Special effects propaganda


Over the last few years Arab television propaganda has made some interesting technological strides, particularly from Lebanon. One of the most celebrated tools is the crane or boom camera, seen in the photo above (courtesy Al Jazeera), over the audience. Crane camera use was very big in the well coordinated coverage of the recent prisoner exchange by Hezbollah channel Al Manar. (To read more about this, see my latest piece in Variety here)

During the exchange Al Manar used not only one but two sets of crane cameras; one to shoot cermonies held in South Lebanon when the prisoners crossed over from Israel, and another to cover the rallies in Beirut. Crane cameras have become essential for any major political event in Lebanon during the last 3 years of political turmoil. They are used by Al Manar as well as pro Western channels like Future and LBC to highlight the size of the audience and thus give more ‘populist’ weight to the event organizers and their cause. Here are some screen shots from the recent rally in Beirut celebrating the prisoners’ return, courtesy BBC:


In the following two stills we can see the crane camera slowly traveling over the audience from up close:



Flying camera shots not only keep viewers at home entertained–breaking the monotony of the stationary wide angle crowd shot– they also boast numbers and political power.

Leaders of the anti American opposition, for example, have often pointed out that they can draw massive crowds at only a few day’s notice, while pro-US groups spend months marketing and promoting a specific day, such as February 14,when former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005 .

Ironically it was the pro Western alliance led by Hariri’s son and other Lebanese politicians that helped popularize the trend in boom camera usage, which largely debuted later in 2005 during the massive rallies that were organized to call for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. At the time, the Syrian president had criticized the rallies and their organizers, saying crowds had been exaggerated by creative camera techniques and called on them to “zoom out” to reveal the true size of those gathered. As a result, cranes and other shooting techniques were employed by pro-Western TV channels and protesters soon adopted the phrase “zoom out” as their own. It later picked up speed in the Western press and the movement became known as “people power” which was celebrated by the US government as a vindication of Bush policy.

By buying up its own set of crane cameras, it seems Hezbollah has been somehow inspired by the rhetoric, championing a people power television strategy of its own.

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