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Murdoch's war on truth in war reporting

By Margo Kingston
April 7 2003


Monday's front page of the Daily Telegraph.

People who remain to be convinced that cross-media laws are important to maintaining the fabric of our democracy need look no further than today's page one of The Daily Telegraph.

KILLING ROOM - Coalition forces reveal Saddam's torture terror" it screamed. The first lines: "The depraved brutality of Saddam's regime was revealed to the world yesterday in a series of horrific discoveries. As US forces intensified the battle for Baghdad last night, British allies uncovered an enormous charnel house containing the remains of hundreds of Saddam's torture victims." ( See Killing Room and Coffin rows expose an unspeakable evil).

I saw the vision of the find on TV last night, and noted the British officers remark that it was unclear what the building and its rows of simple coffins was all about. However, the remains were old, he said, and he showed documents and photographs also found on site, which did not scream out torture chamber but rather respect for the dead.

So where did The Daily Telegraph get its scoop information, and why was it so confident of the truth of its story? Who knows, but CNN reported today:

U.S. military: Remains from Iran-Iraq war

Sunday, April 6, 2003 Posted: 11:41 AM EDT (1541 GMT)

SOUTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- More than 400 sets of human remains discovered in a barracks outside of Basra are of soldiers killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the leader of a U.S. military team that examined them said Sunday.

Forensics experts sent to southern Iraq to analyze the makeshift coffins and plastic bags in which the human body parts were found said all the injuries appeared consistent with combat, contrary to initial reports from an Iranian news agency some showed signs of torture.

CWO Dan Walters with the U.S Army told reporters the bodies were mostly those of Iraqi fighters, and appeared to be a staging point for the exchange of such remains between Iraq and Iran. British soldiers with the Third Regiment of the Royal Artillery made the gruesome discovery in an abandoned warehouse.

"Some had tatters of uniforms hidden amongst the human remains," said U.S. Central Command Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks during a briefing Sunday. Some of the soldiers said the makeshift wooden, open-face coffins were stacked deep in the warehouse and belonged to the 51st Division headquarters of the Iraqi regular army.

The bodies were located over the recent months in joint recovery operations along the Iran-Iraq border, Iranian Army Gen. Mirfeisal Baqerzadeh, head of the search and recovery committee for those missing in action, told the Iranian newspaper Jomhouri-E Eslami.

The newspaper quoted Baqerzadeh saying Iran and Iraq scrapped the search and recovery operations for the missing in action on the Iraqi territory 15 days before the war started.

The remains were found in plastic bags and makeshift coffins

"We eagerly ask the International Committee of the Red Cross to carry out its obligations and immediately take delivery of the bodies from the U.S.-British troops, and return them to Iran in Shalamcheh border point with Iraq," the Iranian newspaper quoted Baqerzadeh.

British soldiers at the scene said a neighboring building contained photographs of the dead, most of whom had died from gunshot wounds to the head.

Webdiarist Peter Fulham sent me this report from the New York Times, which begins:

ZUBAYR, Iraq -- A poignant bit of unfinished history caught up with the current campaign against Saddam Hussein yesterday, as U.S. and British officials combed through a makeshift morgue for Iraqi and Iranian soldiers killed in the 1980s in a war most Iraqis are too young to remember.

The 664 thin wooden coffins at the morgue, containing the remains of 408 men, were stacked in neat rows, some five coffins high in a warehouse in what the officials called a former Iraqi artillery complex. Plastic bags in the coffins contained all that remained of each young soldier -- an identity tag, a wallet, a piece of uniform, pictures of loved ones and occasionally some money.

Investigators from the U.S. 75th Exploitation Task Force arrived here yesterday from northern Kuwait. The task force, charged with documenting war crimes, had come to investigate what initial descriptions of the site suggested was a center for torture and execution.

But in just a few hours, Chief Warrant Officer Dan Walters, the leader of the task force's Criminal Investigation Division unit, said a preliminary examination of the remains and some of the thousands of pages of documents that were abandoned in a building next to the warehouse suggested that atrocities had probably not occurred here. Rather, he said, Iraqis had apparently been processing the remains and preparing to exchange them with Iran.

"Their wounds were consistent with combat deaths, not executions," said Walters. "So far," he added, "there are no indications that war crimes were committed here." ...

I can hardly wait for the correction tomorrow. It's not as if standard journalism wouldn't have discovered a lack of certainty. The Herald reported today:

"MASS GRAVE DISPUTE: Iran said the remains of as many as 200 people found near Basra were Iranian soldiers killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and demanded their immediate repatriation, a newspaper reported yesterday. But Iraq has said the bodies, discovered on Saturday by British soldiers in a military complex, were Iraqis killed in the conflict and recently returned by Iran. But the head of Iran's Committee for Searching for the Missing in Action, Brigadier-General Mireysal Baqerzadeh, was quoted in Jomhuri-ye Eslami saying the corpses were unearthed in recent months by joint Iran-Iraq search teams."

Rupert Murdoch's vast newspaper empire has waged a relentless pro-war propaganda war before and since the war began without even the pretence, in many cases, that even the facade of journalism - a genuine attempt to get the facts in the time available and to present what is known at the time of going to press, appropriately attributed - is being preserved. It just so happens that Murdoch wants US government approval to take over DirecTV and further extend his grip on pay TV.

Just last week Mr Murdoch, who said before the war that it would be good for the economy (Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize and Murdoch's war: 175 generals on song) urged America to get it over with quickly. Note that he aligns himself explicitly with American interests, as an American citizen. This could explain why editorially the Murdoch papers here have made little or no mention of what Australia's distinct interests might be in this war.

Murdoch: Iraqis Will Welcome U.S. Troops

By GARY GENTILE

The Associated Press

Thursday, April 3, 2003; 12:07 AM

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday Americans have an inferiority complex about the world's opinion and that Iraqis eventually will welcome U.S. troops as liberators.

"We worry about what people think about us too much in this country. We have an inferiority complex, it seems," Murdoch said at the Milken Institute Global Conference. "I think what's important is that the world respects us, much more important than they love us."

The head of News Corp. said a long war could heavily influence the U.S. and global economies while creating political instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. And he suggested a decisive U.S. effort for a quick end to the war would be better than a protracted battle.

"There is going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now than spread it over months," he said.

Murdoch also warned that the world should be prepared for more terrorist attacks. "It's very possible to see freelance suicide attempts both here and in London, and that would psychologically shake this country up," he said.

Many Murdoch outlets' commitment to free speech is non-existent. I quote from crikey.com.au's sealed section of April 4: "Speaking of Fox, their most feral presenter Bill O'Reilly this morning had two legal experts on to discuss whether Peter Arnett should be charged with treason. They all agreed he could and should be. There goes Rupert again, profitably spewing out some of the most disgraceful journalism the world has seen and then trashing free speech when it suits him."

Now that Australia's identity under John Howard seems to be dissolving into a subset of America's identity, it would be nice to maintain some semblance of a diverse Australian oriented, Australian owned, media in this country.

But don't expect the government to care about silly little issues like that. It's already negotiating a 'free trade' agreement with the USA, which demands an end to foreign ownership restrictions on media, Qantas, Telstra and Woodside, as well as an end to laws trying to preserve our cultural identity. Australian nationalism? Not for much longer, if John Howard gets his way.

Poor old Australia - the USA doesn't need to invade us to take us over. We're inviting them in. Oh, and crossing our fingers that as a defacto state of America (minus the right to vote) the Americans will sympathetically consider helping us out if our security is threatened.


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