Thursday, 28 March 2013

Iraq death figures - simple and balanced

How often are we still seeing media outlets use a specious, low-ended figure for civilian war deaths in Iraq?

For example, last week's Channel 4 News '10 years after' report on Iraq (featuring stories of UK military victims) showed a graphic from Iraq Body Count (IBC) with its figure of 111,827 civilian deaths.

The standard presentation of IBC figures by the BBC, Guardian, Independent, Channel 4 News and almost every other 'authoritative' news outlet allows for a gross understatement of fatalities.

And it's that simple viewer/reader familiarity with IBC which represents such stark and effective propaganda.

Given the 'moderate number of deaths' message conveyed by IBC's figure, and the obvious interests that serves, it's unlikely that this selective source will be replaced by media like the BBC.

So, perhaps there's a need to press for an equally simplified set of words stating the actual range of figures.

How hard would it be for the BBC, Channel 4 or any other media organisation to source, write and put out something as simple and informative as this:
Civilian war deaths in Iraq

Iraq Body Count (IBC)
(till Dec 2012)
110,937 - 121,227

Lancet/Johns Hopkins survey
(March 2003 - end of June 2006)

Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey
(August 12–19, 2007)

Source: Wikipedia  
This doesn't tell the viewer everything, of course. But it does offer a fair summary of the available information.

While varying issues of methodology and application remain to be understood (as in the distinction between IBC's limited count procedure and the Lancet/ORB epidemiologist-based estimations of all war-related mortality) this kind of graphic, at least, permits the simple, straight message of a credible body of research pointing to much higher figures than that suggested by IBC.

And why, after all, should IBC's figure be deemed more credible than the peer-reviewed Lancet studies, (generally viewed as a 'highly prestigious' place to be published) or that of ORB, a much-used polling/research-based organisation?

Given their own proclaimed codes of 'balance' and 'impartiality', the BBC have a particular obligation to reflect such differentiation in their reports, graphics and other presentations.

Some may say that, whether 100,000, 650,000 or 1,000,000, a terrible crime has been committed, all such losses are appalling and that we needn't dwell on the actual numbers.

Yet, how easily that denies the rights of those mass victims, their families and humanity at large, while allowing the convenient impression, for the perpetrators, that a 'minimal war' has been waged with 'limited' casualties. As in any conflict, there's an ethical duty to establish the actual extent of the killing in Iraq, as well as the mass refugee crisis, social breakdown and wider suffering that's gone with it.

Ongoing efforts to expose the political and media disguising of Iraq's fatality figures are also important in serving to limit the potential for further murderous 'interventions' and pretence death counts.


* Please see/support this "campaign to raise funds for a poll of the UK public to discover estimates of Iraqi deaths since 2003".

1 comment:

Dan said...

Great article, John.

Your readers may be interested in and/or able to support this:

Many thanks