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Global Voices: We are listening

Since news broke of Israel's raid on the Gaza aid flotilla, Global Voices (GV) authors have written more than 25 posts highlighting international citizen media reactions to the events. One of these posts, Israel: Flotilla Clashes are a “Serious PR Disaster”, by Israeli Author Gilad Lotan, became the subject of a passionate discussion in the Egyptian twittersphere.

The main points of contention were that the post presents several mainstream Israeli media quotes that mostly defend the raid, and also that the it referenced Israeli government sources, plus an image of knives and clubs released by Israel to support the claim that the military acted in self defense.

The debate took place both internally, on the GV Middle East and North Africa e-mail group, and publicly on Twitter. Internally, we all reaffirmed our commitment to presenting a diversity of voices—including those from Israel—from the region, but there was also disagreement and criticism from team members about the framing of this post. We have decided to summarise and share some the public criticism in this post, as we believe it highlights opinions about Global Voices as well as of media coverage of the conflict in general. We also wanted to respond to the specific accusation that Global Voices is not sufficiently critical of itself.

It all began when Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah sent a tweet with a link to Gilad's post to fellow blogger Sarah Carr:

@alaa: @Sarahcarr look at this and barf http://is.gd/czjpZ

Sarah Carr responded:

@SarahCarr: @alaa But should we expect anything else from GVO? Doesn't it advocate free speech therefore offensive BS like this?

This exchange kicked off a public discussion on Twitter in a mix of Arabic and English. Most of the people involved in the discussion that followed have either met in person or online, and follow each other's Twitter feeds and blogs.

Egyptian blogger Mona (@monasosh) called the post “dirty”. Mohamed El-Gohary (@IRCPresident), a GV Author from Egypt and co-Editor of GV's Arabic translation team, responded:

@ircpresident: @monasosh And since #GVO is about amplifying all voices you should expect this kind of voices since they exist after all.

To which Mona replied:

@monasosh: @ircpresident if u present their argument wtout obvious critisism then u r supporting them. It's as simple as that.

Both El-Gohary (@IRCPresident) and myself, Tarek Amr (@gr33ndata), replied that we didn't think the presentation necessarily reflected a point of view held either by Global Voices or its authors. I also pointed to the special coverage page for the flotilla raid, which listed articles showing a variety of perspectives on the raid.

Egyptian GV contributor Eman Abdel Rahman (@Lastoadri) also responded to critiques from blogger Wael Khalil:

@Lastoadri: @wael However I need to understand deeper y the post is causing anger, so I would properly address the matter to our internal group #GVO

At which point blogger Amr Gharbeia chimed in:

@gharbeia: @Lastoadri The story. Outside the quotes, the story is just rubbish. #GVO

Representing whose voices?

Alaa Abdel Fattah then sent a tweet mocking Global Voices, using a chant commonly used in demonstrations in Egypt.

@alaa: global voices ya gaban ya 3amil el amreekan
@alaa: Global Voices is a coward, an American agent.

Bahraini Amira Al Hussaini (@JustAmira), GV's Middle East and North Africa editor, responded, asking Alaa to be more constructive.

@JustAmira: @alaa excuse me? It's just a bunch of us working – help us by sending links and positive enforcements instead of words like gaban & 3ameel.

Alaa replied that GV's editorial policies should be revised to “censor” Zionist perspectives, as those viewpoints “get enough play in mainstream media.” An exchange then took place between Alaa and Jillian York (@jilliancyork), a member of GV's Middle East and North Africa team based in the United States.

@jilliancyork: @alaa @JustAmira So does that mean ignoring a segment of the blogosphere just because we deem it nasty?

@alaa: @jilliancyork 1 we already ignore large portions of blogosphere so idea is not out of question

@jilliancyork: @alaa Absolutely. But is one bias more wrong than another?

@alaa: @jilliancyork yes totally. Being biased in support of steve biko good biased in support of apartheid bad

@alaa: @jilliancyork IMO GV is not critical enough of it's own, what I read regularly feels strongly biased by authors’ own views & soc network

Alaa's assertion that GV “ignores”—or fails to cover—segments of the blogosphere is fair, but that's also because it's humanly impossible to read or link to every blog post that merits highlighting. Alaa's point here is that, as long as we are going – either intentionally or without intention – to be limited to a part of the of the overall blogosphere, we then should chose to stand with certain causes that we believe are good, or what he likes to call “Good Bias”. We ourselves prefer to rather figure out how to shed the light on the uncovered parts of the blogosphere. Personal bias is also something we work strenuously to avoid, by requesting ideas and feedback from our fellow team members and often on public fora like Twitter, and also by offering the public a mechanism through which to suggest content they believe we should be pointing to. Perhaps we don't do either of these things well enough, but we're certainly trying.

And as to whether GV is sufficiently critical of itself: that's a difficult thing to gauge from the outside, but an organization with a mission like ours would do well to take critiques like the one lodged by Alaa seriously.

Internally, the members of the Middle East and North Africa team certainly don't mince words, especially on matters of editorial policy. A few Global Voices contributors also went public with their critiques of the article in question, voicing on Twitter their discomfort with the higher than usual number of links to mainstream media quotes in the controversial article and with the use of an official photo whose authenticity had been called into question.

Eman Abdel Rahman (@Lastoadri), a GV contributor from Egypt, felt the use of mainstream media links was inappropriate in the context of a Global Voices post:

@Lastoadri: @jilliancyork @alaa @justamira me too. I didn't like quoting [Tzipi] Livini or newspaper articles in the post. Thats not “voices not heard in media”

In spite of her own reservations, Eman (@Lastoadri) tried to reason with Egyptian blogger Amr Gharbeia (@gharbeia), who thought the quality of the post was not acceptable, and was disappointed to see it featured on both the Israel and Palestine pages of Global Voices. Amr also thought the photo displayed at the top of the homepage showed poor judgment.

@Lastoadri: @gharbeia 1) because both Israel & Palestine mentioned in the post. But the title has “Israel” to hint its Israeli voice. #GVO

Eman went into the technicalities of GV's regional categorizations, and  explained that as there was only one picture in the post that was the one that appeared by default on the front page.

@gharbeia: @Lastoadri Yes, the scary-looking knives. Exactly my point :)

@gharbeia: @Lastoadri I am just aware of the role GVO has been playing, and this one is way out of what GVO does. It is clear government propaganda

But Gilad Lotan (@gilgul), the author of the article, stood by his decision to quote from mainstream media and official sources, even as Egyptian bloggers Amr Gharbeia and Wael Khalil warned that GV ran the risk of being seen as a vehicle for corporate and government propaganda. As Wael said:

@wael: @ircpresident should we allow governments and corporations using #GVO as a PR channel, imagine if BP used it in the same way

Here's Gilad's take on the matter:

@gilgul: @gr33ndata I quoted MSM, especially op-eds as a summary of the Israeli stance. The video and images were being heavily passed on by Israelis [online]

@gilgul: @gr33ndata covering content and reactions from blogs/twitter now. Check out later posts.

Gilad went on to argue that the official perspective of the Israeli Defence Forces is not so distinct from the average Israeli citizen's, and therefore necessary to the story:

@gilgul: @gr33ndata the IDF is an inseparable part of Israeli society. Everyone served, their brothers, sisters, parents and friends cc/@alaa @wael

We've tried here to gather some of the criticism and opinions about this coverage. Yet our aim was not only to discuss the post in question and how the flotilla raid was covered. Global Voices, in keeping with our mission of “shining light on places and people other media often ignore,” are as eager to listen as we are to talk. We care deeply about your opinions of our overall coverage and work. Perhaps we've opened a Pandora's Box by writing this post, but please help keep the discussion alive. We look forward to hearing from you!

4 comments

  • Thanks ya Tarek, for this piece. I’m leaving this comment only to clarify my feelings, publicly, since I think my tweets in this post appear somewhat out of context.

    I was not, in fact, in support of this particular post on Israel, because it used government propaganda and mainstream sources. In those tweets, I was defending Global Voices’ coverage of Israeli blogger viewpoints in general, even those many of us strongly disagree with, because I feel that to understand any situation, it’s important to hear from citizens (and in this case, citizen media) on all sides. That’s why I felt it was important to defend Gilad’s coverage (which I typically think is great) of the Israeli blogosphere…but I was not defending his use of government and mainstream media sources, as you can see from other tweets.

  • Thank you for this post, for taking us “behind the scenes” and summarizing the strong debate. From my (outside) perspective, it is good to know that people are so engaged.

  • Thanks for this post, Tarek. I think this is part of what “transparency” is all about. This is a very important (and should be an ongoing) conversation.

  • I know I might be repeating myself, but it is inevitable.

    I can see how you put great effort in representing everyone’s point of view, trying to be “politically correct” and avoiding confrontations. This is where I see the problem.

    I don’t believe that there is such a thing as being “neutral” and “unbiased” in humanitarian issues.
    If we for example took the recent incident of murder of Khaled Said, which GVO covered, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/06/10/egypt-khaled-said-an-emergency-murder-by-an-emergency-law/ You wouldn’t find any problem in collectively agreeing in GVO on how this should be tackled. You wouldn’t find any of you presenting the perspective of the police of how he “has a record” or he “deals with drugs” as an excuse for beating him up to death without criticism. But since we are dealing with “Israel” here , then ofcourse we’ll start throwing out words like ” neutral” and “bias” and “Help all voices to be heard”.

    When the issue is violation of basic human rights, being “unbiased” is being in accord with the violator.

    And for the sake of argument, even when you claim that the post doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s point of view, you only have to read the title in which he calls it “Israel: Flotilla CLASHES are a “Serious PR Disaster”, and this paragraph to understand how untrue this statement is:

    “Many posts paint the following image: “IDF soldiers descend on activist aid boat killing 9 and wounding many.” While these words are nominally true, the statement is overly simplified and lacking context. In the following post I hope to provide context and highlight a diverse set of perspectives from Israeli local media and the Hebrew blogsphere. I hope that you will learn that the outcomes are certainly not black and white; that a day like this actually tears Israeli society apart.”

    The other minor point of concern – which you referred to- is how he quoted mainstream media because “the official perspective of the Israeli Defence Forces is not so distinct from the average Israeli citizen’s” I am sure if that was the case then it wouldn’t have been that hard for him to quote Israeli bloggers who reflect the same thought !!!!

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