Withdrawal majority censored

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by Polina Aksamentova

Four separate polls undertaken throughout July by the BBC/ Guardian, ITN, The Times and the Independent consistently showed that the majority of Britons want immediate or rapid withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Yet the sources largely downplayed their findings.

The ICM study, conducted 11 July for the Guardian, found that 42% of people want Britain to pull out now and 14 % by the end of the year – putting 56% of Britons in favour of withdrawal.

The Guardian, however, titled the article “Public Support for Afghanistan is Firm, Despite Deaths”. The story rushed to tell us in the fourth paragraph that “support” for the war increased from 30% in 2006 to 46% now, but left the desire for withdrawal to the last three sentences of the article. The article also omitted some of the findings entirely: Of the people surveyed, 46% believe that the British presence is Afghanistan is making no difference, while another 16% think it’s making the situation worse.

On 13 July, the ITV News at Ten broadcast the findings of an ITN/Populus Poll, in which 59% of Britons were for withdrawal.

The Independent, Telegraph and Financial Times picked up the report, albeit feebly, mentioning the figure in the context of stories about Gordon Brown’s attitude to Afghanistan or the “clout” of defence secretary Bob Ainsworth.

The Times conducted its own poll, reporting on 22 July that the majority of Britons are in favour of troop withdrawal either now (34 percent) or within a year (33 percent). The article focused on public opinion over inadequate combat equipment.

The Independent commissioned its own survey as well, published on 28 July, which said that 52% of Britons want immediate withdrawal and 58% believe the war is unwinnable. This was the only article to lead with the poll and allude to it in the headline. Almost none of the newspapers wrote about any of the other papers’ polls. None drew parallels or analysed the constancy of findings: 56% in favour of withdrawal in six months; 67% for withdrawal within a year; 52% for “immediate” withdrawal.

Topics: Afghanistan