Thursday, 17 April 2014

UN in your language

“In Vietnam, journalists had access… Journalists could, if they wanted to, get on a chopper and go anywhere you wanted… The Pentagon learnt that this kind of free access to reality is really not in their interest and so they came up with the embeds and the pools and stuff like that. … Pretty much everybody is conspiring to keep journalists from learning stuff.” (Mort Rosenblum)

On May 5, to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, UNRIC showed the documentary “The War You Don’t See”, followed by a Q&A session with journalist Mort Rosenblum.

Could the Iraq invasion have been prevented if journalists had scrutinized Colin Powell’s claims on weapons of mass destruction in the UN Security Council? Did they try to investigate what was behind the claims? Were they denied access? Or did they just simply swallow the government’s information and pass it on to the public without further thoughts? Are they “witting or unwitting accomplices”?

In his documentary “The War You Don’t See” John Pilger tries to find out, among other things, how journalists handled Powell’s “facts” and gets different answers: the former Observer journalist David Rose who is deeply ashamed of the way he reported on it; David Mannion, editor-in-chief of iTV news, who doesn’t seem to find it troubling in any way that nobody ever questioned this “truth about the weapons of mass destruction” and Fran Unsworth, BBC head of news gathering, who can’t quite find an explanation for why the BBC didn’t do a better job.

Further, the film speaks about reporting of civilian casualties, about the behaviour of military staff, about journalists in Palestine and about WikiLeaks. Pilger talks to a former diplomat, to a representative of the Pentagon, to journalists and to Julian Assange and his bottom line is: journalists should never be satisfied with one source – a rule that seems obvious but apparently is ignored regularly in the daily life of a journalist.

Mort Rosenblum was the special guest for the evening, a reporter since the 1960s who covered many wars himself. While he was not in agreement with all messages of the film he reaffirmed this last appeal by John Pilger to be vigilant of sources. “Governments lie”, according to Mr Rosenblum. He doesn’t accept the “generality business”: journalists cannot be divided into bad or excellent reporters. Everyone makes mistakes, wittingly or unwittingly. But he did emphasize that reporters carry a responsibility.

The film does not give any definite answer to what the perfect journalist should look like, and neither did Mr Rosenblum. But his own motto “You’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror” might be a helpful orientation – and the film seemed to show that some journalists are finding it hard to do so now.

 

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The United Nations team brings together 26 specialised agencies, funds and programmes spanning the development, humanitarian and human rights work of the UN. The team works to build understanding and support for UN system activities within the EU institutions and amongst a wider public in Europe.

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