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Demonizing the tyrant: Saddam Hussein's image in Spanish news programs during the Second Persian Gulf War

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This article analyzes Saddam Hussein's image as portrayed by the three leading Spanish television prime-time newscasts during the Iraq war, from 24 February to 1 May 2003. The television channels involved are the public broadcaster, TVE-1, and two commercial stations, Antena 3 and Telecinco. On one hand, the characteristics attributed to Saddam Hussein as a leader and his relationship with the Iraqi people as well as the elements that define his personality are examined: his way of living, of being, his behaviour, and so forth. On the other hand, the resources used in the building of this image are taken into account, both in terms of televised journalism as well as propaganda techniques. The scarcity of information coming from Iraq and the difficulties encountered by special correspondents many of which were technical in nature forced television stations to depend, in large part, on Allied audiovisual sources. The nature of broadcast news its fragmentation, brevity, reiteration and the lack of contextualization favoured the Allied position on Hussein. The need to show entertainment information was also an important factor in their effort to achieve the highest possible ratings. The conclusions show the extent to which Spanish television broadcasters demonized Hussein, notwithstanding the editorial opinions of each particular station. One of the most striking aspects of news coverage was the disproportionate importance attributed by the Spanish networks to insignificant events. On the whole, such reportage bordered on propaganda, as the events covered came to accrue more significance than news which might have challenged the official government line, including Iraqi victim statistics and the nearly unanimous opposition by Spaniards to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Likewise typical of television news practice, and similar to the strategy of supplying balance, was the Spanish networks' deployment of a contradictory rhetorical structure evocative of tragedy.
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Keywords: Iraq war; Saddam Hussein; Spanish television; broadcast news coverage; media manipulation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 2: Universidad Miguel Hernndez de Elche.

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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