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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Muted Arab reaction to Berg beheading
By Sebastian Usher
BBC's world media reporter

Reaction to the video of the beheading of Nick Berg has been muted and cautious in the Arab media.

Nicholas Berg
Coverage in Arab media was limited

After the horrifying pictures first appeared on an Islamist website on Tuesday, the main Arab satellite TV stations, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, did not follow their Western counterparts by leading with the story overnight.

Both showed short items on the killing, but did not dwell on its consequences. They chose instead to lead with the latest on the situation in Gaza.

On Wednesday, they did show longer items on the killing, but still placed considerably less emphasis on it than the Western media.

Some other Arab satellite stations like the Lebanese-based al-Hayat-LBC did lead with the story early on, but did not run long items on it.

Also in Lebanon, the Hezbollah backed TV station, al-Manar, ran a statement condemning the killing as shameful and ignoble.

None of the major satellite and national channels showed the moment of the beheading - saying that the story was strong enough without those images and it would have been indecent to show them.

Limited coverage

The Arab press followed the pattern of the TV stations in reporting the story but giving it limited coverage in their Wednesday editions.

The beheading was not an eye for an eye - it was a scene for a scene
Al-Safir, Lebanon
The pan-Arab newspaper, al-Sharq al-Awsat ran the beheading as one of its top stories as did al-Quds al-Arabi, but less coverage was given in al-Hayat.

There was a mixed response in the national press in the Arab world. Many newspapers in Lebanon and Kuwait put the story on their front pages with a photo taken from the video. But newspapers in Syria - where the government controls the press - did not run the story at all.

The leading newspaper in Egypt, al-Ahram, had nothing on the beheading on Wednesday, but ran a story on page four with no photo in its Thursday edition. Other pro-government newspapers in Egypt gave the story cursory coverage.

Killers 'not Muslims'

There was little direct comment in editorial or opinion pieces in Wednesday's Arab press on the beheading - partly because the news had broken too late for commentators.

In Thursday's press, the killing was addressed by columnists - although most concentrated on the continuing scandal over American abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the US decision to impose sanctions on Syria.

The editorial in the United Arab Emirates paper, al-Ittihad, said the killers had committed a heinous crime and could not be called Muslims.

Kuwait's al-Ra'y al-Am said those who carried out the beheading were harming their own county, while another Kuwaiti newspaper, al-Qabas, warned that the crimes committed by terrorist organisations in Iraq would be exported to neighbouring countries.

War of images

In its commentary, the well-regarded Lebanese newspaper, al-Safir, said the beheading "was not an eye for an eye. It was a scene for a scene." The paper continued: "Competition has begun between the disgusting pictures from Abu Ghraib prison and the one of Nick Berg's slaughter - just like advertisements marketing various products."

This expands on a point made by several Arab commentators in interviews given since the killing of the young American in which they expressed their concern that it would distract attention from the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers in a war of extreme images.

That may indeed have been the case in the Western media, but not in the Arab world where the focus has remained firmly on the torture scandal and the latest events in Gaza.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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