By Dawson, Stephen | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2004 | Go to article overview
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Dawson, Stephen, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

I well recall how, on the first day of the serious, large scale, televised bit of Gulf War 2, I watched ... the unfolding story on BBC News 24 and on nothing else. At first I was uncomfortable, as the allied forces were sucked forwards from catastrophe to catastrophe into the beckoning quagmire, like horror film extras emerging from their graves. It took me an hour or more to work out that what the pictures were actually showing (as opposed to what the BBC said they were showing) was an astonishingly rapid and almost completely casualty free (on the allied side) advance on Baghdad.

- Brian Micklethwait,

My experience with our own ABC's AM programme was the same. Finally, for half a week towards the end of the war, I just switched it off. The period of angst between its 7am wakeup message, and hitting the Net at 9am to find out what was really happening, became just too intense to bear.

So I have some sympathy for former Federal Communications Minister Richard Alston's attempt to raise allegations of bias over AM's coverage of the war. Unfortunately, though, the toolbox of misrepresentation available to the media is too well-stocked to be comprehensively exposed through specific complaints.

Certainly, words of bias can sometimes be identified, such as when the Disapproved-of Party's statements are relayed as 'claimed', 'admitted' and the like, whereas the Approved-of Party's words were merely 'said'.

Sometimes clear factual fault can be found, as with the American CBS TV network's pre-election use of forged documents to support its claim that President Bush had been a naughty Air National Guardsman three decades ago.

But generally the most powerful tool with which the media can tip the news is through story selection. The technique is simple. You have two stories competing for air time. One concerns improvements in, say, Iraq. The other concerns some alleged misbehaviour by Coalition troops in Iraq. You run the latter. Repeat this nearly every day for a year and a half, and even though every word broadcast may have been truthful, the overall result is completely unbalanced.


Of course, that's not to say that every word of these negative reports is accurate. Reporters operating in dangerous areas can choose one of three options: they can offend the forces of the West, they can offend the enemies of the West, or they can offend both. A reporter can be confident, though, that he or she will not be decapitated, nor even abused, Abu Ghraib-style, for offending the West. As the recent narrow escape of SBS reporter John Martinkus from the beheaders illustrates, not offending the other side can be important for one's longevity.

An Honest examination of this phenomenon, 'Palestinian Intimidation of the Press', concludes that with regard to the Palestinian conflict, a dangerous environment for reporters can indeed skew the news. Go to: articles/reports/ palestinian_intimidation_of_the_press.asp

It would be surprising if the same factors weren't operating also in Iraq.

While at Honest Reporting, check out its biography on the recently deceased Egyptian, Yasser Arafat. It would seem that, under the Article 5 of the Palestinian National Charter, Arafat was not Palestinian:

The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there. plocha.htm


An Australian body called the Media Study Group has reported on bias in The Age newspaper using the Arab-Israeli conflict as its crucible. The methodology was to examine all news (not opinion) articles in The Age on this conflict for a two-month period (June-August 2003), chosen in advance, and compare them with a selection of journalistic codes and reports from other publications.

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