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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 (at) muslimaffairs.com.au

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

www.muslimaffairs.com.au


 
 

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