17.5.04

Mirror may have been hoaxed but are the public being cheated?

Political, military and ultimately shareholder pressure may have claimed the latest media scalp in a war no-one wanted but while press and politicians play hardball the public are being short-changed in their quest for the truth.

The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment may have ignited the fuse that blasted Morgan out of Canary Wharf but it will be easier to sort out what goes on the front page than it is to sort out what’s been happening on the frontline.

Showing torture pictures may be putting our soldiers at risk but the real danger lies behind the headlines. The dust may have settled on the fake pictures but they have opened up an unfortunate window on war and practices which have previously not been called into question.

What has made recent events so horrifying is the fact that whether it be the authentic American photos or the fake British ones, there are people who see fit to take pictures of such practices. There can only be three reasons – as part of a deliberate process to use in interrogation; as trophies for a few misled soldiers; or to expose either of these practices.

However the various pictures came about the public has a right to some answers and while the Mirror should have been checking the fakes others should have been checking the facts about what has been happening behind the scenes and why it has taken fakes to expose Red Cross and Amnesty reports about those facts.

While truth may count as the first casualty of any war, the quest for the truth is what responsible journalism is all about. While journalists should be responsible, politicians have a corresponding duty to their electorate to be accountable. However, these duties have been damaged in the cross-fire as both sides wage their own war with each other. So as the battle rages over what should be allowed onto the front pages the public are being denied the debates we should be having.

Only the people who provided the pictures Piers decided to publish will know the truth behind their story. The fate of Dr David Kelly may have put off many a whistleblower and the true tales behind the fake photos may now never come to light. Journalists have a duty to protect their sources and that duty extends to Soldiers ‘A’ and ‘B’ who provided the pictures. Only they know whether it was an horrific hoax or a deep-rooted desire to expose wrongdoing. As things stand it could be up to a court of law to force the truth to be told. That could turn out to be a seriously bad news day for all.

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