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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Blogging the conflict in Lebanon
By Steve Metcalf
BBC Monitoring

Surfing the net in an internet cafe
Blogging has added a new dimension to war reporting
The Iraq war of 2003 may have produced one of the first celebrity bloggers about a conflict, in the form of Salam Pax.

He was, however, one of very few people in a position to provide news and comment from Baghdad.

But the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon has spawned a host of weblogs, many of them in English.

They offer a variety of diary-style reportage, eye-witness accounts and photographs, and intense scrutiny and analysis of the coverage of events by traditional media.

Not only can bloggers respond and interact almost instantaneously, they can also use digital photographs, provide clips from TV reports, link to podcasts and make use of satellite mapping imagery.

Doctored photograph

One notable victim of their scrutiny has been Reuters news agency. On 7 August it announced that it had withdrawn from its database all 920 pictures supplied by a freelance Lebanese photographer.

An investigation by Reuters found that he had used computer software to doctor a photograph of the aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Beirut. The picture had been published on news websites two days earlier and had quickly been challenged by a number of bloggers.

According to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, the US-based LittleGreenFootballs.com was the first blog to pick up on the issue. Its website put up a number of animated analyses of the photo, showing that plumes of smoke had been enhanced and images of buildings duplicated.

Reuters acknowledgment of its error came a week after it and two other agencies, AP and AFP, came under attack for their coverage of the air raid in Qana, in which a number of Lebanese civilians died in a collapsed building.

Media under fire

A number of pro-Israel blogs alleged that agency photographs of the recovery of bodies, mainly children, from the bombed building had been staged, under Hezbollah direction. This prompted the Associated Press to issue a report in which representatives of all three organisations strongly rejected these accusations.

However, the fact that the death toll from the attack was later revised down to 28 from over 50 did nothing to allay the suspicions in some quarters that the media were biased and susceptible to manipulation.

The CNN reporter Nic Robinson drew the ire of some bloggers for a report he filed about an area of southern Beirut that had been hit by Israeli missiles on 18 July. Pro-Israel bloggers accused him of providing a critical forum for anti-Israel propaganda.

Different interpretations

Some days later, on 23 July, Robinson was interviewed on the "Reliable Sources" show on CNN and admitted that his tour of the area had been supervised by a Hezbollah "press official" and that the organisation had a "very, very sophisticated and slick" media operation. But he pointed out that it would have been impossible to visit the area at all without Hezbollah compliance.

Even when there is no dispute about the authenticity of a photograph, it can be subject to differing interpretations. After Israeli bombing of a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut, a Lebanese blogger posted satellite images of the suburb before and after the raid, which clearly showed the extent of the damage to buildings in that area.

Israeli bloggers responded by putting up satellite photos of a larger area of Beirut. Although bomb damage could be seen, they pointed out that it only affected a small percentage of the total surface area of the city.

First-hand accounts

There are many bloggers, both Israeli and Lebanese, writing from abroad, particularly the United States. But there are also many writing from the war zone itself.

In Israel, blogs such as Live from an Israeli Bunker and An Unsealed Room often contain very brief posts reporting events such as warning sirens going off, sons and daughters being called up by the military. People are blogging from all over the country, right up to the Lebanese border.

By contrast bloggers in Lebanon appear to be mainly based in Beirut, and occasionally hampered by communications outages. Their postings are often accompanied by photographs - of damage to bridges and other infrastructure, of anti-war demonstrations around the world.

It may have been Lebanese bloggers that first drew attention to one of the lesser known consequences of the fighting. Israeli air raids on a power station south of Beirut between 13 and 15 July resulted in thousands of tonnes of oil escaping into the Mediterranean.

A posting by one of the contributors to LebaneseBloggers on 21 July showed a picture of oil washed up on a city beach. But the author was not sure of the source of the spill.

Two days later more pictures were taken by the author of Beirut Update and this posting attracted comment from a number of other bloggers.

On 25 July BloggingBeirut.com was reporting an "environmental disaster" along the coastline. On 27 July a Reuters dispatch said the slick had reached 80km (50 miles) up the coast and could contain up to 30,000 tonnes of oil.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.






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