The policy of being “unbiased”

IWM asserts that its funders do not influence the way its subject is presented to the public. “Our policy is to be unbiased,” Diane Lees, Director-General, wrote to me.

If this was true and IWM had editorial independence, then this would make the issue of accepting  money from arms traders more ambivalent. Whilst the arms trader funders are immoral, brutal and exploitative, if IWM is able to turn this bad money ‘good’ through rigorous and brave independent work, critically examining British involvement in conflict, then, in this time of cuts and funding shortages, there might be an argument to suggest that the net effect is positive.

But being unbiased is nigh on impossible. All news, however accurate, is subjective – after all, a subjective choice is made as to which facts to include and what to leave out, seeing as including every item of fact and evidence is an impossiblity. That’s not mentioning the subjective choice of how to present the facts that are included.

Just because news reporting is subjective does not mean that no truth exists. An honest news reporter will cast their net as wide as possible for relevant facts and evidence, select what they consider to be the most relevant and rigorously examine the validity of these. Basically, it is akin to a scientific inquiry.

It is interesting to note how IWM’s website summarises the “Iraq War and Insurgency”; the site reads:

On 20 March 2003, a United States-led international coalition – which included Britain – launched an invasion of Iraq. The stated aims were to disarm the country of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism and free the Iraqi people from his repressive regime.

The invasion began with air strikes on Baghdad and an amphibious assault on the Al-Faw peninsula to secure oil fields and key ports. As the land campaign progressed, many Coalition troops encountered fierce opposition. But by 9 April, US troops were in Baghdad – effectively ending Saddam Hussein’s regime. On 1 May, US President George W Bush made a speech in which he declared the war over saying, ‘The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001’.

Looting in Baghdad and other major cities had destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and there was high unemployment – exacerbated by the disbandment of the previous regime’s army. Across Iraq, the fighting continued as a violent insurgency developed. Coalition forces and Iraqis working with them were targeted. Large quantities of arms and ammunition had also been looted, further fuelling the insurgency.

Thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed, injured or forced to leave their homes as the violence escalated, reaching its peak in 2006.

By 2008, the situation had stabilised due partly to a US troop surge. British combat troops were withdrawn in July 2009. US combat operations formally ended in August 2010.

Between 2003 and 2009, there were 179 UK military deaths in Iraq.

This seems a sober and unbiased summary of the Iraq War. But, it is interesting to consider some points left out of the summary.

The summary does not state that the act of war against Iraq started well before March 2003. In late 2002, the Ministry of Defence admitted that it was conducting heavy bombing of South Iraq. Anonymous Whitehall officials conceded to the Guardian that the US and Britain was using its “no fly” patrols to attack Iraqi air defence systems and had “nothing to do with their stated original purpose of defending the marsh Arabs and the Sh’ia population of southern Iraq.”

Of the “US-lead international coalition” for the invasion in March 2003, only four countries contributed troops, the US, Britain, Australia and Poland. The majority were from US and Britain.

The article summary provides the coalition’s stated war aims but does not remind us that they were discredited. Claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD capable of attacking the West and that he had links to Al Qaeda and therefore some complicity in 9/11 were proven false.

The article does not mention the fact that whilst the British and the US governments were decrying Saddam Hussein’s repression, they were enabling the brutality of other repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Egypt and many others by selling military equipment, providing military aid and diplomatic support. In fact, the US had formerly provided Saddam Hussein with weapons and support when he was considered an ally.

There is no place in the article for the fact that Britain went to war against the wishes of a large section of the British public. In January 2003, 47% were against military action, with 30% in favour. 81% agreed that a fresh UN mandate was required before an offensive. Nor is there space for a mention of the unprecedented global public demonstrations against the war that occurred before and after the ground invasion.

Iraqi public opinion is also not deemed relevant – such as the fact that in 2011, polls suggested that the majority of Iraqis considered the country worse off as a result of the invasion. Much of this has to do with the ethnic civil war that had been unleashed by the invasion – another issue left out of the piece.

War crimes committed by the coalition forces are left unaddressed. For example, the Independent reported the following on 8th November 2005: “Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.”

The article says that “thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed, injured or forced to leave their homes…” The true cost of the decade long war is much more severe. A 2013 study by Brown University puts the Iraqi death toll at 134,000.

And so on and so forth.

But this is a mere thumbnail sketch designed to quickly and simply summarise the Iraq War, IWM may say. This does not, however, explain why all these crucial issues are completely omitted. The summary is is biased in its selection of facts and evidence, omitting much that will cast too much negativity on the military action.

The story presented is one largely from the point of view of the British military.

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