I attended the distinguished lecture presented by Robert Fisk with the title ‘State of Denial:Western Journalism and the Middle East’. The lecture was organized by CIRS (Centre for International and Regional Studies) Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Robert Fisk is the Middle East correspondent for The Independent in the UK and has extensively covered a lot of events in Middle East such as The Iranian Revolution 1979, 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and 1991 Persian Gulf war. But he is well-known for interviewing Osama Bin Laden.
It was the title of the lecture that attracted me to this event and I registered for it. And indeed it turned out to be one of the best lectures that I ever attended. This is because it was one of those lectures that gave a LOT of food for thought and made me reflect on my ways and thinking processes. The lecture left me wondering on the most basic habit that all of us do: reading a newspaper, for it changed the whole way I read the newspaper and the way in which the news is reported.
State of Denial – The Lecture
Robert Fisk started the lecture from September 11, 2001 (where he was when the planes crashed in the Twin towers) and made the point on how journalism changed its face altogether. Unless, one was there to witness first hand accounts of the moment, one is merely replying on the word of others who were present there. But here lies a trap. How the particular scenario is conveyed can change the perspectives of millions of people around the world. That’s exactly what happens in the world of journalism. And unfortunately we, as readers, do not recognize how the information is being passed on, who is the source of the information and what is being actually said in the news itself.
To present this point of view, Fisk gave an example through the differences between the words ‘occupied’ and ‘disputed’ territories. According to Fisk, if something is disputed it can be solved through a dialog, or through some negotiation or even in the court of law. So how come the ‘disputed’ territories issue has not been solved as yet? and how could the press latch on to these words? Indeed, it made me realize that in our daily routines, we use millions of words and that without even thinking of the context in which we use them!!
Fisk then read some articles from various newspapers and indeed, in one of them, the whole article was presenting what the US authorities and officials said!! It seemed the writer did not even investigate the story him/herself and just quoted the authorities all the way!!! Indeed, how many of us while reading the newspapers even think what is being said and who is the source of information on which the story is based?!! The answer: none of us. No one thinks of such things while reading such newspapers. We just absorb whatever is written and presented to us without even questioning it or taking even some time out to think about it.
Most importantly, in today’s world of journalism, we don’t even bother to ask why. In fact, the why question is never answered. The motive is never looked for. When a motive is not looked for, then how can there by any justification for any story or for any crime that takes place in any part of the world?.
And perhaps this is where we fail ourselves. We, as readers, don’t think and swallow everything that is said because of our hectic schedules. The very hectic schedules excuse is exploited by the governments, the media and the politicians. We don’t try to look for motives because that means going back in the past and attempting to understand what led to the circumstances that we are facing today. Today, there is this relationship between power and media where the power dictates the media the whole content and presentation of the story. The outcome is that the ordinary people are caught up in the web without even realizing that they are in a trap.
History is one subject that interests only a handful of people. Majority do not like the subject simply because its boring. Ironically, it is history wherein lie most of the answers to the situations and scenarios that the global world faces. True, one cannot change the past but one can learn from the past and employ those lessons in order to avoid similar circumstances in the future. Unfortunately, we don’t learn from history and history repeats itself in different disguises and manners.
My Own Thoughts
We are living in dangerous times. Indeed, any word spoken or written can be interpreted in a million ways and thus one has to think a million times before writing anything. But the same goes for reading. One has to learn to read under the lines to understand the very meaning behind the stories and the news. Without such an ability, the human mind absorbs it all and without any understanding of the events, the perspectives and images made in the mind can be highly misleading and destructive. The world and environment is shaped by thinking processes and such thinking without knowing the facts could shape the world in a negative manner.
I am certain of one thing; we don’t recognize the truth anymore. This is in part, due to being lied to by the media to such an extent that it is hard to believe. How on earth, as an ordinary reader, am I suppose to read a newspaper when in part I trust that the news carried by a certain newspaper is reality? Should I stop reading news altogether or should I be aware of what I read?
Although the answer is difficult but, even in such complex times, there are journalists who report nothing but the truth. Call them old-fashioned or any other term, but in fact such journalists are the ones upholding some integrity of the media and Robert Fisk is one of them. Robert Fisk’s very examples of the way articles are written and the fact that they are published made me think on how I read a newspaper. The whole lecture presented me with traps and complexities that the media uses all the way to influence the public thinking and perspectives. I was left asking myself; am I also trapped in the web wherein I absorb every word printed by various media? Do I even think for a minute about any story that is written or presented in the media for a while?
The answer is yes to some extent because as a reader I do absorb what is presented. However, certain issues that strike me lead the way for more investigation and research on the internet. After reading many sources, I then, write what I have learnt and what are my opinions on it. So, in some ways, maybe I am not fully trapped in (or maybe I am and I just don’t realize it!).
In some ways, I’m glad that I still retain the interest in reading history for it is a witness of many events that have shaped our world and of events whose shocks will continue to reverberate in our lives. If history is read and understood, I think many of us will understand the world in a better way and will be able to bring out constructive solutions that helps every community.
One thing I have learnt from today’s lecture and that is; there are still people who uphold the integrity and the morals of their profession no matter how times change and whether the world abandons them or not. They continue to work on the moral principles and fulfill their duty regardless of their religion, race, caste or nationality. Robert Fisk is definitely one of those people who not only hold the moral and integrity of the journalism world, but also, stand up to injustice and deliver the message across the board. Indeed, such people are courageous and a strong example for people working in different professions.
In the end, the truth is we need people like Robert Fisk to deliver perspectives and news in its true essence so that we, the readers, can know the harsh reality and work on solutions to make the world a better place.