No. 10, Spring/Summer 2003
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Parties to the Conflict

From The Daily Star (Lebanon)

April 8, 2003

GVNews.Net Daily World

By Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Between the biases, distortion and cheerleading of American and Arab television coverage of the Iraq war, a viewer of both U.S. and Arab broadcasts can piece together a picture of what's really happening on the ground and in the minds of viewers. It's not a pretty picture.

BEIRUT, Mar 27, 2003 -- To fully understand this war and its consequences, it's necessary to watch both Arab and American television.

For different reasons, Arab and American broadcasters provide a distorted, incomplete picture of the war in Iraq -- while accurately reflecting emotional and political sentiments on both sides.

Every day I scan through 20 different Arab and American TV services. This is a painful exercise, because the business of reporting and interpreting the serious news of war has been transformed into a mishmash of emotional cheerleading, expressions of primordial tribal and national identities, overt ideological manipulation by governments and crass commercial pandering to the masses in pursuit of audience share and advertising dollars.

American television tends to go heavy on the symbols of patriotism. American flags flutter as part of on-screen logos or backdrops, while emotional collages of war photos are used liberally at transitions between live reporting and advertising breaks. American TV tends to reflect the pro-war sentiments of the government and many in society. You see and hear it in the tone of most anchors and hosts; the endless showcasing of America's weapons technology; the preponderance of ex-military men and women guests; the choice to rarely show Iraqi civilian casualties, but highlight U.S. troops' humanitarian assistance to Iraqis; and reporters'‚ and hosts'‚ use of value-laden and simplistic expressions like "the good guys" to refer to American troops.

The most unfortunate and professionally disgraceful aspect of U.S. television coverage, in my view, has been the widespread double assumption that Iraqis would offer no resistance and would welcome the American army with open arms. Some Iraqis will surely do so, but most people in this region now see the Americans as an invading force that will become an occupying force. The American media reflects widespread American ignorance about what it means to have your country invaded, occupied, administered and retooled in someone else's image.

Americans know that their impressive military strength will eventually prevail on the battlefield, yet they appear totally and bafflingly oblivious to the visceral workings of nationalism and national identity. I have seen no appreciation whatsoever in America for the fact that while Iraqis generally may dislike their vicious and violent Iraqi regime, the average Iraqi and Arab has a much older, stronger and more recurring fear of armies that come into their lands from the West carrying political promises and bags of rice.

Arab television channels display virtually identical biases and omissions, including: heavy relaying of film of the worst Iraqi civilian casualties; interviews with guests who tend to be critical of the United States; hosts and anchors who jump to debate rather than interview American guests; taking Iraqi and other Arab government statements at face value with little probing into their accuracy; and highlighting the setbacks to the attacking Anglo American forces, by means that include showing film of captured or dead troops.

We in the Arab World are slightly better off than most Americans, because we can see and hear both sides, given the easy availability of American satellite channels throughout this region; most Americans do not have easy access to Arab television reports, and even if they did they would need to know Arabic to grasp the full picture.

Two days ago, I better understood the need to see images from both sides. Arab television stations showed pictures of dead and captured American troops, many of which were eventually shown on American television. But Arab channels the same day also showed a horrifying picture that did not get into American TV: a small Iraqi child who had died during an American attack, with the back of the child's skull and head missing. The picture was as gut-wrenching and disgusting to Arabs as the pictures of the dead Americans were to Americans.

You had to see both images simultaneously that day to fully grasp the three most important dimensions of this conflict, in my view: one, the terrible tragedy of human loss and suffering on both sides; two, that this was a deliberately chosen American war that could and should have been avoided; and, finally, that we have only started to witness the human, economic, and political costs that will be paid by many people and countries before this adventure plays itself out.

If you're getting your news and views from either Arab or American television, you're getting only half the story.

-- Rami G. Khouri is a political scientist and executive editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon.

From Gulf News

April 7, 2003

Crisis Capsule
Media Wages a War of Its Own

By Tanya Goudsouzian and Shadiah Abdullah

Gulf News

DUBAI, Mar 25, 2003 -- As the U.S.-led forces continue to pound on Iraq, TV networks battle to win international public opinion amid allegations of censorship, bias, incitement and sensationalism.

Arab media have been accused of breaking international conventions by showing American war prisoners and inciting anti-West sentiments, while Western media have been charged with censoring images of civilian casualties and toeing the line of the American administration.

In the Arab world, CNN has lost much of the viewership it had amassed through its coverage of the Gulf War in 1991. Arab viewers now prefer to switch on Arab news networks for what they feel are uncensored images of atrocities committed by U.S. forces during the past few days.

While CNN and BBC broadcast sedate images of Kurds finding shelter in dank caves and refugees huddled in tents, Dubai-based Al Arabiya and Qatar-based Al Jazeera, among others, feature grotesque shots of splattered blood and charred flesh.

The shocking image of a baby with half her face burnt off, and another child with his brains blown out was played up by the Arab media, but the Western press, particularly CNN and BBC, continued to project a sanitised Hollywood-like version of war - spectacular explosions, billowing smoke, and shaky cameras.

The images shown on Arab TV have an explosive impact on Arab public opinion, much to the dismay of U.S. and British officials.

Western channels, notably CNN, have come under fire for not only following, but also promoting American policy, serving as "apologists" for a unilateral war on Iraq waged without a UN mandate, and censoring graphic images of the civilian carnage.

And then there is the matter of journalists stealing the show.

No sooner did the U.S. wage their offensive on Baghdad on March 19, "daredevil" journalists, mainly from the West, had copped a greedy share of the limelight.

First person accounts of journalists' own experiences in warzones have long been the bane of sober political analysts, who regret that sensationalised tales of adventure should eclipse the reality on the ground.

As such, critics would argue foreign correspondents reporting on the war in Iraq have broken a cardinal rule of journalism by becoming a part of the story they are sent to cover.

Their confrontations with the "big bad" Iraqis, and their subsequent expulsion from the country, has generated more news coverage than the suffering of innocent civilians, including women and very young children.

The tragic death of one Australian journalist in Halabja has received more attention in the Western press than the carnage left behind by U.S. forces when they attacked Basra in southern Iraq.

In a telephone interview with Gulf News, Tony Maddox, Senior Vice President of CNN International Europe, Middle East and Africa, vehemently rejected these allegations and insisted that they "do not seek to spare any images which we think are essential".

"We broadcast what we get. When we get access to these images, we show them. It is in everyone's interest to see the nature of the situation," he said.

However, he conceded that "certain judgements on taste and decency" are made in the editing room, so as not to show "gratuitous images of pain and suffering". "The fact is, we do not seek to sanitise," he said.

But their efforts have not been helped "by the Iraqi authorities ordering our team out of Baghdad", he continued.

Maddox maintained that it is "every bit our intention" to show as full a picture possible, and that their team is made up of "the most respected journalists in the world" who are "risking their lives to tell the story accurately with editors measuring the accuracy of their language..."

Maddox also dismissed the so-called "independent correspondents": "Those people who say it isn't true don't know any better if it is true or not."

Al Jazeera, for its part, has been accused of being "hostile" and inciting the Arab masses against the West by showing an abundance of footage of dead Iraqis.

Jihad Ali Ballout, Head of Communications and Media Relations at Al Jazeera, told Gulf News: "We are in the business of reporting facts reflecting whatever is happening on the ground. We are not in the business of dressing up information to please anybody."

He underlined Al Jazeera's commitment to showing both sides of the story, and allowing viewers to "form their own opinions. If you recall just after we showed the footage of American troops, we went even further and featured an interview with the mother of one of the war prisoners," he said.

Ballout dismissed charges that Al Jazeera often sensationalises the news, and misleads the public. "If we were to dress and doctor information and hide the facts, it is only then that they can credibly say that we mislead the public. We did not create the pictures. We did not start the war. We are just reporting what happens..." he explained.

"People should realise that war is ugly by nature. It creates carnage, death and destitution. Al Jazeera will not be a tool in anybody's propaganda war. In other words, we report what we see, and do not report what we are told to report!"

Ballout denied that the channel has a pro-Iraq leaning, rather than a neutral position. "We have proved that we strive to achieve balance as much as possible. When we started in 1998, we were accused of being an Israeli front, then of being CIA-backed, and then supported by Osama bin Laden. We are a station that chases news. We deal in news and not politics."

Salah Najm, Director of News at Al Arabiya, rebutted claims that the channel has surrendered its war coverage to American interests. "We are trying to be as objective as possible without forgetting that we are Arabs. But it is up to the public to judge us," he told Gulf News.

"Because we are Arabs we will look at things with Arab eyes from an Arab viewpoint. Those who accuse us should present the evidence. We have shown all the footage that is being shown by the other channels without censor."

During the war in Afghanistan, he said some Arab channels made it appear as though the Taliban would emerge victorious.

"This was later proved to be wrong. We should give an objective view without misleading the public. Sometimes the truth may be painful to swallow, but we consider ourselves the best friend of the viewer. There is an old Arabic adage: Your friend is the one who tells you the truth," he said.

© Gulf News, 2003. Distributed in partnership with Globalvision News Network ( All rights reserved.

From Time Magazine


The Arab networks are not without bias, but they often fill in missing pictures from the war


TIME, APRIL 7, 2003

IN THIS WAR, THE MIGHTY BUT MERCIFUL allies target bombs carefully and tend to the enemy's wounded. In that war, the allies blow up women and babies. In this war, Iraq is postponing certain defeat by cheating, killing civilians and using human shields. In that war, a weak nation is steadfastly defending itself using the only effective means available. This war, on American television, is alternately "the war in Iraq" or "Operation Iraqi Freedom." That war, broadcast by the media of the Arab and Muslim worlds, is "the invasion."

It is hardly unusual for two camps to see the same war differently. But in 1991, Western, Arab and Muslim audiences used their rooting interests to filter the same source: American TV. This time, Arab audiences and Muslims outside the Middle East have homegrown TV networks to reflect their perspectives and, sometimes, bias-Qatar's widely known al-Jazeera, available on some U.S. satellite and cable systems; Al Arabia; Abu Dhabi TV, and more. (You probably watch them too-American TV uses rebroadcast deals to pick up selected footage.) Arabs and Muslims distrustful of Western media-like Turkish students and professors who burned a TV last week to protest CNN's "one-sided" coverage-are happy to have their own alternatives. "We saw [Gulf War I] through the eyes of Peter Arnett" says Nabil El-Sharif, editor in chief of Jordan's AdDustour newspaper, referring to a war correspondent for CNN in 1991. "Now we're seeing the war through Arab eyes.'

Arab eyes were a crucial consideration in planning Gulf War II. Its targets and tactics were chosen to avoid stirring up antiAmerican sentiment. But that strategy has not led to friendly coverage on Arab and Muslim TV or a warm reception from its audiences. Like U.S. TV, the Arab networks show briefings, sound bites from George W Bush 3 and Tony Blair, allied advances and even interviews with coalition troops (al-Jazeera has a reporter embedded with U.S. forces). But they also show charred bodies lying beside gutted cars. Cameras linger over dead allied soldiers and bandaged Iraqi children. Mourning families wail, and hospitals choke with bleeding and burned civilians. If the war on American TV has been a splendid fireworks display and tank parade punctuated by press conferences, on al-Jazeera et al., war is hell.

For its grisly pictures and aggressive coverage of the coalition, al-Jazeera in particular has been treated as a fifth column in the West. U.S. and British officials condemned it for airing footage of allied rows' corpses, and the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ have ejected al-Jazeera reporters. Hackers attacked its English language website, replacing it with a red-white-and-blue U.S. map and the slogan LET FREEDOM RING. What better motto for people who shut down a news outlet? Arab media observers see some slant in the Arab networks' language and image choices, but they also see bias in Western TV, with its reliance on Administration and military talking heads and flag-waving features like MSNBC's pandering "Americas Bravest" wall of G.I. photos. Arab networks play to their audience too, which in their case means skepticism of allied claims, lots of tear jerking, and talking heads who doubt American motives and prowess. "Arab commentators don't dare say Iraq will lose the war," says Musa Keilani, editor in chief of Jordan's Al-Urdon newspaper. But, says Abdullah Schleifer, a professor of TV journalism at the American University in Cairo, al-Jazeera has become "more detached and balanced" since the days after 9/11, when it portrayed Osama bin Laden as a noble Arab champion.

Indeed, straight news on the Arab networks in many ways offers viewers a more complete and inside look at the war than US. TV does. They are given greater access by Baghdad, which sees them-as it saw CNN in 1991-as a conduit to the outside world. With more reporters and cameras in Iraqi cities, Arab networks often have better camera positions on aerial attacks and show much more of what those pretty explosions wreak bloodily on the street. U.S. TV tends to treat civilian victims in the context of showing allied medics helping them, and some of its coverage of the war's effects on civilians is insultingly picturesque. ABC's Peter Jennings narrated a travelogue-like "portrait gallery" that included a still image of healthy Iraqi kids walling in the rubble. "Don't you always wonder," he intoned unctuously, "what the children are thinking?" On the Arab networks, there's little need to wonder. "Arab channels know [graphic] images address the core consciousness of their viewers,' says Issan Mousa, professor of media studies at Yarmouk University in Jordan. "For the Arab audience, Arab and Muslim networks cover many of the same stories as Western TV, but with notable differences." Political and cultural considerations aside, Arab viewers have other reasons to trust these networks. They have often had more accurate information. U.S. networks and the BBC reported a revolt against Iraqi troops by Shiite Muslims in Basra last week, airing video of allied forces firing supportive artillery into the city. On Fox News, anchor Neil Cavuto crowed, "Don't look now, but the Shiites have hit the fan!" But al-Jazeera had a correspondent inside Basra, which appeared relatively orderly-quiet streets and groups chanting pro-Saddam slogans. Later the Western networks backpedaled. And for four days after U. S. TV said the allies had taken the port city of Umm Qasr, al-Jazeera correctly reported resistance there.

Though satellite dishes are common in Arab cities, many people watch TV at restaurants and cafes, where the communal mood takes shape. At the Ajyad restaurant in Amman one recent lunch hour, that mood was dark. On two 36-cm TVs, al-Jazeera carried video from a Baghdad market hit by missiles. As Iraqis pulled the mutilated dead from the rubble and the camera lingered on a boy with blood streaming from his head, waiters paused, holding their steaming plates of lamb stew. "This blood must be avenged;' taxi driver Ata Ali said angrily. "We will see pictures of American children bleeding like that, God willing." "God willing," responded his friends. The diners sniggered at American "softies" chafing at the desert conditions and disparaged White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer, who is Jewish. "This just proves the Jews are behind this war," said Nabil Abu Maazin, an electrician. Another man said he sometimes watches CNN. "It's very boring;' he said. "They never seem to talk to real people, only experts. The Arab channels show you real people and how the war is affecting them."

In fact, Western and Arab media are driven by the same imperative-to feed the hunger for human interest. Their interests are simply in different humans. On U.S. TV it means press conferences with soldiers who have hand and foot injuries and interviews with rows' families, but little blood. On Arab and Muslim TV it means dead bodies and mourning. History will have to sort out many points on which Western and Middle Eastern TV differ: how effective the allied war effort is, how warmly Iraqis will receive its results and which media are most accurate and neutral. What we do know is that war is a horrible thing in which people die horribly. So far, there is no question which networks own that story. -Reported by Aparisim Ghosh/Amman, Amany Radwan/Cairo and Pelin Turgut/Istanbul.

From The International Herald Tribune

WAR IN IRAQ Telling the story

Reporters get new tools to cover conflicts, but old problems remain

By Julie Salamon

Monday, April 7,2003

Listening to old Murrow broadcasts is a reminder that war has always been a chaotic, confusing and dangerous story, seen by the reporter through a narrow lens. Murrow brought clarity to his listeners through intelligent assessment of what he saw.

"A row of automobiles, with stretchers racked on the roof like skis, standing outside of bombed buildings," he said in 1940, describing the bombing of London. "A man pinned under wreckage where a broken gas main sears his arms and face."

Today's television broadcasts unfold not like narratives, edited for sense, context and continuity, but like animated Cubist paintings with sound and multiple images appearing simultaneously.

"Back in the Middle Ages when I covered wars you had reflection time - you weren't winging it," said Morley Safer of the "60 Minutes" program on CBS, who covered the Israeli-Egyptian conflict in Suez in 1956 and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. "Now, suddenly you're on, and you have to say something. You can only describe what you can see in the very, very narrow field of vision that you have. They have a hell of a lot more people covering these live wars than we had. But we had time to check things out."

In all wars the field correspondents by necessity offer a keyhole view, its range determined by access and censorship. Pyle, like other correspondents in World War II, was required to submit dispatches to military censors, while today's reporters are not. (Although the reporters traveling with troops are subject to restrictions).

But the context of World War II - a global war with a moral imperative against a clear enemy, where the reporter and the soldier were both unlikely to question the rationale - fell apart quickly in Vietnam. That conflict produced widespread dissent at home and changed the perspective and even the role of the war reporter. Skepticism replaced solidarity, and reporters made their reputations by digging out the contradictions of the war.

In the Iraq war, the U.S. policy of assigning journalists to live with the troops, or "embedding" them, could be seen as carrying on the tradition of Ernie Pyle - or as a method to manage the news and restore the sympathy between reporter and soldier.

The policy, some critics argue, is an effort to make the press a cheerleader again for U.S. soldiers and to demoralize an enemy with live pictures of American might.

Traveling with U.S. troops in World War II, the war correspondent Ernie Pyle brought home the horror in unadorned prose. "There is nothing left behind but the remains - the lifeless debris, the sunshine and the flowers, and utter silence," he wrote from Normandy in 1944. "An amateur who wanders in this vacuum at the rear of a battle has a terrible sense of loneliness. Everything is dead - the men, the machines, the animals - and you alone are left alive."

Pyle himself was killed in action and mourned as a hero. Combat journalism has changed since then, but so has warfare. Technology has significantly altered how wars are waged and for how long, the tools reporters use and how audiences receive the news. Edward R. Murrow, standing on rooftops in London watching German bombs fall, sent word pictures by radio; today's television correspondents transmit live images. Now there are multitudes of channels, as well as the Internet, barraging the home front with information and supposition, some of it reliable, some not. But has this made war more comprehensible or less? Is the war correspondence any better?

Being a war correspondent has been difficult and dangerous but also romantic, and romanticized. Michael Herr, in "Dispatches," a book drawn from his Vietnam reporting, wrote of the press corps reporting on the war: "It included young marrieds, all kinds of girl reporters, a lot of Europeans, the Ivy-League-in-Asia crowd, the Danang bunch, the Straights and the Heads, formals and funkies, old hands (many of whom were very young) and even some tourists, people who wanted to go somewhere to screw around for a while and happened to choose the war."

A similar variety has gathered now: the veterans of other wars, the gonzo adventurers and the gee-whiz commentators who seem surprised to be seeing bombs explode. It is too early to tell what kind of job they are doing. But as in other wars, death is an occupational hazard. Four journalists have died - two Britons, an Australian and an American, Michael Kelly, an editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly and a columnist for The Washington Post.

So far in this war, context has often become submerged in a swamp of unfiltered detail. In today's information free-for-all it is possible to watch not only television outlets in the United States, many of them round the clock, but also foreign outlets like the BBC or France's TV 5.

AI Jazeera, the Arabic satellite channel, is available on the Internet, as are reports from newspapers around the world. Some correspondents write one thing for their employers and then file additional unedited personal reports on the Internet in Weblogs, diary-like accounts that tend to be more opinionated. "So many stories start out as rumors, gain some credence because they have been reported, and then turn out to be rumors after all," said Phillip Knightley, author of "The First Casualty" a sometimes caustic assessment of war correspondents published in 1975 and updated in 2000. "Then these rumors simply disappear without being properly resolved."

Since the secretary of war began handing out press releases to correspondents during the US. Civil War, the American government has tried to manipulate the news. In World War I, which was unpopular in the United States, Congress passed the Espionage Act, making it a crime to interfere with the recruitment of troops or the national defense. The law was used to silence anti-war protesters and to keep the press on a tight leash. In World War II, generally considered a just war, reporters were eager to join the cause.

Then came Vietnam, the first televised war. The government allowed journalists relatively free range and then blamed them for both insufficient patriotism and a failed policy. But for a long time, most of the coverage of Vietnam, while not uncritical, generally supported government objectives. The Tet Offensive in 1968 shattered public confidence in official credibility, when heavy U.S. losses sharply contradicted the optimistic prognosis for the war that had been issued from Washington.

Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor, said the war was at a stalemate. "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost America," said President Lyndon ohnson. Kevin Buckley, who arrived in Newsweek's Saigon bureau in February 1968, said, "There were two big questions: How are we doing and what are we doing?"

The "what" often has to do with carnage, human losses the government may not want reported. "Generally the American media is less receptive to hearing the answer to what are we doing, because the answer is often troubling," Buckley said. "In Vietnam terms, a government official would say, 'Ninety-two percent of that province is pacified.' A reporter might take the official to task about the 92 percent without asking the real question, 'What was pacification?' Denuding the countryside of its population. Putting heavy lethal firepower into heavily populated areas."

A stream of conflicts followed: Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada; then the Gulf War, followed by Chechnya and Kosovo. There was the genocide in Rwanda, the struggle in Northern Ireland and the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But none of these approached a major war of national commitment; most did not involve U.S. troops, and even in Kosovo, U.S. ground troops were sent in only after the conflict was over.

Legions of reporters moved through these places, writing and photographing, increasingly armed with the satellite telephones and cell phones that gave coverage an immediacy previously unimaginable. Suddenly it was possible to provide instant testimony from the ground that sometimes contradicted the briefings given from headquarters.

Journalists in such conflicts were more often between sides than with one or the other. They could be the targets of anyone. "You're an antidote to the propaganda," said Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post, who was in Belgrade during the NATO air strikes in 1999. "It puts you in a position where you really have to be objective and detached.

You're reporting to the country that's waging the war, but reporting among the people who are living in it.

"I saw the suffering of Serbian civilians and yet I knew very well the political arguments in favor of the war. I personally couldn't decide between those two things. There are two sides of war, both of which are accurate."

From The Observer,6903,930401,00.html

The human face of TV war

Untransmitted footage reveals the fluctuating emotions of troops on the Iraqi front line, writes ITN's Richard Wild.

Sunday April 6, 2003

The Observer

In times of war, television journalism comes into its own. It allows us an immediate sense that we are seeing an accurate depiction of the frontline. A 30-minute TV news programme can take us from pictures of soldiers engaged in severe firefights with Iraqis to troops in berets distributing much-needed water to old men and children. Simultaneously, soldiers bear lethal weapons and hand out sweets to children.

This describes accurately the range of duties expected of the Army in this war, which has had to justify itself as humane in the face of intense public scrutiny. But these are anonymous soldiers. We see warriors fighting silently for causes outside the boundaries of political debate, namely loyalty and duty. It is the reporters or senior officers who tell their story.

My job during the war has led me to a very different image of the troops in Iraq. As one of the ITN team who watches every second of footage taken by a British camera, including all the hours of footage that are never broadcast, I have seen a great deal more of the war than is shown in news programmes.

A TV camera's microphone is never turned off. On these endless audio tracks, moments and feelings are captured that remind us that soldiers are very human, very ordinary people. This has allowed me to listen to the voices of soldiers who may be unaware that they will be heard in an ITN newsroom.

One package, for example, showed a group of soldiers relaxing around a fire at night. They came across as a quiet, reflective group, sharing only a couple of brief words. Off camera, a reporter was asking them to pose to get the shots that would suit his piece.

While the camera continues to run between shots, however, the group lost its awareness of being 'on film', relaxing into a friendship, bantering in nicknames - 'Allie' and 'Macka' - and laughing at the fact they would be 'on the telly'. One jokingly dared another to 'pull a moonie'. He didn't, but, even if he had, it would never have been shown: this is not an image that accords with television troops.

The next day, a striking piece of footage came through of soldiers searching buildings in the outskirts of Basra as the coalition forces established their presence in the area. The camera followed - with its microphone on. The door had to be kicked down to gain entry to one deserted building. Inside, a picture of Saddam Hussein lay on the floor. 'More fucking pictures of Saddam,' muttered a soldier.

The house was searched without finding anything but another closed door. This one would not open on an initial kick and so another soldier tried and tried again as his colleagues whooped and shouted encouragement: 'Come on sunshine', 'Come on, Bondy, have him'. The second kick was almost theatrical in intensity, double-footed with a running leap. It did not budge and they moved out of the house and on. For a moment, these soldiers were teenagers breaking into a scrap-yard or children with a rotten tree trunk.

This scene lasted for a couple of minutes. It did not make any packages, which understandably concentrated on the narration of the fierce battle going on for the rest of the city. But it tells a story of its own. It reminds us that these are not politically correct robots. For a moment, these soldiers digressed from television's description of the meticulous, professional soldier. Whilst undertaking a serious operation they showed themselves as a group of young men in high jinks. Their postures were textbook, rifles held to the shoulder ready for an emergency; it was their voices that gave them away.

In some situations, the soldiers' silence reveals their humanity. As the first Iraqis surrendered on the road to Umm Qasar on the second day of war, a camera was present with the small group of troops who received them. One went out to deal with the prisoner of war. Hesitantly, the soldier made his way forward. In an ITV package that evening, a ten-second clip of the search was used. A sense of time is important. It conveyed the story of surrender succinctly. But it lacked the protracted and awkward scene of the full footage that showed a young man feeling his way into his new position as captor.

Yesterday as ITN fed in footage of troops manning a checkpoint on the road into Basra Bridge, a few shots were fired. The source was not clear at first. Huddled behind a tank, three soldiers discussed where they might be coming from as they watched non-uniformed Iraqis in the far distance: 'What about on top of that dark thing?' one asked. 'He's all right that one,' another reassured him. The shots stopped and the group relaxed again. But after a pause: 'Si... Si... Where are you, mate?'

These were voices of caution, highlighting the teamwork and camaraderie that forms the backbone of small units.

The British Army provides a service whereby soldiers can send brief video messages to their friends and families, which are transmitted on television stations' satellite dishes. These are personal messages and not for broadcast. But as with all footage from these dishes, they come through on our monitors at ITN.

In the obvious sense, these troops immediately become individuals. They stand alone and without helmets in front of the camera. Even seeing their faces intimately is startling.

For many this will have been the first chance in over two weeks to communicate with those close to them. Their messages were to people from their own worlds, to Nan, Mum and Dad, girlfriends, husbands, friends: a wealth of relationships behind the anonymous troops we see on our screens.

War was not the topic, instead reassurances of well being, and hopes of meeting up quickly. Many used the same phrases: 'As you can see I'm safe and well', 'I'll be back soon', 'Miss you loads'. One responded simply: 'Yes, I will marry you when I get back'.

There were a whole range of different accents, a lisp, some lively and fluent, others awkward and laconic. Suddenly the Army could be seen in its raw, constituent parts.

Cameras only follow stories and even this additional footage of the war is limited. It would be far more interesting to be able to sit around a camp at night with a group of soldiers and hear about their real thoughts and feelings. This type of information is inaccessible. The rare moments when soldiers have talked on camera about the campaign have addressed feelings of fear and sentiments that Saddam Hussein needs to be toppled. These are easy, acceptable soundbites both for those making TV packages and for the interviewees stuck in front of a camera.

This gap in our knowledge, however, raises questions about the how far the military atmosphere allows them to think freely about their task and has repercussions for the way that the war is reported.

Last Monday, two soldiers were allegedly sent back to Britain for questioning the legality of the war and whether they should be called upon to shoot innocent civilians. Their lawyer Gilbert Blades claimed that 'as soon as they expressed these views to other soldiers they were then removed'.

The combat zone is not, of course, the place for political debate. Yet without including a day-to-day image of the soldiers, we lack a complete sense of the war experience. Until then it is difficult to see the soldiers as anything beyond executors of government business.

These are not poets, nor warriors but ordinary men and women who, by choice of profession, have left home comforts and freedoms to face great danger. On the whole they remain a mystery and will be remembered after this war by medals, not words.

But it is important when watching fleeting, silent television coverage to remember that beneath the uniforms are people coming to terms with a life of overwhelming intensity. If only we could hear, they manage to preserve their human voice.

· Richard Wild is a researcher at ITN.

From The Observer,7541,930411,00.html

Sky wins battle for rolling news audience

The satellite network's lead has been fuelled by a new appetite for 24-hour news among British viewers, reports Jamie Doward.

Sunday April 6, 2003

The Observer

Even if, according to the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the 1991 Gulf war didn't exist, there can be no such doubts about its successor. Baudrillard's much quoted thesis, famously espoused in the pages of Libération, suggested the first conflict - as seen through the prism of the media - came to be depicted as an unreal, imaginary place, a giant video game to the eyes of desensitised television viewers.

But with a multitude of rolling news channels beaming constant images, many of them extremely harrowing, into the UK's homes, this war is terrifyingly, soberingly real. 'The flow of pictures has been exceptional. I've done every war since the Falklands - which didn't have pictures - to Afghanistan, which had pictures but from the wrong places, and this is remarkable, even overwhelming sometimes,' said Rachel Attwell, deputy head of television news at the BBC.

Indeed some critics have gone so far as to suggest the 24-hour news channels are little more than purveyors of 'war porn' for the way they broadcast relentless images shown without context or explanation. Others, such as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, worry that they create information overload - too much reality which could have serious effects on morale.

'Had the public been able to see live coverage from the First World War trenches I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. Imagine the carnage of the Somme on Sky and BBC News 24,' Straw said in a recent speech.

One thing, however, is indubitably clear: UK viewers want rolling news and they increasingly want it from domestic broadcasters. All three of the UK's rolling news channels - Sky, BBC News 24 and the ITV News Channel - are experiencing significant increases in audience numbers, while the once mighty CNN seems to have failed to live up to its gilt-edged reputation honed during the first Gulf War.

'People are watching in bigger numbers than they have ever watched before. It's pretty amazing that we reached more than 9 million people last month,' said Steve Anderson, controller of ITV news and current affairs.

'The big difference this time around is technology has got better, lighter, easier to handle and it's cheaper. It's much more effective and so it's not unusual to go straight to live pictures out of, say, Basra. Often the pictures are mundane, but you can cut to it at the flick of a switch, and this war has come much more into people's homes,' Anderson said.

Strangely, though, in contrast to the success of the UK's rolling news channels, CNN is perceived to be having a poor war, at least among British viewers. 'They made a big play of owning it by spending money and devoting huge numbers of people to it, but it looks dated and they haven't got the mix right,' said one executive with a rival broadcaster.

Of the UK rolling news channels, only Sky was around during the first conflict, which may go some way to explaining why it is doing so well in the ratings this time. The BBC's rival channel has just celebrated its fourth birthday while ITV's equivalent is only six months old.

Despite pundits suggesting this conflict would be the making of BBC News 24, Sky has surprised some by remaining firmly ahead in the ratings war.

On the first day of the Iraq war, Sky News - which has an 85-strong team dedicated to reporting the situation in the Gulf - was the most-watched of the three news channels, recording a reach (the number of people watching for at least three minutes) - of just under 6 million. The BBC, by comparison, managed just under 4 million and ITV just under one million. As the week progressed Sky hit 6.1m viewers, the BBC maintained its position and the ITV News Channel doubled its audience.

More impressive, though, was Sky News' share of the overnight audience. On the night war broke out Sky News took 7.52 per cent of the audience, compared with News 24's 2.92 per cent and ITN's 0.82 per cent.

'Like most of these things it's a matter of getting the balance right,' said Nick Pollard, head of Sky News. 'You've got to get the balance between reporting, presenting, explaining, analysis and the total package - the look on screen. We've got more of this right than the opposition.'

Before the war began, Pollard told his staff they needed to focus on two things. 'One, logistics, getting to the story, covering it. And two, the journalism. And if the latter is subsumed under the former we're not doing it right. We've got to make it user-friendly without being trite and we need to be slick. It's what we normally do but writ large.'

The channel believes its decision to drop advertising slots for the first days of the conflict (still only one an hour now) won it plaudits with viewers, although it is debatable how many companies want to advertise during the war anyway. Pollard says the fact that its coverage is anchored in Kuwait and is introduced by two respected heavyweights - Simon McCoy and Emmy-award winning Jeremy Thompson - gives it an authenticity that appeals to viewers. Certainly, some of its coverage has been compelling. The channel points proudly to two notable broadcasts - David Chater's reports from Baghdad as the bombs started to fall and David Bowden's commentary amid the fierce fighting around Umm Qasr.

Sky has fashioned a reputation for breaking big news stories. It claims it was between 10 to 15 minutes ahead of the BBC when it came to reporting September 11 and the outbreak of war.

BBC insiders suggest Sky's attempts to be first have backfired on several occasions, with the channel running stories that were untrue. In its response to the Lambert report into BBC News 24, the corporation hissed: 'We sometimes have a higher threshold for breaking news or a more detailed checking process than our competitors.'

Attwell argues judging coverage by ratings only gives half the story. 'You don't have to be number one to be a success. I would like to think people felt News 24 was a channel of high quality. We have some fantastic correspondents in the field, with a level of expertise the other channels don't have.' In addition she pointed to the way the channel devoted more air time to debating key issues.

All three channels reject claims they simply serve a relentless diet of uncomprehending coverage. But clearly the ratio between rolling news and what else is sandwiched around it depends on the overarching philosophy of each channel and often hinges on a producer's split-second decision. ITV's Anderson said: 'Last Saturday we showed pictures of Iraqis down by the Tigris looking for downed pilots and firing into the water. It was a live event and we went with it - it was an indelible image, but in the end it didn't amount to anything.'

Latest figures show the 24-hour news channels are experiencing viewer fatigue with audiences tailing off. Last week Sky had an average 4m viewers tuning in, more than 2m below its peak. But as the battle around Baghdad intensifies, the news channels face their greatest challenge - and their greatest opportunity.

From The New York Times

In Arab media, war shown as a 'clash of civilizations'

Susan Sachs NYT

Saturday, April 5, 2003

CAIRO It was a picture of Arab grief and rage. A teenage boy glared from the rubble of a bombed building as a veiled woman shrieked over the prostrate body of a relative.

In fact, it was two pictures: one from the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the second from the Palestinian territories, blended into one image this week on the Web site of the popular Saudi daily newspaper Al Watan.

The meaning would be clear to any Arab reader: What is happening in Iraq is part of one continuous brutal assault by America and its allies on defenseless Arabs, wherever they are.

As the Iraq war moves into its third week, the media in the region have increasingly fused images and enemies from this and other conflicts into a single bloodstained tableau of Arab grievance.

The Israeli flag is superimposed on the American flag. The Crusades and the 13th-century Mongol sack of Baghdad, recalled as barbarian attacks on Arab civilization, are used as synonyms for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Horrific vignettes of the helpless - armless children, crushed babies, stunned mothers - cascade into Arab living rooms from the front pages of newspapers and television screens.

For Arab leaders and Arab moderates, supported by Washington, the war has become a political crisis of street protests, militant calls for a jihad and bitter public criticism of their ties to the United States.

While a short war with a minimum of inflammatory pictures of Iraqi civilian casualties had been hoped for, the daily message to the public from much of the Arab media is that U.S. troops are callous killers, that only resistance to the United States can redeem Arab pride and that the Iraqis are fighting a pan-Arab battle for self-respect.

"The media are playing a very dangerous game in this conflict," said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "When you see the vocabulary and the images used, it is actually bringing everybody to the worst nightmare - the clash of civilizations."

Sensationalism has not gripped all media outlets. Some mainline government-owned newspapers like the staid Al Ahram in Egypt and two of the privately owned international Arabic papers based in London, Al Hayat and Asharq Al Awsat, have reported the war in neutral language.

The biggest influence on much of the media coverage has come from the satellite news channel Al Jazeera. It made its name with on-the-spot coverage of the Palestinian uprising, which also gave viewers an unblinking look at bloody and broken bodies.

Many governments, aware that Al Jazeera is widely considered by Arab audiences to be more credible, have allowed their own stations to run Al Jazeera footage of the war to demonstrate their own anti-war credentials.

The rage against the United States is fed by this steady diet of close-up color photographs and television footage of dead and wounded Iraqis, invariably described as victims of U.S. bombs. In recent days, more and more Arabic newspapers have run headlines bluntly accusing soldiers of deliberately killing civilians.

Even for those accustomed to seeing such images from Arab coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the daily barrage of war coverage in newspapers and on hourly television reports has left many Arabs beside themselves with anger.

"He is 'Shaytan,' that Bush," shouted Ali Hammouda, a newsstand operator in Cairo, using the Arabic word for Satan and pointing with shaking hands to a photograph in one of his newspapers.

The image, published in many Arabic papers, showed the bloody bodies of a stick-thin woman and a baby, said to be victims of American shelling in central Iraq. They were lying in an open wooden coffin, the baby's green pacifier still in its mouth. "Your Bush says he is coming to make them free, but look at this lady," Hammouda exclaimed. "Is she free? What did she do? What did her baby do?"

Fahmi Howeidy, a prominent Islamist writer in Cairo, said the reactions were not necessarily pro-Saddam. "Of course we think Saddam Hussein will not continue in power, but if he resists for weeks, at least he will defend his image as a hero who could resist U.S. and British power," Howeidy said.

"If this happens, we can expect chaos in the Arab world because we don't know how the people who already criticize Arab regimes will express their anger after that," he added.

Since the war began, much of the Arabic press and the private Arab satellite stations have displayed no squeamishness about what they show. War is carnage, the editors have said, so why mute the screams or hide the entrails of the wounded and dead?

"Arabs, like anybody else, don't like the sight of blood or pictures of corpses, but it's a matter of principle that we have the right to know what's happening," said Gasa Mustafa Abaido, an assistant professor of communications at Ain Shams University in Cairo. "What we see in the media is an indirect way for the governments and the public to reject the war."

From MediaChannel



Danny Schechter, Executive Editor of



If we ever needed a clearer demonstration of the power of media, we have it now. The battle for media control has moved into the center of the war. Despite the violation of international law associated with bombing a television station, the US forces continue to try to do it in Iraq. Suddenly we are back in the Romania of l989, or the Russia of '91 as the fight for the TV power becomes a centerpiece the campaign to deligitimize a regime.

US forces have been targeting the TV towers in Baghdad the way they did in Belgrade. And they still haven't taken it off the air despite all the cruise missiles, smart bombs, bunker busters, JDAMs and who knows what else, they have thrown at them. At the Centcom briefing this morning-comfortably televised from the million dollar air conditioned media center in Doha by another type of controlled TV-there was suggestions that the Iraqis had built redundant systems anticipating just such an attack. They have also leased time on satellites.


The Media war has moved center stage with briefers describing their own propaganda initiatives, ie. taking over Channel 3, and launching radio stations that Clear Channel communications are likely to pick up for a song when the war ends. As the American TV commentators buzz about whether of not that was the "real" Saddam we saw in the streets with cheering supporters yesterday.

(As for the briefings, here's a disturbing side bar. Last week we cited NY Magazine columnist Michael Wolff's report lambasting the phoniness of the whole Doha disinformation enterprise. When he returned to New York, he reportedly discovered that Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh had been blasting him on the air and calling on his listeners to bombard him with emails. Rush gave out his e-mail address out and his ditto heads dutifully overloaded his computer. So much for freedom of expression.)

No one commented on the contrast between President Bush flanked by cheering soldiers in North Carolina and the Iraqi leaders being embraced by his people in the streets. The Iraqis are showing tapes of what they call martyrs-most recently women with rifles calling for more resistance. Our media calls them suicide bombers as if they are ending their lives for personal, not political reasons. At Centcom, the Major General of the Moment characterizes the entire Iraqi resistance as suicidal because of the disparity in fire power.

He along with US TV sees the war in military terms. The Iraqis and much of the world view it politically. Oddly enough the US administration views it politically too-but in much more self-interested terms as the NY Times reports today: 'The invasion of Iraq has accelerated with stunning speed in less than a week, taking some of the political heat off President Bush." He knows that "winning" the war is a key to winning reelection.


This contrast of images is also seen on TV when you compare CNN's antiseptic and sanitized coverage to Al Jazeera's depiction of a far bloodier conflict. (Al Jazeera is now back in Baghdad after shutting down when a reporter was ousted.) The Wall Street Journal led with a story bout this media war yesterday. Emily Nelson reports:

"The two networks, with unprecedented access to the battlefields of Iraq, are playing a powerful role in shaping perceptions of the war. The gulf between the two views could even have an impact on U.S. policy in the Middle East. A look at 24 consecutive hours of programming on CNN and al-Jazeera reveals the many differences, both dramatic and subtle.

"CNN offers human-interest features with the families of U.S. POWs. Al-Jazeera keeps updating the war's death toll. CNN refers to "coalition forces," al-Jazeera to "invading Americans." CNN viewers expect the latest technology, such as lipstick cameras and night vision, and they get it. Al-Jazeera has had unusual access in places such as Baghdad and Basra, so it could offer its audience a street-level view of the war's impact on Iraqis. CNN's correspondents were all either pulled out or kicked out of Baghdad.

"Many Arabs and Americans believe the other audience is being fed propaganda. But there is more than ideology at work at the two networks. Both are business operations competing for viewers and advertisers against increasingly aggressive rivals and avidly seeking to please their target audiences."


Peter Arnett is also back on the air for Baghdad. AP reports on its former staffer: "Within days of being fired by the U.S. network NBC, Arnett found an unlikely new audience Thursday: the Dutch-speaking - and hopefully English-comprehending - citizens of northern Belgium.

"Thanks Peter Arnett, we are proud to have you on our team," said VTM news anchor Dany Verstraeten after Arnett finished his first report for the private Belgian TV network.

"VTN said it will have daily reports from one of the world's most famous reporters until the end of the war. Also Thursday, a state-run TV channel in Greece said Arnett would soon be providing nightly dispatches for it, too. "this story also shows how TV networks around the world do not share the values and viewpoints of the US based cable news nets…

"Arnett, who apologized for his "misjudgment," told VTM he was a "casualty of the information war." "There are two wars taking place, You have the war of bullets and bombs, then you have the information war," he said. He complained he was making "just obvious statements" about the war that should not have backfired the way they did. "This caused a firestorm in America. I was called a traitor," he said, adding NBC "let me crash and burn."


On the pro-war side of the media war, we have an assessment to share from the Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune who explains what Fox News is doing right. (I used that word knowingly.) "

"They report. We deride.

"We deride Fox News Channel for saying "us" and "our" in talking about the American war effort, a strategy that conjures images of gung-ho anchor Shepard Smith, like Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove," riding a Tomahawk straight into Baghdad.

"We deride Fox for playing ratings politics with the news, turning Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers' public call Tuesday for media to be "fair and balanced" into a back-door endorsement, pointing out frequently afterward that the general had echoed a Fox News marketing slogan. "…

This, the folks in the bunker at Fox would argue, is due to the rest of the media's liberal agenda, an agenda Fox News slyly re-alleges with every repetition of "fair and balanced" (the others aren't) and "we report; you decide" ("they" don't give you that chance).

"A less calculatedly paranoid worldview would recognize that scrutiny is the price of success, of the channel becoming, in a sense, the Scud stud of this Persian Gulf conflict. Ratings during the war have confirmed that Roger Ailes' and Rupert Murdoch's upstart operation has become the clear leader in cable news popularity." (Should that be "cheer leader?)

"Fox News has held the lead it built in peacetime by following its well-established and fairly simple recipe: dollops of news reported by comely anchors and correspondents tossed atop a main dish of attitude and argument led by charismatic and right-leaning hosts." This piece is worth studying because Steve is right, knocking Fox or dismissing it is too easy. We need to study its formula and understand its appeal."


Fox is not the only offender of journalistic practice as FAIR points out in a dissection of one incident in which subsequent accounts in newspapers that I cited in an earier column contradicted the initial TV report and the impression it fostered.

"A recent Washington Post article describing the killing of civilians by U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint outside the Iraqi town of Najaf proved that "embedded" journalists do have the ability to report on war in all its horror. But the rejection by some U.S. outlets of Post correspondent William Branigin's eyewitness account in favor of the Pentagon's sanitized version suggests that some journalists prefer not to report the harsh reality of war.

"The Pentagon version was the one first reported in U.S. media-sometimes in terms that assumed that the official account was factual. "What happened there, the van with a number of individuals in it...approached the checkpoint," reported MSNBC's Carl Rochelle (3/31/03). "They were told to stop by the members of the 3rd Infantry Division. They did not stop, warning shots were fired. Still they came on. They fired into the engine of the van. Still it came on, so they began opening fire on the van itself."

"Fox's John Gibson (3/31/03) presented the story in similar terms: "We warn these cars to stop. If they don't stop, fire warning shots. If they don't stop then, fire into the engine. If they don't stop then, fire into the cab. And today some guys killed some civilians after going through all those steps."

But later on the night of March 31, the Post released its story on the shooting that would appear in the April 1 edition of the paper. Branigin's report described U.S. Army Capt. Ronny Johnson's attempts to avoid the incident as he directed his troops via radio from the checkpoint:

"Fire a warning shot,' he ordered as the vehicle kept coming. Then, with increasing urgency, he told the platoon to shoot a 7.62mm machine-gun round into its radiator. 'Stop [messing] around!' Johnson yelled into the company radio network when he still saw no action being taken. Finally, he shouted at the top of his voice, 'Stop him, Red 1, stop him!',,," In short what happened, according to close observers is not quite what was first reported and rationalized.


Across the globe, veteran Israeli journalist Uri Avneri is sounding the same alarm. He, too has coined a word, but you won't hear it on TV. It is "presstitute." He explains: "In the Middle Ages, armies were accompanied by large numbers of prostitutes. In the Iraq war, the American and British armies are accompanied by large numbers of journalists. I coined the Hebrew equivalent of "presstitution" when I was the editor of an Israeli newsmagazine, to denote the journalists who turn the media into whores. Physicians are bound by the Hippocratic oath to save life as far as possible. Journalists are bound by professional honor to tell the truth, as they see it.


Let's go back to that whole issue of civilian casualties, hardly a subject of much media focus. Yesterday, I noted that reference is made to the use of cluster bombs without any descriptions being offered of their lethal weapon. We have all seen the graphics detailing the various planes and their specs. But what about the bombs and there consequences. As it turns out, Pepe Escobar wrote about this yesterday on Asia Times Online (not the NY Times off-line.)

He writes: "Reports from the Hilla region of Iraq, 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, say that scores of civilians, many of them children, have been killed and hundreds more injured by cluster bombs. Gruesome images of mutilated bodies are being shown on Arab television stations. But for Western viewers, this ugly side to the war has been sanitized.

"Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq, describes what happened in Hilla as "a horror, dozens of severed bodies and scattered limbs." Initially, Murtada Abbas, the director of Hilla hospital, was questioned about the bombing only by Iraqi journalists--and only Arab cameramen working for Reuters and Associated Press were allowed on site. What they filmed is horror itself--the first images shot by Western news agencies of what is also happening on the Iraqi frontlines: babies cut in half, amputated limbs, kids with their faces, a web of deep cuts caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Nobody in the West will ever see these images because they were censored by editors in Baghdad: only a "soft" version made it to worldwide TV distribution.


What we do see from time to time out of Baghdad are those TV images of Saddam Hussein with many commentators skeptical of when they were videotaped. An explanation for that mystery was offered up yesterday by This report suggests that the Iraqis may be more media savvy than they are being given credit for and that Arab news sources are closer to the story. Check this out: "A number of reliable sources inside Baghdad report that two days before the start of the war Saddam disappeared into a hidden command center, in a location unknown even to his ministers. Since then, sources say that Saddam has not met in person with his top ministers, and has not talked to them directly by telephone. His instruction are delivered to them by messengers in writing or in video and audio cassettes. Saddam does not use the telephone or fax, which he believes can be intercepted or tracked by the Americans.

"According to the sources, Saddam Hussein's second son, Qusai is believed to be the only person to know exactly where the Iraqi leader is staying.

"Saddam's own appearances on television are all recordings that were made before the war started, and he has not made any new television appearances since he went into underground. Workers at Iraqi Television spoke of a vault inside the Information Ministry with hundreds of recordings, each inscribed only with two letters and a number. It is said that Saddam decides which of the tapes to air on television by a short note indicating the code of the appropriate cassette. Three different taped recordings for when the Americans are about to enter Baghdad are already waiting at the television, they added, delivered on Tuesday this week." (See


Sources like these are being believed more than US TV news reports, according to USA Today: "Channel-surf from Britain's BBC to Germany's ZDF, or flip through newspapers from Spain to Bangkok, and one finds stories that tilt noticeably against the war and in favor of besieged Iraqi civilians. Often, these are emotional first-person accounts of visiting hospitals or bombed-out apartments, accompanied by graphic photos of the dead and dying that would never appear in U.S. outlets. "Most Europeans do not support this war, and so the coverage is simply a reflection of that," says Giuseppe Zaffuto, project director at the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, the Netherlands. For now, it seems much of the world's media still need to be convinced of Washington's position."

We still don't know why al-Jazeera was booted from Baghdad and according to them, at least officially, they don't either. An official statement says: "The Iraqi Information Ministry told al-Jazeera office in Baghdad its decision to ban Diar al-Omari, al-Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, from practicing his journalistic duties. The decision also included that Tayseer Allouni should leave Iraq as soon as possible. The ministry did not provide any reasons for that decision. Al-Jazeera network is sorry for this unpredictable and unreasonable decision by the ministry." (NOTE; After writing this, I heard a former Al-Jazeera correspondent explain that one of the journalists the Iraqis objected too was considered too pro-Islamic while another, an Iraqi, was deemed insufficently deferential to President Saddam.)


Guess who is going back to the front. The well politically connected Faux News Network seems to have made a few calls and Geraldo Rivera is going back. Reports the NY Post: "The Pentagon says Geraldo Rivera is welcome to go back into Iraq with U.S. troops now that he's "learned his lesson." Quote: "It was a stunning turn-around for Geraldo, who appeared just 24 hours ago to be on the verge of a career meltdown. Rivera's latest gaffe infuriated U.S. war commanders who--at one point Tuesday--threatened to remove him physically from the battle zone if he did not "voluntarily" agree to leave." There were antiwar, anti-media protests yesterday at Fox News HQ in San Francisco.


How does the public feel about the war coverage? TV Guide's Max Robins cites a poll that says they can't get enough. The Gallup people meanwhile offer an opposite conclusion: their poll shows a sharp decrease in the percentage of Americans who rate media coverage as "excellent" since the wargasm coverage began. Say the pollsters: 'Interestingly, those Americans who support the war with Iraq are most likely to rate the media coverage positively. At the same time, war supporters are also the most likely to have downgraded their views of news coverage since the war began, suggesting that this group is most sensitive to how the war is being portrayed.


Ahmed Bouzid writes: "Please consider writing on this alarming bit of news. First the NYSE boots out al-Jazeera reporters, then al-Jazeera's web site is hacked into and brought down, and now they are trying to kick it out of the Dish Network so that the millions who get al-Jazeera here in the US won't be able to anymore. This is truly appalling--especially that it is happening while US soldiers are supposedly dying to spread democracy and free speech..."

Meanwhile the NY Times reports: "In a move sure to complicate the efforts of al-Jazeera, the Arabic news network, to get its English-language Web site running, Akamai Technologies abruptly canceled a contract on Wednesday to provide Web services for the site.

Employees at al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said they were frustrated by the decision, though not entirely surprised. "It has nothing to do with technical issues," said Joanne Tucker, the managing editor of the English-language site. "It's nonstop political pressure on these companies not to deal with us."

Akamai, based in Cambridge, Mass., would not comment on the reason for the cancellation. But Jeff Young, a company spokesman, issued a statement confirming that Akamai would no longer do business with al-Jazeera." Readers in Cambridge might visit this firm and discuss this "business" decision.

From the New York Times

Reporters in Baghdad are walking a tightrope

Jim Rutenberg/NYT NYT

Saturday, April 5, 2003

NEW YORK As the battle for Baghdad gets under way, Western reporters in the Iraqi capital are engaged in an increasingly delicate dance, trying to portray events and public sentiment accurately without running afoul of the government.

The reporters in Baghdad are more often than not accompanied by jittery government minders, whose very presence prompts Iraqi interview subjects to launch into pro-Saddam Hussein statements. By weaving the few hints of anti-government sentiment they do pick up into their reports, they risk expulsion - or inadvertently sending their interview subjects to prison.

Their efforts have come in for growing criticism. Peter Arnett, the longtime war correspondent, was dropped by NBC News and "National Geographic Explorer" this week after he gave an interview to Iraqi state television in which he said President George W. Bush's war plan had failed.

Some of Arnett's colleagues attributed his appearance to a desire to stay on the good side of his minders.

And then Wednesday night, Britain's home secretary, David Blunkett, speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, complained that Western news organizations were treating Iraqi-supervised reports from Baghdad as the "moral equivalent" of those from coalition sources. "We have broadcast media behind what we would describe as enemy lines, reporting blow by blow what is happening," he said. "Those of a progressive, or liberal bent, in my view, are egged on into believing that this is the right way to get to the true facts."

While the remarks were met with a cool reception by American news executives, their counterparts in Britain were more exercised.

"Reports from the BBC's team in Baghdad are a key part of the complex jigsaw that forms the overarching story of the conflict," said Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News in London.

"We just see it as a core journalistic duty to be there, and to have eyewitnesses reporting," he added. Yet correspondents in Baghdad acknowledge that the unvarnished truth is as hard to come by in Iraq's capital as "I-heart-Bush" bumper stickers.

They have had to develop a sixth sense to distinguish between fear-inspired rhetoric and heartfelt emotions.

"There is a community pressure to follow the government line. No one will give you the truth on the street," said Richard Engel, a free-lance correspondent in Baghdad for ABC News. "You can get a sense that you're wasting your time if you're talking to people and they start singing the government's praises and pretending like they're on a pro-Saddam video."

Nic Robertson, a CNN correspondent in Baghdad who was asked to leave Iraq two weeks ago by the government, said: "When minders are around, you can see people have a hard problem opening up and being honest. A lump will rise in people's throats because they know they have to give the right answer."

The presence of the minders, although mentioned in most broadcast reports and newspaper articles, does tilt the coverage. Anger at the allies, and pro-Saddam rhetoric, is reported far more freely than are accounts of brutality and fear.

Baghdad correspondents and their editors acknowledge that this puts the allies at a distinct public relations disadvantage.

But reporters who remain say they are still able to paint an accurate picture of life in Baghdad even as coalition troops move in on the city.

"I feel confident that people are expressing their genuine feelings when they say 'Well, I'm Iraqi, my country is being attacked,'" said Rageh Omaar, a BBC correspondent in Baghdad.

"They'll ask: 'What kind of government am I going to have? Is it going to be run out of Washington and London? That's been interesting reporting and it's important to get out."

Samia Nakhoul, a correspondent in Baghdad for Reuters, said in a telephone interview that she believed the authorities were overwhelmed by the estimated 150 reporters in the country. "Before, you couldn't leave an Iraqi hotel without a minder," she said. "Now you can go, they are so busy, they have too many journalists to accommodate."

The executive producer of "World News Tonight" on ABC-TV, Paul Slavin, said he would try to avoid reading too much into supposed public opinion in Iraq.

"I am as wary of pro-Saddam sentiment as I am of pro-United States sentiment," Slavin said. "If I had a bunch of fedayeen and Republican Guard around me, I'd say, 'Yeah Saddam!' But if I had a bunch of American soldiers around me, I'd say, 'Yeah America!' We're going to try not to draw any broad conclusions out of any of this."

From Reuters

Signs of fatigue in wall-to-wall Iraq TV war

By Merissa Marr, European media correspondent

Friday April 4, 06:54 PM

LONDON (Reuters) - Fed up with endless television images of bombs ripping through Baghdad, soldiers in heated combat and sandstorms sweeping across the Iraqi desert?

From Shanghai to Seattle, the answer is increasingly "yes".

As the Gulf conflict enters its third week, armchair warriors are showing signs of war fatigue after being bombarded with round-the-clock coverage of the U.S.-led march on Baghdad.

Despite dramatic scenes not seen since the Vietnam war, television audiences in many countries are slipping from their peak when the battle began.

Even viewers in the Arab world, who were glued to Arabic news channels such as al-Jazeera at the start of the war, are showing signs of tiring of repeated pictures of bombed-out buildings, bloodied Iraqis and dead soldiers.

"I got bored," said Egyptian tailor Hassan Abdo in Cairo, gesturing to a TV set in his shop showing Arabic music videos. Previously, he watched nothing but news in the initial days of the war.

"I got sick of the same gory pictures and the same depressing news. The only news I want to hear now is that this war is over."

Dubbed the television war from the outset, an army of reporters have served up a constant flow of gung-ho images from the front lines. But many viewers who tuned in eagerly at the start are now turning to sitcoms, game shows and movies.

Media pundits say it's not all over for television though.

"If it gets a bit more dramatic, television will make a comeback. People will want to know about it. In general though, there's been less interest than some channels had expected," said Tom Deitz, media analyst at Merrill Lynch in London.


Despite the tail-off, huge numbers of viewers around the world are still tuning into news programmes and dedicated 24-hour news channels, keeping ratings well above normal.

In the United States, news junkies have given a boost to 24-hour cable news outlets such as the Fox News Channel and CNN after the network broadcasters reverted to regular programming.

European news channels such as Sky News and BBC World have also jumped ahead, while in the Arab world, al-Jazeera has made a big name for itself with sometimes controversial footage.

But news ratings have fallen sharply from their highs. For example, Fox News, the most watched 24-hour cable TV channel in the United States, has seen its average audience fall from 4.39 million viewers when the U.S.-led assault kicked off, to some three million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"I don't want a play-by-play. I want to know when the war is going to be over," said New York-based graduate student Mary Anne Talotta, who initially joined the rush of viewers.

Television companies are also finding the war expensive to report and advertising revenues are not covering the bill.


"Television is great for watching dynamic action over a short period of time and watching events unfold. But viewers lose interest over a prolonged period of time," Simon Baker, media analyst at SG Securities in London, said.

Indeed, viewers have bailed out as the war looks set to drag on and as they struggle to digest an overwhelming amount of information beamed back from the battlefields.

"I watch the highlights and read the papers, and frankly that's all the news I want. It's tiring and I just want it to finish," Egyptian housewife Maha said.

Some viewers are switching off altogether.

"Eventually, there comes the stage when we go home and don't turn on the television. Because you know, more or less, what is happening already. Same names, same bridges, same offensive," Israeli talk show host Yehoram Gaon said on Israel Radio.

From The Christian Science Monitor

War coverage a tough balancing act for Egypt TV

By Danna Harman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

April 04, 2003 edition

CAIRO - Minutes before the afternoon program at Nile News, dozens of mobile phones ring all at once, unanswered. Women in head scarves surf Google's Arabic news site. A technician tinkers with the link to Baghdad. And a panting messenger races in with a tape from an antiwar demonstration in nearby Alexandria.

The afternoon news editor, Hani Fathi, checks the lineup: The demonstration, some 25,000 people strong, will be folded into a broader piece on protests worldwide, going in toward the end of the program, right after the briefing by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

While intense antiwar and anti-American sentiment continue to grow in Egypt, the state-run TV station here - from which the vast majority of Egyptians get their news - is working overtime to retain a semblance of neutrality about the war.

But this approach to war coverage goes beyond the professional call of duty and gets at the heart of the complicated, somewhat conflicted attitude of Egypt's leadership. Analysts say, President Hosni Mubarak needs to convince Egyptians that his sympathies are clearly against the war and with Iraq's people while at the same time taking care not to alienate Washington, a close ally which gives Egypt $2 billion annually in aid.

In order to reflect a sober, united Egypt, Mr. Mubarak oversees all channels of public expression. His reach extends from the tenor of the demonstrations, to the statement of the religious clerics, to the way the whole war is presented in the state media. His minister of information sits on the ninth floor of the TV building.

"The images we see upset us here, of course, and our personal emotions are strong and yes, we are angry," says Fathi. "But we must, as professionals, disconnect and steer toward balance."

"What takes priority depends on what's happening, and on what's important to our viewers," he says, signing off on the line up, " ... and to the leadership."

Independent satellite cable stations, such as the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, may call coalition forces "invaders," turn suicide attacks into "martyrdom operations," and fill their screens with gore and long reports on antiwar demonstrations. But not here.

"Our point of view is that we are against the war. We did not want it. But we also want to be responsible in what we present," says Hassan Hamed, CEO of the Egyptian Radio and TV Union, whose offices sprawl out on the eighth floor, right below those of the minister.

"Of course, there is a cultural linkage between Egyptians and the Iraqi people. We do not conceal our emphasis or interest. Our hearts are with those people, and we need to reflect that in our coverage - but we try not to be sensationalist. We do not want to inflame Egyptians any more."

"Egyptian TV is owned and run by the Egyptian government, so you can not expect it to reflect anything other than the official Egyptian perspective," adds Hussein Amin, chairman of the department of journalism and mass communication at the American University in Cairo. "It is a balancing act all around."

Speaking in Suez on Monday, Mubarak showed himself a master at such an act - warning that US actions would only serve to "create 100 [Osama] bin Ladens" and charging that war would have catastrophic effects - even as he insisted that international commitments obliged Egypt to keep the Suez Canal open to all vessels, including coalition warships. Mubarak has also granted US warplanes overflight rights. Tuesday, he announced that a senior Iraqi diplomat in Cairo, thought to be working for Iraqi intelligence, would be expelled.

The expulsion was mentioned on TV only in passing; the overfly rights forgotten completely that day. Meanwhile, when a poster of Mubarak was burned at an antiwar demonstration downtown last week, no one watching Nile News or any other program created in the TV building would have heard about it at all.

"We can take some liberties, but only to a certain extent," says Fathi. "We use our judgment. We have to inform on what's happening ... but we don't want outbursts in this country."

Before charging Egyptian media with self-censorship, it would be better to see what is going on these days in American media, quip those who work here.

"US coverage does not impress me at all. They don't care about being neutral and go about bragging about US military prowess," says Hamed. "When my wife sees me watching US network coverage on cable she asks: Why do you torture yourself?"

Hala Hashish, President of Nile TV International, the foreign-language arm of Egyptian TV, is busy reviewing an interview with the US ambassador to Cairo, which will air in its entirety on her evening program. "Look, proof we show all sides!" she says. "The American public is much more brainwashed. The media there is acting in a way we used to be accused of years ago - that is picking and choosing the news that suits their agenda. In Egypt this sort of news does not fly anymore."

"Sometimes I feel we have too much neutrality and freedom in Egypt," adds Attiya Shakran, director of the Government Press Office. "The Arab voice in [Washington] does not get as much airtime as we give American voices in Cairo."

In a country where ordinary Egyptians are reportedly using their mobile phones to dial any number in Iraq, picked at random, and declare their solidarity with the Iraqi people - it's no surprise that Nile News gets a lot of viewer complaints. Some call in to ask for more images of "the Iraqi heroic stand," others ring up to say they don't want to hear another word about the Kurdish opposition, and others still write long, furious letters denouncing the segments on US troops bringing in humanitarian aid.

"Many people accuse us of being unpatriotic, even un-Arab," Hamed admits. "But we are just trying to tell it like it is ... which is not easy."

From Slate

Al Jazeera
It's just as fair as CNN

By Chris Suellentrop

Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2003, at 4:37 PM PT

If you doubt that Al Jazeera is the clear winner of the Iraq war so far (other than U.S. forces), check out the most recent Lycos 50, a tally of the most-searched-for words and phrases on the Lycos search engine. The 24-hour Arabic-language TV news network rocketed to the top of the list for last week, outpacing Web standbys such as KaZaA and Pamela Anderson, not to mention hot topics of the moment such as POWs and the Dixie Chicks. Perhaps the wave of Web surfers was to be expected, given the network's attempted launch of an English-language Web site and the recent controversies it has provoked by airing grisly footage of Iraqi civilian casualties and American POWs. More surprising, however, has been the sympathetic coverage Al Jazeera has been receiving in the American press, from the New York Times editorial page to regional sources including the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Buffalo News. The network once deemed the inflammatory fuel of Islamic radicalism has now been pronounced by the paper of record as "the kind of television station we should encourage."

What changed? Certainly not Al Jazeera. The network still presents a pro-Arab slant on the news of the day, including the war in Iraq. A visit to the Al Jazeera Web site Wednesday morning turned up images that portray Iraqi civilians as invaded rather than liberated: rotating photos of wounded children with patches over their eyes and blood on their faces next to a separate image of a mournful woman standing in front of rubble. This emphasis on Iraqi civilian casualties is consistent with the approach the TV network has taken to covering the war, according to those who have watched Al Jazeera's TV coverage in Arabic. "They focus on the casualties. They show very gruesome images of civilian casualties that we don't see on America media," says Mohammed El-Nawawy, co-author of the admiring book Al Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East.

So, it's not as if Al Jazeera has morphed into the news as told by Lee Greenwood. Or even that Al Jazeera has morphed into CNN. Rather, it's fairer to say that since the war began, CNN-and American TV news in general-has become more like Al Jazeera. To those who have tarred him as pro-war and pro-administration, CNN's Aaron Brown replied: "I think there is some truth in it." Fox's Neil Cavuto was blunter: "You say I wear my biases on my sleeve? Better that than pretend you have none, but show them clearly in your work." Cavuto's comments echo a statement made by Al Jazeera's Ramallah correspondent to 60 Minutes in May 2001 about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "To be objective in this area is not easy because we live here. We are part of the people here. And this situation belongs to us also, and we have our opinions."

American TV news has always presented an American perspective, just as Al Jazeera presents an Arab perspective. But in wartime, the American slant has become more obvious, and as a result Al Jazeera's Arab slant has become less objectionable. Less than 18 months ago, Fouad Ajami declared in a long New York Times Magazine article that Al Jazeera was "a dangerous force." But in the wake of this war's coverage by the American media, his fears and criticisms sound quaint. Ajami blasted the channel's "shameless" promos, including a montage of scenes that portrayed a clear sympathy for the Palestinians. But how different are MSNBC's or CNN's montages of heroic American soldiers set to patriotic, martial music? Or the recurring shots of Americans saving babies and handing out candy to children? Ajami also criticized Al Jazeera for focusing too much on the tragedy of a single individual, 12-year-old Muhamed al-Durra, a Palestinian shot and killed in Gaza. But American networks pull similar heartstring-tugging tricks, the latest being the mediathon over the rescue of Jessica Lynch, a single American POW. (American television ignores, for the most part, the lives and the deaths of Brits and Iraqis.)

This is not to say that Al Jazeera and American TV news are equivalents. For one thing, Al Jazeera still receives funding from the monarchical government of Qatar, and even fans like El-Nawawy rap Al Jazeera for refraining from tough coverage-or any coverage-of Qatari politics. But Al Jazeera, with its Fox-like slogan "The opinion and the other opinion," is the closest thing the Arab world has to an independent press.

Particularly in wartime, the best a network can hope for is what El-Nawawy and his co-author, Adel Iskandar, call "contextual objectivity"-an attempt "to reflect all sides of any story while retaining the values, beliefs and sentiments of the target audience." Based on the recent wave of positive coverage in the American media, Al Jazeera is at least approaching that standard. It's telling the American side of the story, even as its sympathies clearly lie with the plight of the Iraqi people, whom the network, fairly or unfairly, sees as suffering under both Saddam Hussein and the American-led invasion to remove him.

From the opposite perspective, the U.S. networks are doing the same: giving lip service to the Arab view of the war, while endorsing the American view that the conflict is just and necessary. The war has given lie to the idea that American journalists don't have opinions. One question: Why must we return to the lie when it's time for peace?

From the Guardian,12823,927360,00.html

Straw warns against snap judgments

Full text of Straw's speech

Owen Gibson

Tuesday April 1, 2003

Foreign secretary Jack Straw today warned of the dangers of making snap judgments on the basis of television coverage of the war in Iraq, claiming that both world wars would have been harder to win in an age of 24-hour rolling news.

And he conceded that the fact there have been relatively few TV pictures of the humanitarian disaster caused by the Iraqi regime over the past 12 years had weakened the moral arguments for war.

Speaking to an audience of regional newspaper executives, Mr Straw said the competing pressures on the government and the media in times of war were "immense".

"Ministers must weigh the release of information about the military campaign against the possibility that it might benefit our opponents and endanger our troops.

"Meanwhile, the media is rightly driven by other imperatives, the need to penetrate the fog of war, to make definitive judgments on the basis of fragments, and to deliver breaking news to an eager public," he said.

During the past week ministers from prime minister Tony Blair downwards have become increasingly alarmed at the relentless pressure created by 24-hour TV news channels, and the localised, snapshot view of the war provided by reporters embedded with the invading armies.

Mr Straw pointed the finger at the news media, claiming the reaction to last week's disputed bombing of a market in Baghdad was a prime example of the dangers of the need for immediate reaction to events.

"It's increasingly probable that this was the result of Iraqi - not coalition - action. Yet when the story broke and we promised an inquiry, some chose to characterise our response as an admission of guilt. It usually takes time for the truth to catch up with the image," he said.

Mr Straw today also argued that both world wars could have ended in defeat in the era of 24-hour news, speculating that the "Dunkirk spirit" would have been irreparably damaged had the British public been subjected to pictures of German battle victories.

"Had the public been able to see live coverage from the [first world war] trenches, I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. Imagine the carnage of the Somme on Sky and BBC News 24," he said.

"But it is also worth speculating how much harder it might have been to maintain the country's morale after Dunkirk had live reports confronted the public with the brutal reality of German technical and military superiority," added Mr Straw.

His remarks echo comments made in the Observer on Sunday in which Mr Straw wondered whether it would have been possible to evacuate 300,000 troops from Dunkirk under the scrutiny of 24-hour news.

"The media is changing the reality of warfare, it is not just reporting on it. It compresses the timescales," he told the paper.

In his speech today, the foreign secretary acknowledged the vital role the media play in a modern democracy.

He said, the benefits of continuous reporting from the front line continued to outweigh the disadvantages, paying tribute to "the bravery of the correspondents on the front line, including those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of truth".

He also pointed to the power of television, arguing that the lack of on-screen evidence of Saddam Hussein's worst excesses had weakened the moral case against him.

"In Kosovo, Milosevic underestimated the power of television. As the humanitarian catastrophe [of the Racak massacre] was relayed live on our screens, the British prime minister's moral case for a military response became unanswerable," he told an audience at the Newspaper Society Annual Conference.

"This brings me to the paradox of coverage about Iraq. For over two decades, Saddam Hussein has caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and one which at least equals Milosevic's worst excesses. But unlike Milosevic, Saddam Hussein has caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and one which at least equals Milosevic's worst excesses. But unlike Milosevic, Saddam Hussein has conducted his reign of terror off camera.So unlike Kosovo, Iraq has not pricked the world's conscience through our television screens," he said.

"There are no TV cameras in Saddam's torture chambers or in the darkest corners of Baghdad. But the suffering and oppression are real. he added.

Mr Straw also used the speech to play down expectations about the length of the war.

"There may be more setbacks for coalition troops. As the regime enters its final stages, we will encounter fierce resistance from those elements of the regime's apparatus of terror who fate is tied to their tyrannical ruler," he said.

Next >>(Parties of the Conflict)

Media on Media: Introduction

Moral Dilemmas of the Press

Copyright 2003 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo