March 9, 2005 — The recent shooting incident in Iraq involving freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena has shed some new light on the conditions under which journalists in Iraq operate. In fact, observers have raised the possibility that Giuliana may have been targeted for her critical coverage of the US occupation.
The accusation of US military attacks on journalists is not a new one. And the forgetful corporate media would be well advised to reconsider the pillorying of Eason Jordan just mere weeks earlier.
Eason Jordan is a CNN executive who recently accused US troops of deliberately attacking and killing no less that 12 journalists in Iraq. The ensuing furor resisted his dubious retractions, and within two weeks he had resigned his position at the network.
But, in reality, overrated bloggers, credited with his demise, offered nothing more than organized indignation to the development of this story. And as you will see, it would have taken little investigative effort to discover that Jordan was actually telling the truth.
Without dispute, for example, is that US troops are guilty of killing journalists in Iraq, with one figure (1)placing their share at a full one-third of the media death toll. Included among these victims are Al Jazeera journalists killed in US bombing raids (2), and Al Iraqiya journalists shot (3)immediately after interviewing Iraqi police in Baghdad.
Indeed the inconsolable survivors had no doubt about the motive (4)of their attackers: "We were targeted because the Americans don't want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people."
But as extreme as it sounds such an assessment is very much in line with US policy as articulated in the recent past. Both Iraqi and Serb state television, in fact, were bombed because, according to officials (5), they were " . . . full of government employees who are paid to produce propaganda and lies . . . we see that as a military target.".
And fears about independent media content even led to Pentagon threats of military bombardment during the current Gulf campaign. According to 12-year BBC (6) veteran, Katie Adie "I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks—that is the television signals. . . . were detected by any planes . . . electronic media . . . mediums of the military . . . they'd be fired down on. Even if they were journalists ..".
But as shocking as they are, these examples just represent only the relevant extreme of Pentagon abuse. Indeed, there remains an ever-widening campaign of media harassment including cases of blatant censorship (7), shootings , arrests (8), and even psychological torture.(9)
So with a position so easily defended it is perplexing that Eason Jordon had so few answers for his critics. Worst of all was his inability to explain CNN's own silence on these matters.
This failure, however, is quite typical of this new era of consumer journalism. In fact, for years the dictum "if it bleeds, it leads" has been the guiding rule of news coverage. But now such blatant pandering has led to grossly deficient and sometimes even erroneous news reporting.
Put simply, in the aftermath of 9/11, with nationalism at an all-time high, news agencies have had to adjust their coverage to retain their market share. And consequently, they have been compelled to ignore news stories that Americans simply don't want to hear.
So the public didn't complain when CNN, like other corporate networks, willingly submitted to government requests to censor (10)Bin Laden videotapes. And viewers also said nothing when CNN's coverage was further restricted under new script approval (11)policies. And again few complained when cartoonists (12) , musicians (13), filmmakers (14) and even advertisers (15)had also fallen to the contagion of silence.
But the cause and its effect were clear to those who wanted to see it. One CNN executive, Rena Golden, commenting on CNN's Afghanistan coverage (16) had the following to say: "Anyone who claims the US media didn't censor itself is kidding you. It wasn't a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticize anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people."
And in a more popular case, well-known war correspondent Christiane Amanpour was censured by her superiors for making similar observations (17)about CNN's coverage of the Iraq war.
But fortunately for us all the regime of restraint hasn't been permanent.
And in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the voluntary veil of censorship would begin to lift in perfect step with Bush's declining approval ratings. But while journalists were once again in a better position to give a true telling of the days events, they were also in the awkward position of having to account for the polar opposites of their pre and post-war news coverage.
Some media outlets gave no explanation at all, while others like the Los Angeles and New York Times (18) felt apologetic acknowledgement of their errors was the best way of rescuing their credibility.
One editorial in the latter (19) offered these words: "In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged."
Also among those journalists trying to save face was CBS' Leslie Stahl who confessed to shoddy reporting (20)on WMD: "And I just felt we should admit that we were wrong. And I did. And I'm glad I did. I feel good about it."
So in such a climate of repression is it any surprise that a majority of journalists surveyed (21)express disappointment with the current state of journalism and the direction in which it is headed? Not at all, in fact it is specifically because of this type of control that the news media in the US are ranked (22) only 17th out of 139 countries surveyed about press freedom.
And so it is that the coverage of this and all future wars will inevitably be guided more by public opinion polls than any journalistic determination to tell the truth.
Jason Kernahan is a writer with special interest in International politics in the post 9/11 era. He can be reached at: JasonKernahan@yahoo.com.
1. US swells Iraq media death toll: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1200911,00.html
2. Al-Jazeera TV Correspondent Killed in Baghdad Raid:
3. US swells Iraq media death toll: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1200911,00.html
4. Al-Jazeera TV Correspondent Killed in Baghdad Raid: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0408-03.htm
5. TARGETING SERB TV : http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/europe/jan-june99/serb_tv_4-2
6. PENTAGON THREATENS TO KILL INDEPENDENT REPORTERS IN IRAQ :
7. U.S. funds Iraqi television network: http://www.msnbc.com/news/997582.asp?0cv=CB10&cp1=1
8. US holds Reuters staff near chopper crash in Iraq: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s1019662.htm
9. Al Jazeera Goes to Jail: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040329&s=parenti
12. US Cartoonists Under Pressure to Follow the Patriotic Line: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0623-02.htm
CNN chief claims US media 'censored' war: http://www.reclaimthemedia.org/stories.php?story=02/08/16/39
18. U.S. Media Admits 'Failures’ In Pre-War Iraq Coverage:
21. Pew finds Journalists Worried : http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display
22. Reporters Without Borders publishes the first worldwide press freedom index (October 2002): http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4116
The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Online Journal.
Copyright © 1998-2005 Online Journal™. All rights reserved.