Television images Winning the Media War
al-Hayat alleges that a Parisian television channel aired new footage Tuesday night from Iraq of American troops who fire on three men that do not obviously pose any danger to them. The provider, a European who had worked in Iraq, said he had smuggled the cassette out of Iraq. (A reader in France tells me that this is not a new clip, but was earlier shown on German television and is discussed here. Another reader writes from Canada, “This footage was also shown yesterday on the French TV network of Radio Canada (and most surely on the english network,as they share most topics). It shows 3 men in the open, seemingly running for their lives being gunned down with heavy machine gun fire. Two of them are rendered immediately lifeless while a third one, obviously badly injured, crawls on the ground. An order is then given to the machinegunner to finish him off (The commentator adds that this is an obvious breach of the Geneva Convention). It is a very disturbing videoclip. ‘ Kevin Drum posted the video to his site. What all this tells me is that the Abu Ghuraib incidents are beginning to churn the ocean floor and throw up all sorts of things that had earlier quietly settled there. The underlying question, also raised (politely) by British commanders in Basra, is whether US military ways of responding to a low grade guerrilla insurgency with massive force and vindictive reprisals are drawing it into the commission of war crimes.
Knight-Ridder’s Hannah Allam has done an excellent report on the continued impact of satellite television stations in Arabic on Iraqi public opinion. Al-Jazeerah and al-Arabiya have shown a lot of uncensored and explicit images from Iraq, including the bloody siege of Fallujah (which W. had personally ordered), and the recently released photographs of prison abuse in Iraq.
Allam notes that the US alternative, al-Hurra, provides less than an hour of hard news per day, and is widely ridiculed in Iraq as the gardening channel because of the pablum in which it specializes. Even when it does news, it can’t be very effective. I saw a program list recently, and it started off with an interview with Elie Wiesel about how he can’t support the Palestinian cause because Palestinians engage in violence. At a time when the US siege of Fallujah was fresh in everyone’s minds, this must have struck Arab viewers as the crock of steaming excrement that it is. And if that is the lead segment on the US-provided 45 minutes of news, then the US may as well not bother. (Only 6% of Arab viewers watch al-Hurra anyway, I understand).
What is absent from Allam’s article is any mention of the radio situation. It is not widely recognized that Norman Pattiz and a few colleagues who were appointed to the broadcasting board by Clinton have gutted the Arabic service of the Voice of America. That Arabic service used to be among the best and most extensive providers of news and discussion programs in the Arab world. Pattiz complains that it only reached 1 percent of listeners because it was broadcast on shortwave. But since the US can broadcast FM signals in Iraq, it could now be being beamed to Iraqis if it had still existed. It doesn’t. Pattiz killed it for God knows what ulterior motive. He has tried to replace it with Radio Sawa, which broadcasts Britney Spears to the Arabs, and only has short AM radio-style news breaks twice an hour. This “news” is heavily propagandistic in form, using loaded languages. Young people listen to it in the Arab world, but say they tune out the staccato news announcements.
So in the wake of September 11 and the US occupation of Iraq, the big media move of the Bush administration was . . . to abolish the Arabic service of the Voice of America! It boggles the mind.
For another critique of US media policy in the Arab world at the moment see the op-ed of Andy Sennit, which likens current policy to that of the old Soviet Union.