Ukraine invasion: Arab journalists call out double standards on media coverage

Arab journalists have condemned the “orientalist and racist” coverage by western media of the Russian assaults in Ukraine, which saw comparisons drawn with conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) published a statement on Sunday citing multiple examples of “racist news coverage” from renowned news outlets, including CBS, The Telegraph, and Al Jazeera.

A CBS correspondent Charlie D’Agata, who emphasised the “civility” and “Europeanness” of Ukrainians, compared to survivors of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, whom he implied were “used to wars,” the body alleged.

D’Agata said on US TV last week that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European…city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen”.

“It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected,” Arab journalists said.

According to Huffington Post, the correspondent D’Agata later apologised for his comments. He said his intention was to communicate the fact Ukraine had not seen war on this scale for many years.

British newspaper The Telegraph was also accused of “racist” coverage after it published a comment piece by Daniel Hannan which started: “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking.”

On France’s 24-hour news channel BFM TV, journalist Philippe Corbe suggested the Ukraine-Russia conflict was more shocking because: “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans.”

Another news organisation criticised for racist, Eurocentric coverage on social media was the BBC, which featured Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze saying he was emotional because he sees Ukrainians with “blond hair and blue eyes” being killed. 

Al Jazeera anchor Peter Dobbie was also called out by Arab journalists for saying Ukrainian refugees “look like any European family that you would live next door to” – not refugees “looking to get away” from the Middle East.

Al Jazeera PR on Twitter later apologised for the “unfair comparisons” made between the war in Ukraine and MENA.

AMEJA has urged newsrooms to “train correspondents on the cultural and political nuances of regions they’re reporting on, and not rely on American- or Eurocentric biases”.