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The press toe the line on the Iraq war Print E-mail
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New research disputes the government's claim that media reports on the conflict in Iraq are unfairly biased against the coalition

So much for the government's whingeing about "biased" media coverage of the Iraq war. New research suggests Tony Blair et al might have got off lightly: academics who have analysed coverage of the war have found that many media reports filed during the conflict favoured coalition forces - with more than 80% of all stories taking the government line on the moral case for war. "Our findings fail to offer strong evidence of media coverage that was autonomous in its approach to the official narratives and justifications for the war in Iraq," the report says. The research, from the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, also finds that government accusations of BBC anti-war bias were unfounded: Channel 4 News was least likely to report coalition good news, with Sky News and ITV most likely. The BBC's coverage fell in the middle ground. Dr Piers Robinson, who led the study, expressed some surprise at the findings. "Given the controversy surrounding the war, there was probably an initial case to be made that the media would be more aggressive," he said. "But in the end most media outlets tended to fall into line once things got under way." "There is an unwritten norm in terms of what happens when you go to war. The idea that one should get behind the troops is probably the most significant factor. Prior to the conflict we found much higher levels of concern about the war - coverage of the anti-war movement was largely positive. But once the war began, it was increasingly marginalised; two to three weeks in, speakers like Robin Cook were heavily criticised in the media." Anti-war and humanitarian voices found themselves sidelined, but coalition officials were featured in at least 80% of television and newspaper reports during the conflict: the coalition was responsible for more than 50% of direct quotations across TV channels and 45% across newspapers. While the Iraqi regime was often featured, it was only quoted in 6% of stories. Most of the reporting during the conflict focused on battle, much to the government's advantage, the research shows. Coverage was event-driven, with reports generally supportive. Questions such as the rationale for war, civilian casualties, military casualties, and law and order - which were often tackled in more critical terms - were largely dropped. "In terms of a difference in the way that television and newspapers reported the conflict, television tended to focus on the day-to-day events of the conflict, rather than looking at the substantive issues," Dr Robertson said. "With newspapers there was a greater degree of concern, but a lot of this was run along party lines - with the Conservative press for example looking for problems to hurt Blair's government, rather than for reasons to do with the war." But, while the government's line on WMD was accepted in many reports (54% TV and 61% press), the idea of the "war on terror" being a rationale for war got a bumpier ride, with 40% of press reports and 15% of television reports challenging it, and many other reports being mixed.
Vicky Frost Monday November 13, 2006 Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329625727-103550,00.html

Steve Anderson, controller of ITV News, said: "I have seen some of the images on Al-Jazeera television. I would never put them on screen. I'm not criticising them for that. There seems to be an acceptance of images I don't think would be acceptable here." Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, told a BBC Radio 5 Live discussion that such images "were not suitable for a British audience." ('TV stations criticise the use of "images of war"', Ian Burrell, The Independent, 24 March 2003)
 
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This is Keith Richardson's alternative news site. The site aims to promote Truth, Justice, a green clean healthy environment and a wildlife friendly world. It is currently focused on Foreign News and particularly the Middle East.