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"Wars Within Wars: Iraq, Media, and the Internet"

March 24, 2003

Commentary by
Lauren Weinstein


Our war on Iraq represents a watershed event in news dissemination. Obvious to everyone is the amazing technology of satellite videophones giving live feeds of troops on the move and instant reporting from the field. But this is mostly glitz -- these tiny slices of action don't provide much useful information. But as they say in the industry, they're great TV.

Of more note are related concerns regarding media concentration and its effects. CNN's reported "blogging" ban and field reporter script-approval process are of considerably less concern than, for example, Fox News' obvious right-wing orientation. There's been noted in some quarters a remarkable lack of significant dissent among News Corp. editors regarding the U.S.'s current war. I'd argue that this isn't remarkable at all, but should be utterly expected given the desire of most editors to retain their jobs.

Media concentration can be virtually as effective as government censorship in terms of controlling (or at least biasing) to a significant extent what the vast majority of Americans see on their televisions, read in major newspapers, or obtain through other elements of the U.S. media conglomerates.

News and information outlets not under the control of the media giants do of course exist, but until recently they were not always easily accessible by significant numbers of persons. With our new war, Internet penetration appears to have finally reached a level where this limitation is fading in a major way.

One immediate example is the rapid dissemination on the Internet of the complete Iraqi-TV POW tape from yesterday, which mainstream U.S. media refused to broadcast in its entirety (or at all) after DoD's Rumsfeld "suggested" that it shouldn't be shown. Despite his desire to keep these (disturbing, to be sure) images and sounds from the public, they were within hours (minutes?) openly available via a wide variety of sources on the Net, including Arabic channel Web sites, other foreign media outlet Web sites, file sharing sites, and so on.

It is true that most people still apparently get the bulk of their news from conventional TV. But the vastly increasing reach of the Net via broadband access facilities -- making direct distribution of reasonable quality audio and video practical -- is now having significant effects on the overall fabric of news dissemination and control.

This of course leads to some rather critical questions. What is the effect of unsanitized images of war and other violence on the populace? Will national governments, already on a civil-liberties decimation campaign of enormous scope, allow Internet-based, free flow of information to continue?

What sorts of political, technical, or legal controls over Internet news dissemination will governments attempt to establish, and to what extent will they be successful in these efforts? Will the public at large buy government arguments that such controls are necessary to the public good?

The answers to all of these questions -- like so many we might ask in the current environment -- are likely to be depressing in the extreme.

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Lauren Weinstein

For information about the author, please see: http://www.vortex.com/lauren

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