'Appalling, offensive': Western media draws criticism for racist coverage of Russian invasion of Ukraine

Published February 28, 2022
CBS correspondent Charlie D'Agata (R) talks about the situation in Ukraine. — Screengrab via Twitter
CBS correspondent Charlie D'Agata (R) talks about the situation in Ukraine. — Screengrab via Twitter

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.

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."

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.”

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."

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.

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'."

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.

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?"

"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.

Apologies

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."

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".

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