Control Room

Before and during the invasion of Iraq the US forces fed the world’s press through a dedicated section of their command centre in Qatar. As local Arab news service Al Jazeera negotiated the politics of the newsroom two documentary film makers recorded their war.

Three people get the lion’s share of our attention- an earnest young US press officer, a large, jovial and very sharp former BBC reporter and a professorly interviewer/ interpreter. We keep coming back to them after digressions into the worlds of other correspondents and media advisers.

The media centre was intended to control the news, something the likes of Fox were willing to participate but non-US media disliked. Al Jazeera in particular came in for condemnation for their failure to play along and insistence on showing footage of the dead and wounded. Every channel had its “war reel” of footage shown on the hour. Al Jazeera’s had the requisite footage of tanks, planes and US military might, but rounded it out with injured children and dead bodies.

The villain of the piece is Donald Rumsfeld. Looking like a barely animated corpse he keeps popping up to remind us that Al Jazeera is a tool of Iraqi propaganda. To counter point this, Comical Ali appears to tell us that Al Jazeera is a tool of American propaganda. Other compare and contrast moments include the Al Jazeera reporter being told he should be more objective about Iraqi casualties whilst the press corps is practically ordered to break out the yellow ribbons for Private Jessica Lynch.

Toward the end the press officer has a haunted look, like he’s realised that the whole world doesn’t think like the US and he might have been selling the wrong product. The professor wants to send his children to school in America so they can opt in to the cultural imperialism rather than being victims of it. And a hard rain comes to cleanse the press centre as everyone is leaving.

It would be interesting to see an equivalent documentary concentrating on the correspondents of Fox or some other Western news agency. But I doubt they would be as honest.

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