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Media workers against the war

1.2m Iraqis may have died in the Iraq war: why the silence?

Hope for journalism. While the purpose of the “First Casualty? War, Truth and the Media today” conference, held by Media Workers Against the War on 17 November, was to expose media's self-censorship and ponder its origins, the overwhelming theme of the gathering was hope. I went to the conference seeking to understand the media's treatment of the finding by polling agency ORB that 1.2m Iraqis have died violently in the invasion and occupation of Iraq (reported in the last two issues of PN). Disillusioned No one at the convention doubted that the war in Iraq and “the war on terror” have not received a fair, balanced and critical coverage. The vast amount of evidence the speakers presented was already accepted as fact and almost unnecessary. Like me, the attendees came disillusioned, appalled by the journalists' lack of integrity. And many had noticed the trifling appearance the 1.2m-dead figure has made in the headlines. Why? More intriguing were the various explanations for this that famous journalists and anti-war activists offered. Tony Benn, a former Labour Cabinet Minister, stressed the influence of the government. He said journalists are pressured to report what the government tells them for fear of being denied the “scoop”. He added that recent cuts to the BBC's news resources were an example of this “attack”. Sami Ramadani, a professor at London Metropolitan University and an Iraqi political exile since 1969, had a more pessimistic view. He said the media are a part of the establishment, and if they report anti-war views, it's because there's division within the government. Nick Davies, an investigative reporter from the Guardian, dismissed several arguments citing proprietor interference in news agenda, and said the nature of the business over the last 20 years has to be considered. He explained that since 1985 the output per journalist has tripled while the time for reporting has been cut. At the same time the PR industry has skyrocketed, overtaking journalists in numbers. “We are infinitely vulnerable to being manipulated,” he said. “Journalists used to choose the stories and angles, now PR decides this. “Reporters are no longer active gatherers, but passive processors.” While many speakers noted that there are instances of brave and honest reporting, some said journalists don't bother trying, despite their ethical convictions. Where now? Debate also ensued over how the system can be changed. Some people said the anti-war movement should set up their own news channel - online perhaps - others argued that pressuring the media and government would be most effective, giving confidence to the few journalists to report the truth. Hopeful I came away from the conference much more informed and hopeful. My idealism was not resurrected. I could not but doubt the impact of this movement. And perhaps they won't change the nature of the media. The imposing forces are too big for a few righteous people. Yet I and those around me remained hopeful. Because, surely, the conference's greatest achievement was that it had been held in the first place. Because there is a struggle, and because journalism students attending the conference have been exposed to vital information, as I have been at Peace News. After all, it is up to the journalists themselves to stand up and do the right thing. Up to someone like me, if I make it. So I say, there is hope for journalism.

Polina Aksamentova is a journalism student at Binghamton University, New York State, currently working with Peace News in London.

Topics: Media