Friday, February 13, 2015

13-Feb-15: Jordanian accuracy

 Jordanian air force pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, victim of
exceptionally cruel murder by jihadists [Image Source]
There's an astonishing amount of awe-struck, uncritical media coverage being given to the Jordanians as they carry out revenge massacresspearheaded by their plucky fighter-pilot king, against the barbarians who set fire to a caged Jordan air force pilot and then released a 22-minute video of the atrocity for world-wide gawking. 

In the wake of his awful death, the Jordanian government with "40 mid-life F16 jets at its disposal" says its forces have conducted "56 air strikes on Isis in recent days" in a campaign that "has destroyed 20% of the fighting capabilities" and killed "more than 7,000 Isis militants". Listen to how the military strategy, resulting from the death of its pilot, is expressed: 
"The revenge will be as big as the calamity that has hit Jordan," army spokesman Colonel Mamdouh al Ameri said in a televised statement as cited by Reuters, [RT]
Perhaps the claims are true; perhaps not (though clearly the numbers they quote raise questions that reporters and their editors should have at least analyzed with the greatest skepticism - but did not). There's no way to know at this stage.

We are compelled to say, on the basis of what the Jordanians claim and on our common sense, that it's simply stunning that (a) no civilians seem to have been killed or at least counted; just "militants", even though the military action seems principally to be aerial bombing. And (b) there's precious little sign of the global news media - as far as we can tell - reacting critically to the idea of revenge as a justification for military action on an uncommonly intense scale. 

Kid gloves are plainly being applied to this story by the major news agencies, as well as by most governments. This makes us think back to how stories of Israeli military action, often termed "disproportionate", are handled by reporters and their editors, even when they occur in response to multiple civilian Israeli victims, killed in cruel fashion by terrorists. Calls for Israeli "restraint" and condemnation of massive over-reaction are near-universal at those times. Tom Wilson, writing in Commentary Magazine yesterday ["Israel, Jordan, and the Disproportionate Response"] has some astute observations to make about this.

But there's another aspect. How accurate are the news reports from Jordan? Can they be trusted? (And is there any corner of the global news-reporting industry that even cares to ask or check?) Here's some input based on a report in a Jordanian paper yesterday - not just the facts, but the way they are spun. 

A reader glancing at the headline of the news story below will get the sense that Jordan's "press freedom" is sort of OK. Down just two places overall in the latest league tables is what it says, which doesn't sound bad at all. And in the body of the article, a statement by the proud minister that they will "continue to develop" freedoms in this domain.

Continue to develop, they say? Let's read it.
Jordan drops two places on World Press Freedom index Jordan Times | Mohammad Ghazal | Feb 12, 2015 | 21:44 | AMMAN — Jordan has dropped two places on the World Press Freedom Index 2015, ranking 143rd among 180 countries, as the government said it will continue to develop media freedom in the Kingdom. The Reporters Without Borders annual index released Thursday showed that Jordan continued a decline in press freedom, as it was ranked 141st in the 2014 index and 134th in the 2013 index. At the Arab level, Jordan ranked 11th... Commenting on the report, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammad Momani said: “We will continue to develop our freedom of expression.”
So here's the reality: Contrary to the mild language of the headline, Jordan's press freedom is almost at the bottom of the league... and it's sinking. Countries that rank even lower include The Congo, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea. Check them all out.

Whatever the Hashemite Kingdom's government is doing, if it continues doing it, what reason is there to expect the situation to improve? There's none and it won't, though the article fails to convey any sense of that.

Jordan obviously has a serious and systemic problem. Problems of the Jordanian kind cannot be fixed easily, and certainly not by the mere training of more journalists, no matter how well.

But it does have to be said that well-prepared, courageous and intellectually rigorous reporters and editors are an adornment to almost every society. If Jordan wants some of those, and knows the recipe, more power to them. There is very little evidence that they do.

We have written critically several times in the past two months [December 10December 11, January 11, January 16January 19, January 23, February 4] about the Jordan Media Institute and the scandalous way it published a homage to a Jihadist terrorist. And about the even more scandalous way the tribute was secretly removed under pressure from critics - like us.

A society claiming to be at war with the terrorists and aspiring to "continue to develop" its "freedom of expression" and "media freedom" has to have a strategy that goes beyond self-aggrandizing press statements. It also needs to be substantially more upfront with the outside world - and with itself, it seems - about the lethal support for jihad that infects the ranks of key parts of its population, including some of the journalists whose future careers it is proudly hailing.

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