Europe's media little enamored of either U.S. or war

Tough criticism highlights big erosion of relations

War in Iraq

April 03, 2003|By Robyn Dixon and Henry Chu | Robyn Dixon and Henry Chu,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MOSCOW - Bloodied corpses of U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians, a wounded coalition soldier with a serial number written in black on his forehead, relentless commentary on the mistakes of "occupying" forces in Iraq: The sights and sounds are not from an Arab TV network. They are from Russian television.

Amid harsh anti-war rhetoric from the Kremlin - President Vladimir V. Putin calls the Iraq war the worst international crisis since World War II - the war coverage on Russian state television underscores the damage to Russian-U.S. relations caused by the war.

Russians once endured the gory images of military humiliation in Chechnya on their TV screens, but much of today's Iraq war coverage tells them that the world's most powerful military force is suffering a similar fate. Implicit is that America is not so great, and Russia is not on its knees after all.

In France and Germany, the two European states that joined with Russia in most strongly opposing the war, the media tone has also been pointedly critical.

"Superpower in the Sand: America's Stuck Blitzkrieg" was the cover headline on the prestigious weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

German newspapers have focused on Iraqi civilian casualties. On its front page Sunday, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel featured the headline "Bloodbath in Baghdad Market" in reference to a strike Friday that killed dozens.

In Tuesday's Bild, under the headline "Trench Warfare," an article asked, "Will it be as terrible as World War I?" alongside a photo of a German soldier in the trenches then.

In France, Le Monde asked, "Where is Bush's war going?" in an article Friday focusing on civilian casualties.

Criticism of the war in the left-wing French media is at times particularly barbed. On Saturday, the cover of the daily Liberation ran a U.S. soldier's words, "We're afraid of anything," across a picture of Iraqis fleeing their homes with whatever they could carry.

Even in Spain, a staunch ally of the Bush administration, media coverage of the war has been skeptical and critical. It reflects overwhelming public opposition to the pro-war stance of the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who joined the United States and Britain in sponsoring the failed United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Spain's top two newspapers, the center-left El Pais and usually more conservative El Mundo, have taken an outspoken anti-war stand in their editorial pages.

Yesterday, the front page of the Internet version of El Pais featured a photo of the Baghdad maternity hospital damaged by U.S. bombs. El Mundo ran a prominent article about U.S. military chiefs admitting that they had used a cluster bomb on an armored column for the first time.

In Russia, where the populace has been relatively apathetic about the war, the state television coverage is a direct indicator of the Kremlin's viewpoint. Some Russian analysts believe that Putin outflanks the French leader President Jacques Chirac as the war's most outspoken critic.

"In their desire to subdue Iraq, the U.S. goes so far as to fight against children," said Yekaterina Andreyeva, anchor of the news program Vremya on state network Channel One, commenting on a report of a gunbattle involving Iraqi boys and American soldiers.

Nor can Russia's independent stations resist the occasional jibe. "British soldiers only have enough courage to watch from afar through the optical sights of their sniper rifles, as hundreds of Arab men snatch boxes of canned and long-life food from each others' hands," said Sergei Mikhailov, from independent TVS, commenting on an aid distribution last week in southern Iraq. This from the station whose war and general political coverage is most pro-Western.

Some in Russia think it has all gone too far: Kommersant-Vlast magazine suggested that station's coverage was so pro-Iraqi "it could be translated into Arabic and sent to the Iraqi Information Ministry as humanitarian aid."

Robyn Dixon and Henry Chu are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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