The Libyan Baby Girl that Became a Wartime Propaganda Tool for Both Sides

Graham Bell, 8 June 2011 | 1 Comment

Categories: Libya | War | BBC News | The Guardian |

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Arthur Ponsonby wrote in 1928 that "when war is declared, truth is the first casualty". Embedded journalists during war time are in some ways tools for the military of the countries they represent. As we saw with the invasion of Iraq, news reports represent one side, often censoring crucial information. Anything that is too dangerous or blatant to be ignored in the news is prefixed with the words “NATO denies” or “Downing Street denies”.

One of the more callous examples of this wartime reporting is the story of a Libyan baby girl who journalists visited in hospital, to find that she had been injured in a car crash. Journalists were taken there by the Libyan regime, as an example of human casualties from NATO bombings. The journalists found out at the hospital that the girl was in fact a car crash victim, and not a bombing victim. Photos and stories of the girl have been used in a campaign across the whole spectrum of news media to demonstrate an example of the Gaddafi regime lying about the death/injury toll from NATO bombings. Naturally, a story of a lie such as this from the Gaddafi regime is a chance not to be missed by wartime journalists in Libya.

There is of course an illusion created by the news media that NATO bombs do not kill people. When Libya recently claimed that 700 people had been killed, we were reassured that NATO “denied” this, and that its “air strikes are to protect civilians”. To report the daily bombardment of Tripoli and deny all reports of civilian casualties is clearly pushing the limits somewhat. To use pictures of a baby girl to downplay reports of civilian casualties verges on immoral.

The Guardian story was headlined “Gaddafi regime fails to fool media over injured child”. That there was a failure to fool the media suggest that the media is a robust, fact-checking entity incapable of misreporting. We are left with the impression that we can and should trust what we hear, because an attempt to ‘fool’ the western media has failed. Wyre Davies from the BBC suggested that what journalists are told by Libyan officials is “frankly, sometimes difficult to believe”. Again, there is a suggestion that we should be confident in the work these journalists are carrying out, as they try to filter information and reports so that they can get to the truth. Davies admits in his audio report that “the Libyans are not alone in practicing the dark arts of media manipulation – it’s just they’re not very good at it” (aired on the Today show, 7th June 2011).

The BBC report ends by saying that the “problem for international journalists working under these restrictions, is that it is often difficult to know what is the truth and what is propaganda”. In many ways, this applies even more so to the civilians reading the news back home. We, too, have to understand that there is a propaganda war running in parallel with the war in Libya. The attempt to fool western journalists shows how ugly the propaganda war is on both sides. Maybe we should ask ourselves why this news, which has turned out not to be news, became one of the main stories of the week from Libya. It’s no mistake or coincidence. After all, as John Pilger has pointed out, it may not be the truth that is the first casualty of war, but journalism.

Categories in which this article appears: Libya | War | BBC News | The Guardian |

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Comments (1)

1. Little Richardjohn10th June 2011 12:43

A particularly vacuous space-filler padded out with a few musty dog-eared quotes. Was there a point?
As for the " illusion created by the news media that NATO bombs do not kill people." Where is the reality filmed by the Libyan government media to expose the 'illusion'? Don't their cameras work anymore?
"When Libya recently claimed that 700 people had been killed, we were reassured that NATO “denied” this, " We certainly were, and you have evidence to remove our illusions? Not in this article you don't.

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