By Esther Wagner
On March 29th 2012, this campus played host to a conference given by Agnès Levallois on the topic of how Western media have reported about the Arab revolutions so far.
According to Levallois, Wes-tern media were first of all unable to predict the demonstrations and revolutions taking place in the Arab world and later once the upri-sings were in full swing, western media often times failed to capture the essence of what was happening in the different countries. During the conference, Levallois was ans-wering to the question: Why did Western media have so much trou-ble understanding what exactly was happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Li-bya, Syria, Yemen or Bahrain?
Ms. Levallois, attributed this ignorance or simplification of the events that could be found in the Western media to two factors: first, there are hardly any correspondents left on the ground who know enough about the region, speak suf-ficient Arabic and have stayed there long enough in order to be able to take up on slight changes taking place within the country’s society. The foreign correspon-dents did not recognize changing nuances in the political climates that were reigning in those coun-tries, statements that have been made by high ranking politicians that could have hinted at a possible change in their policies or at the degeneration of a government’s legitimacy. All these before men-tioned signs were there, however they were ignored by the Western press. This explains why instead of being given a strong analysis on the revolutions in the different countries all the reader was pre-sented with most of the time was a mere run down of facts, a succes-sion of names and dates and counts of dead, without meaning without vision, without any resemblance to what reality in Egypt or Syria or Yemen must have looked like and still does. Secondly, and most im-portantly the way the West lately chose to report about the Middle East was by covering the region only on the official state level. A debriefing about the Arab League Summit here, an article about Tuni-sian and French trade relations there and a long feature about how Bashar and Asma al – Assad spent a romantic weekend in Paris. The idea here is that the Arab states lately have figured often in the Western media but foremost as ex-actly that: states and their leaders. The developments within the civil societies of the Middle East have largely gone unnoticed, the changes taking place in the hearts and minds of Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis or Syrians have been overshadowed by reports about their presidents and diplomatic meetings those attended to. Ms. Levallois stated the uncomfortable but true, that western media by fo-cusing on a very diplomatic cover-age of the Middle East have forgot-ten the actual people who live un-der these regimes, their thoughts, their actions and finally they were surprised by THEIR Intifadas.
But for how long that is the question will the Western media report about those Intifadas at all? Ms. Levallois mentioned a pheno-menon called “la saturation de l’o-pinion publique”, meaning that an event will be broadcasted and tal-ked about as soon as possible, and as often as possible, as long as it is fresh, exciting for the viewer and arousing his or her interest. Howe-ver, this massive coverage a certain event receives will only last until a certain point, once the reader or viewer has heard and seen enough about this or that topic, the media usually decides to move on to-wards covering the next big happe-ning. Reporting for the sake of in-forming has given up its primacy to reporting for the sake of entertrain-ing.
Last but not least, Ms. Leval-lois pointed out the importance of which words to choose when tal-king about the Arab uprisings. Terms like “Jasmine Revolution” or “Arab Spring” have been discre-dited a long time ago considering the brutality the Arab people had to suffer and fight against and the sa-crifice many of them were willing to make in order to change their countries for the better during al-most a year and a half by now, ever since the Tunisian revolution star-ted with Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in December 2010. Some of those terms that make you shake your head in disbelief are nevertheless still out there. Would someone please step forward and explain the term: “Arab Street”? In what way please, is the Arab Street different than the Spanish one, the Greek one, the Russian one? Gi-ving the events the name that they deserve (The Arab Intifadas) and therefore showing respect to the magnitude of what is happening is necessary, being aware of em-ploying void terms like the Arab street is just as important in order to try to stay as accurate and sensi-tive to the events as possible.
Consequently when covering the Middle East, dear western me-dia, I ask you after having attended the conference given by Ms. Leval-lois, please refrain from too much “couverture diplomatique” and look a little closer at the society that belongs to the country in ques-tion. Less talk about nation state relations, more talk about the peo-ple making up the nation state.