Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, have crept into modern warfare as quietly as the airborne killing machines themselves and, on the whole, media reporting on them has been just as subdued.
Last week, the veil of silence was finally lifted when two of the most important and influential newspapers in the United States – the New York Times and the Washington Post – ran stories on a secret airbase in Saudi Arabia from which the US military has operated its ‘drone war’ campaign over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen for the past two years.
However, as the story broke, it also came to light that reporters at both newspapers had known about the base long before the story went to print. They had agreed to conceal newsworthy information at the request of the US intelligence establishment, on the basis that reporting the truth would have harmed American national security interests.
The complicity of journalists with government officials to keep the base a secret has been justified on grounds of national security but the issue has raised troubling questions of when military secrets – as defined by the government – pull rank on the public duty of the fourth estate to inform.
On this week’s News Divide we speak to the reporter, Robert F Worth, whose story brought the Saudi base to public attention in the New York Times, and Chris Woods from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism which has followed the US ‘targeted killing’ campaign while the mainstream media has looked away. Adding further depth to the story are Dafna Linzer from Propublica and Tara McKelvey from Newsweek.
In Newsbytes this week, we look at another case of journalists being targeted online: Google has told reporters in Myanmar that they have been the victim of a state-sponsored email hack, though the Yangon government has denied involvement. In other news from Myanmar, foreign journalists will be accredited to operate from April as part of a more general media liberalisation.
In Lebanon, the conflict in Syria has spilled over onto the TV news where a live debate on the Hezbollah-funded Al-Menar channel descended into chaos. And a writer from the Washington Post learned the importance of fact-checking the hard way when she based a story on a spoof report that said outspoken Alaska Republican Sarah Palin had joined the staff at Al Jazeera.
The Washington Post is also the focus of our feature story this week. In 1972, the newspaper changed the way we think about the power of journalism when it ran a story that would shake up American politics, and eventually bring down President Richard Nixon.
But the Post is now increasingly falling victim to changing media dynamics. The Listening Post’s Marcela Pizzaro tells the story of how one of the most illustrious names in print journalism is fading as the kind of investigative reporting it once championed is being squeezed by politics and resources.
Finally, our Video of the Week presents another vision of change in the media industry – this time it’s the technology of the present day from the perspective of the past. The legendary US journalist Walter Cronkite made predictions of how news would come to our computer screens more than four decades ago, and we think you will agree that his vision could not have been more accurate.
Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.
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