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10 Oct, 2009 05:16

Eyes wide shut – Western media over S. Ossetian war

An EU commission report may have pointed the finger at Georgia for causing the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, but there is anger in Russia that some media in the West are not listening.

Reporting at the time of the fighting was quick to blame Moscow, and there are concerns that this viewpoint is not changing despite the evidence.

A picture in a Financial Times news item was one of those that caused confusion. It showed armed men in camouflage gear running in front of a burning building. The caption underneath claimed those were Russian troops in the Georgian town of Gori.

However, upon closer examination, the men in uniform, in fact, had armbands with a Georgian flag.

A blunder by a respectable newspaper? Alexey Kuzmin of the National Prospects Foundation does not think so:

“There was a brainwashing for quite a while [in the Western media]… ‘Georgian soldiers in Georgia? Impossible!’”

Back then, in August 2008, similar errors were common in the media. When the fighting was in full flight, the Georgian town of Gori was in the spotlight of a scandal.

CNN reported the Russian air force was shelling the town and showed pictures of death and destruction.

RT cameraman Alexander Zhukov was surprised to see that the footage which the US network used was in fact pictures a piece he had filmed in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinval after a Georgian attack:

“I didn’t feel like my colleagues inside the war zone were lying to each other or to the viewers. But when I saw pictures, which I shot when Tskhinval was bombed and which channel CNN posed as if Russia had bombed the Georgian city of Gori, I knew that was a lie.”

Burning houses, mass casualties, and a destroyed civilian marketplace – those were the words the Western media used to describe the Gori bombing story.

On the very same day, RT reporter Paula Slier went there and saw that the town had been left untouched and was living a peaceful life.

“While it’s likely we’ll never know exactly what happened here in Gori, one thing is certain: the city is not destroyed, nor even close to it,” she reported back then.

A year passed since the conflict, after which an EU commission officially declared: it was Georgia who fired first.

The picture slip-up in the Financial Times happened on the day when the EU made their findings public. The image was on the newspaper’s website for 10 days, before it was removed. However, some believe that even a year on from the conflict, it will not be the last time the media make such an “error”.