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Did Xinhua Lead Global Media on Invasion of Iraq Story?

Image: An explosion rocks Baghdad during air strikes March 21, 2003.
Source: Yahoo

March 21, 2013
By Pang Lei

When coalition forces from the U.S., UK, Poland and Australia launched a much-anticipated military attack on Iraq ten years ago today, which media outlet was the first to broadcast the news to the world?

I was surprised to hear from one of my colleagues here at the paper that Xinhua News Agency has claimed the honor for themselves.

According to Xinhua, the Middle East bureau of China's official news agency in Cairo was 10 seconds ahead of CNN in reporting the outbreak of hostilities. Xinhua says it also beat out other major international media outlets like AFP, AP and Reuters.

Jamal Hashim (贾迈勒), an Iraqi journalist with ties to Xinhua, remained in Baghdad after Chinese reporters from Xinhua's Iraq bureau evacuated the country on Mar 17 along with embassy staff.

Mr. Hashim phoned Xinhua's Middle East Bureau from Baghdad at 5.33am (local time) on the morning of Mar 20, 2003 after he first heard air raid sirens blaring and then raced to the roof of his building and heard the sounds of explosions from the city.

At 5:33 and 50 seconds, Xinhua's Cairo office broadcast Hashim's message in English - "explosions heard in Baghdad, America has commenced hostilities against Iraq."

Xinhua was elated to have beat out the other wire services in breaking one of the biggest stories of the decade and they feted their new star reporter. Hashim was officially offered a reporting position with Xinhua (he continues to file stories from Iraq for Xinhua), awarded $1,000 and invited to Beiijng to meet with the head of the news agency and receive two of their highest honors.

I've no way of checking whether Xinhua's claims are true or not.

I guess no matter what the story, every wire service is in competition with the other major players to get the news out first and is no doubt proud to get the jump on the others.

However, in the large scheme of things, it doesn't seem to really matter too much who was first to report that the bombing of Baghdad had begun. It was soon clear to everyone that the invasion had been launched and less than an hour later the U.S. President, in an address to the nation, officially announced that military operations were under way.

It so happens that Mar 20, 2003 is also the anniversary of an event that had a much bigger impact on the media in Mainland China.

On the same day that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" began, Sun Zhigang (孙志刚), a migrant worker who had been detained for not having a resident permit in Guangzhou on Mar 17, was reported to have died in a clinic for housing "vagrants and beggars."

Sun's family tried to get local media to report on the suspicious death - the official version was that the healthy 27-year-old had died of a cerebral hemorrhage and a heart attack - but no newspapers dared to touch the sensitive story.

Eventually, Southern Metropolitan Daily (南方都市报) agreed to run the story in what is now lauded as a watershed moment in investigative journalism on the mainland. The story and subsequent controversy not only resulted in an official investigation into Sun's death and the eventual sentencing of the people responsible for his death, but many also credit it with the government's decision to dismantle the measures that allowed local police to detain and repatriate illegal internal migrants.

Links and Sources Xinhua\'s Reporter in Baghdad Awarded for Swift War Report 我的伊拉克同行贾迈勒
Beijing Times: 我第一个发出伊战爆发快讯
Wuhan Evening News: 84 Days and Nights in Guangzhou


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