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Media Lens's dissection of Sweeney's appalling article (and TV documentary). Suggestions for action at the end. Cheers, Glenn. > > MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media > > > June 24, 2002 > > > MEDIA ALERT: JOHN SWEENEY OF THE OBSERVER AND THE BBC ON IRAQ > > > The fate of Iraq lies in the balance. US Republican Hawks are seeking to > launch a further massive attack against the people of Iraq. It won't happen > if politicians sense sufficient public opposition - journalists play a key > role in influencing that public opinion. > > In an Observer article, John Sweeney describes "Saddam's efforts to > portray... children as victims of Western sanctions, which he claims have > cost hundreds of thousands of young lives." (Sweeney, 'How Saddam 'staged' > fake baby funerals', The Observer, June 23, 2002) > > Media Lens will recognise this classic mainstream tendency to misattribute > arguments from earlier Media Alerts. Nick Cohen, also of The Observer, > wrote: > > "I look forward to seeing how Noam Chomsky and John Pilger manage to oppose > a war which would end the sanctions they claim have slaughtered hundreds of > thousands of children who otherwise would have had happy, healthy lives in a > prison state (don't fret, they'll get there)." ('Blair's just a Bush baby', > The Observer, March 10, 2002) > > These, as we pointed out, were not Chomsky and Pilger's "claims" at all. > > The BBC's Ben Brown said: > > "He [Saddam] claims UN sanctions have reduced many of his citizens to near > starvation - pictures like these [of a malnourished baby and despairing > mother] have been a powerful propaganda weapon for Saddam, which he'll now > have to give up." (Ben Brown, BBC News, June 20, 1996) > > ITN's John Draper said: > > "The idea now is targeted or 'smart' sanctions to help ordinary people while > at the same time preventing the Iraqi leader from blaming the West for the > hardships they're suffering." (John Draper, ITN, 10:30 News, February 20, > 2001) > > One way of dismissing damning evidence of Western responsibility for mass > death is to trace the origins of that evidence to an utterly incredible > source, such as Saddam Hussein. > > Sweeney employs this same smear tactic repeatedly, for example in his > sub-title: > > "The Iraqi dictator says his country's children are dying in their thousands > because of the West's embargoes. John Sweeney, in a TV documentary to be > shown tonight, says the figures are bogus". > > Further into the article, Sweeney repeats the claim, while managing to hint > at the truth: > > "It is an absolute of the government of Iraq - and others - that thousands > of Iraqi children are dying every month because of sanctions". > > The mysterious phrase "and others" in fact refers to the individuals and > organisations that are the reason Sweeney and other mainstream journalists > are addressing the issue at all - it is quite obvious that no one would feel > any need to refute claims made by the Iraqi dictator. Since he became an > official enemy of the West, no Western media entity has ever reported > Saddam's claims with anything other than derision, and no rational person > would dream of taking seriously claims made by him on these issues. > > Sweeney manages to cite just one of the missing sources of credible argument > and evidence when he refers to Unicef: > > "In 1999 Unicef, in co-operation with the Iraqi government, made a > retrospective projection of 500,000 excess child deaths in the 1990s. The > projection is open to question. It was based on data from within a regime > that tortures children with impunity. All but one of the researchers used by > Unicef were employees of the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet." > > Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's oil for food programme in Iraq, has this > to say of Sweeney's piece: > > "Sweeney's article is exactly the kind of journalism that is Orwellian, > double-speak. No doubt, the Iraq Government has manipulated data to suit its > own purposes, everyone of the protagonists unfortunately does this. A > journalist should not. UNICEF has used large numbers of international > researchers and applied sophisticated methods to get these important > figures. Yes, the Ministry of Health personnel cooperated with UNICEF but > ultimately it was UNICEF and UNICEF alone which carried out the data > analysis exactly because they did not want to politicize their work... This > article is a very serious misrepresentation." (Email to Media Lens Editors, > June 24, 2002) > > Reverting back to the deceptive idea that Saddam is at the heart of > accusations of mass death in Iraq, Sweeney continues with one truly stunning > misinterpretation of what is being argued by, in fact, the UN and human > rights organisations: > > "The dead babies are blamed by Saddam's regime on cancer and birth defects > which first appeared in 1991 and were, it says, caused by depleted uranium." > > Remarkably, Sweeney - having returned to ignoring serious sources and > focusing on Saddam - is here claiming that the 500,000 excess child deaths > are attributed to "cancer and birth defects". Anyone who knows anything > about the tragedy in Iraq knows that this is absurd. > > The argument, in fact, is that sanctions have prevented the free flow of > food and medicines, and that they have prevented the reconstruction of the > huge quantities of Iraqi infrastructure destroyed by US bombing during the > Gulf War - the water, sewerage, power-generation, transport, health care, > agriculture and communication systems that are vital for the prevention of > disease, the preservation of life, and for the basic functioning of society. > > Curiously, in his BBC2 Correspondent programme on the same day, 'The Mother > of all Ironies', Sweeney contradicted his Observer article, coming closer to > the truth by questioning how lack of resources (not cancer) could be > responsible for ongoing mass deaths. Sweeney said of the UN's oil for food > programme: > > "The strong man's [Saddam's] sums don't add up. Billions from oil are going > into the economy, but the child mortality figures haven't changed... So how > can 7,000 children be dying every month in the midst of all this milk and > honey?" (Sweeney, 'The Mother of all Ironies', Correspondent, BBC2, June 23, > 2002) > > Again, these are, conveniently, "the strong man's sums", not those of > credible Western human rights organisations. Remarkably, Sweeney sought > answers to his question from someone called Barham Salah, described as Prime > Minister, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who said: > > "The oil for food programme is a good programme, it must continue. It is the > best thing that has happened to Iraq since the foundation of the Iraqi > state. By the way, not only for the Kurdish areas but also for the rest of > Iraq, because we never had it so good - all Iraqis, not just Kurds." > > Sweeney also sought answers from someone called 'Ali', citing a funeral taxi > driver! > > Why, in his search for answers, did Sweeney not consult Denis Halliday, who > actually ran the UN's oil for food programme, or his successor, Hans von > Sponeck, who both resigned from the UN describing Western policy as > "genocidal"? Halliday explained the problems with oil for food two years > ago: > > "Of the $20 billion that has been provided through the 'oil-for-food' > programme, about a third, or $7 billion, has been spent on UN 'expenses', > reparations to Kuwait and assorted compensation claims. That leaves $13 > billion available to the Iraqi government. If you divide that figure by the > population of Iraq, which is 22 million, it leaves some $190 per head of > population per year over 3 years - that is pitifully inadequate." (Interview > with David Edwards, March 2000, www.medialens.org) > > Further clarification is provided by other sources ignored by Sweeney. Eric > Hoskins - a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on > Iraq - reported that the allied Gulf War bombardment "effectively terminated > everything vital to human survival in Iraq - electricity, water, sewage > systems, agriculture, industry and health care". (Quoted, Mark Curtis, 'The > Ambiguities of Power - British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books, 1995, > pp.189-190) > > The restriction of resources as a result of sanctions has made the > large-scale reconstruction of this infrastructure impossible. In March 1999 > an expert 'Humanitarian Panel' convened by the Security Council concluded > the UN's 'oil-for-food' programme could +not+ meet the needs of the Iraqi > people, "regardless of the improvements that might be brought about in the > implementation of" the relief programme. (Quoted, Voices in the Wilderness > website, March 2002: www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk) > > The Panel continued: > > "Regardless of the improvements that might be brought about - in terms of > approval procedures, better performance by the Iraqi Government, or funding > levels - the magnitude of the humanitarian needs is such that they cannot be > met within the context of [the oil-for-food programme]... Nor was the > programme intended to meet all the needs of the Iraqi people... Given the > present state of the infrastructure, the revenue required for its > rehabilitation is far above the level available under the programme." (ibid) > > Their conclusion being that: > > "The humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the > absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy which in turn cannot be > achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts". > > This clearly sheds real light on the issue, and yet was ignored by Sweeney. > Instead, Mr. Salah continued: > > "Never in our history we had [sic] our government obliged by international > law to spend the revenues of oil on the well-being of Iraqi people, civilian > needs of the Iraqi people. In the past oil revenues were being squandered on > weapons of mass destruction, on repression and on war." > > No sane person would deny that Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator, but > Mr Salah's account of Iraqi history is simply false. According to the > Economist Intelligence Unit's Country Report for Iraq, prior to the > imposition of sanctions the Iraqi welfare state was "among the most > comprehensive and generous in the Arab world". (Iraq: Country Report > 1995-96) > > In a December 1999 report the International Committee of the Red Cross noted > that "Just a decade ago, Iraq boasted one of the most modern infrastructures > and highest standards of living in the Middle East", with a "modern, complex > health care system" and "sophisticated water-treatment and pumping > facilities." (ICRC, 'Iraq: A Decade of Sanctions', December 1999) > > According to the Centre for Economic and Social Rights: > > "Over 90% of the population had access to primary health-care, including > laboratory diagnosis and immunisations for childhood diseases such as polio > and diphtheria. During the 1970s and 80s, British and Japanese companies > built scores of large, modern hospitals throughout Iraq, with advanced > technologies for diagnosis, operations and treatment. Secondary and tertiary > services, including surgical care and laboratory investigative support, were > available to most of the Iraqi population at nominal charges. Iraqi medical > and nursing schools emphasised education of women and attracted students > from throughout the Middle East. A majority of Iraqi physicians were trained > in Europe or the United States, and one-quarter were board-certified > specialists." (UN Sanctioned Suffering, May 1996 www.cesr.org) > > Why did Sweeney ignore all of these credible and expert sources and > authorities in seeking answers for the causes of continuing mass death in > Iraq? Does he seriously believe that Kurdish opposition groups and > individuals based in Northern Iraq - with obvious and understandable motives > for wanting to paint as grim a picture of the Iraqi regime as possible - are > more credible than these independent and objective authorities? If not, why > did he seek answers just from them? > > > SUGGESTED ACTION > > Questions can be submitted to John Sweeney: www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent. > Sweeney will be online at 15:00 today, June 24. > > Write to Sweeney at the BBC: > > Email: firstname.lastname@example.org > > And at the Observer: > > Email: email@example.com > > Ask John Sweeney why, in seeking answers to the question of mass child > deaths in Iraq, he failed to interview recognised and credible sources such > as Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck, Unicef, and a range of human rights > groups. Why not seek out these more objective and impartial individuals and > organisations, rather than opposition groups involved in an armed struggle > with the Iraqi regime? Why did he continuously refer to the mass deaths of > children in Iraq as the claims of Saddam, rather than of these credible > individuals and agencies? > > Copy your letters to the Observer's editor, Roger Alton. > > Email: firstname.lastname@example.org > > The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for > others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to > maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. > > Copy your letters to email@example.com. > > Feel free to respond to Media Lens alerts (firstname.lastname@example.org). > > Visit the Media Lens website: http://www.MediaLens.org > > > > > > _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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