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Iraq War event this Friday

6 April 2015

To mark the anniversary of US forces formally occupying or ‘liberating’ Baghdad after their invasion of Iraq in 2003, a panel of international experts will be at Abertay on Friday (10 April) to discuss the role the media played in shaping public opinion about this moment in history.

Tickets cost £9 (+fee) for general admission or £3 (+fee) for concessions, and can be booked via Eventbrite. 

The discussion will centre around the documentary film Control Room, which goes behind the scenes at Al Jazeera HQ in Doha and the US Central Command Coalition Media Centre in the Qatari desert.

Organised by Thinking Media Scotland, the panel will feature respected journalists Jihad Ballout and Diar Al Umari from Al Jazeera as well as Alison Balharry, who was editor for BBC Radio 4 in Qatar in 2003.

All three were directly involved in reporting on the events featured in the film.

Abertay sociologist Andrew Panay - who has a particular interest in war reporting, media and the social production of myth and propaganda – will also be on the panel.

Here, he puts events into context for us, explaining the way the media had changed since the first Iraq war, and how Al Jazeera became a major media player as Operation Iraqi Freedom unfolded:

“The invasion of Iraq in 2003 added to the lexicon of war reportage no less a litany of powerfully emotive and deeply deceptive sound bites and stage managed photo-ops than those that emerged during 1990/91’s Operation Desert Storm.

“To rank alongside such gleefully reported nuggets of carefully crafted misinformation as ‘collateral damage’ and ‘surgical strikes’ beloved of the earlier invasion, Operation Iraqi Freedom - 2003’s version - brought to the discourse and practice of war reportage the concepts of ‘shock and awe’ to explain military tactics, the practice of ‘embedding’ of journalists in an apparent attempt to bring us - the audience - closer to the reality of combat operations, and further entrenched the dubious practice of press pooling.

“This describes the attempt by an increasingly PR-driven western military, in an age of live 24-hour news coverage, to select and manage the news agenda through carefully packaged official press events and briefings.

“By 2003, 24-hour live news was no longer the novelty it had been during Desert Storm. Now standardised as practice, numerous - mostly western-based and western-oriented - 24-hour news channels jostled for seats at the US Central Command Coalition Media Centre’s expensively assembled, and assiduously monitored Doha table.

“Alongside these, however, was a relative newcomer in the form of Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

“Although modelling itself on the glossy design originated by CNN, Al Jazeera - centred as it is in the Middle East, and with a demographic that is largely Arab and Arabic speaking, and predominantly Muslim - presented something of a news management problem to coalition PR execs.

“The essence of this is brilliantly captured in Jehane Noujaim’s documentary film Control Room. It describes the often fraught, sometimes comic, occasionally tragic and frequently strained relationship between the journalists of Al Jazeera - determined to abide by the ideals of western styled liberal journalism - and the equally determined efforts of coalition media managers to regulate the public perception of the invasion and subsequent war, through control of the news agenda.

“This led famously to the downright black propaganda surrounding the claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the tragic debacle of the ‘sexed up’ dossier purportedly proving an Iraqi strike capability against the UK, and the stage managed theatre of the rescue by US Rangers - apparently from military captivity - of the American soldier Jessica Lynch.

“All feature in Control Room as exasperated journalists, of all networks and nationalities, seek to disentangle and make sense of these carefully spun news narratives.

“The film ultimately provides a rare and important insight into the everyday frustrations and dangers faced by war reporters, and as well a record of the particular struggles faced by the Middle East-based journalists of Al Jazeera.

“This screening of Control Room and subsequent panel discussion - timed as it is to anticipate, finally, the publication in the UK of the long delayed Chilcot Report (it is now due for publication following the 2015 UK elections) - gives students and members of the Dundee public a unique opportunity to view Jehane Noujaim’s film, and to engage in discussion with practising journalists all of whom reported on the events described in the film from the invasion of Iraq on the 19th of March 2003, to the ‘liberation’ of Bagdahd on 9 April, to George W Bush’s declaration of the ‘end of major combat operations,’ on 1 May.”

The event will be chaired by Scottish broadcaster Lesley Riddoch and begins at 6pm on Friday, April 10 in the Hannah Maclure Centre, Top Floor, Abertay University Student Centre.

Tickets cost £9 (+fee) for general admission or £3 (+fee) for concessions, and can be booked via Eventbrite.

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