"WHO ARE OUR FRIENDS?"

By William Markiewicz

The high risk run by journalists in Afghanistan was debated on a recent TV program. One foreign journalist in the field commented: "The problem is that we don't know who are our enemies here, and who are friends."

Aha, the beautiful times are over, like the beautiful times for Western journalists in the war in Yugoslavia. They gathered only on the good, friendly side where alcohol, fun, money and "news" flew at full speed. The reporters, most of them, didn't have to put their precious selves at risk, the "testimonies" were offered on a silver plate by information (propaganda) agencies. Read "I Accuse", Vagabond (March 96 issue). A new (really new?) notion was invented: "engaged journalism" -- a nicer word for naked propaganda. Testimonies were taken for granted, with no need for evidence, as long as the right side was targeted: the devil doesn't need to be checked for its wickedness. As for the public, for whom this material was gathered, it keeps a critical eye only on local affairs that directly concern them. Foreign news is only a matter of "education" (read distraction), not important enough to be concerned about and the PR media know it. Now that Serbia is vanquished and crucified nobody is interested anymore. Only Milosevic is still publicized as dictator and war criminal. During Nato's bombing, the "Otpor" students demonstrated on the streets of Belgrade shouting, "Milosevic to the Hague!"

Dictator? Who can imagine such demonstrations against leaders in Nazi and Communist times? Even de Gaulle and Trudeau wouldn't allow similar demonstrations against them. A stronger personality can be named dictator if the PR media decides so. And if Milosevic is judged a war criminal, it's only because other, worse crimes, are consciously swept under the carpet.

Now, no gods of fun, money and "news" can help Western reporters in Afghanistan. No grand hotels throughout the immense desert-like territory and no "Ministries of Information." Reporters nolens volens find themselves in danger. The rough tribes, friendly or not, don't need to solicit the favours of public opinion. Journalists are not being charmed and find nobody to charm. No romance, romanticism in view. The tribes want to remain tribal, and the US now has one priority: Bin Laden. Now, opportunists will stay away from this uninviting country. I am sorry I don't remember which journalist publicly admitted that his editor told him before sending him to Yugoslavia: "Go, and bring me something anti-Serbian." Now, only the idealists will stay to testify, and hopefully will bring back journalism's good name.As for their editors, they don't mind having some journalist martyrs in their ranks.



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