In the period up to the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq the media have gone into overdrive to cover every angle of how wrong it all was. There have been Anniversary Specials in the magazines and broadsheets, daily reports from Baghdad, Ten Days to War (or should that be Ten Days of Anti-war Propaganda?) on Newsnight, a similar countdown to war on the Today programme, Iraq -The Betrayal and Battle for Haditha on Channel 4, The Iraq War by Numbers on ITV - the common theme being that the war was a total disaster. Everyone has had their say, the columnists, the presenters, the pundits, the politicians, and even individual Iraqis, singled out to fit in with the standpoint of the interviewer.
What had been missing from the many views expressed was some sort of reasonably reliable survey of how the Iraqis as a whole felt about the invasion five years on. After all it was they who were at the cutting edge of the operation. Last Monday BBC News remedied this deficiency by announcing the results of a poll of Iraqi opinion it had conducted in February along with ABC News and other broadcasters. Suprisingly 55% of those questioned said that their lives were good, compared with 39% in a poll taken in August 2007. 63% believed the Americans should leave only after a period during which security and government get stronger and far from Iraq being on the verge of civil war, 66% supported a united Iraq. Unsuprisingly large majorities considered that there was still much to be done to improve security and the public services.
But tucked away at the foot of the BBC's website report was the most significant finding of all - one that was directly relevant to the media's pre-anniverary Iraq fest referred to above. That finding provided the answer to the crucial question of whether the Iraqis themselves thought that the invasion was right or wrong. Given nationalistic feelings and the terrible suffering that the Iraqis had endured one would have expected very few to say that the invasion was right - 10% to 20% at most. In fact the figure was an impressive 49%. Of those who said the invasion was wrong, the great majority were Sunnis, the minority ethnic group that had been in the ascendancy under Saddam. The full ethnic breakdown of answers to this question was 95% of Sunnis saying the invasion was wrong, 65% of the majority Shia group saying it was right, as did 87% of the Kurds (click on to "The Iraq Survey: Key Results in Graphics" for the full details of the poll).
All in all the survey rather pulled the rug from under all that media coverage lambasting the invasion and its aftermath. So perhaps we can understand why it has received so little publicity. Even the dear old BBC which had commissioned the poll and is mandated to be impartial relegated it to about half-way down its television Six O' Clock News and to bottom of the Ten O' Clock News. Needless to say it was presented as a mix of positive and negative news, glimmers of opimism etc with, scandalously, NO MENTION AT ALL of the key finding about Iraqi attitudes to the invasion.
Am I being too cynical in concluding that the BBC ran the story this way because it tended to undermine the negative spin they were putting on the invasion in their other programmes? I think not, bearing in mind that two months after my complaint to them about their negative coverage of the best crime figures we have had for years (click here for my blog on the matter) I am still waiting for an explanation (despite reminders). The normal waiting period is ten days.
Both stories illustrate how even what is supposed to be the most non-partisan part of the media can set their agenda against this New Labour government. Until we start taking this media bias more seriously I fear there is little prospect of reversing the swings against us, particularly in bad times.