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United Kingdom8 April 2003

Media attacked by ministers and MPs for Iraq war coverage

Reporters Without Borders called today on British government ministers and MPs to stop their sharp criticism of British media coverage of the Iraq war, saying it was unacceptable pressure to get the media to change its policies. It also accused them of trying to discredit the work of certain journalists.

Tory MP Christopher Chope told the House of Commons on 3 April that the public-service broadcaster the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (which receives state funding for its World Service) reporting of Iraqi statements meant British taxpayers were being "forced to subsidise Saddam Hussein’s propaganda campaign." He called on the BBC to withdraw its journalists from Baghdad.

Labour MP Kevin Hughes also criticised the journalists and suggested they were cowards. Defence minister Geoff Hoon attacked the daily paper The Independent and its correspondent in Baghdad, Robert Fisk, and implied he had allowed himself to be fooled by the regime and had dubious sources.

Home secretary David Blunkett said on 2 April that journalists reporting behind "enemy lines" and giving "blow by blow" accounts of what was happening there were treating the US and British forces and the Iraqi regime as "moral equivalents." Journalists retorted that they had a right to inform the public and accused the government of trying to muzzle the press.

Foreign secretary Jack Straw said on 1 April that the kind of media pressure surrounding the Iraq war would have made World War II more difficult to win. He told a meeting of the Newspaper Society it "might’ve been much harder to maintain the country’s morale after Dunkirk if live reports had confronted the public with the brutal reality of German technical and military superiority."

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