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Real Journalism


Edward S. Herman

There

has long been a strong tendency on the part of Western non-governmental

organizations (NGOs) to serve as did the Christian missionaries in the years of

colonial expansion and occupation, who followed in the wake of the empire

builders to convert the heathens to the true religion and to heal the sick and

wounded–large numbers produced by imperialism itself. Even when the NGOs have

functions that should bring them into sharp conflict with the dominant powers,

like human rights agencies, they often struggle to look at the bright side of

imperial action and inflate the evil of the indigenous resistance to

imperialism. This results from a shared imperial ideology, their dependence on

largesse from governments and elite members of the dominant powers, and from

pressures exerted by officials and agents of the powerful states.

The

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has long specialized in compiling lists

of journalists abused and killed in various parts of the world, and it has

generally done this without compromising political discrimination. It cannot be

said, however, that its compilations have been given much publicity by the

Western media, despite the fact that murdered journalists would seem to be a

topic that should excite the media. Perhaps too many of those journalists were

killed in Western-friendly states like El Salvador and Guatemala to make this

subject highly newsworthy.

But

the CPJ has broken new ground in 2000: despite the fact that on April 23, 1999,

CPJ issued a statement condemning the NATO bombing of Radio and Television

Serbia (RTS) as "a threat to all journalists covering the Yugoslav

conflict," its list of 33 journalists killed worldwide in 1999, released on

January 6, excluded the 16 workers killed in that bombing attack. The Times of

India’s veteran journalist Siddarth Varadarajan queried the CPJ on this

exclusion, and got a reply from Judy Blank, the CPJ’s director of

communications. She stated that although the CPJ "has an extremely broad

definition of who is a journalist" their analysis of RTS broadcasts,

"particularly prior to the NATO bombing campaign, leads us to the

conclusion that by any definition it would not be considered journalism." (CPJ

is allegedly preparing a report on the research that led to this conclusion.)

In

his reply to Judy Blank, Siddharth Varadarajan noted that hers was

"precisely the logic of Mr. Jamie Shea and other apologists for Nato, who

insisted that what they bombed was a legitimate military target because RTS was

not purveying journalism but propaganda." This seems to have been the first

time that the CPJ has declined to include journalists as legitimate based on an

evaluation of their (or their organization’s) work, and it is hardly a

coincidence that this has occurred in the wake of a war in which the Western

propaganda apparatus was working at a new and higher level of efficiency in

demonization and self-righteous claims of virtue.

But

the CPJ has made a huge mistake: it has opened a Pandora’s box in which, if it

maintains consistency, it will now have to evaluate murdered journalists for the

genuineness of their journalism on a regular basis. The CPJ will of course not

do this, but if not it stands condemned as a servant of NATO propaganda.

Furthermore, if the CPJ examines honestly the performance of NATO- based

journalists for the independence and truthfulness of their work during the

Kosovo war, I feel quite sure that it would find that large numbers of these

journalists performed a conduit function for Nato similar to that allegedly

carried out by RTS in Belgrade.

Let

me give a few illustrations, taken from a large universe, which point to massive

failures of Western journalists during the Kosovo crisis, journalistic work

which served the NATO powers as clearly as any rantings or misstatements of fact

on RTS. On CPJ principles, this journalistic performance makes them Nato

propagandists rather than real journalists.

1.

Christiane Amanpour, who while covering the Kosovo crisis married the chief

public relations official of the U.S. State Department, James Rubin, stated on

October 6, 1999 that Nato’s war was for "the first time…a war fought for

human rights" and that "only a fraction of 1 percent of the [Nato]

bombs went astray." These were simple transmittals of Nato propaganda, not

credible in the case of the humanitarian aim and neither credible nor verified

by an independent source in the case of the bombing failure rate.

2.

Journalist Robert Fisk has described how, on the day Nato killed at least 87

ethnic Albanian refugees at Korisa and injured a hundred more, the Nato

spokesmen in Brussels said that the alliance had had "another effective

day" in which operations "again went very well," and NO REPORTER

QUESTIONED THIS, causing Fisk to describe these reporters as "sheep"

(The Independent, May 15).

3.

When Nato bombed a passenger train on April 12, killing 55 civilians, reporters

were shown a videotape by Nato that "proved" the train was going to

fast for the trajectory of the missiles to be altered. Recently it was disclosed

that Nato had played the videotape at three times its normal speed–but the

reporters who had been taken in by this trick earlier did not find this

acknowledgement of Nato disinformation newsworthy, and of course did not cause

them to reflect on the possible existence of a Nato "lie machine."

4.

Robert Fisk recently pointed out (in The Independent, Jan. 17, 2000) that when

Nato bombed an Albanian refugee convoy, BBC reporter Mark Laity stated that

"They [Nato] are very confident that they attacked a military convoy;"

he did not say that Nato "say" they are confident, rather they

"are" confident, as would be said by a man who was already a Nato

propagandist. Fisk notes that Laity was recently offered a job as PR man for

Nato.

5.

George Kenney was given credible information from a reporter for a major news

organization, who regularly travels with the U.S. Secretary of State, that

"rafts of journalists" were present at Rambouillet when a senior State

Department official said that Nato had deliberately "raised the bar"

in the supposed "negotiations" with Yugoslavia, demanding Nato

occupation of the entire country, knowing that this was unacceptable, because

Nato wanted to bomb Serbia. This sensational news was completely suppressed by

that entire "raft of journalists," making it easier for Nato to close

things out as if Serbia was recalcitrant and poor Nato was forced to bomb (which

was the impression given by the mainstream media).

It

would be interesting to hear Judy Blank explain to us whether this reporting on

Rambouillet was real journalism or plain propaganda service, and whether that

"raft of journalists" would rate mention by CPJ in their list of

genuine journalists if terminated by "terrorists" or some enemy state.

 

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