Sunday, October 08, 2006

Blogger Zeyad A.: Western Media Missing Human Perspective in Iraq

Blogger Zeyad A.: Western Media Missing Human Perspective in Iraq: "By David S. Hirschman

Published: October 07, 2006 3:00 PM ET

The celebrated blog Healing Iraq has chronicled daily life in Baghdad since October of 2003,

Speaking at the Online News Association's annual convention in Washington, Iraqi dentist-turned-blogger Zeyad A. called local blogs a "main source of information" in Iraq, and said that Western media coverage was becoming more and more limited by increasing violence. He said Saturday that the Western media is missing a human perspective in its coverage of his country, and suggested reporters focus less on the government and more on what is being written on blogs by ordinary Iraqis."

"Over the last year [the Western Media have not been] covering how bad it is," he said. "Most of the coverage revolves around attacks against American forces. ... They're missing the sectarian violence that is going on in the country. It's extrememly difficult for the Western media to get those stories because they have to be in the [local] neighborhoods." He said that most Western reporters are "locked up" in certain parts of Baghdad, only able to file stories generated by local stringers (much as New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins described in a recent E&P story).

Western reporters put a disproportionate focus on "irrelevant" news about the Iraqi government. "[The government] doesn't control anything," he said. "It doesn't even control the Green Zone."

Zeyad said the media reports should try to put more focus on the Iraqi people, and, in particular, on the stories they share on blogs and other online forums.

"You get a great insight," he said, referring to blog entries from an 18-year-old Iraqi girl who describes her daily routine of passing through checkpoints simply to get to school.

"You can put a face on it."

Zeyad a Baghdad native, began blogging in 2003 -- for a mostly Western audience -- to give the kind of on-the-ground perspective missing in Western news reports. He collected information from family and friends, read as many local blogs as he could, wrote about demonstrations and events in his neighborhood, take and posted both pictures and commentary.

"I thought I could spare an hour every day and write about what was going on," he said. "[The blog medium] was very appropriate. It's immediate, you can write about things as they happen, you can post photos immediately, and there's no editing."

The early blog entries were, mostly, positive, about his hopes for democracy in Iraq, and, he developed a following of people who shared his views. Until Zeyad wrote about the death of his cousin, caught by American troops violating curfew, who drowned after being pushed into a river by the troops. One soldier received prison time for his part in the incident. The story was picked up by media around the world.

The more critical of the U.S. Zeyad turned in his posts, the more he became the object of criticism. "I realized that some people were supporting me just because I was telling them what they wanted to hear. When I started saying something different, I lost some of that support."

While blogging in Iraq, Zeyad was fearful for his life, and carefully reviewed his posts to make sure he wasn't revealing too much about himself or where he was. A synopsis of Zeyad's blogging is found at the Web site Hearing Zeyad..

About the current situation in Baghdad, Zeyad describes violence both random and fierce, mortar shells shot each night by Sunnis and Shiites into one another's neighborhoods, young people with machine guns spraying bullets in the street. Small gangs kidnap and murder people from rival neighborhoods.

Asked if he called the situation in his country a "civil war," he pointed to what he had described and said the answer depended on whether those conditions could be called a "civil war."

"I think that's a civil war," he said. "I don't know why the media does not use that word."

Zeyad is currently living in New York, where he is studying at the City University of New York's recently founded graduate school of journalism. He said he hopes to develop his reporting and editing skills so that he can later go back to his country (or to Jordan) and teach others.

con·cept: Blogger Zeyad A.: Western Media Missing Human Perspective in Iraq