Reporting Gulf War ll

BY shubha singh| IN Media Practice | 01/04/2003
The Internet that has continued to give the most graphic and immediate picture of the war. The widespread use of video on the Internet provided its own images.
 

Shubha Singh

 

 

If the Gulf War in 1991was the first televised war, the second war against Iraq is a war of the Internet. It has not only provided the platform for mobilising anti-war sentiment across the globe, but also set the pace for coverage after the war began. Anti-war web sites and chain emails built up the anti-war mood and brought the crowds for the massive demonstrations around the world. Some of them served to co-ordinate protests by providing the opportunity to register individual objections to the war that eventually helped to organise the huge demonstrations. Anti-war sites provided information on protests in different cities allowing demonstrations and vigils to be synchronised worldwide.

 

Once the war started it was the Internet that has continued to give the most graphic and immediate picture of the war. Television channels were full of the dramatic spectacle of the air attack on Baghdad with the bright flashes of missiles and bombs lighting up the sky. In the first few days after the war began the only images coming out of Baghdad were from the top of a hotel terrace showing traffic on the roads below and the fireworks in the brightly lit Baghdad sky. But television was not the only medium for reality reporting, the widespread use of video on the Internet provided its images. Web sites such as MSNBC.com and CBS News.com put up video images of the war, some of which were not shown on the satellite news channels. Reuters ran video footage on its site called Reuters Raw Video. It carried raw video footage from Reuters News Service that the news agency generally sells to news organisations who edit and carry it with their own commentary. The site had 225,000 visitors on the first Friday of the war. Some sites carried a continuous stream of images from the battlefront through night vision scopes for the news junkie.

 

At the same time, bloggers came into their own with the "web logs" or "blogs" -- diary style accounts published on line, provided another source for news. War bloggers have ranged from reporters based in the region writing up a daily chronicle to soldiers giving an account of the day`s events. The most popular blogger has been an Iraqi calling himself Salam Pax with his daily diary of life in Baghdad under air attack.

 

As the war started, an army of hackers became active as well. Angry American hackers knocked out the Al Jazeera website while American government sites have been bombarded with anti-war and anti-Bush messages. American agencies have used emails to target Iraqi generals, sending them messages to surrender and offering them asylum as part of its psychological warfare. Key Iraqi officials and their families were offered huge sums of money to defect.

 

The initial days were full of stories from the more than 500 "embedded" journalists, Pentagon devised jargon for reporters attached to American units and travelling with them into the war. A large part of the stories filed by the embedded reporters were tinged with the thrill of ridding with the tanks and the fancy military hardware. For a few, the excitement of playing soldiers in the desert, travelling with real soldiers and sharing their rations and travails became the main story. Embedded journalist is an intensely disturbing term that truly denotes a reporter who has been co-opted by the army to report a riveting  `from the trenches` kind of soldier`s tale.

 

It was ultimate reality TV when the footage followed the same line of vision as gun sights held by American soldiers, and wobbled and shook when cameramen jumped at explosions too close to comfort. Close coverage may be compelling viewing but it is not the full picture. It is only the colour snippets of fighting at different points of the battlefront. It does not provide the broad, overall picture of how the war is progressing. Travelling as part of an army unit, an embedded journalist would find it difficult to avoid acting as an army publicist.

 

However, the videos, the blogs and the Arab channels like Al Jazeera, the Dubai based Arabiya and Abu Dhabi TV told a different story from the sanitised version of the CNN and BBC telecasts. The Arab channels, with many more reporters based inside Baghdad showed pictures of injured civilians being rushed to hospitals and devastated buildings. Al Jazeera carried footage from Iraqi TV of captured American soldiers and set off a debate in American news channels on propriety and privacy, and how graphic the war coverage should be. American TV channels agonised over telecasting the Iraqi videotape of captured and dead American soldiers. NBC showed short excerpts but decided not to broadcast other material because "it was gruesome and exploitative." CNN and Fox News showed still frames from the tape. However, American audiences were able to see graphic still images from the tape on the heavily viewed Matt Drudge web site.

 

The captured American soldiers had been photographed by an Iraqi journalist who had asked whether the American invasion had been greeted with guns or roses by the Iraqis. It led to angry comments from top American officials over parading of prisoners of War and the Geneva Convention. But western news channels had also shown pictures of bedraggled Iraqi soldiers surrendering, carrying a white flag. A line of Iraqi soldiers was shown walking towards the camera, followed by images of soldiers being body searched and seated behind hastily strung barbed wire. The famous Iraqi surrender stories fizzled out after US officials celebrated the surrender of the 51st Division. It was discovered that the officer taken as the "commander" of the Division was actually a junior officer looking for better treatment by claiming to be a senior officer.

 

Operation Iraqi Freedom has thrown up new terminology from "embedded" to "decapitation exercise" using an irresistible "target of opportunity" -- a cruise missile strike at the presidential palace that was expected to kill Saddam Hussein before the war began. The terms are meant to dilute the impact of the actions they describe. Certain phrases stick to the mind, in 1991 it was collateral damage that camouflaged the deaths of civilians during the war. In 2003 the top phrase is "shock and awe" that was to have been Baghdad`s response to the firepower of the "coalition of the willing". The set back to the Anglo-American strategy as the Iraqis fought the attack on their country blunted the impact of a crisp phrase that was meant to stress the overwhelming technological superiority of the allied forces. "Shock and awe" is a phrase that the Pentagon would like to forget, but it remains in usage though not as it was originally devised. An anti-war demonstrator shown on TV carried a placard "We are shocked, it`s awful".

 

The propaganda war has turned vicious. Iraqi TV went off the air when a communications tower was hit in a bomb and missile strike on Baghdad, it however, resumed operation after some time. Since then, the Iraqi Information Ministry has been designated a military target to be destroyed by the allied forces.

 

Contact: shub@vsnl.com

 

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