Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Non-event coverage of the Libyan rebellion fills the airwaves.

It's a tough life being a dictator who no one likes.

The Information Age: Covering the Libyan rebellion on television is mostly form without substance to this point in time.

by Tom Thorne
The coverage of breaking stories on TV is intimate and detailed. It's the nature of this Information Age medium.  In a 24/7 information environment TV news is inundated by information offered to us in visual form with what passes for authoritative voice over comment from TV news hosts, expert studio guests and correspondents in the field. The problem is none of these people actually know what is happening.
This situation is really absurd. Think of it. We are watching film of Libyan rebels attacking Gadhafi compound in Tripoli. The Aljazeera host safe in the studio in Doha, Qatar says: "looks like everyone is pinned down by fire from Gadhafi loyalists."
There is no way that TV news program host sitting in Doha can know who is in that compound but we watch in real time as young men with AK47s and jeep mounted heavy machine guns pour fire towards the alleged Gadhafi compound's walls. We are not certain if the Gadhafi compound is really a Gadhafi compound. 
TV coverage is often theatre...
The correspondent on the ground is theatrically swathed in bullet proof vest and helmet with PRESS on the front and back opines about what is happening. "We are pinned down here by Gadhafi loyalist fire...but it looks like the rebels are about to move and attack the Gadhafi compound."
Well nothing happens and and the Doha anchor and the correspondent on the scene exchange opinions for the next half hour. No one can answer the hard questions. Who is in the compound? Is Gadhafi himself inside? Why are those young rebels wasting so much ammunition firing at an unknown enemy?
This kind of ongoing coverage is typical of our times. It's great that CNN and Aljazeera have correspondents on the ground but the days when they actually reported facts has long gone. They report an actuality. It is a kind of  reality program where even the hours of boredom associated with warfare are broadcast for your consumption. 
Marshall McLuhan was right, TV is an "involving medium" where the medium seems more important than its content. Point a camera at a bunch of people firing AK47s at hidden targets is enough to rivet an audience to their big screen TVs thousands of miles away.
Gadhafi compound empty and looted by rebels...
After the battle the correspondents enter the compound to find that Gadhafi is not there and the alleged Gadhafi loyalists have faded away. The young heavily armed rebels begin to loot the alleged Gadhafi compound. In Doha, the anchor asks what's happening. "Looting and a lot of confusion is happening at the moment."  That was the most accurate report for this entire event.
My point is that if you have a technique to quickly upload TV signals to satellites that is very portable then you cover more and more mundane events where nothing is happening except waiting for the battle to happen or the confusing aftermath that Gadhafi was no where to be found.
Most warfare is really boring. Combatants wait for targets. Or they wait to find out who is sniping at them before proceeding. Then there is an advance or sorts. The rebel soldiers find out that a few Gadhafi hardliners have pined them down on a Tripoli street while in a square a few streets away rebels are firing an AK47 feu de joie into the air celebrating Gadhafi's alleged downfall.
Capturing Gadhafi's two sons...a non-event
The biggest non story this week was the alleged capture by Libyan rebels of two of Gadhafi's sons. CNN and Aljeezera both reported that they had been captured and held by rebel forces.
Imagine the chagrin of both these networks when 24 hours later Saif al-islam, one of the alleged captured Gadhafi sons appeared on the streets of Tripoli enthusiastically accepting the good wishes  of his followers. Rumours of his capture had been greatly exaggerated. Saif Gadhafi was clearly free.
As the Gadhafi regime ends, and it will end sometime soon,  the reporting of this complex armed rebellion has been inexact, confusing and without facts that can be checked. How will we know when Gadhafi and his sons have been removed from power? When they are arrested and are before the World Court in the Hague charged with crimes against humanity.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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