How the War in Ukraine Revealed Western Media Bias


Western war reporters, more accustomed to being deployed in Middle Eastern conflict zones, were quick to draw comparisons. Some of these comparisons have gone too far, causing outrage in the Arab world.

“It’s not a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict rage for decades,” the CBS News foreign correspondent said, Charlie D’Agata, referring to Ukraine. “You know, it’s a relatively civilized, relatively European city…” He then apologized.

Other news outlets expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian victims, with interviewees and correspondents pointing out that, unlike refugees from the Middle East, Ukrainian victims were ‘white’, ‘Christian’, ‘middle class’ , “blonde” and “blue-eyed”.

Within days, hashtags and even t-shirts bearing the phrase “civilized” surfaced in the Middle East in protest.

The media coverage prompted the New York-based Association of Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists to issue a statement condemning “the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy” in places like the Middle East.

Its chairman Hoda Osman, who has reported for several Western outlets including France24, ABC News and CBS News, said the contrast between coverage of Western victims versus those in the Middle East demonstrates a dehumanization of the latter.

We asked her why she thinks this is happening and what can be done about it.

Western media have many more minority journalists than before. Did this diversity carry over to the cover?

There’s no doubt that having more minority journalists would lead to better coverage, whether that’s detecting misinformation, bias and racism, booking interviews with knowledgeable people who understand the nuances, offering general and contextual information or helping with something as simple as correct translations and pronunciations.

Over the past 16 years, we have seen the number of Arab and Middle Eastern journalists working in Western media increase significantly. There is also more diversity in the type of media [Middle Easterners] are part of, from television stations and local newspapers to senior positions in national and international press organs. But we still need more. Just being in the room makes a difference and improves relationships.

Is the level of bias you see in the Western press unprecedented? What’s the difference this time?

What is sad this time is that [offending] the comments came casually, spontaneously and, therefore, revealed an existing bias, which we would expect from a journalist covering an international event.

Unfortunately, we weren’t shocked. The remarks drew attention through social media, but we knew this kind of prejudice and racism existed.

How seriously do you think news outlets take these allegations of bias?

I think public pressure will have some impact. I also expect many organizations to really want to do the right thing.

We asked newsrooms to train correspondents in the cultural and political nuances of the regions they report on, and not to rely on American or Eurocentric biases.

Do you think that now that Western journalists have covered a European war, they will be more sympathetic to the victims of Middle Eastern wars?

To be honest, I don’t think it matters whether they do it or not. We simply ask journalists to be journalists and do a good job of reporting without inserting their own biases into the story and without making unnecessary comparisons.

Transcript has been edited for length and clarity

Other news from the Middle East

Saudi Arabia ready to mediate between all sides on Russia-Ukraine

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and offered to mediate talks between Moscow and Kyiv.

  • context: The prince also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and told him that the kingdom supports de-escalation in Ukraine. Israel and Turkey have also offered to mediate.
  • Why is this important: Saudi Arabia’s offer comes as the Gulf country tries to balance its relations with the United States and Russia, with which it coordinates its oil policy. After adopting an effective neutral stance, Saudi Arabia condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week at the United Nations.

Ihad run says it can hit peak oil production two months after nuclear deal

If a nuclear deal is reached, Iran will be able to ramp up its oil production to full capacity in less than two months, Oil Minister Javad Owji said on Thursday.

  • Context: Iran has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, but its crude output has fallen since US sanctions were imposed on its economy in 2018. A spokesperson for the US State Department said on Thursday that a agreement was reached, but warned that unresolved issues remained.
  • Why is this important: Brent crude surged towards $120 a barrel on Thursday, its highest level in nearly a decade amid the war in Ukraine. Increased supply from Iran could help dampen the rally. Tehran pumped 2.4 million barrels per day on average in 2021 and plans to increase production to 3.8 million barrels per day if sanctions are lifted.

Up to 20,000 Ukrainian tourists stranded in Egypt, awaiting return to Europe

As many as 20,000 Ukrainian tourists are stranded in Egypt as the Ukrainian embassy in Cairo organizes their air transport to Europe. They mainly reside near Red Sea resorts, Ukrainian diplomat Yevhen Zhupeev told a news conference in Cairo.

  • Context: Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, an attack that was denounced by Western leaders and their global allies. At a session of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, most members voted in favor of a resolution condemning Russia and calling for its immediate withdrawal from Ukraine.
  • Why is this important: Despite close relations with Moscow, Egypt was among the countries that voted on Wednesday in favor of a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion. Egypt allows Ukrainian tourists to stay in Egypt until European countries are ready to receive them.

Around the region

Human intervention has caused the number of Arabian leopards in Saudi Arabia to drop below 200. The kingdom is now trying to change that.

Saudi Arabia launched an awareness campaign last month to shed light on the critically endangered feline, as authorities work with conservationists to protect the remaining leopards.

The smallest member of the leopard family, Arabian leopards arrived in the mountains of northern Arabia nearly 500,000 years ago, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) says on its website.

The Saudi city of AlUla is one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula and has become a hub of the kingdom’s heritage.

Humans are the primary cause pushing animals toward extinction, the commission said.

“Expanded human presence has reduced and fragmented the habitat of Arabian leopards,” the RCU wrote in an awareness brochure, adding that the conflict between cattle-raising communities in the area and the leopards’ attempts to attacking the animals of the herders lead either to man. attack or even hunt leopards.

In an effort to raise awareness, Saudi Arabia celebrated its first “Arabian Leopard Day” on February 10, where he lit up monuments with pictures of endangered cats with the hashtag #ArabianLeopardDay. In 2019 he launched a global fund to finance conservation projects, and last September saw the birth of a rare female in a captive breeding program in the town of Taif.

Arabian leopards emerged from Africa and symbolize the population of the peninsula. The commission says there may be fewer than 50 adult leopards left in the country. There are also few left in Oman and Yemen, with the last sighting in Saudi Arabia in 2014.

Conservation projects have also been underway in Oman since 2014, where a community of leopards took refuge in the mountains of the Jabal Samhan nature reserve.

In Yemen, dire conditions resulting from the ongoing war have led to neglect, with social media posts showing dead or captured feral cats.

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