Friday, January 21, 2005

Bad news from Iraq 

Updated - see at the bottom of the post.

Being avid consumers of news, most of us are aware of the consistent stream of negative reporting coming out of Iraq. Death, violence, terrorism, precarious political situation, problems with reconstruction and public frustration (both in Iraq and America) dominate, if not overwhelm, the mainstream media coverage and commentary on Iraq. The readers' reactions to my fortnightly "Good news from Iraq" segments show just how little good news reaches people.

But it's one thing to have a gut feeling about media negativity and another to know exactly how negative the coverage is. So today I decided to do a little tally.

Friday, 21 January (Australian time) is an average day as far as Iraq is concerned.
Google news indexes the following negative stories concerning Iraq:

2,642 stories about Condi Rice's confirmation hearings, in the context of grilling she has received over the Administration's Iraq policy

1,992 stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks

887 stories about prisoner abuse by British soldiers

2,345 stories about President Bush's inauguration, in the context of the President failing to mention the word "Iraq" in his speech, or indeed discuss the war

216 stories about hostages currently being held in Iraq

761 stories reporting on activities and public statements of insurgents

357 stories about the anti-war movement and the dropping public support for involvement in Iraq

182 stories about American servicemen killed and wounded in operations

217 stories about concerns for fairness and validity of Iraqi election (low security, low turnout, etc.)

107 stories about civilian deaths in Iraq

123 stories noting Vice President Cheney's admission that he had underestimated the task of reconstruction

219 stories about possible military action against Iran

24 stories about tense relations with Syria

118 stories about complicated and strained relations between the US and Europe

121 stories discussing the possibility of American pullout

27 stories about sabotage of Iraqi oil infrastructure

660 stories about prosecutions in the Oil for Food scandal

Then we have 123 stories - ostensibly neutral - about details of current troop deployments and movements. I write "ostensibly" because among that number there are numerous stories about deserters or soldiers refusing orders.

Finally we come to positive news:

311 stories about voter registration for Iraqis overseas. Even here we have to be cautious as significant number of these stories comment on "disappointingly" low numbers registering.

16 stories about security successes in the fight against insurgents

7 stories about positive developments relating to elections

73 stories about the return to Iraq of stolen antiques.

If the media coverage was war, the good guys would be getting slaughtered. Well,
maybe the media coverage is war...

Update: Thanks for all the comments, both in support and against. A few quick points:

1) some objected that the Inauguration skewed the results of my survey. I have been following news coverage closely, on a daily basis, for the past few months as part of compiling my "Good news from Iraq" segment, and I can tell you that the results would be roughly similar any other day;

2) yes, many stories are "duplicates" of wire reports from AP, Reuters and others, but that's precisely the point: if a negative story from the AFP is picked up by hundreds of newspapers around the world then the story's penetration of the global news market is much greater than another story published in just one local newspaper. This, by the way, cuts both ways: if a wire service writes a positive story that gets syndicated world-wide (in fact most of the 73 positive stories above about the return of stolen treasures are such duplicates) - except that it's quite rare for a news wire service to have a good news story;

3) many good news stories, indexed on Google News, mostly about security or reconstruction successes are not even news articles as such but press releases, which rarely get picked up by journalists.

4) Derek Rose defends the mainstream media from the charge of "aiding and abetting" the enemy leveled at it by Col Tim Ryan (the last link in the original post above).


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