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Independent Journalism Under Occupation

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Section: Accounts

May 27, 2004

Independent Journalism Under Occupation

by Dahr Jamail

Residents of Fallujah transport a woman shot by a US sniper. Dahr Jamail/New Standard News
Today in Iraq, like in the U.S., there is a horrendous disparity between what is really occurring on the ground and what the Western corporate media chooses to report.

I recently spent nine weeks in Iraq working as a freelance independent journalist. On a daily basis, I witnessed first-hand the corporate media either mis-reporting or not reporting stories as they arose.

The signs were glaring -- from the parking lot full of parked white SUV's in the middle of the day supposedly used by the CNN and Fox news crews, to the absence of ABC, NBC, or CBS media crews at any of the sites of the news stories I was covering. Even stories that were on the front pages stateside are regularly being covered from the press room and not the field.

It's no wonder the corporate media rarely reports on the torturing of many of the over 10,000 detained Iraqis by the US military, the constant home raids, or the infrastructure in nearly complete disrepair as we begin the second year of the occupation. For most of the corporate media tend to stick closer to their hotels, rather than where the stories are occurring and being lived every day -- out amongst the Iraqi people.

The majority of the corporate media tend to simply go where the U.S. military tells them it is safe to go, while donning their flack jackets, helmets, and the preferred 'we vs. they' mentality with Iraqis. Once they arrive at the scene of, say, a sealed off section of Baghdad where yet another Improvised Explosive Device has detonated near a passing patrol, they are herded to the one section the military allows to be photographed - so at best they might get shots of an already cleaned up scene. The U.S. military in Iraq has a strong tendency to hide its own destroyed hardware to sanitize a scene, and the corporate media does a good job of making sure they don't run photographs of this, nor any wounded or dead U.S. soldiers.

Then there is, of course, the editorial selection factor. In mid-December I broke a story of U.S. military personnel detaining sixteen 14-17 year-old school boys at a secondary school in Al-Amiriya, Baghdad for holding a non-violent pro-Saddam Hussein demonstration after the dictator was captured.

When a friend who writes for the AP assisted in filing the story of armed soldiers pulling children from their classrooms to over 100 major newspapers throughout the U.S., only one editor responded. The reply? "This is not news."

Other stories I covered that were never run by corporate media outlets included a massacre near Ramadi where the military executed three men from a family, the gross mis-reporting of the military of their 'killing' 54 Fedayin fighters in Samarra during the end of November (really there were two fighters and eight civilians killed), or the fact that most of the people in southern Iraq are suffering from water borne diseases due to the fact that Bechtel is not fulfilling their contractual obligations and rebuilding the water infrastructure there.

Instead, the US public is fed bogus polls telling them half of Iraqis feel they are better off now with a year of occupation under their belts. That is an amazing figure, since nearly every one of the hundreds of Iraqis I interviewed throughout Iraq was understandably enraged at the 70% unemployment, less than 8 hours of electricity per day in Baghdad, water so terrible there are cholera outbreaks in southern Iraq, and a security situation that spirals further out of control on a daily basis.

About the only time it's easy to find Iraqis who are pro-occupation is if you let the CPA show them to you, thus it's the journalists with the least initiative that find the rarest selections of public opinion by speaking to those pushing brooms or sitting at a desk at CPA HQ.

Every independent journalist I spoke with in Iraq reported the same thing: the majority of Iraqis, already incensed at the Americans' failure to rebuild, and coping with the aforementioned abuses and hardships, have run out of patience with the occupying forces.

In fact, the conduct of the corporate media in Iraq is making the climate more dangerous for journalists. I have arrived at the scene of an attack on the U.S. military to report their heavy-handed reactions of shooting several Iraqi civilians, only to be threatened and yelled at by angry Iraqis. Why? Because they had become frustrated with telling their stories to corporate journalists, only to have these journalists return to Baghdad and parrot the military press release.

The most common example of the lack of investigative journalism by the corporate media in Iraq is that most of the journalists simply parrot what General Kimmitt and Dan Senor (Mr. Bremer's spokesman) feed them at the Coalition Provisional Authority press conferences. During these surreal "press conferences", if the general or Mr. Senor are asked a tough question, the journalists microphone is sometimes cut, or the question is simply avoided altogether.

This was clearly illustrated when a US patrol was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device on January 27 in Khaldiya, an area between Ramadi and Baghdad.

The U.S. military reported three American soldiers and one Iraqi civilian killed in the attack. Every witness I interviewed at the scene, as well as wounded Iraqis in the nearby Ramadi hospital and an Iraqi Policeman, reported seeing far more body bags than the three reported by CENTCOM.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rayid Al-Ani, the Assistant Director of the Ramadi Hospital reported three dead Iraqis having been brought to his hospital from the scene of the attack, and said three of the wounded brought to him with terminal injuries died shortly thereafter. Did the military revise their story? Of course not. Did any of the corporate media outlets hold them accountable for this? Of course not. Did they even bother driving out to Khaldiya to check the military's claims?

Getting the facts in Iraq is not rocket science. I am simply doing my job as a journalist to report the Iraqi side of the story, along with the Coalition Press Information Center side. An informed citizenry forms the basis of a democracy. Not only are U.S. citizens being deprived of access to information about the true nature of the critical situation in Iraq, they are being outright lied to by most of the corporate media outlets.

Should the corporate media not be held accountable for blocking the democratic process? How can U.S. foreign policy be shifted when the media is simply not reporting the facts?

There may never have been a time such as this where the need for investigative independent journalism has been so great. In Iraq, citizens and soldiers both will continue to die on a daily basis while the corporate media continues to report on bogus polls.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who recently spent 9 weeks in Iraq. His writing has appeared on websites such as Electronic Iraq, Information Clearinghouse, and The NewStandard. You can help Dahr continue his crucial work in Iraq by donating to help fund his return trip, beginning April 1.

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