Different truths: Iraq and the world’s media

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
15 April 2003

How was the war on Iraq covered? The world’s news media mirror national history, politics and religion - even when they cover world issues. openDemocracy’s media monitor takes you on a journey from the countries where freedom of the press is a given, to the regions where foreign correspondents are an impossible luxury. Was the story of the US invasion of Baghdad one of liberation - or occupation? Esteemed journalists, academics and activists respond.

What do you think about the media where you live? Join the discussion.

Visit a country by clicking on its name:

  • Brazil
  • Croatia
  • Italy
  • Arab media
  • Nepal
  • China
  • Hungary
  • Alternative online
  • UK/US international
  • Tajikistan
  • Japan
  • Denmark
  • Reader's responses

  • Brazil ‘Bush’s war’- the influence of al-Jazeera – not a videogame war

    Generally Brazilian media have been covering the war in Iraq with a moderate anti-American perspective. The American resolution to attack Iraq at any cost, overpowering the UNO Security Council has often been described with a mixed sense of indignation and resignation - as a unilateral, and even an imperialistic attitude.

    "...the rapid fall of Baghdad was described as an anti-climax"

    Critique is directed less to the United States as a whole than to George W. Bush’s Government. British support of the war is often pictured as subservient. Brazil's most important newscast, Globo TV's Jornal Nacional, sometimes refers to Bush and Tony Blair as "the Warlords".

    There is no sympathy for Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Iraqi leader is always described as a cruel dictator - but the war is essentially perceived as motivated by the goal to get control of Iraqi oil, more than to eliminate Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

    Since the beginning of the hostilities, the O Globo national newspaper has dedicated an 8-page special supplement to the war, under the title “Bush’s War” (A Guerra de Bush).

    In contrast to the coverage of the first Gulf War, military technology has not received huge attention by the Brazilian media. It is not a videogame war this time. Media have emphasized American destructive power and its terrible human consequences for civilians.

    Another difference is the role played by American media and American officials as sources to Brazilian news reports. In the first Gulf War, they virtually monopolized information concerning the war. In the present war, Arab media – especially the al-Jazeera network – are used for a parallel perspective on events. Images of the victims of the American bombings and shootings have been very common. Arab media have been considered to give a more dramatic - so more attractive - view about the events of the war. Several times, American media has been criticized for its patriotic focus, specifically when it applies self-censorship.

    The initial prediction - that the war would end fast - was broken by the first news about Iraqi resistance. News about hard combats in the south fed expectations for fierce combat in Baghdad. So, the rapid fall of Baghdad was described as an anti-climax. The emphasis was less on American military competence than on the fall of Saddam's corrupt regime. Scenes of Iraqi people celebrating their “liberation” by American soldiers was shown, and the frustration of Arab citizens with those scenes received some attention.

    The “liberation” frame was short lived, however. At present, the focus has been the chaos that followed the occupation of Iraqis’ main cities, and the American soldiers’ apparent lack of interest in keeping order.

    Afonso de Albuquerque is Professor of Communications at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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    "...war somewhere far away from Croatia is not so interesting for the citizen here"


    Battle fatigue - Saddam and Slobodan - ‘daddy’s boy’

    Croatian media cover the war in Iraq in the best possible way, but you must know that we have our own experiences with war, and that war somewhere far away from Croatia is not so interesting for the citizen here. It is simply not the topic that can raise circulation figures for the printed media, or dominate prime time television screens, save for during the first week of the war.

    Croatian Television is the most influential channel for news. Regular news bulletins appear every hour and includes news from different sources including Reuters, CNN and al-Jazeera, and special reports from Croatian journalists in Kuwait and in northern Iraq.

    In Baghdad the main focus of the journalists from Croatian Television was the looting and the responses of wounded Iraqi civilians. Even the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue from the main square was treated more as some odd gesture of the Iraqi people than a political statement.

    A number of special talk shows with prominent politicians, military analysts and political scientists have been produced since the beginning of the conflict. Each specialist presents his or her point of view, but in general we can say that the programmes as a whole have been neutral. Nearly everyone makes statements about war in general being terrible, making reference to Croatia’s bad experiences in the recent war.

    The second biggest TV station, Nov@TV, covers the war in Iraq a little differently from Croatian Television. In some ways it is neutral and the language is generally decent, but its approach to the war sometimes includes cynical comments about the Coalition military forces - for instance: “The greatest danger to Coalition forces are themselves”, or “Iraqis have great friends in the Coalition soldiers because so many of them are killed in friendly fire.”

    On the other hand, Nov@TV news programmes invite many guests who are strongly in favour of the Coalition and say their action is completely legal because Saddam Hussein is one of the worst dictators in the world who also had a very close relationship with former president of Yugoslavia, and champion of Serb nationalism, Slobodan Milosević.

    In many cases everything is seen through the prism of the relationship between Croats and Serbs - and of course anyone who is friendly with the Serbs is automatically the enemy of the Croats, and vice-versa.

    It is interesting that the strongest opposition party in Croatia, HDZ, gave full support to Coalition forces, while the Croatian government decided not to after more than 75% of Croatians were said to reject the idea of war.

    The so-called ‘youth’ media in Croatia, different from the ‘serious’ media mentioned above, are strongly opposed to the war and argue that it is unfair and conducted in favour of oil tycoons and the weapons industry. They say the Iraqi people must get rid of Saddam Hussein themselves. Like most youth, their language is a little bit indecent and in many cases they call US President Bush a ‘butcher’, a ‘cowboy from Texas’, a ‘daddy’s boy’, and so forth.

    Zlatan Gelb is a Senior Cameraman for Croatian Television. He has a Ph.D. in Information Sciences and Communicology. He teaches "visual communication" to future journalists at Croatia Studies, and “basics of mass communication” at the Academy for Theatre, Film and Television.

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    Politics as usual – special programming – women reporters

    Italian media have been covering the war with very different perspectives. As it often happens in Italy, politics had a great influence on the issue, so television channels and newspapers more connected to the government presented the war as a liberation, while the left wing newspapers spoke of an aggression based on economic interests.

    The main Italian newspapers - Il Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica, La Stampa - had more or less the same position: all of them were against the war without the UN approval, and all of them made clear that the Italian government’s position was quite ambiguous: Italy was part of the coalition list, according to the US, and gave permission to use the US military bases on Italian territory and access to the air space, but underlined many times that Italy was not directly involved in the war.

    Generally in the media there was no sympathy for Saddam Hussein’s regime.

    Since the beginning of the hostilities, the newspapers dedicated an average of 10-15 daily pages to the war. On television, RAI - the public broadcasting network – adjusted their entire schedule: there were hourly television news bulletins featuring videotelephone connections with correspondents in the field. RAI was the only Italian news outlet to have a journalist embedded with the US forces, so the discussion about the conditions of their work was not very prominent.

    Instead, we had many women reporters covering the war: all of them work for tv channels, both public and private, so the newspapers dedicated a great deal of attention to their work.

    The technology of the war has received lots of coverage, but so have the mistakes like ‘friendly fire’ and ‘collateral damage’. Humanitarian issues - like food, medicines, water, and prisoners of war – were all covered in some depth.

    Francesca Caferri is staff writer of the Foreign pages of La Repubblica and a teacher at the Istituto per la Formazione al Giornalismo in Urbino, Italy.

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    Arab media

    Truths of war – enemies of East and West – contradictions prevail

    Al-Jazeera did it again. It surpassed its Western competitors by far with its professionalism, courage and comprehensiveness. The Arab media never had such global reach. After dominating the coverage of the war in Afghanistan through its presence in Taliban dominated regions, and through its broadcast of Osama bin Laden’s video statements, a new generation of young Arab television journalists are expressing previously unseen courage in reporting their environments.

    Al-Jazeera showed footage of Iraqi civilian victims and US prisoners of war, filmed from inside Basra and Mosul. Its footage was re-broadcast all over the world, often to the irritation of both the East and the West. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized the airing of the US POW’s on al-Jazeera, saying it was in breach of Geneva conventions. The British Prime Minister expressed his “horror” when al-Jazeera broadcast pictures of dead soldiers.

    While British military sources repeatedly insisted that an uprising was taking place within besieged Basra, al-Jazeera reported from inside Iraq’s second city that the streets were calm. But not everyone is in love with their reporting in Arab countries: its offices in Kuwait have long been shut down. Some Kuwaiti newspapers write that speaking with concern of an “aggression against Iraq” is paramount to taking “a pro-Iraqi position”.

    Was it by chance that al-Jazeera’s offices in Baghdad were hit by US planes?"

    Along with a number of other, lesser known Arab satellite channels like Abu Dhabi TV, al Arabiya, and LBC, al-Jazeera has succeeded in challenging the official American version of the war, and could become an alternative voice to the dominant Anglo-American channels. Was it by chance that its offices in Baghdad were hit by US planes, just like they were in Kabul?

    Satellite television now stands in stark contrast to what most Arab populations are used to receiving from their traditional media outlets. Most Arab newspapers, news agencies, radio and television stations are usually limited to receiving news and images from foreign sources, or sources that reflect the position of their own leadership. There is very little margin of dissent, or in some cases, none at all. The Arab media in general lacks an overall voice – a gap now being filled by al-Jazeera and other satellite channels.

    The print press is divided between national publications that largely reflect the official viewpoint and more interesting publications, in exile (often in London), such as al-Hayat, al-Sharq al-Awsat, or al-Quds al-Arabi, which reflect certain political loyalties or financial interests.

    For instance: Kuwaiti media completely supported coalition positions, placing the blame of the war on the Iraqi regime, and regarding the war an act of liberation. The coverage of Egyptian mainstream daily al-Ahram, in turn, reflects the ambiguous position of President Mubarak, who opposes the war on one hand, but with the Suez channel open to US navy vessels, also needs to defend his leadership from criticism about collaboration with the US.

    The significance of the changes taking place in the Arab media can be underlined by stressing that most of the Arab media is in fact national media, and have only the classical Arab language (al-fous’ha) in common. Their coverage focuses on the interests of the countries where they are based. The vast majority are owned and controlled by local governments, while the amount of freedom tolerated in private media (where they exist) is stifling. The only exception to this rule is Lebanon, a country weakened by a decade and a half of wars (1975-1990) and Syrian military presence, and a media in exile.

    The contradictions between repressing one’s own media from reporting the facts, and realizing the power of a courageous, professional mass media is best illustrated by the policy of the Ba’athist regime; on the one hand, Iraqi media was totally muzzled, while on the other Saddam’s regime gave all the freedom to international but also Arab media like al-Jazeera to report the war from Baghdad, and from Basra or Mosul. For the observers of the Arab media, the big question for the future now is, how will the sharp, critical, and operative Arab satellite channels coexist with censored official media?

    This account is based on a paper presented at the seminar: Reporting the War in Iraq, at the Caucasus Media Institute, Yerevan, April 10, 2003

    Vicken Cheterian is director of the Caucasus Media Institute in Yerevan, Armenia.

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    Fear of India – drawing own conclusions - clapping at US setback

    Nepali media presented a multiplicity of views and sources, but there has been an almost unanimous derision of the war in Iraq as an unprovoked act a megalomaniacal country high on unchecked, unprecedented and unbalanced power. The only exception is the government media. The state-owned Nepal Television simply translates CNN analysis.

    The self-proclaimed government’s official position amounted to a repetition of its wish to have UN’s principles applied. But only until the communications minister and “international relations hand” parroted the spokesman of the US Department of State, Richard Baucher, on the need for the United States to intervene in Iraq. This invited flak from almost everybody with anything to do with media in Nepal.

    There was no sympathy for Saddam but there was an unequivocal and uncanny denunciation of the US’s act of aggression against an independent nation. It was feared as a precedent, applicable to Nepal’s over-dependent relationship to India and the average Nepalis’ perception of India as a regional bully.

    The media in Nepal are mostly dependent on the foreign press for news from Iraq. While a few mainstream newspapers have arrangements with independent news agencies like Inter Press Service (IPS) and Project Syndicate, and some have reprint arrangements with foreign newspapers like the Guardian in the UK, most vernacular and local newspapers base their analysis on CNN or BBC footage.

    The independent television channels do not have access to international video clips since they have only recently been launched and lack substantial viewer figures to fund it. They have not had much to offer on the Iraq war.

    The mainstream English language newspapers reprinted analysis already accessible to the English reader from the Guardian and other international publications.

    But the scene was entirely different on the local and vernacular newspapers. Nepali-language newspapers are the most important medium for debate, discussion and discernment of ideas and issues in Nepal (although English language papers have made some inroads in urban areas). The case of the Nepali papers is especially significant right now because democracy itself has been suspended.

    They relied on a range of sources from the local English newspapers to the relatively free and independent analysis of Indian newspapers; from independent websites to CNN and BBC, and even China Central Television’s Channel 9 (CCTV9), but the “analysts” of these local newspapers presented “a sordid image of destruction and wrath brought forth by the evil act of Mr. Bush.”

    Even with the only available audio-visual media portraying “coalition advances” in a positive light, the average citizen had ample knowledge of the devastating nature of war and the viciousness of its protagonists.

    Towards the end of war, I was watching CCTV9 in a café (the channel was preferred among some youths for its allegedly unbiased reporting). When the news of a suicide bomber killing several GIs was reported, I overheard a few young people sporting Nike baseball caps clap. A young computer professional who dreams of going to work for a US software company muttered from across the table, “I want to hear of more American soldiers’ deaths to balance the deaths of the poor civilians.”

    Even people emulating US lifestyles don’t condone what they perceive to be an aggressive and unjust act.

    Anuj Mishra is Managing Editor of PlusMedium, an independent online journal of Nepal that was started to initiate an open dialogue process on democracy, development and human rights in the cyberspace when democracy was derailed in real space.

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    Unprecedented professionalism – no state censorship- horror at looting

    Chinese media have responded to the conflict in Iraq with a unique sense of urgency and spontaneity. China boasts of larger television audiences than any other Asian country. Viewer figures for ‘War in Iraq’ programming is said to have skyrocketed to one hundred million during the height of wartime coverage, roughly from 20 March to 8 April.

    "For the first time, broadcasters have not had to wait for political go-ahead..."

    The conflict was covered in the news with a zeal and professionalism unprecedented in the history of Chinese TV broadcasting. For the first time, broadcasters have not had to wait for political go-ahead before airing potentially controversial views. I was involved in part of this. At one point I was hired by China’s Central Television CCTV as simultaneous interpreter to interpret a live press conference with the US Central Command in Qatar.

    It was also unprecedented in the sense that CCTV and Channel 4 – a channel exclusively devoted to news broadcasting around the clock - together set up a special team of military experts, international affairs analysts, and scholars from a wide range of research institutes and universities to comment on the various stages of the US led strike on Iraq.

    Prior to Saddam’s loss of Baghdad, the general overtone of CCTV’s coverage was neutral and seldom polemical, although there was a general consensus among the experts, and I believe, among the general public as well, that both Britain and the US violated international law and thus set a dangerous precedent for resolving country to country disagreements. As war progressed, images of crying babies and women pervaded television screens and became front-page news for the print media across the country, further alienating the nation’s citizens.

    But war coverage has quickly lost its momentum and intensity since 8 April when U.S. marine troops entered Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq. In fact the turning point came, as viewers across China were shocked to see Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled by US soldiers and Iraqi civilians, and were angered by the ensuing looting.

    Both national radio and TV networks began to show the absurd side of the war. American GI’s were not presented as “liberators”, because what they had liberated was nothing but the worst of human nature. This belief has only been reinforced as a stunned audience is exposed to the mess made by looters who have ransacked and burned parts of Baghdad, even stealing priceless archaeological treasures from Iraq's national museum.

    It is downright criminal for an intruding army to turn a blind eye to looting and robbing. In conclusion, the Iraqi war may possibly benefit the US on a short-term basis, but it will prove a long-term loss because the US, by waging the war, has set itself against all forms of human civilization.

    Jimeng Teng has taught American Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) since 1991. His book Music-Made America: Popular Music since 1960’s frames rock ‘n’ roll culture of the 1960s America. He is a regular guest speaker at Dialogue, an English language programme at China Central Television (CCTV).

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    Political agendas – balance in question – phantom reports

    In the analysis of the Hungarian media coverage of the war on Iraq we must consider that Hungary was as an ally of the United States, and also of the relationship between the Hungarian media and political parties.

    Two main approaches are apparent. One is that of newspapers and news programs presenting specific political views. For instance, the Magyar Nemzet, which is regarded as a right wing/conservative newspaper clearly hit an anti-American tone, and editorially put most emphasis on the negative consequences of a war for Iraqis.

    "The dominance of the American and British sources is unquestionable"

    The other is the more professional approach. Television is the most problematic branch in this category. The dominance of the American and British sources is unquestionable. It seems that the makers of the news programs most often do not take the time or trouble to do anything beyond translating CNN and BBC coverage, and occasionally inviting talking heads.

    At the outbreak of war, public television channel M1 had a journalist watching CNN and now and then translating its reports live. This practice started in the news coverage of 11 September, and has perhaps since become a custom on Hungarian television. To ensure that the news is ‘unbiased’, the newscasters also inform the public about reports on al-Jazeera. In short, Hungarian television relies almost exclusively on the coverage from the two sides participating in the conflict, rather than using more independent sources.

    Another thought-provoking matter is the news reports of journalist, József Orosz who was said to have been in Baghdad. He works for Klub Radio, a local Budapest station. While even the commercial television stations did not have correspondents on the spot, this local radio’s journalist gave reports regularly, live over the phone, in the news programmes. We want to make it clear that there is no evidence that Orosz wasn’t in Baghdad, although a close examination of his reports does not provide evidence that he was there either – they were almost entirely word for word translations of CNN or BBC reports.

    Dora Vargha and Gábor Csuday are journalism students at ELTE University in Budapest, Hungary

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    Alternative online media ‘Told you so’ - exposing media lies – the power of the internet

    Most major online alternative media sites have taken a firm anti-war stance, and the initial setbacks for coalition forces gifted them with the opportunity to indulge in some ‘told-you-so’ rhetoric. What then, was their response to sudden coalition gains and dramatic pictures beamed from Baghdad of apparent euphoria at the arrival of US troops?

    One initial reaction was to dispute the mainstream media’s interpretation of these events as a victory and a vindication of the war, dismissing the widely syndicated images of US troops and Iraqis symbolically toppling Saddam’s statue in Fardus Square as “a carefully staged media event.”

    While close-up television coverage and front page pictures around the world suggested a mass outpouring of joy in the city, a long-range photo of the square carried on many alternative media sites revealed not a thronging crowd but an almost empty plaza, containing perhaps 50-100 people and surrounded by US tanks. “Does the scene look like the Fall of the Berlin Wall?” asked an article on IndyMedia, referring to Donald Rumsfeld’s description of the events. It also pointed out that Fardus Square is opposite the Palestine Hotel, where the international media are based.

    The fall of Baghdad spelled the end for the popular war reports posted daily at www.iraqwar.ru. The Russian author claimed to be receiving detailed information from contacts in Russian military intelligence. His reports were surprisingly accurate at times, and undermined much of the information coming out of CentCom. For example, it had the scoop that Umm Qasr was still putting up resistance even after the coalition claimed it was under their complete control. The site rapidly gained popularity and was reportedly used by Wall Street traders as a source of accurate war coverage. Soon after Baghdad fell, the author announced that his contacts could no longer feed him information. Conspiracy theorists suggested that the visit of Condoleezza Rice to Moscow was not unrelated.

    With the outcome of the war in less doubt, many alternative media commentators turned their attention to the issue of “reconstruction.” Writing for The Nation, Naomi Klein warned that Iraq will be “treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business.”

    Anti-corporate site CorpWatch was particularly concerned about the possibility of military contractor DynCorp providing “rent-a-cops” in post-war Iraq, recruited from US police forces. It pointed to allegations about human rights abuses by the company’s employees in Latin America and fraud in Bosnia.

    If Gulf War I was the first television war, where we passively lapped up information from the big news channels, Gulf War II has demonstrated the power of the Internet to give a platform to a myriad of voices. There is a bewildering amount of news and opinion out there in cyberspace, but as Farai Chideya pointed out on AlterNet, the Internet turns its users into active news “intelligent agents,” hunting down credible sources and passing along the worthiest columns and news stories to friends and colleagues. “In this world, readers and publishers share the burden of distribution,” says Chideya, “Online information fans have turned Fox News’s slogan on its ear, telling outlets ‘You Report, The World Decides.’”

    Tom Cousins is Senior Researcher at Infonic.com in London.

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    US and UK international media War as sport - embedding - little coverage of caution

    “…It almost feels like World Cup football when you go from Umm Qasr to another theatre of war…and you're switching live between battles". Major news channels around the world broadcast these comments on the first day of war in Iraq. Someone has already admitted that it was an "insensitive" thing to say, but in my view it shows how the international media perceive this conflict.

    There are about 600 journalists ‘embedded’ with Coalition Forces in the field. Their role in covering the war is under scrutiny. The use of the word "we" when describing the coalition advance gives a sense of the media participation and sympathy towards the troops. The US cable channel MSNBC shows a US flag on screen during its coverage of the war. The UK Sky News praises the troops' bravery while showing pictures of ‘neat’ tank cannons heading towards the desert.

    "Do you feel like a liberator or like an occupier?" - a reporter from a British satellite channel asks a US Marine...

    The feeling of triumph is contagious when US tanks arrive at Fardus Square in Baghdad and Western journalists welcome them: “Do you feel like a liberator or like an occupier?” a reporter from a British satellite channel asks a US Marine resting on the side of a street in central Baghdad. “Like a liberator, of course,” says the solider.

    British and American news channels, like BBC News and CNN, have broadcast images of jubilation spreading around the main square in the centre of the Iraqi capital as the statue of Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein was pulled down by an American tank. A crowd of hundreds of people is reported to have gathered in the square, but there is little reflection on the fact that hundreds of people in a city of 5 million is not that impressive.

    Iraqi exiles around the world are shown celebrating the news of the end of the Iraqi regime with shouts of joy and relief. Little airtime is given to the voices of those who are still cautious about the outcome of the conflict. While emotions about events may be understandable, these should be seen in context. The image of a statue being destroyed should be contextualised, in a war setting where there is always more than one truth.

    Elena Imbimbo Rathgeber is a London-based journalist, and holds an MA in international journalism.

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    Recycling satellite news – Muslim sensitivities – creating change

    National television channels in Tajikistan are not capable of having their own correspondents in Iraq. Only one print media organisation, Asia Plus, had a freelance correspondent. I say ‘not capable’ because there are no means to pay for this kind of journalism, and secondly because journalists here have not yet been educated on how to work in the hot spot – the courage to do this kind of work has never been cultivated.

    "...there were a few articles in support of Saddam Hussein"

    Throughout Tajikistan the mass media use ready-available information from the internet and foreign news channels. They translate and re-broadcast parts of newscasts from foreign television channels like BBC, CNN, Russian Euronews, TNT, and TVT, Iranian channel IRRIN, and several others.

    In some republican newspapers there were a few articles in support of Saddam Hussein. As a Muslim country, Tajikistan has generally been against the war on Iraq. Although I think even non-Muslim countries have condemned Bush for his actions. Reports say he had no right to invade Iraq and that he made all this political porridge for his own evil purpose: to capture the oil fields and monopolise the world market. But there were also many articles condemning Saddam’s dictatorship.

    National media did show people cheering in the streets of Baghdad, basically because they told the same story which the Russian and BBC news channels did.

    At the NGO I work for, called The Fourth Power we receive satellite TV emissions from major international news channels which we edit, combine and montage to create five-minute clips on videotapes that are physically distributed to national media outlets like SM-1 and Asia who broadcast them with translations in Tajik, Russian and Uzbek. These are some of the few video images we have from the war in Iraq.

    Recently, The Fourth Power acquired a licence for retransmission from the BBC. But even before we had this document, we were never in violation of any of the laws of the Republic of Tajikistan. We always attribute our sources, and never use long clips.

    Through this work, and the creation of training and research centres for journalists, we hope to increase the possibilities for Tajik media outlets to participate and effectively influence the process of creating and developing a secular, democratic, and legal society in Tajikistan.

    Munisa Vahobova is a Manager, Interpreter and PR Manager for the Tajik NGO The Fourth Power and its Media Resource Center (MRC) in the Sughd province.

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    Obedient followers – lack of protocols – the missing “why?”

    The Japanese media have been reporting the war in Iraq fairly, but overall they have been affected by the reality of geopolitical relations with the United States.

    Japan is historically dependent on US military power (and its nuclear umbrella) for self-defense. This fact carries even more importance now that the unpredictable North Korea, Japan’s neighbour, is playing a funny nuclear game. Since the Cold war era, Japan and South Korea have been firm military allies of the United States, which acts as the guardian of freedom in the East Asian region.

    No Japanese politicians from the ruling parties have openly criticized or gone against the war in Iraq. Only Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s rivals and opposition party leaders criticize the Japanese government for being an “obedient follower” of Washington.

    Japanese media follow suit, more or less, in diplomatic contexts – although they did print and air views of anti-war French leaders and carried expansive reports on protests. A few TV news anchors expressed fears and doubts about the rising empire of the United States with its strong unilateralism and neo-conservative policies. But few attempted to go beyond negative comments.

    Genuine sympathy goes to Iraqi people under the air attack by the superpower of the world. There is no sympathy in Japan for Saddam and his regime.

    "In presenting the 'alternative' side, reports have often been purely sentimental..."

    None of the major media outlets kept staff in Baghdad after the bombing started. Japanese newspapers and TV stations only had reporters “embedded” in the press arrangement with the US military. Obviously this had to do with protection of reporters, but certainly also with the Japanese media’s lack of protocols and experience in covering war.

    For day-to-day Baghdad coverage from the front, the Japanese media depended on about a dozen Japanese freelance journalists, mostly video-journalists and photographers, who stayed in the capital of their own accord. Other information was based on reports from the staff of aid agencies and NGOs in various locations around Iraq.

    In my view, there has been a shortage of serious political analysis of America’s war in Iraq. The media let a stream of military analysts and Middle East specialists speak out, but none of them provided in-depth or varied perspectives. In presenting the “alternative” side, reports have often been purely sentimental, focussing on matters like who died and how, without discussing the “why?” of events.

    People love to talk about how the media serves government interests, particularly those of the United States. But it is time for every journalist and all media in every country to question how journalism should confront war and war reporting issues to best serve the public of an international community.

    Mutsuko Murakami is a Japanese bilingual freelance journalist based in Tokyo. She contributes regularly to regional and local press.

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    'Wall to wall' news – domestic trouble – Iraqi victims or criminals?

    From the very first morning of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ the Danish media have been filled with stories about the conflict. As a member of NATO and a recent holder of the European Union presidency, Denmark sees foreign policy as a high priority in the news agenda. Of course, a war boosts this.

    Denmark has two major national public service broadcasters, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and TV2. For the first 48 hours of the conflict, both stations broadcasted “wall-to-wall” news coverage. And Iraq has been the lead story in every national newspaper ever since. Not surprisingly, the situation in the Middle East has been the hot topic up and down the country.

    "...the fact that Danish military forces are playing a part in the conflict has led to news bias."

    Two angles dominate the news – the war’s international significance; and the strictly domestic implications.

    From the very beginning, the Danish media took the victory of the coalition forces for granted. Both Danish broadcasters had military experts commenting on the situation who were clearly in support of the coalition forces. The only problem they speculated about was whether the Iraqi regime would use weapons of mass destruction in its struggle for survival.

    On the domestic front one subject has dominated. As you may know, Denmark is a member of the coalition. Compared to the forces of the US and the UK, our military contribution is very small. But a destroyer and a submarine maintain a Danish presence in the Gulf. The decision to send Danish soldiers to Iraq was made by the conservative-liberalist government coalition with the support of the extreme right of the Danish parliament – by the slimmest possible majority.

    This outraged the Opposition – led by the Social Democrats, who only supported military action on a UN mandate. A massive media response ensued. Several newspaper editors condemned Danish participation outright. For most of the Danish news media the situation has been difficult. The Danish press is generally of a very high standard and is usually very critical. But the fact that Denmark is at war, and that Danish military forces are playing a part in the conflict has led to news bias.

    Instead of criticizing the Danish government for getting us involved, most of the media have turned their criticism on the US. The US has been blamed for acting as an invading army – mounting their flag on various buildings and statues in the cities they ‘liberated’ – and for letting Iraqis plunder their own government buildings and fire up civil disorder. But the fact that Iraqis have stolen from hospitals in Baghdad, for instance, has to some extent affected public attitudes to the Iraqi people.

    As the first cities in Iraq were liberated, the Danish media showed images of celebrating citizens, swiftly followed by pictures of plunder. It criminalized our image of the oppressed Iraqi population, showing just how hard it is to paint a war in black and white. Fortunately.

    Nicolai Würtz is a Danish freelance journalist. He is currently working for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) and as a boardmember of the Danish Committee for Investigative Journalism (FUJ).

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