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Story Publication logo January 31, 2013

Mali's 'War Without Images.' Peter Chilson on Al Jazeera English


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Europeans drew Africa’s borders long ago. Today these lines are often deserted and sometimes...

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Al Jazeera English's program "Listening Post" examines why journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to cover the story in Mali. It features an interview with Pulitzer Center grantee Peter Chilson.

From the Listening Post program listing:

By now the images are familiar. Military airplanes from a rich industrial nation taking off to bomb an insurgency. Irregular fighters with AK-47s riding pickup trucks. Foreign journalists standing in front of the national monument telling you the latest. Turn on the news coverage of the Mali conflict and you would be forgiven for thinking you have seen all this before.

War in the media has become generic and some of the problems are practical. How do you report on a war in the remote northeast when you are stuck in a hotel in Bamako, hundreds of miles away in the southwest? Embedding with friendly forces and reporting from the capital can keep you far from the action and even further from the truth. Some say Mali has been a "war without images," and if that is because the French government want the story told their way then journalists have a problem.

But the responsibility of reporters is more than just being in the right place at the right time. There is no such thing as observation without interpretation and words like "Islamist," "atrocity" and – especially – "terrorist" are easy to say but not so easy to define. When journalists slip into the standard narratives there is plenty that does not fit in he picture.

Our News Divide this week picks apart the media coverage of the Mali conflict with the author and expert on the Western Sahel, Peter Chilson; Nii Akuetteh of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute; James Creedon, who has been reporting from Mali for France 24; and political analyst Imad Mesdoua.


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