In a world where, we are told, the West has a free press and everyone else prints government-controlled propaganda, it is interesting to examine how the media has covered the Viva Palestina convoy story. As has been explained on the pages of Middle East Monitor in the last couple of days, the convoy has all the ingredients of a good story, especially for this time of year: a besieged people waiting desperately for relief; a villain of the piece (in this case, two villains); and hundreds of people giving up their Christmas holidays – time normally spent with their families – to try to help. Oh, and a war anniversary thrown in for good measure. The Western, free, press has largely ignored the story for reasons unknown but guessed: it will upset Israel, George Galloway is involved and Egypt – villain number one – is backed by the USA.
Conversely, not only has the press in Turkey (generally classified as a ruling party supporter) covered the convoy, other newspapers from the opposition, notably of the Republican People’s Party, did as well. Turkish participation in the convoy, not unnaturally, had something to do with the fact that thousands rushed to offer their support, and the media covered the event, including Mr. Galloway’s press conference with Bulent Yildirim, the chair of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation (IHH).
The story has continued to run, especially in the wake of the Egyptian refusal to allow the convoy to enter the country, leaving it stranded on the quayside in Jordan. The government in Ankara has requested the Egyptians to allow the convoy to enter, with little success. Discussions have taken place in the Egyptian Consulate in Aqaba, and with the Embassy in Ankara.
It goes without saying that the Turkish press interest was in line with the government’s, as well as the Turkish people’s, support for the convoy. More than fifty vehicles provided by Turkey joined those coming from Britain, France, Italy and the United States; well-known Turkish individuals are also travelling with the convoy.
There is no doubt that this interest by the Turkish media reflects the change of the official government position towards Israel after its aggression against Gaza a year ago. Turkey has become one of the most vocal supporters of the Palestinian people after the war, which brought hundreds of thousands of Turks on to the streets in protests across the country.
Many of the Arab newspapers have reported on the convoy since it left from London at the beginning of December. There are around one hundred Arab activists with Viva Palestina, mainly from Europe and the United States, as well as a few who joined in Syria and Jordan.
There have been clear differences in the stance taken by the Arab press; those newspapers close to their respective governments generally supported the Egyptians’ position. Those supporting the opposition declared Egypt to be collaborating with the Israelis and betraying the Palestinians. Official newspapers in Jordan and Saudi Arabia stayed neutral; Syrian newspapers were critical of Egypt’s decision.
What has been seen, therefore, is the political situation regarding support for the Palestinians – strong, weak or indifferent – played out by the media, reflecting government positions. And the same is true, it could be said, of the way that the Western media – “free”, remember – by ignoring the story reflects Western governments’ ambivalence towards the plight of the Palestinians; showing general concern but perhaps paying a little too much lip-service because that concern is not reflected by official attitudes towards Israel. In that sense, the oft-criticised “controlled” media in Turkey and the Arab world has in the coverage of Viva Palestina demonstrated much more freedom than the media in the West.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.