Friday, January 6, 2012

Iraqi War: Media Critique

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‘Whoever controls the language, the images, controls the race’.

This quote from an unknown source describes the power of the media within today’s society. Through times of tragedy and joy, we turn to the media for an explanation and an understanding. The Iraqi war is currently an extremely critical issue for the Australian public as well as the rest of the world. Because of this, it is expected that there will be balanced media coverage in order to fully inform the population. However, despite our country’s support and involvement in President George Bush’s decision to go to war, Australian media coverage has been far from ethical. While there are constant updates of the coalition’s progress in Iraq, there is rarely any news of Iraqi casualties or anything that may jeopardise their jingoistic approach. This is because of our government’s emphasis on creating a bias, pro-war view and the use of propaganda to ‘sell’ the war. If our country’s people are to formulate their own views on the war, the media needs to fulfill our expectations and start giving an accurate view of the Iraqi War. Therefore, although the press prides itself on being able to report the news fully, accurately and with balance, its role has not been fulfilled in its coverage of the war. Rather, we are bombarded with mixed views, which are predominately of a pro-war, American view.

One way that the media seeks to report the news is through an editorial, which is an article that gives the newspapers opinion. However, these articles should still employ the basic ethics of journalism. The editorial titled ‘Anti-war No Help to Iraqis’, featured in the Cairns Post (Appendix A), bluntly supports a pro-war view. The editorial refers to the anti-war movement as being comprised of ‘lies and hysteria’ in an attempt to persuade the public that it is a ridiculous and time wasting cause. Through the use of negative terminology and mockery the author has created the belief that the anti-war movement is no better than the Hussein regime, with phrases such as ‘useless United Nations’, ‘discredited Iraqi Information Ministry’ and ‘”peaceful” options’. In addition, to encourage the pro-war views the author uses positive phrases when describing the coalition forces such as ‘brief campaign’, ‘mercifully short casualty list’, ‘extreme care’ and ‘jubilant, newly liberated Iraqis’. There is little knowledge of the author or their accreditations, so there is no certainty of reliable sources, therefore further damaging the articles credibility. Although the editorial presents some good points, it gives a very bias view of the topic.

The use of propaganda within the media is not acceptable, as it is seen as an unethical way of reporting the news. Despite this, propaganda is regularly used to encourage readers to foreground a certain view. The article ‘Evil Heirs Inherited Taste for Torture’ by Jane Corbin appeared in ‘The Sunday Mail’ (Appendix B). ‘The Sunday Mail’ is a tabloid newspaper, which means that it takes a more popular view in its style and presentation. Beside the word ‘evil heirs’ is a large photo of Saddam Hussein and his two sons; automatically emphasizing the connection between the Hussein family and ‘evil’. The article is about Saddam’s sons, who are described as a ‘homicidal playboy’ and a ‘cold-blooded executioner’. Through these descriptions, the reader is persuaded to form an intense feeling of disgust towards these men. The article presents distasteful information about the men and states at the end that this is ‘a justification…to put him [Qusay] second on their list’. To create a representation of evil the journalist commonly uses the words ‘executioner’ and ‘psychopathic’. Statements like ‘defectors claim’ jeopardise the authenticity and credibility of the article. Readers are once again given a one-sided view of a far more complicated issue in an attempt to simplify it. Although the article has presented a convincing argument it has failed to fulfill its role and give balanced coverage of the Iraqi War.

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One of the reasons that the Internet is so appealing to the public is because it is unregulated, in comparison to most other media. If both the Internet and other media are read, then perhaps some sort of balance will be reached. The article ‘Lessons Learned from New-Era Warfare’ by Jennifer Pangyanszki was displayed on the CNN website (Appendix C), approximately one week after the war finished. The article pin points positive aspects of the operation and highlights them repeatedly. The war is referred to as a ‘text book case…for the future’. This item of propaganda is used to enforce the belief that everything went according to plan during the invasion. Anything that suggests otherwise does not appear. It is stated within the article that there was ‘little resistance from Iraqi troops’, yet there is no explanation for the high casualty rate of Iraqi soldiers alluded to in other media coverage. The Iraqi army is referred to as a ‘weaker enemy’ to make the reader believe the coalition to be strong and intelligent. The author also states that 16,000 precision-guided bombs accounted for 70% of the bombs dropped, but the other 0% (6,857) goes unmentioned. The connection between the so-called ‘smart’ bombs and civilian deaths is not made. The Iraqi army is made out to be hopeless and weak, yet we have been told through other media sources that the war was started because the government believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - none of which have been discovered or used during the campaign. We are met with a difficult decision, what and who to believe. Clearly, the media cannot be doing its job, otherwise there would be clearly stated information that cannot be questioned or contradicted.

Cartoons regularly appear in newspapers in order to present issues in a different perspective, they commonly use humour and over characterised features. ‘No more Saddam to destroy our country’ ‘Now we are free to destroy it ourselves’. (Appendix D). This cartoon, featured in the Cairns Post, depicts the looting that went on in Iraq after Saddam was taken from power. The use of sarcasm is supposed to make the topic a little more light hearted, but at the same time makes a complete mockery of the Iraqi people. It can be seen as agreeing with the decision to go to war, as the Iraqi people are shown to be in need of help. However, on the other hand it is showing that the war has taken away all of the Iraqi’s self respect and dignity. The presence of the army tank in the background enforces the idea that this is the coalition’s doing. The use of colour is suggesting that the issue is not just in black and white, that there is more to the situation in Iraq than is being shown. The cartoonist has sensationalised the issue by showing crazed looks on the men’s faces, and people running around with ridiculous items. In fact, the situation was hardly as pedantic as the media would have the public believe. The cartoon has touched on a few of the issues but gives a mixed and confusing view, a far more balanced coverage is needed in order to fully inform today’s society.

The media has an extremely influential position within society due to its role, which is to report the news accurately and with balance. The four examples mentioned in this media critique are representative of the bulk of media coverage of the Iraqi war. It has not been satisfying the population’s expectation to report ethically, due to the constant use of propaganda, sensationalism, bias reporting, and privileging of certain beliefs. Through the use of these techniques the media is withholding information from the public. The Iraqi war is evidently an important issue to society and therefore the media is required to achieve their objective and report the news with accuracy. ‘Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put in that polluted vehicle’. Perhaps this anonymous quote will enlighten the media and give them the chance to fix ‘that polluted vehicle’.

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