Author: Janet Kaaya


IS-209: Social and Cultural Impact of New Information      Fall 2001       Instructor: Prof. Howard Besser


Effects of Media Access Restrictions and Censorship During War





The following excerpt from Taylor (1997, p.100) summarizes the role of the media in bringing images of the war to the public arena, the media acting as an intermediary between the battlefield and the public at 'home', and what happens when the media are absent:

Just how central the media are as observers of the world around us can be seen in the popular iconography of the twentieth century warfare. Tanks rolling across trenches in France, the bombed-out ruins of Guernica, Spitfires in dogfights above Southeastern England, the mushroom cloud above Hiroshima, helicopter gunships over the Vietnamese jungle, the last moments of the Belgano, cruise missiles travelling down a Baghdad street as if following an A-Z map of the city - all have been burned into public consciousness by media images, and they remain enduring symbols of 'our wars'. But for the troops in the field, the pilots in the air and the sailors at sea, the experience was altogether quite different. Indeed, although experience and observation are not the same, the media, especially the audio visual media of cinema and television, are capable of conflating them into one. In this media age, then, we need to remember that some soldiers fight wars and some civilians get caught up in them. The rest of us merely observe - but only whenever there are journalists present. When they are absent, for those not directly involved, wars - usually other people's wars - become forgotten wars.




In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the world is once again witnessing another war taking place in Afghanistan. The United States is leading an international coalition against terrorists by fighting the Taleban rulers who are harboring the Al-Qaeda terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden - the masterminder of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington DC. But like many of the major wars that occurred last century, the current war consists of a real war - involving army troops - as well as the media war - involving an army of reporters from all over the world and representing the various media corporations. The army of reporters is fighting to get the latest information of what is going on at the battlefield. But in their quest for informing the public about the latest news from the battlefield, these reporters are confronted with many obstacles that restrict their access to the battlefield and disseminate the information they find appropriate for the public. Some of the obstacles are natural - such as the country's physical landscape and poor roads - but the major restriction is from the US government and to a certain extent the Taleban regime itself. Even when there is limited access to the war area, the government controls what the media will report to the public by instituting strict censorship whereby reporters get news through government's regular briefings or convince the media groups to apply self-censorship. Governments succeed in inducing self-censorship in situations where media concentration ownership is prominent (see Bagdikian, 1992; Gans, 1980; McChesney, 1997; Miller, 2001).


Why do the governments institute media restrictions and censorship?  History has shown that many governments use a number of strategies to restrict media access to the battlefield. This is based on the believe or myth that by giving the media full access to the battlefield they will report stories that might shape the public opinion especially leading to decreased support for the war. The aim of the media access restriction is to make sure that reporters disseminate news that have only success stories and at the same time avoid graphic stories of massive death on the battlefield that might affect public opinion negatively. Another major reason is to avoid reporting sensitive information that might endanger lives of troops on the battlefield.


This study, therefore, aims at exploring both the positive and negative effects of media restrictions and censorship during war. The study focuses primarily on the US’s experience related to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but it will also draw experience from the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and other wars where US was involved, as well drawing some examples from other countries. This means that the Afghanistan war experience will feature throughout the paper irrespective of the sub-topic. Taylor (1997) gives an extensive account of warfare reporting in his book, Global Communications, International Affairs and the Media since 1945, especially Chapter 3, "Illusions of Reality: The media and the reporting of warfare". The present paper draws most of its excerpts from Taylor's propelling accounts. The study does not tackle what Taylor refers to as "their war" (i.e. the wars in which American troops are not involved directly); rather, as mentioned above, it addresses cases of "our wars". But in the process, the paper is also attempting to explore other reasons and methods of media restrictions and censorship.


Mediating Role of the Media

In the above opening excerpt, Taylor ascertains the role of the media in enabling the general public to "take a front seat at the making of history on the shirt-tails of journalism" (p.99). The public, therefore, becomes history's witnesses - albeit indirect participants - through the media with their stories. Taylor also distinguishes stories from two groups of reporters:

·        Those who are at the battlefield, including a specialized profession - war correspondents - experiencing whatever is taking place in the battlefield such as risky procedures taking place there and constant interaction with the armed forces.

·        News analysts and columnists who through extensive analysis of the newstories from the field, complemented with views from political establishment, as well as the public opinion at home. These reporters do not have direct experience at the battlefield but, as we shall see later, they have a big role to play in a situation of stringent media access restrictions in the war area.  

This important role of mediating information to the public is influenced by a number of factors that also affect quality of information that reaches the public. These factors include the following:

·        Reporters are required to meet deadlines, in terms of news items delivery, against the existing competitors;

·        Problems of access to all events - in this context, the war situation - as they happen;

·        The quality of information and communication technology capacity at their disposal; and

·        A wider recognition and understanding of the essence and direction of the events the reporters are covering.

Besides, soldiers have some tendency to conceive the media as bothersome in the sense that the media obstruct the troops from their serious task of executing the war. All these affect the way in which reporters get information about war situation on the battlefield and thus the kind of information they disseminate to the public.


During war, therefore, there are several forces that influence the way media stories are framed and delivered. These further influence the way the public perceives such stories. Due to this factor, media scholars consider reporters' stories during the war as 'rough drafts' of history because after the war, there is always a need to revisit the stories - mostly by historians - to bring the full picture of the war into a wider perspective together with its historical consequence. After re-writing of the past wars, media stories have sometimes been proven to differ from reality of the war. A case example is the Gulf War whereas Shaw (2001) reports of the discrepancies between the media reports during the war - the reports emanated from the military officials - and the truth that was revealed after the war:

During the Gulf War, the military spoke often of its great success with "smart bombs" and its widespread destruction of Iraqi Scud missile launchers. In the first week alone, the Air Force claimed an 80% success rate on its bombing missions. It wasn't until after the war that reporters learned that a great many Scud launchers were missed and that 8.8% of the bombs dropped had precision-guidance systems. Former Pentagon analyst Pierre Sprey told a House committee after the war that "there were 70 or 75 misses" for every bomb that hit a target. That demonstrated "just how shameless" military reports were during the war, Sprey said.


In trying to avoid the repetition of history immediately after the ongoing war in Afghanistan, journalists are fighting to gain full access to the war situation without restrictions and censorship. They are desperately attempting to put their message across and also expressing their frustrations that the message seems to be ignored. We are thus witnessing the media message via such headlines as: " Media still wait to be called" (Shaw, 2001),"Are Americans getting the full picture?" (Riechmann, 2001); "Media finds access to war denied" (Richissin, 2001); "A Yugoslav journalist's advice to the US media" (Teodosijevic-Ryan, 2001); "Private censorship" (Miller, 2001); "Military is putting heavier limits on reporters' access" (Gordon, 2001); "Reporters want more access, but are careful to ask nicely" (Barringer, 2001); "When the press is in the dark, so is everyone" (Balzar, 2001); and many others.


Nature of War News Reporting and the Birth of Media Restrictions and Censorship 

Prior to 20th century, reports from the battlefields came from the so-called field officers who were part of the military personnel. These produced reports for publication as an official record about events taking place at the battlefield. However, these reports were mostly meant for government propaganda rather than designed as information for public consumption. Again, Taylor explains the general perception of the war prior to the 20th century and the advent of the arrival of civilian reporters (p.103):

It is noticeable that the iconography of warfare prior to the twentieth century was predominantly romantic or heroic - Goya's paintings, and the work of some other artists and the new breed of photographers notwithstanding - and depicted an activity that was 'natural' and 'glorious'. Battlefields, after all, were still at that time places where individuals and states earned their place in history. The arrival on those battlefields of civilian journalists like Russell, with their ability to communicate to the public their vision, a civilian vision, of what was 'actually happening' with unprecedented speed, posed a serious challenge to that prevailing, almost regimental, iconography. Even so, it is worth noting in passing that the popular image of the 'Glorious 600' members of the Light Brigade charging to their deaths in the Crimea remains more enduring in heroic terms than the horrified reports about conditions in the British army which were sent home by Russell - a point which should serve as our first corrective concerning the alleged long-term adverse impact of the media on the image of war. In other words, despite the horror, the iconography of glory remains.


Thus the arrival of journalists or war correspondents who reported what was going on at the battlefield led to the birth of the modern military censorship in the pretext of ensuring that the information did not reach the enemy and subsequently endanger 'our' troops. Besides, it was a way of influencing public opinion back home and avoiding anti-war sentiments from the public. Thus, there emerged two opposing views; that is, the military fear of shifting in public support to the war effort due to real-situation reporting, and the public's desire to know what is going on at the battlefield. At the same time, the media and the military have opposing views of what each party is doing to justify their case, as Shaw puts it:

Just as the news media think the military often invoke "mission security" to justify withholding information and access, so these commanders think the media sometimes invoke "the public's right to know" to justify their pursuit of scoops and sensationalism, especially stories that show military failure.


Furthermore, in their efforts to sustain public support for the war effort, governments have since the World War I created institutions that would as far as possible maneuver media reports reaching the public from the battlefield. They have also made sure that they denied journalists access to the battle areas that were characterized by images of injuries, damages and fatalities. Nevertheless, the assumption that if the public is exposed to a full picture of the war situation on the battlefield they will cease to support war effort is a myth because sometimes the public supports the war in the winning countries despite severe damages, post-war losses and other effects. The maneuvering strategies include well-designed official propaganda machine in an effort to re-create the distance between the battlefield and the public. The media, using developments in information and communication technologies, have over the years compressed this distance.  Yet, sometimes the media establishes partnership for propaganda with the government (political leaders) as well as the military establishments. In this case, the media play a part in re-creating a distance between the public and the real war situation on the battlefield.


This issue of voluntary or self-censorship has received a lot of criticism during the current war in Afghanistan (see Constable, Curiel, FAIR, Miller, Riechmann, Shaw, Teodosijevic-Ryan - 2001).   For instance, there have been occasions when the government officials asked major television networks not to broadcast videotaped statements by Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda followers and the networks promised to ensure that the statements are screened before they are broadcast. Besides, the Pakistani government has recently barred the Taleban Ambassador in Pakistan from giving briefings to reporters about the war. It is suspected that the Pakistani government acted amid pressures from the US government because the ambassador had become almost the sole outlet for the news about the war and was widely covered via the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite network (Constable, 2001). It is also reported that the US government has asked the Qatar government to control Al-Jazeera; but the truth is that at the beginning of the war this was the only foreign satellite network that the Taleban regime allowed to cover the war, and the network reports were not censored (BBC, 2001; Curiel, 2001; Lidster & Rose, 2001; Wallach, 2001).


Shaw also reports, "the Pentagon has asked the media to withhold certain details or delay certain stories and the media have complied". Likewise, Taylor reports that during World War II, there was generally total support for the war on all sides. He also notes that the British side had stern censorship but the relationship between the government and the media was not as bad as expected. To justify further how self-censorship is a reflection of patriotism and propaganda, Taylor reports that the American war correspondents came across unpleasant circumstance worth reporting during Pearl Harbor but could not report it:

This is where patriotism and propaganda coincide and in wartime the record of the journalist's profession as patriots and propagandists is every bit as newsworthy in democracies as it is in authoritative regimes. The difference is that in one the media volunteer to serve this role and in the other they are compelled to do so (p. 106). 



This means that the media people also believe that if they tell the public the 'whole truth', then there is a danger of affecting public spirit negatively which might lead to anti-war sentiments, hence rampant self-censorship. For example Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reports that the CNN Chair recently “… ordered his staff to balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taleban harbors murderous terrorists, saying it ‘seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan”. More examples that are undermining objective reporting will be mentioned later.


Vietnam War and the Media

The Vietnam War is considered as a relatively unrestricted and uncensored war among the 20th wars (Balzar, 2001; Bagdikian, 1992; Gans, 1980; Richissin, 2001; Taylor, 1997; Wallach, 2001). Practically, the media reported this war into its entirety, starting with the deployment of the troops in 1963-65 when the US government did a lot to ensure that the media as well as the public at large supported the war - and they did so. However, this transparency via audio-visual media to the public back home in the US shifted the public opinion against the war:

From 1965 onwards, following CBS's Morley Safer's report showing US marines burning peasant huts with Zippo lighters, images of burning monks, napalmed children, deadly helicopter gunships and executed Vietcong appeared nightly in the living rooms of civilian homes far removed from the fighting, making Vietnam the most visible war yet seen in history. On the surface, it looks like a recipe for disaster, and indeed, for many, it was. But it is also the stuff from which myths emerge. And indeed, many did (Taylor, p. 108).


As a result of increasing US public's antiwar sentiments, the US armed forces were withdrawn from Vietnam. This is the essence of an established belief that the Vietnam War was lost because of the media, particularly TV (Balzar, 2001; Taylor, 1997; Wallach, 2001;). But how did this happen? Why precisely do people believe that the Vietnam War was lost because of the media? Was the media really responsible for that? Without going into the essence and details of the Vietnam War itself, the answer for these questions is basically related to some sort of the media restriction and censorship by the government. But how did it happen whilst the media had full access to the battlefield?


During early stages of the Vietnam War, the US government created the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) to cater for the needs of the media reporting about the war. Although reporters had full access to the battlefield, their reports were based on JUSPAO's accounts which were official releases of the war situation. In other words, the government was still determining what was to be reported to the public. But reporters later - after comparing their own experience at the battlefield with the official reports - realized that JUSPAO's battle situation accounts were distorting, especially when it came to casualty figures. Consequently, the media decided to tell the ‘whole truth’. This was the beginning of mistrust between the media, together with the public, and the government/military:

One significant consequence of this abnormality was the gradual opening up of a credibility gap as a few journalists started to check 'facts' issued by official American sources in Saigon. They found an increasingly wide discrepancy between JUSPAO's official battle accounts and casualty figures and their own observations in the field. It was at this point, conventional wisdom has it, that people began to realize that the Pentagon was lying and that journalists were telling the truth … The continuing return in body-bags of young American conscripts belied the official pronouncements that the war, against a fanatical but inferior enemy, was being won. Repeated media coverage of such homecomings fuelled the anti-war movement while alienating public confidence in central government's ability to tell the truth - a process which received further confirmation during the Watergate scandal. (Taylor, p. 110, 112).  


Television, in particular, was very effective in conveying the real situation about the war to the public, and this further triggered public protests against the war. And the media widely reported these protests; in fact, the media focused attention on small - but highly determined and influential - anti-war groups in the United States. This is also believed to be the reason why the then US president, Lyndon Johnson, decided not to contest for re-election in 1968. Balzar (2001) attempts to unveil the reason why the United States lost the Vietnam War: “The Vietnam war was lost because the generals couldn’t bear the truth and politicians couldn’t tell the truth, and after 10 agonizing years the nation lost faith in its leaders.”


However, some observers contend that there were opposing viewpoints among the government officials such that the much-needed political consensus to execute the war successfully was lacking. The presence of such a consensus would have made it easy for the government to effectively determine orientation of the media reporting. During the Gulf War, the overwhelming political consensus existed – to expel Iraqis from Kuwait; and the consensus was the same throughout the Operation Desert Storm until the mission was accomplished. Likewise, in the current war in Afghanistan there is a clear political consensus among government officials as well as the major media corporations about waging a war on international terrorism. And, as the history has shown, as long as this consensus is sustained, the war will not be lost. But as already mentioned, media critics are complaining that the mainstream media corporations in the United States are reporting exactly what the Defense Department is reporting about the situation on the battlefield.  


US Invasion of Grenada and Operation in Panama

When the United States (under the Reagan administration) invaded Grenada in 1983, the experience of the Vietnam War was still lingering in the US army spheres. As such, the military administration ensured almost total restriction or denial of access of the media to the battlefield. A year before, the British government had done the same thing during the Falklands War to avoid repetition of what happened to the United States in Vietnam. The media access to the battlefield was only allowed when the major part of US military mission was accomplished in Grenada, i.e. two days after the invasion - but only a limited number of journalists (‘pool’ reporters) were allowed to cover what was going on there after the invasion. These were expected to share information with those that could not get opportunity for access due to stringent restrictions. Richissin notes, “… the press was left behind when US troops landed on Grenada. Reporters who traveled there were turned away at gunpoint when their bouts approached the coast. For two days, the only account of the fighting came from the government.”


Similarly, media restrictions in terms of access and movements were employed during the US operation in Panama in 1989 (Shaw, 2001; Taylor, 1997; Wallach, 2001). Wallach reports that initially the Pentagon claimed there were low civilian casualties in Panama but later the media noted that there were in actual fact, thousands of civilian deaths. All these restrictions led to gradual straining of relationship between the US military and the media. Further, the pool report system resulted in a veracious competition and infight among the journalists representing the various media corporations - these might have a bearing in the quality of reporting.


Advances in ICTs and the Media Reporting During the Gulf War

Further developments in the information and communication technologies (ICTs) improved efficiency in warfare reporting in the wake of restrictions of media access together with the censorship. Invention of portable satellite communications, for instance, was a major breakthrough that would provide the public with 'live' coverage from the battlefield. This was experienced for the first time during the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), the US-led international coalition to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait (again, the pool report system was employed; thus, a selected group of reporters - 200 out of 1500 journalists who came to cover the war - was allowed to accompany the coalition troops). However, Taylor argues that this 'live' reporting is not in actual fact live in real time because reporters need to set up the equipment, make booking for the satellite air-time and cross their fingers that the equipment works perfectly at that particular moment. All these are difficult to achieve at a time when there is a need to capture an interesting image of the war - and we should bear in mind that the war movement is pretty fast. In that case, reporters on the battlefield end up with recorded packages of war images they could capture plus voice that are ready for transmission - thus these are not 'live' in the real sense.


But these reporters also faced other problems associated with access restrictions and censorship. The system of pool reporters was extremely unpopular to journalists because, as already mentioned above, of competition and rivalry. Even when pool reporters got news items to be shared with the other journalists who were not selected to join the coalition troops (most of the journalists were in Riyadh-Saudi Arabia) and for their transmission worldwide, there were delays in between. This is because the reporters accompanying the advancing troops had to rely on the forward transmission units located some 50 km  (about 31 miles) to the rear using the so-called military dispatch riders. 


Reporters were even denied of using mobile phones lest the Iraqi side captures phone signals and consequently rendering the coalition troops vulnerable to the enemy. Besides, there are occasions when reporters were denied permission for installing their communication equipment where the war operation was taking place because of the general suspicion that the journalists would leak sensitive information to the enemy or their hi-tech communication equipment might interfere with that of the military. Taylor reports of what happened to the British television reporters when they attempted to send information that was restricted by the coalition military personnel: "When … a British television crew tried to escape their minders and transmit copy back to London unsupervised, their transmission was intercepted by the airborne AWACS electronic warfare plane, and they were promptly arrested" (p. 125).  Following all these media restrictions during the Gulf War some journalists looked for other options of getting information about the war - these were news stories that were generally different from what was perceived by the government officials - the effect of this will be discussed later.


But the government and military officials also deliberately gave wrong information to the media for dissemination so as to deceit the enemy (the media was used to deceit Sadam Hussein that the military operation would start from the sea whilst the coalition forces were preparing to attack from the desert). In this case the media were also – but unknowingly - used for deception (and the media were indeed received). This might compound mistrust between the government/military officials and the media. As a result, in order to mend the government-media relationship, immediately after the Gulf war, the Pentagon and the media representatives negotiated and prepared nine principles of combat coverage. Shaw reports that the US Secretary of Defense has already endorsed these principles; however the media are complaining that the Pentagon is not honoring the principles during the current war in Afghanistan. But, according to Shaw, the Secretary of Defense has said, “these principles may have to be ‘tweaked’ given the unusual nature of this war”. And government officials have persistently claimed this as the reason for imposing media access restrictions during the current war. Even some media analysts have pointed out that this war is complicated, characterized by an elusive enemy, difficult to measure success, and thus hard to evaluate success both by the government and the media (Shaw, 2001).


Does the Public Need War Reports?

We have seen that the military is always attempting to justify ‘why no access’ (“mission security” whilst the media is also claiming ‘why need access’ (“the people’s right to know”). But, does the public really need the information reporters want from the battlefield? Again, Shaw confesses: “Reporters sometimes ask questions of the military not because the public necessarily needs the information, but because –well, just because—even though they acknowledge that the answers they want could be useful to the enemy”. Shaw further reports that a Pew Research Center poll that was conducted in late October 2001 showed that 59% of the respondents preferred the military-controlled war reporting compared to 28% of the respondents who preferred the media. This indicates that the media’s appeal for increased access to the battlefield is not even getting the support of the very public the media is fighting for; that is, the public is supporting media restrictions. Probably these results reflect sheer ignorant on the role of the media; Shaw observes:

Journalists are growing increasingly frustrated. They are frustrated because the military controls the information and the access because the public doesn’t appear to see the media as its surrogate, as an essential, trustworthy source of information on the conduct of the war.


This also indicates that there are conflicting opinions on this issue. Reacting to critics regarding increased self-censorship during the current war in Afghanistan, several media executives said that they are reporting what their viewers (i.e. the US public) expect. The NBC vice president, for instance, said that the media coverage, especially TV, should reflect the September 11 tragedy when reporting about the current war: “As for objectivity and balance: ‘We haven’t shied away from dealing with the fact that there has been collateral damage … and not everything in war has gone well” (Riechmann, 2001). This is also the CNN’s view as already mentioned above.


But some people need complete and objective news; one of them is Claire Namenko of Detroit, Michigan who, according to Riechmann, prefers to watch the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to get news about the war in Afghanistan because “It’s more complete … more objective … You hear more about what the rest of the world thinks about the war, and you get fewer soundbites from US officials”. Likewise, some people who are interested in knowing what is going on in Afghanistan are subscribing to BBC, while others are watching less-censored Al-Jazeera. According to Jonathan Curiel of the San Francisco Chronicle, a San Francisco businessman claimed that he subscribes and watches Al Jazeera almost daily: “I watch Al Jazeera and CNN—but I get more coverage from Al Jazeera … you see in your eyes the legs and the heads of the civilians (injured and killed) as a result of the coalition, … CNN is not showing the human voice of the war. It makes me sick”.


Despite opposing views, there is still a need to access information about wars because of the importance of independent report from the third party to corroborate what has been released via government briefings. This would ensure credibility of the war report. In addition, as pointed out earlier in this paper, history is being made at the battlefield; if there is no credible report or if there is no media coverage at all, then that history would be lost. In the Afghanistan war, the media want to make things easy for the historians. According to McManus, as quoted by Barringer of the New York Times, “We all know that a year or two from now, some of them are going to be writing detailed, first-person colorful memoirs … What we’d like to do is to reduce the gap between the mission and the memoirs.”  Barringer also quotes another media executive to emphasize the media role: “There’s got to be a forceful advocate at a high place in the administration who also understands that the press’s ability to carry out its mission is important”. Richissin has a similar view: “But the media has been pushing, and should push, to be allowed to witness military operations because one of our functions is to provide the public with a long-term view of what has happened on the battlefield”.


Effects of Media Restrictions and Censorship

From the experience of the previous wars together with the current one, some of the effects of media restrictions and censorship have already been mentioned in the above account but we can summarize them as follows:

These effects are basically negative. However, from the view point of the governments and other advocates of media restrictions and censorship, positive aspects are those that address reasons for restrictions and censorship (see summary below). This situation is also facilitating more and more dialog between the media and the government for more effective reporting during war.


Summary and Conclusion

Judging from the above account, there are various ways or methods of restricting the media from accessing and reporting news from the battlefield. The most effective way of restricting the media and thus providing total control over the media is to exclude them altogether (deny access). This method was employed during the invasion of Grenada by the US military. The second method is to delay the arrival of the media to the battlefield; this was employed in Panama. The third method is to make sure that the media are completely dependent on the military for everything, such as transportation, communication services and, above all, safety. In this case, the controller will also determine what kind of the story reporters can disseminate. The British government employed this method of restriction during the Falklands War. The fourth method is a combination of the above three methods; this was effectively employed during the Gulf War and we are witnessing it during the current war in Afghanistan. Along with restricted access, the issue of censorship is also prominent during war and is also aimed at controlling the media by restricting and determining the kind of information to be disseminated about the war. As already discussed earlier, this involve direct censorship by the government/military officials or voluntary or self-censorship. Self-censorship is prominent in countries like the US where the constitution guarantees freedom of expression but the governments either seduce or intimidate the media into self-censorship (cf. Knightley, 2001).


From the above account, governments give different reasons for media restrictions and censorship. The general ones are: 1) To avoid graphic images of destruction and deaths, thus to control public support so that they continue to support the war effort; 2) To avoid reporting of information that might endanger troops; 3) Patriotism, national interest, security and the need to support ‘our boys’; 4) Media accused of favoring the enemy, endangering the safety of national leaders, fallen to enemy propaganda, and sabotaging the war effort. Additional reasons that are specific to the current Afghanistan War are: 5) New, complicated and different type of war that requires maximum secrecy; and 6) Avoid broadcasting coded messages that might trigger terrorist actions or encourage war (Muslim) volunteers. Some of the effects of media restrictions and censorship that have been identified in this study are listed in the preceding section.


The current war in Afghanistan has reached a critical stage. Kabul fell during the week ending November 18 whilst fall of the Kandahar City occurred yesterday (December 6, 2001). The media is thus expecting more access to the war area so as to verify reports from all parties; and the media is already there. However, observers contend that this might be too late because “questions which should have been answered in the initial stage of the war are still unanswered.” (Wallach, 2001).


Finally, the following excerpt from Taylor underlines the point that it is difficult to see the war until it is over: “Live war in the Gulf may have been exciting stuff for the media and public alike, but the real war was being fought somewhere else – and that war we did not see. Nor, when the ground war began, did we see the decisive final phase until after it was all over.” (p.130)




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