People all over the world are glued to their television screens or frantically checking mobile phones for news updates as the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now in its sixth day, is Europe’s largest conflict since World War II. The world has been shocked, with civilians sympathizing with Ukrainians who are either hiding in bunkers or have fled the country.
However, correspondents of several prominent media outlets are contextualizing conflict, describing it as more “civilized” than other conflict in the MENA region.
Amid the conflict’s minute-by-minute coverage, some have pointed out racist undertones in the media’s coverage of the humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The racist reporting was first noticed when CBS correspondent Charlie D’Agata compared the situation in “civilised” Ukraine to “uncivilised” countries such as those in the Middle East.
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades … this is a relatively civilised, relatively European … a city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that (war) to happen,” he had said.
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) condemned and rejected the “orientalist and racist implications that any population or country is ‘uncivilized’ or bears economic factors that make it worthy of conflict,” said in a statement.
Such commentary “reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world,” as it “dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected,” it added.
Following the outrage on social media regarding D’Agata’s remarks, a Twitter user named Alan MacLeod compiled a list of more such instances where journalists dabbled into racism while reporting on the plight of Ukrainian citizens.
In another case, Al Jazeera anchor Peter Dobbie said that images of Ukrainians fleeing the war were “compelling” because of how they were dressed. Calling them “prosperous middle-class people”, he said they were different from refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East and North Africa.
Multimedia journalist Ahmer Khan shared a screenshot of an article in The Telegraph in which author Daniel Hannan wrote, “They seem like us. This is what makes it so shocking.”
Meanwhile, BFM TV’s Philippe Corbe described the Ukraine situation as: “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”
Associated Press News Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kathy Gannon, responded directly to the CBS correspondent’s remarks, pointing out that “Iraq is quite literally the cradle of civilisation and Afghanistan was invaded first by the Soviet Union and later by the US-led coalition”.
“It doesn’t make it any less deeply offensive to preface it with ‘all due respect.”
The BBC hosted Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze.
“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets,” Sakvarelidze said.
The BBC presenter responded: “I understand and of course respect the emotion.”
Following the outrage on social media, CBS reporter D’Agata apologised. In a video shared by CBS News on Twitter, the reporter said he wanted to clarify his remarks.
“I spoke in a way that I regret and for that I am sorry. What I’d hoped to convey is that what’s unique about the fighting underway here is that this country’s not really seen the scale of war in recent years unlike some countries that have tragically suffered through years of fighting.
“You should never compare conflicts anyway … I used a poor choice of words and I apologise for any offence I may have caused.”
Al Jazeera apologised as well saying its presenter had made “unfair comparisons”. Terming them “insensitive and irresponsible”, the organisation apologised to its audience and assured that the “breach of professionalism is being dealt with”.