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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Martyr matters at Ma'an

Palestinian Media Watch came out with a report yesterday comparing the reporting done by the Palestinian Arab Ma'an News in English and Arabic, and accusing Ma'an of using the terminology of terror in Arabic but not in English:
Ma'an releases in Arabic include the hate ideology espoused by the terror organizations that deny Israel's right to exist, express reverence for suicide terrorists and justify terrorist murder as "resistance." But when translated into English, the same stories go through a sterilization process to hide from the English readers – and possibly from the two Western countries, the Netherlands and Denmark, who give them funding – the terrorist ideology Ma'an is helping to propagate.
They go on to give two examples.

Ma'an News responded to the charges. One of the points they made was of interest:
When Ma'an was established at the beginning of 2005, Ma'an News Agency hosted media experts from all over the world, including Israel, in order to discuss the terminology. Among the guests were the Israeli journalists, Miron Ropot and Zvika Yehezkely, along with dozens of media professors from Britain, Iran, Europe and the United States. All agreed that each language has its own terminology and special meanings, and that Ma'an will not stop using terms such as "martyr", "resistance" and equivalent terms, in Arabic.

Philippa N., chief English editor, said: "We have never tried to hide the fact that we cater to a different audience and therefore need to employ a different language. The most important thing for us is to deliver the facts and to portray the full extent of the harsh reality of life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, without causing incitement. The coverage is more important than the language. In regards to our choice of terminology, we aim to stick as close as possible to UN-accepted terms, while maintaining our Palestinian perspective."

Compared to every other PalArab media outlet, English or Arabic, Ma'an is the one that adheres closest to accepted journalistic standards. This is not to say that it has reached that level but within its own framework it is the fairest.

However, as can be seen in the quotes above, being better than the usual Arab media crap is not the same as being satisfactory.

The chief English editor admits that Ma'an has an agenda, and that agenda is not truth but propaganda -"to portray the full extent of the harsh reality of life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation." So while Ma'an has more stories about Palestinian Arabs killing each other than any other PalArab media outlet, it will devote most of its stories on Israeli actions even though they have been resulting in far fewer deaths this year (the latest ratio is roughly 130 PalArabs killed by their own this year versus 23 killed by Israel, a ratio that is simply not reflected in Ma'an's articles.)

Beyond that is a more fundamental problem. They assert that
"each language has its own terminology and special meanings," and this is undoubtedly true. But when the terminology itself becomes a means of incitement, then it becomes problematic. The fact that a supposedly secular, neutral news source refers to dead PalArabs as "martyrs" and refers to suicide bombers as part of a "resistance" doesn't just mean it is reflecting normal use of the terms - it is influencing its readers to think that blowing themselves up is a noble deed. To hide behind the "everybody's doing it" defense is a cop-out.

The other statement that "the coverage is more important than the language" is simply false, for the same reasons. The language helps dictate the coverage.

Saying that these are "UN-accepted terms" is very interesting. I only found one case where a UN document referred to martyrs in English, and it was indeed a translation from an Arabic attachment to the report on the Jenin operation in 2002:
The present report contains a number of eyewitness accounts by casualties who survived the massacre and close relatives and friends of martyrs, inhabitants of the camp, volunteers who participated in the relief operations and journalists.
This seems to indicate that the UN itself may use the same terror terminology in its Arabic documents, which would be a much bigger story than just what a Palestinian Arab newspaper does.