Monday, August 21, 2006

Have I Got News for You

I'm not much of a journalist. Not in the Matthew Halton sense, anyway. I'm far more comfortable pontificating from my ergonomic chair than documenting truth from a seedy hotel room on the other side of the world. But I hold my colleagues in the highest regard. Despite some recent allegations from the blogging world of photo-tampering, and even an admission from Reuters that a few photos had been photoshopped by a Lebanese photographer named Adnan Hajj, the industry as a whole cannot be condemned. Reuters uses hundreds of photographers and processes thousands of images every week. To their credit, they immediately admitted the problem, and are looking into ways to prevent this from happening again. The admission of error was an acknowledgement that the system isn't perfect, but improvable. I'm not sure if we could ask for more. Frankly, I'm more concerned about agencies like AP that won't even admit the possibility that some photographers take advantage of their craft to promote a personal agenda, let alone acknowledge media bias at the editorial level.

A number of websites continue to examine and discuss media manipulation by Hezbollah (and others) during the recent war in Lebanon. EU Referendum was one of the first to suggest that photos and video taken in Qana after an Israeli attack had been stage-managed. I watched some of the video available:

Having worked in the television industry for 20 years, I have no doubt that a so-called rescue worker is 'directing' the scene. His hand signals to the camera operator are unmistakable. That's not to insinuate that there were no victims of the attack. But this violation of truth, and others, have left me understandably cynical. I should say, more cynical. When I first graduated, I spent a week as camera assistant with a major Canadian broadcaster. I was disturbed to see the camera operator manipulate objects in view during interviews, or ignore certain images that may recast the story the wished to present. I'd like to think this isn't the norm, but I know it happens.

Still, I'm confident most journalists endeavour to maintain integrity and objectivity, even if a few are corrupt. It's also worth noting that every year, dozens of journalists pay the ultimate price to keep us informed. In 2005, 65 reporters and photo-journalists were slain for the crime of seeking truth. Twenty-five journalists have already been killed this year. Although some have died in combat zones, the vast majority were murdered by agents of a repressive government. This is, of course, one of the most insidious peculiarities of news gathering: it's simply impossible to report from exactly those places where the news is most compelling. In terms of Israel, there are probably more reporters per square foot than anywhere in the world. It's a beautiful, safe country that enjoys and respects freedom of the press. Sadly, the same can't be said of its neighbours. This was especially evident last month, with even mainstream journalists admitting they were compromised by Hezbollah restrictions and threats. But, then 'Truth' has always been subjective. "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." (Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 CE)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cease Fire!

I haven't commented up until now on Israel's war against Hezbollah, but not for want of an opinion. Now that there is a CeasefireTM, here are a few thoughts.

Every conflict has both military and political objectives. The military goal - disarming Hezbollah - was practically impossible and, despite accusations that the war effort has failed, most Israelis must have understood this. The best case scenario was to destroy as many rockets and launchers as possible before a cease-fire was imposed by the United Nations. Although it appears little has been achieved despite loss of life numbering in the many hundreds, I think, at this time, it's impossible to know the long-term benefits of this conflict. There are many that believe the conflict will only fuel more terrorism; I don't believe this is true.

Lebanon's sectarian population has always been split, with Christians and Druze generally supporting Israel's efforts to remove militant forces (thousands of Christians actually fled to Israel in 2000 fearing a rise in militant Islam in the south, and possible retribution against Christians who supported Israel after 1982). Shiite Moslems have generally supported or condoned both the PLO and Hezbollah because they see these groups as armies in a larger conflict: Pan-Arabism (until 1982) and Global Jihad (after 1982). I don't believe this current conflict will increase support, and its likely that many Lebanese, of all stripes, will blame Hezbollah for their recklessness (even if they hold Israel responsible for the deaths.) The Arab street traditionally display public support for its leaders and their military exploits, even when privately they may be critical. It's quite possible that Hezbollah will now lose some of the political support they've enjoyed, and their seats in parliament. We'll know with the next election.

Although chemical and/or nuclear weapons weren't used this time, an enemy poised with thousands of rockets along an un-supervised border is unacceptable. Moreover, Hezbollah serves as a de facto army of Iran, which has spent many years and millions (billions?) of dollars arming the group as part of a coalition of forces to be used against Israel. With many of those rockets now used or destroyed, and Israeli (and soon International) forces now establishing a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon, a front in a future war has been removed. In that context, this effort may prevent a massive three-pronged strike by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel's enemies must now consider that any attack on Israel risks involving the international community.

Additionally, some of the political goals, which were far more realistic, have been achieved - at least in writing. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed unanimously last week, clearly states that the war and resulting deaths are blamed on Hezbollah attacking Israel, as well as declaring that the unconditional release of Israel's soldiers is mandatory. Israel is also not obligated to remove any troops until an international force is in place, nor do they have to release any Lebanese prisoners; the Resolution simply says that the issue of the three Lebanese prisoners is to be "settled." No demands on Israel at all. The resolution also acknowledges the Shebaa Farms dispute but again makes no demands on Israel. And it's in Israel's best interests that the UN now focuses on Iran: the real instigator of so much of this violence. Over the next few months, expect both the US and Israel to continue their war of words against Iran. Israel will need to have the sympathy of both the General Assembly and the Security Council; defying a UN brokered cease-fire now could have unacceptable negative long-term consequences.

It's also worth noting the unprecedented initial condemnation of Hezbollah from a few Arab countries. Even now, Egypt is warning terrorist groups in Gaza and Lebanon to consider the cost-benefit ratio of entering into a conflict with Israel. If these groups cannot depend on the financial support of Arab states, moderate forces may finally be able to speak up. And some Lebanese politicians are publicly rebuking Syria's Bashar Assad who has been suggesting that anti-Syrian elements in Lebanon are "collaborating with Israel." These events, in themselves, indicate significant changes in the status quo.

Any parent or fan of Supernanny will tell you that altering a child's bedtime routine takes a little time. You can't expect much to happen on the first night. Maybe a little crying on the second night. Hopefully, on the third night - success! Israel cannot expect to overnight change the behaviour of those in the Arab world who support terrorism. But this conflict sent a message that the status quo has changed. Hezbollah believed Israel would accept a prisoner exchange because they had done so in the past. That expectation no longer holds true.

Of course, the likelihood is that the conflict is not going to end anytime soon. Hezbollah will find an excuse to launch rockets again, and Israel will exercise its right to responds to attacks. Hezbollah will also certainly refuse to hand over the kidnapped soldiers to the Red Cross or anyone else. Moreover, the international force itself may become the target of Hezbollah attacks (remember the Marine barracks bombing?) potentially igniting an even larger conflict. In the minds of many, it made more sense to let the IDF finish the job it started, but it was the politicians - who recognize that not all battles take place on the battlefield - and not the generals who made the final decision. In the grand scheme of things, that's how we all want it. For better or worse.