Apr 3 2003

Some Critical Media Voices Face Censorship

Although the invasion of Iraq is being fought under the name “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” it has constricted the range of expression sanctioned by media outlets within the U.S. Starting before the war began, several national and local media figures have had their work jeopardized, either explicitly or implicitly because of the critical views they expressed on the war.

MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue’s talkshow after an internal memo (leaked to the All Your TV website, 2/25/03) argued that he would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war…. He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The report warned that the Donahue show could be “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” An email from a network executive, also leaked to All Your TV (3/5/03), suggested that it would be “unlikely” that Donahue could be used by MSNBC to “reinvent itself” and “cross-pollinate our programming” with the “anticipated larger audience who will tune in during a time of war” by linking pundits to war coverage, “particularly given his public stance on the advisability of the war effort.”

Brent Flynn, a reporter for the Lewisville (Texas) Leader, was told he could no longer write a column for the paper in which he had expressed anti-war views. “I was told that because I had attended an anti-war rally, I had violated the newspaper’s ethics policy that prohibits members of the editorial staff from participating in any political activity other than voting,” Flynn wrote in a note on his personal website. “I am convinced that if my column was supportive of the war and it was a pro-war rally that I attended, they would not have dared to cancel my column…. The fact that the column was canceled just days before the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq raises serious questions about the motives for the cancellation.” Although Flynn was ostensibly sanctioned for compromising the paper’s “objectivity,” he continues to serve as a news reporter for the paper, while losing the part of his job where he was expected to express opinions.

Kurt Hauglie, a reporter and columnist for Michigan’s Huron Daily Tribune, quit the paper after allegedly being told that an anti-war column he had written would not run because it might upset readers (WJRT-TV, 3/28/03).

The website YellowTimes.org, which featured original anti-war reporting and commentary, was shut down by its Web hosting company on March 24, after it posted images of U.S. POWs and Iraqi civilian victims of the war. Orlando-based Vortech Hosting told Yellow Times in an e-mail, “Your account has been suspended because [of] inappropriate graphic material.” Later, the company clarified: “As ‘NO’ TV station in the U.S. is allowing any dead U.S. soldiers or POWs to be displayed and we will not either.” As of April 3, the site was still down.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network’s attempts to set up an English-language website were foiled by unidentified hackers who launched a denial-of-service attack. Al-Jazeera is expected to try to relaunch its site in mid-April. The station’s reporters also had their press credentials revoked by the New York Stock Exchange, and were unable to obtain alternative credentials at the NASDAQ exchange: “In light of Al-Jazeera‘s recent conduct during the war, in which they have broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention, they are not welcome to broadcast from our facility at this time,” a NASDAQ spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times (3/26/03).

Addendum, 4/7/03: Al-Jazeera‘s English-language website is, at the moment, available at english.aljazeera.net/, despite losing their contract with their U.S. hosting company (New York Times, 4/4/03).

Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett was fired by NBC as a result of an interview that he gave to Iraqi TV in which he said that war planners had “misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces” and that there was “a growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war.” After initially defending Arnett, NBC released a statement saying that “it was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV–especially at a time of war–and it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview.”

Addendum, 4/4/03: Henry Norr, a technology writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, was suspended without pay by his paper for using a sick day to get arrested at an anti-war protest. According to Norr (Berkeley Daily Planet, 4/1/03), his supervisors knew in advance he would be doing civil disobedience that day. Defending the punishment, Chronicle readers’ representative Dick Rogers (4/3/03) noted that subsequent to Norr’s suspension, the paper had “strengthened its policy to prohibit public political activity related to the war.” Rogers argued that the Chronicle ought to have a sign at its entrance reading, “Check your activism at the door.”