Monday, March 01, 2004

Oil for good press

Should have mentioned Saturday that the NYT article also shows how media coverage of Iraqi sanctions was tainted by the corruption of the UN oil-for-food program.

Media access was limited to say the least (as has already been brought to light by journalist John Burns, among others). Foreign reporters were carefully corralled. They worked in the Iraqi Ministry of Information and stayed in just a few places, like the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, where "oil traders would gather whenever a journalist, actor or political figure would arrive in Iraq and openly praise Mr. Hussein."

Naturally, those who spoke up in support of the tyrant were rewarded with lucrative contracts. They repaid the favor by kicking back ten percent or more to Saddam and his flunkies. A neat little scheme. Combined with the isolation of journalists from the Iraqi population, intimidation of journalists who strayed from the party line (usually by threats of being evicted from the country and cut off from the flow of information, not by threats of physical harm), it makes for quite an effective multi-pronged attack against the free press-- and not just in Iraq, but in the international arena.

In any case, it is clear now that Iraq's efforts to manipulate international public opinion between the two wars (1991-2003) must be counted among the most successful propaganda campaigns of all time. I have always believed that the truth will out, and will prevail. Certainly the truth about Iraq is beginning to come out now, but Saddam managed to keep it locked up for quite a while.

When free societies confront those which are not free in the arena of information, we must not play by their rules. We must not bow to their conditions. We must confront their strengths (control of information) with our own strengths (freedom of information). Here and abroad, the press must be free, and must fight to protect its freedom by shining light into the dark corners of the world, especially including those corners which they are encouraged not to examine. In no other way can we hope that the truth will prevail.


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