Showing posts with label news media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label news media. Show all posts

November 6, 2014

Editorial Essay: “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”

By Lynda Albertson

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” 

--attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche in a million places, but as the experts will tell you, it's not true.

I open this blog post with this pseudo quote from Nietzsche because it makes both my point and captures my feelings when I open a newspaper or turn to the Web for updates on conflict antiquities. In the rush to publish about atrocities to cultural heritage during war, some media outlets, possibly too eager to report the news first, do not take the time to verify facts, defaulting to simplistic headlines. This may be born out of a need to assuage their readership in a highly competitive and financially stretched market. Journalists are often pressured to churn out reports too quickly. But it times of conflict, this can be a deadly mistake. We don't need sensationalism or propaganda.  We need truth in journalism.

Yesterday I came across CNN’s Style page's photomontage of what it called “The greatest buildings you'll never see: 19 priceless monuments lost in battle”.  This photo report can be found under the slightly misleading URL descriptor "precious-monuments-lost-in-middle-east-conflicts".

I selected this article not because it is any worse than any other article being published by other news organization but because it had so many short "facts" that the average Joe citizen might assume as truth.  

My problem with many of the images and their accompanying descriptive texts in this, and other similarly-styled cultural heritage news reports, is that they represent information that is not wholly accurate or worse, for the sake of brevity, leave out important key components -- details that with a little more patience on the part of the green-lighting editors could have easily changed this from a  sensationalistic read-and-move-on piece into one that gives the reader more knowledge. Many people have a desire to know what nations in conflict zones are up against when wars are fought where the world's cultural heritage is at risk.

If harried journalists would consult experts, or at least take the time to data-mine the Web for collaborating imagery, we might have more knowledge about what is and isn't happening. I shouldn't have to read a news article and ask myself "did this really happen?".  Maybe in the case of conflict antiquities and heritage issues during war, we all should be reminded that that is, in fact, exactly what we should be saying to ourselves.

With the help of many, here is a bit more comprehensive information on the 19 images reported in the CNN article.  Feel free to write to me via ARCA's Facebook feed or my Twitter account if any of you have corrections or additional information to report.  I am not an expert on the Middle East so if there's something that needs tightening up, let me know. 

Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

CNN:

"Once the largest mosque in the world, built in the 9th century on the Tigris River north of Baghdad. The mosque is famous for the Malwiya Tower, a 52-meter minaret with spiraling ramps for worshipers to climb. Among Iraq's most important sites, it even featured on banknotes. The site was bombed in 2005, in an insurgent attack on a NATO position, destroying the top of the minaret and surrounding walls."
The Malwiya Minaret is perhaps the most famous and intriguing piece of architecture in Iraq but it was not destroyed. The pinnacle of the minaret was damaged during the explosion which rained debris on the minaret's ramp but overall the minaret sustained limited damage.  What the article doesn’t mention is that US troops used the summit of the heritage site as a sniper's vantage post from September 2004 until March 2005, only vacating the monument when ordered to do so by Iraqi antiquities officials. Insurgents bombed the minaret one month later. Military forces have also rethought their policies on using high heritage structures for vantage points.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

CNN:

"The Buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan - The most spectacular legacy of Buddhism in the war-torn country, among the tallest standing Buddhas in the world -- the larger at 53 meters, the other 35 -- had survived over 1,500 years since being carved out of sandstone. The Taliban considered the monuments idolatrous and destroyed them with dynamite."

Bamyan? Bamian? or Bamiyan?  CNN's fact checkers chose to go with "Bamyan" as the spelling for the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan.   In terms of accuracy I think it may have been better for the news agencies to refer to the site by the name utilized by UNESCO when describing the cultural Landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley.  Also the Buddhas popularly referred to as the "Solsol" and the "Shahmama" aren't buildings as the opening headline for the photomontage describes.  They are in fact monuments so lets give this one a pass as the descriptive content is otherwise accurate.

The ancient city of Bosra, Syria

CNN:

"Continually inhabited for 2,500 years, and became the capital of the Romans' Arabian empire. The centerpiece is a magnificent Roman theater dating back to the second century that survived intact until the current conflict. Archaeologists have revealed the site is now severely damaged from mortar shelling."

While the town located in Southern Syria's Da’ara governorate itself has sustained significant war damage, including mortar impacts near the ancient Roman theater, the theater itself appears to be ok. Satellite imagery analyzed for an April 2014 report conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force, the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) showed that there are no visible signs of damage aside from an earthen ramp constructed over a staircase located at the theater's Eastern entrance.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo, Syria

CNN:

"A world heritage site originally built in 715 by the Umayyad dynasty, ranking it among the oldest mosques in the world. The epic structure evolved through successive eras, gaining its famous minaret in the late 11th century. This was reduced to rubble in the Syrian civil war in 2013, along with serious damage to the walls and courtyard, which historians have described as the worst ever damage to Syrian heritage."

By "this" we can assume CNN meant the minaret and not the entire site.  Images of the mosque's courtyard have been widely circulated in the press.  Heritage for Peace gives a breakdown of the reported damages as "Minaret destroyed, al-Warka library burned, damage to the shrine of Zachariah, extensive damage to courtyard and some galleries".   While significant, I wouldn't say that one site realistically reflects the worse damage to Syrian heritage. 

Norias of Hama, Syria

CNN:


"These 20-meter wide water wheels were first documented in the 5th century, representing an ingenious early irrigation system. Seventeen of the wooden norias (a machine for lifting water into an aqueduct) survived to present day and became Hama's primary tourist attraction, noted for their groaning sounds as they turned. Heritage experts documented several wheels being burned by fighters in 2014."

Information from Hama indicates that one of the 17 Norias has been damaged, the Noria-Ga’bariyya, which had been previously rehabilitated in 2010 by Hama’s Archeological Authority.  According to the DGAM the restored modern wood wheel was heavily damaged at the top, but the original stone base remains intact. The full report is available in English here, and more completely in Arabic here.

Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

CNN:

"The fortress spans at least four millennia, from the days of Alexander the Great, through Roman, Mongol, and Ottoman rule. The site has barely changed since the 16th century and is one of Syria's most popular World Heritage sites. The citadel has been used as an army base in recent fighting and several of its historic buildings have been destroyed."
 
While a missile attack on August 11, 2012 damaged the citadel’s massive gate and destroyed the iron doors I found no collaborating information that its historic buildings inside -- the Ayyubid palace (built in 1230 and destroyed by the Mongols in 1400), two mosques, a hammam and a rebuilt Mamluk -- have suffered damages.

However, according to the AAAS report, significant damage has occurred south of Aleppo's citadel, the location of many historical government buildings. Structures near the citadel such as the city's Khusriwiye Mosque were demolished and the Grand Serail - the former seat of the Aleppo governor -- was heavily damaged.  In addition, the dome of the 15th Century Hammam Yalbougha an-Nasry was destroyed.

Aleppo Souk, Syria

CNN:

"The covered markets in the Old City are a famous trade center for the region's finest produce, with dedicated sub-souks for fabrics, food, or accessories. The tunnels became the scene of fierce fighting and many of the oldest are now damaged beyond recognition, which Unesco has described as a tragedy."

Aleppo’s sprawling Souq al-Madina, as the souks of Old Aleppo are known collectively, is purported to be the largest covered souq in the world.  It also hasn't gotten a break in this conflict. 


Thanks to a German posting in Wikipedia I have included their photo of a model that shows how substantial the Aleppo souq  which may help explain why knowing the exact number of losses is hard to estimate from the safe confines of our respective computers.  The labyrinthine souks stretches for eight kilometers an the number of quoted shops it held varies enormously and I have seen  numbers as high as 1550.  If anyone has any concrete data, I am happy to list it here as well as evidence of how much of the combined souqs have been damaged.


Deir Ez-zor bridge, Syria

CNN:

“This French-built suspension bridge was a popular pedestrian crossing and vantage point for its views of the Euphrates River. It became a key supply line in a battle for the city, and collapsed under shelling. Deir Ez-zor's Siyasiyeh Bridge was also destroyed.”

Again, not a building but it could be considered a monument.  Facts check out. In September 2014 Syria's state-run television said government forces were responsible for blowing up the al-Siyasiyeh Bridge over the Euphrates river.

Nimrud, Iraq

CNN

“The ancient Assyrian city around Nineveh Province, Iraq was home to countless treasures of the empire, including statues, monuments and jewels. Following the 2003 invasion the site has been devastated by looting, with many of the stolen pieces finding homes in museums abroad.”

To quote Dr. Donna Yates, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow's Trafficking Culture “Iraq's 'Nimrud Treasure', 613 pieces that made Tut's tomb, look like Walmart”, survived '03 looting in a bank vault.

While some objects originating from Nimrod (Kalhu) went missing from the Iraqi capital during the first conflict, we haven't much cultural heritage trafficking information from the actual zone itself. While the area is famous for depicting reliefs purported to show the first documented handshake in human history, recent clashes with ISIS in Nineveh left the Police Director of Nimrud and his son dead.

Despite media reports that looters have used chain saws to carve reliefs depicting scenes from daily life from the walls of the palace and selling pieces on the black market neither Paul Barford in his article "UNESCO on What is happening at Nimrud" or others seem to have come across photographic evidence to support those claims.  That’s not to say many important museums around the world don't have substantial collection pieces from Nimrud taken over a hundred years ago as well as pieces looted before the NATO invasion.  Science magazine also did some sleuthing reporting on the sale of trafficked Nineveh (Nimrud?) fragments in 2001.

Crac des Chevaliers, Syria

CNN

“The Crusader castle from the 11th century survived centuries of battles and natural disasters, becoming a World Heritage site in 2006 along with the adjacent castle of Qal'at Salah El-Din. The walls were severely damaged by regime airstrikes and artillery in 2013, and rebels took positions within it.”

Crac des Chevaliers castle, shows ”moderate structural damage" and the AAAS report describes  damage to a 6 meter gash in its southeast tower and three visible craters to the northern part of the castle.

Jonah's Tomb, Iraq

CNN

“It was entirely blown up by ISIS militants in 2014 as part of their campaign against perceived apostasy.”

This one is confirmed via  Dr. Sam Hardy’s detailed reporting on this the event as the confirmation of and destruction to the Shrine of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus were unfolding. If you are interested in conflict archaeology, I recommend following Hardy's academic website Conflict Antiquities.   If he posts something as fact, it's been checked and crossed checked.



In July 2014 Hardy reported that "it still was not clear how much damage has been done to Jonah’s Mound (Nebi Younis), the archaeological remains on top of which Jonah’s Tomb and the Mosque of Jonah were built." 

Khaled Ibn Walid Mosque, Syria

CNN

“The sacred mausoleum has been completely destroyed, and much of the interiors burned.”


Thanks to Heritage for Peace for pointing me to video footage of the mosque posted by the Association for the protection of Syrian archaeology. It shows that the Khaled Ibn Walid has been significantly damaged but doesn't reflect seem to reflect total destruction.

Northern Roman Necropolis, Palmyra


Palmyra, Syria

CNN

“It is feared that Palmyra has now been devastated by looting.”


How does "it is feared"  equate to the photo-montage's header of buildings or monuments lost in battle?  How about talking about the fact that the Northern Roman Necropolis in Palmyra has been damaged by road construction and the many earthen berms built to provide cover for opposing forces?

Armenian genocide museum, Syria

CNN

“The complex was destroyed by ISIS in 2014.”


Portions of the structure, although receiving damage remain.  A breakdown of the events leading to the damage can be found on the Conflict Antiquities website here.

Cyrene, Libya

CNN

“in the wake of Libya's revolution, vast tracts have been bulldozed including its unique necropolis complex.”

Many would argue that Libya isn’t in the Middle East but I will leave the politics of geography aside given Libya's ongoing conflict and cultural significance.  I have to say though that the photo chosen is misleadingly dramatic in terms of visuals even if the historic significance of the actual site damage can be seen here on the Archaeology News Network.   CNN would have done better to use The Art Newspaper's approach which specified that a mile-long section of the necropolis was flattened "in the hope of selling 500 sq. m parcels to real estate developers."


Museum of Islamic Art, Egypt

CNN

“Shortly after re-opening, a car bomb targeting a nearby police building caused catastrophic damage and forced the museum to close again.”

I wish news sites and even people like myself would try to avoid using unquantifiable terms like “catastrophic” or "significant" or "substantial" and simply list actual damages like UNESCO has in this report on the MIA’s hit.  It would give credit to the reader’s ability to discern for themselves what is or isn’t “catastrophic” though in this case, I agree.

Quaid e Azam residency, Pakistan

CNN

“The residency was attacked with rocket fire by a separatist group in 2013, and almost completely demolished. A new structure is being built on the site.”

The photomontage doesn’t make clear that the “new structure” is a rebuilt version of the Ziarat residency, restored to its original form under the directives of Pakistan's prime minister and the chief minister Balochistan at the cost of Rs 150 million.

Al- Omari Mosque, Gaza

CNN

“The walls, dome and roof were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes during the recent fighting in Gaza”

Some walls and roofing still standing as these photos attest though significant damage was sustained. 

'Old Beirut', Lebanon

CNN

“officials say just 400 of 1200 protected historic buildings remain.”


Thought this was a good image slide to conclude on.  By the time the Ta’if Accords were signed more than 150,000 Lebanese had died and 1 million individuals had been displaced or had fled the country.

In August 2014 the United Nations reported a chilling figure in the Syrian conflict listing 191,369 men, women and children reported as killed between March 2011 and the end of April 2014.  

Accuracy in journalism is important.  Monuments and cultural heritage and objects from our past are important, but people are the most important.

December 5, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013 - ,, 1 comment

"The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media's Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" authored by Josh and Adie Nelson in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Josh and Adie Nelson authored "The Crime That Pays? The Canadian Print Media’s Construction of Art Fraud, 1978-2012" in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. From the abstract:
This article examines the Canadian print media’s construction of art fraud from January 1978 until December 2012. Our content analysis of N=386 articles reveals that art fraud was portrayed as a low-risk crime that pays and as a “victimless” crime. In contrast to conventional crime news, which is situated in the front portions of newspapers, articles on art fraud were most often positioned in sections devoted to “entertainment.” The media’s portrayal of art fraud as a phenomenon that was more entertaining than vexatious resonated in its portrayal of offenders as charming rogues and artful dodgers, with the most notorious of offenders depicted as heroes, and in its casting of victims as fools or “legitimate” victims. This peculiar construction would seem to offer considerable inducements for schadenfreude, a revelling in the misfortunes of others.
From the article's introduction:  
Examinations of the “professional imperatives” (Chibnall, 1977: 23) that guide press reporting on crime have repeatedly suggested the folly of supposing that these dicta encourage a faithful rendering of the incidence and dynamics of crime. Thus, in emphasizing that journalists are tasked daily with producing a “certain quantity of what is called ‘news’,” Breed’s (1955) classic study suggested how this role obligation could catalyze a “persistent search in the drab episodes of city life for the romantic and picturesque, its dramatic accounts of victim and crime” (see also crime: e.g., Ericson, Baranek & Chan, 1987, 1989, 1991; Hugill, 2010; Katz, 1987; Peelo, 2006; Rajiva & Batacharya, 2010). While the frenetic quality of this quest may have abated in more recent eras with the rise of “supermarket journalism” (Mawby, 2010a, 2010b; McGovern, 2010) and the concomitant ability of journalists to “simply ‘buy’ their stories off the shelf from the press offices that are responsible for ‘managing the media’ about a particular crime or event” (Wilson, 2011), journalism’s cynical mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads,” continues to resonate both its disdain for coverage of the mundane and prosaic and rapt readiness to endow statistically atypical incidents with especial lustre. As Reiner (2002: 307) observed in his commentary upon the news media’s tendency to position the extraordinary as ordinary, “[f]rom the earliest studies (e.g., Harris 1932) onward, analyses of news reports have found that crimes of violence are featured disproportionately compared to their incidence in official statistics. Indeed, a general finding has been the lack of relationship between patterns and trends in crime news and crime statistics.”
Josh Nelson is a graduate student at the University of Guelph in the department of art history & visual culture and, beginning in September, 2013, a doctoral student in art history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His doctoral research addresses a criminal event that the Canadian print media early and, ostensibly enduringly, dubbed the “Great Canadian art fraud”; it examines the social context in which this highly-publicized incident emerged in media reports of the early 1960s, was weighted with significance, framed as portentous and defined as a “crime against culture.”

Adie Nelson received her PhD at the London School of Economics and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology & Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo. She is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of approximately two dozen books and her writings have appeared in journals such as the British Journal of Sociology, Psychology of Women Quarterly, the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology and the International Review of Victimology.

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška Charney.

Here's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

April 28, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011 - , No comments

Forging News (Part three of four): The News Media's Misrepresentation of the Art Criminal

by Katherine Ogden, ARCA Alum 2009

A Face That Only a Mother Could Love?

When publishing an article on a stolen painting who is the victim? While understanding that there is always victim when it comes to art crime in the form of a museum, a gallery, or an unnamed collector, not to mention the fact that that priceless piece of culture is forever taken away from the general public; there is usually a lack of a face. Should the news media outlets focus on the artist, who is obviously a victim since their piece has been taken? Should the news media focus on the collector(s)? Or should the news media focus on the fact that the world is the victim for the loss of a cultural artifact?

This perplexing situation shows the problem with reporting art crime; a faceless victim represents its target. Perhaps it is because of this that news media outlets have a problem reporting on these stories, they lack the perspective that the media usually thrive upon. In the case of art crime, they are unable to get a picture of the grieving mother asking for her child back from kidnappers, because in this case the owner of the lost work wishes to not be named or photographed to protect not only their identity, but more importantly the rest of their collection. This highlights the fear that most institutions and private owners have - once stolen from they do not want to publicize the theft in order to protect their reputation and the rest of their collection. If a theft occurs it outlines a weak link in that institution’s security, a fact better kept unpublicized. Furthermore, without a face of a victim there lacks the ability to create a gripping dichotomy between a visual representation of the victim and criminal.

The faceless nature of art crime is what leads to its under-representation as a crime. How can you report on art crime if you cannot picture the face of a victim, a criminal or even an investigator? One of the leading art investigators in the world, the now retired United States FBI agent Robert Wittman, credits much of his success in recovery largely on his ability to blend into any situation and assume different personas (Worrall). It is because of this that it is impossible to find a picture of his face (Worrall). By creating this faceless persona while continuing to broadcast the cases of recovery that he has worked on, Agent Wittman is unwittingly assisting news media outlets in creating a view of art crime as fascinating and mysterious.
Charley Hill

On the other hand, one cannot mention Agent Wittman without mentioning his British counterpart, Charley Hill. Prior to his retirement to the private sector, Detective Hill was one of the most successful detectives in the Art and Antiquities unit of Scotland Yard (Cole, Art Detective Charles Hill). The main quality that differentiates Detective Hill from Agent Wittman is that you can easily find pictures of Detective Hill with a quick internet search.

So how does Detective Hill succeed in catching criminals? Through a seemingly endless supply of disguises and accents. It seems as though the faceless nature of the art investigator has the capacity to be both good and bad, but in the case of Detective Hill, good. When criminals are not able to pinpoint the “look” of an art investigator, the investigators are able to transform themselves just enough to garner minimal suspicion. In one well-known case Detective Hill posed as a curator from the Getty Museum in California and brokered a deal for the purchase of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which had been stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo (Cole, Art Detective Charles Hill). The success of this recovery and countless others leads one to believe that perhaps it is best if the face of the art investigator maintains an air of illusion, as it is quite common in all crime reporting to not see the face of the investigator. This should also serve to strengthen the need for public display of the criminals responsible for these crimes, the more the criminals are put in front of the public, the faster the illusion of the sexy criminal will erode.

Sexy Art Crime: Fact or Fiction?

No discussion of the representation of the art crime criminal is complete without a look at an actual art crime criminal. What do art crime criminals look like if they do not look like the representations seen in print, movies and on television shows? Every season there is a new television show that focuses on heists, if art crime criminals aren’t well-dressed, educated, and cultured people then who are they? In order to answer this we could look at a wide range of convicted art crime criminals, we could start with Rose Dugdale the former debutante turned IRA sympathizer who robbed the Russborough House in Ireland, or we could look at Robert Mang, an alarm specialist turned thief who decided that since he could he should steal the Cellini salt cellar from Vienna’s Art History Museum just because he felt like it (TIME, IRELAND: Renegade Debutante)(Pancevski). For the purpose of our discussions we will focus on Myles J. Connor Jr., a media darling in the regional papers around Boston, and a self professed and convicted art crime criminal (Connor). [Read a 2009 article on Rose Dugdale "Tiaras to balaclavas" in The Sun here]

Myles J. Connor, Jr.
The things we need to know about Connor for this discussion are as follows: while only convicted of a handful of robberies, in his autobiography Connor admits to robbing other institutions, though he will not name the institutions nor the items he stole (Connor). He has admitted to shooting a cop, worked with the mob in the Boston area, frequently brought weapons along on heists, was convicted of robbing banks and used artwork to procure his first shipment of drugs that he intended to sell in order to get the piece of artwork back (Connor). Connor freely admits to all the above in his autobiography, and yet he is still not an instantly recognizable bad guy in the face of art crime. Returning to the group of sixteen peers mentioned earlier, they were all shown a photograph of this man, and not one person could identify him. This is why a faceless criminal is detrimental to art crime. In order for art crime to be taken as seriously as it should, the general public needs to understand that convicted felons like Connor are committing the thefts, not fictional photogenic characters. Until this bias can be corrected art crime will continue to be seen as a frivolous crime in the eyes of the general public, the news media, law enforcement, and other industry experts.