Iraq War: Bloggers And Independent Journalists Bring Back The News The Western Media Can't Touch - Iraq: The Hidden Story - Video Highlights
Independent journalist Diyaa Al-Nasiri taking cover from gunfire
Native Iraqi independent journalists and political bloggers engaged with real people on the ground level are bringing back the news that the Western media - barricaded in their safety zone - can't get near.
In the groundbreaking Channel 4 documentary Iraq - The Hidden Story startling images of the Iraq we never see come to light, along with the truth about how they are gathered out on the dangerous streets of a country in turmoil.
The chaotic bloodbath that has consumed Iraq often comes to our TV screens sanitized and carefully edited, to make it a little easier to stomach as we drink our morning coffee, or relax after a day at the office.
But there is a different story being captured by independent journalists and bloggers bringing back news from the front line.
In the following selection of highlights from this eye-opening documentary film, viewable in full (at least until it gets pulled) at Google Video, it becomes clear how the Western media reporting on Iraq are doing so from a walled enclave, or armoured vehicles, relying on Iraqi independent journalists to bring back material from the danger zone. Material which is then subject to censorship, editing and a process of extreme sanitization before being piped into the living rooms of the Western world.
I have personally selected moments from the film, which detail how:
So what are these images we are protected from seeing, and who are the people risking their lives to bring them to us? Read on to find out.
Red Zone / Green Zone
As this powerful sequence from the documentary makes apparent there are two very different Baghdads.
The one we see on the TV news, albeit carefully filtered for our consumption, is that of the 'red zone', the vast majority of this city on fire with civil unrest, American occupying forces run rampant and everyday acts of terrorism and brutality claiming the lives of hundreds of people every week.
And then there is the walled, heavily militarized, guarded 'green zone', the base of operations of occupying forces, and home to the Western media who rarely venture beyond its walls, instead relying on Iraqis to source the footage and images they will modify for home consumption.
In this sequence we see the unsettling juxtaposition of these two worlds, as women and children run for their lives amid volleys of gunfire in the red zone, while a US official bemoans the seating arrangements in a green zone conference room.
Mainstream Media Sanitization
The next clip contains some shocking imagery and isn't advised for those with a weak stomach. In this sequence we see how the Western media cleanse scenes of devastation to avoid controversy or - from a more cynical perspective - avoid ill feeling against the occupying forces.
In reporting a catastrophic event, like that of the recent market place suicide bombing that killed 71 people, there is barely a trace of blood, or anything approaching the carnage that had a direct and real impact on the lives of hundreds of people. Shots are carefully selected, and much of the reality of the situation is left on the cutting room floor.
American War Atrocities
Besides cleansing scenes of devastation of their brutal reality, another issue often avoided by Western media is that of American war atrocities. In any war, soldiers commit gruesome and otherwise criminal acts against civilians, and yet the duty of every good propaganda machine is to imply that brutality is a trait belonging only to the enemy.
Even when shocking, controversial scenes do get out into the wild, they are edited to lessen their impact, and the effect that they might have on those watching them. In this next clip we see how footage of an American troop shooting an unarmed man in the head was variously edited and censored by mainstream media, and hear of how the incendiary nature of such footage is so often filtered or avoided altogether in a bid not to upset or enflame the 'folks back home'.
Journalists at Risk - From American Troops
Civilians run for cover as a US assault chopper opens fire on a crowd
Among the threats faced by journalists out in the field, one of the greatest is coming into contact with American troops. In the next clip Alistair McDonald of Reuters Baghdad explains that four Reuters journalists have been killed in Iraq, three of which were by the American forces.
We then see how an American helicopter fired rockets into a crowd of civilians, including several journalists, at the scene of a burning armoured vehicle. The official line given was that it was to 'prevent looting and harm to the Iraqi people'.
Iraqi Reporters on the Front Line
On the front line of news gathering, then, are the Iraqi independent journalists, and political bloggers risking their lives to document a country being torn apart, from within, and even by its occupiers. The dangers of being such an independent journalist are perhaps just as high as being a troop or 'insurgent', as these freelance and independent news gatherers ride directly into the heart of conflicts, spotting explosions from the rooftops and making their way directly to the scenes of danger.
It is only the Iraqis who dare to venture beyond the green zone.
For Western journalists to do so is to risk being shot on sight or kidnapped and held for ransom. And yet, the risks are little greater for those Iraqis taking up the challenge.
To be seen with Western media, or wearing a flak jacket is to be suspected of being on the side of the loathed occupying forces. And yet, to blend too easily into the crowd is to risk death at the hands of the indiscriminate American troops at scenes of conflict. They are forever treading a knife edge between the two, trying to capture the reality of a situation that only seems to worsen by the day.
In the next sequence we see the armoured convoys that take Western journalists through the streets of Baghdad in stark contrast to the unarmed, unarmoured Iraqi independent reporters making their way through the conflict by motorbike.
The Importance of Bloggers
Blogger Isam interviews the widow of a victim of the occupying forces
Besides this new breed of independent journalists risking everything for the Western media there is a growing band of political (and apolitical, personal) bloggers trying to capture the devastation and release it to the world through the open medium of the internet.
For while television is subject to network rules, and even government restrictions, the internet has proved itself as the one place that the grim reality of life in Iraq can be broadcast to the (Western) world.
In this final clip we see independent blogger Isam, who turned his back on a career in electrical engineering three years ago to document the atrocities committed by the occupying forces.
''When the Nazis or the fascists committed their crimes in Germany, Italy and other countries in the Second World War there was nobody to document them. If there were people documenting these crimes, they would have been held accountable, even 40-50 years after the end of the war.
I certainly hope that the day comes when my footage can be used to reveal crimes and leave little space for denial.''
As the mainstream media filters through and cuts so many of these scenes, the importance of bloggers on a very real, political and ethical level becomes startlingly apparent.
Mainstream Media vs. Grassroots Journalism
One of the most powerful things revealed by this groundbreaking film is the true limit of mainstream media when faced with the harsh reality of war and devastation.
As citizen journalism, political bloggers and independent journalists move to fill the gap, we are slowly being brought closer to an image of the reality of people's lives in Iraq.
Cheap recording and editing equipment, grassroots involvement and the Internet as an effective means of getting information to a potential audience of millions are transforming the media and the ways that it operates, while bringing us closer to the realities of everyday people.
The top-down, heavily filtered, mass media are starting to show their frailty, and the power and influence of the small blogger reporting from the streets and independent local video producer are becoming increasingly important. But not only to us, who want to learn and understand the news without a watchful eye cleansing them up for us. But also for those who really want to provide us with access to quality, objective, and uncensored news streams, unlike what 90% of US-based main media TV channels have been doing.
Independent media has a new home, and it isn't on the television.
If you are interested in finding out more about the issues raised in this post, you might want to take a look at the following websites: