Tuesday, November 29, 2005

'War on the media: 'Don't bomb us''

"For some time, Mediachannel.org and other outlets have been reporting on the Bush Administration's contempt for the media and its attempts to manage and spin coverage.

Writing in this week's Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney catalogue the various strategies that have been deployed, charging, "with its unprecedented campaign to undermine and, where possible, eliminate independent journalism, the Bush Administration has demonstrated astonishing contempt for the Constitution and considerable fear of an informed public."

But would it actually attempt to "take-out" media institutions and kill or otherwise silence journalists? Would it bomb a TV station? How far will this government go?

We know that other governments have shown little restraint. An Indonesian and a Russian journalist were poisoned in high profile cases. Others have been "disappeared," killed, jailed and tortured. Groups like Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of reporters compile the cases and regularly call for justice.

In our country, the Committee to Protect Journalists has played that role well with important documentation and action alerts. Each year, usually at a fancy hotel in New York, they also have a pricey fundraising dinner hosted by network anchors in tuxedos who give prestigious awards to gutsy journalists and freedom of the press advocates. All the big media companies buy tables and pat themselves on the back for upholding the first amendment. They make videos honoring the courage of media messengers. Unfortunately, those videos and their stories rarely get on the air in their networks. In my book The More You Watch, The Less You Know, I derided the annual feel-good affair as "human rights for a night."

Why aren't these companies speaking out when other media organizations like Al Jazeera are threatened and attacked? What are they doing to demand independent inquiries into the killings of journalists and media staff? The toll in Iraq now stands at 93, and the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad says the US military poses a bigger threat to newsgathering than the insurgents. (Reuters has bravely challenged the Pentagon to tell the truth!)

And where is the ongoing investigation of the recently leaked information about President Bush's alleged desire to bomb Al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar? Al Jazeera offices had been attacked before in Afghanistan and Baghdad. One of their journalists has been killed and others jailed. Their staff and some media groups have protested but many media outlets are not following up or expressing outrage.

Did major media outlets tune out of the story because the White House dismissed it as "outlandish"? Jeremy Scahill writes:

"Is the allegation 'outlandish,' as the White House claims? Or was it a deadly serious option? Until a news organization or British official defies the Official Secrets Act and publishes the five-page memo, we have no way of knowing. But what we do know is that at the time of Bush's White House meeting with Blair, the Bush Administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against Al Jazeera. The Bush-Blair summit took place on April 16, at the peak of the first US siege of Falluja, and Al Jazeera was there to witness the assault and the fierce resistance.

"A day before Bush's meeting with Blair, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld slammed Al Jazeera in distinctly undiplomatic terms:

REPORTER: Can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed?

RUMSFELD: I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.

REPORTER: Do you have a civilian casualty count?

RUMSFELD: Of course not, we're not in the city. But you know what our forces do; they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense. It's disgraceful what that station is doing.
"What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when US forces killed Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see."

Al Jazeera staffers now have a blog called "Don't bomb Us."

One staffer Yousef Al-Shouly writes: "My mother (78 years old) used to tell me before going to work 'my son take care', but yesterday she asked me 'is it true that they want to bomb your TV station? Don't go to work.'"

Their staff staged a symbolic protest. They are aware that the Clinton Administration bombed the TV station in Belgrade and the Bush Administration did the same to the Iraq TV Headquarters in Baghdad. Al Jazeera demands that the British government disclose its secret document and confirm or deny the truth of the allegations. The Bush Administration must do the same.

In the USA, more subtle means are used to stop aggressive reporting. Bill Moyers describes the pressure that came down on his PBS show NOW in the new issue of Broadcasting & Cable. He is asked about bias, responding: "We were biased, all right - in favor of uncovering the news that powerful people wanted to keep hidden."

In the past, we know that low-powered radio stations in the US were shut down by the FCC until the agency changed its mind on the issue. We also know that our government runs TV stations to put out propaganda packaged as news. The BBC has just launched an Arabic service with British government funds to compete with Al Jazeera.

The time has come for the world media to denounce threats and actions by governments and media companies who squelch truth-telling. Truth is often a casualty of war and that's why we need the MediaChannel's "Tell The Truth About The War Campaign."

Please respond to this simple appeal posed by a journalist at Al Jazeera who with his colleagues has had to face down threats, incitement, putdowns, and indifference. Yousef Al-Shouly says powerfully:

"My colleagues and I need your support. So do Tayseer, Sami, Tareq, and Rashid's kids - we want to know the truth. Simply because we are men and women who bring you the news."-from The Smirking Chimp.

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