Veteran journalists from Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia gathered Friday for a discussion titled “Journalism, coverage, and constraint” concerning the potential war in Iraq. The journalists – two of whom are Knight Wallace journalism fellows at the University – discussed the intense pressure they experience covering the current conflict in Iraq.

Their discussion focused on difficulties journalists face when dealing not only with their readers, but also with their corporate obligations.

Andrew Finkel, a former contract correspondent in Istanbul, said the American reader doesn’t take the news with a grain of salt like citizens elsewhere.

“The Turkish reader, like the Indonesian, knows how to read the paper – they know it’s skewed,” Finkel said. “(Americans) believe what the government tells them. It’s really rather cute.”

Because Americans tend to accept news content so readily, there’s a sense that this war is inexorable and inevitable, and a lack of public discussion, Finkel added.

A question from the audience about the influence of corporate interests spurred agitation and disappointment from the speakers.

If viewers or readers don’t like what they see, they will change the channel or stop reading, said discussion moderator and University Prof. Juan Cole, because the type of in-depth coverage citizens need does not hold their attention.

“American citizens have assumptions handed down to them,” said Javed Nazir, former joint editor of The Frontier Post in Pakistan. “It’s not so much a lack of competence on behalf of journalists, but a lack of interest (on behalf of readers).”

American journalism seems to be linked to government interests, said Muchlis Ainu Rofik, an editor in Indonesia. Due to the repetitive, government-focused news content he sees in the United States, he said he questions what influences U.S. reporting on the Middle East conflict.

“Does the U.S. know or think about how this war will affect the rest of the world? How much does the government collaborate with the media, to support political and corporate interests?” Rofik asked.

He added that when news covering the conflict seems like propaganda, there is something wrong.

“There is intense philosophical pressure on journalists covering the Middle East,” Nazir said. “I have a lurking fear that most journalists working in the U.S. face constraints.”

Nazir said the limitations stem from journalists’ lack of experience and knowledge about the Middle East. Most reporters, he said, fly over to the area with only high-tech reporting tools at their aid. Consequently, they have time only for first impressions, which are often very stereotypical, he said.

“Most journalists have missed out on a great story – a human story. We don’t see how Iraqi people live, or how the average Iraqi is dealing with the sanctions that have been imposed over the years,” Nazir said.

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