The vital role played by the media in covering the events of war has effectively turned it from being a means of spreading information to an effectual wartime weapon. A recent report by the news sector at Egyptian national TV reminds us that the first time the world realised the crucial role played by media was during the Vietnam War in the 1960s; it is sometimes claimed that America lost the war not on the battleground but on TV.
The recent war in Gaza is the latest example of the efficient exploitation of the media as a war machine. As armed clashes took place between Israel and Hamas, another war was being waged in the media—especially on satellite channels—where each side tried to throw the blame on the other, and where a pro-Iranian axis was formed that attacked Egypt and accused it of treachery against the Palestinians.
Supporters of Hamas and its allies in Iran, Syria and some Arab countries waged a media war against Egypt, while Egyptian TV defended Egypt’s stance. As to the Egyptian press, the victim count dominated the news in most papers, while news on humanitarian relief was assigned secondary significance.
Hamas realised there was a wide gap between its humble weapons and the massive military arsenal of Israel. It had no option but to heavily exploit its “civilian victim” card to mobilise public opinion—especially Western public opinion—against Israel.
As Gaza was being bombed and Hamas leaders were in hiding, Ismail Haniya, head of Hamas, declared, “We are willing to be martyred even if Gaza falls into ruin.” Using civilians as human shields became a war necessity for Hamas; the only way to gain international sympathy seemed to be through portraying the human tragedy of Gaza in the media.
Hamas, however, appeared to have miscalculated, since many viewers inside and outside the Arab World blamed them for involving innocent, unarmed civilians in the war. And despite sympathy with Gaza victims, the western media described Hamas as a terrorist “fundamental extremist” group.
Israel, on the other side, hindered the task of journalists in Gaza, and bombed the buildings of media and press offices. Israeli TV justified the large number of casualties by the use of civilians as human shields practised by Hamas, and that Israel was being obliged to defend its security on account of Hamas’s rockets.
Only one fact remains uncontested, however, and that is the disclosure of the wide rift between the nations of the Arab world.