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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Prostitutes All at Sea

Feast your orbs on this item on tsunami relief. The gist of the piece is a little muddied, wandering to and fro over several topics. Partly, though, it talks about the concerns that the local political groups and organizations have about foreign aid coming into to Aceh province.

For example, there's the Islamic Defenders Front, which the article rashly describes as an "extremist" group (it goes around smashing up bars). Their coordinator for Aceh, Farid Safri, expresses concerns about the foreign aid coming into the stricken province:

"We have to be careful," he said. "Maybe there are weapons packed in the aid boxes. And the Americans on their ship offshore, they usually have prostitutes on board, so we can't have them around for too long."

This is passed without direct comment by the article's author, Rachel Harvey, although a few paragraphs later, speaking more generally, she writes, "There is a mix of both paranoia and pride behind these sentiments."

Now, what is the ethics of this sort of thing?

If a source says something ripely stupid, are you under any obligation to report it, if you know it's stupid? And if you do report it, are you under any obligation to point out that it's stupid? Is Harvey being fair and balanced, when she quotes this directly? After all, she could've paraphrased it: "Farid Safri is worried about moral corruption from the prostitutes which, he says, Americans carry on board their ships." By this construction Harvey would distance herself from Safri's opinion, while still reporting it as an example of local thinking. Maybe that's too subtle for the BBC. Or is she meaning to take no position on whether American ships carry prostitutes?

Perhaps I am digging too hard for dirt. After all, it's not like the BBC has a history of quoting idiots without caveats.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'go, go, go', with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital - action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."

(At least Ms. Harvey names her source; the source of the above quote is ambiguous.)

Of course, you have to wonder how widespread any of these beliefs are. How hard did Ms. Harvey have to work before she turned up someone who was worried about the precious bodily fluids of the local Muslims? Was it just a few nutters, or is it really a common concern (i.e., a lot of nutters)? Surely a member of the respectable media wouldn't lend credibility to the fevered rantings of a few bozos...

Oh, dear.

Well, it's not like the BBC would spread stupid rumors like...uh oh.

(Prostitute story via "chevalier de st george", commenting on this Biased BBC post.)