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Media as a Battlefield: Coverage of the War in Iraq

May 9, 2003



Media coverage of the war in Iraq has far-reaching implications in restructuring communication and journalism training and therefore needs to be seriously examined. Lessons and experiences from this war coverage may yet redefine processes in gathering and disseminating news and information especially in conflict situations including terrorism.

For the first time, we are experiencing media coverage of war in a new world media order characterized by real-time reporting across continents, courtesy of satellites, the internet and other new media technologies. The news sources have also been made almost unlimited-from western media represented by CNN and BBC World to Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV. The Internet also provides options and diverse viewpoints with hundreds of websites dedicated to the war. The war has been brought into our living room 24-hours a day!

This war has introduced new journalism techniques and practices. Embedded journalists provided snap shots or vignettes of the ongoing war while “war analysts” embedded in the central editorial desks provided “context” and “synthesis.” Foreign journalists had discovered ways and means of gathering and verifying information in the company of their Iraqi “minders.” Meanwhile, news management by official news sources have become more sophisticated making information validation more difficult. Media also had to contend with professional public relations specialists hired to create a favorable spin for their clients.

The Iraq war is acknowledged as a “propaganda or perception” war. This was also the case in the 1991 Gulf War and succeeding wars witnessed in Bosnia and Kosovo. This seems to have evolved as the mode in future conflicts. Future wars will not only be fought in the battlefields but also on television screens and webpages. In this battle for sound bites and images, how can media maintain its independence and objectivity?

Understanding international media coverage of the war is as important as understanding local media coverage. As part of the global village, we have easy access to the coverage of CNN, BBC, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Fox News, among others. Their coverage of the war (or any other issues) has similar impact on us as the coverage of local news agencies.

As Philippine media struggles to present a more comprehensive and in-depth coverage of our own war (on terrorism), what lessons can we learn from the Iraq war coverage? What techniques can we adopt and what should we repeat or avoid?

To examine the answers to these questions, and many more, a forum entitled Into the New Battlefield: Media Coverage of the war in Iraq was convened on May 9, 2003. The convenors were the Philippine Communication Centrum Foundation (PCCF), and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) with support from UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines and Freidrich Nauman Stiftung.


The objectives of the forum were :

  1. To examine how mass media has been used as a “battleground” in the Iraq War and its implications on media objectivity, independence, coverage, and the role of journalists;
  2. To identify the immediate and long-term effects of the Iraq conflict on journalism standards and practices - from news sourcing to packaging and dissemination, news management, among others;
  3. To critique the quality of war reportage, i.e., content and process and the role of media in conflict situations such as wars;
  4. To identify communication strategies used in psychological operations intended for both military and civilian population and the use of mass media as propaganda channels; and
  5. To discuss the real threats to press freedom in conflict situations and the safety of journalists in particular.


The forum was divided into three sessions:

Session 1: Media as a Battlefield

The war in Iraq is also referred to as a perception war, propaganda war, and image war.

Munitions used include images and messages from the coalition and Iraqi forces.

Analysts believe that either group can win the war but lose the battle because the perception war is distinct from armed conflict.

  • What makes media an attractive setting for conflict?
  • What is the current global media landscape (e.g., ownership, reach, coverage) and how does this affect coverage of the war?
  • What role should media play in the conflict (war)?
  • Can the use of media for propaganda or image building be avoided?
  • Has the advent of electronic media e.g., the internet, affected media coverage of the war?

Session 2: Coverage of the War in Iraq: Benchmark in Conflict Reporting?

Embedded journalists, real-time coverage, backpack or solo journalists (“sojos”), war analysts, Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV, these and many others have been included in journalism lexicon courtesy of the Iraq War. Journalism scholars and war historians will look back at the Iraq war as the “turning point” for new journalism standards and practices (or a redefinition of traditional ones).

  • Has the international (and local) media been objective in the coverage of the Iraq war?
  • Is there an Arab and Western media perspective of the war?
  • What is the impact of real-time reporting on governments, soldiers, the general public?
  • What is the impact of embedded journalists on the coverage of the war?
  • What is the impact of embedded journalists on the coverage of the war?
  • Have journalists “discovered” new “bags of trick” in war coverage?
  • Were there obvious efforts to manage news by the protagonists?
  • How much public relations work is involved, if any?
  • How have new technologies changed news gathering to reporting?
  • What images and messages of the war have been missed or omitted?

Session 3: Psychology of the War: Winning Hearts and Minds

All wars are fought in the battlefield and in the “hearts and minds” of the civilian population. Mass media because of their immediacy, reach and perceived credibility are favorite channels for propaganda or psychological warfare. The Iraq war is no exception. By Day 19 of the war, the coalition forces had already distributed over 28 million leaflets. They also use low frequency radio broadcasting in Arabic. Iraq TV had continuously shown images of President Saddam Hussein very much in control.

  • What psywar strategies were used in the Iraq war? By whom?
  • What images and messages seem effective?
  • Has mass media been wittingly or unwittingly used as propaganda channels?
  • Is it legitimate to use media as channels for propaganda?

FORUMS PAPERS AND PROCEEDINGS are published in the book: Media as a Battlefield: COVERAGE OF THE WAR IN IRAQ. For orders, please email: