Ratings to die for
21.03.01: NBC'S WAR CHANNEL, or Warch, which uses unmanned aerial vehicles to capture scenes of death and destruction, has been criticised by the UN for distorting the tragedy of warfare.
The up-close-and-personal footage being broadcast under the slogan "The Warch is watching" has raised hackles in military and media circles for its explicit coverage of current border clashes in Cyprus.
The UN's peacekeeping agency joined forces with media watchdogs in voicing disapproval of the station's sensationalist coverage of the fighting between the Greek-Cypriot National Guard and Turkish forces.
The UN statement read: "The War Channel raises serious questions about freedom of the press and the kind of role it should play in the peace process. The arguments against censorship no longer hold when the foundations of freedom and truth are undermined.''
The fighting in Cyprus began last week over a private land dispute, when the Greek paramilitary group Eleftheria (Freedom) attacked an isolated farm outside Nicosia with a mortar bomb, killing six people. Turkey responded by deploying thousands of troops.
Many viewers have complained to media watchdogs about the War Channel's tendency to jump between live images of children being carried away by terrified mothers and gun battles many miles away.
"It's a gross distortion of what is happening on the ground,'' says John Mangopoulos, the political editor of the Athens Times. "The Warch seems intent on creating a drama series at the expense of informing the public.''
The War Channel uses a commercial satellite reconnaissance system, dozens of covert cameras (each 2cm square) and eight unmanned aerial vehicles operated by remote control from the network's offshore base. It is the first time UAVs have been used for nonmilitary purposes, and the risk is that they may be caught in crossfire or shot down by the National Guard, who believe that coverage has been slanted against them.
Despite the censures, viewing figures have remained high, reinforcing the network's argument that the consumer is king. Warlights, its daily highlights programme, has been topping 400m viewers a day, and other networks are said to be planning war channels. SA