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Journalist Fellows' Papers

Reporting Afghanistan and Iraq: Media, military and governments and how they influence each other

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Greg Wilesmith, who is a senior producer with Australia’s leading international current affairs television program ‘Foreign Correspondent’, spent Trinity Term researching the complex relations between the military, governments and the media during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his paper, Reporting Afghanistan and Iraq: Media, military and governments and how they influence each other Greg drew on his extensive experience with ABC as a reporter, correspondent and news manager to present a strong narrative of how the media coverage of the two wars changed from being broadly supportive to much more critical. In the short time he was in Oxford, Greg managed to interview several key players from the worlds of government, media and the military and to draw on a wide range of published sources. The early chapters are full of fascinating insights into the course of the wars, whilst in his conclusions Greg draws out some key points. First, he argues, Afghanistan often was overlooked or ignored because of Iraq. Second, the wars are in general ‘a testament to the incredible value of long-form journalism’. He also draws out cases where media treatment did clearly influence the course of the wars, such as the extensive coverage of the two prisons Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Media coverage, Greg says, ‘had three key effects – weakening support for the Iraq war in the US and among coalition partners, inspiring insurgents throughout Iraq, and inflaming public opinion in the Muslim world thus acting like a magnet for foreign terrorists.’ As for Afghanistan, Greg argues that as media coverage of the war has become increasingly negative, ‘the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have constantly adjusted their narrative frameworks about what constitutes ‘progress’, while ‘victory’ is a term slipping into irrelevance , just as it did during the Iraq war.’ And Greg’s recipe for future coverage? ‘More and better journalism. A simple formula, but essential, if journalists are to learn the lessons of the first wars of the 21st century.’

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.

Image: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini