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[] Guardian: Lack of trust in media turns many to alternative sources,

Datum:  28.03.2003

Lack of trust in media turns many to alternative sources

The Muslim view of al-Jazeera and alternative websites sought out amid 
suspicions that western networks are biased

Faisal al Yafai
Friday March 28, 2003
The Guardian

Somewhere amid the brick monoliths housing homes and minarets,
sweeping up from one side of the city, the taxi halts. "Why have you
come to Blackburn?" the driver asks.

When told the reason is to hear Muslim perspectives on the media
coverage of the war, his response is animated. "Why Muslims?" he says.
"Why not Irish? Why not Hindu? It's not just Muslims who are
sceptical. Everyone is sceptical."

British Muslims have an awkward role in this war. Told repeatedly that
they are not part of it because the war is not against Muslims, they
are none the less linked by faith to many Iraqis - and have their
faith linked by everyone else to their anti-war feelings.

Muslims are always singled out from the wider community, argues
Ibrahim Master, a businessman and chairman of the Lancashire Council
of Mosques. "Our Britishness is always called into question." He cites
a newspaper report comparing Joseph Hudson, the American PoW who
refused to answer questions on Iraqi TV, with Sergeant Asan Akbar, the
GI who attacked his comrades with grenades at a US army base in

"The underlying message was clear. They were trying to insinuate how
disloyal Muslims can be. Everyone highlighted the fact that he was a
Muslim rather than highlighting his mental state as a reason. That
sort of coverage makes people deeply suspicious."

He worries about giving the impression that Muslims are disloyal, as
if they are the only group that have reservations about the media and
the war. "I don't like the analogy that says if you're anti-war you
can't be for the troops. I have sympathy for the servicemen and women
but I'm against the ideology of war as such, especially if it's not a
just war."

He admits there have been improvements in the media. "I get the
impression the media are more anti-war on Iraq than they were on
Afghanistan. They have backed anti-war marches more and some questions
presenters are asking ministers are more hostile." But the onset of
conflict has weakened that resolve. "Before war started they were
fair, now they are under restrictions because of official secrecy. But
with some of the broadcasters there's been a trend to be pro-war from
day one. If you listen to some broadcast reports, they come across as
very biased."

Pro-war supporters are holding anti-war sentiment in the media to
"psychological ransom", he says. "They're saying now war has started
we can't have anti-war stories. I think there's an official line not
to show these images [of civilian deaths] because they stir up more
anti-war sentiment and the media is following that line."

There is a widely shared view that the media may be deliberately
withholding negative information. From the windows of a nearby
community centre, Indian music coming from one side of the building
competes with the hip-hop of the Streets from the other. Inside,
Mohammed Anayat, a project manager in the Blackburn area, says despite
the wall-to-wall coverage of the war, there is hardly any new
information. "We've been over-informationised. Even when there is no
news they will find some story of a soldier cleaning his boots."

He says that despite so many channels, the news is hardly balanced.
"The coverage is too sympathetic to the allies. To a certain extent
that's understandable because they have that information more readily,
but it gives the impression they were compelled to do this, that they
are forced to attack because Saddam attacked them, which is not the

"We see aircraft taking off but not the other side. I can't believe
the press can't find the information to give us, especially when the
media is aware of the depth of anti-war feeling. If all they are doing
is reporting the war, I'd like to see more equal coverage. We are not
told about bombs missing their targets or how extensive the damage
really is. I do generally trust the media but not over this. The
coverage borders on propaganda."

This need for more information has led to people trying to access
other sources. "Lots of information comes from countries we have links
with, like Pakistan and India. We have a lot of daily communication so
we hear different things and get news from other countries."

There may even be a generation gap between the kinds of information
received - a gap that allows extreme views to flourish. "Different
factions in the community have different sources of information and
process that information in different ways. The younger generation
will rely on the internet and mainstream media, whereas older people
rely on word of mouth and foreign language newspapers. So they have
different views and may have developed ideas that are not accurate."
This confusion allows those who see sin in the western media's
omissions to be more easily believed.

The chief benefactors of this lack of trust have been alternative and
non- western media. The Arabic language TV network al-Jazeera has
doubled its number of subscribers since the conflict started, and the
Muslim Association of Britain emailed members to encourage them to
watch the satellite channel.

Ahmed Versi, the editor of Muslim News, a monthly UK-based paper, says
his newspaper's website is getting extra traffic as a result of this
lack of trust. "We're getting an extra 2,000-3,000 hits a day. Many
don't believe the media, especially the US news. They don't trust
western media's portrayal of the war. Even those who don't understand
Arabic will watch the Arab channels just to see the pictures."

Abu Dhabi TV has shown graphic images of demolished buildings inside
Baghdad and al-Jazeera has courted criticism by showing footage
considered too sensitive by western broadcasters, including of Iraqi
bodies amid rubble and a gruesome image of a young child's head split


The Muslim Association of Britain has posted many of these images on
its website and emailed them to its subscribers. The reaction has been
positive. Ihtisham Hibatullah, a spokesman, says the organisation has
received requests from all sections of the public for more
information. "Many were thankful for the true story. This is not
propaganda; it is the actual cost of war. Innocent people are dying
and these images make clear the reality."

When such images of civilian casualties are seen, they give credence
to the idea of censorship. Anjum Anwar was deeply moved by the
website's images of civilian casualties. "I used to work with Kosovan
refugees and all their stories have just come flooding back to me,"
she said. "The media have a concept of shielding people. I think if
these photos were shown on the general media the anti-war movement
would double."

She feels frustrated by the one-sided nature of TV coverage. "It's all
very well showing pictures of soldiers with blood on their cheeks or
nice photos of Baghdad but these are the real brutalities of
liberation. I don't believe the mother of these children will feel any
happier if she's liberated, because she's already lost everything. As
a mother it makes me so angry. This is what should be shown.

"This is the real shock and awe." 



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