Don's diary: media countdown to war

March 28, 2003

Monday March 17
Zero minus 55 hours An interesting time to be a researcher in the field of media and war. I tape the House of Commons debate for later analysis. President George W. Bush will address the nation at 1am our time.

Not much doubt about what he is going to say.

Tuesday 18
Zero minus 51

The deadline is set.
Zero minus 40
In between the admissions committee, the development of the admissions database and speaking to first-years about second-year option modules, I get calls from two BBC local radio producers. One wants me to go on the late show this evening, via telephone. The other seems to have disappeared when I return her call.
Zero minus 29
After a textbook planning meeting with my co-author, which necessitates a certain amount of wine drinking, I get home, make some strong coffee and settle down in the study to await the call. I have been advised that this will go out on most BBC local stations but not, helpfully, my own. Try to tune in to Radio Leicester, which is the nearest station that's carrying it, but cannot get a strong enough signal to make it worth recording.

When they ring, I am pleased to find myself in discussion with an ex-colleague from Coventry, Ruth Cherrington, now lecturing at Warwick University and the University of East London. We agree that whatever the news carries about the war from now on has to be seen in the context of the military control of information and journalists' dependence on military sources.

Wednesday 19
Zero minus 20
With 20 hours to go until the US deadline, I am finally contacted by my local BBC station and speak to the producer of the breakfast show who wants me to come in tomorrow morning. It is clear that everyone expects the war to start tonight.
Zero minus four
I have been asked to address the local Stop the War meeting. This is well attended and people are positive and clear that they do not support the war. No one thinks it won't happen. Most expect it to start tonight. I walk home and catch up with the broadcast news. Stay up till 1am when the deadline expires, but cannot keep my eyes open any longer. When the alarm goes off at 5.30am, they have started the war without me.

Thursday 20
Zero plus five
Interviewed on the breakfast show. Once again stress that consumers of war reporting have to be conscious of the conditions under which reporters work and the extreme difficulty they have in finding out what is happening and getting that information to us. Also stress that, while journalists are generally trying to tell the unbiased truth as they see it, you cannot spend weeks living with a group of combat soldiers without running the risk of going native and seeing things from their point of view.

After the interview, I have a very interesting conversation with Robin Clifton, a war historian from Warwick. As he is going into the studio for his interview, I overhear two of the station staff:

"Is this the media guy?"

"No we've done him already."
Sic transit gloria.

Will Barton Catmur is senior lecturer in communication, culture and media, Coventry School of Art and Design, Coventry University.

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