, 08 March, 2005

With the U.S. administration throwing around the word ‘terrorist’ so loosely, using it to refer to virtually anyone who disagrees with their line, it should be hardly surprising that the term was used recently to refer to a media organization as ‘terrorist media’. But yet, it _is_ surprising. And it is surprising due to the fact that it is setting a historical precedent. What is perhaps more surprising, and in many ways, more disturbing, is the way most of the media outlets have simply let this accusation go unnoticed, sliding it under the proverbial carpet without a thought as to the implication.

Al-Manar Television in Lebanon was recently listed as a ‘terrorist organization’ by the U.S. State Department after a letter was submitted to Treasury Secretary John Snow by the American Jewish Committee requesting that the station be listed as such. Satellite stations began dropping the station, and it is no longer available in the U.S. The American Jewish Committee part of an alliance that bills itself as ‘The Coalition Against Terrorist Media’, a group whose stated goal is to ‘urg[e] action against terrorist-owned media outlets that promote hate and incite violence…with a particular focus on al-Manar Television’.

Now, I am no fan of Al-Manar television — I find it biased, untrustworthy and unprofessional as a news source. But regardless of my feelings about the station, I find it extremely disturbing that a private pressure group, formed with the express purpose of shutting down this particular television station, was, in a very short period of time, able to pressure the U.S. State Department to make the unprecedented move of declaring a media outlet a ‘terrorist’ organization. The accusations against the station do not include any accusations that it actually engages in terrorism, but simply that it ‘incites’ its viewers. Now, with that as a measure, how far of a stretch would it be to say the Fox News, with its blatantly partisan and sensationalized ‘infotainment’ version of news, falsifying of information, and well-researched psychological tools to manipulate an imagery of fear, is also a ‘tool of incitement’ — in this case, the incitement of a continuation of state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan? Most would be unwilling to make such a connection, but there are some unnerving similarities in the production styles of the two stations (Fox and al-Manara), and I would argue that in fact, it is not too much of a stretch to argue that Fox News also engages in a kind of ‘incitement’ of its viewers.

The targeting of media outlets which present a dissenting voice to the ‘Washington Consensus’ is not a new thing. During the conflict in Kosovo in 1993, US forces targeted Serb television, because it was seen as an agent for the opposing side. In November 2001, BBC World Service correspondent William Reeve was injured in Kabul, Afghanistan, by an American missile that had scored a ‘direct hit’ on the Al-Jazeera network’s office next door. Nik Gowing, a colleague of Reeves, stated at the time that ‘Journalists now appear to be legitimate targets. It seems to me that a very clear message needs to go out that this must not be allowed to continue’, adding that al-Jazeera’s only ‘crime’ was presenting news that Western audiences found uncomfortable.

The targeting of journalists became even more apparent when the US army invaded Iraq in 2003, in a conflict that continues until today (although the ‘war’ was declared by US President George Bush to be a ‘victory’ several months after it began, the military occupation continues). During this conflict, US officials have urged journalists to ’embed’ themselves with military battalions — a position that would previously have seemed absurd to any journalist concerned with the task of presenting a fair and accurate picture of what was going on (the historical job description of a journalist). In this case, however, the proposition was accepted at face value and with little outcry from most of the US media conglomerates.

International journalists were far less willing to allow their journalistic integrity to be compromised by agreeing to this obscenely partisan proposal, and were warned by the U.S. administration that they would be ‘fair game’ if they did not accept it. Sure enough, on April 8, 2003, the U.S. army bombed the offices of two television networks and the hotel where most international journalists were staying in Baghdad — three separate attacks on journalists in the same day, which the U.S. administration even now insists were ‘accidental’ and ‘unrelated’. Three journalists were killed in the attacks: a Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, a Spanish cameraman and a reporter from Qatar.

Eason Jordan, the former chief executive of CNN, resigned in February after making disparaging remarks about the U.S. targeting of journalists in Iraq. He said, ‘After 23 years at CNN, I have decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq.’ So it seems that the alarming trend of the apparent targeting of media sources has touched even the untouchable echelons of the major media conglomerates in the U.S. — conglomerates which, thanks to the loosening of Federal Communications regulations under the oversight of Colin Powell’s son Michael, have consolidated from hundreds of independent news sources into four major conglomerates which own 90% of the media in the U.S. With two of the major news corporations also owning major weapons manufacturing plants, is it any wonder that their journalists are so willing to ’embed’ themselves with military units? In many ways, they are already ’embedded’.

But it is the ‘un-embedded’ journalists with which this article is more concerned. The journalists who are targeted by those who disagree with their presentation of news, targeted not only in words and threats, but in military attacks. The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, but the U.S. is also a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, Article 79 which states that: Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, Paragraph 1. They shall be protected as such under the conventions of this Protocol, provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians.

It seems from the reading of this Article, that the only journalists who appear to have taken actions that would ‘affect their status as civilians’ are those who have ’embedded’ themselves within the military of one side of a conflict.

So whether or not one agrees with the coverage presented on al-Manar, surely they should be able to present their views without being maligned as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Surely, if a free and democratic media is to exist in this world, and to proliferate, a multiplicity of viewpoints should be encouraged, not discouraged, and most certainly, should not be blown into oblivion with high-tech modern smart bombs (like those that the U.S. dropped on media offices in Baghdad on April 8, 2003).