Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Media rant

The Egyptian ambassador to Iraq has recently been abducted in Baghdad. There have also been three other attempts to capture or kill ambassadors in Iraq in the past few days, but let’s focus on the kidnapping. It happened on Sunday (July 3), but to find an article about it two days later on Le Monde’s web site I had first to click on “International”, then page way down to the bottom of the list of top stories. The next day, today, it had fallen off the bottom of the list altogether. On, too, it was well into the peleton of articles on the “Monde” page. If this and my daily morning radio intake from France Info are anything to go by, there hasn’t been nearly the media blitz there was when Libération reporter Florence Aubenas was kidnapped. Sorry, media, but I can’t resist the temptation to note that when a journalist is abducted, that’s news, but when a diplomat is, it’s business as usual. Wait, let's be fair, now. Only time will tell if we'll soon be waking up to "And today is the 112th day of captivity for Ihab al-Chérif, the Egyptian ambassador to Iraq."

While Florence Aubenas was a hostage, the media attention here was relentless. It was media nombrilism at its best, with radio, TV, print and on-line media all focusing on an issue that was of paramount importance to ... them. True, a journalist taken hostage threatens the very core of the media’s existence and affects us all, because it restricts our ability to obtain real, objective, primary-source information about world events. But as troubled as I was by the event, I was no more troubled than I was by the fate of any other hostage. It was not the world’s most important event. Living in France during the first few months of 2005, however, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was. Human beings can’t deal with the notion that there are millions of equally if not more deserving victims. We need a symbol, we need to be able to put a face and a name to the sufferer. Only then can we feel compassion. This is how I felt I was treated by the media.

The French government’s reaction was, in my view, equally reprehensible. You know what I think the French government should have done about Florence Aubenas’ abduction? Absolutely nothing. It’s heartless, but I think there’s no other way to short-circuit the vicious cycle of hostage-taking, ransom and more hostage-taking. You know what the French government did? It virtually ordered journalists to leave the country, while conducting a flurry of negotiations, culminating in a release under circumstances that have still not been elucidated. Or not widely reported, anyway. A search today (July 6) on “Florence Aubenas” on Le Monde’s site turned up seven pages of articles but only two more recent than June 16, a few days after she was freed. None offered any specific information about what “convinced” the hostage takers to make their “humanitarian” gesture. I’m very pleased that Florence Aubenas was ultimately released, but now a month after her release, I’m still as curious as I was pleased to know how much was paid in ransom. I suppose we should keep an eye on Le Canard Enchaîné.



At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Jeff Z said...

While Americans are accused of being self-obsessed (quite rightly), which was I think best expressed in The Onion's post-9/11 headline "Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid Bullshit Again," my faith in human nature is reassured to hear that it's internationally ubiquitous.

At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Matthew said...

I agree whole-heartedly with blogger. The mass media have long been accomplices to terrorism; now, ironically, they are accomplices in the kidnapping of a journalist.


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