Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When messengers become too important

For a few months now, western news reports about Libya and Syria have had a common theme - they all complain about how western reporters are not allowed freedom of movement and liberty to report. For instance, NPR's Cairo-based Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson starts many of her otherwise impeccable reports with how she has been cooped up in her hotel, not allowed to cross a certain border, or somesuch hardship.

I cry foul. Not because of lack of sympathy for news staffers who risk life and limb to do their jobs, but because:

1. In the backdrop of the profound historical events happening in the Middle East right now, focusing on the reporters' difficulties is absurdly out of place. Even in normal circumstances, it is unprofessional to do so.

2. In this age of cell phones and Twitter, it is hard to understand why basic reporting should be hostage to the physical presence of foreign reporters. With some wads of cash, a few satellite phones and a network of informants, all that remains for foreign reporters to do is sit at their desks and put their spin on field reports. Western governments have no scruples about fomenting violence and insurrections in foreign countries with supplies of cash and weapons to locals, why are western news publishers shy of using subterfuge for the legitimate purpose of getting information from locals?

In a free market, one should be able to walk away from an unprofessional service provider to another who is not, but with global news there are none I know who think their newspersons are less important than the news. Even Al-Jazeera, which is rooted in the Middle East, seems as stodgy and bureaucratic as the others.

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