who told me she’d been informed, with only 6 days to go, that she had to produce a “Christmas Special” for 25th. December. An event almost 2,000 years in the planning… but the management had just realised the date!


Planning? Followed by non-thinking acceptance. And top management never changes, even in its attitudes and ineptitude.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the result of the US presidential election, aren’t we? Look again at the Chinese quotations above: one-party, two-party, not much choice, the rich, eh?)

[1}: The Independent


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