Western Journalists Lost Neutrality?


BBC's Alan Johnston is still missing after 100 days. Have Western journalists lost their "white flag" of neutrality? How can they get it back?

Posted by David Ignatius on June 21, 2007 11:41 AM

Readers’ Responses to Our Question (47)

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x2 :

The answer is simple.

They just have to take their already virulent anti-Americanism and double it.

Patrick Huss :

The "white flag" has never been anything more than an illusion journalists use to steel their courage when facing volatile situations they have no control over. Its no surprise that this illusion proves fleeting and requires a forced ignorance that is the complete antithesis of what drives journalists to face down these fears in the first place.
To get back the "white flag" - to revive the illusion - journalists must merely forget the deaths, kidnappings, murders and injuries of their colleagues and predecessors and focus on whatever the story at hand is...hardly a realistic proposition. There is a reason the people who take these risks are held in high esteem - because the risk is as real as the potential is terrifying.
I would only add that, as the beneficiaries of the work these journalists do, society has an obligation to protect journalists to the extent possible, and, failing that, be eternally grateful to the dedication of those who's battles for the truth have led them to the ultimate sacrifice. But for them, what horrors and atrocities might remain unknown, only to be revisited upon us, time and time again?

reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/ :

With rare exception, Western media is relatively unbiased.

Consider the "New York Times" (NYT), "The Washington Post" (TWP), and the "Wall Street Journal" (WSJ). NYT is considered to be liberal. TWP is considered to be moderate. WSJ is considered to be conservative.

NYT, TWP, and WSJ are relatively fair in their reporting, but they are distinctly biased in their commentary: editorial pages and analysis columns. Due to this bias in the commentary, we correctly identify each paper as liberal, moderate, or neoconservative.

However, if we move beyond the commentary and look at the actual reports (i.e., news articles), all 3 newspapers give relatively unbiased reporting.

Yet, are newspapers obligated to give unbiased commentary in addition to unbiased reports? No. Commentary, by its very nature, is an expression of opinion.

Consider the opinion of the WSJ. Its editiorial position is the following, on the matter of Iraq.

1. Sending a puny 170,000 soldiers to invade and occupy Iraq is an excellent idea.
2. The current violent mayhem in Iraq is an outstanding accomplishment that is worth the price of 4,000 dead American soldiers and 30,000 seriously wounded American soldiers.
3. The roughly 2 million Iraqi refugees created by the violent mayhem in Iraq is not the responsibility of the American people (who overwhelmingly supported invading Iraq). Washington should not accept them into the USA. That Washington is willing to accept merely 7000 Iraqi refugees is an overly generous act.

Should we condemn the editorial position of the WSJ? Yes. That position is atrocious. Most reasonable people know that the occupation needed a minimum of 370,000 Western soldiers and that 4000 American soldiers died for nothing.

The WSJ, in its editorial pages, is biased in favor of the neoconservative position.

However, the WSJ is relatively unbiased in its news articles.

reference
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The Number of Soldiers for a Successful Occupation
--------------------------------------------------
http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/#115853308310007247

Burke :

KHALID AWAN

You were in the wrong country, with the wrong religion, at the wrong time and you had a lousy attorney.

See what trouble religion causes in the world? I think I will move to N. Ireland were there has never been any religious violence.

Manjula Sastri Vemuri :

Journalists routinely attribute all sorts of motives to even judges of the Supreme Court.Yet they like us to think that they themselves are strictly neutral under all circumstances.This is part of the First Amendment mythology and nothing to do with all those professional thugs in the Middle East.

Manjula Sastri Vemuri :

Journalists routinely attribute all sorts of motives to even judges of the Supreme Court.Yet they like us to think that they themselves are strictly neutral under all circumstances.This is part of the First Amendment mythology and nothing to do with all those professional thugs in the Middle East.

Manjula Sastri Vemuri :

Journalists regularly attribute motives to even judges of the Supreme Court.But they like us to think they themselves are strictly neutral.This is part of the First Amendment mythology.

daniel :

BBC's Alan Johnston is still missing after a 100 days. Have Western journalists lost their "white flag" of neutrality? How can they get it back?

This is an interesting and odd question. A question which almost anyone can easily answer and yet we want to hear everyone's answers. Obviously there is something positive about Western journalism in the sense that no matter how partisan a journalist is within his nation (for example, no matter if belonging to the right wing Washington Times or left wing New York Times) we still accept that not only can a journalist be neutral, he can cover a war in which his nation is one of the combatants without fear of repercussion.

In other words we believe that a journalist will be seen as no more partisan covering a war in which his nation is one of the combatants than if he were covering the "other" political party at home. We seem to think that journalism is so far above the fray--so capable of a higher and more objective outlook--that a Washington Times or N.Y. Times reporter can just go into a war zone and come up with not only the same story, but a story which the enemy will consider fair...when really the Wash. Times and N.Y. Times are enemies at home.

To answer the question simply, I believe there is no such thing as a white flag of neutrality at home let alone when at war...and this neutrality is far from obvious when the two major political parties at home despise each other...

A white flag of neutrality when one is at war with another nation or entity? Such a neutrality can only be aid to the enemy or delusion--or at best the long sought diplomatic perspective which can end conflict. In short for journalists to be truly neutral would be identical to having the long sought perspective which can transcend conflict. A true journalistic neutrality would be identical to a replacement of government at home in the sense of a new "Secretary of State order". And the more I think about it I admit the idea is catching...

This white flag of neutrality idea seems to have been born with the Western powers having made relative peace with one another--which is to say the better the peace between the U.S., Germany, Russia, etc. the more the white flag of neutrality idea has arisen...But this is a concept within Western civilization only or at best between civilizations which are engaged in a relatively identical political dialogue--civilizations which can transcend parochial issues and conceive of a worldwide and objective press. Far reaching and enlightened government is virtually identical to the long sought after white flag of neutrality. Nations that understand the white flag of neutrality are probably not likely to go to war with one another.

The problems arise when one nation or entity understands such and the other does not...And God forbid that a nation that does conceive such a notion should fall apart into warring presses at home and have neutrality as to the international scene totally lost...

Concerning the BBC, probably Alan Johnston will be considered neutral only if the BBC becomes more like an Islamic press (the infamous Al Jazeera). And from what I hear, the Brits in general seem to favor the Palestinian cause over the Israeli, so...But Alan Johnston has yet to be released...So...I doubt a white flag of neutrality can exist when fighting something such as Islamic fundamentalism. And this is playing havoc with our understanding of self and others. We might want to be neutral in the West but every step toward neutrality seems to be to enrage the right wing base at home and the enemy. Alan Johnston might be totally sympathetic to his kidnappers, but such sympathy will get him nowhere with enemy or at home (except perhaps with the sympathetic with enemy at home). Unless Alan Johnston totally converts to Islam...

No need to discuss this further. The white flag of neutrality has been difficult enough to achieve between combatants within Western civilization, and should it be achieved between all civilizations, why that would be virtually identical to the banner of world peace...

Perhaps we should leave it at that. A personal goal for journalists to consider....

Venkat :

I feel one should also pose the question, do journalists deserve this kind of fate? If asked about Indian English media journalists, it is difficult to disagree. They have selective amnesia of the worst kind. Witness their total silence on two important facts they actively try to hide.
1. Rahul Gandhi rape case (which took place on Dec 6th 2006).
2. Pratibha Patil the dummy candidate setup by Sonia Gandhi for President of India has murder charges against her for harbouring the accused who happens to be her brother.

If these Macoolie pigs do this why not they deserve, even a worser fate.

Jonathan Braun, New York, NY :

The kidnapping and murder of journalists reflects the escalating brutality of our era. Blaming the victim is immoral and illogical.

Islamism--the imperialist, clerical fascist creed that threatens Western civilization like no enemy since Nazi Germany--can't tolerate a free press, even a suicidal press sympathetic to the so-called legitimate grievances of Islamist nations and transnational organizations such as Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.


Dave! :

These stats are according to the International Press Institute:

54 Journalists killed so far in 2007
100 Journalists killed in 2006
65 Journalists killed in 2005
78 Journalists killed in 2004
64 Journalists killed in 2003
54 Journalists killed in 2002
55 Journalists killed in 2001
56 Journalists killed in 2000
86 Journalists killed in 1999
50 Journalists killed in 1998
28 Journalists killed in 1997

I'd have to say that, while there is a current uptick in the numbers since 2003, journalism is a consistently dangerous business. IPI does not list records older than this but they imply that these sort of numbers are not unique. For instance, they say in their summary of 1999 that "The 1999 total is second only to the horrifying toll of 1994 when wars in Bosnia and genocide in Rwanda were primarily responsible for a sudden surge in killings of journalists."

So, after reading the breakouts of some of these numbers, it appears that when there are conflicts (Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, etc), a lot of journalists get killed. Many of the other killings are issue related - i.e., Colombia and Mexico have a lot related to organised crime, drug trafficking and corruption reporting. I'd have to put all this under the "Duh" heading but it kind of makes me think the question posed is invalid as it appears that journalists don't normally have a "white flag" when covering a conflict.

Rich Whittington :

The idea that journalists are somehow exempt from the dangers and horrors of war, like the notion that they should circulate freely throughout the battlefields, is as quaint as the idea that journalists can be objective with respect to a given story or subject.

From the perspective where all actions have political repercussions (from waging war to publishing articles intended to inform or alter public opinion) the actions of a journalist are among the most obviously political, and therefore the most desirable to influence. For states, that influence lies in the offer of unique access to stories in exchange for limitations on coverage and a sympathetic voice in the media. For non-state actors (be they guerrillas or criminals or terrorists) the utility of a journalist is much the same: a sympathetic portrayal from a chosen point of view. For journalists to assume that they have a free pass to be spectators and not participants in the dynamic and ill-defined battlefields of our era is an extraordinary act of naivete. In a world where information is a medium of exchange and its selective dissemination a matter of heated debate, their role is more operationally and strategically important than ever before.

The journalistic profession must be prepared to endure a degree of risk not previously considered, and probably ought to reflect on the fate of the noncombatant observers of generations past. The spirit of Ernie Pyle and Bernard Fall should not be lost: for a through and revealing understanding of a dangerous situation, great war correspondents have placed their own lives in the hazard.

In sum, to expect that journalists should be treated with kid gloves and left immune in the midst of war flies in the face of history, experience, and reasonable expectation.

Anju Chandel, New Delhi, India :

When politics of the world has lost its White Flag, how can one expect journalism to retain its.

Having said that, we aslo need to seriously contemplate that why people belonging to a particular faith only get affected and manipulated by the so-called biased world politics and western journalism?

Why only blame the rest of the world for all their ills when they themselves have been responsible for their own destruction? Why cannot they stop fighting amongst themselves in the name of Religious Identity which is nothing but Illusion? Because, as the saying goes: Unity is Strength! (They could have successfully warded off the so-called West's interference in their internal matters by sticking together.)

Anyway, I pray for Alan Johnston's safe return soon.

mohammad allam :

western juornalisn lost the neutrality during the destruction of iraq.the western journalist used to act as a spy in host countries and provide sensative information to their own countires.The acknowledgment of Rumsfield about the media guide and tv crew guid to destroy the target made suspicion to western journalism.otherhand these journalist forgot their duties to present truth before the world for few coins.there credibility further damaged in muslim countries when they started to play the religious game of insiting the feeling of muslim by publishing only negative aspect of islamic world and reporting about the western benefit related story.they failed to project the misery of the people due to policy of west.
they cann get their lost falg by honest journalism by following the stanza that "we are not foe of black nor friend of white. we have to show the mirror and we show".let the presentation of all aspect of society and not be a bigot of reporting the negative aspect.there should be no spying on host land.every thing will be ok and western credit will restore with high flag.

A victim of Discrimination in USA by FBI :

A Victim of the Discrimination

Dear Sir / Madam

I am 46 years old, Canadian citizen and native of Pakistan (Muslim). I was an immigration consultant in Canada and as part of my business; I had an office in New York.
During 2001 immediately after the Sept 11, event the US govt arrested me on Oct 25, 2001 on anonymous call, as a material witness for the 9/11 world trade centre terrorist attack. A detail investigation by the FBI and USA Naval intelligence dept was conducted and I was cleared, but even then govt put me in front of Grand jury, and I was cleared and the case was dismissed by the Grand jury of the US Federal Court.
Approximately after 2 weeks , before I was released from custody the US Govt imposed a new charges of Fraud and money laundering , under the advice of my attorney , I pleaded guilty and I was sentenced to prison for five years (which was four years more, what I pleaded). In which I had already spent 3 years in Detention jail, during the case , I had about 14 months left to finishing my sentence ,(instead of appealing, I preferred to applied for Treaty Transfer to Canada, because if the case is in the appeal, defendant is not eligible for transfer back to his home country).
While at prison, I learned from the case manager Miss House, that my citizen was incorrect in the FBOP’s (Federal Bureau of Prison) computer system as Pakistani instead of Canadian.
Its important to note , that all of my Canadian identifications (passport , citizenship card , S.I.N , Health card , Driving license etc) were under FBI’s possession, with a great deal of concern, I wrote a letter to the Canadian Consulate in Buffalo, N.Y to notify such mistake and requested them to fix this problem. This is especially important for Treaty Transfer back to Canada.
The Canadian Consulate official sent a letter to the jail to correct my citizenship status, however FBOP ignored the request and the citizenship status in the FBOP computer still reflect Pakistani instead of Canadian (Note: - I would be required to obtain visa to visit Pakistan) .In contrast, the deportation letter received from US Immigration dept, Contained the correct citizenship status of Canada.
At the hindsight, I believe that the FBOP intentionally left the citizenship as Pakistani, so that they could retained me at their facility, while the govt is planning to file new charges against me 3rd time.
Approximately six weeks before my released date on Jan 30, 2006 I was notified by the FBOP that I was being transferred from Ellenwood, PA to MDC (Metropolitan Detention Centre) in Brooklyn N.Y, it was explained to me, that the purpose of this transfer was in preparation for deportation back to Canada, (after few days, I signed the immigration deportation papers, with my consular Miss Chen).
But immediately after my arriving to MDC Brooklyn, I discovered during a phone call with my family in Montreal, that RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) official had contacted my sister and brother-in-law regarding the whereabouts of my wife and my current situation, there was no explanation given by the RCMP official to the purpose of the call and he left his phone number and asked my wife to call him back immediately, my wife called the RCMP official and left messages in his voice mail. Then the official contacted my brother-in-law again and had asked him to tell my wife not to call again, because there is nothing good nor anything bad.
Meanwhile the AUSA (United States Attorney) office Investigator and FBI brought me to their office to be interrogated without an attorney present, even AUSA told in the court to the judge on March 16, 2006 that he arranged attorney for me before my arrival from Ellenwood PA to MDC Brooklyn, N.Y, on Transcript; page 11, Transcript line No: 14 to 23.

AUSA: - He (Khalid Awan) was writ in the cause of a grand jury investigation. He clearly had criminal exposure. So to protect his interest I made an application to the duty magistrate for counsel to be appointed.
THE COURT: - Initially he was brought here by a Court to testify before the grand jury?

AUSA: - That is correct, Your Honour.


THE COURT: - When he arrived here, you made arrangements for an attorney to be pointed to request him?

AUSA: - Yes, Your Honour.

This interrogation started with the AUSA office Investigator stating that my family will be arrested in Canada if I refused to answer their questions.
At this point I am certain that my family is in great danger for reasons that I am not aware of. I was scared that my family would be harassed by these people along with the Canadian RCMP official; I strongly believe that the RCMP is doing this intentionally in collaboration with FBI official to further harass me to admit charges that I never committed.
Without knowledge of the reasons why the Canadian RCMP agency was involved. I was surprised that RCMP official directly approached my family instead of me without proper explanation, and its also shocked for me, that how RCMP got the phone number of my family (because before my arrest, I don’t have any single record in any police dept, of any country).
I was intimated and pushed to the edge during this interrogation; I was determined to provide anything these USA officials wanted to make them happy even is the questions made no sense, because I want them to stop the harassment to my family.
On March 15, 2006 I completed the term of my imprisonment and was to be released from American Custody and deported back to Canada. Before that I was arrested again 3rd time, and charged with providing “material support to a foreign terrorist” and money laundering (to an organization and person, which are not designated by the USA govt and belongs to Sikh religion).
These charges emerged while I was still in prison and without the capability of providing any type of support. It was even difficult for me to get enough financial assistance to pay legal fees. I could not have provided any material support while I was in prison for five years and I could not launder any money because I did not have any.
AUSA filed three counts of indictment against me.

Conspiracy to provide material support.
Provide a material support to the foreign terrorist.
Money laundering to support terrorism.

(Please note, that in my previous case govt charged me for money laundering and fraud from Jan 1999 to 2002 and “its mentioned in the plea-agreement by the AUSA that no further money laundering charges will be brought against defendant from Jan 1999 to April 2002” even then govt indict me for money laundering from 1998 to Nov 2001 (Which is double Jeopardy and violation of 5th Amendment of U.S Constitution.)
In Oct 2006, during pre-trial hearing on the motions filed by my attorney the first two counts of my indictment were dismissed by the judge, stating that there is a lack of facts and figures.
After two weeks AUSA re-indicted me again. I believe this is a desperate act of the AUSA to cover up a huge embarrassment. Further this hastily drawn indictment was full of factual errors and creative legal theories.

Since I was first arrested by the American govt, I believe that I have been singled out, isolated and discriminated against primarily because of my race and religion, in addition to the fact that I don’t know any information that the American govt is trying to pressure out of me.

I do not understand the American laws and this is what led to my pleading guilty in the first case. I have difficulty understanding the new charges also.

I have been charged under, section 2339(a) of Title 18 of the United States code, which makes it illegal to provide material support to a foreign terrorist.

Please understand, I am not a terrorist, I do not know any terrorist and I have had no connections with or to any known or unknown terrorist. I have been incarcerated for last 5 years and I had no money to provide or launder.

The law enforcement have in America is pressuring me to provide information to them that I really do not have or know. I am a Canadian Citizen and nearly all of my family is in Canada, including my wife and kids. I don’t know any information to tell them to help their investigation.
Because of this, I am being treated unfairly and my rights under the American constitution are being violated. I am being held here in further detention against my will for crimes which I could have never committed, because I was in prison.

I believe that I am a victim of the discrimination that was outlined in the July 3, 2006 issue of Time magazine (Page 29, column 3). In this article section 2339(a) & (b) are discussed and criticized “as most suspects are charged under these two sections. However, the justice dept here in America admits that of the more than 218 guilty pleas that it has obtained, most are for minor investigation issues that are uncovered deeding the course of their terrorism investigation. This suggest, according to the article that the Attorney General’s office have is not concerned about the rights or fairness or the manner in which it achieves convictions for the people they arrest. Furthermore, criticizes have noted that one of the patterns to emerge from these domestic prosecutions is that suspect seen too incompetent to carry out the deeds they are accused of. The Deputy Attorney General acknowledges that the Dept of Justice’s goal is “preventions through prosecutions” and this is done with no regard for an individual’s rights.

I agree that these guilty of terrorism should be prosecuted. But as the above mentioned article suggest, innocent people should not be targeted because of their race or religion.
I am not a terrorist and I should not be targeted and treated unfairly and unjustly.
I need your assistance desperately in my case, as I believe that I am being treated unjustly here. I would like to send you my attorney’s contact information and provide you with legal documents related to my case, so that you may become more familiar with my situation.

Please also note, that I appeared in the court , for no guilty of my 2nd superseding indictment on Aug 02, 2006 and on Aug 03, 2006 FBOP officials placed me in the SHU (Segregation Housing Unit) out of these months, I placed in the SHU isolation from Aug 03, 2006 to March 6, 2007 for unknown “Pending Investigation” in these 215 days of my segregation and isolation, I don’t have a single phone call access to my family, no legal calls to my attorney and Canadian Council, my legal mail opened in my absence, no medical treatment for my injured shoulder (even I went for hunger strike for 3 and half day) I harassed by the various jail officials and lot of other problems too which already been submitted in the attention of the FBOP higher authorities, but no action taken on them, after writing the court, instead of receiving the response or any action on my complaints, jail officials removed /moved me from MDC federal facility to Nassau County Jail .
My suffering has gone on for far too long, and I need your help to bring my suffering to an end. I want to return home to my family, because my imprisonment was injustice and will remain a great injustice forever.

May God bless you and be with you in your efforts to champion the cause of human rights, and the suffering of innocent prisoners and restore hope, faith and love to peoples all over the world.

Sincerely,

KHALID AWAN
FBOP NO. 50959-054

D. Hodara :

The conditions the world lives in today, make it impossible to expect any kind of logical attitude from terrorists who reject all kind of human and democratic approach to the problem of violence and respect of the other. After World War II, the world believed to have solved the problem of VIOLENCE by creating the United Nations and its charter, which provided dialogue rather than confrontation and the respect of the other.
The fact that terrorists have decided to ignore all the rules of democracy and respect of the other do not allow today any rational approach.
Allan Johnson's fate is really unknown, as there is no authority to control terrorists' actions, which are guided by a rejection of all human and democratic values. Human life in the Middle East is worth what it is possible to obtain religiously, politically and materiallly. As regards 'the white flag of neutrality', it has no meaning in the conditions described above, and the journalists who accept to work in this region will continue to risk their life and we must salute their courage.
As long as HUMANITY will not wake up to the realities and continue to protect selfish interests, we can expect dark days ahead.
This statement may seem pessimistic, but to see how much human life lost its importance and how little humans have learnt - in our 21st century -of past history it is difficult to be optimistic.

D. Hodara :

The conditions the world lives in today, make it impossible to expect any kind of logical attitude from terrorists who reject all kind of human and democratic approach to the problem of violence and respect of the other. After World War II, the world believed to have solved the problem of VIOLENCE by creating the United Nations and its charter, which provided dialogue rather than confrontation and the respect of the other.
The fact that terrorists have decided to ignore all the rules of democracy and respect of the other do not allow today any rational approach.
Allan Johnson's fate is really unknown, as there is no authority to control terrorists' actions, which are guided by a rejection of all human and democratic values. Human life in the Middle East is worth what it is possible to obtain religiously, politically and materiallly. As regards 'the white flag of neutrality', it has no meaning in the conditions described above, and the journalists who accept to work in this region will continue to risk their life and we must salute their courage.
As long as HUMANITY will not wake up to the realities and continue to protect selfish interests, we can expect dark days ahead.
This statement may seem pessimistic, but to see how much human life lost its importance and how little humans have learnt - in our 21st century -of past history it is difficult to be optimistic.

D. Hodara :

The conditions the world lives in today, make it impossible to expect any kind of logical attitude from terrorists who reject all kind of human and democratic approach to the problem of violence and respect of the other. After World War II, the world believed to have solved the problem of VIOLENCE by creating the United Nations and its charter, which provided dialogue rather than confrontation and the respect of the other.
The fact that terrorists have decided to ignore all the rules of democracy and respect of the other do not allow today any rational approach.
Allan Johnson's fate is really unknown, as there is no authority to control terrorists' actions, which are guided by a rejection of all human and democratic values. Human life in the Middle East is worth what it is possible to obtain religiously, politically and materiallly. As regards 'the white flag of neutrality', it has no meaning in the conditions described above, and the journalists who accept to work in this region will continue to risk their life and we must salute their courage.
As long as HUMANITY will not wake up to the realities and continue to protect selfish interests, we can expect dark days ahead.
This statement may seem pessimistic, but to see how much human life lost its importance and how little humans have learnt - in our 21st century -of past history it is difficult to be optimistic.

Yousuf Hashmi :

I deeply regret the missing of a reporter in a conflicting zone. My web site www.energy.com.pk posted the picture of Allen to show the soliderity.

but the broader picture is more blurred. Journalist for their creative thinking and to get some breaking news crossing their limits and endangering their lives.

Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq are war zones. but this is not a conventional war field where borders are defined properly and rules of engagement are by book.

The new battle fields are like jungles where every animal is the king of its own territory, and every sector is ruled by a different speices.

So once the media for its own rating improvements pressurise its own people to do more they endulge in such warm waters where they bound to burn their skin.

I do not think that their white flag status is lost. If it was so we were never getting live coverage from hot spots. They still demand lot of respect.

Media power brought properity for journalist but also increased the risk of their lives. The simple fact is that this is a dangerous game and some people just love to play with fire

Tom Wonacott :

PG

Recently, British journalist voted to boycott Israel products (April 16, 2007).

"...The boycott, passed last Friday in a 66-54 vote at the union's annual meeting in Birmingham, was declared because of Israel's "aggression" in the Palestinian territories. It calls for the union to "condemn the savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon" last summer and the "slaughter of civilians in Gaza" over the past few years..."

You would think that the Palestinians would appreciate the British journalists' "neutrality" and let the guy go. Hamas has demanded that Mr. Johnston be released, but without results so far. It's obvious that Hamas had nothing to do with the kidnapping. Why would Hamas hold an ally?

More and more journalist are getting killed and/or kidnapped these days. With the civil war between Hamas and Fatah, Gaza was a dangerous place for a western reporter to work mostly because of the lawlessness.

When it comes to creativity, nothing beats an Islamic terrorist. From the New York Times, June 10, 2007; Islamic Jihad attacks Israel disguised as journalist:

"...The (Israeli) army spokeswoman said that army lookouts had spotted the four militants approaching the border fence in an armored jeep marked with “TV” and “PRESS” insignia, “thought they were foreign reporters, so did not shoot at them.” The cell then broke through a gate in the barrier and took over an Israeli military post, which was empty at the time. Mortars were fired from inside Gaza at Israeli forces who rushed to the scene, the army said.


The Palestinian Journalists’ Union condemned the militants’ use of a jeep marked with “TV” and “PRESS” signs, saying that such acts “endanger journalists’ lives and give justification to the Israeli occupation for targeting and killing journalists.”..."

Somehow, I doubt Islamic Jihad cares if Palestinian journalist are killed by the Israelis. Under Islamic rule, the "neutral" Palestinian journalist (if they exist) could soon become the targets of Hamas.


Venkat :

The western Press is akin to the Indian Print and visual media in many ways but atleast they are patriotic to their country's cause unlike the Indian ones. Take the cheap skate Shekar Gupta's and the white ants MJ Akbar (left behind Pakistanis) they espouse causes which benefit India's enemies only. Be happy they have yet to become like these creeps.

As to the journalist kidnapping in West Asia what else can one expect of barbarians who belong to the 'houris seeking' cult. One should expect these ex-humans to behave only like this, only these creatures can treat children they way they do/did in Iraq, recently released from the clutches of these 'true muslims'.

Unless the world realizes that this cult is the poison that prevades their purple colored blood and needs to be eradicated it will only be playing out themes like Saddam/Osama/Khomeni/Taliban/Pakis/ were bad just to buy time.

krm :

Have American journalists lost their white flag of neutrality?

Why not ask Judith Miller?

Why not ask about the rules of embedding?

Felix Drost, Amsterdam :

The lack in modern journalism of a historical narrative, which is so vital as a background for a thorough evaluation, disturbs and upsets me often. The absence of intellectual accountability is a result (I'm neutral, only reporting what I hear). This issue goes a lot deeper than just ones supposed neutrality. Journalists should ask themselves what worth a white flag has if one has to sacrifice ones intellectual integrity for it. Journalists play a key role in how people form their opinion and, in democratic societies, who or what they favour and vote for next and hence the course society will take.

Israel provides a great illustration. Jews constituted 2.6% of the population of Iraq and 2.8% of Morocco in 1948; the total Jewish population of the former Ottoman empire and Iran at the time was over one million individuals (currently except for Israel roughly 50.000), a significant minority of roughly two percent. As the Ottoman empire broke up under the strain of world war 1 and European colonial pressure, many in the area started to want to establish their own nation and the Jews were no exception. Hence Israel is as legitimate a nation as any other nation in the territories of the former Ottoman empire. Most Arab nations were established or became independent around the same time as Israel (Israel 1948, Jordan 1946, Syria 1946). Most assuming the colonially sliced up borders assigned to them by the British and French. During the early 20th century the area in question was informally known as Filastin / Palestine and its inhabitants, regardless of ethnicity, were referred to as Palestinians, so it could happen that there were Palestinian Jews and that The Jerusalem Post was, previous to 1950, known as The Palestine Post. Journalists in this particular issue should also never neglect the antisemitism that one can witness in books, newspapers and television screens in the Middle East, it forms a wellspring of resentment and hatred against the Jews and Israel and is used as one of the main justifications for the continuation of war, terror, aggression and propaganda against the Jews in the Middle East.

Why is this significant? It shows that the idea that Israel is not a legitimate state (or stolen from a previously existing nation) is false. The Israeli nation represents a significant portion of the population of the Ottoman imperial area and it is a refuge for Jews fleeing from not just European persecution. It shows that antisemitism is a justification for some of the historically false statements that are uncritically replicated and repeated by the media against Israel.

As you read and perhaps google to research and verify the above, do you (the reader) agree that journalists have an obligation first of all to know history when they take it upon themselves to report to us about a certain area on this planet? They do go there or research the issues in order primarily to inform us. Not being sufficiently aware of history is a professional failure potentially more dangerous than that of a doctor performing a surgical operating without understanding the procedure.

Perhaps we have established that a journalist should be historically knowledgeable; should such a journalist then not feel intellectually and ethically driven to point out the existence and purpose of bigotry, propaganda and falsehoods when their purpose is to inform us to the best of their abilities?

If they should and they dont then perhaps that is not their primary purpose.

It isn't just in the Middle East where unaccountable journalism plays; as we head for the 2008 Olympics in China, the ongoing repression of the Tibetans that so far has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and is causing the dissipation of a unique culture and heritage fails to inspire influential journalists into telling this story to the world. Is it because Tibetan refugees are not launching missiles into China, because they do not care to blow themselves up to prove a political point, because we don't want to antagonize China, because it all happened in 1951? Or because we simply want bread and games?

The Tibetan story itself is dead, no matter how much most journalists deeply respect Tibetan culture and the current Dalai Lama, people won't really read the story because it doesn't have the drama and poignancy of certain other stories. And so journalism descends ever further towards the standards set by big brother and the other reality soaps; good-bye intellectual accountability, good-bye historical perspective, vote the Tibetans and the Darfurians off our attention span. One would perhaps argue that a story should sell, but if that were the bottom line, one would expect a historical narrative and intellectual accountability from organisations such as the BBC, but since these national European news organisations are accountable to nobody but peers of their own kind, they might simply lack the mechanism to anchor themselves on being of service to their constituency.

First amendment rights are fundamental to democracies, but our laws and constitutions, our legislative, executive and judicial branches all assume due dilligence and must assume balance. Journalism is exempt and our only recourse is to support those journalists that at the very least try not to kill the patient.

Salamon :

It is an oxymoron to ask by Mr. Ignatius if the journalist lost the "white flag" of neutrality, for he was one of the strongest supporters of the Bush cabal regarding IRaq War II, and still maintains a rosy picture of the fiasco reflecting the "talking points" of the great DECIDER/DECIEVER/

I regret that Mr. Johnston was detained by some faction/gang in Palestine. I similarly reget that so many journalist were killed in Iraq/Afganistan, often intentioally by USA forces.

But what I most regret that so many journalist refuse to dig deep into governments' actions [whether in USA, Isreal, China or Russia etc.]. It is close to treason, in my opinion, to what length some journalist go to reflect the views of governments' "Talking Points" and or governments' "Trial Baloons" without ascertaining either the truth content of such "news items" or citing the "authority" who perpetrates the whisper to the ear or the spin.

If the Media does not change the work expectations of the journalists, the journalist will follw T. Rex into oblivion, with most interesting and true reporting left on blogs by those not dependent on concentrated media control systems.

Jessica :

It is unfortunate that because we have elected the administration we have, we are all labeled with its actions. The international community could have forgiven us if we'd simply made a mistake in electing him, but by reelecting Bush and his cohorts in 2004, America showed the international community it condoned Bush's actions. To date, the war has cost over $340 billion dollars—money which could have been spent much more wisely and with better end results. It is estimated, for example, that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach. Thus, it is clear that the occupation of Iraq needs to end, and it needs to end now without regard to what this will do to United States interest in Iraq’s oil. There are simply much more important issues that need to be addressed. It’s time that Cheney and his cronies faces the reality of failure.

Jessica :

It is unfortunate that because we have elected the administration we have, we are all labeled with its actions. The international community could have forgiven us if we'd simply made a mistake in electing him, but by reelecting Bush and his cohorts in 2004, America showed the international community it condoned Bush's actions. To date, the war has cost over $340 billion dollars—money which could have been spent much more wisely and with better end results. It is estimated, for example, that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach. Thus, it is clear that the occupation of Iraq needs to end, and it needs to end now without regard to what this will do to United States interest in Iraq’s oil. There are simply much more important issues that need to be addressed. It’s time that Cheney and his cronies faces the reality of failure.

Jessica :

It is unfortunate that because we have elected the administration we have, we are all labeled with its actions. The international community could have forgiven us if we'd simply made a mistake in electing him, but by reelecting Bush and his cohorts in 2004, America showed the international community it condoned Bush's actions. To date, the war has cost over $340 billion dollars—money which could have been spent much more wisely and with better end results. It is estimated, for example, that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach. Thus, it is clear that the occupation of Iraq needs to end, and it needs to end now without regard to what this will do to United States interest in Iraq’s oil. There are simply much more important issues that need to be addressed. It’s time that Cheney and his cronies faces the reality of failure.

Greg :

I agree with some of the previous comments: journalists aren't neutral. Particularly the European press on middle eastern topics. And most of those journalists aren't particularly well educated, insightful or knowledgeable. As for Alan Johnston, he played around crocodiles too long and finally found himself in their jaws. If I spent any time in Gaza, I would fully expect the same. The Palestinians have zero respect for a free press, let alone civil liberties.

Simon T. :

Yes, the white flag is gone. It was only last week when a group of Palestinian terrorists (Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs) used a van marked TV to infiltrate Israel from Gaza in an attempt to kill and kidnap Israelis.
Why does the world not get outraged at the continuous uncivilized brutality committed by Palestinians? This has been going on for 40 years and just gets worse. They invented plane hijackings in the 60's, then made an art of suicide bombings. What will they graduate into next, the dirty bomb? The barbarianism of their society will continue until they are held to civilized standards. Or do we just expect them to be animals?

Luca :

Whether Western journalists have lost their flag or not, one thing is certain: Western governments have burned and buried theirs. And so it is increasingly difficult, with their audiences swayed by the increasingly partisan policies of their governments, for Western journalists and media not to be edited into the daily consensus.

Take yesterday's NYT report from the Midde East. It read: "Israel allowed 12 trucks of food and medical supplies to enter the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Israeli officials and international aid representatives said, in an effort to avert a looming humanitarian crisis now that Hamas is in control" ...

This intro invited one to draw two conclusions that were not necessarily true and were certainly contentious. It suggested that Israel "wants to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza" (though their blockade caused all the shortages) and that "Hamas would be the likely cause of such a crisis" (though the crisis was more probable to spark from a clash with Israel, which as it turned out, the latter provoked a day later).

Governments are clearly exploiting the short-term memory of readers and fast-moving news cycles - was Israel's blitz Gaza yesterday a "cause" or an "effect" - reporters on the ground are increasingly impotent and vulnerable.

Luca :

Whether Western journalists have lost their flag or not, one thing is certain: Western governments have burned and buried theirs. And so it is increasingly difficult, with their audiences swayed by the increasingly partisan policies of their governments, for Western journalists and media not to be edited into the daily consensus.

Take yesterday's NYT report from the Midde East. It read: "Israel allowed 12 trucks of food and medical supplies to enter the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Israeli officials and international aid representatives said, in an effort to avert a looming humanitarian crisis now that Hamas is in control" ...

This intro invited one to draw two conclusions that were not necessarily true and were certainly contentious. It suggested that Israel "wants to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza" (though their blockade caused all the shortages) and that "Hamas would be the likely cause of such a crisis" (though the crisis was more probable to spark from a clash with Israel, which as it turned out, the latter provoked a day later).

Governments are clearly exploiting the short-term memory of readers and fast-moving news cycles - was Israel's blitz Gaza yesterday a "cause" or an "effect" - reporters on the ground are increasingly impotent and vulnerable.

JK :

The kidnapping of Johnston shows that no matter how pro-Palestinian terrorist the BBC is it will not protect its journalists.
But the greatest irony is yet to come. I can guarantee you that when Johnston is released he will be seen kissing the feet of Hamas leaders to show his gratitude for his "rescue". Similar to the disgusting behavior of the cowardly Brit sailors in Iran.

JK :

The kidnapping of Johnston shows that no matter how pro-Palestinian terrorist the BBC is it will not protect its journalists.
But the greatest irony is yet to come. I can guarantee you that when Johnston is released he will be seen kissing the feet of Hamas leaders to show his gratitude for his "rescue". Similar to the disgusting behavior of the cowardly Brit sailors in Iran.

Rory :

I agree that, given the pronounced bias of the BBC in favor of Hamas, this is mostly a story about irony. Perversely, had the Israelis abducted him the BBC would be firing off endless screeds about the injustice. But this sort of activity is "only to be expected" of Hamas and other radical organizations, so we just sort of sit around hoping he'll be released at some point.

The one thing that worries me is that Mr. Johnston will reappear with all these miraculous stories about how well-treated he was and how Hamas is on the verge of inventing the first bomb vest that cures cancer and brings dead kittens back to life, but they keep getting interrupted by unprovoked attacks by Israeli soldiers.

Anonymous :

"BBC's Alan Johnston is still missing after 100 days. Have Western journalists lost their "white flag" of neutrality? How can they get it back?"

This is a valid question, could western journalists, coming from their background, see the struggle of Middle Eastern people in the true light of reality and not the painted and distorted reality presented by western media ?

My answer is it is possible. Every human carries within himself a inner light, that could see through the injustices and lies that are associated with interests and prejudices of current reality. It's that inner light that help us to communicate with other human beings, and the suffering of wars and conflicts are the same to all of us.

The truth will set you free. Thus it's the interests of the warring parties to respect jounalists who report the truth. It's more problematic when the same journalists are by decree from his/her boss to report a distorted truth or themselves unable to see the truth directly in the eyes. They then became another tools for the warring parties and fuel the conflict.

Ben, Illinois :

The BBC is hardly neutral on the Palestine-Israel news front. Since they voted for an Israel boycott,
the Brits and their Academic collaborators, have slanted the news so clearly, that BBC news is now the Western Al Jazeera, based in Londonistan. I dont believe a word they say, to quote Mary McCarthy, even "and, and the".

Alan Johnston should sit and contemplate why he is in this pickle, after sucking up to Hamas all these years. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

AMviennaVA :

Western, especially US and British, journalists lost their neutrality in the Middle East a very long time ago. The icing on the cake, if you will, was the cheerleading they performed in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and the rush to be 'embedded' in units.

Since then of course, they only venture out of the Green Zone only with military cover. Fallujah was destroyed, and they missed the whole thing, both times.

Kevin :

Regardless of what Palestinian group is behind Johnston's abduction, it's a political error on their part. The pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli lobby has no greater friend than the BBC. This network is a constant apologist for terrorism perpetrated by Palestinians, and a consistent opponent of virtually any move made by Israelis to defend their citizenry.

If I was a Palestinian, I'd roll out the red carpet and send a limo to pick up a BBC reporter. The BBC is the posterchild for elitist, white-liberal guilt reporting from the Middle East.

Anonymous :

There is an assumption that Johnston's kidnapping, like many similar incidents in Iraq, is the work of terrorists, with a defined political agenda.

This, in fact, is hardly the case.

All indications suggest that the kidnappings are the work of criminal organizations, more interested in money, than ideology -- though insurgent groups may certainly take a cut of the cash.

In Johnston's case, the apparent abductors are the Dagmoush Clan, colloquially referred as "the Gaza Sopranos" for their varied and vicious interests.

Interesting to note: they have been seen as both allies, and enemies, of Hamas and Fatah -- a group where convenience trumps conviction.

so: it isn;t a matter of neutrality.

it is a matter of journalists beign targeted as walking ATM machines in chaotic, armed, sometimes impoverished, regions.

Fred//Manhattan :

"BBC's Alan Johnston is still missing after 100 days. Have Western journalists lost their "white flag" of neutrality? How can they get it back?"

Probably the most selfish question ever heard. How can they get IT back? What about "How can we het HIM back?" Just the formulation of this question alone answers a lot of the WHYs!

Anonymous :

"BBC's Alan Johnston is still missing after 100 days. Have Western journalists lost their "white flag" of neutrality? How can they get it back?"

Probably the most selfish question ever heard. How can they get IT back? What about "How can we het HIM back?" Just the formulation of this question alone answers a lot of the WHYs!

Ben Graham :

What happened to Mr. Johnston was tragic and for him unforeseen. His kidnappers have a different world view than he as to the sanctity of press freedoms and reporters. For the sake of him and his family, we should pray for his safe return home and cherish the vital role that a free press plays.

The Western press should keep on filing their reports and do its collective best to avoid a journalistic Stockholm syndrome when reporting from repressive lands.

Annandale :

I find Alan Johnston's situation to be deliciously ironic. British journalists have called for a boycott of Israeli products, while one of their own is victim of Palestinian terrorism.

Enjoy your vacation Mr. Johnston!

Herbert Thanikachalam :

When did Western journalists have a white flag of neutrality?Few of them have ever been neutral.
And BBC is hardly neutral .The kidnapping can be blamed only on the professional thugs who are called freedom fighters by the BBC.

Madhu :

Ok. so bending over backwards to please the islamist radicals, morphing photographs, staging fake photo-ops with dead kids in Qana. non-stop 24/7 virulent anti-israeli bias to all their "news report"(propoganda) hasn't worked to get them their white flag isn't it?. so what do we do now? nice question.let me think a while and come up with some suggestions.

BobL-VA :

Yes they have lost their white flag. Considering most radicals and insurgents in Iraq would view western journalists as biased they have no reason to treat them any differently then they would other westerners.

I think the days of getting back the white flag are over. About the only thing a journalist can hope for today is they are released for political motives.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.