March 18, 2003

Whither

So, we are going to have a war. A short one, a long one, a bloody one? No one knows. What is known is that the so called lesser people of the world � the lesser developed and the people under the 'them' regimes � have no say in anything. They are going to have yet another 'liberating' experience thrust upon them, like it has happened in Afghanistan and the erstwhile Yugoslavia before. I wonder what life is like for them, on one side they have a moronic dictator or a ruthless regime and on the other hand you have the crusaders of the modern 'white man's burden' telling them who is best suited to rule them.

One of the things that has always bothered me while working in the media is how it is used as a tool. A tool that is often deadlier than the most powerful of bombs. Case in point is a report shown by the BBC two days back about how the Iraqi's had previously used chemical weapons on its own people. The report was shown after three other reports that gave ample airtime to the US and UK point of view. Towards the end of the report was mentioned a small but significant detail, on how the US had nothing to say about the usage of the chemical attacks then as Iraq was an ally during the Iran-Iraq conflict. Nor is any any mention given to the fact that the Ba'ath Party in Iraq was basically one of the brainchildren of the CIA, just like the Taliban and the Contras had been at other points in time.

This approach to news is typical of the BBC. They always leave themselves enough space to wriggle out in the future, in case their version of things turn sour. When you mention the US involvement with Saddam's regime during the Iran-Iraq war as an afterthought in a report that comes after three other reports that support the current stand, the opinions have already been made. And once you position a fact at the fag end of of a story, no matter how strong the point is, it is pretty difficult to change a person's viewpoint that is already bombarded with the angle that you have a threat there.

What is really saddening is how much they are allowed to get away with. There is always this "threat perception" of Iraq that is mentioned by the people who support the war in US and UK. No one ever asks them how is it possible for a country that is surrounded on all sides with hostile armor and with no capacity to fly over most of its own territory be a threat to anyone? One essential quality that journalism is losing slowly these days is to question the facts that are thrust down upon you. Most media briefings in the Iraq crisis has been mostly the administrations' public faces playing hopscotch with what is not proven. You start with terror, then chase the token of evil over different squares that ranges from democracy to nuclear threats, none of which are yet to be substantiated in a way that would justify the pouring down of roughly 4000 cruise missiles on Baghdad. Yet, very few journalists question them.

What still lingers in my memory is the bombing of the market place in Sarajevo during its siege by the Serbs. It was a turning point in the war, one that convinced quite a few people about the direction that the international community should take in the conflict. Everyone on the spot, including the illustrious Martin Bell who was then BBC's correspondent in the region, filed away reports that said it came from the Serb side. Later, it transpired that the shell was actually Croatian, but by then story was stale, saying "we are sorry, we screwed up", is not good news and it went against the popular feeling of that time. The BBC did correct itself, a long while later, when no one actually gave a damn and claimed the moral high ground. But, opinions once made are very hard to change, even from the same news source.

CNN does not really deserve a mention as it serves as a much better public relations department to the US administration than the actual PR reps of the administration do, still this one deserves a special mention. Once Kosovo was 'liberated' by the NATO allies, there was this CNN reporter who was reporting live with the troops from the towns that were being 'liberated'. He made a curious observation that the so called tortured townships, where people were being supposedly dumped into the mass graves left by the dozen, life seemed to be normal. They were living normal lives, there seemed to be no fighting there and most action seemed to be on the front lines. Of course, that report was never shown again as it went against the image of the 'liberators' brining joy to destroyed villages. What the media often conveniently forgot in the Balkans was that, historically the region has been one of the most violent places to be and when you mix an ethnic conflict in it, there would not be anything called as remotely decent in the behaviour there.

Still, we have testosterone driven 'India is an emerging power' zealots, kicking and screaming that we should support the American stand, ignoring the fact that the Americans are happily sleeping with a character, who fits the description of a nuclear armed despot that is bestowed on Saddam, right across the border. The sad thing is, once the bombing comes to an end and Saddam is killed or exiled, we would have another set of people joining the already swelling ranks of miserable people in the Balkans, Afghanistan and all the other countries who were offered a better future with the 'liberators'. And also lost in the whole melee is the answer to the question � Why does the world hate Americans? The answer being that no matter how horrible the ruler of your country is, if you have even an ounce of pride alive in you, you would not want another country to decide who is best fit to rule you.

I have been listening to the BBC for roughly eight hours now. Robin Cook has resigned from Blair's cabinet and in doing so he made the case for why there should be no war in a way that no one has done in all this while. On CNN's website, even on the Europe edition, there is no mention of this fact other than a passing reference in one of the main reports. The full text of his speech in the House of Commons, that ripped the pro-war camp's contentions to shreds, is not to be found anywhere and above 90% of airtime is still given to the US and UK whining about how there was opposition in the Security Council. In a couple of hours President Bush is expected to give a 48 hour deadline for Saddam to pack up and leave and once the focus shifts to the the theater of war, objectivity would die an unnatural death with the first bombs that would fall in Baghdad.

In the meantime, this and this would give a good deal of information of the people who are not given much of airtime or column space in the midst of all this posturing. All the best to them, though it already sounds like quite a lost cause.