Self-Censorship: Resistance Fighters
[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freace.de/artikel/nov2003/censor071103.html.]
A news report of the Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Friday that the Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com instructed its editors not to speak any more of Iraqi "resistance fighters".
Instead the words "rebels" or "guerillas" should be used according to the email order.
An acting editor-in-chief of the LA Times, Melissa McCoy, said on Wednesday that the instruction originated in a discussion of the high-ranking editors of the newspaper, not in the complaints of readers.
McCoy said she regarded the term "resistance fighters" as a correct description for Iraqis who fight against US soldiers. However it would waken memories of the 2nd World War, especially of the French resistance, the Resistance, or the Jews who fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.
The similarity of the English term "resistance fighter" to "Resistance" creates this impression. Nevertheless the question is whether this is really the only reason for the instruction.
From a moral perspective, "resistance fighters" have a greater legitimation than "rebels" or "guerillas" since they clearly struggle against foreign occupiers while "rebels" or "guerillas" act against the government of their own country often without the same support in the population.
Since Iraq was conquered and occupied by the US, the term "resistance fighter" seems appropriate. If this awakens memories in English minds of French resistance, this could be because the French resistance also involved a conquest against international law..
David Hoffman, foreign editor of the Washington Post, said that his newspaper uses the term "resistance fighters" without hesitation. "They are resisting an American occupation", Hoffman said.
What is involved here is an almost inconspicuous change of a term. However little distinctions can change readers' opinions in a subliminal way.
The question is whether the order of the LA Times really only rested on its own decision or whether the US government as exerted pressure happened with other media, for example the Arab broadcast station Al-Jazeera.
Al-Jazeera was under massive pressure to remove several comic strips from its website and not broadcast a whole series of publications of Iraqi resistance groups and Al Qaida. Its reporting altogether has become reserved in its US criticism.
As the British Guardian reported on Thursday, a story of the BBC showed that journalists "embedded" in the combat units provided a flattering picture of the war.
Mark Damazar, acting director of BBC News, said: "For praiseworthy and honorable reasons, our reporting is flattering. We run the risk of a double standard which is hardly a service to democracy."
Although 53 British soldiers were killed in the Iraq war, viewers did not see a picture of a killed or wounded British soldier. Damazer urges a debate over the culture of flattery that has been increasing for years.
In the reporting, according to the study, Iraqi joy over the US soldiers was twice as likely to be shown than doubt or hostility.