MacAskill: Middle East coverage 'pretty appalling'

The Guardian's diplomatic editor has condemned Western media coverage of the Middle East, writes Lou Thomas.

Ewen MacAskill also warned journalists against using the phrase "Arab press" — which he said was too general a term — to describe the region's journalism, speaking at a debate on xenophobia and disinformation in the media at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.

MacAskill said: "I think the Western media's coverage of the Middle East is generally pretty appalling. Our knowledge of what's happening in most Arab countries is very thin, sketchy and completely back to front most of the time.

He added: "A lot of the Western media don't staff the Middle East particularly well. The first thing I do when I arrive in an Arab country is not go to the British embassy or the government press office, but meet the local journalists. They're fantastically well informed about what's going on in their country — with a level of complexity about the politics that we can't even begin to reach."

MacAskill said that one solution was for more Western news organisations to employ Arab journalists.

Times diplomatic editor Richard Beeston raised concerns over misreporting of the death toll after the Israeli air force bombed the Lebanese village of Qana. Original reports claimed 54 died, but it later emerged that the true figure was 26.

Beeston said: "On the plus side, I thought the coverage, particularly in south Lebanon, was very good. We did know in a very timely fashion what was happening on the ground and I think it did accelerate bringing the fighting to an end."

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