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Media and the Iraq War

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Fox and NBC have often boasted about their loyalty to Bush's government. Owned by rightwing businessmen, they could reasonably be described as components of the military-industrial complex. But the failures of the British media, in particular the BBC, require more explanation. Studies by the Cardiff School of Journalism and the Glasgow University Media Group suggest there is a serious and systematic bias among British broadcasters in favour of the government and its allies.

The Cardiff study, for example, shows that 86% of the broadcast news reports that mentioned weapons of mass destruction during the invasion of Iraq "suggested Iraq had such weapons", while "only 14% raised doubts about their existence or possible use". The claim by British and US forces that Iraq had fired illegal Scud missiles into Kuwait was reported 27 times on British news programmes. It was questioned on just four occasions: once by Sky and three times by Channel 4 News. The BBC even managed to embellish the story: its correspondent Ben Brown suggested that the non-existent Scuds might have been loaded with chemical or biological warheads. Both the BBC (Ben Brown again) and ITN reported that British commanders had "confirmed" the phantom uprising in Basra on March 25. Though there was no evidence to support either position, there were twice as many reports claiming that the Iraqi people favoured the invasion as reports claiming that they opposed it. "Overall, considerably more time was given to the original [untrue] stories than to any subsequent retractions," the researchers found.

The Glasgow study shows that BBC and ITN news reports are biased in favour of Israel and against the Palestinians. Almost three times as much coverage is given to each Israeli death as to each Palestinian death. Killings by Palestinians are routinely described as "atrocities" and "murders", while Palestinians deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers have been reported as "caught in the crossfire". In the period the researchers studied, Israeli spokespeople were given twice as much time to speak as Palestinians. Both BBC and ITN reports have described the West Bank as part of Israel. By failing to explain that the Palestinians are living under military occupation, following the illegal seizure of their land, correspondents routinely reduce the conflict to an inexplicable "cycle of violence". Even this cycle is presented as being driven by the Palestinians: the Israelis are reported as "responding" or "retaliating" to Palestinian attacks; violence by the Palestinians is seldom explained as a response to attacks by Israelis. Both networks regularly claim that the US government is seeking peace in the region (ITN has described it as "even-handed") while omitting to mention that it is supplying some $3bn a year of military aid to Israel.

The BBC emerges very badly from these studies. The Cardiff report shows that it used US and British government sources more often than the other broadcasting networks, and used independent sources, such as the Red Cross, less often than the others. It gave the least coverage to Iraqi casualties, and was the least likely to report Iraqi unhappiness about the invasion. A separate study by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of news networks in five different countries showed that the BBC offered the least airtime of any broadcaster to opponents of the war: just 2% of its coverage. (Even ABC news in the United States gave them 7%). Channel 4 News, by contrast, does well: it seems to be the only British network that has sought to provide a balanced account of these conflicts.


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  • 2 months later...

Nobody could have listened unmoved to the plea from Lil Begley broadcast by the BBC. She was so distressed by her brave broadcast that she was admitted to hospital the same night. Anyone watching would wish that the women in Iraq could be released and Ken Bigley restored to his family.

But just a minute. The BBC could have filled the airways with pleas from mothers, Iraqi mothers, pleading "save the life of my child", "don't bomb my family" in the run up to war. They chose not to.

They could have broadcast the feelings of the relatives of the prisoners being tortured by the Americans in Guantanamo bay. They chose not to.

Instead the BBC repeat the story that the Americans "only have two" female prisoners. They have dumbed down their news coverage from Iraq to the point that Nicholas Witchell can just read scripts which might as well have been written by the military and get away with it. They really have become Blair's Broadcasting Corporation now.

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