SCMP Friday, September 28, 2001

Fighting for truth

One of the most heartfelt and persistent questions posed by Americans, stricken and disbelieving after the unspeakable terrorist crimes in New York and Washington is: "Why us?"
Much of the Muslim world has no doubt about the answer. Therefore, when journalists at Voice of America defied their Government to broadcast an interview with the reclusive mullah who heads the Taleban, they were doing no more than providing information the world sought.
The anger of State Department officials at the defiance of the publicly funded station was to be expected. Every government would prefer to have a compliant media as a propaganda tool to bolster its actions in times of emergency. If security is at stake, a news blackout is a necessity. But journalists at the station regarded the interview as legitimate news and recognised it as an issue of press freedom. They bravely went ahead.
This debate surfaces in the democratic world every time a country is involved in conflict. Because the BBC did not shrink from broadcasting the facts in World War II, Britons were able to ignore propaganda from enemy stations about sunken ships and casualty figures, knowing they got the truth from their own broadcaster. But the BBC still had to fight the battle of the airwaves during the Falklands War.
Americans, like the rest of the world, have the right to expect the full facts about this conflict, and how and why it happened. Many dissenting foreign voices see the US as a terrorist regime because of the bombing of Iraq, and for supplying US$5 billion (HK$39 billion) in armaments to Israel each year. Such people are not all terrorists. There are millions of moderate Muslims, the consul-general of Pakistan said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club this week, who are equally appalled at the outrage, which he said was carried out by men who defiled the name of Islam, a religion of peace.
If America and its allies are arming for an undefined war in a world where no country and no individual is safe, the taxpayers who finance it are entitled to know the whole story. How else can they judge the rightness of the US cause, or have a say in how Washington should act to build a fairer world?