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U.S. to seize TV station
Controlling the media in the "new Iraq"

By Eric Ruder | May 16, 2003 | Page 12

A U.S. Army officer stationed in Iraq was relieved of duty last week when she refused an order to seize the only TV station in the city of Mosul. Major Charmaine Means was immediately transported out of Iraq after she refused to take over the station to change its "predominantly non-factual/unbalanced news coverage."

Who decided that "democracy" in the new Iraq would mean U.S. military censorship of the media? Major Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division, in charge of a large part of northern Iraq.

According to the Washington Post, the Mosul station that offended Petraeus was broadcasting "al-Jazeera news reports, talks and speeches by local personalities and interviews with the newly elected mayor, [plus] U.S. military announcements about avoiding unexploded shells or arranging plans for the wheat harvest."

Al-Jazeera is the most-watched cable news network in the Arab world. In its coverage of the U.S. war on Iraq, it showed the bloody images of civilians killed and maimed by U.S. bombs that were carefully edited out of the U.S. media.

Means decided to stand up to the order. According to the Wall Street Journal, "[s]he argued that the presence of armed soldiers would intimidate the station's Arab employees into airing only programming produced by, or acceptable to, the American military." She was relieved of duty--even though many other U.S. officers supported her decision, the Journal reported.

As news of Means' refusal filtered out, Petraeus backtracked, claiming that he had issued the order, but that it hadn't yet been implemented because he was still "wrestling with what kinds of programming to prohibit." "Yes, what we are looking at is censorship," Petraeus said. "But you can censor something that is intended to inflame passions."

The U.S. media should be happy it doesn't have to follow Petraeus' rules. For months leading up to the war on Iraq, U.S. broadcasts "inflamed passions" by reporting every "non-factual/unbalanced" Pentagon assertion about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. But these passions were in line with the Pentagon's goals.

Now Petraeus expects Mosul's only TV station to adopt them as well--at the point of a gun.

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