Monday, January 12, 2009

Middle East: new media reporting on Gaza

THE current Israeli-Gaza conflict has proved ground-breaking in terms of the way that news is being spread. For a start, Israel has blocked foreign journalists from entering Gaza since launching its air attacks on December 27, so although Al Jazeera has been reporting extensively as it had correspondents already inside, as does the AP, many media organizations have no reliable source of independent information. It is the perfect time for blogs, Twitter, and other forms of citizen journalism to show their merits.
Israel has adopted various alternative methods of spreading information, bypassing traditional news sources and "enlisting an arsenal of Internet tools to take their message directly to a global audience," according to the New York Times.
The Israeli government started to use Twitter last week, the first government to do so. The New York consulate held a Twitter based 'press conference' on December 30 hosted by David Saranga, consul for media and public affairs. The Jerusalem Post reported that thousands of online "attendees" followed the consulate's Twitter page. Saranga explained that Twitter is useful as is "reaches a young generation that does not consume mainstream media" and that due to the anti-Israeli sentiment that was being expressed on Twitter, the consulate felt it was "important to present a voice."
The Israeli army, the IDF, set up its own YouTube channel on December 29, which shows videos with titles such as "weapons in Gaza mosque struck by Israel Air Force 1 Jan 2009" or "IDF artillery and helicopters strike Hamas terrorists involved in Gaza fighting 4 Jan 2009." It has more than 13,500 subscribers and the channel has been viewed over 1 million times.
The PR battle has also targeted Facebook, with rival Facebook groups supporting each side both gaining tens of thousands of members, and an application called 'QassamCount' which allows users to 'donate their status' to show the number of rockets that hit Israel. There have also be protests against the attacks on Second Life.
So it is relatively easy to find out the official Israeli standpoint on matters. But it is much harder to get independent perspectives from inside the Gaza territory. According to the Guardian on December 28, "few bloggers are reporting from Gaza itself because of the lack of electricity." Poynter writer Alan Abbey wrote that what he had found so far on Twitter (in English) was "heated rhetoric from non-Gazans and international observers." He believes that Twitter and blog coverage was more effective during the Mumbai attacks than the present conflict and blames the "technically primitive and politically controlled" situation in Gaza.
However, there are bloggers out there (such as Laila El-Haddad, Jawad Harb, Professor Said Abdelwahed), podcasts (such as those on Mideast Youth), and many news organisations are taking on Palestinian stringers to report from inside Gaza, or publishing alternative sources, such as the BBC's diary of an aid worker. Although these alternative sources and methods of communication cannot replace the professional journalists from established news organisations in the field, they are definitely helping to fill the gaps.

Source: Guardian, Jerusalem Post, New York Times, The Times, Poynter, Channel 4, BoingBoing

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