Saturday, October 09, 2004

Arab media slowly catching up

Session on Western media and Iraq

PV Vivekanand

The Arab media showed that it is moving towards holding its ground against the continuing assault by the Western media during the recent war on Iraq and were more objective in its coverage of the conflict when compared to the Western media.
However, the Arab media have to go a long way ahead before it could actually do the job they are supposed to do in terms of being instrumental in changes in the society.
This was the consensus at discussions held here on Wednesday as part of Arab Media Summit 2003, which ended later in the day.
The session, held under the title "Iraq as a case study: Western media coverage," was moderated by Peter Arnett, a former CNN correspondent who gained prominence during the 1991 Gulf war by virtue of him being the only American television reporter in who remained in Iraq throughout the military conflict.
According to Arnett, there need not be much of a classification between the Western and Arab television channels since news organisations borrowed each other's footage.
He referred to the arrangement between CNN and Al Jazeera television during the Afghanistan whereby the American network heavily used Al Jazeera footage.
In a broader context, Arnett described the recent war against Iraq as a continuation of the 1991 Gulf war, and said it "did not have to take place."
"This is a 13-year war. It was a pre-emptive war. The US and UK did not have to launch it," he said. "In the case of World War II, there was no choice as it was a war of survival. But this war angered the Arab World as it did not have to take place," said Arnett.
He said it was a question of credibility and trust.
He recalled British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iraq could launch its alleged weapons of mass destruction ((WMD) with a 45-minute notice and US Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out a full dossier against Iraq at the UN.
"The Iraqi side said we not have any WMD, you can search anywhere and that's what the UN did," he said. "But then, Saddam Hussein did not have any credibility," he said.
Arnett was employed by the American networks NBC and National Geographic for covering the recent Iraq war. But they fired him for saying on Iraqi TV that the US war plan had failed.
In his comments here on Wednesday, he criticised the decision to sack him.
"As journalists, we need to know the other side, we should know the other side," he said.
Arnett said CNN had brought back war reporting to the forefront. "War reporting was on a decline. CNN's success during the first war motivated others," he said. "
However, he argued that while the US had won the war on the military front, it has lost the "information war."
"Today, it is impossible for anyone to control the media. There is no embedding anymore," he said referring to the unprecedented way that American journalists were allowed to accompany military units which invaded Iraq.
Jihad Al Khazen, director and writer of the Al Hayat newspaper, said the Arab media had outdone the Western media in objectively covering war.
Clive Myrie, a BBC correspondent, said the issue should not be reduced to a beauty contest between the Arab and Western media.
"We are all involved in getting to the truth and that is what we should be doing," he said.
Arguing against certain Arab perceptions that the Western media is biased against the Arabs, he said the Western media is not a single monolith that thinks alike but consists of various perspectives and processes.
Myrie, who was one of the "embedded" journalists with the US Marines during the Iraq war, said he was viewing the war from the perspective of the men in the US army unit.
He said he had formed bonds with soldiers in the units and the impact this had on maintaining standards of objective journalism.
"They were feeding me and helping me in my task and gave me a front row seat to see the war but I still had the freedom to be objective in reporting the war," he said.
Arnett said that the concept of embedded journalists was a brilliant masterstroke of the Pentagon in trying to turn coverage of the war in their favour. The coverage of embedded journalists, he noted was perceived as highly reliable.
Janine Digiovanni, a correspondent of The Times, highlighted the need for journalists to work in underreported regions of the world like Chechnya.
She said there were several regions of the world that deserved to be covered because of the appalling abuse of human rights but were not covered because they did not have oil or pipelines or vast natural resources.
"More often than not these stories were in Africa where the level of violence and massacre is beyond horrific."
She talked about how she was one on the only three journalists to witness the fall of Grozny in Chechnya.
She also related how she was horrified by the level of damage created by Israeli tanks which levelled the West Bank town of Jenin in April 2002.
She said she was proud to see what the British press had written about what happened in the town.
However, she was less than proud of her American colleagues, whom she accused of burying the Jenin story, or brushed it off because it was not considered a massacre.