by Rasha El Ibiary, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Yahya R. and Snow, Nancy (eds.) War, Media and Propaganda: A
Global Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers,
Inc. 2004. Paperback. 280 pages. ISBN: 0-7425-3562-2. $27.95.
and Nancy Snow's anthology "War, Media and Propaganda"
sheds light from diverse perspectives on some aspects of the
media's role, willing or not, in fulfilling propaganda and public
diplomacy targets in wartime, and questions the limits and determinants
of such a wartime power relationship with a special focus on
television coverage of the latest US-led invasion of Iraq, 2003.
Both Douglas Kellner and Daya Kishan Thussu detail the significant
role of US television networks in serving the American foreign
policy war agenda. Starting with a brief description of Rupert's
Murdoch's transnational TV empire as well as Murdoch's multiple
statements about the war's potential to "fuel an economic
boom in the West" and his "unconditional endorsement"
of US and UK leaders' military action, Thussu provides evidence
of a strong and decisive media backing for the "Republican
"Murdoch's media acted as frontline cheerleaders for US
military action in Iraq," she says, adding that media played
a crucial role "in preparing and then retaining public
opinion in favor of the invasion." Kellner also strongly
criticizes the way US broadcasting networks constructed the
war as "providing a conduit for Bush administration and
Murdoch's dominance of many global media markets, however, did
not extend to the Arab world, where newly born Arabic TV networks
transmitted images of pain, death, and destruction. While providing
several specific examples of "distorted" war coverage,
Kellner does not miss the contrast between the US networks framing
of the invasion as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" or "War
in Iraq" and the Arab networks showing it as an "invasion"
and "occupation" of Iraq. Mahboub E. Hashem concurs
with Kellner, adding that the Arab media did not fail to draw
critical comparisons between the "legitimate" Palestinian
struggle against the "illegitimate" Israeli occupation
of their lands, noting that "the Iraqis and Palestinians
were seen as 'freedom fighters,' 'resistance forces,' 'Mujahideen,'
This challenge intensified with the many instances of contradictions
between what the coalition media "said" and what the
Arab networks "showed," according to Kellner. While
Donald Rumsfeld was describing the bombardment as "the
most precise in history
aimed at military not civilian
targets," Arab as well as many global networks "focused
on civilian casualties and presented painful spectacles of Iraqi
suffering." Hashem as well says that the Arab channels
"showed Iraqi residential neighborhoods, hospitals and
schools that where hit by the so-called smart weapons."
Another example, adds Kellner, was the British and US claim
in the first days of war that the cities of Umm Qasr and Basra
had been captured, while "television images showed quite
the opposite." Thus did the Arab networks challenge the
Americans by constantly showing images of death and destruction,
contradicting perceived victories, drawing comparisons between
the Iraqi and Palestinian cases, and putting Americans and Israelis
in one camp as a single enemy.
A striking example of US media distortion was the story of saving
Private Jessica Lynch "presented in the form of an entertainment
show, drawing visual techniques borrowed from Hollywood,"
says Thussu. The infotainment event of rescuing Lynch from Iraqi
captors by US Special Forces was widely exposed after a BBC
documentary "showed that Iraqi doctors had looked after
Kellner also highlighted the "embedding" of war reporters,
doubting their "ability to be objective" as they solely
depended on the protection of "coalition" military,
lived with troops, and signed a "rigorous set of restrictions
on their reporting." Roland Paul Larson, who was embedded
with the military escorts, agrees with Kellner. In his chapter,
Larson describes the "bonding" relationship that is
established with the soldiers throughout the war. "We were
all Americans in a foreign land and in danger. It was quite
difficult not to psychologically surround the wagons and see
yourself as an us against a them." However, though Larson
admits that "bonding" with the soldiers was a "potential
source of professional complications," he concludes. "It
never seriously affected my reporting," clarifying that
his "obligations as a journalist" never intertwined
with his "friendship for a soldier."
This explains why he thinks the bonding was "positive",
as "soldiers became helpful and forthcoming with information
and opinions." Larson's position, however, cannot be generalized
on all "embedded" reporters, as he accompanied a supporting
division, where news was scarce. Larson seems to miss, however,
that the scarcity of news was not only due to censorship and
propaganda techniques practiced by the military but also his
tunnel vision of the war. The embedding or "bonding,"
by its very nature, not only put him in one camp with the fighting
soldiers, but also made him miss the war he was supposed to
In contrast to Larson, Dana Hull of the San Jose Mercury News
refused to be "embedded" with the soldiers she was
supposed to report on. "I wanted to spend as much time
as possible with Iraqi civilians, talking with them about their
lives over the past decade in their homes and schools and mosques."
Hull, then, chose to report the aftermath of the war, where
news distortion and manipulation seem to have continued, though
on a grudgingly lower scale.
The killing by US soldiers of a 12-year-old Iraqi boy while
playing on his roof is the most significant of the several instances
of media disinformation that Hull mentions. Hull first saw the
story on Al Jazeera but tuning into other Arab and western channels
found nothing. She rushed to the boy's house. The family said
the boy had gone to play on the roof by night and when one of
the soldiers saw him, he fired more than five bullets, ignoring
a neighbor's loud call, "Baby!! Baby! Don't shoot!!"
Hull was surprised to discover that she was the only western
journalist to visit the family.
The relative freedom of movement and reporting that Hull as
opposed to Larson enjoyed allowed her to show Western audiences
a different facet of war -- the human impact. Hull's relative
freedom, however, did not prevent the US army from disclaiming
any responsibility for the child's death and for other "atrocities"
committed throughout the war. The fact that Al Jazeera covered
the event in a timely fashion illustrates the continued challenge
presented by influential Arab networks to the US manipulation
and monopoly of news.
One explanation for such an attitude on the part of the US and
British armies and elements of the US and British media is provided
in a chapter by Karim H. Karim. Karim highlights what he believes
to be four dominant stereotypes about Arabs in the Western/American
media, namely "greed, barbarism, lust and violence,"
commenting that "basic western notions" about Muslims'
characteristics date back centuries and still determine the
media frameworks for the portrayal of events involving Muslims
According to Karim, scholars also played a significant role
in the Western media misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims.
While some academics, such as Samuel Huntington and Benjamin
Barber, considered Muslims as "the new major threat to
the West," others, such as Bernard Lewis and Ellie Kedourie,
"[acted] more as propagandists than academics," as
they attempted to show that "militants among contemporary
Muslims are present-day incarnations of terrorists from the
beginning of Muslim history." The mass media, rather than
objectively bringing those views into question and reporting
their relation to truth, adopted them as "frameworks in
their reporting about Muslims," adds Karim.
Kamalipour and Snow's book seems to have met its goal of "denouncing
terrorism, in all forms, including war, and promoting cooperation
among regional and international organizations." Combining
various viewpoints from Eastern and Western countries, it successfully
provides a constructive dialogue on the critical wartime role
of the mass media. As well as highlighting major obstacles to
critical coverage, new wartime features of television coverage,
and challenges to the journalists' role, it provides explanations
and suggests solutions aimed at bridging the widening gap between
East and West.
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