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September 03 2010

10:02

MediaLens’ response to Alex Thomson on Afghanistan

A response from the website MediaLens to Alex Thomson’s piece on the Afghanistan war and the practicalities of embed journalism:

In his September 1 piece, ‘Afghanistan: the rough guide to roughness’, Alex Thomson writes:

“Chief among the carpers about embedding, of course, the indefatigable editors at MediaLens who get extremely hoity-toity at the entire concept of embedding.

“However, ask them how they would cover Helmand if they were off to the main bazaar, Lashkar Gah, at noon next Tuesday and guess what? Total silence from the normally electronically incontinent MediaLens email service. Which rather clinches the argument, simple though it is.”

This is false. In April, Alison Banville, an activist and freelance journalist, asked us to respond to Thomson’s question. We did so and she forwarded the following comments to Thomson on 3 April:

“From the Davids [David Edwards and David Cromwell, editors of MediaLens]:

“He’s never asked us ‘how will you cover Helmand assuming you are going there next week?’ The answer is that he should report it as he would any illegal invasion of a sovereign state. He should report it as he would have reported the 1979-89 Soviet invasion and occupation. In other words, present the opinion of the invading forces, of the people under occupation, including the resistance, and of experts in international law who declare the whole operation illegal.

“Obviously, alongside the warmongers, leading anti-war commentators should be regularly quoted and featured: Chomsky, Herman, Pilger, Goodman, Curtis, Ellsberg, et al. I’m not suggesting he could achieve all of that himself in the field, but his reports should be part of a news service that does. There’s no question of intellectual cowardice [on our part, as claimed by Thomson] – the answer couldn’t be more obvious. Happy for you to quote us on this.”

Thomson responded to Banville’s email on the same day, expressing agreement with our comments while claiming that Channel 4 had already done as we had suggested.

Thomson now claims that by “total silence” he meant we had totally evaded his question – hard to reconcile with the meaning of “total silence” and with his positive response on April 3 when he made no mention of evasion.

The truth is that we never avoid difficult questions from mainstream journalists. On the contrary, we are forever seeking to engage them in written debate and are consistently ignored or fobbed off. Readers can find 3,000 pages of examples here: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/archive.php

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August 31 2010

15:18

Deadlines and frontlines: extracts from new book on journalism and the Afghanistan war

This week, Journalism.co.uk is publishing extracts from a new book about the media coverage of the Afghanistan war.

‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’ brings together the testimonies of frontline correspondents and detailed academic analysis, with a particular focus on the pros and cons of so-called ‘embedded’ journalism.

Earlier today, we published an introduction to the book by journalism lecturer and co-editor John Mair, followed by a look at the dangers of ‘news management’ by Frontline Club founder and war correspondent Vaughan Smith.

Smith’s essay will be followed in the next three days by contributions from Channel 4 News presenter and war correspondent Alex Thomson, Sky News’ Asia correspondent Alex Crawford, and others.

All extracts published so far can be viewed at this link.Similar Posts:



July 12 2010

10:56

Media faces stong criticism from within over Raoul Moat coverage

Media coverage of the police hunt for Raoul Moat may have come to an end, but the debate over how the press reported on events continues.

From live video coverage of Moat’s stand-off with police, to interactive maps, to timelines of events leading up to his attacks,  – the terrifying story gripped our news headlines.

But the volume and content of some coverage has led to criticisms of sensationalism and glamourising, from outside and within the industry – with some even warning reports could encourage future attacks.

The debate over the media’s responsibility when reporting such events has even prompted a Twitter debate from the BBC, who will hold a debrief tomorrow to discuss the lessons to learn from covering the actions of people like Raoul Moat.

Responding to the debate on Twitter, @julesthejourno illustrated the problem – while some of the real-time footage may have been difficult to watch, it was equally impossible to turn off, for a public with a desire to know the latest developments.

Friday’s live coverage was so raw (especially the phone calls) it felt wrong to watch but even more so to change channels.

This supports Barbara Ellen’s post at the Observer, which claimed that the media are simply “feeding the ‘public interest’ monster”.

It’s too pat to blame the news media. They are merely feeding the “public interest” monster – a ravenous, impatient, rubbernecking creature. In a way, that seems almost too tidy. It seems to be this very part of us that feeds the “death and glory” monster presumably lurking inside poor, deluded sods such as Moat, making all those fantasies about being the centre of attention, the big scary guy with the gun, come true.

But she warns that demand for such coverage could lead to a very dark road.

Homicidal sprees as another form of spectator sport? Just another button on the remote control, perhaps labelled “Homi-tainment”, with a helpful skull and crossbones motif? The whole thing was reminiscent of iconic scenes from the US. “Homi-tainment” was definitely there when OJ went off on his car chase, Waco went under siege, even in those candlelit vigils outside prison executions. Didn’t Brits used to think we were rather above this kind of thing? Well, seemingly not any more.

But is the media to blame for how the news itself plays out?  Freelance journalist Martin Robbins has written a series of “serious questions” which he feels need to be answered by the media, who he claims created a “carnival atmosphere” with their coverage.

His comments have since exploded across Twitter and the blogosphere.

One such question is whether the media understand the nature and extent of their influence on Raoul Moat? Robbins says a quote from Moat proves that media coverage could have directly led to another person being killed:

For every piece of inaccurate information published I will select a member of the public and kill them.

In response, Robbins questions the morality of the press who he accuses of doing just that.

Can they explain why they printed inflammatory details that had no conceivable public interest justification? Can they go to bed tonight safe and sound in the certain knowledge that they did not contribute to his death?

Answering his question, the bloggers at Fleet Street Blues simply replied: “yes”.

Look, it’s not as if the Raoul Moat story was Fleet Street’s finest hour. It showed how the proliferation of online news has only heightened the demands of the 24-hour rolling news cycle, and no one’s saying the televised ending was particularly edifying for anyone concerned.

But the implication that journalists were too intrusive, too inquisitive and too obstructive to police is just inaccurate.

Channel 4′s Alex Thomson, whose real-time Tweeting also came under fire from Robbins as an illustration of the media chase, defended his work on Twitter:

“can’t speak for media but yes, v proud of c4n Moat coverage which I say was informative, factual and not sensational.

But psychologists remain concerned that even though the coverage of Raoul Moat’s run from the police may be over, it had the power to encourage another similar event in the near future.

Reporting for the Independent, Johann Hari asks if the media will now indirectly help others “pull the trigger”.

Suddenly, they are shown a path where their problems won’t be trivial and squalid and pointless. No: they’ll be the talk of the entire country. They’ll be stars.

The way we report these cases can make that man more likely to charge out of his house to kill, or less. The psychologists say that currently we are adopting the most dangerous tactics possible. We put the killer’s face everywhere. We depict him exactly as he wanted, broadcasting his videos and reading out his missives. We make his story famous. We present killing as its logical culmination. We soak him in glamour: look at the endless descriptions of Moat as “having a hulking physique” and being “a notorious hard man”.

We present the killer as larger than life, rather than the truth: that these people are smaller than life, leading pitiful, hate-filled existences.

Feel free to leave your own thoughts below.Similar Posts:



March 18 2010

12:44

#afghancov event – Afghanistan: are we embedding the truth?

Follow coverage of Coventry University’s event ‘Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth’ in the liveblog below from 1pm – 4pm.

The discussion will examine coverage of Afghanistan in the news and wider media with correspondents in Kabul. There’s more details at this link of the line-up, which includes Channel 4’s Alex Thomson and Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism.

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March 16 2010

08:52

Channel 4 News: Embedded journalist in Helmand province

Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson was embedded with the Coldstream guards in Afghanistan, while they came under heavy fire from insurgents.

His film from last night’s news programme:

Yesterday Channel 4 news wrote in its evening email, Snowmail:

[The film] reveals the state of relations between the Brits and the rather hapless Afghan army – who spend much of their time shooting in the wrong direction – or arresting, then releasing a local man who may, or may not have done anything wrong.

Suddenly the troops come under heavy fire as the insurgents start shooting straight at them. Our team are pinned down with the soldiers as bullets fly overhead – even into one soldier’s head, whose helmet luckily saves him. Not much ground is won at the end of it all – but it’s a remarkable watch.

Alex Thomson was tweeting throughout his visit, via http://twitter.com/alextomo. Tweets from the battlefield had a time delay because of operations security. An example from 12 March:

(Not live) RMP shot in helmet wakes up realising he has woken up . Alive. A shd let hm keep smashed up helmet. He’s back on roof sentry.

Thomson is due to participate in this week’s video conference in Coventry: Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth? The event is due to be livestreamed on this site and the BBC College of Journalism. The Twitter tag will be #afghancov.


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March 15 2010

16:31

Afghanistan: are we embedding the truth?

Alex Thomson (Channel 4), Stuart Ramsey (Sky News) and Jonathan Marcus (BBC) have all been confirmed as speakers for this week’s conference on journalism from Afghanistan.

As previously reported on Journalism.co.uk, along with the BBC College of Journalism, we are supporting the afternoon event at Coventry University next Thursday (18 March), which asks: “Afghanistan: are we embedding the truth?”

Conference organiser John Mair said he is “delighted to be co-operating with the BBC College of Journalism – the new kid on the J block in Britain”.

“The time is long overdue to closely examine and debate the British media coverage of the Afghan war – this is the forum. Come along or follow the webcast live.”

Journalism.co.uk will livestream video and tweets from the conference from our site. For followers on Twitter, the tag will be #afghancov.

The conference will take place on Thursday 18, at 1pm – 4pm in the Humber Theatre, Coventry University.

The line-up in full, below:

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