Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq coverage lacks balance, context, peace voices

In a media environment where peace journalism is being practiced, the current run-up period to possible renewed U.S. military intervention in Iraq would be covered by the media in a balanced way that proportionately reflects voices from both sides of the intervention debate.

Using the peace journalism model, articles about further U.S. military strikes in Iraq might look a bit like this:

Secretary of State John Kerry floated the possibility of U.S. drone strikes in Iraq today, while opponents of U.S. intervention warned that such strikes would be destabilizing and ineffective.
Administration official continue to make a case for U.S. military intervention in Iraq, citing a growing humanitarian crisis in the wake of a militant insurgency. Intervention opponents acknowledge the humanitarian crisis, but question the ability of air strikes to slow the insurgency.

Unfortunately, a quick examination of media coverage of the crisis indicates that a disproportionately small voice seems to be given to those who question or outright oppose military intervention. 
For example, a perusal of the lead stories about Iraq in today’s New York Times and Washington Post show that both sources seem intent on regurgitating claims from Secretary of State John Kerry about the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Iraq. Now, there’s nothing wrong with quoting Kerry. What’s wrong is that there is no context in either story—no acknowledgment or analysis that points out Kerry’s obvious attempt to justify a U.S. military response. 

The Post story is especially heavy with Pentagon reports about ship and personnel movements in the region. Again, there is nothing wrong with this per se. What’s unfortunate is that, given the volume and urgency of military movements, the story’s  tone indicates that U.S. involvement is almost a fait accompli.

The Times story does mention diplomatic efforts aimed at getting Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki to reach out to opponents. However, these efforts are presented only because improvements by Al-Maliki are listed as a pre-condition for military action. Thus, diplomacy is presented as viable only in a military context.

What is absent from both stories, and from the bulk of the coverage I’ve seen in print and online sources, are comments and analysis from those who question the administration’s analysis of the situation and/or outright oppose intervention.

An informal, unscientific survey shows that today’s Times and Post stories reflect the general media coverage about U.S. intervention. A search on Google News shows 1,060 hits for ‘US-Iraq intervention “vital”’, but only 655 hits for ‘US-Iraq intervention “unnecessary.”’ A search for ‘Iraq-US military solution’ scored 4,770 hits, while ‘Iraq-US diplomatic solution’ had only 1,450 hits. 

As peace journalists, we are not wading into the debate about the advisability of further U.S. military action in Iraq. However, we do believe that it’s the media’s responsibility to fully inform the public about all the options, including peaceful ones, if they are to reach intelligent conclusions about the situation in Iraq. When media do the opposite, and merely parrot administration pro-war propaganda without analysis or giving voice to war opponents, the results have been disastrous.

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