August 21, 2004

A bad sort

There's something I call "security reporting", a way in which civil conflicts are covered, especially by television, designed to render it all but impossible to sympathise which either the actions or the motives of the party which the reporting doesn't favour. It doesn't even have to be designed as such - it just requires that the reporters talk almost exclusively to one side rather than the other, and that they don't want to make waves by querying the official account of events. "Embedding" was (and is) a way of producing security reporting without actually forcing anybody else to do so. So is reporting by attending press conferences given by military or government spokesmen. This is how Iraq is being reported by the main news bulletins, and even, on the whole, by Newsnight, whose interviews with Iraqi government figures have become noticeably unchallenging.

The effect is to produce an account of events which follows a familiar pattern. First, the reported activities of the unfavoured party are activities of violence. They shoot people, they let off bombs. Second, the reported activities of the preferred party are always in response to the bombings and shootings. Third, the shootings and bombings, and the hostility of the first party to the second, are the product of hatred or other irrational (or abstract) causes.

It's important that all these things are true to some extent. It's not manufactured news and it doesn't have to lie as such, or even seek to do so.

It's how Northern Ireland was reported for the two decades or so before the ceasefire, a period in which the Provisional IRA did of course let off bombs and shoot people, in which the RUC and the Army did arrest people who were subsequently imprisoned because they were engaged in activities of those kind, and in which among the motivations for those activities were both simple nationalism and a personalised hatred of the Brits. All this was true - but it was only part of the truth, and not necessarily the largest or most important part of the truth. Presented as it was, it could only give an entirely lopsided and functionally false view of what was happening north of the Border, and why.

Similarly with Iraq today. Most of the time you wouldn't imagine there was any activity in the country other than armed insurrections and bombs going off, or any reason for them other than religious fundamentalism and an attendant anti-Americanism. Actions are drained of reason and our ability to comprehend them is negated. You could not take the reporting at face value and do anything other than take the side of the "coalition" and the Allawi government - there would be nothing to discuss. And that, itself, renders the resistance to the occupation even more irrational - because if so many Iraqis continue to oppose the US even though it's obviously stupid, irrational and violent to do so, what sort of people must they be? Religious maniacs, that's what kind. And how reasonable it is for the US to show such restraint and have such sensitivity to their irrational sensibilities.

Naturally, that's a partial approach in itself, and not a particularly original one. More diverting is this oddity from ITV Teletext earlier today:
The militants have yet to give up control of the Iman Ali shrine, saying that certain issues still need sorting.
Still need sorting. I suppose that al-Sadr and his followers might have acquired their vocabulary from early-Nineties British rave culture. But I suspect that it's not a direct translation.


At August 21, 2004 6:31 pm, Blogger Jason Mulgrew said...



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