ROME, Feb 14 (IPS) – A peoples tribunal has held much of Western media guilty of inciting violence and deceiving people in its reporting of Iraq.
The World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), an international peoples initiative seeking the truth about the war and occupation in Iraq made its pronouncement Sunday after a three- day meeting. The tribunal heard testimony from independent journalists, media professors, activists, and member of the European Parliament Michele Santoro.
The Rome session of the WTI followed others in Brussels, London, Mumbai, New York, Hiroshima-Tokyo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Lisbon. The Rome meeting focused on the media role.
The informal panel of WTI judges accused the United States and the British governments of impeding journalists in performing their task, and intentionally producing lies and misinformation.
The panel accused western corporate media of filtering and suppressing information, and of marginalising and endangering independent journalists. More journalists were killed in a 14-month period in Iraq than in the entire Vietnam war.
The tribunal said mainstream media reportage on Iraq also violated article six of the Nuremberg Tribunal (set up to try Nazi crimes) which states: “Leaders, organisers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes (crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity) are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such a plan.”
The panel that heard testimonies included Francois Houtart, director of the Tricontinental Centre in Belgium that has backed several peoples movements in Latin America, and Dr. Samir Amin, director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Dr. Haleh Afshar, who teaches politics and women’s studies at the University of York in Britain, and Italian author and newspaper editor Ernesto Pallotta witnessed the proceedings.
“This is not simply an exercise to denounce the mainstream media for their bias and incompetence,” said Dr. Tony Alessandrini, a human rights activist who has published several articles on the U.S. colonisation of Iraq. “These denunciations have been going on for months. Here in Rome, we must go further..”
Alessandrini, who helped organised the WTI added, “What we are being asked to consider is not simply media bias, but rather the active complicity of media in crimes that have been committed and are being committed on a daily basis against the people in Iraq.”
Several experts gave strong testimony. Dr. Peter Philips, director of ‘Project Censured’ at Sonoma State University in California where he teaches media censorship provided taped testimony. He said that at no time since the 1930s has the United States been so close to “institutionalised totalitarianism”, and added, “U.S. society has become the least informed, best entertained society in the world.”
The WTI Rome session also heard testimony from Dr. David Miller from Scotland, author of ‘Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq’. “This is about condemning journalistic complicity of war crimes,” said Dr. Miller, who is also co-editor of Spinwatch, a group that monitors public relations and propaganda.
Miller said the Pentagon “does not recognise the concept of independent journalists, because they are providers of unfriendly information”, and that mainstream media in the United States and in Britain was “complicit in furthering the selling of the invasion, and ongoing occupation. All studies conducted on mainstream media show dominance by government policies, and wartime coverage of TV news in the UK was generally sympathetic to the government’s case..”
Fernando Suarez, who lost his son Jesus during the invasion of Iraq when he is said to have stepped on an illegal U.S. cluster bomb, also testified at the tribunal.
Suarez testified that he was first told by the Pentagon that his son died from a gunshot to the head, then that he died in an accident, and then that he had died in ‘friendly fire’.
On inspecting his son’s body Suarez said he discovered that his son had died from stepping on a cluster bomb.
“I never had the truth from them,” Suarez added. “I found the truth, and the truth was very simple. On March 26 the Army dropped 20,000 cluster bombs in Iraq, but only about 20 percent exploded. The other 80 percent are in the cities and the schools and acting like mines.”
Suarez said: “Bush sent my son because he said Iraq had illegal weapons, and my son died from an illegal American weapon, and nobody has spoken about this. The media will not talk about the illegal American weapons.”
Several witnesses testified about media disinformation over the siege of Fallujah. They were presented copies of the award winning documentary ‘Weapons of Mass Deception’ by journalist and film-maker Danny Schechter, who is also executive editor of Mediachannel.org, an online media issues network.
Alessandrini said evidence of active complicity of the mainstream media in wrongs committed against the people of Iraq, and the wrongs of deception and incitement, was now overwhelming.
“We work from the understanding that history will recall the crimes committed against the people of Iraq by the U.S.,” he said. “It is our responsibility to record these crimes in order to ensure these crimes are never again repeated.”