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War, Peace and the Media

Edward Mann (reviewer) — May 1984

Barrie Zwicker. Published bv Sources, 10 Britain St., Toronto, ON, M5A 1R6. 38 pages. $3.50.

This booklet is an extremely well-written and timely statement of how the media in Canada and the United States are contributing to, rather than lessening, the drift to nuclear war. It is also an appeal to print and electronic journalists to conscientiously remedy this situation, before it is too late. They are the gatekeepers of the facts, and as such have an enormous responsibility since these particular facts relate to the survival of humankind.

A collection of articles written in 1982 and ]983, the booklet is mainly crafted by Barrie Zwicker, a well-known Canadian freelance journalist who has long been concerned about the threats to peace.

It has many illuminating and provocative quotations, such as George Kennan’s observation that “the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our … journalistic establishment (is) so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that is not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action,”

The piece “Our Portrayal of the Soviet Union” is based on research into stories in three major Canadian dailies. It shows that the picture of the Soviet Union provided by our print media is so distorted that it becomes almost impossible for us to relate to that nation and, its peace proposals constructively.

Relying usually on US government or unnamed sources, most of the articles dealt with in this piece simply feed the Cold War mentality. Spy stories, real or imagined, are very common, while neutral or accurate accounts, of daily life in the Soviet Union are very scarce. Opinion pieces and editorials were, over a six-month period, 60-80% negative. In brief, “coverage of the Soviet Union is anti-Soviet.”

Because we have been fed this ‘line’ uniformly since 1945, most Canadians and Americans swallow it unquestioningly. It is the merit of this booklet that it systematically exposes the nature and depth of media bias and underscores its dire consequences: “The essential violence of med)a misrepresentation about the Soviet Union and the arms race,” suggests Alan Geyer in “The Idea of Disarmament” “is that it destroys communication, trust and confidence, and eventually generates hostility and death.”

Zwicker summarises the study by an American journalist, William Dorman, which reveals the depth of the US bias, which affects even leading dailies such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, Dorman found that “Russian intentions and behavior to be painted in the darkest possible shades.” He concludes that “the media are often little more than spear carriers for official Washington.”

We usually believe our press in North America to be free. This booklet shows that most of the time it sees Russia as the great Satan, and is not free to be either fair or just. Economic factors are powerful here, but also we have come to believe our own propaganda. Before it is too late, this must be changed.

As Zwicker points out, “Stalin’s death camps, the brutality of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968, and Soviet mistreatment of intellectuals, Baptists, Jews and dissident workers elicit and ought to elicit moral outrage, but none of these crimes is evidence of an intention to start a nuclear war.”