In LAMP workshops on the news, we encourage our students to constantly ask questions about what they see and hear. We want them to think about why a story is being reported, why certain adjectives might be used in describing what happened, what are the facts and how do we know what is true, why certain images are run with the story, and so on. In order to understand the news in any form, it is also key to consider the source. Sources can be biased due to personal experience or for business reasons, and sometimes sources are even paid. However, recent events in Gaza got me thinking about another side–what happens when there is no source?
Media are most usually barred from an event or place for political reasons, as they famously were during the Buddhist monk protests in Myanmar during the summer of 2007. In this situation, news often comes from citizen journalists who somehow manage to break through established barriers. Even then, however, the number of people who can report are limited, as walls are made greater and stronger by officials charged with restricting media and press freedom. A tree falls in a forest, even if no one is there to see it, but the report that follows is vastly different from what can be provided by an eyewitness account. All we have left to look at is the event that already happened, forcing the reporter to act as a detective with only a few solid facts to use. Example: Almost any news story from Guantanamo.
As mentioned earlier, this is happening right now in the Gaza strip, with Israel barring journalists from entering the battleground. The international news is dominated by Gaza, and yet nobody is there to tell us what’s happening. Israel claims that some of this is tactical, as they fear the media would allow Hamas to see too much of their military operations, thus compromising their efforts. There is evidence to back this up, as the media spoiled rescue efforts of the Jewish hostages in the 1972 Munich Olympics, and television has been blamed for assisting terrorists in the recent Mumbai attacks.
Freedom of press relies upon unfettered access. That is without debate. Nobody likes it when someone tells them that they just don’t get the right to know about something, like right now when we don’t get to know about Gaza. The question of whether or not the public needs to know, or has a right to know about everything that happens everywhere in the world, is a slippery one. But, it all comes back to the central point that when watching the news, we have to consider how we know what we know.