Friday, July 21, 2006

Media doing their job

July 1, 2006

WHEN the media do not do their job and carry not only uncritical but glorifyingly bloated accounts of successful government policies, they become the darlings of the establishment. But when they do their job i.e. carry objective reports with hard information supported by facts, authorities get upset and accuse them to undermining national interests. The latest episode in that never-ending cycle is a contention by a US commander in Iraq that the US could lose the war in Iraq if public support for it at home is sapped by negative media coverage.
What exactly, shall we ask, is "negative" media coverage? Does it include reports of what exactly is happening on the ground? Does it include portrayals of the reality?
In Iraq's case, there is definitely a shift in the mainstream media's approach towards the crisis there and the broader US-led war against terrorism. Some of them were indeed instrumental in building an American mindset that the invasion of Iraq was somehow tied to the security of the people of the US.
Now they have switched tracks and focusing more on actualities, and that is creating headaches for the administration and hence the complaint of "negative" coverage.
The shift is definitely the result of the media's realisation that the US is getting dragged deeper into quicksands in Iraq and, equally importantly, that Americans are becoming increasingly aware that there is something drastically wrong in their administration's policy not only in the Iraqi context but in the overall Middle Eastern conflict. Americans are no longer accepting at face value whatever the administration tells them. They are seeking media confirmation to establish the truth of what they are being told by their government.
Had it not been for the media, the world would not have known about the most degrading atrocities committed against prisoners in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. We now know that top brass at the Pentagon had known about them all along and kept them under wraps, but they had to come clean when the goings on in Abu Ghraib hit headlines in the New Yorker.
Few would have known about the vengeful massacres carried out by American soliders — Haditha was only one of many places where innocent Iraqis were gunned down. No one would have known about the tens of billions of dollars being siphoned away by US corporations with close ties to the administration in the name of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Had it not been for the aggressive media approach, the latest case of the rape of an Iraqi women and murder of three members of her family, including a child, would never have reached the public.
We have also noticed that news agencies are now carrying pictures of coffins of American soldiers being brought home to grieving families. Indeed, that is a major switch from the ban that the government had imposed on media coverage of such events.
Obviously, those who matter in the US establishment have realised that they could no longer hope to conceal facts away from public scrutiny, and the situation becomes all the more worse when truth is brought out first by the media. Therefore, they have decided to go public themselves with affirmations of unacceptable behaviour by their ranks in order to pre-empt media exposures that could catch them unawares and would erode their credibility further. It has become a game of outguessing each other as to the timing of revelations.
A simple but very valid observation is that the media are accused of highlighting that the insurgency in Iraq shows no sign of abating despite massive security sweeps and crackdowns. What else are they expected to highlight? That the number of kidnapppings, ambushes, suicide bombings and killings has gone down after the new government of Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki took power (whereas the reality is just the opposite)? That everything is working in clock-like precision along the plans chartered by the US military?