25July2017

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Mass Media Siege: Comparing Coverage Of Mosul and Aleppo

When Russian and Syrian forces were bombarding 'rebel'-held East Aleppo last year, newspapers and television screens were full of anguished reporting about the plight of civilians killed, injured, trapped, traumatised or desperately fleeing. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, both Official Enemies, were denounced and demonised, in accordance with the usual propaganda script. One piece in the Evening Standard described Assad as a 'monster' and a Boris Johnson column in the Telegraph referred to both Putin and Assad as 'the Devil'.

As the respected veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn put it:

'The partisan reporting of the siege of East Aleppo presented it as a battle between good and evil: The Lord of the Rings, with Assad and Putin as Saruman and Sauron.'

This, he said, was 'the nadir of Western media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Syria.' Media reporting focused laser-like on 'Last calls (or messages or tweets) from Aleppo'. There were heart-breaking accounts of families, children, elderly people, all caught up in dreadful conditions that could be pinned on the 'brutal' Assad and his 'regime'; endless photographs depicting grief and suffering that tore at one's psyche.

By contrast, there was little of this evident in media coverage as the Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of around one million, was being pulverised by the US-led 'coalition' from 2015; particularly since the massive assault launched last October to 'liberate' the city from ISIS, with 'victory' declared a few days ago. Most pointedly, western media coverage has not, of course, demonised the US for inflicting mass death and suffering.

As Cockburn pointed out, there were 'many similarities between the sieges of Mosul and East Aleppo, but they were reported very differently'.

He explained:

'When civilians are killed or their houses destroyed during the US-led bombardment of Mosul, it is Islamic State that is said to be responsible for their deaths: they were being deployed as human shields. When Russia or Syria targets buildings in East Aleppo, Russia or Syria is blamed: the rebels have nothing to do with it.'

For example:

'Heartrending images from East Aleppo showing dead, wounded and shellshocked children were broadcast around the world. But when, on 12 January, a video was posted online showing people searching for bodies in the ruins of a building in Mosul that appeared to have been destroyed by a US-led coalition airstrike, no Western television station carried the pictures.'

Cockburn summarised:

'In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. [...] Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad's forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee.'

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