The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association on Monday described as “racist” certain statements made by Western media on the Ukraine crisis, asking news organisation to be “mindful of implicit and explicit bias” in their coverage of the Russian invasion.

In a statement, the press body cited a few examples of the news coverage that seemed to give more importance to victims of war in Europe to other regions such as the Middle East and Africa.

It quoted CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata saying: “But this [Ukraine] isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

The statement also cited Al Jazeera English anchor Peter Dobbie comparing Ukrainian citizens trying to flee the country with the refugees attempting to leave the Middle East region.

“What’s compelling is, just looking at them, the way they are dressed, these are prosperous... I’m loath to use the expression... middle class people,” Dobbie said. “These are not obviously refugees looking to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa.”

He added that the Ukrainian citizens were “like any European family”.

The press body also cited the example of journalist and advisor to the United Kingdom Board of Trade Daniel Hannan writing for the The Telegraph. In the article, Hannan said that what makes the Ukraine crisis “so shocking” was that its citizens “seem like us”.

“War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations,” he wrote. “It can happen to anyone.”

In its statement, the press body rejected “orientalist and racist implications” that any country was “uncivilised” and has economic factors that make them worthy of conflict.

“This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America,” it said.
“It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected.”

Advising newsrooms not to compare two conflicts, it said that deaths of civilian and their displacement in other places were equally as “abhorrent” as it was happening in Ukraine.

The press body advised newsrooms to train their correspondents on cultural and political nuances of regions they were reporting on and also not rely on “American- or Euro-centric biases”.

“AMEJA stands in full solidarity with all civilians under military assault in any part of the world, and we deplore the difference in news coverage of people in one country versus another. Not only can such coverage decontextualize conflicts, but it contributes to the erasure of populations around the world who continue to experience violent occupation and aggression.”

— The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association

Read today’s developments on the Ukraine crisis here