Syria: Time for Review?

I don’t know about you, but the world I live in is not safer than it was post 9/11. The war in Iraq got rid of a dictator, Saddam Hussein; but it left a vacuum which together with foreign back-pedalling on Syria has created the evil ISIS/ISIL. The independent group Iraq Body Count believes over 150,000 have been killed in Iraq since 2003.

With global help, Libya took care of the megalomaniac Muammar Gadaffi. But it failed to secure the arms that sustained him for 42 odd years. That ‘mistake’ created a fiefdom of uncontrollable militia across Libya. Experts see a link between the collapse of the Libyan state and the war that nearly finished Mali. It is believed that Libyan bands travelled across the desert into the hands of Boko Haram and that the mercenaries who failed in Timbuktu are fighting on Boko Haram’s side in Nigeria.

So what went wrong with Syria? How did the chubby relationship between the west and Bashar al-Assad get sour? How did the reformist prince who would open his country’s doors to the enchanting arms of democracy suddenly become such a repulsive foe? Who among the tribal warlords is the trusted democrat to make Syria the model America of the Arab world?

What is behind the new thinking that the entire world should democratize overnight? Why are the teachers of freedom and diversity so antagonistic of the diversity brought by traditionalists, communists, feudalists and whatever else exists out there? Why have can’t we see that our attempt at force-feeding the rest of humanity with the addictive diet of our version of may be creating the manure for the growth of extremism?

The extremist corridor created by the Syrian imbroglio is a magnet attracting young people fed on violent video lionising murder. Al-Assad continues to dig in even as his bloodthirsty enemies are sworn to eternal revenge.

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has just failed at his second attempt at brokering peace. This is how he explained it to the beleaguered people of Syria “I apologise to them that in these two rounds we haven’t helped them very much.” That is an understatement. The refugee camps are as filled as the morgues. Time is a luxury the displaced do not have.

Would support for Assad stop the bleeding, recover lost ground and return our world to what it was before the madness began? That’s the question the world needs to answer before it reaches the point of no return.


How Trial by Media Negates Media Ethics

“They destroyed our lives. God rescued us.” These were the words of one of the 26 defendants in a celebrated sodomy case in Cairo, Egypt, Monday January 12. The speaker, along with 25 others were on December 7 pulled from a Cairo bathhouse in a police sting operation video-taped by a famous Cairo television presenter. The incident was later broadcast on national television. It turned out the sanctimonious reporter rated on the bathhouse claiming she had a “den of mass perversion spreading AIDS in Egypt.” The courts ruled that the men were not gay. According to BBC News monitored here in Ottawa, under medical examination, only one of the accused was discovered to have had recent sodomised penetration. The court ruled this may have happened after the raid.

The verdict was highly welcome by relatives, friends and observers within and outside of Egypt, rather than outrage a nation steeped in strong Islamic values that frowns against same-sex relationships. Egypt has no clear-cut sodomy laws. Apparently, the acquitted were family men who went to the bathhouse the same way women would have shown up at a sauna or a massage parlour. That a journalist was the source of their embarrassment is now causing a raging debate over the phenomenon known as ‘Trial by Media’.

News coverage has witnessed an unprecedented boom in the last decade. While it takes weeks for events to get reported by mainstream media, handheld devices and social media meant that news travel faster; news go viral in seconds. Reputation is everything. If you pardon the cliché, reputation is like virginity, one prick and it’s all gone. For the acquitted Egyptians, their ordeal has just begun. The broadcast of their half-naked butts is not the worst of their nightmares, it is how to fix their hard-earned image in a society where honour is the greatest of all values. It is how to protect their immediate and nuclear families from the opprobrium that follows such a publicised albeit wrongful charges. In developed climes, they would be contacting the best lawyers for compensation both from the police and the media that broadcast their case. It is unlikely that this happens in Egypt, it hardly happens in any part of Africa.

This has been the hiding place of many media organisations destroying people’s reputation. But in a globalized world, no umbrella is large enough to shield from class action suits. A British court recently ordered a multinational oil company responsible for oil spills in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta to pay huge compensations. Could such courts make pronouncements in the breaches of people’s reputation? That is the million dollar question. But it may be the surest way to remedy against news organisations that fail to put safeguards in place when broadcasting unverified reports.

When it comes to the quest to be the first to break the news, mainstream media practitioners are daily jettisoning the ethics of their profession to join the race to beat the news clock. What happened in Egypt is a clear violation of the harm limitation principle which asks journalists to be judicious about naming criminal suspects prior to the formal filing of charges.

Unfortunately, it is a recurring decimal in today’s news dissemination quest where journalists and content producers flagrantly show the faces of juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes before trial, and place no sanctity on the human person. We are grossly guilty of pandering to lurid curiosity and the salacious inclinations of our audience at the expense of the people we cover.

In most parts of North America and the developed world, a wrestling programme is preceded by warnings about the violence and caution for viewers not to attempt the stunts. Content containing flash photography known to affect people with certain medical conditions are also advertised prior to broadcast as well as clips depicting disturbing images.

In the annual ritual when humanitarian agencies exploit the appalling conditions of children in canvassing for funds the children’s faces and their appalling conditions are flagrantly shown. Broadcasting these images contribute to the perpetuation of notions of underdevelopment of certain races. It can be argued that the wide publication of these images could negatively affect the psyche of these children as they grow into adulthood but this fact is completely ignored.

Until recently, trial by media was widely used in countries such as Nigeria where the police parades suspects they are investigating before they have been charged. This practice exposes the suspects, their children and relatives to ridicule, opprobrium and psychological trauma. The law proclaims everybody innocent until they have been tried and convicted by law.

There are other images from across the continent. One is the use of horrific images of the Baga massacre on social media. Others include horrendous images of victims of the seleka and anti-balaka crisis in Central African Republic or the bloody battles in Southern Sudan. The atrocious beheading of victims by Boko Haram in Nigeria get millions of views on social media, same for official decapitations in Saudi Arabia.

In the era of radicalisation, the onus lies on creators of content to be conscious of the dignity of the human person; they should forewarn consumers about images likely to shock them or steer clear of using them in the first place. Where this is inevitable, the camera should be kept away from the faces of subjects.

In interviews protecting the identity of eyewitnesses should be a priority when speaking to reformed members of terror groups exposing the modus operandi of their quondam friends. In most cases, some are so wracked by guilt that they often see confession as personal retribution; it is the responsibility of the professional to protect them against reprisal attacks.

Victims of sexual or other forms of violence in convalescence should have their identities shielded as well as the identity of facilities treating them. Victims of terror attacks whose assailants or possible sympathisers are still at large should be protected. Commercial interests should never override chastity, reputation and the sanctity of the human lifeThe_Shackles_of_Shame.Image courtesy

Charlie Hebdo and the bounds of decency

By now, we all know that freedom is not free. Freedom has a price. Very often those who run against the tide pay the supreme price for their daring. Many were burnt at the stakes for saying that the earth is round? It did it cost lives to achieve racial equality in most parts of the world and to put an end to slavery? To gain their rights to drive, women fought strong and hard. It took lots of agitation to accept women in the armed forces and even now, there still remains parts of our world where the things some people take for granted are not seen as inalienable rights.

Every reporter dreads that time when a friend has cause to fault their right to write a report. We all dread that rejoinder with a tinge of veracity in it. In the last year, hundreds of journalists were killed in the line of duty. But for every good reporter killed, there are ever more daring ones ready to step into their big shoes. For most reporters in conflict zones, every day is a unique blessing because they never know when they leave home and never return. In every corner of the globe, there is someone or groups of people doing something that they do not want exposed. Reporters go to great lengths to expose these things because they know that the world is better when hidden cupboards are flipped open, spilling its contents.

A lot has happened since the French satirist magazine, Charlie Hebdo became the subject of attack, first in 2011 and again this week. Debates have been held on whether or not the magazine’s editors have gone beyond the bounds of fair comment. There is no hard and fast rule to answering that question. The truth is that truth is bound to make someone uncomfortable. For instance, I wouldn’t walk a tightrope but that is what gives Charles Blondin his adrenaline rush.

While criticism, even fair comment is bound to rile someone somewhere, we must never stop pulling on the elasticity of freedom. The freedoms we take for granted today were distant dreams to those who walk our planet hundreds of years before us, so are the advances we have made. Through tenacity, men have universalized basic human rights, advanced in science and technology, gone to the moon and back and given itself incredible toys to occupy it. We must never stop advancing just because there are those who desire to kick our planet back to stone age. While we should not deliberately tease bullies, we should consciously engage until freedom flows on the surface of the earth without hindrance just as the waters flow into the sea.

The Charlie Hebdo four have paid the ultimate price for their daring. We should not judge them because they are pioneers of freedom of expression. The price they paid on January 7 may become a pillar of reference in another century where man is free to take on anything without fear of repercussion.

Charlie Hebdo Four - Courtesy, Daily Independent, UK

For those out there who believe that they are soldiers of a heavenly being, they should realise that if that being is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, then s(h)e does not need feeble man with all his inadequacies to fight any battle. It is demeaning for theists to believe that God needs them to avenge a slight if as scriptures say, that the omnipresent possesses all the powers to do and undo. They should realise that God can fight his own battle (if any) without human help.

Rest in peace Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, Jean Cabu, Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac and George Wolinski. May your exit never stop anyone from pursuing their passion, giving fair comment or following their passions.

Indeed, nous sommes tous Charlie Hebdo