Ukraine invasion: Arab journalists call out 'orientalist, racist' double standards on Ukraine coverage

Ukraine invasion: Arab journalists call out 'orientalist, racist' double standards on Ukraine coverage
Arab journalists have called out the 'racist, orientalist' news coverage on the war in Ukraine, which they've accused of Eurocentric bias and ignoring the reality of conflict for many in the Middle East and North Africa.
4 min read
28 February, 2022
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) called on news organisations 'to be mindful of implicit and explicit bias' in their coverage of Ukraine [source: Getty]

Arab journalists have condemned the "orientalist and racist" coverage by western media of the war in Ukraine, which saw comparisons drawn with conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) published a statement on Sunday citing multiple examples of "racist news coverage" from renowned news outlets, including CBS, The Telegraph and Al Jazeera, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The organisation slammed Western journalists, such as CBS correspondent Charlie D’Agata, who emphasised the "civility" and "Europeanness" of Ukrainians, compared to survivors of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, whom he implied were "used to wars".

"This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalists of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America," AMEJA said.

"It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected."

D’Agata said on US TV last week that Ukraine "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, one where you wouldn't expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen".

The correspondent later apologised for his comments. He said his intention was to communicate the fact Ukraine had not seen war on this scale for many years, according to Huffington Post. 

British newspaper The Telegraph was also accused of "racist" coverage after it published a comment piece by Daniel Hannan which started: "They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking."

The New Arab contacted The Telegraph about allegations of bias but did not receive any response by the time of publication.

On France's 24-hour news channel BFM TV, journalist Philippe Corbe suggested the conflict was more shocking because: "We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we're talking about Europeans." 

The New Arab reached out to BFM TV, but received no response. 

Al Jazeera anchor Peter Dobbie was also called out for saying Ukrainian refugees "look like any European family that you would live next door to" - not refugees "looking to get away" from the Middle East. 

Al Jazeera PR on Twitter later apologised for the "unfair comparisons" made between the war in Ukraine and MENA. 

Another news organisation criticised for racist, Eurocentric coverage on social media was the BBC, which featured Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze saying he was emotional because he sees Ukrainians with "blond hair and blue eyes" being killed. 

Ros Atkins, who conducted the interview, then took to Twitter to admit Sakvarelidze's comments about race should have been "picked up" during the broadcast.

He said: "I hope, if you're a regular BBC viewer, you can tell that I always try my best to do fair and rigorous interviews. In this case, though, I missed a question that needed to be asked. Thanks to those of you who picked me up on it. You were quite right to." 

Moving forward, AMEJA has urged newsrooms to "train correspondents on the cultural and political nuances of regions they’re reporting on, and not rely on American- or Eurocentric biases".

Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK Campaign Manager, told The New Arab: "An unfortunate aspect of the Ukraine crisis has been the ignorant and, at times, inhumane responses from some commentators regarding people fleeing armed conflict.

"Everybody forced to leave their home in search of safety, wherever they are from, deserves solidarity, support, and respect."

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, pushing close to the capital Kyiv and bombarding the capital. Tens of thousands of people have since been displaced. 

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