Robert Fisk on the failure of Western media
The veteran Middle East correspondent talked to a crowd of hundreds at LAU about the failure of Western media to report the horrors of war.
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“We the West must militarily leave the Middle East,” said Robert Fisk, the renowned Middle East correspondent for the British daily newspaper The Independent, at LAU Beirut on January 12. “We have no right to be here.”
The audience of students, faculty and professionals in Irwin Hall Auditorium immediately broke into cheers and applause.
For over one hour Fisk captivated listeners in his lecture on the failure of Western media to report on the truths of war and conflict in the Middle East.
Fisk talked about how the Western world has adopted ideas since September 11, 2001 that had not been heard since the end of the First World War, making reference to the new wave of senseless xenophobia and prejudice that has swept the Western neo-liberal mindset. He added that the West’s approach of peacemaking is not peaceful at all — “We always come offering freedom with weapons.”
Fisk criticized what he described as “propaganda campaigns” that editors in the Western media go on in terms of spinning coverage of conflict and news in the Middle East. The result is that they package a tidy, palatable, censored and inherently untruthful coverage of news in the region.
A search for truth
Fisk offered countless examples, from articles printed in newspapers in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and New Zealand, of gross inaccuracies and mistruths that were presented to their readerships, namely by not verifying independent sources. The result is that these stories become fiction.
He said: “The Middle East is not a football match. It’s a bloody tragedy, and the journalists have a responsibility to be on the side of those who suffer.”
He offered further specific examples from the Western press, of many articles that all clearly spun or whitewashed the truth about the suffering of the victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict, similar to Zionist propaganda. Fisk offered the example of the West Bank “barrier,” saying that: “The wall — bigger, longer than the Berlin Wall — is referred to as a fence or security barrier” in the Western press. Another example he offered was of illegal Israeli settlements that are built on land stolen from the Arabs, but the Western press refers to them as, among other polite descriptions, “Jewish neighborhoods.”
“Most people in this region want freedom from us — the West — and this we do not intend to give to you,” said Fisk.
In his introductory remarks to the lecture, Dr. Ramez Maluf, head of LAU’s Institute for Media Training and Research, chair of the Communication Arts Department and associate professor of communications, said, “In Lebanon journalists are victims of political and sectarian conflicts — many journalists find themselves marginalized.”
Maluf noted that the journalists who nurture the cycles of violence are distressing. Fisk’s reporting does not hide the reality that war and violence are distressing. Maluf said it is “Fisk’s uncompromising passion for justice and compassion and concern for human life” that sets his journalism apart from the majority of other journalists.
“A journalist’s report should be published as it was written,” said Maluf, and “Fisk writes it as he sees it.”
A distinguished career
Only a few of the major events in the Middle East that Fisk has covered in his career include the Civil War in Lebanon, the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War in the early 1990s, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is one of very few journalists in the world that have interviewed Osama bin Laden — three times — between 1994 and 1997.
Fisk has a Ph.D. in political science from Trinity College in Dublin and, to date, seven honorary doctorates. He has written three books, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and more recently, The Age of the Warrior: Selected Essays by Robert Fisk, and The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, which sold more than two million copies.
He has been voted International Journalist of the Year by the British Press Awards seven times.
The lecture was the first of the “Distinguished Journalists Lecture Series,” organized by LAU’s Institute for Media Training and Research, that is being held this year. As part of this series, several internationally recognized journalists of a range of media — print, new media and broadcast — will visit LAU to lecture about various topical issues.
That said, despite the fact we live in the age of new media, Fisk confesses he is a traditional on-the-ground reporter, and does not use the internet or care much for technology. “I know nothing about new media and I don’t want to know,” he said. “I believe in print.”
And Fisk still stands out among the journalist pack, as he has done for over 30 years. Maluf described him as the most accomplished journalist since the Vietnam War.
Perhaps the essence of Fisk was best summed up when Maluf shared a comment he heard the other day, by a local journalist, upon hearing that Fisk would soon be traveling to Yemen to cover the current raging conflict. “Fisk is going to Yemen in a couple of days,” he said. “Finally we’ll know what’s going on in one of our Arab countries.”