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Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The Internet, at least, is innocent

Good comment piece by Libby Purves in The Times (of London) about the Pete Townsend case. It's written cautiously, to comply with UK law, but still clearly expresses an opinion.

Strange death of the American press

What's happened to the quality of journalism in US newspapers in the 30 years since the heyday of investigative reporting at the time of Watergate? Matthew Engel argues in the Guardian that it's in devastating decline.

The papers are verbose, formulaic and wretchedly designed. "And political courage is especially rare", he writes. "The supposedly liberal American press has become a dog that never bites".

Worse, the papers have got boring. Even the best reporting tends to be of the plodding "he said, she said" variety, with the paper itself, still less the individual journalist, reluctant to express a viewpoint. It's no accident that newspaper sales are in decline while opinionated talk show hosts light up the airwaves and attract huge audiences.

"Amid the glorious patchwork of creativity in the American media - in Hollywood, TV, magazines, the net, advertising, even publishing - the newspapers are a drab and unimaginative exception." And there's little incentive to make newspapers more interesting - US newspapers operate pretty much as a series of regional monopolies.

Engel concludes that if there's a new Watergate scandal waiting to be unmasked today, it is unlikely to be discovered by America's newspapers. "If it emerges, it will probably come out on the web."

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

UN prepares for half a million Iraqi casualties

About half a million people will suffer some form of injury and three million will become malnourished if war in Iraq goes ahead, according to a confidential UN planning document.

The draft report, called "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios", was prepared in December by an unknown UN agency. It has been leaked by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, a UK group opposed to the war.

The report assumes that both a bombing campaign and a ground war go ahead, and attempts to assess the immediate impact on the population and the practical tasks facing those who go in to pick up the pieces later.

The main worries - apart from the direct effect of the war itself, are the destruction of the electricity system and the difficulty of moving supplies if the bridges over Iraq's many waterways are destroyed.

With electricity out the water treatment and sewage systems will probably fail. The report warns that diseases such as cholera and dysentery will thrive in this environment, and that "the outbreak of disease in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely".

Unlike Afghanistan, which has similar-sized population of around 26 million, Iraq is overwhelmingly urban. The report notes that sanctions have made Iraqis more, not less dependent on the state - "the bulk of the population is now totally dependent on the government of Iraq for a majority, if not all, of their basic needs ... and they have no way of coping if they cannot access them".

New York Times report (may require sign-up)

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