Life Abroad

Iraqi War And The News Media

The ongoing operation in Iraq is getting brutal. I am not going to join the polemics over the appropriateness or otherwise of calling the operation “Iraqi freedom”. There is just no point to that. The most powerful country in the world, in defiance of the United Nations is delivering freedom. Period! The brutality of this operation may have however sneaked into newsrooms around the world.

Being able to write and publish this piece is supposedly also an enjoyment of some sort of “freedom”. Millions of people all over the world now take time to read, watch or listen to news about the operation in Iraq. Unlike the first gulf war, for which scholars, professionals and ordinary citizens could understand, several aspects of this second gulf war still leave many in shock and awe. The news media has also been fingered in raising high expectations of the duration of the war.

Similarly, unlike the first war, which was brought to people’s living room, mostly by CNN, the present operation seems open to all-comers. Not only does the Pentagon allow reporters, of course western, to be embedded among the troops, the central command press briefings are also open to all journalists, irrespective of national affiliations.

Perhaps that is why another kind of war is going on right now between journalists and media organizations that are supportive of the operation in Iraq and those that oppose it. I am not simply referring to that Arab reporter that always asks those intrusive and accusatory questions at the central command press briefings. Although he is part of the issue, it is larger than that.

The first concern here is the role of the news media in the operation. The

CNN

coverage of Gulf war and the coverage of the crisis in Somalia proved that the news media have the ability to affect and conduct U.S diplomacy and foreign affairs What is happening now is however different from the former, known as the

CNN Effect

.

Some aspects of the coverage by U.S and Arab news media strongly suggest that these news media have, deliberately or unwittingly, become tools for getting the consent of the public to predetermined agenda of government and privileged class. It is a propaganda model. Somebody might quip that there is nothing wrong in propaganda during war campaign but hey! This is a “freedom” campaign also.

To get the point, watch CNN,

MSNBC

and

FOX

. Listen to the choice of words used by the anchorpersons, the reporters filing the stories and the hired military analysts. Also give a closer attention to the kinds of images shown and what is not covered. The exact opposite of what is covered and left unreported will confront you if you were to watch Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi Television or the Iraqi television. Common to both is a melodramatic depiction of conflict events as it suits their government’s agenda.

The argument that afore mentioned media organisations are not government owned will not hold water. The truth is that as commercially sponsored mass media organisations, those operating them are in the ruling class of society. Consequently, they cannot be expected to question the socio-economic structure of their society seriously. Neither can they question their government, not during a war that has paled the war on terrorism.

I don’t want to believe that the U.S government, which is delivering freedom to Iraq, will give U.S news media a script of how the war is to be covered. The question then is whether being embedded among the troop poses an ethical dilemma for the western reporters? Another is whether objective reporting can be sacrificed on the altar of patriotism?

The idea of embedding reporters among the troops is great for instantaneous news coverage. The flip side of it is what kind of coverage and for what purpose? Can we say that the instant and compelling coverage of the war, the atrocities and growing humanitarian crises may re-order foreign policy priorities or act to accelerate response to the situation? Is the news media serving to inform and educate the public or these embedded reporters also assisting to manufacture the people’s consent to the war?

These questions are germane because the key word in this operation is “freedom”. When Iraqi television shows images of Prisoners of War (POW), we can all condemn it for contravening the Geneva Convention, a provision of the United Nation, that global body that some powerful nations have said may be synonymous to a debating club.

When Iraqi television showed images of U. S apache helicopters and claimed it was one of two that was shot down by Saddam loyalist, American news media were used to refute the claims. Viewers are daily shown analysts with maps and simulated images of U.S troop advancement.

When Iraqi television showed another picture of a U.S. aircraft supposedly shot down, viewers of western news media were told that this image was the same one first shown some days ago. Yet the same U.S media continue to repeat images of previous bombardment. Also three days after the claims on U.S. television that the troops were 50 miles of Baghdad, it suddenly turned out not to be true. Unfinished matter!

Apart from the occasional reports from the field, U.S. media seem be devoting more of their coverage to an analysis of war strategies, troop advancements and support for the operation, largely in the towns were the troops are based. Arab media, on the other hand, give more coverage to Images of civilians they claimed were hit and oppositions that trickle from people’s sitting rooms and flood the streets.

Of course the guys in these media organisations are professionals. The guys on the field, whether embedded or covering the home front are also some of the best. As a result of these, some have done professional reporting. Some news organisations have also introduced innovative coverage like the

American Bravest Wall

and the road trips to cover family notification process. These are commendable coverage by the U.S. media. There should be more of these kinds of how the war impact on people’s live.

Meanwhile Iraqi media stations and communication centres were confirmed as official targets in the war. The justification for this is that if Saddam, like Bin Laden, is still alive, he could use the media stations to do other covert communication. While media rights activists are still brooding over this,

Al Jazera

reporters were suddenly sent packing from the New York Stock Exchange. The reason given is lack of space, but the coincidence with operation Iraqi freedom is disturbing. Shortly after this incident, the news also came that hackers had taken down

Al Jazera

website. Another coincidence!

As viewers and listeners in different part of the world get and see conflicting reports and images of how U.S. troops are advancing or being hindered, depending on their geographical location, access to information and ability to afford that access, perhaps some journalists can begin to make a difference. Perhaps some journalists, irrespective of which side of the fence they are embedded, can focus on the people.

Perhaps some journalists can go beyond the lies and propaganda of reporting how “our side” is doing and report on casualties and atrocities. Maybe some journalists can de-polarize and focus on the merits of the crisis.

I think it possible for some media organisations to put some changes in the present coverage, which are violence, propaganda, elite and victory oriented. Maybe it is time to begin to add other reporting that would be peace, truth, people, and solution oriented. The news media should shake off the shock and awe. Again, the key issue here is Freedom. Freedom for the Iraqi people and of course for the Press!

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