When I began working as a journalist, there was
something called "slow news." We would refer to "slow news days"
when "nothing happened" apart from, that is, triumphs and tragedies
in faraway places where most of humanity lived. These were rarely reported,
or the tragedies were dismissed as acts of nature, regardless of evidence to
the contrary. The news value of whole societies was measured by their relationship
with "us" in the West and their degree of compliance with, or hostility
to, our authority. If they didn't measure up, they were slow news.
Few of these assumptions have changed. To sustain them, millions of people remain
invisible, and expendable. On Sept. 11, 2001, while the world lamented the deaths
of almost 3,000 people in the United States, the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization reported that more than 36,000 children had died from the effects
of extreme poverty. They were very slow news.
Let's take a few recent examples and compare each with the regular news as
seen on the BBC and elsewhere. Keep in mind that Palestinians are chronically
slow news and that Israelis are regular news.
Regular news: Charles Clarke, a spokesman for Tony Blair, "revives the
battle of Downing Street" and calls Gordon Brown "stupid, stupid"
and a "control freak." He disapproves of the way Brown smiles. This
is given saturation coverage.
Slow news: "A genocide is taking place in Gaza," warns Ilan Pappe,
one of Israel's leading historians. "This morning
citizens of Gaza were killed and a whole family wounded. This is the morning
reap; before the end of the day many more will be massacred."
Regular news: Blair visits the West Bank and Lebanon as a "peacemaker"
and a "broker" between the Israeli prime minister and the "moderate"
Palestinian president. Keeping a straight face, he warns against "grandstanding"
and "apportioning blame."
Slow news: When the Israeli army attacked the West Bank in 2002, flattening
homes, killing civilians, and trashing homes and museums, Blair was forewarned
and gave "the green light." He was also warned about the recent Israeli
attack on Gaza and on Lebanon.
Regular news: Blair tells Iran to heed the UN Security Council on "not
going forward with a nuclear program."
Slow news: The Israeli attack on Lebanon was part of a sequence of carefully
planned military operations, of which the next is Iran. U.S. forces are ready
to destroy 10,000 targets. The U.S. and Israel contemplate the use of tactical
nuclear weapons against Iran, even though Iran's nuclear weapons program is
Regular news: "We have been making real progress in areas where the insurgency
has been strongest," says a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
Slow news: The U.S. military has lost all control over al-Anbar province,
west of Baghdad, including the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, which are now in
the hands of the resistance. This means the U.S. has lost control of much of
Regular news: "It is quite clear that real progress has been made [in Afghanistan],"
says the Foreign Office.
Slow news: NATO pilots kill 13 Afghan civilians, including nine children,
during an attack to "provide cover" for British troops based at Musa
Kala in Helmand province.
Regular news: Blair is Labor's most successful prime minister, winning three
landslide election victories in a row.
Slow news: In 1997, Tony Blair won fewer popular votes than John Major's Tories
in 1992. In 2001, Blair won fewer popular votes than Neil Kinnock's Labor in
1992. In 2005, Blair won fewer popular votes than the Tories in 1997. The past
two elections have produced the lowest turnouts since the franchise. Blair has
the support of little over a fifth of the eligible British voting population.
Regular news: In the age of Blair "ideology has surrendered entirely
there are no sacred cows [and] no fossilized limits to the
ground over which the mind might range in search of a better Britain,"
wrote Hugo Young, the Guardian, 1997.
Slow news: "Nuremberg declared that aggressive war is the supreme international
crime. They [Bush and Blair] should be tried along with Saddam Hussein,"
says Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor of Nazi crimes at Nuremberg.