Press censorship in Iraq

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Nov 13 07:41:38 MST 2003

In Baghdad, NBC Comes Under Fire, Twice

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 2003; Page C01

It was a world exclusive for NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, the only television 
reporter able to show footage of the devastating attack on a Baghdad 
hotel that narrowly missed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

But some U.S. officials in Iraq raised fierce objections and tried to 
block Miklaszewski and his cameraman from filming the scene. "The NBC 
journalists conducted themselves in a wholly inappropriate, uncaring and 
insensitive manner," says Gary Thatcher, communications chief for the 
U.S. occupation authority. "Instead of rendering or summoning aid, they 
focused on gathering video footage of people in agonizingly painful 
situations . . . in order to boost the ratings."

Says Miklaszewski: "I realized they were very emotional, very upset, 
that they had been attacked. But frankly, we had a job to do -- cover 
the attack on the al-Rashid Hotel as best we could. We were being as 
unobtrusive as we possibly could. . . .

"Our impression was that this was an attempt to censor the news. This 
event shot holes in the administration's insistence that everything was 
going well in Baghdad."



NY Observer, Nov. 13, 2003
The Green Zone Blues
by Sridhar Pappu

In the seven months since Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled in Firdaus 
Square in Baghdad, the Bush administration has been busy winning the 
country for democracy. But to competitive reporters used to exploiting 
the chaos of war to get the big story, the rigid control of the U.S.-led 
Coalition Provisional Authority and its press arm, the Office of 
Strategic Communications, has made winning during the peace more 
difficult than winning during the war.

"They’ve taken the Bush model and applied it to Baghdad," one 
correspondent said.

The C.P.A., according to several reporters based in Baghdad—many of whom 
requested anonymity—has severely limited access to key officials in the 
provisional government. In an effort to stanch the flow of reporting on 
small-scale terrorist activity and the resulting injuries to U.S. 
troops, sources said, morgues and hospitals in Baghdad have become 
impenetrable to reporters. Reporters have found their access to police 
stations cut off. When access is granted, reporters said, the C.P.A. 
often assigns "minders" to accompany them.

But even the good-news stories the Bush administration has chastised the 
press for ignoring—reopening schools and hospitals, building power 
plants and infrastructure and factories—can be hard to get, unless you 
are content to rely upon a C.P.A.-engineered press junket to do your 
reporting. Contractors working on rebuilding projects, sources said, 
have been told not to speak to journalists without prior C.P.A. 
approval. The same is true for groups like the Army Corps of Engineers.

And the C.P.A. has bypassed the Baghdad bureaus of the major media 
outlets, pitching stories or interviews directly to local network 
affiliates stateside, and organizing junkets for editorial writers to 
show off how very far Iraq has come, leaving major-market newspapers to 
fight through a web of red tape even to get the news—good or bad—out.

Following a less-than-positive story, reporters often find their phone 
calls go completely unanswered. There have even been charges that 
reporters whose work is viewed as unfavorable or unflattering to the 
ongoing operations in Iraq have been blackballed at the Republican Palace.

"People joke that it’s just like the old days," one Baghdad-based 
reporter said. The source was remembering what it was like before the 
C.P.A. started issuing sunny press releases about the minting of new, 
Saddam-free currency for the country, or opening schools and hospitals 
that reporters have had difficulty obtaining clearance to visit; before 
it had established its stronghold in the old Republican Palace on the 
Tigris, once occupied by Saddam and his sidekick press secretary, 
Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, known to Americans as Baghdad Bob.

"We saw this kind of treatment [of the press] during Saddam," a 
correspondent said. "And it makes me sick that my own government is 
doing it now."



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