March 1, 2022
ISLAMABAD – As the world’s attention is fixed on Ukraine following the Russian invasion, people all across the globe are glued to their television screens or frantically checking mobile phones for news updates.
Amid the minute-by-minute coverage of the conflict, some have pointed out racist undertones in the media reporting of the humanitarian crisis borne out of Russia’s onslaught into Ukraine.
The racist reporting was first noticed when CBS correspondent Charlie D’Agata compared the situation in “civilised” Ukraine to what he implied were “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 … city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that (war) to happen,” he had said.
Following the outrage on social media regarding D’Agata 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 instance, Al Jazeera anchor Peter Dobbie had said that the images of Ukrainian people fleeing the war were “compelling” because of the way 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.
"What's compelling is looking at them, the way they are dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East…or North Africa. They look like any European family that you'd live next door to." pic.twitter.com/LnopOTaDrA
— Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacLeod) February 27, 2022
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.”
“They seem like us. That is what makes it so shocking #Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts…”
Total crap by @DanielJHannan in the @Telegraph. pic.twitter.com/yw5ZFCZM2I
— Ahmer Khan (@ahmermkhan) February 28, 2022
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.”
“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.”
Just when you thought you’ve seen it all in this world. Beyond belief. pic.twitter.com/8COA7arGP5
— Rayane Moussallem (@RioMoussallem) February 26, 2022
The videos drew widespread condemnation, including from a Ukrainian journalist.
Anastasiia Lapatina, who works for Kyiv Independent, said she was “appalled” at reporters referring to refugees from the Middle East as “uncivilised”.
“Anyone who supports this narrative is a racist bigot and deserves colossal shame,” she said in a series of tweets. “On behalf of Ukrainians and journalists, I am extremely sorry if this hurt you. Persons fleeing war deserve dignity and support regardless of their race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or anything else. Period.”
On behalf of Ukrainians and journalists, I am extremely sorry if this hurt you. Persons fleeing war deserve dignity and support regardless of their race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or anything else. Period.
— Anastasiia Lapatina (@lapatina_) February 27, 2022
NYT Magazine reporter Ida Bae Wells advised journalists to reflect internally, noting that reporters needed to realise their biases so they could report against them.
“And honestly, these admissions of shock that this is happening in a European country are ahistorical and also serve to justify the lack of sympathy for other invasions, other occupations and other refugee crisis involving peoples not considered white,” she added.
And honestly, these admissions of shock that this is happening in a European country are ahistorical and also serve to justify the lack of sympathy for other invasions, other occupations and other refugee crisis involving peoples not considered white.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) February 27, 2022
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’.”
Iraq is quite literally the cradle of civilization and Afghanistan was invaded first by the Soviet Union and later by the U.S.-led coalition. It doesn't make it any less deeply offensive to preface it with 'all due respect'. https://t.co/63TCE3eIYv
— Kathy Gannon (@Kathygannon) February 27, 2022
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association also shared a list of instances when journalists made racist remarks and called on media organisations to be “mindful of their implicit and explicit biases”.
“This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalising tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America. It dehumanises and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected,” the association said in a statement.
The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association just issued a statement regarding the racist coverage of Ukraine that saw dehumanizing, superior, and insulting comparisons to the Middle East. @AMEJA See here + 🧵 https://t.co/S9EeL7ypnI pic.twitter.com/XAokynFoDs
— Laura Albast (@Lau_Bast) February 27, 2022
Columnist Mosharraf Zaidi also shared the CBS correspondent’s remarks, captioning the video: “You think structural racism and bias are Fox News and Trump domain only?”
You think structural racism and bias are Fox News and Trump domain only?
Meet @CBS… pic.twitter.com/eMt4SlAOGg
— Mosharraf Zaidi (@mosharrafzaidi) February 27, 2022
“It is so utterly shameful that white men on television are LITERALLY saying that it is entirely okay to kill uncivilised Iraqis and Afghans because they are not civilised,” commented author and columnist Rafia Zakaria.
It is so utterly shameful that white men on television are LITERALLY saying that it is entirely okay to kill uncivilized Iraqis and Afghans because they are not civilized. Read my substack and see below.https://t.co/CVZ0T59AbP https://t.co/7PIBfjr3LY
— Rafia Zakaria (@rafiazakaria) February 27, 2022
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.”
Charlie D’Agata is on the ground in Ukraine with an update. pic.twitter.com/TdlR7IlR9W
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 26, 2022
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”.
An @AJEnglish 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.
— Al Jazeera PR (@AlJazeera) February 27, 2022