Comedy Relief — How to cover a coup




Journalists use a lot of cliches to report on coups, revolutions and wars. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what these terms really mean. —- 

The Army has taken power. That’s what we often (falsely) report. It’s as if all 700,000 military personnel and hundreds of generals are acting in unison. They share one mind, one goal and they all decided to hatch a secret plan and SURPRISE the world. Nobody knew that 700,000 people were sharing a secret and not telling anybody (not their wives, kids or fortune tellers). Actually, THE ARMY isn’t a monolith. It’s got factional politics within the air force, navy, special forces and kitchen staff. If you are a network of ten, 100 or 1000 officers, and can make state TV newscasters read your messages at gunpoint, you too can stage a coup. Perhaps you might seize a bridge and an airport, and then claim that you “control” a country with 70 million people, and thousands of bridges and airports. In fact, you don’t.






Democraticly-elected government: Consolidate power for years, decades. Detain or murder journalists, activists and protesters. Shutdown and take over media organizations. Suspend judges. Rip up and rewrite constitutions. Control advertising and other forms of propaganda. It’s all undemocratic. But if you manage to persuade enough people to vote for you (even if voter turnout is only about 50 percent), the US and other nations will back your “democratically-elected government”. After all, your people chose you (because you kept them in the dark).


IMG_6805 - Version 3


People Power: Pay protesters. Bus them into capital cities from remote provinces. Give them food and tents to occupy squares and intersections. Create vigilante militias and arm them. Then call on them to defend your corrupt regime. It looks like “the citizenry are risking their lives to defend democracy”.




Blame America: Even if American officials had nothing to do with your problems, you can usually find at least ONE dissident living in America, and put all the blame on them for things like coups or revolutions. (If that doesn’t work, find somebody standing on a wall.) 




People took to social media to organize a revolt: Yes, they were organizing — stuff like birthday parties, gambling on football matches and rides home after work. If you have a phone, and you use Twitter or Facebook to post pictures of cats and desserts, the government is cracking down on you, and the NSA is tracking you in a back-room in California.




According to Twitter … the President has sought asylum and is flying to Italy … Germany … England … Qatar … Dubai … Hong Kong … Miami … the Moon. (He actually found a trap door in Istanbul.)




Photo credit: Social Media. It’s truly amazing how that legendary photojournalist named “Social Media” goes around the world capturing historic moments in photographs used by media organizations worldwide without care for ownership, payment or intellectual property rights. That guy “Social Media” never misses the shot. Pro shooters just can’t compete.

ISIS are plotting to take advantage of the situation: They are always plotting. They are always taking advantage of the situation. Since they are bombers, mass murderers and lunatics, they are therefore linked to every bombing, mass killing and act of lunacy.


IMG_6695 - Version 2


The government staged the coup on purpose: The President successfully quashed the coup, and is taking advantage of it to purge enemies and consolidate power. Therefore, the President must have orchestrated the coup from the start. The assassination attempts, the bombing of the Parliament and Presidential Palace, the plummeting currency and stock markets, the 190 dead, 1400 wounded, 3000 arrests were all planned. That’s why the President still looks calm in a spiffy business suit at the airport.




Youth want to be more “European”: They want free university, discounts to museums and galleries, 49 Euro flights to Spain and Greece, rave parties in Thailand, and 60 percent unemployment. They want their parents to buy them an apartment in Paris or Rome to rent out on AirBNB while they stay with the boyfriend. Like other Europeans, they actually have to go to China or Japan to find gainful employment. Then, with no career prospects upon returning home, they have nothing else to do — so they overthrow the government.


IMG_6715 - Version 2


The situation is spiraling out of control: it’s not scary enough to see helicopters fire on civilians, or jets dogfighting over the capital. We have to keep you tuned to our broadcast by promising even worse violence to come. If you thought Hiroshima was bad, wait till you see Nagasaki.




Tanks are rumbling across the city: Actually, they get stuck in traffic just like everybody else. And it’s really hard to find parking. Have you ever tried to park a truck in Bangkok or Istanbul? Try parking a tank. The turret is such a hassle.




The situation is going back to normal. Yes, we foreign journalists look for any signs of normality in order to kill the story and go back home. “Right. The coup/invasion/revolution is over. The fruit sellers are back on the street. Send me home, producer.” That was the case when the violence “ended” in Baghdad 13 years ago. Actually, amid gunfire, kidnappings, beheadings and gassings, Middle Eastern folks are incredibly good at selling fruit on the street … before it goes bad.


IMG_6762 IMG_6749


Foreign correspondents are all crazed, macho, drug-addicted adrenaline junkies wearing vests and sunglasses for protection. Actually, the very best conflict reporters are quiet, compassionate, contemplative types adept at becoming invisible in crowds and then beaming themselves up via satellite phones to the outside world. But audiences seem to prefer the macho adrenaline type wearing a vest and sunglasses.




Islamic fundamentalists: Actually, extremists who murder civilians are lacking in the basic fundamentals of all religions: peace, harmony, love, respect for others. If someone is an “Islamic extremist”, they aren’t really Islamic at all, just extreme. A serial killer who went to church isn’t a “Christian extremist”. He’s just a murderer.

A nation at a crossroads: Japan, hermitically-sealed for 212 years, has been “at a crossroads” ever since a gaijin crossed a road in 1853. Bangkok is always “at a crossroads”, though it’s actually hard to cross a street without jaywalking thru stalled traffic. London is “at a crossroads” but they use a different word for it. Istanbul, however, truly IS at a crossroads, since its bridges and ferries connect the continents of Europe and Asia.


IMG_7024 IMG_7017


Travel Advisories. Why do we report embassy warnings for tourists to stay home or avoid non-essential travel to “dangerous” countries? In truth, we want Petra, the Pyramids and the Blue Mosque all to ourselves. We can also get discounts on flights and hotels such as the luxurious El-Ruha in Sanliurfa near the Syrian border. Tunisia is a bargain right now. So was Kyiv after the revolution.


4I3A0604 - Version 2 4I3A0616


Hire a good driver. Not all journos can afford CNN’s armoured car. Choosing a reliable fixer/driver is often a matter of life and death. Many freelancers can’t even afford that, so they basically choose death or something close to it. I generally prefer hitching rides with military aircraft, such as a C130 Hercules or V22 Osprey. When I needed a lift to the Syrian border to photograph the bombing of Kobani, I went to a hospital and tried to hitchhike with an ambulance (my preferred mode of travel in 1991 Yugoslavia). I ended up sharing a taxi-van with Syrian Kurds who presumed I was a doctor.


IMG_6823 IMG_6838


Should we call them ISIS, ISIL or Daesh? If locals call them “Daesh”, we should too. It’s easier to say than the “Islamic State in Syria and the Levant”.




Which Lens? Ultra-wides are great if you can get really close to people. But long telephoto lenses, such as a 300 mm, are generally best for photographing fighter jets dropping bombs on cities such as Kobani, Syria.


4I3A0713 - Version 2

4I3A0677 - Version 3



Always have an exit strategy: This is the most important skill for any conflict reporter. For many, it means going from one war zone (such as Syria) to another one (east Ukraine). Sadly for many, there is no exit from places such as Syria.

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)