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Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous speaks about Democracy Now and the importance of independent media. Credit: Alexandra Fleischman

Sharif Abdel Kouddous is mad at the corporate media.

The senior producer for the independent news program Democracy Now!, Kouddous spoke to a small crowd in College Hall about the program and the importance of independent media in an event organized by Penn for Peace, Penn for Palestine and Philly Against War. This was the inaugural event for Penn for Peace, which was re-formed this year after several years of dormancy.

Kouddous, who has worked for Democracy Now! since 2003 and covered the Iraq War as well as other national and international stories, criticized the mainstream media for “abdicating its duty” as the watchdogs of the government.

As an example, he cited the coverage of the recent release by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks of some 400,000 military documents, among which were details of torture cases perpetrated by the Iraqi Army that the United States ignored. He compared the headlines of the various international papers, such as the Guardian’s “Iraq war logs: secret files show how U.S. ignored torture,” to The New York Times’, which was “Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands, Logs Say.”

Kouddous also talked at length about the difficulty of getting both sides of a war story when embedded with the U.S. military, as most reporters are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mainstream media’s failure to fully investigate the Bush Administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“The Washington press corps has traded their spines for insider access,” Kouddous said, and “see themselves as validated when they don’t anger those in power.”

This is backwards, he said. “The press should not be afraid of the government. The government should be afraid of the press.”

The audience, which consisted of both Penn students and members of the broader Philadelphia community, was enthusiastic about the talk.

“It was exciting to hear a more fully thought-out perspective from people who produce media,” Bryn Mawr College student Sarah Aubrey said of Kouddous’s talk.

College senior Nantina Vgontzas, who helped resurrect Penn for Peace and coordinate the event, was very pleased with both the event the renewed antiwar presence at Penn.

“These are issues that really bother me, and I think it’s our duty as students to make them known,” she said.

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