Acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk’s writing confronts the reality of war in the Middle East head-on. Now, as the situation in the region is becoming increasingly dangerous, Fisk practices what he calls “mouse journalism.” He often only has 20 safe seconds to observe the chaos and bodies between bombs.
At a sold-out lecture at Concordia University on February 19, Fisk argued that journalists must go beyond impartiality when reporting on conflict – a rule which he believes should apply only to football matches.
“Whether it is the slave trade or Nazi extermination camps, we must talk about the dead and the survivors. If you see any atrocity you should be revolted by it,” stated Fisk.
Fisk has built a reputation as one of the most honest and authoritative voices on the Middle East in media today, with 30 years of experience living and working in the region as a foreign correspondent for The Independent. Thursday’s lecture, “Canada and the Middle East Wars,” discussed the role of media in wartime and the deteriorating quality of Canadian coverage.
Fisk criticized the National Post’s coverage of the conflict, which called the Israeli offensive an “effective” and “surgical” maneuver and described the opposition as “crying” that Israel’s actions were an unequal response. He also questioned how news media could remain impartial when the death count was utterly disproportionate.
According to Fisk, the Globe and Mail’s coverage drew overly sensationalized parallels between the Middle East and Canada to drive the conflict home. The newspaper compared Israel’s situation with fictional scenarios of militants in Richmond, B.C launching rockets at Vancouver, and militants in Outremont firing rockets onto Montreal street corners.
While Fisk jokingly asked the audience whether there was something unusual about Outremont, something that he didn’t know about Montreal, he used this example to question what is now considered acceptable reporting.
“When you have people making such statements, it is just childishness. These are simple arguments, and simple arguments are easy to repeat. And that this same wording appeared in newspapers across Canada, surely someone is pushing the button,” Fisk said in an interview with The Daily.
Fisk’s demand for critical and honest reporting resonated deeply with many audience members.
“If you want to have credibility on these issues you need to report the ugly truth,” commented Christina Xydous, a Montreal resident. “What Fisk brought home in this lecture is the idea that there are no sacred cows. We need to ask the tough questions. There can be no other loyalties beside a loyalty to the truth and to those who suffer.”
A representative from Echec a la Guerre Montreal who introduced Fisk placed the lecture in a Canadian context, “We’ve been at war for seven years. We have not seen images of war, who Canadians are aiming at, and there are no interviews with the victims. We don’t hear any true war stories in our country.”
Even stories of Canadian soldiers are no longer considered newsworthy. “We don’t even see photographs of Canadians being buried,” Fisk said. “I was on a plane to Ottawa when the first Canadian woman soldier was killed. When she was buried at the military cemetery the story was on page six when it should have been on page one.”
With Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, however, set to continue until at least 2011, Fisk said Canadians and their journalists need to start asking the questions that count.
“Did you know that there was a famine in Afghanistan? Instead of 7,000 more troops we need 7,000 more doctors?,” he asked. “Why is the army in Afghanistan? My experience when there has been a war that has been going on for awhile is that people forget why they are fighting it. Nobody remembers why we invaded Iraq. Nobody remembers why we are in Afghanistan. How long can we keep doing this?
“You don’t see what I see. If you saw what I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan you would not support military engagement anywhere.”
In fact, Fisk asserts that Western military engagement must come to an end. “These countries do not belong to us. We should leave. People ask for justice that we do not intend to give them. No more soldiers. Enough.”