portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

imperialism & war

Media self-censorship in the war against Afghanistan

In his introduction to Animal Farm, George Orwell commented that
whilst the government does not actively censor the media, "the
sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is
largely voluntary". He continued, "Unpopular ideas can be silenced,
and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official
ban." He lamented important facts being kept out of the press, "not
because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit
agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact."
MEDIA SOMERSAULTS

In his introduction to Animal Farm, George Orwell commented that
whilst the government does not actively censor the media, "the
sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is
largely voluntary". He continued, "Unpopular ideas can be silenced,
and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official
ban." He lamented important facts being kept out of the press, "not
because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit
agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact."

In the war against terror it certainly "wouldn't do" to focus on
civilian casualties or possible US involvement in Northern Alliance
war crimes. It just "won't do" to mention that the Northern Alliance
have been executing POWs, such as the 400 Talibs who died from
asphyxiation this week after being packed into shipping containers.
There is no room for any Seymour Hershs in this war.

The global reach of the US media means many outside the United
States are just as likely to turn to CNN and FOX, as they are local
outlets. It is therefore of concern that some sections of the
world's media are behaving more like the fourth branch of the US
government than the "fourth estate" - the term coined by the 19th
century historian Carlyle for the media's role as "guardians of democracy and the public
interest".

Take Dan Rather, the CBS news anchor, who in a September 17th
interview on the Letterman show, said, "George Bush is the president.
He makes the decisions. As one American, wherever he wants me to line
up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call." It's clear
to whom this anchorman is anchored.

Likewise lining up for duty, Rupert Murdoch promised, "We'll do
whatever is our patriotic duty" (Reuters 10/11/01). In a show of
"patriotism", Steve Dunleavy, wrote in the Murdoch-owned New York
Post, that the US should "kill the bastards. A gunshot between the
eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for
cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball
courts."

A major part of Murdoch's Fox network's coverage of the Afghan war
comes from former talkshow host, Geraldo Rivera. "I'm feeling more
patriotic than at any time in my life," he said. "Itching for justice,
or maybe just revenge." The tough-talking Rivera is more
bounty-hunter than journalist, carrying a gun and vowing on air to
shoot Bin Laden if he finds him.

Whilst the Northern Alliance was flouting the Geneva convention,
executing prisoners and carrying out atrocities in areas under its
control, Newsweek Magazine (3/12/2001) conducted an interview with the
First Family.

One might have imagined questions being asked about the US role in the
Qalai Janghi massacre, or the "forced disappearance" of over 1,000
unidentified, mostly Muslim men in the US. Instead, the most probing
question asked by senior editor, Howard Fineman and Whitehouse
correspondent Martha Brant was "From where does George W. Bush - or
Laura, for that matter - draw the strength for this grand mission, the
ambitious aim of which is nothing less than to 'rid the world of
evildoers'?"

Going even further, some media outlets are now questioning whether
they should report on civilian fatalities at all. Brit Hume, the host
of Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Brit Hume"
(11/5/01) asked: "The question I have is: civilian casualties are
historically, by definition, a part of war, really. Should they be as
big news as they've been?"

Hume later told the New York Times, "Look, neutrality as a general
principle is an appropriate concept for journalists who are covering
institutions of some comparable quality... This is a conflict between
the United States and murdering barbarians."

Even CNN has signed up to the cause. Chairman, Walter Isaacson has
ordered his staff to balance images of civilian fatalities in Afghan
cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists,
saying it 'seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or
hardship in Afghanistan.'" (The Washington Post, 31/10/01)

The Post quotes a memo from Isaacson to all CNN international
correspondents that reads, in part: "As we get good reports from
Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make
sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or
perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian
shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible
for killing close to 5,000 innocent people."

CNN reporters covering civilian casualties were warned not to "forget
it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the situation
Afghanistan is now in."

A censored, impotent media unable to shine its light in the shadows of
its government's wartime activities might be understood in the context
of a brutal dictatorship. However, the voluntary self-censorship of
civilian casualties and wartime atrocities cannot be excused or
condoned when it takes place in the context of a liberal democracy.

To quote Orwell: "Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip,
but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip."


-------------
Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public
Affairs Committee

--

Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC)
PO Box 180
PASCOE VALE SOUTH VIC 3044
Email:  info@muslimaffairs.com.au
Web:  http://www.muslimaffairs.com.au

homepage: homepage: http://www.muslimaffairs.com.au

"vassals of rich men..." 17.Dec.2001 11:36

drunken

the following helps give a very clear picture from someone inside the liers den.


Asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press
Club, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York
Times, made this candid confession [it's worth noting that
Swinton was called "The Dean of His Profession" by other
newsmen, who admired him greatly]:

" There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, as an
independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one
of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you
know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly
for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected
with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and
any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be
out on the streets looking for another job.

If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my
paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The
business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to
pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell the
country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is
this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the
rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the
strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are
all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes. "

"vassals of rich men..." 17.Dec.2001 11:39

drunken

the following gives a view from within the liers den.

Asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press
Club, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York
Times, made this candid confession [it's worth noting that
Swinton was called "The Dean of His Profession" by other
newsmen, who admired him greatly]:

" There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, as an
independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one
of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you
know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly
for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected
with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and
any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be
out on the streets looking for another job.

If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my
paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The
business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to
pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell the
country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is
this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the
rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the
strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are
all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes. "