August 19, 2004 | Graham

Winning the peace isn’t just a problem for Rumsfeld

Winning the peace in Iraq isn’t just a US problem, it is a problem for all of us. If it is lost, then we in Australia should share some of the blame, and the press more than most.
How do I expect the press to play a role in winning the peace and why should they?
The “how” is easy – just report the facts in a proper context. Unfortunately, they don’t. The New York Times announced 9 hours ago “In Climax to a Tumultuous 4-Day Debate, Iraq Chooses an Assembly”. From what I can see none of the Australian media has yet picked the story up, even though it is the most significant development in Iraq since the war. At the moment the ABC, which runs news 24 hours a day, is still fixated on the fate of cleric and warlord Muqtada al-Sadr.
The election of the national assembly is significant because it is the first democratic process in Iraq since the war to happen almost completely independently from the US. The assembly of 100 was selected by a group of 1,100 which in turn was selected at elections across the country. I described the process here, and as far as I know, that’s the most comprehensive description you will get from any Australian media outlet.
In contrast to this momentous “first parliament”, al-Sadr is a side show. His Mahdi Army is estimated at no more than 10,000 men – and this in a country which is larger than Australia. al-Sadr himself is so small a player in the political scene that he is trying to gain the prominence by military “might”, and his willingness to use it, that he could not gain by democratic means. He is a true “war monger” sending his men to die in the attempt to enhance his own standing.
Sending journalists to cover al-Sadr in Najaf, while ignoring the conference in Baghdad would be like ignoring the Corowa convention, which set the scene for Australian federation in favour of a shearer’s strike. They’re both important, but one is nation founding, and the other is not.
The “why” is more problematic. I don’t expect journalists to take sides, and if they do no more than that, then they will have done all that can be required of them. The fact is, that by covering only the violence, they are taking sides – in favour of the forces of chaos and disorder. This bias endangers all the work that the Iraqis have so far done for themselves, and increases the threat of terrorism to all of us.
We live in a world where information is more immediate than it has ever been before. What it means is that we have to look more critically at the quality of the information that we receive, and who is providing it, or the volatility will increase to the stage where it is socially and politically debilitating. Our craft based journalism profession has passed its “use by” date. We need to start developing news sources where we get in-depth information and real analysis. Ultimately that means paying much more for journalists so that we get people of the calibre that our information needs demand. People who can get their priorities right and move beyond the aphorism that “if it bleeds it leads”.

Posted by Graham at 9:51 pm | Comments Off on Winning the peace isn’t just a problem for Rumsfeld |

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