Media warfare: C4 most critical of war

There’s a report out today from some acacdemics who have looked at how the British media covered the war in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

Apparently, Channel 4 was less likely to report good news for the US and British Coalition during the 2003 war in Iraq than its broadcasting rivals.

A detailed investigation led by academics at the universities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, into how the media covered the 2003 war in Iraq found that Sky News and ITV were most likely to report good news for the Coalition, Channel 4 News the least likely, with BBC News sitting somewhere in the middle.

For Channel 4, the research came as its main news anchor Jon Snow was embroiled in a row at the weekend over his refusal to wear a poppy onscreen. Snow hit out at what he calls “poppy fascism”, which he says pressures people to wear a Remembrance Day poppy.

His comments, particularly those referring to “fascism”, angered some viewers, who complained to Channel 4 arguing that many who died fighting in WWII did so in the belief that they were helping to liberate Europe from fascists.

For ITV News, the study comes at a time when it is in direct conflict with the Ministry of Defence. The MoD recently banned the UK’s biggest commercial news broadcaster from frontline access to the nation’s forces after accusing it of inaccurate and intrusive reports about the fate of wounded soldiers.

The findings are likely to surprise some, particularly in the case of the BBC, which has often been accused of bias by politicians such as then Home Secretary David “bomb ’em” Blunkett.

The study, led by Dr Piers Robinson at Manchester, also found that commentators who questioned the Coalition line were given little chance to make their point.

Among the press there were revelations too. While it will surprise no one to learn that The Sun gave the most explicit support to Coalition operations, it might to learn that newspaper coverage, even that of the anti-war Independent and Daily Mirror, was supportive of the military campaign in general.

The research shows that the war was narrated largely through the voice of the Coalition with much less attention given to others. Dr Robinson says this suggests that factors such as reliance upon elite sources, patriotism and news values rooted in episodic coverage continue to be important in shaping war-time coverage.

“Most reports did not discuss WMD at all but of those that did, 54% TV and 61% newspaper made substantial reference to the Weapons of Mass Destruction rationale for war in unproblematic terms, reinforcing the Coalition argument.

“Coverage overwhelmingly reflected the official line on the moral case for war: over 80% of TV and press stories mirrored the government position and less than 12% challenged it,” he said.

Robinson added that issues such as civilian casualties and anti-war protest accounted for considerably less than 10% of news stories across both TV and newspapers.

“The Coalition was responsible for over 50% of direct quotations across TV channels and 45% across newspapers, but quotes from the Iraqi regime never amounted to more than 6% of the total.

“And while Iraqi civilians received a substantial degree of media attention as subjects, they were less well represented via direct quotation with figures ranging from 5% for Channel 4 to Sky’s 11%, averaging 8% across newspapers.”