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Sunday, April 13, 2003
Promoting good news

The mystery SARS virus that is now causing so much anguish as it travels round the globe, claiming fatalities from among the fit, young, and healthy, almost certainly originated in China in November. With their customary penchant for hiding bad news, that closed society kept quiet about the problem. It was not until the infection moved outside the country that the spread of the illness made the news in the West.

Of course, with our standards of openness, there was not the slightest chance that SARS would go unreported. Of course, we could then blame the secretive Chinese for having kept the outbreak under wraps, effectively making things worse. We wouldn't keep bad news under wraps, would we? There's such an admirable culture of publishing the truth in the West, no matter how unpalatable

On Airstrip One, the media cover the war in Iraq reasonably, I think. The scenes of dead and maimed civilians are interspersed with tableaux of statue toppling, building shelling, and soldiers surrendering. Our TV producers give us these images because they represent the truth, some of it unpleasant. I have to confess that I do not enjoy seeing the images of war, good or bad, especially the bad. Worst of all is the news of the suffering of non-combatants, women and children especially. But it is something to face because it is (part of) the truth. Sometimes, reporters even confess that the most distressing parts have, even then, been edited out.

It seems, however, that in the USA, they are getting a sanitised view of the war: only good news is shown and pictures of the price paid in 'collateral damage' are being largely suppressed. It is not difficult to understand the mindset of people wanting to hide the hideous images of maimed and shattered civilian bodies. (If they see the suffering, citizens might want to stop us.) So that explains 'why' this censorship is occurring but what about the 'how'?

Do US cameramen not take grim pictures? Do the editors and producers fail to submit them? Or is it, perhaps, that station chiefs and management sanitise material for broadcasting because it would make unpleasant/unpopular viewing? Of course, with sponsors to please, who would knowingly broadcast distressing images?

Anything that detracts from the justification for the whole military adventure is suppressed. So much for truth, then. Doubts about the war, even at this stage, are still as taboo in the US as before it started.

A new McCarthyism is alive, growing, and abroad in that land. Or has it always been there?

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