Norwegian IRAQ WAR DOCUMENTARY FILM
General Tommy Franks described the media as the "fourth front" in his (Iraq) war plan, according to Danny Schechter, an award winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. What he meant by that was that winning the "media war" is an important part of winning the war in Iraq. Three years down the line with US stuck in an ever-worsening situation, we all know what happens when governments win the media war and succumb to their hubris.
Independent Intervention, a documentary by Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei, is superficially an exploration of how the Iraq war was fought on the "fourth front" in US media. On a deeper level, it is a well crafted expose of the effects of media conglomeration on the style, topicality and quality of news.
Schei begins her documentary with a series of heartrending images from Iraq, images that were never shown on mainstream American media. This initial sequence provides the preface to her documentary- the Iraq war shown on the television screens of Americans was a very different from the one being fought in Iraq. Schei, struck by the jingoistic, bleached (of the horrors of war), video game like coverage of Iraq war in US mainstream media, explores the reasons behind how and why mainstream American media became a willing partner in government's propaganda machine helping it wage the war for the hearts and minds of American public. Using footage from the war and interviews with people luminaries like Dr. Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and others, Schei persuasively argues that a majority of what went wrong during media's coverage of Iraq war can be traced to corporate media ownership.
The documentary does a stupendous job in tracing media's coverage of Iraq war starting with the pre-war buildup by effectively using some well known statistics, for example about how during the two week period around which Colin Powell gave his speech at UN and during a time when more than half of the people opposed war, and - out of the 393 people who were interviewed on the four major nightly network newscasts, NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS - only a meager 3% held antiwar views while a stunning 71% were pro war.
Independent Intervention is simply scintillating when it weaves snippets from local morning news shows to convey a point. It is jarring to see new coverage of anti-war protests highlighting mundane inconveniences caused by protestors - "simply creating chaos during rush hour" or "protestors shut down the financial district in San Francisco" and completely failing to bring to attention any of the reasons why protestors were against the war.
Schei, though, is never is able to purposefully include some information in the documentary. For example, we are informed that five corporations - Vivendi, Disney, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom - own eighty percent of media but yet are left in the dark about how and why it affects media coverage in the way it does. Perhaps the critique is implicit but it is limited to corporate control (economics fudging the news) and not to effects of agglomeration. The documentary much more persuasively explores how merger of showbiz and "newsbiz" has had a damning impact on the way news is covered.
It is also great in highlighting that the penumbra of disinformation encompasses not only casualties in Iraq war but also money spent by American taxpayers.
Media today is an important institution - a tool through which we understand the world and the world understands us. As Goodman mentions, things go haywire when information is filtered through a corporate prism. There is a strong argument to be made that we need to keep the media free and independent. Most importantly, media shouldn't be confused as a tool of war for that is when one is most prone to hubris.
Overall, Independent Intervention can be seen as part of the genre of documentaries inspired by Michael Moore - a genre of unabashedly political documentaries with an agenda, but its wider message - that of need for independent media - would be of interest to both liberals and conservatives.
The DVD of the film is available at http://www.independentintervention.com