Friday,16 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)
Friday,16 November, 2018
Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The problem with the Western media

We need a better understanding of the ideological underpinnings of the Western media in order to understand its failure to report correctly on the region, writes Gamal Abdel-Gawa

We have a problem with some influential Western news outlets that cover affairs in Egypt in a selective manner and present them in a negative light. These outlets do not seem to possess an alternative method that would work towards a better understanding of our circumstances. As a result, we need a better understanding of the Western media’s view of our country and the region.

It is not a coincidence that the Western media outlets that have covered regional issues in recent years have all come from countries with long colonial histories. While these Western powers imposed their direct interference in the internal affairs of weaker states at that time, they justified such acts by the notion of the “white man’s burden”.

This claimed that the Western powers were not exploiting the weaker people of the world through imperialism and that they were not plundering their wealth. Instead, the “civilised white men” of these powers were doing the colonies a favour since they could decide what was best for people living in barbarism.  

Many Western writers and journalists have distorted our history as a result, claiming that the 19th-century ruler Mohamed Ali was a “tyrannical pasha”, that the khedive Ismail was a “despotic profligate”, that the 20th-century nationalist leader Saad Zaghloul was a “provocative demagogue”, and that former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser was a “colonial dictator”.

Things are different now, and the Western imperialist powers do not invade a new country on a yearly basis, but an attitude of moral superiority and arrogance is still present in the West. However, this is not a “holier than thou” message intended to pretend that we are necessarily nobler than the West. We are not the victims of global imperialism or a universal conspiracy, as we are responsible for what has happened to us and we make mistakes just like others do.

However, admitting these mistakes does not prevent us from uncovering and disproving Western claims, especially those in the writings of orientalists and journalists who spend only days or weeks in our country. Because of their stay in Egypt, they are seen as knowledgeable enough to compose books, write articles, and make judgements about “orientals” (us) and their strange situations.

What’s new in the Western media coverage of such eastern situations is the hybrid of old colonial thinking with new liberal-leftist ideas. This liberal-leftism is an ideology that has been important among young people in Western states and among academics in the Western social sciences and humanities. Such ideas also dominate the rhetoric of some influential Western media outlets.

This liberal-leftist ideology is based on a deep scepticism of authority, sometimes reaching the level of anarchy. The mainstream Western media tends to deny the association of power with any kind of virtue. It also views authority as a temporary institution that society is forced to put up with. Eventually, society will rule itself, it says, thus burying governmental authority in the grave of history.

A prejudice against the military is one of the components of the liberal-leftist ideology. This bias against the Armed Forces is related to the scepticism of authority since armed authority is the strictest kind of this. This ideology rejects the idea of the military playing any kind of political role in Third World countries, and it calls for governments in first world countries to voluntarily disarm and dissolve their armies.

A recent example of this was when liberal-leftists in the UK called for the British government to voluntarily scrap its nuclear weapons programme. The liberal-leftist wing currently dominates Britain’s opposition Labour Party, headed by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn since 2015. Many of those who manage the UK media are sympathetic towards this political ideology, which prioritises the individual over the collective.

According to liberal-leftists, the individual should have the total freedom to choose his own destiny, and anything that prevents him from practicing this right is considered to be an unacceptable restriction. An individual may freely choose the group or groups to which he belongs. Other inherited or imposed groups are artificial entities used by their stakeholders to dominate the individual and deny him the right to choose, this ideology says.

 Western liberal-leftists are also sceptical of ideas pertaining to national identity, the homeland, and the state. All forms of collective belonging are seen as unnecessary restrictions on the individual and his freedom, they think.

In returning to the original question, the problem of Western journalism when reporting on our countries today is not just a lack of information or individual journalistic errors. The problem is related to this ideological creed, which renders the Western media biased against and prejudiced towards the empirical reality that the Middle East finds itself in.

We must not forget that solving such problems falls mostly on our shoulders, and it is up to us to gain a clear understanding of the ideological basis guiding Western media trends. We need to build a clear ideological and political discourse that will guide our policies, and we need to make clearer to foreign outlets the moral basis of them.

Throughout this process, we must continue the dialogue with the Western media and engage in high-level intellectual interactions that do not stop at the limits of professional observation. This is especially important because our own reputation for professionalism is not at its best, and is something we are still reshaping.


The writer is a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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