As Russia continues to wage war in Ukraine, the Western media's coverage of the crisis has come under fire after some contentious comments imbued with racist undertones were delivered by some journalists, including an anchor from Al Jazeera English.
Al Jazeera English’s news presenter Peter Dobbie has been criticised for making offensive comments about Arabs and North Africans while describing Ukrainians fleeing from the war-torn nation.
“What is compelling is that just looking at them, the way they’re dressed. These are prosperous, middle class people, these are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
The anchor's orientalist suggestion that none of those who fled from war situations in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, or elsewhere were "prosperous, middle class people," and that those from Africa or the Middle East are more believable as refugees than Europeans, has elicited widespread condemnation on social media.
The Qatar-based news outlet issued an apology for the prejudiced remarks, acknowledging that they were "insensitive and irresponsible."
"An Al Jazeera English presenter made unfair comparisons between Ukrainians fleeing the war and refugees from the MENA region. The presenter’s comments were insensitive and irresponsible. We apologize to our audiences worldwide and the breach of professionalism is being dealt with," it said in a statement.
But Dobbie is not alone in his misinformed juxtapositions.
Ukraine Is 'Relatively Civilised,' Says CBS Correspondent
CBS Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata, while reporting from Kyiv a day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 January, expressed, "with all due respect," shock over the situation's semblance to those of "Iraq or Afghanistan."
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades,” he remarked.
Saying that he was compelled to choose his words with care, D'Agata went on to opine that Ukraine was "relatively civilised, relatively European" as compared to other conflict zones.
“This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”CBS Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata
D'Agata's dismay at the Occident's likeness to the Orient, which he presumably considers as 'relatively uncivilised,' betrays his orientalist notions.
A similar propensity to otherise the non-Western world can be found afflicting the words of journalist Daniel Hannan who writes for The Telegraph.
"They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone," he wrote on 26 February.
A reporter on French 24-hour news channel BFM TV articulates the prejudices in the terms more material:
“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.”
The observation carries within it the suggestion that it is axiomatically far more plausible that Syrians, who ostensibly "do not have cars like ours," to suffer the fate that is now being meted out to the evidently more advanced Europeans.
'Dehumanising,' 'Normalises Tragedy': Arab & Middle Eastern Journalists Association Calls Out Racist Coverage
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) has condemned the racist coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.
"AMEJA condemns and categorically rejects orientalist and racist implications that any population or country is “uncivilized” or bears economic factors that make it worthy of conflict. This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected."
Several journalists and academicians, including Cornell scholar Dr Mostafa Minawi and Sun Times reporter Nader Issa, also took to social media to denounce such reportage.