Tags Posts tagged with "media framing"

media framing

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Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. I’m not a fan of quoting cliches, but in these Machiavellian times, few phrases seem to articulate the situation better. Take the case of the recent media campaign praising Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s recently resigned prime minister.

Now it’s very normal to see posters praising politicians hastily strung up on light posts across Beirut. As you would expect, these are usually produced by a PR company or low budget design shop associated with the politician in question and hung up haphazardly by his supporters, illegally, often under the cover of night.

But what if the group putting up the billboards is not loyal to the politician in question, but actually allied with his enemies?

I began to wonder about this when I saw a Facebook post revealing Hariri billboards in or around neighborhoods loyal to his rivals, Hezbollah and Amal.

Mar Elias, photo: Dina J. Salem

The next day on my way to work, I noticed more of the same posters with the same font and message “#We are with you” plastered across many parts of Beirut.

From downtown:

To the corniche:

Bliss street:

And Hamra:

On nearly every light post, as far as the eye could see:

Yet the last few locations are not known to be strongholds of Hariri, but of other parties such as Amal and the SSNP. This was made abundantly clear during the clashes of 2008, when militants from these parties took over the streets fairly easily and strung their flags across these locations.

In the decade since, SSNP flags have appeared regularly across Hamra street and the party’s annual march turned into a military-style parade a few weeks ago that saw hundreds of party faithful take over the entire of Hamra street:

SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017
SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017

I thought about all this when I looked up at one of the posters, which had been put up so shoddily, it appeared to give Hariri a grimacing look:

 

I asked some tough-looking middle aged men sitting in plastic chairs below the posters if they knew who had put them up. At first one of them, a burly man in his late 40s, answered by saying “the Lebanese people put these posters up” and “it’s natural for a people to support their prime minister.”  Sure, I replied,  there is public support and then there are printing companies that print hundreds of these and distribute them in trucks. He smiled and vaguely suggested it was “political parties… all the parties,” that worked together to install the posters in their respective neighborhoods.

But I pressed him further: “But only certain parties can do that in Hamra.” Finally he conceded. “Yes we are the ones who put those up. The Hezb, the Harake and the Oumi Souryi.” This is shorthand for Hezbollah, Amal and the SSNP.

That’s a pretty savvy, next-level media strategy isn’t it, I replied. “Well the Saudis are donkeys,” he said nonchalantly.

“And what about this one,” I continued, pointing to the grimacing Hariri. What happened there? The man motioned to one of his cohort sitting in a chair behind us. “That’s Ali’s fault, I told him to fix it, he didn’t know what he was doing.” Then Ali shrugged and shot back: “You didn’t give me enough wood to put it up properly.”

I left the bickering men and tried to corroborate the story elsewhere on the block. But most people said they had not seen who had put the posters up because they found them in the morning when they opened their shops. So apparently the operation had happened overnight. But another group of men admitted laughingly that it was indeed the “Hezb, Harake and Oumi.” And they thought it was pretty hilarious too.

If this is true, could the Saudis have ever imagined this outcome? Were they assuming that Hariri’s resignation would have been taken at face value and that his opponents would have simply said good riddance, creating greater division in the country? Could the Saudis have imagined that Hariri’s opponents would be demanding his return even more vociferously than his allies?

Of course this goes beyond billboards: the President of Lebanon and the leader of Hezbollah-traditional opponents of Hariri–have been demanding his return on a near daily basis.  Even the leader of the Catholic church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai has demanded his return, making an unprecedented visit to the Wahhabist state.

This spawned some interesting memes. Here the two are speaking in code:

The highlighted letters in the Hariri caption say: “I’m being detained” to which Rai replies: “We all know.”

Perhaps the Saudis had imagined the Lebanese would react in a simplistic “sectarian fashion” where politicians or crown princes prioritize their own sect above all others. I wonder where they got that idea?

Suffice to say, Hariri’s opponents and even internet trolls have successfully thrown the ball back into Saudi Arabia’s court and the Saudi leadership probably didn’t see this coming. But since the Saudi royal court (or whatever is left of it) has effectively declared that Lebanon is at war with them, we can only hope the disintegration of their media strategy will give them pause before pursuing further actions on the ground.

Wouldn’t it be great if all wars were limited to creative media messaging, and the winner could be decided with likes and retweets instead of missiles and bullets?

Via: Abbas Hamideh

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An unusually loud rumbling was heard over Lebanon early this morning. Having grown up with Israeli jets buzzing over my home–and sometimes witnessing them release red dots (missiles) that destroy power plants, bridges and nearby villages–I still get a little jittery when I hear them. However it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes between a low-flying commercial plane and a fighter jet at high altitude. Nowadays you can verify your fears by going to websites like flightradar24 to double check who is in the skies above–military planes are never listed.

I did that this morning and almost fell out of my chair when I noticed it was indeed a flight from Israel, but this time a commercial flight. More specifically it was a United Airlines Dreamliner (perhaps explaining the noise) bound for San Francisco.

 

Here’s a closer view showing it over the capital.

I went to another tracking website, Flightware, to reconfirm I wasn’t seeing double:

So how and why did this happen,  considering that US authorities have long banned US planes from landing in Lebanon and Lebanese flights from landing in the US, which would seemingly cover air space rights as well.

According to the Facebook page “Lebanese Plane Spotters” the United flight was diverted due to bad weather and the air traffic control tower allowed this for humanitarian reasons. But there has been no official explanation I could find.

All this makes me think about the recent Twitter war and the hashtag #TelAvivLovesBeirut with a subtext of shaming Lebanese for not “loving” Israel back after a single Lebanese twitter account asked not to be tagged in a post by an Israeli.  The campaign took off after a shoddily reported and one-sided Haaretz article described Lebanese as “childish” and was later reinforced by the mock account of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad (which never misses an opportunity to dehumanize the other side).

Of course the real Mossad and the Israeli military is well known for its love of Beirut. This was not lost on Lebanese tweeps who have endured Israel’s wars on Lebanon. Among the responses:

Clearly love is a two-way street. Now would the Israelis or the Americans allow a Lebanese flight to travel over their airspace?

On the question of love and humanity, actions should speak louder than hashtags.

 

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Correction: This post initially misidentified The Mossad mock account as an actual account. But unlike other parody accounts, this one actually seems to support the agency it impersonates. 

 

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Ah “fake news” and the “post truth” era:  the demise of the world as we know it through the dangerous spread of unreliable social media and bad, manipulative reporting. This popular critique can be heard everywhere these days, but it leaves out one important detail: Fake news often appears in “real news” and there was never a “truth era” for there to be a “post truth” one.

The reality is that politicians have always used the media to spread fake news and fake facts. It’s called propaganda, but nowadays we like to make it sound nicer by calling it Public Relations. The result is PR consultants everywhere and fake news pretending to be “real” news, which is when it is arguably most effective and dangerous. (There’s a great piece on this in Forbes this month)

Take CNN’s coverage of the recent UN Security Council vote that finally criticized Israel for its settlement expansion. Settlements are Jewish-only housing developments or colonies within Palestinian territory. Most of the whole world has criticized them for decades as a way of slicing up the West Bank, preventing a Palestinian state from being geographically viable and fueling anger and violence against Israel.

Instead of listening to security council members like Britain, France, Spain, Japan, Russia and China who voted for the resolution, Israeli officials went on a full PR/propaganda denial defensive, successfully transforming a reasonable reprimand of violent activity against Palestinian farmers into a case of Israeli victimhood. And CNN and other networks just ate it up with very little questioning, abandoning the story of settlements and focusing almost entirely on Israel’s angry reaction to criticism, ignoring those who suffer most from the settlements that seize Palestinian land, farms, homes and livelihoods.

In fact, CNN basically handed over its airwaves to Israeli officials allowing them to spread fake news like wildfire, and beam it into households across the world. (This has been the case for decades by the way). I’m not trying to single out CNN but it’s the only American channel I have access to in Beirut and also serves as a good sample due to its perceived credibility. FOX News is probably worse, but that wouldn’t surprise many people because FOX’s agenda is pretty clear.

So let’s take a look at the top fake news stories aired on a “real” news network. I compiled a few on twitter this week. Here’s a recap:

7.) Palestinians move freely; it only takes “five minutes” to cross checkpoints

This according to former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. See transcript here.

FACT: It takes hours for Palestinians to move around the West Bank, which is under Israeli military occupation. One checkpoint in particular takes an average of five hours, according to an Israeli journalist, a claim backed up by Israeli human rights organizations. In fact, there are hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank according to the World Bank, which notes movement of Palestinians is severely restricted hurting access to healthcare, jobs and education.  But none of these facts were presented by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who remained silent as the insanely false claims were made by Ambassador Oren.

6.) Gaza is a “terror state” 

This according to Israel’s education minister.

FACT: There are no terror states. You cannot call entire countries or cities terrorists. That is bigoted, racist and wrong. Yes there are people and organizations who commit deadly acts of violence and terrorism. Like the Israeli military, which has dropped thousands of tons of bombs that have caused thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs to die over the last 50 years. If Gaza is a “terror” state, Israel would have to be a super terror state, but either way, categorizing an entire country or people with one adjective is shameful and wrong and news organizations like CNN have a responsibility to rebuke that type of language. Yet the statement went unopposed.

5.) “Palestinians need to stop killing Israelis”  

According to the former CIA director, James Woolsey.

FACT: Not once did Woolsey mention that Israelis ALSO kill Palestinians. In fact, far more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis over the last 10, 20 or 50 years. But if you watch pundits like Woolsey, it seems like only Palestinians are doing the killing. Once again, CNN’s Jake Tapper did not oppose the statement. (See transcript.)

4.) CNN is covering “both sides” of the story 

FACT: CNN had barely any Palestinian voices in its early coverage, which was dominated by Israeli and American officials or correspondents based in Israel. This was the case in several different CNN programs over the past few days. Here are some examples:

Christian Amanpour’s show actually featured only Israelis to talk about the issue:

3.) “Israel has been a state for 3,000 years

Again, according to Israel’s education minister.

FACT: No state has been a state for 3,000 years and Israel was established less than 70 years ago in 1948. That’s an exaggeration of 2,900 years. Not bad for an education minister.

2.) Israel has a “tiny air space

This according to US Sec. of State John Kerry, who gave a very powerful critique of the Jewish state, yet still painted Israel as weak and vulnerable.

FACT: Israel has one of the most advanced warplane fleets in the world, capable of wiping out all Arab air forces in a few hours (They already did that in 1967). Israel is by no means restricted to its own airspace. It has illegally violated its neighbors’ airspace for decades, either to mount attacks or simply to practice and intimidate. I grew up with Israeli planes flying over my house every day in Lebanon. They just flew over yesterday:

1.) “Israel is the only place in the Middle East Christians can celebrate Christmas”

This according to Israeli Prime Minister and chief propagandist, Benjamin Netanyahu.

FACT: Christmas is celebrated in the majority of Arab countries, where Christian minorities erect huge displays and Christmas is enjoyed and appreciated by many Muslims. Even groups like Hezbollah, which the US considers a “terrorist organization” is an avid promoter of Christmas celebrations and plays Christmas mass on its TV channel. Meanwhile, in Israel, a group of senior Rabbis have actually condemned Christmas trees and demanded hotels to remove them.

 

So be wary of fears over fake news because there is often nothing real about real news.