Differing TV Images Feed Arab, US Views
Editor's Note: This is shaping up to be one of the central stories of this war. CNN, for one, has basically become a de facto arm of the Defense Department. Seldom has one been able to watch skewed propaganda delivered in real-time, as we have seen from these 'embedded' reporters. It is, without hyperbole, one of the most shameful chapters in the long history of journalism and as Mencken would note, that is saying quite a mouthful. - wrpBy John Donnelly and Anne Barnard
Wednesday 26 March 2003
The Arab world sees pictures of bloodied bodies of young children. They watch scenes crowded with corpses, including gruesome images of dead American soldiers.
Americans see almost none of that. Their view of the war in Iraq, through television and print, is dominated by long-distance photos of bombs going off in Baghdad and intimate battlefield scenes conveyed by reporters who are traveling with US and British soldiers.
The two contrasting visions of this war, one seen by Americans and the other seen in the Middle East, help to sharpen differences over the conflict, say analysts and diplomats.
''Friends from Syria are sending e-mails to me, asking what are the people in the US telling you about the images of civilian casualties,'' said Imad Moustapha, chief of public diplomacy at the Syrian Embassy in Washington. ''My answer to them is very simple and sad: `Sorry, no one is seeing those images here.' ''
In the Middle East, one US diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke of watching CNN and Fox News one minute and Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV the next, thinking he was watching different battles.
''The Arab world is seeing trips to the hospitals, grieving parents, while the American cable stations and networks are showing the troops in the field,'' said the diplomat. ''The trouble is, it is creating different memories of the war, and it will reinforce the anger here about what the US is doing.''
US media have shown pictures and written stories about civilian casualties, especially from Baghdad. Television stations and print publications have also shown still photographs and edited video footage of seven US prisoners of war. News executives have said that their ability to independently cover civilian casualties, especially in the southern city of Basra, has been limited because of the dangers of battle there.
In contrast, Arab newspapers and television stations in Abu Dhabi, Lebanon, Dubai, Qatar, and elsewhere in the region have placed a heavy emphasis on civilian casualties, especially those involving children. One station showed the scalp of a child that reporters said had been blown off in a bombing. The segment showed the scalp from three different angles.
In recent days, both television and newspapers have featured the image of a young girl being pulled from rubble by an older man in a kaffiyeh. It was impossible to know if the girl was dead or alive. She was wrapped in a purple shawl, and both her legs were partially cut off.
Some US stations have approached Iraqi casualties with skepticism. In some segments of children in a hospital, reporters have added a caveat that there was no way to independently verify whether the victims had been hurt in air raids.
In the most controversial broadcast, Al-Jazeera decided to air gruesome pictures taped by Iraqi television of dead American soldiers outside of Nasiriyah. American television stations declined to do so.
During a televised briefing in Qatar, Army Lieutenant General John Abizaid, deputy commander of Combined Forces Command, chided a reporter for Al-Jazeera for the network's decision to air the video. ''The pictures were disgusting,'' Abizaid said, adding that he would not want other stations to show the video.
A reporter from Xinghua News Agency of China asked whether such pictures would badly influence the morale of the US troops or the American people. Abizaid said he believed it would not hurt troop morale or damage ''the resolve of our people.''
''We're a pretty tough people,'' he said.
But some analysts said that if Americans viewed the pictures shown to the Arab world, their view of the battles would probably change.
Edward S. Walker Jr., president of the Middle East Institute and a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said the difference in media coverage is ''one of the huge reasons there is such a disconnect between us and the Arabs.''
''They have one view of the world, and we have another view,'' he said. ''We are going to treat this war differently than almost any other country will. We don't want to undermine the morale or support of the troops. It's not a time when people want to attack the president, so I believe it is natural that there is a certain amount of self-censorship going on.''
Jeffrey Schneider, a vice president at ABC News, said that some pictures of bodies, including those of American troops, won't be shown because they would violate the network's standards. ''We're confident we are giving our viewers a full and accurate and balanced understanding of this war and all that that entails,'' he said.
Schneider contrasted Al-Jazeera's broadcast of the dead American soldiers with a report by Ted Koppel that showed dead Iraqi troops on a battlefield. The ABC cameraman took the pictures ''at a distance, so you couldn't identify their faces,'' he said. ''You told the story that people were killed on this particular battlefield without exploiting those images.''
Hafez al-Mirazi, Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera, said he was surprised by the reaction in the United States to the broadcast of the footage of the dead Americans and pointed out that his network had carried equally gruesome footage of dead Iraqis.
''The US media did not carry anything from us of those casualties,'' he said. ''The American TV carries us live when there is bombing in the skies of Baghdad, the shock and awe. But when it comes to the casualties from the Iraqi or the American side, they don't want to see it.''
Mirazi said those graphic images have disturbed people in the Arab world, but there hasn't been outrage of showing the pictures.
''If we didn't show them, that would not be realistic journalism,'' he said. ''In America, there is some kind of difference of perspective and environment. The American audience are more accustomed of video games, particularly after the Gulf War of 1991.
''In the Middle East and the Arab world, people are accustomed to seeing the corpses,'' he said. ''They see the victims of these conflicts.''
Al-Jazeera Calls on U.S. to Ensure Free Press
By Merissa Marr
Wednesday 26 March 2003
LONDON - Banned on Wall Street and wiped off the Internet, Arab news channel al-Jazeera defended its controversial coverage of the Iraq war on Wednesday and demanded the United States come to its aid in the name of a free press.
Al-Jazeera, which angered Washington by showing footage of dead and captured American soldiers, voiced concern after two of its reporters were banned from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and its Web sites were hacked.
The NYSE stopped al-Jazeera broadcasts, saying credentials were only for networks that provided "responsible" coverage. Al-Jazeera was also denied a request to broadcast live from New York's Nasdaq exchange.
"There has to be a national effort to protect the freedom of the press even more," said al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout.
"We appeal to authorities to pay attention to this."
Al-Jazeera has taken the Arab world by storm since its launch in 1996, with its controversial reporting and brash, Western style drawing an audience of more than 35 million.
After making its name in the Afghan war with exclusive footage of Osama bin laden, the Qatar-based satellite channel has also had success in Europe, with viewers doubling since the start of the Iraq war.
But the CNN of the Arab world raised U.S. ire when on Sunday it aired shaken U.S. prisoners of war and dead U.S. soldiers with gaping bullet wounds, prompting the Pentagon to issue a rare appeal to U.S. networks not to use the footage.
Al-Jazeera on Wednesday showed pictures of what it said were two dead British soldiers and two British prisoners of war.
EUROPEAN VIEWERS DOUBLE
In Europe, al-Jazeera said it had signed up more than four million subscribers in the past week. But in the United States, it has drawn little more than 100,000 subscribers.
"In Europe, we're naturally most popular in countries with big Muslim populations like France. In Britain, we've also seen a pick up in non-Arabic-speaking Muslims," Ballout said.
Viewers, who subscribe through local satellite operators, are glued to the pictures even if they cannot understand the words. There are no English-language subtitles.
Media pundits said the NYSE decision smacked of a dangerous opening salvo in a game of media tit-for-tat which could see Western media's access cut off. Iraq last week ordered CNN journalists to leave Baghdad.
"Clearly, it is a violation of press freedom," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a media watchdog group in Washington, D.C.
Al-Jazeera's new English-language Web site (http://english.aljazeera.net), which went live on Monday, and its Arabic-language site (http://www.aljazeera.net/) were downed by a hacker attack on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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