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Letters to the Editor:
What does a free and fair media really mean?
We have had to suffer months of propaganda for the full-scale, apparently endless war now raging in the Middle East. Informed predictions of the outcome of such a conflict varied from difficult to foresee to a catastrophic clash of civilisations. We now know some of the realities of the carnage in Iraq. The triumphalism of some outlets cannot hide simple facts. This war has little connection with Saddam Hussein. Its only nexus with weapons of mass destruction is the means now used to terrorise a supposedly-defeated nation. Change sought by Australia, the US and UK was in no way intended to help the Iraqi people. Humanity seems totally in discard. Because my partner's daughter recently graduated in journalism from LaTrobe and I formerly worked with the Iraqi Newsagency, have had a lot to do with Al Jazeera and am very familiar with the sites in Baghdad being systematically destroyed, in this household we are taking a very close interest in the emotionally-draining, intensely sad media coverage. We are very, very angry, but have to try to put that aside and help with some effective work to redress this terrible wrong. The media, in our view, has an interest in doing the same. Al Jazeera whose staffer was criminally murdered yesterday is an independent satellite television network based in the pro-American Persian Gulf nation Qatar. It is understandable that Al Jazeera's workers are upset. Yet those workers are doing a competent, highly ethical job in commenting non-polemically and running balanced vision of this war as they honestly see it. For Al Jazeera a warship is a warship, a dead child is a dead child, a murdered journalist is a murdered journalist, John Howard is John Howard. Reporting live whenever possible what they are and what they say leaves viewers better prepared to understand this challenge to collective security, and indeed to our own survival. Better prepared, anyway, than by massively-financed spin. I have seen Al Jazeera's horrifying vision played out day and night and can understand the outrage and trauma felt by Arabs and Muslims the world over. For journalists, I am sure that nothing will ever exceed emotions of horror and anger at coverage of the shelling of the press corps at the Palestine Hotel and missile-launch against Al Jazeera's Baghdad office. The Palestine Hotel housed most of the international press corps. TV vision had identified it worldwide for exactly what it was. Its positional co-ordinates had been supplied by the press corps to United States, British and Australian commands. The offending tank, whose rambo crew was parked only a few metres from the hotel it shelled, was not under fire or threat. Al Jazeera had a special interest in detailing its position in Baghdad as its Kabul office was targeted and destroyed by United States bombing in the Afghan War. The Americans had no reserve in displaying to the world a US version of democracy and freedom of the press by firing that missile at Al Jazeera's office and shelling the Palestine Hotel. A "regrettable accident", said the United States Department of Defence. "We don't target journalists". Not much. Tareq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso are now dead. Tareq's cameraperson, Zuhair al-Iraqi, is not expected to live. They represented Al Jazeera, Reuter and Telecinco Spain. So the propaganda emanating from governments in Australia, the United States and Britain must be the given, unassailable truth. Say or show anything else and the penalty is death. Not much of a prospect for a daughter and a young Australian graduate qualified for a career in journalism. Our Federal Government insisted on war instead of peace. The world did not want change by this means. And now the situation gets worse. If the Iraqi Government set out to ethnically cleanse the Kurds, the Coalition is doing the same to anti-US and anti-Turkish dissidents in the Iraqi Kurdish enclave. Another disastrous war to spread across five nation- states. Bombing of Baghdad, a city once revered as the jewel of the East, still goes on day after day although Iraq is in no position to respond. The Coalition aim is to claim full command of the capital and demand recognition of an illegal entity. International law and practice forbids such a process. Arab, Islamic and many non-aligned nations are unlikely in the lack of a UN role to recognise the occupiers as the government of any part of the nation. Governments and financial institutions in civilised nations are unlikely to turn over Iraqi assets to such claimants. Iraqi people are victims as much as liberated. If they were coerced into being a cheer squad for Saddam Hussein, the invaders are now demanding the same compliance. For more than a week Baghdadis have had no power, hence no water or electricity, and no 'phones. Sanctions have denied to hospitals basic drugs and medical equipment. What is allowed is in short supply, with a siege of much of the City and occupation of airports preventing any top-up. Arab and Islamic nations are not accepting the story that many Iraqis have defected, or cut and run. Most of the world admires their bravery and is asking basic questions about an invasion and occupation lacking in legal or ethical basis. Releasing pent up hostilities by bombing Iraqi and threatening to crush them under the tread of tanks provides no basis for government in a nation which was established by overthrowing a British-client regime. If we can really stretch things and conclude the Coalition powers were poorly advised and bothered to understand a little of Iraq and its rich and diverse culture, surely they must now get the message from Arab and world reaction to a slaughter which they said was not going to happen. Those who know Iraq believe this reality will merge into endless quasi-war sustained by internal and external resistance. Iraqis do not know how to give in. Australia has had a lucrative trade relationship with Iraq for 55-years. As one of the powers launching this illegal, Islamophobic aggression Australia is observably now widely-loathed throughout the Middle East. Australia is compounding misrepresentation and denial with fantasies about new contracts and trade prospects and expanded friendships in a democratic Arab world, mono-Western-cultural and cleansed of Islam. Fortunately such a world does not and cannot exist. It certainly cannot be brought about by bombs and butchery. This disaster was not of our choice. It was knowingly imposed on us and confronted majority opinion. To Mr Howard: "just stop insulting our intelligence, please, analyse with real people a deeply dangerous situation and thus free us from your gaggles of self-serving experts. Your triumphalism is promoting the authoritarian state you say you deplore. Can't you understand a clash of civilisations will edge us ever closer to an unwinnable world conflict against peoples whose faiths, intellect and courage are in no way inferior to ours?" As a 38-year member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, I believe Baghdad and the death of those workers compels the union to require of media operators a basic health and safety concern. That is to work for survival of its reporters in the field. And to help do so by reacting to the extremity of this crisis and telling us what it means for free and fair media in the future. Bill Hartley
CEO Australian-Iraqi Friendship Association
The Labor leadership has surrendered its anti-war stance in the first few days of the attack on Iraq. "it's all too hard", Simon Crean (in effect) said, and "the war will be over soon". No point in demanding the recall of Australian troops, Crean has announced. While this might seem to be a response to the barrage of war propaganda from the Australian media ("reporting from the front line with our troops"), it is really a response to the slip in anti-war feeling as reflected in opinion polls. Public opinion against the war has softened, because of the barrage of war propaganda. Crean is now charting a course close to that swinging opinion, as is typical of Labor leadership. The same opportunism was seen in the NSW state election, with Labor chasing Green credibility on an alleged anti-war stance. So Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge spoke at one anti-war rally, and "Labor opposes the war" stickers appeared, although Bob Carr suggested "discussion groups" instead of street demonstrations (which he had previously condemned as "violent"). All this is to remind us that Labor is thoroughly untrustworthy in the anti-war movement, and at best will only follow, rather than lead the movement. Worse than that, though, as Crean has shown, they will act to muddy the waters. The war in Afghanistan is not over, let alone the war in Iraq. Tim Anderson
University of Sydney
It may seem strange to some people but somehow the "liberation" of Iraq does not feel right. Let's forget about Saddam Hussein for a second. I think the unease comes from the fact that the trigger-happy Americans are a very real threat to the world peace. Having decided to use "pre-emptive" strikes against any country it doesn't like, it essentially has put itself outside the legal norms of behaviour. The war in Iraq was illegal and continues to be so. I am also furious about Kofu Annan's remarks that the UN should "legitimise" the war. Why should it? There has never been anything legitimate about it. The USA is the strongest nation militarily at present. And may I suggest the most hated nation on earth? And how does this nation behave? Fraudulently, deceitfully and aggressively. The USA officials have managed to spin so many lies in such a short period of time, it's incredible. Falsified documents, misinformation, cover ups . Not only lowly public servants who have little choice when pushed but people like Colin Powell, presidents and prime ministers. So much suffering inflicted on the civilian population in Iraq and, frankly, so much still to come with the occupiers. Such a waste of people's lives and aspirations. Somebody may be rejoicing about all that loot that multinationals will manage to extract from the country. They may welcome this "liberation". To my mind, it's a war of aggression and occupation. The least we can do is to start seriously thinking about "regime change" at home and work towards world peace.
Apparently, opposition to the war in Iraq is synonymous with: supporting Saddam Hussein's brutal regime; supporting the September 11 terrorists; supporting al Qaida; supporting terrorism of any form including bad graffiti; supporting brutal, military regimes all over the world; giving aid and comfort to brutal military regimes all over the world; anti-Americanism; being anti-war under any circumstances; being juvenile, easily manipulated and gullible; being un-Australian, unpatriotic and disloyal to our troops. The list goes on and on and on. Well I'm tired of other people telling me what I do and don't believe in. I'm fed up with having my views dismissed and marginalised by my elected politicians. I want to tell you what I want. I want a safe, secure world for all the children. I don't care if they live in Iraq, or the USA or Broken Hill. I want a world at peace. I want children everywhere to have access to fresh water, basic health services, an education and housing. How the hell is bombing the crap out of Iraq going to come anywhere near achieving what I want. Saddam Hussein is a terrible man. He has done terrible things and his people suffer terribly under his leadership, excluding the damage caused by war and international sanctions. But why is Saddam able to do what he does? Because of American foreign policy. America educated, trained, armed, encouraged and finally brought Saddam to power in Iraq. America taught Saddam how to be a brutal despot. One of the greatest threats to world peace is American foreign policy. It is American foreign policy that needs to be put on trial. The UN was unable to find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet how much more hard irrefutable evidence do we need before we are prepared to indict America for crimes against humanity. How much clearer can the evidence be that American foreign policy is the greatest modern-day threat to world peace and stability? To economic development in the poorest nations on earth. Just look at the histories of Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, most of Central and South America, Israel and most of the Middle East. At every point you can see the dirty filthy hand of American foreign policy. Killing Saddam will not bring about freedom for the Iraqi people. It will not put food on their tables. It will not provide education and healthcare for their children. It will not stop terrorism. It will not hale in a new era of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. It will not be the end of American intervention in foreign politics for the benefit of the American capitalist economy. It will not be the end of anything except the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. Julie MessengerBack to index page