Channel 4 defied Ministry of Defence demands not to show footage, shot by the department, of Iraqi prisoners of war when it broadcast a harrowing documentary on how war is sanitised on television.
The True Face of War, presented by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow and shown late on 5 June, compared the images of the conflict as seen by Arab and Western audiences.
Snow told Press Gazette that the MoD had insisted the footage of Iraqi soldiers marching with their hands above their heads should not be used, but the broadcaster stood its ground.
At the height of the war such footage called into question accusations by coalition forces that broadcasters were flouting the Geneva Convention, after US prisoners were shown on TV around the world.
“We had been transmitting images of Iraqi prisoners of war for days, some shot by the Ministry of Defence themselves,” Snow said on the programme as the disputed footage appeared.
“The ministry now says they withdrew these images soon after release. We can find no evidence of this,” he added.
However, the MoD took no further action. A spokesman said: “Our principle has been that if we take any footage of prisoners of war, we try to ensure we are treating them fairly under the Geneva Convention. And under that convention prisoners should not be seen to be exploited by broadcasters.”
The move came a week after the MoD tried to stop footage of dead British soldiers being shown in an episode of BBC Two’s Correspondent series.
Snow has claimed that UK coverage was an “extremely sanitised event”. He said docudramas about the horrors of war could be shown, but “real war in which real people die we can’t show. We should show the facts of what human beings do to each other.”
In a move echoed by the documentary in which a US journalist declared the war in Iraq “the most self-censored war in history”, Channel 4 News diplomatic correspondent Lindsey Hilsum admitted she and her crew had “censored” themselves once to avoid being deported from Baghdad by the Iraqis. They decided not report her discovery of Scud missile launchers hidden in residential areas of the city.
“We were not censored. Some broadcasters had Mukhabarat [Iraqi secret police] with them all the time. Channel 4 News didn’t have any problems like that. But there was one occasion when we did censor ourselves,” she said at a Media Society event this week.
“After the first marketplace bombing we heard there had been a hit and were able to go there in our own vehicle. We got lost and a couple of blocks from where the two missiles had hit we saw a Scud missile launcher with a Scud on top.
“We then realised the Iraqis were hiding Scuds in residential areas. If I’d said that, I think we’d have been thrown out the next day,” she said.
By Wale Azeez