Introduction

On 12 July 2006 Hizbollah militants crossed the border into Israel and ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers; eight were killed and two were taken hostage. Israel responded by imposing an air and sea blockade of Lebanon. In the following days, hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed by air strikes; Lebanese civilian infrastructure was destroyed; and hundreds of thousands of ‘non-combatants’ were displaced. Hizbollah retaliated against Israeli targets and also killed civilians. For Israel, this attack by Hizbollah is defined as an act of aggression and the Lebanese government is held responsible; civilian casualties are regrettable but are ‘collateral damage’ – the Israeli government claims to be destroying the ‘infrastructure of terror’. In fact, Human Rights Watch (2006a) has suggested the pattern of attacks indicate deliberate targeting of civilians; the Israelis seem to regard everyone as a potential combatant. For Hizbollah, attacks on Israeli civilians are considered a way to attack the state of Israel (see Human Rights Watch 2006b). For a full month both sides were engaged in what they saw as war.

A decade ago, with some exceptions (for example in large parts of Latin America, and in South Africa), television was largely the preserve of industrialised countries and the rich in developing countries. Today, satellite dishes are a prime consumer item in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world, particularly the Middle East, where the new channels (most famously al-Jazeera), have profoundly impacted the public sphere in the Arab world, providing spaces for people to gain insight into political and state actions, and engage in debates around them. Educational soap operas, such as South Africa’s award winning Soul City, are broadcast to townships where television ownership is common. In Asia, even among the poor, television ownership is rising exponentially; and in many regions of the world it provides the main source of information for people, particularly in industrialised countries. While there remains a gap in television ownership between rich and poor, and urban and rural, these gaps – at least in terms of access – are shrinking rapidly.