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Essay about Archant and its coverage of Iraq.

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Joined: 16 Jan 2004
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Location: Norwich, England

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Archant, the invasion of Iraq and meaningful democracy

In December 2003, the EDP printed a positive story about Archant’s (the company that owns the paper) acquisition of twelve new titles. After reading this, I sent an email to the paper arguing that while this expansion was undoubtedly good news for Archant’s shareholders, what about the newspaper reading public? In the letter, I quoted James Curran, author of the core textbook for media students, who notes that “as a consequence of increasing concentration of ownership” the press fails “to reflect the growing diversity of public opinion.”

Archant is a large corporation owned and controlled by very wealthy people. Last year it announced pre-tax profits of £27.8m, with a turnover of £144m. US academic Noam Chomsky argues media corporations “have a special stake in the status quo… and have important common interests, with other major corporations, banks, and government.” Media analyst, Mark Hertsgaard, believes stories which raise “serious and pointed questions about the way our society is organized” will not be asked on a consistent basis within news corporations owned by corporations.

I received a swift reply from a senior member of the editorial team, telling me I had “nothing to worry about” as the EDP “is a good example of the principles of fairness, independence and balance”. I decided to put the EDP’s lofty principles to the test, using the 2003 Gulf War (the biggest news event of the year) as a case study. I took a trip to the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Forum and studied the EDP’s coverage of the recent Iraq war, from 20 March 2003 to 10 April 2003 (the day the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad).

A survey of photographs (the most immediate and emotionally potent medium) published in the EDP reveals war to be an activity in which nobody ever gets killed. The EDP didn’t publish any pictures of dead Iraqi civilians (approximately 10,000) or soldiers. On the extremely rare occasion the paper did print a picture of an Iraqi casualty (a three-year old girl on 29 March) it was with a British medic attending to her. The EDP’s war coverage was dominated by pro-war columnists such as Chris Fisher and Martin Mears, who had 14 articles published, while the anti-war Ian Collins had just one article printed. Of course the EDP leader column during this period was fully behind the war effort, arguing that participating in anti-war protests “when young British servicemen… are dying” was “unseemly.”

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realise whose interest the EDP’s editorial policy supported. South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon wrote to me arguing, “I do not believe the truly hideous nature of war is actually apparent from Western television. If it were clear how terrible war is… there would be much less war.” Those who doubt my analysis should listen to Jack Straw. In April 2003, regarding the coverage of the war, the Foreign Secretary told an audience of regional press editors, chief executives and political editors and correspondents, “the regional press is performing with distinction.”

Throughout the twentieth century the EDP has continually supported UK state violence. The 1956 Suez Crisis, The Falklands War, the first Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan – all were supported by the EDP. Infact, I challenge anyone to find a British military campaign the EDP has not supported. Archant has a virtual monopoly on newspaper publication in the Eastern region. Therefore, it was impossible to read a local paper with an anti-war editorial stance. In Norfolk, all of Archant’s daily titles (the EDP, the Evening News and the East Anglian Daily Times) supported the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Let me be clear about what is at stake. Opinion polls consistently found the majority of the British public were against the war with Iraq. However, 100% of Archant’s daily newspapers in Norfolk supported the invasion. This is a terrible failure of representation and democracy, and turns the EDP’s claim of “fairness, independence and balance” into a sick joke. Contrary to the self-serving assertions made by its editorial team, in reality, the EDP is a highly conservative, pro-war, pro-business newspaper. Indeed, PR Week recently reported Archant had been running a public relations campaign “to encourage the corporate community to see Archant as a potential partner for media mergers and ventures.”

Those interested in meaningful democracy should work towards a non-profit press, with dispersed ownership and an end to the cosy relationship between newspapers and business.

Ian Sinclair
Wed Dec 28, 2005 3:37 pm
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