Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's journalist Rageh Omaar aiming for?

Rageh Omaar: The Scud Stud aims for truth

source: The Independent

In the eyes of Rageh Omaar, Western news organisations are perpetrating a "fraud" on their viewers with their misleading coverage of the war in Iraq, the conflict in which he established himself as an internationally-recognised journalist.

Omaar is outspoken in voicing his frustrations, and his words help to explain his recent career-path, which has taken him from being the flak-jacketed golden boy of the BBC to a presenter for Al Jazeera who is also writing a deeply personal book about the experiences of living as a Muslim in contemporary Britain.

He won admiration for his cool-headed dispatches from Baghdad during the aerial bombardments of the first days of the invasion of Iraq, and was nicknamed The Scud Stud by the New York Post, but suffered a whispering campaign by British Government officials that his work was unduly influenced by Iraqi information ministers.

Now it is Omaar, 38, who is calling the veracity of the reporting into question, saying that news organisations are failing to inform their audiences as to how their reports have been compiled. "Some of us, I feel, are engaged in some kind of a small fraud on the British public, the readers and viewers," he says. "I feel very uncomfortable that we are not putting a health warning on reports from Iraq because to not do so lends an enormous legitimacy. We are saying Channel 4 or the BBC or Reuters or ABC can vouch for this when individual journalists are not so certain."

Omaar says he has spoken to a number of senior correspondents from different news organisations who feel "less inclined" to return to Iraq because they cannot do their jobs properly. "When a broadcaster says Rageh Omaar, or 'X', reports now from Baghdad it's actually not wholly true, as I haven't shot the pictures because it's far too dangerous and I haven't been to visit the different areas because it's too dangerous."

His comments, he stresses, are not a criticism of his colleagues in the field but are "a reflection of the terrible circumstances in which journalists have to operate". He says: "Unless you explain those circumstances you run the danger of participating in what I think is a small fraud."

It is time, he says, for news organisations to "fess up" and make clear that many of the pictures that comprise what are effectively "pooled reports" have been shot by anonymous Iraqi freelancers, whilst the Western journalists have remained inside the protected Green Zone in Baghdad. "If we as an industry don't grapple with the question of putting up a health warning then we will slowly but surely have some of the legitimacy sapped from us."

His fear is that if atrocities and scandals in Iraq are later brought to light by Non-Governmental Organisations or other non-journalistic bodies, then the public will feel betrayed. "When it turns round in a year's time and Iraq is in even more of a mess, people will say: 'Hang on, I thought you guys were reporting all this'."

read the complete article here