Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The power of words.

Excellent news from Gaza that BBC journalist Alan Johnston has been released unharmed.

A news clip on radio about it once again raised something that I'm endlessly fascinated by. The way words and phrases are used to put a completely different meaning on the same thing by people with different agendas. And the power of the words to create perceptions in the mind of the listener or reader.

The phrase used was that Alan was 'surrounded by Hamas gunmen'.

Hamas won the democratic election, declared fair and valid by international observers. Yet their people are 'gunmen'.

Had they been Fatah people they would almost certainly have been described as 'security personnel'. Had they been westerners in Iraq they would have been described as 'civilian contractors'.

That last one is a new phrase too - such people have always been called 'mercenaries'. They do exactly the same work but the new phrase removes any suggestion of guns & violence. It makes them sound like plumbers or carpenters, not the heavily-armed private armies that they are.

Israel says it has 'settlers' living in 'settlements' in the occupied territories. Very benign, soft, harmless. Others say they are 'colonists' living in 'colonies'. They're talking about the same thing but the perception the words put in the mind of the reader is very different.

We no longer have 'civilian casualties' - that phrase says innocent people are being killed. Innocent people are indeed being killed, but that's hidden in the new phrase 'collateral damage'. No death and destruction, no bereaved families there then. Just a bit of damage around the edges.

Troops are no longer killed by their own allies, we now have 'friendly fire incidents'. They're still killed by their own colleagues, the result is the same but it's made to sound so much more harmless.

What annoys me about it all is that the media either falls for it without thinking or, much more likely, is complicit in the misrepresentation to push its own political agenda.

The more the truth is obscured by the words, the more our problems will increase.

However sordid it is, we need the truth so that we can form sensible, honest opinions.


Anonymous said...

Even more interesting is the use of language by Johnston himself about how the kidnappers became more agitated in the past week.

"The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation - until a couple of weeks ago when it became clear that Hamas would be in charge of the security situation on their own here, and after that the kidnappers were much more nervous."

Is it just me, or is Johnston implying that the kidnappers may have been in cahoots with Fatah?

Seabee said...

I don't see 'cahoots with Fatah' in his statement, but it certainly says that the kidnappers believed Hamas was more in control of law & order in Gaza and more interested in his release than Fatah was.

Alexander said...

Freedom fighter, insurgent, resistance member, guerilla, militant, terrorist...

You're right. Hamas gunmen, paraded by Hamas... at the end of the day, even though not a big fan club member, I do wonder at why they're quite so demonised, unquestioningly, by our media.