The question of accuracy in the reporting of Operation Iraqi Freedom is coming to a head with a forthcoming study showing Americans doubting the integrity of news reports, and at least one reporter blasting his own network for downplaying the success of allied forces.

Fox News Channel leads cable ratings in Iraq war

WorldNetDaily has learned that the survey being released tomorrow indicates a strong sense of distrust among viewers as well as a perceived “liberal” slant.

The study by BBI Systems and Emerging Interest, a New York-based consultancy focusing on digital-marketing technology and online-advertising analysis, centered on TV coverage during the conflict’s opening hours.

Among the preliminary findings:

  • Viewers harbor a disbelief about the integrity of news reports;

  • Network coverage of the war on Iraq is largely viewed as having a liberal bias; and

  • CBS’ decision to pre-empt its daytime NCAA basketball tournament during the first day of the war was seen as a mistake.

The study comes as debate rages about the accuracy of reporting by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Paul Adams, defense correspondent for the BBC, is accusing his own colleagues of distorting the truth, and claims the BBC exaggerated the severity of casualties suffered by British forces.

In a memo written this week from U.S. Central Command in Qatar and originally leaked to the Sun newspaper in Britain, Adams told his network supervisors:

“I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering ‘significant casualties.’ This is simply not true.

“Nor is it true to say – as the same info stated – that coalition forces are fighting ‘guerrillas.’ It may be guerrilla warfare but they are not guerrillas.

“Who dreamed up the line that the coalition are achieving ‘small victories at a very high price’? The truth is exactly the opposite. The gains are huge and costs still low. This is real warfare, however one-sided, and losses are to be expected.”

In response to the controversy, the director of BBC News is acknowledging the difficulties in reporting the conflict with Iraq accurately.

Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group watching CNN Headline News

“Nobody, including the media, has the full picture of what’s going on,” Richard Sambrook told the BBC’s Breakfast program. “Reporting the war is about putting together fragments of information. We’re all trying to work out this jigsaw and what the overall picture is.”

He added that fact verification was especially problematic with live, continuous coverage.

“The difficulty with a 24-hour news channel is you’re trying to work out live on air what’s true and what isn’t,” he said.

His comments come after the media prematurely reported last week that the port city of Umm Qasr had been captured, as well as “overstated” reports of a civilian uprising in Basra.

An unnamed BBC spokesman downplayed Adams’ original memo, describing it to the London Telegraph as “the kind of debate about editorial tone that’s going on in newsrooms all over the world.”

“This is an immensely complicated and difficult story and the big challenge for the BBC, as for other broadcasters, is getting the balance right. We think we get it right most of the time but we know we don’t always,” he said.

Some of 100 mines concealed on 4 Iraqi vessels and seized by coalition forces this week

The issue of truth versus propaganda has always been a concern during wartime. Fiona Hill, a British analyst at the Brookings Institute in Washington, says people are looking to affirm their preconceptions of what this conflict is about and what was likely to happen.

“The war is being waged as much in the media portrayals as it is on the ground in Iraq,” Hill said. “The consumption of these images really does shape the way people think about the war.”

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom offers “embedded reporters,” correspondents who accompany the troops into the theaters of military action.

NBC’s David Bloom, embedded with Army column in southern Iraq

While some newswatchers feel the reporting from the scene helps relay a more accurate view of what is actually happening, others say the correspondents can be a propaganda tool, as they might favor the side protecting them.

Jim Tully, head of mass communications and journalism at the University of Canterbury, thinks the public is much more media savvy than it was 10 years ago, being more critical of the news it receives.

“They know the coverage is managed and they know propaganda is common, so they have in-built cynicism or skepticism of the sort of information flowing out from approved sources,” he told the New Zealand Press Association. “People are less likely these days to quietly absorb what is being disseminated by the official sources and recognize that games are being played.”

One week into the conflict, the Fox News Channel has thrust forward to lead the competition in ratings. Figures from Nielsen Media Research show FNC averaging 5.582 million viewers, CNN 4.371 million, and MSNBC 2.154 million for total day viewing in the week March 17-23.

“It is clear FNC has become the No. 1 cable news outlet even at times of breaking news,” writes Digital Spy’s James Welsh, expecting to see further changes at CNN.

“We’ve already had [‘Talk Back Live’] and ‘Connie Chung Tonight’ axed; it’s likely we’ll see CNN return to an ethos of the news being the star, against Fox News’ more opinion-led lineup.”

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