The War Photo No One Would Publish

first gulf war




Not long after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 (with more than one million casualties on both sides), Saddam Hussein, then-Iraq’s leader, had his troops aimed, again, at its neighboring country, Kuwait, bringing the exasperated country back at war. The consequences were deadly for both Iraq and Kuwait, and nearly for Saudi Arabia; almost 800,000 US and NATO troops had to be brought in to stop Iraqi troops from invading the wider Middle East region. Thus began First Gulf War in 1991. Nonetheless, the war played upon was all huge mess not only for the military, but also civilians; while hundred thousands of soldiers were either dead or killed under the storms of fires, bombardments, and mortar shells, millions of civilians were also massively displaced. Most depressingly, Iraq had to pay war reparations to Kuwait almost equivalent to 80 billion US$, severely hampering the country’s already fragile financial stability.

But the public worldwide didn’t really have a complete idea about how the war was truly about. Kenneth Jarecke captured raw, real pictures about the worn-out troops, dead bodies, and all gruesome scenery from the battlefields, but none of the mass media wanted to publish his work instead. And much of the public remains concealed by the reality, up to now.

Read the full article in The Atlantic about Jarecke’s photographs.




Not every gruesome photo reveals an important truth about conflict and combat. Last month, The New York Times decided—for valid ethical reasons—to remove images of dead passengers from an online story about Flight MH-17 in Ukraine and replace them with photos of mechanical wreckage. Sometimes though, omitting an image means shielding the public from the messy, imprecise consequences of a war—making the coverage incomplete, and even deceptive.

In the case of the charred Iraqi soldier, the hypnotizing and awful photograph ran against the popular myth of the Gulf War as a “video-game war”—a conflict made humane through precision bombing and night-vision equipment. By deciding not to publish it, TIME magazine and the Associated Press denied the public the opportunity to confront this unknown enemy and consider his excruciating final moments.

The image was not entirely lost. The Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France both published it after the American media refused. Many months later, the photo also appeared in American Photo, where it stoked some controversy, but came too late to have a significant impact. All of this surprised the photographer, who had assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war. “When you have an image that disproves that myth,” he says today, “then you think it’s going to be widely published.”

We own the media. We are the power.

I did not find anything wrong with one of Indonesia’s leading news channels, TvOne, attempting to augment the seraphic side of Aburizal Bakrie. There’s no problem with Mr.Bakrie commanding the editorial board to polish his sexagenarian, triangular-shaped – rather than to say diamond-shaped, as most face-reading experts would accede to – face. There’s even nothing wrong  the TV station was asked to invite experts who prompted advice, indirectly, on how he would win the 2014 presidential election, the time the consensus-making ex-general currently in the ascendancy, President SBY, will have to step down.

I couldn’t understand why, but each time this TV station has intimation with ‘Bakrie’s’ name tagged in, I would always – and I can’t stand to – start smiling. When one of his sons got married with a pin-up,chic actress, the channel had its own William-and-Kate-alike red-letter day. When his mother passed out – it’s ordinary that someone bemoan her pullout from this profane world – it was repeatedly labelled ‘breaking news’, while other channels were actually airing either talk shows, tearjerking no-begin-no-end soap operas, or recidivously-screened out-of-date Hollywood films. Lastly, when Bakrie single-handedly appointed himself as the sole presidential nominee from the long-deposed Golkar party, the party where he served the main chairman (its raj-like cathedra overcast after Soeharto was ousted in 1998 by pro-reform students), while political analysts had repeatedly warned that Golkar’s popularity would even drain severely had he done so.

Firstly, I sympathize (but feel free to question my compliance) regarding to his mother’s dropping-a-cue. But, one thing that questioned me was this: is it a must that the procession be nationally televised, particularly when his reputation is divided into half ‘popular’ and half ‘notorious’, in which the latter tends to outstrip the former? Secondly, given that probably half the Indonesians dislike him, what made him remain so undaunted that he monopolized the nomination process? Is he overtly ambitious for the 2014 seat? Should I answer ‘must be’ or ‘could have been’?  Thirdly, it doesn’t matter if TvOne converts themselves into a publicity team for Bakrie’s fair name (like paying tribute to achiever-molding schools), but please be reminded of some scandals he had himself committed. As of the date this article is posted to my Facebook account (and my WordPress blog), one of his defunct energy companies, PT Minarak Lapindo Jaya, is in arrears approximately worth 900 billion rupiah (note: the 2006 Lapindo disaster, in which hot mud continuously flows out from the drilling fields in Sidoarjo, East Java, until now. Rumor has it that the company’s operating procedures and methods have been exceedingly breakneck, that even most of the energy companies refuse to invest there). At the same time, PT Bakrie Life, a bankrupt insurance company, owes its ex-customers more or less 270 billion rupiah, and it has been unpaid for 3 years. A conspiracy theory is postulated that Bakrie has actually aided Gayus Tambunan’s get-away (note: Gayus is an ex-tax officer currently sentenced for crimes of tax evasion worth more than 70 billion rupiah), had secretly met Gayus in Bali (something he dismissed as a ‘political intrigue’), and that Gayus had amassed 28 billion rupiah from three of Bakrie’s East Kalimantan-based coal mining giants: PT Bumi Resources Tbk., PT.Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), and PT.Arutmin.


As far as I know, if you visit Tv One’s website, and search ‘lapindo’ as the keyword, I bet you only attain 24 search results. What if you type ‘bakrie life’ instead? As though a fairy tale, the result is entirely null and void. But what if I type ‘bakrie’ instead? Multiply 18 with 24 search results obtained after typing ‘lapindo’. (in case your math is not good enough, here is the answer: 432)

(One more information: whenever you type ‘Hari Suwandi’ – one of Lapindo’s victims who expresses his dudgeon after garnering no compensation at all by walking non-stop from his hometown to Jakarta on foot to meet President and Bakrie – in the website, you still get quite many search results, but inconsequentially, the references link you to airplane accidents, instead, because many dead pilots reported were named, unfortunately, ‘Suwandi’.)

This makes me wonder. Bakrie has been repeatedly ‘commended’ (by his TV’s newscasters) for his attempts in improving Indonesian education system (he even set up a private university based on his surname) by visiting schools and giving motivational speeches to his students. But has he ever visited perished schools in Sidoarjo? Has he ever asked – and even contemplated – how their living condition looks like?


Ah, I just remember. Bakrie’s one is not only the epitome representing the concept of ‘concentration of media ownership’ – the situation where a conglomerate is able to control multiple mass media companies, particularly those of major, either national or worldwide, influence – but also ‘media bias’, when the truth is adjusted to what . But the second example, later, is not that linked to the latter, as I can say.

If TvOne behaves obfuscatorily regarding its boss’ misdeeds, Metro TV does it in reverse: it almost does attempt to subconsciously castigate him – and his political party – everytime cases linked to their names are exposed (like the recent corruption of Koran production in Ministry of Religious Affairs involving a Golkar politician, and a bribery scandal entangling a regent in Central Sulawesi, who also acts as Golkar’s cadre). Or is Surya Paloh, the channel’s founder and owner, trying to avenge him, after the fiasco he faced of not getting elected as Golkar’s main chairman?

I dare not imply that too far, but given quite intensive publicity campaigns, in which news broadcasters often cover his newly-formed party (originally he ‘only’ intended to make it a ‘non-political, civil organization’), Nasional Demokrat’s, abbreviated as Nasdem, events, there is some indication that both individuals are entering the political arena. But, still, both news channels have the similar agenda. They inform the public about government’s wrongdoings. That’s a necessary element of transparency throughout the age of democracy, but just sometimes, as I opine, both channels concentrate themselves too often on bad news rather than good news, as though we were presented with an endless array of politically themed soap operas. 2 years prior, both channels competed en masse in covering the 6.7-trillion-rupiah Bank Century scandal, and intensively tagged ‘Sri Mulyani’ and ‘Boediono’, which ended up with Sri’s resignation as Finance Minister. Last year, public was day-and-night brainwashed regarding Nazaruddin’s globe-trotting runaway period, his SEA Games’ housing project, and largely thanks to the perpetuating cover-up reports by the mass media, particularly both news channels, Partai Demokrat (where Nazaruddin used to serve as the main treasurer) has had its popularity severely jeopardized, with more cadres getting suspected of dozens of corruption scandals scattered in a mecca of projects nationwide. This year, it’s getting even more tense. Having been faced with out-Heroding-Herod anarchism misconducted by the university students during fuel hike protests and per-hourly updated, public’s attention is again headed to the Hambalang Sports City project (originally worth 125 billion rupiah, the costs all of a sudden soared until more than 2.5 trillion, with many key figures of the party suspected of the involvement in the so-called ‘megascandal’). As though unfinished, our minds are again directed to the realm of corruption in the supposedly ‘cleanliest and most sacrosanct’ ministry of all’. And another episode is yet to be aired.


“Guys, who do you think are more handsome? The bearded guy beside me or this bony old man?”


Ah, how difficult it seems to realize the ‘friction’. Everybody sees the content in it. But I also see intention. It is not merely a competition. It’s a duel, undeniably. Conglomerates need ‘hidden voices’ to transmit the messages that they are – subconsciously, in the mind’s public – reliable.

This helps to explain why most of the time billionaires, just like Bakrie and Paloh, have always been interested in acquiring, say the least, a bit of the mass media industry. Even an infinitesimal, disproportionately small portion is worth enough doing: once you have the mass media in your hands, you have had an invisible, gargantuan ‘mouth’ to control people’s minds. You can let them sympathize on matters you are actually not supposed to. You make people end up oblivious on your misdeeds. And, lastly, but not entirely, it is the most formidable piece of paraphernalia to bring you closer to the ascendance of power, thanks to the ‘indirect’ support of the viewers. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffett had no regrets when he purchased The Washington Post Group – the owner of three of America’s largest TV stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS – a chain of more than 30 subsidiaries engaged in publishing, magazine, newspaper, radio, and broadcasting sectors. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – a full-fledged battalion of 500 companies – has tens of millions of staunch daily viewers in both United States and United Kingdom, despite the fact he’s an Australian. Even rumor has it that his Fox Channel (as it circulates around the American society, and has been a public secret) serves as the ‘mouthpiece’ of GOP, a party very well-revered by Wall Street, corporate giants, oil & gas pundits, warmongering generals, and fundamentalist, conservative Christians.

Very recently, Gina Rinehart, Australia’s first mining queen, and also currently the world’s richest woman (whose wealth surpasses 30 billion US$, and some experts have even projected her assets may have soared until exceedingly 100 billion US$ in no more than 5 years), has recently acquired Fairfax Group (and sold a few million after protests from Fairfax’s journalists), Australia’s largest media conglomeration to date after News Corp., while at the same time, there were rising concerns about her corporation’s environmental records. What’s more, she refuses to sign the group’s charter of editorial independence and demands that the group alter its understanding of ‘global warming’ as something ‘naturally occurring, not man-made’. What does that indicate? Or more precisely, what else can’t be indicated more, when all she has is that she owns the media, and she is the power?


“Fairfax, I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse!”

Still, it won’t ever be a sin when you either crack upon or suppress someone’s mistakes. At least, to my own context.


Want some more factoids? Here they are:

  1. It is Carlos Slim Helu’s right to acquire 6.4% of The New York Times’ shares in NYSE in 2008. That’s why seldom media outlets expose his monopoly on telecommunication industry in Mexico (OECD even lambasts Mexico for circumscribing the most expensive phone credits in the world.)
  2. Like a duplicate of Tv One-Golkar’s harmonious relationship, Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, has long had (and still has) cordial relationship with the long-deposed PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a political party known to have been dictators’ (and major oligarchs’) powerhouse for more than half a century, until its dominance ended in 2000.
  3. Newspapers in Hong Kong are so afraid of exposing the ‘bad news’ of Li Ka-shing, the region’s richest tycoon. According to Joe Studwell, as taken from his book ‘Asian Godfathers’, he would order his companies cease advertising on these newspapers once they’re caught sneaking into his ‘darker side’.


Learn more about the flaws of media here.