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Journalists look at Iraqi War on World Press Freedom Day - 2003-05-02


May 3rd is world press freedom day. It’s a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, a day of reflection among media professionals about press freedom and ethics. One issue: how the war in Iraq has been covered. VOA-TV’s Carol Pearson explores differences between the coverage by Arab and American media.

Why is it that in this war American TV viewers probably saw more images like this (fall of Saddam Hussein statue) while the Arab media showed more images like this (wounded child)?

Nathan Brown specializes in Middle East affairs at George Washington University.

NATHAN BROWN, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
“They’re choosing different aspects of the conflict and seeing different ones as being more important. For the American media, even by those that are more critical, it’s still a war against a totalitarian regime. From the Arab media, this is an attack against a weak and powerless country that can’t resist.”

Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says it boils down to one thing.

TOM ROSENSTIEL, DIRECTOR OF THE PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM
“All journalism is a cultural artifact, that it is produced for a specific audience. ”

That is underscored by the different choice of words. Some Arab media call it the war on Iraq: some American cable television networks called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the Pentagon’s term for the military action.

Khaled Dawood, Washington bureau chief of Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest daily newspaper, says in the Arab world, public opinion has been against the war. It has been seen as an invasion of a weak country, and the Arab media emphasized civilian casualties.

KHALED DAWOOD, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AL-AHRAM
“As a journalist who is also Egyptian and Arab at the same time, and who covers the Arab world and follows the Arab world, I tend to see the majority of public opinion there. They tend to oppose this war.”

Professor Brown agrees.

NATHAN BROWN, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
“The perception in the Arab world is that the United States is an incredibly powerful country and runs the world according to its rules and its interest. There is a complete disjuncture between justice on the one hand and political power on the other, and this leads to enormous anger and frustration.”

Tom Rosenstiel says journalists are shaped by their cultural background but need to take popular culture into consideration if they want to get a message across.

TOM ROSENSTIEL, DIRECTOR OF THE PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM
“You need to somehow tailor your coverage so people will hear it, will watch it or listen to it, will understand it, but not to pander to that public opinion.”

He says the line between cultural influence and pandering is crossed, for example, when a news operation uses the government’s term as its slogan for the war. That indicates it is not maintaining a healthy, editorial distance from its subject.

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