When Iraqi TV offices in Baghdad were hit by a US missile strike on March 25, the targeting of the media was strongly criticised by human rights groups. However, much of the US corporate media cheered.
General-secretary of the International Federation of Journalists Aidan White suggested that "there should be a clear international investigation into whether or not this bombing violates the Geneva Conventions". White told Reuters on March 26, "Once again, we see military and political commanders from the democratic world targeting a television network simply because they don't like the message it gives out".
The Geneva Conventions forbid the targeting of civilian installations — whether state-owned or not — unless they are being used for military purposes. Amnesty International warned on March 26 that the attack may have been a "war crime" and emphasised that bombing a television station "simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda" is illegal under international humanitarian law.
Likewise, Human Rights Watch affirmed on March 26 that it would be illegal to target Iraqi TV based on its propaganda value.
Some US journalists working for the US corporate media, however, have not shown much concern about the targeting of Iraqi journalists. Prior to the bombing, some even seemed anxious to know why the broadcast facilities hadn't been attacked yet. On the Murdoch-owned Fox News Channel, John Gibson wondered aloud on March 24: "Should we take Iraqi TV off the air? Should we put one down the stove pipe there?"
Fox's Bill O'Reilly agreed: "I think they should have taken out the television... Why haven't they taken out the Iraqi television towers?"
MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was thinking along similar lines: "A lot of questions about why state-run television is allowed to continue broadcasting. After all, the coalition forces know where those broadcast towers are located."
While on CNBC on March 24, Forrest Sawyer offered tactical alternatives: "There are operatives in there. You could go in with sabotage, take out the building, you could take out the tower."
After the Iraqi TV was struck, some reporters expressed satisfaction. CNN correspondent Nic Robertson seemed to defend the attack, saying that bombing the TV station "will take away a very important tool from the Iraqi leadership — that of showing their face, getting their message out to the Iraqi people, and really telling them that they are still in control." It's worth noting that CNN, like other US news outlets, provides all these functions for the US government.
New York Times reporter Michael Gordon appeared on CNN on March 25 to endorse the attack: "I think the television, based on what I've seen ... with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we're trying to send the exact opposite message, I think, was an appropriate target."
According to the New York Times on March 26, Fox's John Gibson seemed to go so far as to take credit for the bombing of Iraqi TV, suggesting that Fox's "criticism about allowing Saddam Hussein to talk to his citizens and lie to them has had an effect". Fox reporter Major Garrett declared on March 25, "It has been a persistent question here, why [Iraqi TV] remains on the air".
Given such attitudes, perhaps it's not surprising that discussions of the legality of attacking Iraqi TV have been rare in US mainstream media.
Yet when the White House accused Iraq of violating the Geneva Conventions by airing footage of American POWs, the US corporate media were eager to engage the subject of international law. It's a shame the US media haven't held the US government to the same standards.
[From Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Visit FAIR's web site at <http://www.fair.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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