Twittering from the front-lines

January 14, 2009

Who remembers the Google Wars website that was doing the viral rounds a few years back – a mildly amusing, non-scientific snapshot of the search-driven, internet world we live in?

It lives on at www.googlebattle.com where you can enter two search terms, say ‘Lennon vs. McCartney’ or ‘Left vs. Right’, and let the internet pick a winner by the number of search hits each word gets.

As we reported here – the virtual world has become a real battleground in the ongoing Gaza conflict – with all sides deploying significant resources.

For Israel – where hasbara or PR has often been frowned upon as unnecessary pandering to international opinion that never turns in Israel’s favour anyway – the second Lebanon war underlined the need for a coherent media and PR strategy coordinated at the centre of government.

The post-mortem of the month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006 – known as the Winograd Commission – recommended a centralised approach to hasbara to avoid spokesmen from different ministries, the army or the police telling different or conflicting stories to a voracious local and international media.

Notwithstanding the fact that the head of the new National Information Directorate did not make it to a scheduled interview with our reporter on the story above  – as my colleague Dan Williams reported here the strategy certainly seems to be working for domestic consumption.

Sources inside the Israeli government have said they are generally happy with the way the strategy has worked internationally as well despite growing international calls for a ceasefire and increasingly angry protests around the world.

The media strategy has been backed up by zero tolerance within the military and security establishment for anyone going “off message” – field commanders or political insiders who seemed to relish leaking tid-bits to their favoured reporters in 2006 are now keeping mum.

And while the virtual media war has raged – with pro-Palestinian websites like electronicintifada.net or Hamas’ own website http://www.palestine-info.co.uk/en/ ratcheting up the rhetoric alongside their Israeli foes – many in the traditional media (or dare I say MSM) complain that they have been totally defeated by Israel’s media strategy which has prevented them from entering Gaza or a ‘closed military zone’ neighbouring Gaza.

The world’s press has been herded on to a hill-top 2 kilometres from the Gaza Strip – where Israeli political and military spokespeople wander among the satellite trucks and live positions ‘briefing’ journalists with the official view of what’s going on inside Gaza.

As much as the protagonists have been duking it out in the virtual world – online media now has the clout to shape the way war stories are told and delivered.

The most surreal example of this is probably Joe the Plumber – yes, that Joe the Plumber of US election campaign fame – who has been engaged by pro-Israeli US website Pajamas Media to file reports from Israeli towns under Hamas rocket fire.

Joe’s basic premise seems to be that the media is inherently biased against Israel and journalists have no business being in the war zone anyway.

While you might not agree with his point-of-view – Joe is an example of the sort of do-it-yourself journalism with a strong voice that has been empowered by the Internet.

Read these two accounts – one from my colleague Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and this one from another Gaza journalist - and I think you’ll agree that reporting from inside a warzone is important, journalists should be there and the combatants should facilitate rather than threaten this effort.

And by the way – in case you were wondering – a GoogleBattle between Israel and Palestine gives Israel a decisive victory. IDF vs. Hamas, though, has Hamas edging it.

PHOTO CREDITS

Photgraphers take pictures of Israeli tanks. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Massive explosion in southern Gaza town of Rafah. REUTERS/Ibrahim abu-Mustafa

2 comments

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Perhaps, then, the regular media should report the twittering from within the areas that Israel is limiting access to the regular media.

As the job of the media is to report news equally from both sides, media should not let governments’ or one-sided political agencies’ efforts to thwart that goal. By being creative, such as using non-traditional methods to report the news is a service media readership/viewership demands.

I applaud Reuters efforts at putting this story out on the internet.

Posted by Cheryl | Report as abusive

Joe the plumber is right. Journalists are incapable of being unbiased always having some political bias. Apart from that, what soldier wants to rescue journalists who get themselves captured risking their own lives?

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive