News organizations protested a U.S. military decision to prevent journalists inside Afghanistan from witnessing the transfer of American soldiers wounded by an errant B-52 bomb. The restrictions on the journalists, the only media so far allowed to accompany and cover U.S. forces based in Afghanistan, are a troubling example of the "lack of direct contact with American forces who've actually participated in the war," said Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post.
The PR distribution firm PR Newswire is happy to report on its member's only Media Insider website that "mainstream media organizations are making more frequent use of PR-generated photos. ... Some 4,000 photos in PR Newswire's archive are now downloaded every month by media organizations. ... (C)ost-cutting news outlets are looking for ways to stretch their photo budgets, and will rely on free corporate photography whenever they can."
Corporate decisions to slash the budget of news organizations have created a media environment that invites public relations manipulations. Now Jon Snow, one of Britain's most respected journalists, has launched a furious attack on his own TV network for "reducing its commitment" to news and current affairs. Ten years ago, ITV spent
Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar has reportedly announced a bounty of $50,000 to any Afghan gunmen who shoot a western journalist. With the roads of Afghanistan becoming ever more perilous, some journalists have made a "hasy retreat" from dangerous areas, partly to register protest with victorious Northern Alliance commanders who have failed to guarantee security.
The Publicity Club of Chicago's November luncheon featured TV journalists including Jay Foot of WLS, Pam Oliver of NBC 5-TV and Chaz Parker of WBBM. They were the featured speakers, there to tell the assembled PR flacks the best ways and times to pitch them and to get their PR aired as news. Such meetings are typical nation-wide and help explain how so much PR becomes "news."
How much is your local TV news influenced by the people who buy ads? In a survey of 118 news directors around the country, more than half, 53 percent, reported that advertisers pressure them to kill negative stories or run positive ones. The pressure to do puff pieces about sponsors occurs "constantly," "all the time," "everyday," "routinely," and "every time a sales person opened his/her mouth," news directors reported.
TV news crews that followed Northern Alliance forces into Kabul mostly provided celebratory coverage of victorious soldiers waving, crowds of people celebrating in the streets, and men defiantly shaving their beards. For the correspondents on the ground, however, the mood was less euphoric. "You can't trust anybody you see with a gun," said NBC news director David Verdi. "You just don't know. It's really like the wild, wild West.
In the war in Afghanistan, journalists report what they don't see. Most war dispatches are based on what both U.S. and Taliban officials tell the reporters. There is almost no real reporting. Quetta, the provincial capital of Pakistan's southern Baluchistan province which borders the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, is home to hundreds of Western journalists, both print and television. They depend on Pakistani commandos because it is not safe to move around without protection.
"How and when does journalism become propaganda?" asks Jasmina Teodosijevic-Ryan. "As a writer, broadcaster and media analyst from the former Yugoslavia, I have observed the process first-hand. It starts slowly, then spreads like a stain. The transformation from objective journalism to propaganda begins with the addition of adjectives when referring to the other side. The 'enemy' becomes 'merciless' or 'hate-filled.' Then comes the shaping, cutting and editing reports to benefit one side. 'Our' victims have names, faces and grieving families; they must be avenged. 'Theirs' do not exist.
Concerned about appearing sympathetic to the Taliban, CNN chairman Walter Issacson has ordered his staff to "balance" reporting on civilian destruction and images of Afghanistan casualties with reminders of Sept. 11 victims and video of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. "I want to make sure we're not used as a propaganda platform," Isaacson told the Washington Post. "You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States."