A new meaning to 'Russian Winter' #Russia

A winter day in northern Russia, 2009

IN OUTSIDERS, the words 'Russian Winter' provoke fear and fascination: fear of extreme cold; fascination with what it must feel like to experience it. To Russians, it is something they have grown up with. In that respect, it is something comforting, and until, the mild Decembers and Januaries of some recent years, unchanging. 

Yet the idea of coming change has led some commentators to start describing the post-election protests in Moscow and elsewhere as the 'Russian Winter'. The phrase is inspired by the need for news media to call a new phenomenon something short and simple. It is supposed to echo the 'Arab Spring'.  For many reasons, it is something distinct from those revolutions, but that does not mean it is not significant.

I have explained why I think so in an entry on the New Statesman blog, which you can read here.

New ways of writing, and fighting #conflict #journalism #Libya #arabspring

The view from a British military helicopter over southern Iraq, March 2004
A view from a British military helicopter over southern Iraq, March 2004

THE WORD 'TRIBE', pronounced in a thick Mancunian accent, has come to epitomize it for me. 

I was listening to the BBC's Today Programme last summer, at the height of the fighting in Libya. The speaker was a Libyan exile who had come to the UK as a child and lived most, if not all, of his life in Manchester. He was explaining his decision to go to Libya to fight for the anti-Gaddafi rebels.

Like many of them, he had had no previous military experience. He had decided that to take up arms was the right thing to do, and he was determined to do it.

Some of the reporters covering the conflict seem to have taken a similar journey of conviction - seeing in Libya a career-changing chance to prove themselves in their chosen profession. 

A piece in The Guardian this week highlights the dangers faced by untrained journalists in conflict zones, and raises the issue of the responsibility borne by news organizations who buy their material. The article quoted Hannah Storm of the International News Safety Institute as saying that Libya was 'so dangerous because it was not like a traditional war – it was fluid and unpredictable, with the anti-Gaddafi fighters often not very familiar with the weapons they were using'.

The conflict in Libya seems to represent new peaks in two trends which have been underway for the last twenty years: the smudging of the line between journalist and non-journalist, and between combatant and non-combatant. In the introduction to my forthcoming book Reporting Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), I refer to those in the latter category as 'tracksuited warriors': irregular fighters frequently seen in the kind of conflicts which followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, or the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

There have long been people working outside the traditional news media. In Chechnya in 1995, as that conflict became especially intense, I remember talking to a freelance cameraman who had arrived with a small camera with the intention of getting as close to the fighting as he could. He said he would be there until he had made $10,000. He left after a week or so - having been right to the heart of the rebel stronghold, and, perhaps more remarkably, back.

Now, though, the evolution of multimedia newsgathering and distribution has meant that more and more people are working outside traditional media networks for a greater number of reasons than just a big payday. Today we have, as Hannah Storm pointed out in the Guardian piece, 'citizen journalism and journalist-activists'. There may even have been in Libya, although I have seen no well-documented cases, some journalist activists who were also fighters.   

The Guardian article also suggests that 12 journalists have been killed in Libya since February, compared to 19 after ten years in Afghanistan.

The age of the tracksuited warrior has been an age of increasing danger to journalists. In addition to the International News Safety Institute, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have documented the growing number of journalist deaths in the conflicts since the end of the Cold War.

There is nothing to suggest that the age of pitched battles with clear front lines, and an obvious distinction between combatant and civilian, will return. Nor will the age of big, well-resourced, news organizations having a monopoly on coverage. Amongst these new ways of fighting, and writing, there has to be time and money allocated for safety training for those who want and need it.

Anyone who has covered conflict will tell you that if you want to be completely safe, you should stay at home. Understanding the risks, and knowing some basic first aid, can at least help you to reduce the dangers you will face.

Capturing Saddam Hussein #iraq #saddam #journalism #tenyears

Ten years after the United States and its allies launched their invasion of Afghanistan, I have been reflecting on a major moment in another of the conflicts which followed the attacks of September 11th, 2001. I am posting an extract from my article, ‘Capturing Saddam Hussein: How the full story got away, and what conflict journalism can learn from it’, which is published in the current issue of the Journal of War and Culture Studies.

This is copyright material (c) 2011 Intellect Ltd.

EVEN IN THE MIDST of the most technologically advanced war that had ever been fought, there was still a craving for the kind of news that spreads through chance conversations. ‘Is it true?’ asked the soldiers searching the journalists. The reporters were on their way into an unscheduled news conference called by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on a Sunday afternoon in Baghdad in December 2003. The soldiers’ initial question prefaced their more pressing one, which soon followed: ‘Does this mean I’ll be able to go home early?’

As BBC correspondent in Baghdad that day, I was one of the reporters to whom that question was put. In response, journalists shrugged, or mumbled replies like ‘Well, that’s what we’re going to find out.’ There was impatience in some of their voices. They were in a hurry. They sensed that they might be about to get one of the biggest stories of their careers.

Since early that morning, rumours had been spreading in the Iraqi capital. Saddam Hussein had been captured. The Iraqi leader had been in hiding since the invasion, which had driven him from power. Journalists who called their news desks in foreign capitals, to share the rumours, found that the rumours were already circulating there, too. It became impossible to establish where they had begun.

A sense of chaotic excitement acted as cover for a carefully planned operation that was underway inside the CPA building. At the same time as those wild, breathless, speculative, telephone calls had been taking place between journalists, another, more thoughtful, communication had been in progress.

The occupying powers in Baghdad were preparing to announce that the rumours were true: they had captured Saddam Hussein. Shortly after 3 p.m. that Sunday afternoon, 14 December 2003, Paul Bremer, the leader of the CPA, told the news conference, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!’

Some of the Iraqi journalists leapt to their feet. They cheered wildly and shook their fists in the air. Some of the foreign press did so, too. Others were less sure how to react. Their faces betrayed signs of internal calculation. They seemed to reflect on how they, as reporters taking pride in their impartiality, should behave. They took in the huge professional challenge that lay ahead: time, as always, short – and an afternoon that might be one of the defining moments not just of their career, but of the United States’ career as a superpower. As if to mark that, Washington had planned a major event. Those journalists who did not cheer – I was one of them – were left feeling like churlish party guests who refuse to join in the fun. ‘It seemed as if journalistic rules cherished during “normal” times had to be suspended for journalism to do its job,’ Silvio Waisbord said of journalism in the United States after September 11. That suspension was in force in Baghdad as it had been in Manhattan.

Extracted from: Rodgers, J. (2011), ‘Capturing Saddam Hussein: How the full story got away,
and what conflict journalism can learn from it’, Journal of War and Culture
Studies, 4: 2, pp. 179–191, doi: 10.1386/jwcs.4.2.179_1.
(c) 2011 Intellect Ltd


Off the road map on the West Bank #Palestine #Israel

DO YOU REMEMBER THE ROADMAP? The plan to bring peace, security, and Palestinian statehood, and thus end the Middle East conflict?

In 2003, it was presented as the solution to the problems which had plagued the region for more than half a century. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other politicians seemed to queue up publicly to express optimism that it would work.

Journalists are often seen as a cynical bunch. So some people might not have been surprised to hear a conversation I had then with a colleague from a leading news organization. At the time, I was the BBC's correspondent in Gaza. The colleague I was speaking to had experience of working in the region going back more than twenty years. He was not convinced that this was going to change anything.

Our talk turned to the attitude of editors in faraway places. My fellow correspondent had been taken to task for pouring cold water on the upbeat views of world leaders. I had been met with a puzzled semi-silence when I had explained that I could not report on the celebrations in Gaza for the reason that there were none. One of the next stories I sent, in fact, was an account of series of Israeli rocket attacks.

Last month I returned to Jerusalem, and the West Bank, for a short visit. I remembered two conversations I had had in the summer of 2003.

A view of the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem
A view of the Damascus Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem

The first was with a Palestinian cafe owner in the Old City of Jerusalem. Aged perhaps in his late forties - although ages are hard to tell there, an I sometimes took people to be much older than they were - he pointed out that generations of Israelis and Palestinians were growing up knowing each other only as enemies. He remembered a time when things had been different. Perhaps he had never counted Israelis among his best friends, but he had at least known them, done business with them. There was a mutually beneficial relationship, of sorts. This was an experience his younger compatriots had never had.

The second conversation, as if to confirm the first, was with a young man in Gaza. He was aged nineteen. He had been given rare permission to travel from Gaza to the West Bank - via a crossing usually open only to foreigners and VIP's. This had brought him face to face with a soldier of about the same age as he. He was astonished that this could be. Never having seen an Israeli soldier up close, I think he had pictured them all as combat-hardened thirty year olds.

Neither side knew the other, and the opportunity to do so was diminishing. They met only in confrontation: mostly at checkpoints. In consequence, people began to see each other not just as menacing, alien, incomprehensible, terrifying - but also, perhaps, as something slightly less than human.     

Journalists then, as now (although I gather that getting into Gaza, aside from being possibly more dangerous than it was then, is also more difficult) were able to see both sides of the conflict in a way denied to all but a handful of diplomats and aid workers. Thus they acquired a knowledge and experience often beyond that of policy-makers poring over the dead-ends of their roadmap.

Back on the West Bank last month, in the days before Mahmoud Abbas' declaration at the United Nations of Palestinian statehood, I was struck by just that: 'dead ends'. It is very hard to see how 'Palestine' could come into being, even supposing there were the international political will. Too much of the land which would be in that state now lies beneath Israeli settlements and military posts. This uncomfortable fact was pointed out by Robert Fisk in a recent piece for The Independent.  

This, like the real prospects in 2003 for the roadmap's success, is something which leaders rarely discuss - in public, at least.  

So we can call reporters cynical, biased, negative, or whatever. It is much harder to call them wrong. The same cannot be said of the leaders who held summits to promote their plan. A look now at the text of the roadmap, with its talk of a settlement by 2005, vindicates the cynics. 


Russia's road ahead - a personal or a public opinion?

The coming Russian winter will see elections for parliament and president.

RUSSIA WAS FACING THE DILEMMA - unprecedented even in its eventful history - of having a popular leader who was supposed to relinquish power before he was dead. What to do? Find someone who could be trusted to take over for a while and, in the meantime, take measures to ensure that the problem was not likely to recur. The someone was Dmitry Medvedev, now the soon-to-be former President of the Russian Federation; the main measure was to extend the presidential term to six years, starting in 2012.

On Saturday, I was invited to the BBC World News studios to comment on Vladimir Putin's planned return next year to the Kremlin's top job. The news was not surprising, but that does not make it insignificant. Barring a truly unexpected  - perhaps revolutionary would be the only word - turn of events, Mr Putin looks set to remain the most powerful man in Russia until 2024. Two of the new, six year, Russian presidential terms would take him there. He became Prime Minister for the first time in 1999. Assuming he stays as leader until 2024, he will by then have ruled Russia in one capacity or another for a quarter of a century.  

One of the questions put to me was whether Russia could be considered a democracy. Russia has defined itself at various times over the last decade as a 'sovereign democracy' (a phrase which seemed designed to puzzle those who heard it long enough to allow the subject to be changed) and a 'managed democracy'.  The fact remains that the biggest decision over next year's election was taken not at the ballot box, nor even at the United Russia Party Congress, but in a secret meeting presumably between Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev, and various members of their respective staffs. For all we Kremlin outsiders know, that meeting may well have taken place as long ago as 2007, before Mr Putin announced that Mr Medvedev would be his chosen successor for the presidency.

Not much there, then, that you could readily call democratic - even if, as many of his critics reluctantly concede, Mr Putin would almost certainly win a fair election in Russia. Schooled, from my former job, in BBC impartiality, I laid out the facts as I knew them from many years of reporting on Russia. They way I laid out those facts, though, probably invited the audience to conclude that the answer to the question put to me was a firm 'no'.

Would it be simpler just to say that? Leaving aside the political analysis, there is an important journalistic issue here, one which is being reshaped by changing times. Once a reporter would have just limited themselves to the facts, presenting them in a way which might guide their audience to a conclusion. They could then have given their own opinions free rein in private conversation. The distinction is becoming blurred in journalism of the digital age. Perhaps one day it will disappear, and the disclaimers which many BBC journalists, although not those permitted to use the corporation's initials in their Twitter names, post now about views which are their own may disappear too. New rules, or new ways of reading and interpreting, may by then have emerged.

Journalists', and journalism's private conversations are becoming increasingly public. In Russian politics, though, decisions which in a democracy might be considered to belong in the public sphere  - elections for example - remain resolutely a matter for private discussion.  

Losing my religion: Moscow, August 1991


 To mark the 20th anniversary of the 1991 coup by hardline Communists against the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, I am posting part of a draft of a personal reflection on that summer in Moscow. It was my first international assignment as a journalist. This extract begins on Sunday 25th August, 1991.    

MOSCOW WAS STILL NERVOUS. There were frequent rumours suggesting that the tanks had returned in greater numbers, or were about to do so. The Moscow ‘White House’ then the home of the parliament, now of the government, was the headquarters of the coup’s opponents. It was here that, days earlier, Boris Yeltsin had stood on a tank to denounce the plotters’ actions. Investigating one such rumour, I came up against a bare-chested youth armed with a length of hosepipe. He would not let anyone pass the point where we now stood. I wanted to call the office to say that there were no tanks there. He didn’t want me to walk to the payphone that we could both see about twenty metres away. In the end, I just ran past him – reaching the payphone and immediately starting to dial before he could clobber me with the hosepipe. When he overheard my conversation, he let me off without a beating. I walked on further.   

The ‘Defenders of the White House’ had thrown up barricades. They had bottles and even milk churns full of petrol ready for making Molotov cocktails. I found Alexei, who explained to me in his own English what was going on. ‘Today, one hour ago, we received information that a group of tanks was coming to Moscow again. It was a lie, but after this famous week people come to cover by bodies the Russian Parliament.’ 


At the beginning of that famous week, on Monday 19th August, a ‘State Emergency Committee’ had announced that Mikhail Gorbachev had been taken ill, and that they were now running the Soviet Union. I didn’t have a multiple entry visa, so I had to wait a couple of days to get back to Moscow. By the time I did, the coup had collapsed.  The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, had been wrenched from its pedestal in front of the Lubyanka, KGB headquarters. The day after I arrived, a Russian colleague and I had gone to film the Communist Party headquarters a short distance away from the Lubyanka, and found a stray dog asleep on the front step, right in front of the main entrance. Boris Yeltsin, his power and personality now eclipsing that of Gorbachev, his nominal superior, was triumphant. He had felt strong enough to ban the Communist Party in the aftermath of the failed coup. 

The goodies had won. That’s the way it seemed to us in the west – and to most of us who were there that summer. From a westerner’s point of view, everything seemed to be moving in a positive direction. Many of us who were there starting our careers as journalists in Moscow that summer had studied Russian. We had been teenagers in the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher upgraded their nuclear arsenals against the Soviet Union. We gave Mikhail Gorbachev the credit for ending the Cold War confrontation which had so worried us. We didn’t understand that many Soviet citizens simply didn’t see it that way. They feared the loss of all that they had ever known, and believed in. In a way, we feared it too. I think some of us shared Gorbachev’s belief that the Soviet system could have, and should have, been reformed – rather than abandoned. Of course, we were naïve. We had not had to live our whole lives as subjects of that system. Even if our naiveté was wrong, it showed an understanding of the way that the people around us thought – an understanding which many of the foreign experts about to head into Russia completely lacked. 

The Soviet Union limped on until the end of the year. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day, and the Red Flag was lowered for the last time from the roof of the Kremlin. I returned to Moscow for another assignment on January 2nd, 1992. ‘How are things?’ I asked brightly of the office driver who had come to meet me. ‘Bad. Very bad,’ he replied. I was forced to change my outward mood immediately. It’s true that everything already seemed chaotic. The banking system, such as there had been one in Soviet times, had ceased to function. I arrived at the airport with a large amount of cash for office expenses. No one was convinced that a bank transfer would appear at the other end. I arrived without a visa, but was soon able to get one – something which would have been far less straightforward a few months earlier. In the grim arrivals hall of Sheremetyevo airport, and far beyond, there was no sign of a happy new year. Price controls which had given guarantees for decades had gone, and Russia was entering a period of massive inflation. Pensioners – those who had worked in the belief that they were building a workers’ paradise - would be hit especially hard: the collapse of the state meant their pensions weren’t paid; the inflation destroyed the value of their savings, and, even if they did manage to get some money from somewhere, meant that it didn’t buy very much. On top of that, the weather was miserable. The short midwinter days were made gloomier by the cloud which came with unusually high temperatures. ‘In Stalin’s day we had real frosts, minus 30, minus 40!’ Slava, a man in late middle age who ran errands for the office remembered.  Absolutely everything seemed to be changing. For me, there was one positive personal note. I was welcomed back at the Oktyabrskaya II hotel, where I had spent most of the summer, like an old friend. ‘We’ll always find a place for you,’ the hotel administrator had said, with a smile the opposite of the snarling way I had previously heard that the restaurant was closed. My lengthy stay in the summer had led me across the line which Russians draw between suspicious outsider, and friend for life. It can be a very thin line, but it can take a long time to reach. I had known I was on the way in late July. When I returned from my trip to Kiev, two shirts I had left in the laundry had been carefully wrapped and put away for me. They were returned with a grandmotherly smile from the lady who had kept them safe. I was sorry to see the hotel employees now looking so grim. The hotel corridors were inevitably darker. Moscow earns its long summer nights with short winter days. The only compensation was the comfort of the overheated corridors – welcome, at least, when arriving inside. After a while, it was stifling. The heating made the smell of wood polish, the smell of Soviet order, stronger in the nostrils. But it was already the smell of the past.    

Russia had decided to abandon what had gone before without having a clear idea of what it really wanted next. Phrases like ‘democracy’ and ‘market economy’ were talked about, and repeated all the time without any common agreement or even general definition of either.  The ideology which drove this new life was at best vague. This vacuum felt especially unsettling in a country which had always had some form of faith to guide it: God and Tsar, Marx and Lenin. Now, suddenly, there was nothing.

A press pass issued to me for the US-Soviet summit in Moscow, summer 1991.



Beware the experts #riots #norway

The riots in English cities last week, and the massacre in Norway last month, have been among the year's major news stories - dispelling the idea that the summer, this year at least, is the 'silly season' for journalism.

That is not to say has not been some silliness around. A consequence of these stories of death and disorder is always an avalanche of 'expert' analysis. It is not of course confined to these stories but their rarity (nothing like the killings last month had ever happened in Norway; the riots could only be compared to events in Britain 30 years ago) meant that the news media rightly felt an even greater need than usual to explain.

As a breaking story, the bombing and shootings in Norway were truly shocking. The old British journalism saying, 'if it bleeds, it leads' was never more true. Because they were so shocking, editors wanted to try to explain to their audiences what was happening in as much detail as possible: 'who' and 'why', after all, are two of the indispensable elements of any news story. In trying to do so, editors also let loose their newshounds on a wild goose chase. As The Guardian pointed out, introducing a piece by Charlie Brooker, 'it wasn't experts speculating, it was guessers guessing – and they were terrible'.

The rush to blame Islamist militants for the attacks was sloppy journalism. That is not new, but round-the-clock reporting has perhaps made it harder to guard against. As a producer on the BBC's Breakfast News in the 1990s, I worked on the coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing. I remember at the time being struck by some of the reporting from the United States, in which vox pops blamed immigrants for the attacks. None of this conjecture was substantiated, and it turned out to be plain wrong.

Then, 24 hour news was in its infancy. Now it is a major factor, driving not only the newsgathering of broadcasters, but also newspapers and their websites trying to keep up.

Last week's commentary and opinion on the riots in England blamed pretty much everything and everyone, in some way or another, for the unrest. One of the best pieces I read was in the Independent  - and I enjoyed that mainly because it turned the pundits' tactics back on them. Headlined, 'Why, oh why? The week the pundits ran riot', it described the 'torrent of pontificating from the nation's opinion formers'.  In among all these attacks on every element of modern life (were 'penny dreadfuls', or handbills giving lurid details of crimes and executions, blamed for riots of the London mob in times gone by?) there was some thoughtful, and thought-provoking, analysis. Peter Oborne's piece for the Telegraph was frequently praised among my Facebook friends.     

In short, the rules for analysis and comment should be the same as they are for reporting hard news stories: if you don't know it, don't say it or - recognizing the demands of 24 hour, instant, analysis  - if you don't know it, but want to say it anyway, at least admit you don't know for sure.  




Revolutions, ownership, and censorship #hacking

To read some of the commentaries on the phone-hacking scandal is to get the impression that a major revolution is underway. Comparisons are drawn with the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the uprisings of the Arab spring.

Let this hyperbole pass as just another of the excesses of which some journalists are guilty.

For the comparison is not being considered as completely as it should. The true nature and consequences of all revolutions can only be determined later. Ten years after the end of the Soviet Union, the people of Russia, apparently fed up with the chaos that followed the collapse of Communism, elected an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, to lead them. He’s still there. Egyptian demonstrators returned to the streets last week - worried by the prospects for their revolution.

So the challenge is to take a careful look at what went wrong, and work out how best to address it. Before all journalists are dismissed as being as bad as the worst in the (News of the) World, remember that the doggedness of The Guardian and even the interest of The New York Times Magazine meant that this story was not allowed to disappear. Journalists may not be the saints in this story – there probably aren’t any – but they are not all sinners.

If there is a revolution underway, it needs to be carefully managed. Reform is clearly necessary, but must not be allowed to become an excuse for the abuse of authority. Peter Mandelson concedes in The Guardian that the last government were ‘cowed’, and suggests that the present government suffers from the same problem. He also says that any government is fed up with the negativity of the press. A bad one might therefore be tempted to introduce censorship in the name of ethics.

The issue of the amount of power which press barons really have is often debated in journalism and media education. Those who question the idea of great influence point to the popularity which, say, the BBC enjoys among readers of papers which constantly criticize it (not confined to News International titles). Does Mr Murdoch influence election results, or is he just good at backing a party which is going to win anyway? Whatever the truth, this is a case in which perception takes on the same power as reality – presumably why the last Labour government were ‘cowed’.

If, as it has been suggested in the last few days – again, perhaps a case of hyperbole (or wishful thinking) - that politicians are no longer afraid of Mr Murdoch, they should now show it. The government should tackle the question of ownership – and the power, real or imagined, that it brings - not impose censorship.


That would be a real revolution - hopefully liberating politics and the public, and only imprisoning those parts of the press who really are criminal. 






Marching on the news media - my Westminster presentation #journalism #wmincon2011

Here is the abstract of the paper I am giving at the University of Westminster today (Wedesday 8th June)

“Marching on the news media: how PR tried to conquer journalism during the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008”

When Russian troops went into the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia in August 2008, a second front, far from the
battlefields of the Caucasus, was soon opened. Its forward positions were in Moscow and Tbilisi, but its strategy was conceived on the boulevards of Brussels. The objective in this second war was international opinion. Drawing on interview material from a BBC World Service documentary which the author made with David Edmonds in October 2008, and analysis of the work of the rival Brussels-based consultancies who advised on the media campaigns of the belligerents, this paper seeks to examine why both sides put so much effort into spinning the war, and what effect that had on the way it was reported. 

In doing so, it will also reflect on the fact that, despite the predicted reduction of television’s influence as a news medium, it continues to be seen as dominant. Both Russia and Georgia are among the countries which, in recent years, have launched international television news
channels. The paper will also consider the correspondent as the privileged holder of a rare perspective in conflict zones - particularly in cases where access permits them to observe a conflict from more than one side. In conclusion, it will suggest how this perspective, combined with new technology, can enable the journalist to bypass the efforts of public relations consultants, and thus provide audiences with better information: exactly the kind of journalism we should preserve, and encourage.  


The tip of an iceberg shows in #Libya

Well done to the BBC's Wyre Davies. His report about an apparent child casualty of NATO bombing in Libya seems to demonstrate that the circumstances were invented for the international media.

The fact that this propaganda stunt was so badly done seems to have been its undoing. It was easy to spot. 

Tomorrow, I am giving a presentation at a conference on journalism at the University of Westminster. My main focus is the attempts of PR agencies to influence the reporting of the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, but I will also be making reference to Iraq and Libya.

Ever since the start of human conflict, belligerents have had spin doctors in one form or another. The rise of global media seems to have taken their efforts to misrepresent or deceive to new levels. Those efforts are usually much more sophisticated than in this case, and therefore much less obvious - but that does not mean that they are not there.  This clumsy stunt - and the Libyans seem unable to deny that's what it was - serves to remind us of that.