In over two years of study how media works, I learned a lot. It is really interesting to investigate how news is being distributed. Or how news is not being reported by some media.
While all major Malaysian, Russian and Ukrainian media reported about statements of a Malaysian minister, Western media did not report anything!
As an example to show the flow of news, I use the news which appeared in all major media in Malaysia on November 15 2016. Minister of Transport Tiong Lai Liou stated the suspects of the downing of MH17 will be identified at the latest in 2018. He also said according at least two newspaper there is a group of 100 suspects, all being part of separatists groups. He also said the court case will be in the Netherlands.
Bernama the Malaysian National News Agency, reported about the news here.
Bernama is a statutory body, was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1967 and began operations in May 1968. Most Malaysian newspapers and electronic media and other international news agencies are BERNAMA subscribers.
Interesting news and it would be obvious that Dutch media would pick that up. Dutch media reported about a lot of less interesting news on MH17. Even news that was factual incorrect.
However, nothing happened. How could that be? To start with, the most important newsfeed for Dutch media ANP was not aware of this news. And if ANP does not make an article, the news did not happen.
Fast forward to the next day. In the morning of Wednesday November 16 all of a sudden Russian and Ukrainian media are starting to report on the news. For example Russian newsagency Tass which has an english article. The source of the article is not mentioned. In most articles in Ukraine and Russian press Malaysian newspaper The Star is mentioned as the source. Ria Novosti Ukraine has the news here. At 07:56 AM Ukraine Unian reported the news here. Also Hromadske, reports about the news here. Hromadske is an Ukraine independant news station funded by Western states like the US, Canada and the Netherlands as well as by George Soros. Ukraine New Times reports here. Pravda Ukraine reports here. Pravda however uses Anadolu Agency from Turkey as the source.
The flow seems to be Malaysia, Russia, then picked up by news aggregators in Ukraine, then picked up by some Ukraine major newsdesks.
At around 10:00 WET on November 16 the news desk of Sputnik was alerted. The Spanish edition of Sputnik published this article again based on the same source mentioning The Star newspaper.
Also around 10:00 WET on November 16 major Ukraine newsagency Censor.net reported the news. Again using The Star as the single source.
Details are lost in translation
The interesting aspect of the flow of this news is that Russian media used newspaper The Star as their single source. The Star reported:
- those responsible are expected to be known at the latest by 2018
- Liow said that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had identified 100 individuals linked to the tragedy
- They have to call every one of them to investigate all the details and when we have identified who shot the aircraft, we will do everything in our power to get the court in Netherlands to prosecute those responsible,” said Liow
What The Star did not report are these supposed quotes of Malaysian Minister Liow
- “JIT suspects (it is the) separatist group and is continuing its investigations on them. (reported by The Sun Daily and the Malay Online)
- “using international court in Netherlands”.
While The Star mentions “court in the Netherlands”, both The Sun and Malay Online mentions “international court in the Netherlands”. The word international makes a big difference. It is the difference between a court case under domestic Dutch law or a hybrid court case under international law. The devil is in the details!
Russian media not alert
Another interesting aspect of this news is that Russian news agencies like Tass and Sputnik failed to report the statement of the Malaysian minister:
“hundreds have been identified as suspects behind the fatal shooting, all of whom belong to a Ukrainian separatist group” – source
For Russian media this would be BREAKING news. A minister states that all suspects of the downing of MH17 belong to separatists group.
However, Russian media like most of the Western media are lazy and just copy/paste without doing some basic investigation which could take not more than 30 minutes.
Dutch NOS response
I contacted the newsdesk of NOS yesterday and informed about the statements of the Malaysian minister. NOS decided not report on the statements by the minister. The next day I asked for a comment. NOS responded:
“we called the spokesman of the Dutch prosecutor. He denied there is a date when names of suspects are known as stated by the Malaysian minister of transport.
“JIT sticks to the information given end of September at the press conference: the investigation continues and it is unknown when there will be more news.
Given the clear denial of the spokesman, we have decided not to mention the news as reported by the Malaysian media. “
Reluctant to distribute quotes?
Could it be Western media , Dutch in particular, is reluctant to distribute news which are just quotes? No, that is not the case. In October 2016 Australian minister Bishop told ABC that the suspects of MH17 could possibly be identified by the end of 2016. All major news stations including Dutch NOS copied her statements. There was no need for NOS to ask Dutch prosecutor for a statement to verify the words of Bishop. At least the article by NOS did not contain any information which suggests NOS contacted a spokesman for comment.
The next day Dutch prosecutor sent an email to all next of kin stating the words of Bishop should be nuanced:
It is not a fact that by the end of the year or early 2017 names are known. That depends on witness statements and other developments.
The same example can be applied to the words of Ukraine foreign minster Klimkin. He stated the JIT criminal investigation will end in spring 2017. Ukraine media reported, Dutch did not.
As a rule, Western media are very reluctant to copy news from sources in untrusted countries like Ukraine, Malaysia and Russia (in case of MH17 news). It always has to come from a “reliable” source first. An example of such a reliable source is for instance a news agency like ANP or Reuters.
I put reliable between quotes. All major Western media copied an article made by Dutch NOS. The article was completely wrong. No factchecks were done as NOS is seen as reliable.
Quotes made by “trusted” Western leaders are reported by Western media. Quotes from leaders of states regarded as unreliable by Western newsdesks are not.
Lets wait and see if and when the Western press starts to report about the words of the Malaysian minister.