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Media Conscience

category international | arts and media | opinion/analysis author Dé Sathairn Meitheamh 24, 2006 17:36author by David Manning - toirtap Report this post to the editors

because the corporate media doesn't have one

Death Without Context

In an article search of the Irish Times archive for the period June 2005 to June 2006, the search term "Iraq lancet" gave 3 results, the last of which was printed in December 2005.

A search, for the period May 2006 to June 2006, using the term "Iraq US troop" found that the number of US military casualties was reported 8 times in less than two months, only one of these reports compared these figures with Iraqi fatalities.

"The US death toll in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion is approaching 2,500, and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died."


The Irish Times has developed a problem reporting the death toll of modern conflict, they have shown an unwillingness to report the full toll, preferring instead to report individual incidents without providing any indication of the bigger picture. This problem is of course limited to conflicts that are supported by the Irish government. In a letter I sent to the Times last year I wrote "over 100,000 Iraqis and several thousand coalition troops [have died]." A fairly uncontroversial statement, given the figure for Iraqi mortality is provided by the respected medical journal The Lancet. Figures for other conflicts, estimated by the same team who undertook the Iraq survey have received approval by the mainstream media and are generally reported as fact:

"One of the first EU battlegroups was deployed by France in Rwanda in 1994, with UN approval, not to prevent the Rwandan genocide, but to help the mass murderers escape into the Congo, sparking off civil wars that caused up to four million deaths."


However even in this instant, where I made the 'bold' assumption that more than the estimated 100,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion, the Irish Times discomfort with large numbers rose it's ugly head again. The word "over" was replaced with the less controversial word "perhaps" before printing. Perhaps 100,000 Iraqis have died, or perhaps none, who knows.

Where the Irish Times does report Iraqi deaths, they generally prefer to provide a lower figure to counterbalance the 'exorbitant' Lancet figure. Therefore a baseline figure for Iraqi mortality, provided by the organisation Iraq Body Count, is printed by it's side.

Since the IBC figure accounts for only a fraction of the deaths estimated by other reports, referring to it as a "baseline" is misleading. The term "baseline" does not even suggest the actual extent of Iraqi deaths that go unreported.

Stephen Soldz, Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, described the inability of the IBC method in providing an accurate account of Iraqi deaths:

"[T]here is simply no reason to believe that even a large fraction of Iraqi civilian combat-related deaths are ever reported in the Western media, much less, have the two independent reports necessary to be recorded in the IBC database. Do these few agencies really have enough Iraqi reporters on retainer to cover the country? Are these reporters really able comprehensively to cover deaths in insurgent-held parts of Iraq? How likely is it that two reporters from distinct media outlets are going to be present at a given site where deaths occur? How many of the thousands of US bombings have been investigated by any reporter, Western or Iraqi? Simply to state these questions is to emphasize the fragmentary nature of the reporting that occurs and thus the limitations of the IBC database."


IBC themselves admit their count is not a true reflection of total deaths:

"We've always said our work is an undercount, you can't possibly expect that a media-based analysis will get all the deaths. Our best estimate is that we've got about half the deaths that are out there."


“Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths, which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.”


"Assuming even the most pessimistic outturn for violent civilian deaths, our database must include a substantial proportion of all victims, certainly not less than 25%, probably significantly more than half."


While the IBC figure is of course a damning indictment of Western foreign policy in Iraq. The Lancet figure begins to show the full extent of the death US/UK led invasion has inflicted upon Iraq's people. And while the figure is quite shocking, the Lancet figure accounts only for deaths in the first six months of the invasion. This figure is now obviously not a true reflection of the number of dead. Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author of the report, has said the current figure may be much higher. The information available suggests this assumption is correct. The BBC reported earlier this month:

"Iraqis mourn at the entrance of a morgue in a local hospital in Baghdad Mortuaries have become a focal point for families seeking loved ones. The bodies of 6,000 people, most of whom died violently, have been received by Baghdad's main mortuary so far this year, health ministry figures show. The number has risen every month, to 1,400 in May. The majority are believed to be victims of sectarian killings."

"But no-one believes these are the true figures from the violence in and around Baghdad as many bodies are not taken to the morgue."


The Irish Times' preference to ignore the Lancet figure is arguably worse than say a preference to continually report the figure and at the same time criticise it's validity. This sort of reporting would at least offer the reader an opportunity to judge the methodology themselves.

In complete contradiction to the Irish Times' non-reporting of the Lancet study, presumably considered 'out of date', the Irish Times regularly, sometimes daily, reports the number of US and coalition deaths.

In the last two months the total number of coalition deaths has been reported eight times. That is eight times more than the total number of Iraqi deaths has been reported. The irony being that the figure for Iraqi deaths is upwards of 40 times more than that of coalition casualties.

The Irish Times and the mainstream media in general have shown a distinct lack of interest in a study that attempts to show the result of Western foreign policy in the Middle East. This evidences much about the symbiotic relationship between governments, corporations and the media that bolsters their control. The now infamous quote by US General Tommy Franks, “We don’t do body counts,” is not just a reminder of the ethical deficiency in the US military, it shows a congruent agenda between the media and the law makers.

The Irish Times, “We don’t do body counts.”

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