An important life lesson has taught me is to revisit old practices when new situations arise. For professionals who strive for fairness, what is “ethical” is not always as clear as a “yes” or “no.”
Nuance, circumstance, context, and all sides of the story must be taken into consideration before one can decide which term to use in a given story. Examples of such words that conjure up strong controversial images are: “terrorist,” “occupation,” “incursion,” “invasion,” “democracy,” “coup,” “uprising,” “Intifada” and “insurgent.”
What may sound like an easy qualification is, and rightly so, a topic of debate and consensus in a news organization or think-tank, especially in non-affiliated ones. In controversial situations, sometimes it boils down to one word that defines the outlet’s stance.
To support the Muslim Brotherhood under the pretext it was democratically elected is a good example of open-mindedness and inclusivity gone wrong.Octavia Nasr
“Let the other person speak,” a media ethics ombudsmen used to say. In other words, as long as you state that the other person denies, disagrees or challenges the position you’re reporting on, you are covered.
But, what if the other person offends, uses hate language or expresses an opinion different from the ombudsman’s agenda or what is accepted in the culture you live in? Do you shun “the other?” There are media and groups that operate on the assumption that no opposing views exist. Some people accept this premise and don’t challenge it as long as their agenda is served.
Today, we see some western think-tanks and various human rights groups blindly defending what they believe is the right of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to return to power because they were democratically elected. In a perfect world, I would have no problem joining that chorus. On the surface the statement sounds logical and makes perfect sense to someone who thrives to bring all sides of an issue to light, but to the discriminating mind, the simple imagery belies the complex truth.
The Muslim Brotherhood was democratically elected but their governance was not democratic. Egyptians revolted against them as they did against the dictator before them and brought them down in the same way. The military took advantage of the demonstrators to push its own agenda. If you look at Egypt with any of those facts missing, you’ve crossed the line from liberalism to advocacy.
To support the Muslim Brotherhood under the pretext it was democratically elected is a good example of open-mindedness and inclusivity gone wrong. It is wrong to insist on using words that conjure up images of undemocratic practices while refusing to listen to any side but your own. It is this new trend of worldwide stubbornness that is leading us to walls and not to exits.
This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on Oct. 8, 2013.
Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.