So, this week the British Parliament finally provided the world with the ISIS debate we needed to have. Meanwhile, the US Congress has decided to shirk their responsibility and stick to heckling from the sidelines and the Australian Opposition have decided to forgo doing even that (satirical). But while our leaders prove so dismal in this debate, where are our trusty journalists? On the cusp of another ill-defined war in the middle east, what about our eyes and ears?
As the risks have risen in Syria and Iraq, news organisations have slowly withdrawn their personnel. Initially, that worked was outsourced, but as the situation has deteriorated further, even freelancers are being discouraged. This is from the Agence France Presse Correspondent blog (emphasis added):
“In Syria we are currently the only international news agency with a bureau in Damascus, manned by a team of Syrian journalists. We still regularly send reporters from Beirut into areas controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. We also continue to cover the rebel side of the conflict thanks to local stringers, who live in the area and who supply us with accounts, photos and videos of what is happening there…
Since August 2013, we have stopped sending any journalists into rebel-held parts of Syria…
…Journalists are no longer welcome in rebel-held Syria, as independent witnesses to the suffering of local populations. They have become targets, or commodities to be traded for ransom….
That is also why we no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places where we ourselves would not venture. It is a strong decision, and one that may not have been made clear enough, so I will repeat it here: if someone travels to Syria and offers us images or information when they return, we will not use it. Freelancers have paid a high price in the Syrian conflict. High enough. We will not encourage people to take that kind of risk.”
But what about those beautiful images and videos you have been seeing? What about all the updates on strikes and missions? Well, the gap in “real reporting” has largely been filled by the Governments involved, particularly their military wings. Take a look at the next few videos and tell me if you recognise anything:
All of these videos are from the US Central Command Youtube channel. You might recognise them from the rolling news coverage on many news channels. Where the news orgs fail to tread, and where freelancers are being disallowed, the army has stepped in. And if you want to know where the number and locations of bombings are coming from, it’s press releases like this one from the US Department of Defence:
“U.S. and partner nation military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Syria Friday and today, using fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct seven airstrikes. Separately, U.S. military forces used attack aircraft to conduct three airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.”
Further, and in a departure from recent wars, the Obama administration is not allowing journalists to “embed” with the military. Sally Buzbee, the Associated Press’ Washington Bureau Chief, recently came up with a list of eight ways Obama is blocking information. And guess what was number one:
“As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organisations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.”
Whether you agree with the campaign against ISIS or not; if you are skeptical of how it is being handled or as uncritical as Graham Richardson, the lack of debate is worrying. And as visible as they are, it is not only our politicians to blame. The media have taken the appropriate action by withdrawing their personnel. But they have not taken the next step, admitting where all this information is coming from. Much of it is coming from those in power, the very people our journalists are meant to be keeping an eye on. So the next time you see another clip of a perfect bombing on TV, ask yourself, is this news or is this propaganda?