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Iraq: Press In Eastern Europe, Central Asia Mostly Negative Toward Iraq War

  • Don Hill

An informal survey of press coverage in Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the U.S.-led war in Iraq shows strong variations, with coverage often influenced by government and popular attitudes. As RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill reports, the tone is generally antiwar.

Prague, 27 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In Russia, the U.S.-led war on Saddam Hussein's regime is almost uniformly unpopular, and TV, radio, and press outlets reflect this attitude. However, the basic ideologies of these organizations tend to determine the strength of their opposition to the war.

This contrasts sharply with news coverage in Kosovo, where the war is broadly applauded. News reports and commentary often compare Hussein's rule over Iraq to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's tyranny over Kosovo. A recent headline in the daily "Bota Sot" is representative: "As in Kosovo Four Years Ago, U.S. Will Bring Democracy to Iraq."

These are the extremes. An informal survey of RFE/RL broadcasters shows that most media coverage of the war falls somewhere in between, with the overall tone leaning against the war and the U.S. role.

In Southeastern Europe and the Balkans, the war appears to draw balanced coverage, but one Bulgarian analyst, Boyko Stanushev, tells our correspondent that limited resources induce news media there to rely largely on Western international sources of information.

"[There is] no big difference between other media in Europe and Bulgarian media. The first two or three days after the war started, they broadcast all the day long, 24 hours, everything with breaking news by translation of CNN and Sky News also."

Stanushev says commentary tends to depend on who owns the individual outlet -- for example, the former communists. He says, though, that readers and listeners seem to discount particular ideological influences.

"Because Bulgarian society understands [this] point, we have not [had] in Bulgaria such kind of protest demonstrations like in other countries. The biggest antiwar [demonstration] we had so far was about 300 people, not more, and it was ridiculous."

In the Baltic states, RFE/RL correspondents say coverage tends to be critical of the U.S.-British coalition campaign. Lithuanian coverage -- though not openly anti-American -- emphasizes coalition losses and Iraqi valor. Latvian coverage is affected by a substantial presence of Russian TV channels, which overwhelmingly are negative about the U.S. presence in Iraq -- referring to coalition troops, for example, as "occupation forces." The Latvian-language media also criticize the government's support of the U.S.-led invasion. One newspaper, "Diena," notably has published government opinion as well as opposition views.

To the east, the Belarusian government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka considers Iraq a close friend, and anti-United States media coverage and analysis reflect this view. News media frequently publish and broadcast Lukashenka's denunciations of the war and comments by a new Iraqi ambassador there.

Georgia considers the United States its ally in its own internal battle against terrorists. It stands virtually alone among the countries of the former Soviet Union in approving the U.S.-led assault on Hussein's regime.

In Russia, RFE/RL news media analyst Elena Rykovtseva says the coverage has grown increasingly antiwar. At the start of the war, she says, many media published and broadcast expectations of a rapid U.S. victory.

"However," Rykovtseva says, "after the first days of the war had passed, the media intonation changed. Media stressed not only the obvious failures of the U.S.-British military coalition, but also an obvious weakness of the informational propagandist campaign."

She says that Communist-oriented media expressed open satisfaction in what they perceived as coalition setbacks.

"It's also clear that the coverage [given] by the Communist media is gloating, and the [approach] of the state-owned or state-oriented TV channels depends [upon] and reflects President [Vladimir] Putin's position."

Of course, Russian President Putin has been consistently and openly hostile to the attack on Iraq without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council.

In Central Asia, the news media tend to reflect government attitudes. Turkmen media provide little coverage and a Russian television channel was suspended the day before the U.S.-led attack began. Neither the suspension nor this week's subsequent resumption of broadcasts was explained. Uzbek media similarly offered virtually no coverage until the weekend. Our Uzbek Service says the coverage has been somewhat pro-American, although Uzbek public sentiment is largely antiwar.

Kyrgyzstan appears to be a Central Asian exception. Our Kyrgyz Service says the underfunded domestic media report on the war using mainly external Internet sources. Some private TV channels rely on CNN. News media do not expressly favor the Iraq regime, but they freely criticize the war itself.

In Afghanistan -- a recent site of U.S. military intervention, like Kosovo -- the administration officially supports the Iraq war. Our Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent says state-run media support the war and call for maintenance of the territorial integrity of the nation. Domestic media reflect ambivalence about the United States' attack on a Muslim country. There is also a small, more extreme group of outlets -- some based or printed in Pakistan -- that express hostility toward the U.S. action. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Following is a nation-by-nation summary of Iraq war media coverage.

Afghanistan -- The transitional administration officially supports the U.S. and coalition military action. State-run media support the war. Domestic media reflect ambivalence about the United States' attack on a Muslim country. A small, more extreme group of outlets -- some based or printed in Pakistan -- express hostility toward the war effort.

Belarus -- Coverage is strongly anti-American, reflecting Belarus's friendship with Iraq. A new Iraqi ambassador appears frequently in newspapers and on TV, praising Hussein and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Lukashenka himself appears, condemning not only the United States, but also German and France for failing to prevent the war.

Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In the Muslim-Croat Federation, electronic media provide factual news coverage but news selection suggests antiwar leaning. Print media divide into some providing balanced coverage, others clearly pro-Iraq. In Republika Srpska, war news gets minor but neutral coverage.

Bulgaria -- War coverage appears balanced. Lacking resources, media rely mostly on Western international news sources. Commentary is mixed, and reflects the political affiliation of the outlet. Overall tone is antiwar.

Croatia -- News coverage on state TV and major print media factual and unbiased. Commentary and analysis are predominantly antiwar.

Georgia -- Coverage is definitely pro-coalition. Media rely heavily on CNN, BBC, other Western sources. With a few exceptions, newspapers and independent broadcasters approve President Eduard Shevardnadze's support of U.S.-British coalition.

Iran -- News media emphasize Iraqi resistance, civilian casualties and antiwar demonstrations. Only anti-American analysts appear on TV and radio. Iranian media label the war with terms such as "American war" and the "war of domination."

Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan's underfunded domestic media report on the war using mainly external Internet sources. Some private TV channels rely on CNN. News media do not expressly favor the Iraq regime, but they freely criticize the war itself.

Latvia -- Russian TV channels dominate with coverage unsympathetic to coalition side. Latvian language press is negative about U.S.-led military action, and Russian-language press even more so. One newspaper, "Diena," publishes a range of views -- those of U.S. ambassador, government, and opposition. Opinion polls show 80 percent of people opposed to the war, and news organizations reflect this attitude.

Lithuania -- Not openly pro-Iraq or anti-American, coverage stresses coalition losses and weakness and Iraqi valor.

Macedonia -- News coverage relies on Western news agencies. Domestic commentary is heavily speculative.

North Caucasus -- Coverage is consistently anti-American. Themes stress environmental damage due to the war, Iraqi valor, effective resistance encountered by coalition forces, condemnation of United States by spiritual leaders, and antiwar protests.

Russia -- Coverage has grown increasingly antiwar. On the eve of the war, private TV and newspapers published and broadcast expectations of a quick U.S. victory. However, after a few days, the tone of coverage changed, with news reports emphasizing coalition setbacks. Communist media appeared to gloat over what they saw as coalition failures. State-owned or -oriented media reflected President Vladimir Putin's hostility toward the war.

Serbia and Montenegro -- Serbian state-run and other media are providing extensive war coverage, with generally fair balance. Nationalist-oriented media express sympathy for Iraq, negatively linking U.S. air strikes in Iraq with NATO assault on Yugoslavia four years ago. Montenegro media are relying heavily on such outlets as CNN and BBC. Media in Kosovo also link Iraq war with the war over Kosovo, but in a way favorable to U.S. side.

Slovakia -- Media coverage tends to be moderate, without obvious bias.

Turkmenistan -- Turkmen media provide little coverage and a Russian television channel was suspended the day before the U.S.-led attack began. Neither the suspension nor this week's subsequent resumption of broadcasts has been explained.

Ukraine -- Numerous articles and broadcasts reflect antiwar stance.

Uzbekistan -- Uzbek media offered virtually no coverage until last weekend. Coverage has been somewhat pro-American, although Uzbek public sentiment is largely antiwar.

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