Follow the western media - at your own risk

Azza Radwan Sedky
Monday 18 Oct 2021

The western media helps to shape global perceptions while warping the truth, which is why people should be aware of the risks involved in following it.

The western media is no better, if also no worse, than Hollywood, which, if it so chooses, manages to manipulate and mislead whether viewers like it or not.

Cowboy and Indian movies, a prominent Hollywood genre of the 1950s and 60s, are a case in point. These “Wild West” movies misrepresented North America’s history by glorifying the colonial conquerors. It rendered the white “cowboys” as heroes and the dark-skinned “Indians” as brutal and wild, presenting them as always caving in to the colonialists.

The “injuns” were pictured as savages and rarely perceived as human beings with rights to their lands, histories, and cultures. The Hollywood movies thus propagated a vision of the world that was unfair and unjust, and the world, simplistic in the extreme, accepted the depictions as authentic.

Today, Hollywood remains selective in its choices of protagonists and antagonists and in what it perceives as good and bad and right and wrong. Clearly mightier than other movie makers, Hollywood leads the world on a path of its own. What may be considered taboo by some countries, Hollywood enforces and deems plausible, and how this might affect these other cultures remains to be seen.

Consider how Hollywood depicts Arabs – seeing them as terrorists with eccentric customs – or indigenous peoples – presenting them as savages with painted faces and feathers – or Iranians – as hostile and fanatical. Yet, while Hollywood distorts, disappointingly other cultures still sometimes embrace whatever is doled out to them.

The same thing is sometimes true of the western media. Choosing its words craftily and its intentions purposefully, this highlights particular images and issues with the clear intention of making them stand out, while standing behind its own sponsors and supporters.

Despite the western media’s ability to come across as credible, touting itself as the epitome of reliability and objectivity, the prejudice against, say, China, Russia, Iran, and, undoubtedly, Egypt exhibits recognisable bias. Stories in the western media about these countries are constantly presented negatively, highlighting gloom and doom. Focus hard and try to remember a single article that speaks of any of these countries other than with ill-will. Shockingly, this turns the western media into a propaganda tool, if not simply an example of state-affiliated media.

The western media also provides other media with descriptions that create negative stereotypes. Phrases such as “China’s tabloids say…,” “Egypt’s pro-government media argues…,” “Iran’s state-sponsored TV alleges…,” or “Kremlin-affiliated media claims…,” inundate its pieces. These leave readers with stereotypical images: that Russia suffers from authoritarianism, that China lacks democracy, that Iran is fanatical, and that Egypt is under military rule, all eliciting bias that may become the norm with readers and a practice that alters and twists facts.

Double standards are everywhere evident. While it smears some countries, the western media hails others. It gets to pick and choose what to cover and when to cover it. For instance, the western media gives protestors across the world the benefit of the doubt. “Thousands flood the streets demanding ‘a new revolution’,” is a typical headline, even while the same media reports on protests in the US as merely “a day of anarchy.”

The western media can and does ignore what does not benefit its own objectives. In August during the Kabul Airport attacks, the US TV channel CNN repeatedly referred to the “13 US army troops killed” in an explosion, ignoring the fact that 69 Afghanis had met the same fate.

Of the 2014 coup in Ukraine, which the western media called a “people’s revolution,” Eric Zuesse, an investigative historian, writes that “the western press lied about the 2014 coup in Ukraine, pretending that it was a real democratic revolution.” The 30 June Revolution in Egypt is presented in the western media as a “coup” and not as a momentous day for all Egyptians as millions stood together to call for justice.

Such smears do not, of course, apply to all the western media. Yet, last December the BBC posted two versions of the same video, entitled "How Everyday Life Has Changed in Wuhan,” on YouTube. One was in Chinese, and the other was in English. Both versions had the same content, but the footage in the English version had a greyish filter added to make it darker and more depressing. The intention was clear.

The same thing goes for Egypt. Influential western media sources that cover Egypt are selective in what they cover, intentionally presenting issues in a negative light. The only Egyptian writers to voice their views in the western media are those who have exiled themselves, are against the Egyptian government, or are Muslim Brotherhood members. Novelists Alaa al-Aswany and Ezzedine Fishere and US-based figure Mohamed Soltan are examples of those allowed to appear in the western media.

They willfully feed the western media’s craving for lopsided information about Egypt.

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