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Brexit, Chilcot, Ramadan ... what do the experts know?

By Christina Okello

The tremors set off by Britain’s vote to leave the EU continue to dominate the headlines. The pound’s historic slide and pressure on the commercial real estate sector received a lot of media attention, sparking calls by outlets like The Guardian for a second referendum. The other big talking points of the week were the findings of the long-awaited Chilcot report into the Iraq war and attacks that marred the end of Ramadan.

It’s become almost a dirty word, synonymous with confusion and decline, after yet another week of turbulence in financial markets. Brexit sent the pound plunging to a 31-year low and forced three property funds to close, amid fresh uncertainty about the economic impact of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

But is it as bad as papers are making it out to be?

"Journalists are notorious for exaggerating," Keith Boyfield of the Euro Gulf Information Centre (EGIC) told RFI.

Even those who supported an EU exit are guilty, he says.

Indeed. Papers like the Sun and the Times, owned by multinational magnate Rupert Murdoch, were quick to align themselves on the Johnson-Gove-Farage band wagon, only to then change course. Today they’re telling their readers how Brexit is hitting the value of the pound, the cost of holidays, flights and phone calls.

Boyfield argues that there is a clear cleavage in the papers that supported Brexit and those that were vehemently against like the Guardian, which urged readers to vote for a second referendum.

"Referendums don’t work," argues EGIC director Mitchell Belfer, pointing to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Britain needs to reassure its allies that there will not be a security vacuum in the wake of Brexit, he says, particularly in the face of an emboldened Russia, which has left Nato leaders scrambling for a deterrence.

Calls by Czech Republic President Milos Zeman for a referendum on Prague’s membership of Nato have been received with alarm.

"If the Czech Republic falls out of Nato it will leave a hole in Europe’s defense system," reckons Belfer.

Could these predictions of impending Armageddon foster more favorable coverage of the European Union that has long been demonised?

"It’s an opportunity to rethink the European model," considers Boyfield.

Chilcot skewers Blair

For Belfer, Brexit was a catastrophe - and even more so the coverage, which he claims painted an over-simplistic portrayal of a difficult set of issues that largely ignore security.

Security was the overarching theme in the long-awaited Chilcot inquiry, that found that former Labour prime minister Tony Blair had led Britain to war in Iraq based on flawed intelligence.

"This report tells us nothing new. It was an utter waste of resources and to my mind only the lawyers benefitted, being paid a ridiculous hourly rate for seven years," Boyfield argues.

Here, Belfer agrees.

"Tony Blair was overly optimistic about his ability to influence US foreign policy," he believes. "What was absent from their whole plan was the impact on Iraq after they left."

No contingency plan and again no questions by journalists about what was to come, which in the case of Brexit, could have been worth asking Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, before they took Britain over the edge and then vanished.

Ramadan attacks in Iraq, Saudi, Bangladesh

What doesn’t seem to disappear, like a bad stain on a white shirt, is the media’s obsession with the Islamic State (IS) armed group.

Thousands of Muslims around the world celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan but were constantly reminded of IS’s spreading influence, after a string of deadly attacks in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Iraq again, where leaders like Labour frontman Jeremy Corbyn, consider that Baghdad “has not had a day of real peace since the invasion in 2003”.

The media is perhaps too trigger-happy, pulling out IS every time they talk about Islam, says Belfer. But figures like London Mayor Sadiq Khan could act as a buffer to undo this conflation between Islam and terrorism, suggests Boyfield.

So too could more coverage about the meaning of Ramadan and how it’s celebrated, even if suicide attacks are not to be ignored.

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