16 October 2001 – Despite the fact that we all know truth is the first casualty of war – newspaper sales are up in the UK.
We have all found it difficult to come to terms with the enormity of the 11 September atrocity, and the implications of the Anthrax campaign beggar belief. However, are the public being well served by the acres of newsprint and hours of broadcast time now generated by the US/UK bombardment of Afghanistan and the ‘global campaign against terror’?
So much space is being devoted to speculation and supposition – if not at the behest of the politicians and military then based on what they are willing for us to know – that properly informed debate is virtually impossible. Whose surmise is more valid than whose?
Anyone watching CNN or Sky News in recent weeks will have been treated to hours of specious coverage which, in the final analysis, proved that they had no idea what was actually happening anywhere – just that missiles were being fired, and planes were dropping bombs on one of the poorest countries in the world.
As usual the military mindset is making a mess of the propaganda war. Sidelined, the media feels obliged to fill time and space with the spectacular and the downright silly, leaving the public confused, frightened or – an even bigger risk – indifferent.
What is lacking are solid facts about what is happening around the globe – real evidence witnessed by journalists or culled from eye-witnesses. And hard information about the real causes of the current crisis – Arafat’s visit to the UK provides an ideal opportunity to bring everyone up to speed on Britain’s involvement in the creation of the state of Israel and the marginalisation of Palestinians, for instance.
The Blair/Bush administrations are wrong to try and censor coverage of the Bin Laden tapes just as critics of the BBC were wrong to demand that programmes like the live Question Time that some found offensive should be banned.
We need more information, not less. We need more background and less speculation. We experienced the unspeakable on 11 September. Now more than ever we need to listen and learn from mistakes of the past. The role of journalists in a crisis such as now is to feed informed opinion rather than fuel rumour and suspicion.
Armed with facts and an appreciation of just how we have all been complicit – through ignorance or indifference – in the injustices that divide the world, perhaps the public can really begin to make up their own minds about the rights and wrongs of the way our leaders are managing the current crisis.
The conflict in Northern Ireland, the Falklands War, the Gulf War, the Rwanda genocide and the most recent Balkan Wars have all given rise to initiatives prompted by the coralling of media by officialdom. How many wars does it take before journalists take stock of the significance of their role in conflict prevention and resolution. The reactivation of Media Workers Against the War is a healthy sign that some journalists are prepared to ‘bite the bullet’. Let’s hope that it does not descend into sectarianism, but sets the scene for more positive approaches to making ours a safer, more just and better informed world.
(Bulletin No 52)