One cannot know the exact number of the people who watched the US tanks enter Iraq, or saw a child who lost his family or his limbs due to the US bombardment of Baghdad, or watched the woman who waved furtively to the American soldiers. Some interpreted her wave as a sign of welcome, while others saw it as a sign there were no men in the house to interrogate. Nor can we know how many people watched the Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf and his bizarre pronouncements. But there is no doubt that viewing numbers reached their peak on April 9, 2003, when Baghdad fell into the US army's grip, and Saddam's statue was toppled from its stand in Paradise Square, in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
The newspapers, TV and radio stations that were able to cover the news from both sides were very lucky. Some were able to accompany US and British forces during their incursion into Iraq as "embeds", while others worked from within Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. These media outlets were able to reflect a comprehensive picture of events, although journalistic objectivity was not necessarily implemented. There was easy access to information, but its utilization was inhibited by the censorship implemented either by the US army, which required the "embedded" correspondents to sign a commitment not to reveal the troops' locations, or by the Iraqis in Baghdad, Mosul and elsewhere. The Iraqi government also prevented the representatives of a number of US media outlets from entering Iraq.

Performance, Professionalism and Sycophancy

The first thing a journalist learns is that he/she should transmit the truth, regardless of how ugly or unpleasant it may be. From a practical point of view, credit should go to the anonymous photographers and cameramen who often take great risks by following a tank or a group of fighters, or wait at a location where bombs are expected to fall. They are usually the ones more prone to injury and even death. Tareq Ayyoub, the al-Jazeera correspondent, was killed because he accompanied his cameraman to get a clearer picture of a location where there was an exchange of fire.

An Information Offensive

It was evident that the presence of TV, radio, newspaper and magazine reporters was to the viewers' and readers' advantage. Tens, even hundreds, of journalists competed, or worked complementarily to relay information about the war. The implications of political developments and official or grassroots reactions from within Iraq and other neighbouring countries were also broadcast. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this war was an intensive course for all political and military observers of Middle East affairs in its complications, history, geography and the importance of oil. In addition, it offered a lesson in the importance of freedom and the role of the masses, in despots and oppression and the relationship between the war and Israel. The war has also given the West the opportunity to directly observe a country like Iraq; its culture, wealth of resources, the poverty of its people and the legal or illegal aspirations of its government. It also raised questions, such as who has the right to develop weapons or which countries have the right to build industries?
The media offered a gourmet selection of information, analyses, studies, interviews and comparisons to the global public. The ramifications of this war impact, in one way or another, on the whole world from the perspectives of hegemony, political action or opposition. The whole world, which saw itself at the threshold of a change in its political systems and international laws and customs, was drawn to the media coverage. It was this, rather than the number of victims, that grabbed people's interest. When 800,000 Africans are killed in Rwanda or Burundi, the world does not sit up and pay attention. Instability in those countries doesn't threaten the US or the UN's authority, no governments of oil-producing nations are involved.
As a result of the media coverage of Iraq, there has been a leap of consciousness in the Arab world over the necessity for freedom of expression and the idea that democracy is inevitable. This has been a lesson to the masses and to the regimes of the Arab world. The first beneficiary should be the media, which must extricate itself from the position of singing the praises of a regime and reach the stage of revealing its blunders.
Polls have proven that the Qatar-based al-Jazeera channel has retained a distinguished place among the public as the broadcaster that depicts the picture closest to the truth. It is followed by Abu Dhabi and al-Arabiya, a newly established spin-off from MBC. These channels "embedded" their representatives with US and British military forces and kept representatives at the Seliah base in Kuwait. They also had a presence in Washington to cover the daily press conference at the Defense Department. These three satellite channels, in particular al-Jazeera, broadcast programs from Washington with Americans and Arabs offering a continuous analysis of the war and its repercussions, giving the viewer a broader picture of events.
The shortcomings of these stations were manifest in a number of dimensions - the first and most important was that they were unable to show the stance taken by the Iraqi people towards its regime. The exaggeration in conveying this stance after the war revealed the wide gap between the pictures drawn during the war; what we had seen was evidently the Iraqi people's support of the regime and their willingness to resist the occupation. We did not see one Iraqi critcizing the regime. Was this due to state censorship or to self-censorship due to their fear of the regime and its oppression? The other dimension is the obvious lack of knowledge of the structure of the Iraqi opposition, its capabilites and internal relations. This was shown in the aforementioned channels' conviction that the future of Iraq was being played out by the forces in the field - that is the Iraqi and allied forces. The third dimension is the lack of credibility of some reports, with battles described by a correspondent as fierce while the same station later reported that some were merely short exchanges of fire.

Human Interest Stories

Concentrating on military news instead of political news deprived viewers of reports similar to those on the foreign channels, which covered daily life in Iraq in the areas that had already fallen to American and British forces or those that were still within the Iraqi army's grasp. The Arab channels realized this shortcoming too late, as the sound of guns and grenades had stopped. Instead, they started transmitting reports about the suffering of the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein. The reports were about killings and prisons, and the luxuries enjoyed by members of the regime and the booty they had distributed to their relatives. They also seasoned their transmissions with reports about ruling characters and their history, copied from Associated Press and Reuters. Even after the regime fell, honesty and precision require that some positive aspects, such as industrial, educational and gender development, be mentioned. As was obvious from the pictures shown in Baghdad, there was a general architectural resurgence and a great deal was spent on developing universities, museums and libraries.
Both during and after the war, a lot was made of the role of tribes, who were encouraged by the Iraqi president and his information minister to resist invaders. These tribes also sent men to stop the marauding and plundering and to organize the traffic, etc. However, none of the satellite channel journalists bothered to examine the social makeup of Iraq, explain who these tribes were or what their continued importance was in the face of high levels of education and literacy in Iraq. Another aspect that was ignored was that of the Arab volunteers who played a greater role in the war than that of the Iraqi army itself, but were only mentioned as anonymous numbers.
In addition, these channels repeated the same reports a number of times daily and even the following day. At some points, the same report was transmitted every hour on the hour. Arab channels do not have the financial resources of their foreign, and especially American, counterparts. Despite this, al-Jazeera reporters were able to transmit directly and spontaneously, and presented viewers with professional analyses of the situation. Some of the correspondents in the north exaggerated a little in their coverage of the Kurdish problem, then made an about-turn and covered the Kurdish militias' incursions into the cities in the north, where elements of these militias participated in the looting and pillaging. In terms of analysis, it was noticeable that most of the these channels rushed to catch various military analysts' opinions, as well as some political analysts opinions.
Many high-ranking officials appeared and exaggerated their estimations of Iraqi capabilities, especially those of the Republican Guard, the Special Guard and Saddam's guerrillas. Some of them even promised viewers an Iraqi victory over the American and British troops, indicating that the invading forces were covering up their losses. Political analysts appeared on every channel. Most spoke with respect and awe of the Iraqi resistance. Some expected that Arab public oponion could change the stand of their governments, if not topple the regimes themselves, and that world opinion would succeed in stopping the war. The strange fact is that these channels did not hold their military or political analysts accountable when most of their predictions failed and their visions proved to be short-sighted. These analysts then held fast to their previous analyses but applied them to a post-Saddam era in Iraq. Lebanon's al-Hayat LBC channel distinguished itself by interviewing objective locals and allowing Iraqi officials, Kurdish leaders, Kuwaitis and Americans to express their opinions. As a result, their program ratings were higher than average.

"Invading Infidels," "Liberation" and "The Occupation"

While al-Jazeera correspondents embedded with the American and British forces called them the allied forces, other journalists in Basra, Mosul and a few in Baghdad described them as the invading or occupying forces. An important question arises as to whether the satellite channels were right to use a variety of terms, potentially confusing viewers. These channels were obliged to remain objective and not take sides in the conflict but, at the same time, viewers have the right to hear consistent usage on the same channel. It was noticeable that the terms changed as the war developed - for example, Saddam Hussein was first called the Iraqi president, then the toppled president and the term "the courageous Iraqi army" soon changed to the "defeated," "vanishing" or "dismembered" army. While this was a natural shift as the war ended, previous exaggerations about Iraqi capabilities had instilled illusions in viewers' minds, and some then held the satellite channels responsible for their dashed hopes.
Despite all these criticisms, the war showed the media's importance in the Arab world, where freedom of expression is a necessary priority. This in itself has made us more optimistic, as it shows the Arab masses will not remain bound to the dictates of their regimes or external forces. The main advantage of the intense and bulky doses of the war the media fed us could be the examination of phrases such as "gaining victory over the Infidels and gangs of international rogues," as al-Sahhaf put it, and "the liberation of Iraq" as the American president and his secretary of defense put it. In addition, all previous political bases and considerations concerning Arab-Arab relations or Arab-international relations, and more importantly, the relations between the governing and the governed should be reconsidered to pave the way for new premises that are scientific, modern and open to criticism and review.