A question of media coverage

A memo to the media

Dear Editor, Publisher, Producer, Reporter:

We are writing to convey a level of heightened expectation in your forthcoming coverage of the US-Iraq situation.

War coverage and coverage of the period preceding war test the reliability of our news media. Access to truly independent sources of information is essential, given the government's control of knowledge, data, pictures and other information during this period. The media's display of all significant points of view is especially important because of the tendency of our top officials to equate patriotism with uncritical support of official policy. Precisely for this reason, the public expects its media to meet this challenge by maintaining its independence for the good of the country. It is your professional duty and your obligation to our democratic ideals.

Unfortunately, objectivity and critical questioning of official sources, which is a measure of your separation from officialdom, have not been true in war-time reporting during Gulf War I and during the present proposals for Gulf War II.

Our experience as readers, viewers and listeners of print and electronic media has given us concern for a repetition of the following patterns.

The horserace syndrome: Highlighting tactics over political analysis

In the period before and during war, newspapers and the electronic media tend to cover the diplomacy and military engagements as if they were covering a horserace. In the questions about a possible war, the media too frequently limit themselves to details of tactics, weapons and military manoeuvres, abandoning the critical balance that is journalism at its finest. The government has exploited this tendency, providing g