Wanted: Positive press on Iraq

Posted by on 27 okt, 2006

Media do not cover positive aspects of the Iraqi war. This is a major concern of US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld. Therefore, US military leaders in Baghdad have put out a bid for a two-year public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of US and Middle Eastern media.
FreeVoice.nl, October 2006

The contract should help the coalition forces understand ‘the communications environment’. It aims to assess the tone of selected news stories in order to provide public relations products that would improve coverage of the military command’s performance. The ultimate goal is to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition goals, and build support among strategic audiences in achieving these goals. Bids were due September 6. The costs are estimated at USD 20m (EUR 15,6m).

According to an anonymous public relations practitioner quoted by The Washington Post the military commanders “are overwhelmed by the media out there and are trying to understand how to get their information out. They want the news to be received by audiences as it is transmitted. They don’t like how it turns out,” he said. Apparently, there have been complaints that reports from Iraq sometimes quote Shiite cleric and militia leaders more often than military commanders.

So if the-tenth-in-a-row report concludes that journalists in Iraq are among the most targeted in the world, what messages will this newly yet to be assigned PR company transmit? “Death toll among journalists in Iraq exaggerated.” When another colleague gets killed, will they advise the Iraqi ministry of Negation to state: “Look upon it from the sunny side: it creates job opportunities.”

Too critically
How is it possible to force a positive press when Iraq is a total mess and colleagues like Mohammad Abbas Mohammad (28, editor for Al-Bayinnah Al-Jadida) and 30-year old journalist Ismail Amin Ali (freelancer for Al-Sabah and Al-Qarar) get murdered because of their jobs? How to write positive about the month-long ban imposed by the Iraqi government on Dubai-based satellite channel Al Arabiya for broadcasting too critically about a draft law that would allow Shiites to form their own autonomous region in the south?

New generation
Recently, a major US intelligence report found that the Iraq war had helped produce a new generation of Islamic radicals and had increased the threat of terrorism. Will this PR company come up with bright statements like: “The Iraqi radicals are just teenagers with domestic and authoritarian problems”?

Fair trial
In the meantime, top photographers like Bilal Hussein are held by the US military since five months without charges. Hussein is suspected of ‘having close ties to Iraqi insurgents and having access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities’. Where is the fair trial? In March, the US military promised to review cases of detained journalists within 36 hours, and ‘not six or eight months’ as major general Gardner stated. Will the PR agency produce headlines like “US military keeps promises: no journalists in jail longer than six months.”

Endangered species
The United States wanted to introduce free press in Iraq, but now journalists have become an endangered species under the new government. In May, the American ambassador announced that the International Media Center would be transferred to the new Iraqi government in which “militias are bossing around and which equals media professionals to insurgents”.

Running the show
I am using Ali Fadhil’s words, who worked as a journalist for the National Public Radio in Iraq and is currently Fullbright scholar at the New York University. He wrote in the International Herald Tribune that if militias keep running the show inside the Iraqi government, and if this government is seeking more rapprochement towards insurgents and Islamic extremists, then in a few months time there won’t be any news at all from Iraq. Look upon it from the bright side of life: No news is good news!