The Guardian’s diplomatic editor has condemned Western media coverage of the Middle East.
Ewen MacAskill also warned journalists against using the phrase “Arab press” as to broad a term to describe the region’s journalism, speaking at a debate on Xenophobia and disinformation in the media at St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street.
MacAskill said: “I think the Western media’s coverage of the Middle East is generally pretty appalling. Our knowledge of what’s happening in most Arab countries is very thin, sketchy completely back to front most of the time."
He said: “It’s partly because people like me go to the Middle East, we don’t know that much. A lot of the Western media don’t staff the Middle East particularly well.
"The first thing I do when I arrive in an Arab country is not go to the British embassy or the government press office but meet the local journalists. They’re fantastically well informed about what’s going on in their country. If you spend even an hour with a good local journalist with a level of complexity about the politics that we can’t even begin to reach.”
MacAskill said that one solution was for more Western news organisation to employ Arab journalists.
Times diplomatic editor Richard Beeston, raised concerns over miss-reporting of the death toll after the Israeli air force bombed the Lebanese Village of Qana Beeston.
Original reports claimed 54 died, but it later emerged that the true figure was 26.
He added: “On the plus side I thought the coverage, particularly in south Lebanon was very good. We did know in a very timely fashion what was happening on the ground and I think it did accelerate bringing the fighting to an end.
“It’s pretty clear from the Americans and the British that they thought it was giving the Israelis time to smash Hizbollah and delaying the security council solution. It became much, much harder to do that with the images that were relayed around the world.”