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The Latest [War] Casualty

The Latest [War] Casualty

AUCKLAND (The Listener/Pacific Media Watch): With another Gulf war likely, veteran journalist and historian of war reportage Phillip Knightley laments the news media role, saying abusive debate is too often forcing media commentators and intellectuals to be cowed into silence.

More than anything, he warns in a profile by Louise Matthews in this week's New Zealand Listener, the world's press must be watchful.

"Our leaders have nearly convinced us that uncivilised behaviour in defence of our civilisation is justified, that civil liberties must take second place when our liberty is under threat, that for journalists to question the war or dissent from the way it is conducted is unpatriotic, anti-American or even - believe it or not - anti-Semetic," says Knightley

"These are important matters and our media should be leading the discussion of them."

Instead, Knightley says, the debate has too often been reduced to abuse, attacks and intimidation, forcing media commentators and intellectuals to be "cowed into silence".

Knightley, 74, was guest speaker at a recent Journalism Education Association [of Australia, NZ and the Pacific] international conference in Hongkong.

Matthews, a journalist and journalism academic at NZ's Auckland University of Technology, talked to him there about the media's advanced case of self-absorption over the US-led global "war on terrorism".

According to Matthews, Knightley cites examples of ignored stories in the US - the 1200 people "held on suspicion" after September 11, 2001, with 548 still being held six weeks later.

"Although only 12 had possible ties to terrorism, the rest were guilty only of visa or traffic infringements - 'and being Muslim'.

"One 55-year-old Pakistani man, detained while trying to return home, died after six weeks without communication with relatives, a lawyer or the outside world. Another spent two months in solitary with round-the-clock fluorescent lights."

Matthews says Knightley believes the American media would "in normal times" have enthusiastically tackled these outrages.

"But for months they caused not a ripple of concern because no journalist wanted to risk being labelled a terrorist sympathiser," says Knightley.

Knightley, Australian-born author of The First Casualty, a book about wartime propaganda and suppression of truth, doesn't expect the situation to improve, mainly because of "current journalist standards".

"This is a war without fronts ... and how do you cover that?"

Knightley says that the media are on notice from the US military that they are just as likely to be bombing targets if they try to cover any war from behind "enemy lines".

"The military want to assemble [journalists] in nice little safe areas where they can tell them what they need to know."


Pacific Media Watch Online

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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