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Feb. 25 2010 - 8:55 am | 96 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Israel takes a dig at foreign correspondents, long after Washington Post invented yak herds at a Bhutanese traffic island

 photo courtesy: www.fotopedia.com/en/Yak

photo courtesy: www.fotopedia.com/en/Yak

Foreign correspondents, from American or European networks, love to paint the Middle East as pockets of oil-mongering sheikhs, or war-addicted governments. To counter such stereotyping, the government of Israel, using the satirical videos in the state-sponsored website www.masbirim.co.il,  is on an image building exercise.

The site mocks foreign journalists who try heavily to add a dose of exoticness to every story.

One of the clips in the video shows a barbecue in Israel.

“A bouncy Spanish TV reporter in riding breeches informs her audience: “Most Israeli homes don’t have electricity or gas, so they use ancient cooking methods, like meat roasted on charcoal”.

Sampling a kebab, she purrs: “Mmm. Primitive but delicious.”

The website is the work of the revamped Ministry of Hasbara, a Hebrew word meaning explanation or publicity.

“Are you fed up with how we are being presented in the world?” asks a voice after each clip. Israel is misunderstood, it says. But volunteers can help correct that by being image ambassadors, countering anti-Israel prejudice.

“Like any other campaign, this is a grotesque satire, and every citizen understands that it’s only satire,” said Hasbara Minister Yuli Edelstein: Reuters reports.

When the chance for the reader or the audience to reach the spot of the story for fact checking is really remote, the imagination of the correspondent – to use the rude translation of an Indian metaphor- spreads its peacock feathers. Let me narrate an old story from Bhutan. Washington Post Correspondent Emily Wax, who had written amazing stories from Africa, was in Bhutan to cover the first democratic elections in early 2008. With her penchant to go into tiny colorful details in the story, this article using the new-old, ancient-modern, happy-sad, then-was-good-now-is-worrying formula slips in a tiny dose of imagination.

“Thimphu is the only capital in the world without a traffic light; instead, a white-gloved traffic officer directs cars, pedestrians and yak herds. The city had a zoo, but freed the animals, saying it wasn’t in the Buddhist spirit to cage the national mammal, the takin, which has the head of a goat and the body of a moose.”: she writes.

I agree to everything she has written, except that a white-gloved traffic officer directs cars. I work by the traffic light she mentions, but I have never seen yak herds waiting for traffic signals. Yes, there are yaks in Bhutan, people eat yak meat, and they do roam freely in higher altitudes, but they do not create traffic jams in the Thimphu valley.

If it was dogs,I would have agreed. They bask in the winter sun on the highway and are sometimes too stubborn to get up from the way, whether its a truck or an SUV honking.

But yaks are sexier than dogs!

ps: I love Emily Wax’s stories


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  1. collapse expand

    This is SO TRUE. People who are established writers get away with this kind of thing. Thank God for people like you to correct it!

    • collapse expand

      It happens when the reader and the subject of the story is too far. A sort of continuation of colonial narratives by orientalists in the previous centuries.
      The reader invests her trust on the writer and its the ethical duty not to break that trust. In many ways this is happening in the local thought sphere too. When the Thimphu-based write about remote pockets, its too much embellished.
      In fact the image portrayed of the ever-smiling, innocent Bhutanese is also a similar local construct.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    It all started by dropping newspapers at doorsteps on chilly mornings riding a bicycle that broke down often.

    Newspaper-years later, now I ride a two-decade old motorbike to office and spend late nights banging my head over subject-verb agreement and perfect headlines.

    The bicycle owner was a school-going teenager from a below-the-sea-level village in southern India. The motorbike owner works in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between giants, India and China.

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