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March 6, 2003
U.S. Media Coverage of Iraq Crisis is Homogeneous, Servile Say Journalists
Inter Press Service

In submitting too easily to the official line on Iraq, the U.S. media has grandly fallen short of its all-important responsibilities to reflect diversity and to keep the government at arm's length, according to a group of journalism educators and working journalists.


Akhilesh Upadhyay

NEW YORK, Mar 5 (IPS) - In submitting too easily to the official line on Iraq, the U.S. media has grandly fallen short of its all-important responsibilities to reflect diversity and to keep the government at arm's length, according to a group of journalism educators and working journalists.

They say the country's dominant media corporations have presented the current build-up to war on Iraq with a shocking homogeneity, which fails to reflect the pluralistic vibrancy that exists in the United States.

In an open letter sent to major media outlets this week, more than two dozen professors, journalists and authors warned, ”this is no time for relying solely on official sources and their supporters”.

”The media should never confuse patriotism with obeisance and a rubber-stamp mentality,” the letter states. ”There is a duty to seek out and quote the many experts who express scepticism about claims by the state, rather than simply to rely on the same pundits repeatedly.”

Enlightened by history, independent journalists argue, more and more people here are relying on the Internet to get alternative viewpoints, a trend that took off during the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle, where media corporations failed to give adequate and accurate information on what many now regard as a turning point in a broad-based international anti-globalisation movement.

The media debacle in Seattle led the much-venerated 'Christian Science Monitor' to note, ''The new media in Seattle provided a glimpse of what lies ahead for journalism in the new century. It is a message that older media ignores at their own peril.''

''First thing U.S. readers need to do is stop reading the U.S. corporate media,'' says Jeanne Strole at Independent Media Center (IMC) in New York. ''They should start reading the foreign press - British, French, Spanish, Arabic - anything other than the goddamn U.S. corporate media.''

The IMC homepage (www.indymedia.org), accessed by growing legions of readers worldwide, features two articles related to war, none of which has found much room in the U.S. media.

One describes a weekend report in Britain's 'Guardian' newspaper based on a leaked memo describing how U.S. agents have increased their spying on representatives of United Nations Security Council member countries in a bid to get their approval for war on Iraq.

The expanded surveillance operation includes intercepting home and office telephone calls and emails, according to the paper.

The other IMC article describes recent anti-war protests in the Turkish capital Ankara, where parliament on Saturday voted against the deployment of 60,000 U.S. troops inside the nation's borders.

A day after the vote, the 'New York Times', for instance, did carry the news on its front page, but failed to mention that thousands of protesters had gathered outside the parliament in Turkey, a secular Muslim state and the only democracy in the region.

Strole says interest in the IMC viewpoint keeps growing. For example, during the weekend of Feb. 15, when anti-war protests were held worldwide, visits to the site skyrocketed by more than 10 times the usual numbers.

''We are seeing this increased need for alternative news sources because many more people are feeling generally disillusioned with our government, our corporate leadership, and the mainstream media which favours these interests,'' adds her colleague Catriona Stuart.

Those who signed the protest letter include retired Times columnist Tom Wicker, a former reporter at the paper, William Serrin, Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the journalism school at the University of California at Berkeley, author Studs Terkel, independent journalist and filmmaker Barbara Koeppell, and author and politician Ralph Nader.

The letter describes six patterns of poor media coverage, which characterised reporting during the 1991 Gulf War and are being repeated in the present run-up to war in Iraq.

The ''Horserace Syndrome'' and highlighting military tactics over political analysis means that the media is endlessly churning out news features with titles like 'Showdown with Saddam' and ''presenting a grave matter as though it were a high-stakes sports contest”, the letter says.

It indicts the media for failing to aggressively protest government control of information, adding that newspapers and TV news have underreported this ''freeze out''.

The letter also accuses the media of failing to maintain ''an arm's-length relationship'' with government, noting the over-reliance of TV news in particular on government-approved retired military and intelligence consultants.

According to IMC's Strole, the U.S. media is run by ''a handful of corporations who all have a stake in making sure the Bush administration gets its (expletive) war. More and more Americans are waking up to the fact that the U.S. corporate-mainstream media has been bought and paid for.''

The 'Los Angeles Times', Associated Press, and the 'New York Times' declined to comment on the letter, telling IPS that they react only to specific points about their own coverage.


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