Millennium Post

Saving private scribes

The stage had been set to knee jerk the United States; malevolent intentions were clearly visible.  A masked captor dressed in black, stood guard to a white man with a shaved scalp and orange all-overs. The uniform was in stark similarity to the homogenised attire of the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay torture facility. Kneeling down with hands firmly tied behind and a microphone dangling out, the white man uttered his final words without any show of emotion.

The captor brandished a dagger in an apparent sign of victory, the gleam of which could pierce the eye, especially in the unrelenting sun that shone on the vast desert in the backdrop. Appearance of a black screen brought me back to life, eyes still wide in disbelief. A ghoulish execution had just played out. The throat of a man had just been slit, its brutality so graphic that even human senses had become numb.

Somewhere in the vast Syrian deserts, James Wright Foley, an American freelance journalist for US based Global Post and Agence France-Presse had paid his country’s debt yet again. His captors, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) removed all ambiguity from their intentions and blamed the world’s most powerful country for its excesses in the gruesome wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There was further intent behind this display of unabated horror for the Barack Obama led government; the message: ‘Stop the airstrikes in Iraq or else we won’t cease organised murders of your citizens.’

Since the moment the James Foley execution video appeared on the internet, there has been an urgency of sorts to bring to book the perpetrators. The international media’s subjugation to the American demands has been too blatant. Even after six days, the conundrum refuses to budge and it won’t either.

The element of complacency shall have no takers as an American journalist and more importantly a native of the world’s fourth largest country, has been hacked to death. If the data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a not for profit working towards the safety of scribes is to be given any credence, then Foley is not the only one who has been killed in 2014; there have been 49 more deaths.

However, Foley could perhaps become the martyr journalist, the world may not have seen after Daniel Pearl, the then bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in Mumbai, who went to Karachi, Pakistan to investigate the alleged links between Richard Reid (the Shoe Bomber) and the Al-Qaeda and was subsequently executed.  Since then there has not been a single moment when his personality and courage have not been celebrated by the United States and the rest of the world too. The events are analogous to say the least and the world through its contrived sense of rationality shall also sing Foley’s soul eulogies.

There may be nothing wrong in that and yet there is something which should be unacceptable to the 248 other countries on planet Earth. How can a single country amass so much clout that it starts instilling a sense of trepidation in the governments of other nationalities? Why is the world still afraid of United States and its retributions? Why are the deaths of American journalists accorded all the significance in the world? And how can the contributions of dead journalists from other parts of the world be so unashamedly belittled? Aren’t we living in a uni-polar world still? Where is the talk about equality in the flow of news and information and would an American ever wake up to a headline that might talk about the death of an Indian or an Egyptian scribe in circumstances similar to those of Foley’s and Pearl’s?  We have become so consumed in this global frenzy that as readers we never question the apparent lack of egalitarianism when news events are reported. We accept what is served and we circulate our asymmetrical sense of thought because our thinking capacities have been made redundant.

Simone Camilli, a 35 year old Italian video journalist along with a Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash  was killed on the 13th of August, 2014, when he reported from the Gaza strip. Back in 2006, when Camilli moved to Jerusalem to document the proxy war between Israel and Palestine, he had the least impression that he will be undone eight years later. Immersing himself in the rigours of strife reporting, Camilli moved about with an air of conviction, that the images he will produce, will go on to change the course of history. In one of his last works he showed compelling images of Israeli atrocities on Gaza. His eye for detail never let him overlook even the slightest of skirmish and he died exactly a week ago than Foley. His killing wasn’t staged, for he died in an explosion. Perhaps that could be the reason why his death did not attract any gaze. He died a valiant man but not being an American lessened his claim for being called a martyr. He was just another fatality and irony too played out its part when he was written about posthumously. A fellow Italian working with the Time magazine in New York, Francesca Trianni chose to bring to light the outpourings of people for whom Camilli was a son, a brother, a friend and a colleague. Media outlets quite expectedly never went overboard and how could they? There was no drama in this death and Italy’s stature in global politics is a far cry from what it used to be. No final letters were shared, no live coverage happened at his funeral service and no scholarships were named after him. Camilli’s death could not stir emotion; a victim of cross firing usually cannot.

If Camilli was still fortunate to have been written about, Leyla Yildizhan wasn’t. Yildizhan, a Kurdish reporter, who was also known by the name of Deniz Firat, was killed when shrapnel from a mortar shell hit her in the chest as she covered the clashes between Kurdish forces and ISIS insurgents at Makhmur district, 280 kilometres north of Baghdad in Iraq. Leyla’s end came exactly 12 days before Foley and 5 days before Camilli. Firat, who was from the Kurdish city of Van in Turkey, had been embedded with the Kurdish forces and used to report for the Turkish News Agency, Firat. Turkey based, Dicle News Agency (DIHA) however, wrote about the massive gathering at her funeral service where the body of the slain journalist arrived amidst chants of ‘Sehit namirin (Martyrs do not die)’.  Other than Al-Arabiya and some local news agencies such as DIHA, no other media outlet deemed her death necessary enough to be reported.

621 journalists have been killed with complete impunity since 1992. Iraq, a country which has seen more strife than the rest of the world from 1991, has had 103 cases.  Most of the deceased men and women have been West Asians who died as a consequence of either cross firing or militant extremism.  Most have not been written or spoken about. In a land ravaged by fanaticism and partial American occupation, deaths go unaccounted for. Here civilians die without provocation; their lives are nothing but demographic count.

This brings us to the larger questions which have remained unanswered for decades now. Who sets the agenda behind this classification? Why is the death of an American journalist, global news and why is a Kurdish reporter not talked about? Where is the New World Information Communication Order (NWICO) for which Sean MacBride advocated in his report, Many Voices, One World?  Why is the global media representation still not equitable?

United States’ hostility for the NWICO was known far and wide and it came out menacingly when it saw order as an impediment towards the free flow of information for its media corporations. It disagreed with the MacBride report at points where it questioned the role of the private sector in communications. But was the NWICO ever effectively implemented? Has the monopoly of American media corporations come to an end? No, it has not and neither will.

The fall of USSR with the demolition of the Berlin Wall has given US enough impetus to become the face of the world. Nobody has an answer to the end of this domination and also the selective retention that it advocates through media reports emanating from that country. Perhaps, all we can do is to strengthen our indigenous media outlets to bring in an equitable editorial sense with prominence for countries whose heroes are left out in these tumultuous times, yearning for space even when they have departed as martyrs to another world. Till then we’ll have to make do with the Foley’s and Pearl’s as change agents in an unreal world.

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