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Vital Collective Learning from Biased Media Coverage

Acquiring vigilance to deceptive strategies used in mugging the world (Part #1)

Biased coverage of controversy by news media

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This is an exploration of exposure to media reports on the Israeli military ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, ordered on 17 July 2014 -- only hours after the destruction over Ukraine of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by missile. Both cases have given rise to conflicting, unconfirmed reports by a variety of authorities. Justifications for any interpretation are readily -- even assertively -- offered.

There is a bizarre irony to the fact that the number of deaths by rocket in Palestine (preceding the ground invasion) was of the same order as the death toll of 283 passengers on MH17. With the death of 193 Dutch nationals on MH17, further curiosity is aroused by the court ruling on the preceding day that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslims during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 (Dutch state liable over 300 Srebrenica deaths, BBC News, 16 July 2014). New complications are evident with the defensive arguments presented by Israeli authorities regarding an attack on a UNRWA school in Gaza a week later (Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 15 and leaves 200 wounded, The Guardian, 24 July 2014). And what of the disappearance of AH5017 (Air Algérie AH5017 crash brings week's airliner death toll to 450, The Guardian, 25 July 2014)?

How to engage with such information, especially when the various parties have strong vested interest in sustaining their particular narrative interpretation? Any "facts" are seemingly adjusted in some way to ensure consistency with the preferred version. Each narrative could well be used to justify further action, in support of undeclared agendas, escalating the levels of conflict and loss of life.

Those with a penchant for conspiracy theory will clearly find considerable scope for allocating blame. That is not the purpose here, nor is it the basis for useful learning. In a world increasingly characterized by invasive surveillance, the concern here is with how a higher degree of interpretative vigilance can be elicited in anticipation of future strategic media campaigns.

Of particular relevance to this exploration is the extent of commentary on the biased media coverage of MH17 and the Gaza invasion. Most striking has been the highly disproportionate amount of TV coverage of the former -- in contrast with the relatively limited coverage of the latter. Detailed analyses will no doubt become available for both broadcast and print media by country, by language, and by date. A personal subjective impression is of 90% media time on MH17 and 10% on Gaza -- with proportions changing as a consequence of increasing complaints regarding bias.

Commentators on the process are increasingly framing the coverage as taking the form of information warfare. Selection, presentation and interpretation of "facts" is the most evident feature of this warfare -- as with the time so extensively and variously devoted to the matter. This can be understood as a 21st Century variant of the propaganda associated with major conflicts in the past.

Missing from much media commentary is the well-accepted role of strategic deception and misdirection in anticipation of any form of military action. The relevance is unclear with respect to insurgency in Ukraine or the Israel-Gaza conflict. It could be readily concluded that there was a perceived need to exploit one man-made disaster to divert attention from another.

Use of this pattern had been made strikingly evident in a media scandal at the time of 9/11, engendered by the suggestion of Jo Moore within the government of Tony Blair (Sept 11: 'a good day to bury bad news', The Telegraph, 10 October 2001). Blair became official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East following his resignation as Prime Minister. It is for conspiracy theorists to explore whether MH17 was shot down in a false flag operation as an act of strategic deception as some already contend.

Of far greater interest is how increasing exposure to questionable media coverage is much to be valued as a stimulus to collective learning -- as a process of public education in its own right. It is in this sense that efforts by various parties to manipulate public opinion are much to be welcomed. The more blatant the efforts, the more people will be encouraged to question such coverage and its biases. This can be construed as usefully eliciting insight into more subtle forms of propaganda in a much wider variety of domains -- as with exposure to advertising campaigns.

More sobering is the possibility that some current forms of strategic deception may well be undertaken as exercises in anticipation of use of such news management on the occasion of even more dubious strategic initiatives in the future -- perhaps to be termed "mugging the world". So framed, collective acquisition of vigilance to strategies of distraction is as valuable as with respect to the mugging strategies in street robbery. As the extent of global surveillance disclosures and other internet scams have made evident, there is as much need to become "internet-wise" as "streetwise".

e evident, there is as much need to become "internet-wise" as "streetwise".

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