Western journalist’s coverage of Ukraine reveals selective humanity
How is the media coverage of the events in Ukraine contributing to the dehumanization of non-white, non-European people?
Five days into the Russian military operation in Ukraine, the United Nations released a report stating that more than 360,000 Ukrainians have already fled the country, with the majority crossing the border into neighboring Poland.
The United States has already imposed sanctions targeting Russian banks, oil refineries, and military exports.
The United Nations held an emergency calling for an immediate Security Council meeting to try and stop the bloodshed and chaos in Ukraine.
Journalists, media experts, politicians, and world leaders have all resorted to social media to express their outrage supporting the war, and their solidarity with Ukraine.
However, many of those figures have been accused of double standards for using their platforms to not only support and encourage Ukraine’s armed resistance to Russian troops, but also to express their shock at how such a conflict could happen to a “civilized” nation.
CBS News senior correspondent in Kiev Charlie D’Agata said on Friday: “This 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 – I have to choose those words carefully, too – a city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen”.
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Many social media users were outraged by his commentary, while others simply claimed that he has verbalized what they knew all along: non-white blood is cheap while white blood is not.
Many pointed out that his comments further contributed to the dehumanization of non-white, non-European people suffering under a conflict within mainstream media.
Al Jazeera English anchor Peter Dobbie stated: “What's compelling is, just looking at them, the way they are dressed, these are prosperous…I’m loath to use the expression… middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees looking to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to”.
He later apologized in a tweet.
On Saturday, the BBC interviewed Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze.
“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets”, Sakvarelidze said.
The BBC presenter responded: “I understand and of course respect the emotion”.
The Telegraph has also published an article by Daniel Hannan, that was immediately shared by thousands of social media users. The lead of his article was seen by many as “so vile, I couldn’t continue reading it”, one social media user tweeted.
“They seem so like us”, Hannan wrote. “That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections, and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone”.
A video of Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian resistance icon standing up to the Israeli army when she was a little girl was falsely circulating on social media as a little Ukrainian girl standing up to Russian soldiers with the caption: “PRAY FOR UKRAINE”.
The video received more than 11.6 million views on Instagram because users thought the girl was Ukrainian, not Palestinian, and that the soldier was Russian, not Israeli.
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Other users expressed their outrage at the wars imposed on their countries by the governments of those journalists who are now calling non-white refugees “uncivilized”.
“When Palestinians, Lebanese, Somalis, and Afghanis resist foreign occupations and invasion, they are labeled as terrorists, but when Ukrainians do it, they’re cheered on by the rest of the world. Selective humanity at its finest”, tweeted Amal Omar.
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) called on “all news organizations to be mindful of implicit and explicit bias in their coverage of the war in Ukraine”.
AMEJA released a report of the examples it tracked of racist news coverage that ascribes more importance to some victims of war over others.
The report concluded by stating that AMEJA stands in full solidarity with all civilians under military assault in any part of the world, but that decontextualizing narratives can erase the stories and the sufferings of entire populations.