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Media Critics Blast Iraq War Coverage

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MEDIA CRITICS BLAST IRAQ WAR COVERAGE


http://www.asiapac.org.fj/cafepacific/resources/aspac/global4042.html

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Two media critics have strongly criticised New Zealand and some global media coverage of the Anglo-American war on Iraq - especially television - describing it as biased and "failing spectacularly" to do its job.

The attacks came in two separate seminars in Wellington by Scoop editor Alastair Thompson ("The Role Of Media In The Second Gulf War") and in Auckland by Auckland University of Technology senior journalism lecturer David Robie on World Press Freedom Day.

Scoop http://www.scoop.co.nz website was the only main news organisation in New Zealand to carry extensive images of the American prisoners of war and also Iraqi civilian casualties.

"What was quickly pointed out in the independent media was that the [United States] concern over the legality of POW images was entirely one-way," said Thompson in the Wellington speech.

"No similar concerns over the Geneva Convention were raised concerning the Guantanamo Bay captives [US prisoners from Afghanistan taken to Cuba], who the Pentagon issued pictures of trussed up like turkeys, nor had any concern been shown about the screening of pictures of surrendering Iraqis.

"What was abundantly clear from the incident was the level of sensitivity that the Pentagon's media minders had over unfavourable war images. They didn't want any.

"And once bitten by [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld's dogs, the US media proved remarkably shy on the image front for the rest of the war. Meanwhile, all around the world US owned subsidiaries and other publications acting as imitators thereof played ball too, largely keeping the reality of war, the decapitations, the dead civilians and charred soldier corpses invisible to the Western public."

The "clean-sanitised view of war" was not followed in the Arab media and this probably went a long way towards explaining why it was al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV offices that were bombed in Baghdad on April 8.

"To sanitise the reality of warfare is abhorrent to those serving the public interest," Thompson said.

"To censor images of capture, of death, as a consequence of war, is wrong. If Scoop were to do so, it would be subscribing to the glitzy rah rah top-gun Hollywood-façade-style of reportage that the mainstream United States based media has become obsessed with."

Thompson said the media's role in a democratic society was to provide the public with an informed basis upon which they could exercise their democratic rights. And nothing changed during wartime.

"When measured by this standard I would conclude that the media both here in New Zealand and everywhere else in the Western World ­ with the exception of the internet ­ has failed spectacularly to do its job," he said.

Thompson based much of his criticism on the fact that NZ's media mostly republished and rebroadcast news from satellite and news wire feeds from what were almost exclusively US and UK news sources.

A notable exception had been Radio New Zealand and the Listener magazine.

David Robie, speaking at a seminar at Auckland University called "Justified War?" with politics professor Steve Hoadley and a Kurdish law lecturer, contrasted the number of staff correspondents covering the war from New Zealand with Australia.

Only three New Zealand journalists - all television - covered the war.

"The bias and editorialising of much of the NZ media coverage, relying heavily as it did on news sources, satellite feeds and wire agencies from Anglo-American protagonists, was quite significant," Robie said.

"Why is it that when journalists who generally respect the ethical norms of balance, fairness and impartiality during "normal times" are happy to jump on the bandwagon of jingoism and suspend their critical faculties during war? And New Zealand, unlike Australia, was not even at war.

"Rarely did we get reports of the 'other side' of the story ­ reports from Arabic satellite channels such as al-Jazeera, the independent academic analysis, or even insightful reporting on the Iraqi community in New Zealand."

Like Thompson, Robie cited many specific examples of the alleged bias. He also cited other media critics such as David Miller, John Pilger and Robert Fisk.

The debate followed other recent critical seminars on media coverage at Auckland University and Auckland University of Technology, and a critical commentary on Radio New Zealand's Mediawatch

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PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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