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A new book by social scientists at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds has praised the way UK newspapers and broadcasters report war and conflict.
However, the researchers – who focused mainly on the Iraq war – say more can be done to ensure critics of the Government line are given a voice in the mainstream news media.
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
They single out Channel Four News as being the most likely TV news channel to produce coverage of the Iraq invasion that was largely independent of the official government line.
But more generally, the British press continues to display a wide range of coverage which includes a strongly anti-war element, they say.
Reports on Iraq war civilian casualties, for example, were one of the areas of coverage that tended to attract critical reporting, even from predominantly pro-war newspapers.
Peter Goddard from the University of Liverpool said: “Our findings are particularly interesting in the light of government criticisms of media coverage of Iraq.
“Several ministers singled out the BBC as unduly critical of the war and of the government’s stance.
“If anything, when the BBC’s coverage wasn’t balanced it tended to support the general arguments for war, whereas Channel 4 News was much more sceptical.”
Dr Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester said: “Our study has shown that some parts of the UK media can be proud of its record on war reporting.”
“Its vibrancy is down to a culture of independent thinking, professional autonomy as well as the nationally-based, commercial and highly competitive nature of its press.
“In part because it is partisan and opinionated, there are higher degrees of independent journalism than is often found in other countries, particularly the US.”
However, the study showed a link between embedded reporters in combat units and lower levels of objectivity in reporting.
The technique, says Dr Robinson, is used by Governments to foster sympathetic reporting during conflict.
He added: “Although we found impressive examples of media independence, journalists need to think more critically about the extent to which they allow the national perspective of ‘our boys’ to influence their war reporting.
“We also urge them to be more discerning when accepting official versions such as the humanitarian intervention line promoted by Tony Blair during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.”
The study surveyed the principal news programmes of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky using detailed content analysis, case studies and interviews with journalists.
They also analysed the Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Independent, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times together with their Sunday stablemates.
Case study: Ali Abbas
The story of Ali Abbas, a young Iraqi boy who lost both arms and much of his family as a result of US bombing, represents one of the most significant and memorable British media interventions of the Iraq war
To a large extent, early coverage of the story and the basic facts concerning the plight of this Iraqi boy were deeply problematic for the coalition and succeeded in bringing the suffering of the Iraqi people to the attention of the British public.
However, the success of the story in capturing the attention of the British news media and public created a media circus in which the focus shifted to the question of how this one boy could be ‘saved’.
1. Pockets of Resistance is published by Manchester University Press.
2. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £98 million annually.
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