“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X
Media has evolved over time to become something incredibly huge, and vast and has gripped people of all ages and nationalities in a way that it seems that our lives do not move forward without its presence of it. The dependency of people has also increased as the domains of media have expanded. There are people who depend heavily on media to attain information about topics they do not have any prior information on. With so much dependency to attain information, it raises the chances for people to get manipulated by what they see on the television or read in the newspaper. Media holds significant influence in our daily lives and it infiltrates our perceptions and understanding with continuous messages that impact our beliefs and value systems.
The West has been one step ahead when it comes to media technology. They are the pioneers of news and have been developing their sources with time and have come up with the television media, the internet, social media, etc.
The Western media revealed its Orientalist belief system during the coverage of the Ukraine crisis. Edward Said presented the concept of Orientalism; Orientalism is the study of near and far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, and peoples by Western scholars. The Orient does not only belong to the Asian region of the world, rather people who belong to the Middle East and the African region are also considered to be an Orient. The theory of Orientalism can be understood from three perspectives; in the academic term, Orientalism refers to anything that deals with the Orient, a general understanding refers to a phenomenological differentiation between the Orient and Occident and the third understanding regards the Orient from a historical perspective. The historical understanding of Orientalism presents the relation between the Orient and the Occident presenting how the Occident dominated the Orient. Said emphasized that the Orient is a construct and includes the perception of the European identity being higher in rank than all other identities. Hence the Orient is linked to backwardness.
Since the Occident, belongs to the Western regions and considers itself to be superior to the Orient, it is safe to say that Orientalism is another name for racism against people from other places of the world. It can be defined as ‘any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of his/her or their color’. It is important to understand here that racism or prejudice is not always a conscious choice. The Western values make the people assume that race determines human trade capacities and that white people are inherently superior to people of color.
Edward Said’s statement can be seen reflected in the Western media houses, be it entertainment media or news media. Several examples can be cited here to explain how the Orient is viewed and perceived. In Hollywood movies such as The Sheikh, the Arab world is shown to be made of deserts, fat-bellied sheiks that enjoy belly dancers that revel in their riches and enjoy terrorize others. Another very important characteristic that the Orient is given is that they are barbaric and foster a deep hatred for the West. All in all, the picture is not painted with happy colors, rather it is painted with war-like features and barbarism.
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The Orientalist mindset has occupied the minds of the people since historical times. It can be seen in the Imperialist Approaches of the Western countries. The Western colonies crumbled and the respective countries got their independence, the West left the Orient’s land but the Orientalist mindset aka the superiority mindset has not left the West and its people. There are a few examples that can be found in the different domains of media. Most examples can be found in Hollywood movies; American Sniper, The Dictator, and Zero Dark Thirty are a few examples with explicit Orientalist storylines. This is especially possible in those cases in which audiences do not possess direct knowledge or experience of what is happening, they become particularly reliant upon the media to inform them.
The most recent example of Orientalism in media can be seen in the news coverage of the Ukraine crisis. The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought forward several cases where the Western media reporters went as far as comparing the Europeans to the Africans or the Middle Easterners in a negative and downgrading way. As the conflict began, it captured the attention of many people worldwide. As people were glued to their television screens, they were able to notice one too many instances where the reporters were making racist remarks while making a comparison between the white European county and the middle east.
The biasness and racism in reporting were first seen on CBS when their correspondent Charlie D’Agata compared the situation of Ukraine with that of the countries in the Middle East, “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades … this is a relatively civilized, relatively European … city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that (war) to happen,”. The comparison he made, made Middle Eastern countries as places that are used to war and it will not be a rare occurrence for them but when it comes to European states, war is an alien concept. The comparison was not only not fair but also reiterated that wars in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan are justified because those areas are ‘uncivilized’.
In another instance, an anchor working for Al Jazeera mentioned that the images of the Ukrainian people fleeing their homes amid war were ‘compelling’ due to how they were dressed. He called them ‘prosperous middle-class people’ and mentioned how different they were from the refugees fleeing from Africa or the Middle East. The comparison made here on the outlook of a people implies that anyone who dresses differently from the West is less important since they are the Orient. The world consists of a wide range of ethnicities, each with their own culture, clothes, and belief systems, and passing discriminatory remarks or establishing importance based on how people are dressed is highly racist.
In an article published in The Telegraph by author Daniel Hannan, statements like, “They seem to like us. This is what makes it so shocking.” were seen. Similarly, BFM TV’s Philippe Corbe describes the Ukrainian situation as, “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.” The comparison among people of different regions based on their looks and how they dress is the wrong scale of judgment, especially when those regions have seen and suffered years of war and have been left with the duty of cleaning the mess up themselves.
The coverage of news on Ukraine was covered with utmost motivation and prioritization; news, as it should have been since the war, is nothing short of epic horrors and should be taken seriously. The problem arises when the wars in two different regions are compared and one is given importance more than the other one.
The world has always seen discrimination of one party against the other, but watching it on the media, something that almost every single person has access to in the world makes it even more impactful. The differences among nations have always existed but that should not be the reason for discrimination especially the judgment of their sufferings. The media handled the reporting poorly when it allowed these remarks to surface on national television. Innocent civilians are not responsible for the wars that happen in their country, justifying their sufferings based on who they are, and what their identity is, makes the news reporters come off as judgmental and racist. The reporting that comes from a bias and that too on a reputed media channel makes it seem like the reality and as if most of the world also follows that narrative. Hence there is a huge responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the news channels that they need to be aware of and must navigate carefully.
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