Writing with a national perspective


I recently read a CNN article on the preliminary session of the Syrian peace talks, in which a peculiar event took place — Iran was invited to the conference and then dis-invited by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

The reporters went on to say that ‘Western leaders believe Iran has provided military and intelligence support to Syrian government forces,’ and that fighters from Iran-backed militia have fought on the side of the Syrian government. When I first read this, who actually dis-invited Iran was unclear to me, as was the reason that the event occurred. The succession of the reporters’ choices implies that the reason Iran did not attend/was dis-invited was for military reasons.

The reality of the situation was that the UN gave Iran an ultimatum: that Iran could attend the peace conferences on the side of the UN (against the Syrian government) or they could not attend. Iran chose not to stand against Syria, and did not attend. This was information available to my International Studies teacher but not to the reporters at the time, and they used Western leaders’ opinions as their next step in explaining the information.

Does this represent a nationalistic explanation of international events?

I think so. This nationalism, I believe, comes out naturally and is almost inescapable. The only way one could report this in an absolutely unbiased way would be to provide the audience with a transcript of the talks and let them come to their own conclusions. People generally want a summary — and all summaries are written from the view of the reporter. Most people with an interest in world news still do not want an intensive reading representing a complex and dizzying array of international relations.

That being said, the fact that our tendency towards nationalism is expressed with militaristic assumptions can be dangerous in the world of reporting—and in our own lives. To assume militaristic reasons behind anything because of a lack of information might be rationally considering all possibilities—or it might be demonization of other countries or other parts of the world that we don’t understand.

I believe that the fault lies not particularly in presenting this one personal conclusion (of many possible conclusions) but in leaving out that they could not find a definite reason to present to the audience or that it was only one conclusion of many. Had the reporters mentioned the lack of information, I (and other readers) would be less inclined to confidently believe that militaristic support was the key to figuring out what was happening.

After reading the article, that piece of information stood out most to me — and then, the next day I learned what I confidently took away from the article was wrong. Iran was not particularly hiding something military and that was not why they were dis-invited. The slightest difference in presentation of information makes a big difference.

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