Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Marwa. Mainstream Media Fail? AGAIN?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...Image by luc legay via Flickr

Egyptian Marwa El Sherbiny lived in Germany with her husband. Subjected to verbal abuse by a Russian man, Alex M, because she wore a veil, Marwa eventually took legal action against him. She was in the courthouse in Dresden when the man walked across the room and stabbed her 18 times with a knife he had brought into the coutroom. She died in the attack.

Marwa was pregnant.

Her husband rushed to help her, but he was shot by a policemen who apparently mistook him for the attacker. Having spent three days in a coma, he is currently in intensive care.

The man who stabbed Marwa is to be charged with murder. Early reports on Bild apparently said that the charge would be one of manslaughter. Interestingly, the vast majority of reader comments on the Bild website were horrified at the crime and how the man could have been allowed into the courtroom carrying a weapon.

The Guardian, finally, tells the story here. The incident took place on Wednesday last week and I picked it up when colleague Mai tweeted the news. Her first tweet on it came on Thursday (sparked by a tweet she had received linking to a report on Egyptian blog Bikya Masr) and was part of a growing tide of horrified Tweets from around the world reporting the incident. The horror expressed was both at the crime and at the way mainstream media appeared to be largely ignoring the incident - outside local German media such as Bild, which carried a report on its website the day the attack took place - there were no files from the major European newspapers and nothing from news agencies, either. Reuters, in fact, didn't file until Sunday 5th July, when it deigned to release a picture story caption showing protestors holding placards that said things like 'Our blood is red too, not cheaper than yours'.

As Bikya Masr points out quite correctly, European media coverage didn't break until almost a week after, when mainstream outlets started to report the protests in Egypt that took place. Those protests, as The Guardian points out, were fuelled at least in part by the way that the European media was seen to have ignored the killing. The Guardian's story, its first, was filed yesterday.

So, once again, we have news that travelled around Twitter, Facebook and blogs, the social media I talk so much about, but that was not considered newsworthy by the newspapers and TV channels that form 'mainstream media'.

At a time when the debate in Europe over women wearing the veil has been refreshed and brought into sharp relief by comments such as those made by Nicola Sarkozy, you'd be forgiven for thinking that a horrific murder committed IN a courtroom against a pregnant woman because she was veiled would be 'newsworthy' - the many people around the world who picked up the story from social media sources certainly thought so.

Now, a week later, we are seeing coverage of the protests - those comforting images of screaming zealots in the streets chanting for revenge that help people in Europe to 'understand' the Middle East.

The real question is why we didn't get to see that a gentle woman was killed in cold blood last week, when it happened. It took Twitter and blogs to tell us about that.


Anonymous said...

Errr...Gulf News reported it many days ago.

Anonymous said...

Errr... The Gulf is not in Europe

Eman Hussein said...

Gulf News reported it TWO days ago for the first time and did a follow up story yesterday 7th July. That's not MANY days ago MR. Anon 11:05!!!

Anonymous said...

I guess I agree in general with you Alexandre, they found it not newsworthy for sure. disappointing, at least it could have been reported as a cold blood case.

Dubai Jazz said...

but…. but Alex, we put Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the story. what more did you expect?!

Brn said...

In the media's defense, this story really did have very little to do with Michael Jackson's death.

Unknown said...

LoL@ Brn's comment!

Bit of a valid point there though - we're too busy being fed the gloriously silly and predictable spectacle of Michael Jackson's death to think about much else.

On the other hand, Europeans have long had a habit of dodging public discussion of the racism, violence and intolerance towards foreigners and minorities in their own societies.

Either way, yes, internets FTW!

Absolutely shocking story as well...happening in a courtroom no less. Imagine the same thing happened to an 'expat' couple in Dubai and how quick 7DAYS would pick it up ;)

amazingsusan said...

On the other hand:
(via @rupertbu)Western media critized for using Neda...

Not that I disagree with you Alex, as you know. Just providing some of the balance for which you rightly call ;)

Christopher Allbritton said...

Now wait a minute. You're taking umbrage that a local story was covered locally and wasn't swarmed by European press until it wasn't local anymore -- when protests in Egypt went down?

That actually sounds about right to me. Local stories get covered in local papers. And as gruesome as it was, a woman murdered in a bizarre fashion isn't by definition regional or international news.

And then people started tweeting and blogging. That's fine. People talk. But just because people are talking about it doesn't make it news. If that were the case, #notagoodlook and Michael Jackson should rightly be leading the news agenda. (At least according to twitter trending topics as of this writing.) Let me repeat: Just because something is on twitter doesn't make it news. If that were so, all we reporters would do would be to report minor earthquakes. (Another odd twitter obsession.)

Then some Egyptian protests go down and the international media take notice. Again, that sounds about right to me. Why should English papers or international wire services take note of a tragic German murder? When it has larger implications -- like, say, protests in another country -- that's when the internationals would naturally take notice.

It's called news judgment and believe it or not, it's a skill and not something that should just be farmed out to the wisdom of the crowd. (See my point about Michael Jackson's popularity on twitter.)

So I like your blog, Alex, but I think there was no "MSM" failure on this one. It's just that the story wasn't initially big enough for the internationals. When it was, they covered it.

I would note that when a missing white girl in the US -- again something I would consider a local story -- gets blown out of proportion on CNN, the "MSM" also get a bad rap.

Brn said...


Those are some good points. But in (a serious, this time) defense of Twitterers, I would say that an awful lot of the Michael Jackson tweets that I have seen have been complaining about and/or mocking the excessive coverage, so I'm not sure that you can use that to say absolutely that this is what people want to hear about.

As to this being a local story, I'm not sure that is absolutely true. Not every murder is a local story - I presume that you think that the recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington wasn't just a local story. Doesn't this story seem somewhat analogous to that one?

Christopher Allbritton said...

Brn: The sad fact is that people -- even pregnant women -- are murdered every day. In tragic and bizarre ways, And what constitutes a local story vs international story is, well, international interest and international impact. When her death had an impact outside of Germany, it was covered appropriately. When it didn't, it was confined to the local papers, as weird murders are every day.

But -- and here's an interesting one -- the protests were organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that seems to have a lock on being professionally and perpetually aggrieved at any perceived slight from the West.

"The Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal Islamist party within Egypt, controls one-fifth of the Parliament on a platform of social welfare and anti-Western sentiment. It led the protest in front of the German Embassy this week."

Do note the professionally printed signs that were likely handed out to protestors after they arrived.

These weren't spontaneous demonstrations. They were a media event, designed to attract media attention.

And most people seem to be falling for the idea expressed by this "protestor": "'What would Germany do if it had been a German woman?' yelled one man at the German Embassy protest."

Well, I imagine "the Germans" would prosecute the guy for murder, which is exactly what they're doing.

Look, this is a tragic story that's gotten much bigger than it should have been because savvy people with their own anti-Western agenda know how to work a protest. And the twitterers and the people who blast the media for "not doing their job" are falling for it.

All that said, I've been around the blogosphere and twitterverse long enough to know I'll change no one's mind.

Brn said...

And on a possibly related note:

Far-Right extremists 'are plotting spectacular terrorist attack in UK', police warn

Alexander said...

Christopher, I do think you're seeing the hole and not the doughnut in at least one respect: while you may not cause a Road to Damascus change in opinion, your arguments provoke thought, contemplation of another aspect of the story and have every possibility of moderating the opinions of others. So I wouldn't give up just yet.

One thing that I do think 'traditional' news views misses is that we all belong to a newly globalised world, with a globalised conscience (yes, I know that sounds sappy) that doesn't actually think it's being served by 'this is local and we'll decide that so don't worry your pretty heads'. We can now GO to the news we WANT to see, tipped off by pals all around the world. The fact that we're doing so is a worry for any editor that sets 'old' boundaries.

The outpouring of emotion at the Marwa story at Spot On, the team is predominantly Arab, was not organised by the Muslim Brotherhood. I am also sure that reactions among the large Arab-origin populations of Australia, Canada, California and West Africa would have been significant. I think the story was of global significance, if only for that reason - that it has a global audience that cares about it. Putting the Arabs to one side, I have fond that reactions to this story internationally have been horror and compassion. So it touches people. Which is what news does, no?

Brn's point about old Mike is quite a good one - the media was wiping away tears, most people I talked to on Twitter, Facebook and email over that period were mildly revolted by the whole charade and had gone off to find something else to do - online!

loolt said...

i still want to know what was going through the court security personnels heads, that they wait 30 seconds to act and then only to shoot the husband?

Anonymous said...

Christopher is right. Even if Michael Jackson hadn't died last month, there simply aren't enough hours in the day for one racist act to receive media coverage like that. It became an international story once the outrage pushed it to the next level.

Unknown said...

Is this so shocking to you that the story was covered days or weeks later? it shouldn't be this is how every thing works when it related to what they refer to as the "enemies". evntually news will come out one way or the other and we recieve the word of mouth 90% correctly but by then the European media would have filtered it to their interest. besides im sure the newspaper reported the incident when it's credibility was threatened not for the sake of the protesters or the cause in general

muslima said...

The question now is the real terrorist? Muslims accused of terrorism. Elsherbini the death of Dr. Marwa by Alex German answer to this question

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