Arab and U S Coverage of the Iraqi Essay

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Arab and U.S. coverage of the Iraqi War (2003).

American or Western-based newspapers and those from the Arabic-speaking world had two very different slants and treatments on the Iraqi war to the extent that one would think two different wars were in effect.

US newspapers, for instance, on the first day of the war, published headlines such as "Bush orders start of war on Iraq; Missiles apparently miss Hussein" (The New York Times) and "U.S. opens war with strikes on Baghdad; Aimed at Hussein" (The Washington Post). Compare to the Arab newspapers where headlines announced, "Baghdad set ablaze" (Arab news) and "U.S. unleashed massive war on Iraq (Gulf Times). The West makes themselves seen as victor knowing that this is what their country expects them to be. The Arab Middle East makes themselves seen as unfortunate victim, likewise knowing that they have to appear thus in order to please their readership. Here, we have certain media filters in play such as 'ownership' where major national media outlets, being part of the corporate whole, need to please their large organizations -- be this their parent company, or the nation that they are situated in. There is also 'funding' -- the public buys what I likes. It, generally, wants to feel that it -- i.e. its country - is in the right and that if the war is succeeding for them that is because they deserve it and it is due to their efficiency and skill that this is so. On the other hand, if affairs were retrogressing, the public would like to feel that they are victims oppressed by a malicious intruder. The media plays to these needs. Assuming an opposite stance, i.e. America questioning and criticizing their actions, calling themselves' oppressors would, in the majority of instances, bring down flak on their heads, and this is one thing the media doesn't want. It attempts to survive.

The media also resorted to 'fear' by providing themselves with glorifying names painting themselves as heroes and scapegoating the other. Most U.S. media sources, for instance, described their army as "coalition forces" whilst the Arab media saw the U.S. As "invaders." CNN labeled the conflict "the War in Iraq," whilst Al Jazeera termed the title slightly around to coin it "the war on Iraq" As part of the image of fear, Arab newscasts have also included more photographs of civilian casualties and pictures of American soldiers in close-up intimidating and violent postures. Graphic pictures have included images of bombed out homes and infrastructure as well as frenzied anti-American protests in Arab countries. In fact, Al-Jazzeeria went on to photograph American POWs. This no doubt served to pander to the filters of ownership, funding, and sourcing where shared interests made them dramatize their country as the powerful one that was finally able to wreak some revenge (which is the public longed for) on their oppressors.

The following articles, three from Arab-speaking sources and two from Western / American sources will demonstrate more examples of the five filters in action.

In 2003, Arab News, the "Middle East's Leading English Daily" featured an exclusive story about two Western journalists who were "Beaten, starved by Americans" (Al-Ghalib, 2003). Two Western journalists working for Portuguese newspapers were apparently, by their own admission, held up for four days by American troops "beaten.. And deprived of food and water" and "had their equipment, vehicle and video tapes confiscated." Newsday journalists in Baghdad, however, were treated "as humane." Notice that fear-filled language is attributed to the Americans who are described as monsters. Castro related, for instance, that: "A lieutenant in charge of the military police told me, 'My men are like dogs, they are trained only to attack, please try to understand'." And:

"The Americans in Iraq are totally crazy and are afraid of everything that moves. I would have expected this to happen to us at the hands of the Iraqis, but not at the hands of the Americans. This is typical of the American attitude, as related to us by British forces. The attitude is 'shoot first and ask questions later'"

The Arab countries, such as Baghdad, on the other hand and the journalists themselves (heroes of this story) are praised. Castro is described as a "veteran journalist"

One wonders whether Castro wrote for an Arab-slanted newspaper and if that is why he were accorded this sympathetic treatment (aside from the fact that his story obviously served Arab interest). If this were the case, the filter of sourcing would come into effect with shared interests being an issue here. Also note that this story pleases sources of funding, particularly but not only the public. 'Arab News' has to please its advertisers, most of them from the Arab world and perspective and it also has to please its sponsors, all Arab-inclined and many of the wealthy Saudi companies as indicated by one advertisement.

PBS, on the other hand, saw their troops as 'the coalition' and that is how they have been referred to throughout. Displayed as a courageous, valiant force, the "rapid coalition movement towards Baghdad" (April 3, 2003) sounds like a glorious moment in history where a courageous band of individuals fighting for the protection and stability of the world "mass[ed] at ht gateways of the city "chased away a Republican Guard division this morning and raced almost unimpeded toward the outskirts of Baghdad." Filters here are 'sourcing'; the person who provides evidence is and embedded New York Times correspondent who, having shared interest, not only has a close relationship with the PBS but is also hired by a powerful news channel.

The tendency here is to portray themselves as victors, thereby pleasing their sources of funding, and portraying their enemy in a negative light "The coalition forced converged" whilst "Iraqi soldiers shed their military uniforms and fell back into the city."

Fear and distaste of enemy is also seeded by PBS noting that: "Iraqi officials have taken journalists to city morgues to view the bodies of civilians they say have been killed by U.S. attacks."

PBS is supported by Chevron Intel, CPB, and BNDF Railway all of who funded this program. Their general sponsor is the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation. All of these companies have stakes in the news that PBS prints and have a certain agenda that they want to promote. For PBS to retain their continued funding therefore, it has to write and present news in a way that will please them.

PBS itself is owned by the MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The news that it prints has to positively reflect the politics of its parent company in order for it to make a profit.

Interesting it is to see the Moscow Times' perspective on the same war. Russia, during this period, was in economic difficulties and trying to curry favor with America.

The article, in a clear show of sourcing, quotes President Vladmir Putin who tells reporters "For political and economic consideration, Russia is not interested in the defeat of the United States." Readers are, thus, told indirectly how to respond to the situation by none else than their president and the Moscow Times, as per filters of sourcing, funding, and ownership contrives to direct Russian allegiance to American troops despite ambiguous feeling and hostile history that Russia has had towards that nation. Notes the 'Moscow Times': "Putin emphasized the importance of the U.S. economy for Russia, saying trade turnover in 2002 was $9.2 billion and was expected to approach $10 billion this year" (Saradzhyn, 2003)

The Asia Times Online is more ambivalent. Communist inclined, Asia is neither for America nor for Iraq, and its papers reflects those values and, reflecting its filters of ownership, and funding, and, of course, fear of flak proceeds to direct its readers' perspective in a deliberate direction. Talking about the urban middle classes in cities such as Tehren, Esfehan and Shiraz, the newspaper comments that even those who have traditionally been apolitical and as rich as they are, these wealthy individuals too "complain now of the evils of the U.S. democracy." It seems as thoguh the article goes out of its way to bring in this irrelevant scene in order to introduce their perspective of the "evils of the export of U.S. democracy" thus indicating to readers where their allegiance lies: communism.

It continues to engage in fear tactics against the American nation by pointing out that:

If the United States had a following in these classes over the years, it is likely to have lost much of it in the past two weeks. The government has been active in encouraging demonstrations against the war. Many thousands have joined protests, in which men are separated from women. (Mostaqim, April 4, 2003))

Sourcing is indicated in their quoting "a leader' who announced at one demonstration that: "people must express solidarity with the "oppressed people of Basra, and curse Bush, Saddam and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon." And, in another instance of sourcing, people attending these demonstration include "well-connected…[continue]

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