Undermining Media’s Credibility Faisal Hashmi (Sept. 13, 2005)

Undermining Media’s Credibility

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in his typical self-glorifying manner, proclaimed at the outset of this month that newspapers and other media had burgeoned in Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein. It, according to him, proved that democracy was flourishing there.

Mr Rumsfeld, who used to be a wrestling champ in his college days, has the propensity to speak in a typical wrestler’s vapid way. Affectionately called Don by family and friends, Mr Rumsfeld landed in soup soon after making this unfounded declaration. US Congressmen charged him with planting lopsided stories in Iraqi media after getting them written by military officials.

US Defence Department had been bribing Iraqi journalists. When caught by the Defence Services Committee, military officials admitted involvement. The commission head John Warner later informed media persons that many Iraqi journalists were on Defence Department’s payroll. The responsibility to “probe” the case has been given to Iraq-based high officials of US Army.

It is a matter of concern to Americans because of two reasons. One is that the US media can inadvertently use such fabricated news from Iraq. And the other is that there are fears of subversion of the US media from inside. The US administration paying $240,000 to a journalist to write a column praising it has become common knowledge. This amounts to corrupting US media from within. This looks grimmer when we know that the champions of press freedom and democracy are out to erode media’s credibility. Iraqi journalists have also expressed concern over the issue.

The leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties have condemned it. John Warner, a Republican, is of the opinion that bribing journalists could undermine the credibility of Bush government. Pentagon has hired a US-based public relations company, Lincoln Group, for the disinformation campaign.

Democrat Edward Kennedy has said that it is necessary to determine the legality of such acts. Sometimes a US military advertisement is published as a news story in Iraqi papers without in any way indicating that it is an ad.

Perhaps writing a concocted story or publishing it would not have disturbed American politicians if it did not threaten the credibility of their own media. Their worries grew only when the case of noted American columnist Armstrong Williams was exposed. Williams accepted $240,000 for supporting the administration’s child literacy campaign, “No Child Left Behind”. In his column he rated the campaign as highly successful.

Happily, US media persons generally abhor corruption. The American newspaper Los Angeles Times was the first to expose the bribing of media people in Iraq. Iraqi media persons also protested against the mischief. Stay tuned for more on the issue.g

                                                                                        Faisal Hashmi

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