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Archive for Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Iraq war coverage lacks civilian viewpoint

October 10, 2006

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— This is probably a failing just on my part, one that you may not share: For me, the face of the war in Iraq has been, well, mostly American.

On Saturday, though, I got to hear Zeyad, a young Iraqi dentist whose blog "Healing Iraq" (healingiraq.blogspot.com) gives a ground-level view of the reality of life for civilians in his country. He started his blog after the invasion, written in English - he spent a few years in England as a young boy - to cover news that he believed was being ignored by the Western press.

Soon after the war, for example, Zeyad covered a large pro-democracy demonstration that received scant attention in the U.S. media.

"Three years ago, I thought the media wasn't covering the good news from Iraq," he told journalists assembled for the Online News Assn. annual conference. He added: "I thought their coverage was missing something important - a local perspective."

Zeyad's perspective has changed, however.

"The last year, I think they don't report how bad it is," he said.

The sectarian violence, he said, has made life miserable for Iraqis. Zeyad said his Baghdad neighborhood is Sunni; it is surrounded by Shiite neighborhoods. At night, both sides trade mortar fire.

"It goes on every night," Zeyad said. "At least 10 people are injured every night."

Kidnappings and executions are common, he said.

"I think that's a civil war," he said.

The situation is so dangerous, he said, that "many of the good bloggers are not in the country. They're leaving; they're so frustrated."

And Zeyad appears to be among the exodus. Although he continues to blog - relying on reports from family and friends - he has started attending a journalism graduate school at the City University of New York, and he's not quite sure what he'll do after he's finished.

He's still frustrated, though, but Western media that ignore the human faces of the war.

"You only get numbers," he said. "Twenty people were killed; 50 people were killed."

But, he acknowledged: "It's extremely dangerous for Western reporters" to venture outside the Green Zone to collect those stories. The American media is restricted "to a few block of Baghdad, not even the whole capital."

Kevin Sites, a journalist for Yahoo! News, also spoke Saturday - and agreed that the "local story" of any war needs more coverage.

"These conflicts aren't about the combatants; the combatants are peripheral," he said. "It's about the civilians. It's the victims, stupid."

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