Is Middle East News Biased?

By Paul Cochrane

Media coverage of the Middle East has been accused of simplifying conflicts, and relying on stereotypes to explain complex wars.

"This has been a long-standing problem, not just in the Middle East but when powerful states and their academics or their researchers or their journalists or their politicians for that matter don't have actual, or really much direct, contact with the various countries or peoples around the world that their policies are effecting," said Nick Noe, founder of MidEast Wire.

"It's a particular problem in the Middle East because the Middle East has arguably seen a disproportionate amount of armed conflicts," Mr Noe said.

"It's clear that - one - there is a lot of intellectual production that's being generated by think tanks and academics and others about the Middle East and much of that is not informed by people who have spent a substantial amount of time in the countries for which they are writing," he said.

"[There’s a] focus on conflict in particular, and the exaggeration of tribal politics when it comes to dynamics," said Mark Daou, from the American University of Beirut.

Many countries in the Middle East, such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iran, have also cracked down on press freedom and the flow of information.

"It's always been a problem, but it's become more and more true as we see more and more authoritarianism creep back into the Middle East and North Africa," Mr Noe said.

"So you end up seeing the same exact reports being done which mainly enforce established thoughts or ideas or political lines by those in power," Mr Daou said.

"The deeper dimensions - those related to the economy, those related to culture, or even to religious debates are always kept out of the sphere of analysis in those reports, because of the difficulty of getting proper information and vetting it."

What could help better reporting in the region?

1. Covering more than one side of the conflict

"Too often we've seen one side portrayed in a story without having 'the other side' or even a third side given voice," Mr Noe said.

Mr Noe runs exchanges on conflicts in Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, where journalists and academics can learn from local groups and leaders. Participants hear from all sides of a conflict, even from rebel groups.

"I think it helps to better inform, at the very least, better inform the debate and discussion from abroad about what's happening here in Lebanon, and the Middle East and North Africa in general," Mr Noe said.

"And really more opportunity to listen to, and then question, the political interlocutors that people are writing about in DC, or in London, or in Paris, or in Montreal or wherever it may be," he said.

2. Financial support for independent media

"This kind of commitment of financial resources, diplomatic and security support for people that are trying to right freely about some of the problems of their own countries is crucial," Mr Noe said.

3. Hiring local journalists

"There needs to be - especially from Western media outlets - a greater emphasis on recruiting, training, and developing talented people from within these societies themselves," Mr Noe said.