Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Nissan 5763 - April 30, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Media is Manipulated

The fall of Baghdad was a relief for the news media as well as the people of Iraq. The chief news executive of CNN has written publicly that there were "many . . . gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely." For the past dozen years, he wrote, CNN has refrained from reporting these events because "doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff."

There is no doubt that CNN was not the only news service that was intimidated by the Iraqi regime. However it was the first to finally publicize the years of Iraqi news management.

All journalists in Iraq were always under constant surveillance. Many had Iraqi officials (called "minders") assigned to them who accompanied them everywhere. The Iraqi Information Ministry tracked the reportage of the journalists even when they were outside of Iraq, and those who displeased it were punished. Journalists were abducted and beaten, or threatened with beating. They were denied visas or access to important officials. A reporter was even banned for referring to "Saddam" and not "President Saddam Hussein" as the Information Ministry insisted.

It made a difference in CNN's reporting. CNN's Baghdad reporter said after the recent election in Iraq, which Saddam won overwhelmingly, that it "really is a huge show of support" and "a vote of defiance against the United States." After Saddam granted amnesty to prisoners in October, she reported, this "really does defuse one of the strongest criticisms over the past decades of Iraq's human-rights records." She never mentioned the ongoing torture and intimidation of the entire population.

Although every news organization that reported from Iraq was subject to the same pressures, CNN is different because it claims to be the news organization of record.

CNN is also different because several times its officials said publicly that it was not afraid of the Iraqi regime. "CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine . . . we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there [in Iraq]."

This sorry state of affairs is also how things are run closer to our home, in the Palestinian Authority. The Italian journalists who filmed the brutal lynch of two Israeli reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah were criticized and threatened, and their boss came to Israel to apologize in person. On January of this year even the Al Jazeera reporter was arrested by Arafat's men for reporting that the Al Aksa Brigades, part of the PLO's military wing, had claimed responsibility for the double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv the night before. He was later released, but it is only natural that his objectivity will be compromised in the future, as well as the objectivity of others who know that this happened. But this is exactly what Arafat wants.

The Palestinians also carefully control access to senior figures, and if a reporter wants to speak to people in power, he knows he must report what they want reported. Yasser Abed Rabbo, head of the Palestine Media Center (PMC) and a minister in the Palestinian Authority, told foreign reporters explicitly in 2001 that Palestinian national interests come before freedom of the press. The reporters were protesting the beating and threats to reporters after they reported Palestinian street celebrations of the attacks on September 11 that year. Abed Rabbo did not apologize.

We have no answer to this problem and we do not know if an answer exists. It just emphasizes once more that we must concentrate on exploiting our strength, which is the kol Yaakov in the botei knesses and botei medrash.

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