In the March 26 article on useful war blogs, you cited www.iraqbodycount.net but there are some things I think your readers should know about this site. First, this is not a neutral academic exercise. This site represents a politically driven attempt to present as high a civilian casualty count as possible in the guise of what looks like an elaborate methodology: It is simply a count of all the times claims of civilian casualties are mentioned in the global press, whether those claims come from independent sources, from the Iraqi government, from random eyewitnesses whose credibility is impossible to ascertain by the reporter at the time. (The New York Times' John Burns, probably the finest reporter on the scene in Baghdad, has referred to the "Greek chorus" of men who always await Western reporters who are escorted to the scene of bombings to provide scripted outrage after the fact.) It says much about the site that it has been John Sloboda who has spoken to the press during the Iraq war, since if Marc Herold, the driving force behind the effort, did so, it would be easier for researchers to find the slew of articles debunking this work from Operation Enduring Freedom.
The same problems emerge with this effort. Most fundamentally, it is unclear how civilian casualties can be counted from outside the effected area. This is more of a problem now then it was in Afghanistan, given the widely reported restrictions on reporters in Baghdad. No reporter is able to move freely about the city without a "minder" from the Ministry of Information, and indeed, few media organizations are even operative in the city. They are "reporting" one another's reports. So not only are initial reports utterly controlled by the Iraqis, many of the news organizations the site claims to use are merely stating that another news organization, which does have a presence in the city, said something. This does not constitute independent confirmation: It constitutes an echo chamber.
Further, because of the level of control on news organizations, the site is essentially masking the fact that they are for the most part presenting Iraqi government figures. All someone like John Burns' can really do is report what the Iraqis are telling him, but the careful contextualization of Burns' writing disappears in the sites' simple math.
This, of course, does not even begin to address the fact that the cause of many of these incidents remains unclear. And should we not be equally mindful of the civilian casualties occurring in the southern part of the country, where death squads execute, shell and terrorize? Do those deaths not count equally? The minders of this site are interested only in deaths they can morally charge directly to the United States' account. They have produced a method that looks elaborate, but it is pure politics. We should no doubt mourn for all the civilians killed in this conflict, but jury-rigging a sham count to make the intervention in Iraq look bad does no one any good.
Triangle Institute of Security Studies
Associate Professor of Communications Studies
I enjoyed your article thoroughly on media ownership here in the Triangle [March 26]. I also have been concerned with the diminution of local news and stories in media outlets that are owned by national corporations. It is one of the reasons that I started RTP-TV a year ago.
All too often, large media conglomerates cut back on local news to reduce costs, to hawk whatever their entertainment division is selling that month, or because the owners are so far removed from the actual market that they simply don't care.
Unfortunately, most people that I talk with do not know the people or companies behind the station or newspaper that provides them with so much of their news. I think it is important to know that and I commend your publication for informing the Triangle of those ownership facts.
As a locally owned station, our goal at RTPTV.com is to provide more local coverage. In the early days of TV, many programs on local stations were of local interest and they had very few national or syndicated programs, except in prime time. Now, the reverse is true--except for news, most stations have little or no local programming at all.
At RTP-TV, we decided to change that. We offer all local programming. Our shows are available online free of charge to anyone with an Internet connection. We also buy airtime on two local stations to air our programs.
It is true that media ownership is converging. However, thanks to technology, we believe that the public will be able to change that in the future. No longer do you need an FCC license, several million dollars, and a tower to broadcast to thousands of people.
With an Internet connection, a server, and a video camera, it is now possible to serve a local market with quality TV programming that helps inform the public about important local issues. At RTP-TV we are trying to do just that. It hasn't been easy, but we believe that Triangle residents deserve more local coverage.
Thank you for your time and we enjoy reading your paper.
Founder and Director of Broadcast Operations
RTP-TV: The Research Triangle's TV Station