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SPJ denounces Pentagon’s use of canned news in Iraq

SPJ News

CONTACT: David Carlson, president, 352-846-0171 or carlson@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists on Friday called upon the Pentagon to discontinue the practice of channeling propaganda disguised as news reports to Iraqi media.

In recent days the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times reported that the Pentagon has a $5 million contract with the Lincoln Group, a Washington public relations firm, to translate supposed news stories written in the Pentagon into Arabic and to seek to have them placed in Iraqi print and broadcast media.

The two newspapers also reported that Iraqi journalists are being paid to carry pro-U.S. news reports.

The reports do not allege that the Pentagon-crafted news articles are false, but that they are one-sided, reflecting only a pro-U.S. slant.

The Pentagon campaign comes even as the U.S. State Department is seeking to train Iraqi journalists in the Western concepts of objective journalism and an independent, free press.

“This stinks,” said SPJ President David Carlson, who is on the journalism faculty at the University of Florida. “Passing off propaganda as news is a heinous practice, one that all Americans should detest and protest.”

Robert Buckman, co-chair of SPJ’s International Journalism Committee and a journalism professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said such a practice differs little from that practiced in authoritarian regimes in the Third World.

“Paying journalists to run favorable news reports about the government, or not to run stories embarrassing to the government, has long been a practice endorsed by governments from Mexico before the reforms of the 1990s to China” he said. “Is this the kind of democracy that young Americans, including my own son, have been fighting to implement in Iraq? I would hope not. The Pentagon must see the folly of risking what little credibility it has with such an ill-advised scheme.”

Gary Hill, chair of SPJ’s ethics committee, pointed out the absurdity of having American taxpayers paying both to train Iraqis about proper ethical standards and to subvert those principles at the same time. “Even if the stories are largely true, you lose all credibility with your readers as soon as they figure out you’re being paid to run so-called news stories.”

The Society of Professional Journalists calls upon the Bush administration to renounce this practice and put an end to it for once and for all.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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