Shim Jae Hoon at PostGlobal

Shim Jae Hoon

South Korea

Shim Jae Hoon is a Seoul-based journalist and commentator writing for a variety of international publications including YaleGlobal Online, The Straits Times of Singapore, The Taipei Times and Korea Herald. He was a correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review in Seoul, Taipei and Jakarta. Close.

Shim Jae Hoon

South Korea

Shim Jae Hoon is a Seoul-based journalist and commentator writing for a variety of international publications including YaleGlobal Online, The Straits Times of Singapore, The Taipei Times and Korea Herald. more »

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Don't Blame West, Blame Islamists

The international journalists covering the world have been guilty of many shortcomings, but losing neutrality in their coverage of the Palestine conflict or of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is certainly not one of them. When compared with their counterparts from other parts of the world including the Middle East, journalists from the U.S., Europe and open societies in Asia can stand any test as far as fairness and impartiality is concerned.

Consider the Western media's coverage of Kosovo and Chechnya or for that matter the case of Alan Johnston of the BBC: he was the only Western correspondent based in Gaza insisting on sending stories from the "other" side of the Palestine conflict. Was he kidnapped for offensive broadcasts he had done? Apparently not. His abductors have raised no such objections. Indeed, they indirectly admit to seizing him for political reasons, quite outside of his journalistic activities, by demanding to "exchange" him for prisoners held under criminal charges.

Alan's seizure has nothing to do with his professional ethics or activities. It is not only criminal to unlawfully seize and detain noncombatants reporting on both sides of the conflict, it is politically backward and plainly senseless. Whichever extremist group or groups hold him, they have done a great disservice to the Palestinian cause and an injustice to the men, women and children suffering in the Gaza Strip today by blackening their side of the story.

It is not the bad press that is tarring the image of Islamists in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East, but their own bestial action -- such as luring and beheading a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Pakistan some years back -- that is trashing their image and that of -- I am afraid -- their religion. To judge theirs as acts of "desperation" and show "understanding" of their actions is unacceptable. All wars are brutal and irrational, but history has still upheld the protection of journalists throughout them.

Let me cite the case of Vietcong guerrillas in South Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. They, too, captured quite a few Western journalists covering the war, but never once did they "execute" them for any reason. As most guerrilla warfare goes, their propaganda and psychological tactics were highly sophisticated. Instead of murdering journalists, they "used" them to tell their side of the story, sometimes by "inviting" them to their zone of control. More or less, this was also the case of Mao Zedong's guerrilla forces in China, who gave extensive tours and interviews to American correspondents looking for "truth" behind the front lines, such as the late Edgar Snow. They never regarded Western journalists as an object of hatred and murder -- the proverbial bearer of bad news fit for execution -- but a channel to persuade and bring the other side to their cause.

Sadly, correspondents setting out to find out what the other side is thinking in Iraq and Afghanistan today must risk decapitation at the hands of Islamists, hoping to be rescued with a sack of money or exchanged for jailed terrorists. No wonder Islamists have no journalists in the West or for that matter anywhere in Asia who are fighting for space to give their side of the story. I hope Alan's predicament will not keep the Western journalists out of Gaza, Kabul, Baghdad or Karachi, or our TVs and newspapers will be filled with dispatches supplied by "journalists" from the extremist camps, and labeled as such. Don't blame the Western media for this state of affairs. Blame the Islamists.

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