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Kamala Sarup: When Media Advocate Terrorism

When Media Advocate Terrorism

By Kamala Sarup

It was good news for the Bush Administration when the Iranian government closed the Al-Jazeera TV station. Since September 11, Al-Jazeera had been giving one-sided reports and misleading the Arab World. Anti-American sentiment is sky rocket there.

"We suspended its activity in Iran to investigate the network's role in unrest in Ahvaz," Mohammad Khoshvaght of the culture and Islamic guidance ministry told state television. "We expect the network to respect Iran's national integrity and security. If it is proved that al-Jazeera committed a crime, it will be prosecuted."

Al-Jazeera is popular among Iran's Arabs, who are the majority in Khuzestan's capital Ahwaz but make up only 3% of the country's population. Persians account for 51%. It was banned from reporting in Iraq last year and has angered authorities in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait for its policy of airing opposition views and criticisms.

However, in the Iraq war also, Al-Jazeera presented a picture that showed only how Iraqis were being killed and wounded and not about the actual fighting and how Iraq was losing the battles. That was meant to please Muslims and not disturb them about Muslim losses. Thus, some of the Muslims were surprised and shocked in the end to find that Iraq was conquered. In that case, al-Jazeera was not very objective.

To harbor means to bring something or someone to safety. How can any media do that with "terrorism", an abstraction meaning the sum of terrorist acts over time? Media can slant the news to favor terrorists, just as media can slant the news (facts and interpretations of the facts) to discredit terrorists. Both are biased (untruthful) reporting. Unbiased (truthful) reporting means reporting the facts about terrorists and terrorism, not just selecting those facts that fit the reporter's and editor's prejudices, while ignoring the others.

Likewise, reporting faulty interpretations of the facts (illogical cause-effect relationships) is harmful for the same reason. Most media do that all the time, in part so that their readers and advertisers will continue to read and finance them. Academicians who write in professional journals are a little more truthful than the media because they are under the scrutiny of their peers and not under advertising pressure. Finally, it's hard for me to find a unbiased book on the subject of terrorism or geo-politics-economics; that is, all the facts and logical interpretations of them.

In summary, reporting favorable or unfavorable untruths about anything is useful; it just confuses people and causes them to take erroneous actions based on faulty information.

It's difficult for ordinary people to get at the truth through the media, but most of us have no alternative. If we are ambitious, all we can do is read a lot of media, books and journals and do the best we can to get at the truth.

A press, or media in general, if it remains somewhat objective is the only way the people can see what is happening in the society, good and bad. The more objective press (media), the better, because what one press fails to report, a competitor will.

The only justification I can think of for forbidding a particular press to publish is when it loses it objectivity so much that its articles are lies by any standard, or at least gross distortions from the truth by any standard. Even after Septem ber 11, the Bush administration announced a variety of actions designed to restrict information from reaching the public.An even stronger USA Patriot Act, a draft of which was obtained last month by the Center For Public Integrity, could conceivably allow for the wiretapping of news operations, according to a memo from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

So, Media can play an objective role in society and respect human security. Press freedom does not mean allowing the media to promote terrorism, violence and destruction. Media can be more responsible toward the people and the principle of freedom.

The media has both a right and a duty to report fully on terrorism in the interest of the public's right to know and to promote open, informed debate about terrorism. It should not be one sided. Journalists from around the world whose daily work exposes them to the dangers of terrorism and violence. Measures are needed to protect society against terrorism.

Much of Asia's media is either partisan or outright controlled by, for example, the government, political party, -ies. Some examples: In Thailand, the Army owns a national TV station; In Sri Lanka, the largest English-language daily is government-controlled; In Indonesia, the largest English-language newspaper is pro-government.

I think that the U.S., Australian, and some "conservative" British media probably sometimes portray conflict as necessitating intervention. In Europe, you see much less of that perspective.

To the extent that the media can bring conflicts to people's attention, I think it can help peace.


(Kamala Sarup is editor of )

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