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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Doing the dissent thing?
Peter Arnett
Fired for speaking to Iraqi television

George Galloway MP has been branded a "traitor" for opposing war. In the US a top journalist was sacked for faulting the US campaign. Even Robin Cook climbed down over his anti-war comments. Are voices of dissent being stifled?

Even in times of peace, outspoken Labour MP George Galloway is not exactly a favourite in the pages of the Sun newspaper.

But his call for Arab countries to come to Iraq's defence drew a lacerating rebuke from the paper this week. "Traitor" ran the headline across the front page.

"For treachery like that, Nazi mouthpiece Lord Haw Haw tasted the hangman's rope in 1946. Sadly, we've gone soft these days," ran the inside editorial.

There's always been pressure on the media to get 'on-side' in a time of war
Professor Frank Furedi

Galloway later felt compelled to "clarify" his remarks.

Perhaps, as former Army major Hugh McManners has said, the Sun was just "doing what it ought to under these circumstances".

But it's not just in the pages of Britain's most gung-ho tabloid that critics of the war have come a cropper.

Labour rebel Robin Cook was also forced into a spot of "clarification" after his remarks on Sunday that British troops in the Gulf should be brought home now.

He later expanded. It wouldn't be wise to let Saddam "off the hook" by abandoning battle just yet.

'Kafkaesque'

Those views were echoed by Mr Cook's former colleague Mo Mowlam, until now also a strident anti-war campaigner.

Sun front cover
George Galloway was compared to Lord Haw Haw

In the US, the Pulitzer-winning journalist Peter Arnett was sacked after he told Iraqi TV the coalition's initial war plan had failed. His remarks were deemed "Kafkaesque" by one US congresswoman.

Even outside the news, there is nervousness about defying the war effort. Actress and peace protester Susan Sarandon has complained about being dropped by a charity because of her views.

It seems, even the merest hint of dissent is stamped on. A poster for the Hollywood movie What a Girl Wants was revised because the image of a girl flashing the peace sign could be interpreted as a "political message".

While truth may be a casualty of war, has free expression gone the same way?

"There's always been pressure on the media to get 'on-side' in a time of war. There's always been an element of self-policing or self-inflicted repression," says Professor Frank Furedi, who has written about public fear in times of war.

Susan Sarandon
Sidelined: Sarandon has spoken against the war

Certainly this time some of the public have bowed to patriotism. In the week of the first bombing raid, support for the attack jumped 16 percentage points, according to an ICM/Guardian poll.

But the media has been remarkably balanced, says Professor Furedi. "There has been criticism and cynicism right from the start of the bombing."

He even detected a trend for scepticism in some US newspapers, where support for the war is running at about 75%.

Yet elsewhere in the American media there are echoes of the Sun's jingoism. Fox News - now the most watched of rolling news channels - has played a distinctly patriotic hand.

Even-handed

And when evidence shows anti-war coverage is bad for business, which it does, dissent becomes even more difficult.

American media has been unquestionably pro-war, the French and German's anti-war
Professor Phil Taylor

The British media's scepticism has led to uniquely even-handed coverage in the UK, says Phil Taylor, who wrote about the media's role in the first Gulf War.

"Of all the countries covering the war, Britain is the most interesting. American media has been unquestionably pro-war, the French and German's anti-war.

"In a sense, all they are doing is reflecting the opinions of their publics. In Britain where sentiment is fairly evenly divided, you are getting both sides of the story.

"There will always be a tendency for some to fall into line. Robin Cook has to think about his constituents' views as well as his own."

Like Vietnam coverage

Nevertheless, he equates coverage in Britain to that in the US during the latter days of America's war in Vietnam. The Daily Mirror is resolutely doubtful about the current conflict.

But the dissent raises one key question for Professor Taylor: "Can democracies fight wars without popular support?"

"Our soldiers are so professional that they will get on with the job anyway," he says. But as things drag on, that could all change.


Some of your comments so far:

The point about George Galloway is not that his disSenting voice is being gagged, but that his comments cross a very important line. He is actively seeking the defeat of the British forces in Iraq. He is also calling for economic sanctions against the UK which would cripple the economy and cause huge unemployment - not least in his own constituency. These are the actions of a traitor.
Peter Atherton, UK

Should voices of dissent be stifled in time of war? The answer is yes , especialy when the expression of opinion stirs up haterd and aids the disgracefuly innacurate propaganda which is being broadcast by the Iraqi government.
Nick, UK

As before the war, I feel we aren't being told the truth. I feel the Iraqi people are being treated shamefully. It is to them my compassion is given. I am an ex Wraf and I served in a theatre of war.
Ann Newton, England

I think the Sun's comments about George Galloway are shameful - the editor should be jailed for libel. Here is a man who is standing up for what he believes in in the face of intense media and political pressure. He should be congratulated for his courage: how many of the rest of us would be brave enough to speak out like he has?
Jeremy, UK

If people are not allowed to speak their mind then what is the difference between this country and Iraq and what is the point of the war!
Abu, UK

Surely the quote from The Sun illustrates that this is just a media game - does anyone believe that the paper's leader writer actually wants to see George Galloway be executed for treason? Of course not. He or she is just trying to write what they think their readers want to read.
Tom Collins, UK

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