Media Lens - 2001 News analysis and media criticism Sat, 19 Jan 2019 12:44:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb BBC Ignores Climate Change In Reporting New Disaster Fund

The BBC reported today that the British Red Cross has launched a rapid response disaster fund to allow it to aid people in stricken areas as quickly as possible, such as flood victims in Mozambique. On the flagship BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme, David Loyn, the BBC's 'developing world correspondent', said that 'mounting disasters' and images of suffering since September 11 had raised public awareness of the need for a fund to cover all disasters, rather than just specific ones [December 28, 2001]. But there was no mention of climate change in his report - the greatest environmental threat today, particularly in many regions of the developing world. The BBC's online report suffers the same serious omission [].

We have already seen devastating loss of life and property in severe weather events that are arguably related to human-caused climate change. In 1998, hurricane Mitch caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people in central America. In 1999, a devastating cyclone hit Orissa, India - the worst in 30 years - leaving around 10,000 people dead. In the same year, 20,000 people were killed in floods in Venezuela. Two months later, severe flooding and a wave of tropical cyclones left Mozambique and Madagascar struggling to cope, with hundreds of thousands made homeless.

According to climate scientist Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, we are already in a new climate regime that has been 'tainted' by industrial society. ‘There is no longer such a thing’, says Dr Hulme, ‘as a purely natural weather event’ [The Guardian, 15 March, 2000].

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising more than 2500 climate scientists and related experts, has warned that 'climate change is likely to have wide ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health with significant loss of life'. The respected London-based Global Commons Institute estimates that there will be more than two million deaths from climate change-related disasters worldwide in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Damage to property will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. [Global Commons Institute, letter to The Guardian, 14 March, 2000. Full text of letter available at]

IPCC scientists completed their Third Assessment Report on climate change in January 2001. The main new finding was deeply disturbing: that the atmosphere could warm at twice the rate anticipated in their previous report of 1996. This could mean global temperature rises by 2100 - in the worst-case scenario - of almost 6oC. The predicted range of temperature rise of 1.4o to 5.8 oC was described by the IPCC as 'potentially devastating'. Michael McCarthy, The Independent’s environment correspondent, remarked of the new findings on high temperature rises: ‘This implies absolute disaster for billions of people’ [The Independent, 14 November, 2000].


Write to David Loyn ( and ask him why he did not mention the threat of human-caused climate change in his report. Ask him to address this threat more fully in future reporting; in particular, you could ask him to investigate the 'climate debt' owed to countries in the poor South by the rich North (see for more details on this serious and under-reported issue).

Cc: your email to Rod Liddle, the editor of Today ( You could also email the feedback contact for the BBC's online news

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Alerts 2001 Wed, 19 Oct 2011 10:45:34 +0000
The World After September 11, By Noam Chomsky

Dear Subscriber

The Guardian recently reported that three of the top ten best-selling books on international affairs are currently authored by Noam Chomsky: Rogue States (at 2 in the list), Propaganda and the Public Mind (7), and The Fateful Triangle (8).

The general manager of a leading chain of bookshops was quoted as saying of Chomsky:

"Really, at the moment, many young people look to him as the person who is offering the best critique of the capitalist system in general, and of US hegemony - economic, military and political - in particular." (The Guardian, 10 November 2001)

Curious, then, that Chomsky has been nowhere to be seen in the Guardian, the Independent or on BBC TV since 11 September. Media Lens asked Chomsky if he had been approached for interviews or articles by these media. This was his answer:

"I've been asked a couple of times by the Guardian to write something, but it was either a topic I didn't like (the future of the book after Sept. 11 was the most recent case) or didn't leave enough time. I'm programmed so intensely I can't do anything quickly. Maybe some other journals; don't recall. I've been on BBC half a dozen times or so, interviews on World Service, forums, etc., and have turned down a fair number of requests from them, for same reasons as Guardian; either no time or pointless questions. It has been particularly striking to be on BBC right after Irish radio and TV, which happened a couple of times. The Irish sea is quite a chasm. It's quite clear around the world, but particularly dramatic in this case, that one's picture of the world varies a lot depending on whether you've been holding the lash or been under it for hundreds of years.

Noam" (20.12.01)

How the UK media must have struggled to secure Chomsky's contribution! Media Lens emailed him last night on several complex points and received a full reply by this morning. The truth is that the media do not care to have such a brilliant analyst exposing the crude deceptions and omissions that make up much mainstream political reporting and commentary - Chomsky is granted very occasional appearances but is otherwise prevented from reaching a mass audience via the mainstream.

By contrast - to choose an example at random - the former chief public relations official for the State Department, James Rubin, is omnipresent throughout the UK print and broadcast media. His role? Independent commentator.

To attempt to rectify this imbalance in some small way, and as a kind of festive greeting from the editors, Media Lens is sending you the latest speech made by Chomsky on 8 December. At a time when the media appear to have decided that Afghanistan is 'yesterday's news' - and that the people dying in their hundreds and thousands in the snows of Afghanistan are non-people - what Chomsky has to say is more vital than ever.

With best wishes

The Editors

"The World After Sept. 11" AFSC Conference, Dec. 8, 01

By Noam Chomsky

I am sure I am not the only one to have been reminded in the past months of some wise and prescient words of one of the most impressive figures of 20th century America, the radical pacifist A.J. Muste. As the US entered World War II 60 years ago, he predicted with considerable accuracy the contours of the world that would emerge after the US victory, and a little later, observed that "the problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?"

Far too many people around the world were to learn the bitter meaning of these words. It is only in folk tales, children's stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes wilful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.

These are, unfortunately, leading themes of history. In his major study of European state formation, Charles Tilly observed, accurately enough, that over the last millennium, "war has been the dominant activity of European states," for an unfortunate reason: "The central tragic fact is simple: coercion _works_; those who apply substantial force to their fellows get compliance, and from that compliance draw the multiple advantages of money, goods, deference, access to pleasures denied to less powerful people." These are close to historical truisms, which most of the people of the world have learned the hard way. The deference commonly includes the awed acclaim of the educated classes. Resort to overwhelming means of violence to destroy defenseless enemies with impunity tends to win particular admiration, and also to become natural, a demonstration of one's virtue; again, close to historical-cultural universals.

One normal concomitant of easy victories over defenseless enemies is the entrenchment of the habit of preferring force over the pursuit of peaceful means. Another is the high priority of acting without authority. The incarnation of the God who comes to Earth as the "perfect man" with the mission of eradicating evil from the world needs no higher authority. What is true of the most ancient Indian epics from millennia ago holds as well for the plagiarists of today. The preference for force, and rejection of authorization, have been notable features of the last decade of overwhelming and unchallenged power and crushing of much weaker adversaries, in accord with policy recommendations. As the first Bush administration came into office, it undertook a National Security Policy Review dealing with "third world threats." Parts were leaked to the press during the Gulf war. The Review concluded that "In cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker enemies" -- that is, the only kind one chooses to fight -- "our challenge will be not simply to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly." Any other outcome would be "embarrassing" and might "undercut political support," understood to be thin. With the collapse of the sole deterrent a few months later, the conclusions became even more firmly established, not surprisingly. These are, I think, some of the considerations that should be at the back of our minds when we contemplate the world after Sept. 11.

Whatever one's judgment about the events of the past weeks, if we want to reach a reasonable assessment of what may lie ahead, we should attend carefully to several crucial factors. Among them are:

(1) The premises on which policy decisions have been based

(2) Their roots in stable institutions and doctrines in very recent history, to a large extent involving the same decision-makers

(3) The ways these have been translated to specific actions

I'd like to say a few words about each of these topics.

The new millennium quickly produced two terrible new crimes, added to the gloomy record of persisting ones. The first was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11; the second, the response to them, surely taking a far greater toll of innocent lives, Afghan civilians who were themselves victims of the suspected perpetrators of the crimes of Sept. 11. I'll assume these to be Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. There has been a prima facie case from the outset, though little credible evidence has been produced, and there have been few successes at home, despite what must be the most intensive investigations ever by the coordinated intelligence services of the major powers. Such "leaderless resistance" networks, as they are called, are not easy nuts to crack.

An inauspicious sign is that in both cases the crimes are considered right and just, even noble, within the doctrinal framework of the perpetrators, and in fact are justified in almost the same words. Bin Laden proclaims that violence is justified in self-defense against the infidels who invade and occupy Muslim lands and against the brutal and corrupt governments they impose there -- words that have considerable resonance in the region even among those who despise and fear him. Bush and Blair proclaim, in almost identical words, that violence is justified to drive evil from our lands. The proclamations of the antagonists are not entirely identical. When bin Laden speaks of "our lands," he is referring to Muslim lands: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, and others; the radical Islamists who were mobilized and nurtured by the CIA and its associates through the 1980s despise Russia, but ceased their terrorist operations in Russia from Afghan bases after the Russians withdrew. When Bush and Blair speak of "our lands" they are, in contrast, referring to the world. The distinction reflects the power that the adversaries command. That either side can speak without shame of eradicating evil in the light of their records... -- that should leave us open-mouthed in astonishment, unless we adopt the easy course of effacing even very recent history.

Another fact with grim portent is that in both cases, the perpetrators insist on underscoring the criminality of their acts. In the case of bin Laden, no discussion is needed. The US pointedly rejected the framework of legitimacy that resides in the UN Charter. There has been much debate over whether the ambiguous Security Council declarations provided authorization for the resort to force. It is, in my opinion, beside the point. To resolve the debate would have been simple enough, had there been any wish to do so. There is scarcely any doubt that Washington could have obtained entirely unambiguous Security Council authorization, not for attractive reasons. Russia is eager to gain US support for its own massive crimes. China hopes to be admitted to the coalition of the just for the same reasons, and in fact, states throughout the world recognized at once that they could now enlist the support of the global superpower for their own violence and repression, a lesson not lost on the global managers either. British support is reflexive; France would raise no objections. There would, in brief, have been no veto.

But Washington preferred to reject Security Council authorization and to insist on its unique right to act unilaterally in violation of international law and solemn treaty obligations, a right forcefully proclaimed by the Clinton administration and its predecessors in clear and explicit words -- warnings that we and others may choose to ignore, but at our peril. Similarly, Washington contemptuously dismissed the tentative offers to consider extradition of bin Laden and his associates; how real such possibilities were we cannot know, because of the righteous refusal even to consider them. This stand adheres to a leading principle of statecraft, called "establishing credibility" in the rhetoric of statecraft and scholarship. And it is understandable. If a Mafia Don plans to collect protection money, he does not first ask for a Court order, even if he could obtain it. Much the same is true of international affairs. Subjects must understand their place, and must recognize that the powerful need no higher authority.

Thucydides remarked that "large nations do what they wish, while small nations accept what they must." The world has changed a great deal over several thousand years, but some things stay much the same.

The atrocities of Sept. 11 are regarded as a historic event, which is true, though not because of their scale. In its civilian toll, the crime is far from unusual in the annals of violence short of war. To mention only one example, so minor in context as to be a mere footnote, a Panamanian journalist, condemning the crimes of Sept. 11, observed that for Panamanians the "sinister times" are not unfamiliar, recalling the US bombing of the barrio Chorrillo during "Operation Just Cause" with perhaps thousands killed; our crimes, so there is no serious accounting. The atrocities of Sept. 11 are indeed a historic event, but because of their target. For the US, it is the first time since the British burned down Washington in 1814 that the national territory has been under serious attack, even threatened. There is no need to review what has been done to others in the two centuries since. For Europe, the reversal is even more dramatic. While conquering much of the world, leaving a trail of terror and devastation, Europeans were safe from attack by their victims, with rare and limited exceptions. It is not surprising, then, that Europe and its offshoots should be shocked by the crimes of Sept. 11, a dramatic breach of the norms of acceptable behavior for hundreds of years.

It is also not surprising that they should remain complacent, perhaps mildly regretful, about the even more terrible suffering that followed. The victims, after all, are miserable Afghans -- "uncivilized tribes," as Winston Churchill described them with contempt when he ordered the use of poison gas to "spread a lively terror" among them 80 years ago, denouncing the "squeamishness" of the soft-hearted ninnies who failed to understand that chemical weapons were just "the application of modern science to modern warfare" and must be used "to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier."

Similar thoughts are heard today. The editors of the _New Republic_, who not long ago were calling for more military aid for "Latin-style fascists...regardless of how many are murdered" because "there are higher American priorities than Salvadoran human rights," now explain -- correctly -- that "Operation Enduring Freedom is not a humanitarian intervention," so that "If we leave behind a country in chaos that can no longer serve as a base of operations against us, then we will have accomplished a necessary objective," and should "lose the obsession with nation-building" to try to repair what we have done to Afghanistan for 20 years.

While few are willing to sink to that level, it remains true that atrocities committed against Afghans carry little moral stigma, for one reason, because such practices have been so familiar throughout history, even when there has been no pretext other than greed and domination. And retribution knows no bounds. For that there is ample historical precedent, not to speak of authority in the holiest texts we are taught to revere.

Another aspect of the complacent acceptance of atrocities was described with wonder by Alexis de Tocqueville in his report of one of the great crimes of ethnic cleansing of the continent, the expulsion of the Cherokees through the trail of tears "in the middle of winter," with snow "frozen hard on the ground," a "solemn spectacle" of murder and degradation, "the triumphal march of civilization across the desert." He was particularly struck that the conquerors could deprive people of their rights and exterminate them "with singular felicity, tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating a single great principle of morality in the eyes of the world." It was impossible to destroy people with "more respect for the laws of humanity," he wrote.

That is a fair enough description of what has been unfolding before our eyes. For example, in the refugee camp of Maslakh, where hundreds of thousands of people are starving, dozens dying every night from cold and starvation. They were living on the edge of survival even before the bombing, which deprived them of desperately-needed aid. It remains a "forgotten camp" as we meet, three months after Sept. 11. Veteran correspondent Christina Lamb reports scenes more "harrowing" than anything in her memory, after having "seen death and misery in refugee camps in many parts of Asia and Africa." The destruction of lives is silent and mostly invisible, by choice; and can easily remain forgotten, also by choice. The easy tolerance of the "vivid awfulness" that Lamb recounts merely reflects the fact that this is how the powerful deal with the weak and defenseless, hence in no way remarkable.

We have no right to harbor any illusions about the premises of current planning. Planning for the war in Afghanistan was based on the unchallenged assumption that the threat of bombing, and its realization, would considerably increase the number of Afghans at risk of death from starvation, disease, and exposure. The press blandly reported that the numbers were expected to increase by 50%, to about 7.5 million: an additional 2.5 million people. Pleas to stop the bombing to allow delivery of food and other aid were rebuffed without comment, mostly without even report. These came from high UN officials, major relief and aid agencies, and others in a good position to know. By late September, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) had warned that more than 7 million people would face starvation if the threatened military action were undertaken, and after the bombing began, advised that the threat of "humanitarian catastrophe" was "grave," and that the bombing had disrupted the planting of 80% of the grain supplies, so that the effects next year could be even more severe.

What will happen we cannot know. But we know well enough the assumptions on which plans are based and executed, and commentary produced. As a simple matter of logic, it is these assumptions that inform us about the shape of the world that lies ahead, whatever the outcomes might be. The basic facts have been casually reported, including the fact that as we meet, little is being done to bring food and other aid to many of those dying in refugee camps and the countryside, even though supplies are available and the primary factor hampering delivery is lack of interest and will.

Furthermore, the longer-term effects will remain unknown, if history is any guide. Reporting is scanty today, and the consequences will not be investigated tomorrow. It is acceptable to report the crime of "collateral damage" by bombing error, the inevitable cost of war, but not the conscious and deliberate destruction of fleeing Afghans who will die in silence, invisibly, not by design, but because it doesn't matter, a much deeper level of moral depravity; if we step on an ant while walking, we have not purposely killed it.

People do not die of starvation instantly; they can survive on roots and grass, and if malnourished children die of disease, who will seek to determine the immediate cause? In the future, the topic is off the agenda by virtue of a crucial principle: We must devote enormous energy to meticulous accounting of crimes of official enemies, quite properly including not only those literally killed, but also those who die as a consequence of their policies; and we must take equally scrupulous care to avoid this practice in the case of our own crimes, adopting the stance that so impressed de Tocqueville. There are hundreds of pages of detailed documentation of the application of these principles; again, I suppose, close to a historical universal. It will be a welcome surprise if the current case turns out differently.

And we should remember that we are not observing all of this from Mars, or describing the crimes of Attila the Hun. There is a great deal that we can do right now, if we choose.

To explore what is likely to lie ahead from a different perspective, let's ask whether there were alternatives to the resort to devastating force at a distance, a device that comes naturally to those with overwhelming might at their command, no external deterrent, and confidence in the obedience of articulate opinion.

Alternatives were prominently suggested. By the Vatican, for example, which called for reliance on the measures appropriate to crimes, whatever their scale: if someone robs my house and I think I know who did it, I am not entitled to go after him with an assault rifle, meanwhile killing people randomly in his neighborhood. Or by the eminent military historian Michael Howard, who delivered a "scathing attack" on the bombardment of Afghanistan on October 30, not on grounds of success or failure, but its design: what is needed is "patient operations of police and intelligence forces," "a police operation conducted under the auspices of the UN on behalf of the international community as a whole, against a criminal conspiracy, whose members should be hunted down and brought before an international court." There certainly are precedents, including acts of international terrorism even more extreme than those of Sept. 11: the US terrorist war against Nicaragua, to take an uncontroversial example -- uncontroversial, because of the judgment of the highest international authorities, the International Court of Justice and the Security Council. Nicaragua's efforts to pursue lawful means failed, in a world ruled by force; but no one would impede the US if it chose to follow a similar course.

Could the legitimate goals of apprehending and punishing the perpetrators have been attained without violence? Perhaps. We have no way of knowing whether the Taliban offers to discuss extradition were serious, since they were dismissed for the reasons already mentioned. The same is true of the much later afterthought, overthrowing the Taliban regime, a high priority for many Afghans, much as for innumerable others throughout the world who suffer under brutal regimes and miserable oppression.

I mentioned a few of those who suggested alternatives, and one of many examples of appropriate precedents. What about the most important place to inquire: what are the attitudes and opinions of the people of Afghanistan? To determine their views is a difficult task, no doubt, but not entirely impossible. There are some reasonable ways to proceed.

We might begin with the gathering of 1000 Afghan leaders in Peshawar at the end of October, some of them exiles, some who trekked across the border from within Afghanistan, all committed to overthrowing the Taliban regime. It was "a rare display of unity among tribal elders, Islamic scholars, fractious politicians, and former guerrilla commanders," the NY Times reported. They unanimously "urged the US to stop the air raids," appealed to the international media to call for an end to the "bombing of innocent people," and "demanded an end to the US bombing of Afghanistan." They urged that other means be adopted to overthrow the hated Taliban regime, a goal they believed could be achieved without mass slaughter and destruction.

A similar message was conveyed by Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq, who was highly regarded in Washington. Just before he entered Afghanistan, apparently without US support, and was then captured and killed, he condemned the bombing and criticized the US for refusing to support the efforts of his and of others "to create a revolt within the Taliban." The bombing was "a big setback for these efforts," he said. He reported contacts with second-level Taliban commanders and ex-Mujahiddin tribal elders, and discussed how such efforts could proceed, calling on the US to assist them with funding and other support instead of undermining them with bombs.

The US, Abdul Haq said, "is trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world. They don't care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose. And we don't like that. Because Afghans are now being made to suffer for these Arab fanatics, but we all know who brought these Arabs to Afghanistan in the 1980s, armed them and gave them a base. It was the Americans and the CIA. And the Americans who did this all got medals and good careers, while all these years Afghans suffered from these Arabs and their allies. Now, when America is attacked, instead of punishing the Americans who did this, it punishes the Afghans."

For what it's worth, I think there is considerable merit in his remarks.

We can also look elsewhere for enlightenment about Afghan opinions. There has, at last, been some belated concern about the fate of women in Afghanistan. It even reached the First Lady. Maybe it will be followed some day by concern for the plight of women elsewhere in Central and South Asia, which, unfortunately, is not all that different in many places from life under the Taliban, including the most vibrant democracies. There are plenty of highly reliable and expert sources on these matters, if we choose to look. And such a radical departure from past practice would lend at least some credibility to the professed outrage over Taliban practices just at the moment when it served US propaganda purposes. Of course, no sane person advocates foreign military intervention by the US or other states to rectify these and other terrible crimes in countries that are US allies and clients. The problems are severe, but should be dealt with from within, with assistance from outsiders if it is constructive and honest, not merely hypocritical and self-serving.

But since the harsh treatment of women in Afghanistan has at last gained some well-deserved attention, however cynical the motives, it would seem that attitudes of Afghan women towards policy options should be a primary concern. These no doubt vary considerably, and are not easy to investigate, but it should not be completely impossible to determine whether there are mothers in Maslakh who praise the bombing, or who might, rather, agree with those who fled from their homes to miserable refugee camps under the threat of bombing and expressed the bitter hope that "even the cruel Americans must feel some pity for our ruined country" and refrain from the threatened bombing that was already bringing death and disaster. And Afghan women are by no means voiceless everywhere. There is an organization of courageous women who have been in the forefront of the struggle to defend women's rights for 25 years, RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), doing remarkable work. Their leader was assassinated by Afghan collaborators with the Russians in 1987, but they continued their work within Afghanistan at risk of death, and in exile nearby. They have been quite outspoken. A week after the bombing began, for example, they issued a public statement that would have been front-page news wherever concern for Afghan women was real, not a matter of mere expediency.

The RAWA statement of October 11 was entitled: "Taliban should be overthrown by the uprising of Afghan nation," and continued as follows: "Again, due to the treason of fundamentalist hangmen, our people have been caught in the claws of the monster of a vast war and destruction. America, by forming an international coalition against Osama and his Taliban-collaborators and in retaliation for the 11th September terrorist attacks, has launched a vast aggression on our country. Despite the claim of the US that only military and terrorist bases of the Taliban and Al Qieda will be struck and that its actions would be accurately targeted and proportionate, we have witnessed for the past seven days leaves no doubt that this invasion will shed the blood of numerous women, men, children, young and old of our country."

The statement went on to call for "the eradication of the plague of Taliban and Al Qieda" by "an overall uprising" of the Afghan people themselves, which alone "can prevent the repetition and recurrence of the catastrophe that has befallen our country...."

In another declaration on November 25, at a demonstration of women's organizations in Islamabad on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, RAWA condemned the US/Russian-backed Northern Alliance for a "record of human rights violations as bad as that of the Taliban's," and called on the UN to "help Afghanistan, not the Northern Alliance."

Perhaps Afghans who have been struggling for freedom and women's rights for many years don't understand much about their country, and should cede responsibility for its future to foreigners who couldn't have placed the country on a map a few months ago, along with others who had helped destroy it in the past, led by commanders who were condemned for international terrorism by the highest international authorities and are supported by a coalition of other leading terrorist states. Maybe, but it is not obvious.

The situation is reminiscent of the Iraq war, when the Iraq opposition was barred from media and journals of opinion, apart from dissident journals at the margins. They forcefully opposed the US bombing campaign against Iraq and accused the US of preferring a military dictatorship to overthrow of Saddam by internal revolt -- as was conceded publicly, when Bush (#I) returned to collaboration with his former friend and ally Saddam in carrying out major atrocities, this time quite directly, as Saddam brutally crushed a southern Shi'ite revolt that might well have overthrown the murderous dictator, under the watchful eyes of the US military that had total control over the region, while Washington refused even to allow rebelling Iraqi generals access to captured Iraqi arms. The Bush Administration confirmed that it would have no dealings with Iraqi opposition leaders: "We felt that political meetings with them would not be appropriate for our policy at this time," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher announced on March 14, 1991, while Saddam was massacring southern rebels with US acquiescence. That had been long-standing government policy. The same is true of preference for force over pursuit of possibly feasible diplomatic options, policies that continued in the decade that followed, until today, and are quite natural, for basically the reasons that Abdul Haq enunciated.

Another sensible way to assess the prospects for the future would be to review the actions of today's commanders when they launched the first war on terrorism 20 years ago: there is ample evidence of what they achieved in Central America, Southern Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, all accompanied by much the same lofty rhetoric and passion that we hear today. There should be no need to review that shameful record. Evidently, it carries important lessons about the likely future, as does the fact that the topic is scrupulously ignored in the laudatory chorus for the current and future projects, although -- or perhaps because -- that record is so obviously relevant.

At the end of the terrible decade of the 1980s, the external deterrent to the use of force disappeared. For its victims, the collapse of Soviet tyranny was a remarkable triumph and liberation, though the victory was soon tainted by new horrors. For others, the consequences were more complex. The basic character of the post-Cold War era was revealed very quickly: more of the same, with revised pretexts and tactics. A few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the US invaded Panama, killing hundreds or thousands of people, vetoing two Security Council resolutions, and kidnapping a thug who was jailed in the US for crimes that he had mostly committed while on the CIA payroll before committing the only one that mattered: disobedience. The pattern of events was familiar enough, but there were some differences. One was pointed out by Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to crimes committed when he was a State Department official during the Reagan years, and has now been appointed Human Rights specialist at the National Security Council. At the time of the invasion, he commented, astutely, that for the first time in many years the US could resort to force with no concern about Russian reactions. There were also new pretexts: the intervention was in defense against Hispanic narcotraffickers, not the Russians who were mobilizing in Managua, two days march from Harlingen, Texas.

A few months later, the Bush Administration presented its new Pentagon budget, an event of particular significance because this was the first submission that could not rely on the plea that the Russians are coming. The Administration requested a huge military budget, as before, and in part for the same reasons. Thus it would be necessary to bolster "the defense industrial base" (aka high-tech industry), and to maintain the intervention forces that are aimed primarily at the Middle East because of "the free world's reliance on energy supplies from this pivotal region." But there was a change: in that pivotal region the "threats to our interests" that have required direct military engagement "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door," contrary to decades of propaganda, now recognized to be useless. Nor could the threats be laid at Saddam's door: the Butcher of Baghdad was still a valued friend and ally, not yet having committed his crime of disobedience. Rather, the threat was indigenous nationalism, as it had always been. The clouds lifted on the larger threat as well. It is not the Russians, but rather the "growing technological sophistication" of third world powers that requires that we maintain complete military dominance worldwide, even without "the backdrop of superpower competition." The Cold War confrontation was always in the background no doubt, but served more as a pretext than a reason, just as the Russians appealed to the US threat to justify their crimes within their own domains. The real enemy is independent (called "radical") nationalism in the South, as now tacitly acknowledged, the traditional pretexts having lost their utility. The documentary and historical record provide ample evidence to support that conclusion.

Another consequence of the collapse of the junior partner in world control was the elimination of any space for non-alignment, and the limited measure of independence it allowed. One indication is the immediate sharp reduction in foreign aid, most radically in the US, where the category virtually disappeared, even if we count the largest component, which goes to a rich country for strategic reasons, and to Egypt because of its collaboration in the same enterprise. The decline of options was fully recognized. President Mahathir of Malaysia spoke for many when he said that: "Paradoxically, the greatest catastrophe for us, who had always been anti-communist, is the defeat of communism. The end of the Cold War has deprived us of the only leverage we had - the option to defect. Now we can turn to no one." Not really a paradox, but the natural course of real-world history.

Similar fears were widely expressed. The Gulf war was bitterly condemned throughout the South as a needless show of force, evading diplomatic options; there was considerable evidence for such an interpretation at the time, more since. Many perceived what Abdul Haq describes today: the US "is trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world," establishing "credibility." The resort to overwhelming military force is designed to demonstrate that "What We Say Goes," in George Bush's proud words as bombs and missiles rained on Iraq. Those who did not grasp the message then should have had no problem in doing so when he instantly returned to support for Saddam's murderous violence in order to ensure "stability," a code word for subordination to US power interests. The general mood in the South was captured by Cardinal Paulo Evarista Arns of Sao Paulo: In the Arab countries, he said, "the rich sided with the US government while the _millions_ of poor condemned this military aggression." Throughout the Third World, he continued, "there is hatred and fear: When will they decide to invade us," and on what pretext?

The general reaction to the bombing of Serbia was similar, and again, there is considerable evidence that peaceful options might have been pursued, avoiding much misery. In this case, it was officially and repeatedly proclaimed that the motives were to establish "credibility" and ensure "stability." It is difficult to take seriously the claim that a subsidiary goal was to prevent the ethnic cleansing and atrocities that followed the withdrawal of monitors (over unreported Serbian objections) and the bombing immediately afterwards -- a "predictable" consequence, as the commanding General informed the press as the bombing began, later reiterating that he knew of no such war aims. The rich documentary record from the State Department, OSCE, the British government, and other Western sources substantially reinforces these conclusions. Perhaps that is why the illuminating record is so consistently ignored in the extensive literature on the topic. Even in the most loyal client states the bombing was condemned as a reversion to traditional gunboat diplomacy "cloaked in moralistic righteousness" in the traditional fashion (the respected Israeli military analyst Amos Gilboa, by no means an isolated voice).

Americans are carefully protected from world opinion and critical discussion of such matters, but we do ourselves no favors by keeping to these restrictions.

We also do ourselves no favors by ignoring public documents that lucidly explain the thinking of planners. They understand very well that the world may be tripolar in economic terms -- with roughly comparable economic power in North America, Europe, and Asia -- but that it is radically unipolar in the capacity to resort to violence and to destroy. And it should be no surprise to discover that these facts of life enter crucially into planning.

Even before Sept. 11, the US outspent the next 15 countries for "defense" -- which, as usual, means "offense." And it is far ahead in sophisticated military technology. The military budget was increased sharply after Sept. 11, as the Administration exploited the fear and anguish of the population to ram through a wide array of measures that they knew would arouse popular opposition without the appeal to "patriotism" -- which the powerful of course ignore; it is the rest who must be passive and submissive. These included a variety of means to strengthen the authority of the very powerful state to which "conservatives" are deeply committed, among them, sharp increases in military spending designed to enhance the enormous disparity between the US and the rest of the world. Included are the plans to extend the "arms race" into space -- a "race" with one competitor only -- undermining the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and other international obligations. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is only a small component, and even that is understood to be an offensive weapon: "not simply a _shield_ but an _enabler_ of action," the RAND corporation explained, echoing not only the thoughts but even the words of Chinese authorities. Strategic analysts realistically describe the program as a means to establish US global "hegemony," which is what the world needs, they explain, echoing many distinguished predecessors.

The far broader programs of militarization of space are explained in high level public documents as the natural next step in expanding state power. Armies and navies were created to protect commercial interests and investment, Clinton's Space Command observed, and the logical next frontier is space, in pursuit of the same goals. But this time there will be a difference. The British Navy could be countered by Germany, with consequences we need not discuss. But the US will be so awesomely powerful that there will be no counterforce, so it is claimed.

Overwhelming dominance is necessary for well-known technical reasons. Even BMD requires nullification of the anti-satellite weapons of a potential adversary. The US must therefore achieve "full spectrum dominance," ensuring that even this much simpler technology will not be available. An iron fist is needed for other reasons. US military planners share the assessment of the intelligence community and outside experts that what is misleadingly called "globalization" will lead to a widening divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" -- contrary to doctrine, but in accord with reality. And it will be necessary to control unruly elements: by inspiring fear, or perhaps by actual use of highly-destructive killing machines launched from space, probably nuclear-powered and on hair-trigger alert with automated control systems, thus increasing the likelihood of what in the trade are called "normal accidents": the unpredictable errors to which all complex systems are subject.

It is recognized that these programs significantly increase the danger of uncontrollable catastrophe, but that too is entirely rational within the framework of prevailing institutions and ideology, which ranks hegemony well above survival. Again, there are ample precedents throughout the history of the Cold War, and long before. The difference today is that the stakes are much higher. It is no exaggeration to say that the survival of the species is at risk.

These seem to me some of the realistic prospects if current tendencies persist. But there is no reason for that to happen. The good news is that the reigning systems of authority are fragile, and they know it. There is a major effort to exploit the current window of opportunity to institute harsh and regressive programs and to neutralize the mass popular movements that have been forming throughout the world in unprecedented and highly encouraging ways. There is no reason to succumb to such efforts, and every reason not to. Plenty of choices and options are available. What is needed, as always, is the will and dedication to pursue them.

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:26:44 +0000
Dismissing Dissidents

You've got to admire the consistency of the mainstream media. On the rare occasions when the work of dissident thinkers is reviewed in the press, they are invariably treated with derision and scorn. Nothing strange in this, you might think. But what +is+ so impressive is the lock-step discipline with which 'liberals' focus on dissidents' alleged personality disorders: their anger, egotism and irrationality.

In a recent Guardian article (6 December 2001), Rory Carroll produces a 'portrait' of dissident novelist and essayist, Gore Vidal. Vidal, we should be clear, is not popular with the mainstream press because he says things like:

"The bullshit just flows and flows and flows and the American media is so corrupt and so tied into it that it never questions it."

By this, Vidal doesn't mean to imply that the media is somehow outside the unclean flow. Elsewhere he has written:

"I tried to explain to the press club what it is they do that they don't know they do. I quote David Hume: 'The Few are able to control the Many only through Opinion.' In the eighteenth century, Opinion was dispensed from pulpit and schoolroom. Now the media are in place to give us Opinion that has been manufactured in the boardrooms of those corporations - once national, now international - that control our lives."

Carroll seems stunned that Vidal can be deluded enough to hold these views and to believe, for example, that the New York Times is a "parrot for the rulers". Carroll says:

"The ego appears limitless. The press turns on other leftwing critics whereas he turns on the press."

In fact there is not one serious 'leftwing critic' who does +not+ spend much of his or her time exposing the obvious structural corruption that is intrinsic to the big business press. The implication that Vidal is somehow different from these 'leftwing critics' - that he is the extreme of the extreme - is false.

Carroll explains how Vidal has long been "the scourge of the US - and now he's at it again". The last phrase suggests a repetitive misdemeanour. "For over half a century", we are told, "Vidal has been a factory of polemic and prose raging against Pax Americana". Pouring off this production line have come, "essays of elegant sulphur, scorning everyone from the FBI to the New York Times as frauds and poodles."

Compare this talk of a "factory" of "raging", "sulphur" and "scorn" with the introduction to Jay Rayner's May 1999, Observer review of Harold Pinter's political output:

"Pinter of Discontent: Hated Pinochet; loathed Thatcher; doesn't like America; deplores Nato; is disgusted when his play doesn't get a West End run. Good old Harold - he's always bitching about something." (Rayner, 16 May 1999)

Compare this, in turn, with the title of Jon Snow's Observer review of John Pilger's filmic output:

"Still angry after all these years." (Snow, 25 February 2001)

And with the title of Steve Crawshaw's Independent review of one of Chomsky's political works:

"Furious ideas with no room for nuance." (Crawshaw, 21 February 2001)

Or as Rayner says of Pinter:

"The sound and the fury, rather than the work, is what grabs our attention. Late Pinter is all about sound and fury."

In his review, Crawshaw identifies a strange contradiction in Chomsky's work:

"Chomsky knows so much", he writes, "but seems impervious to any idea of nuance."

The same problem afflicts Pilger, Joe Joseph of the Times notes:

"He's an earnest, eloquent tub-thumper. The world, according to Pilger, is pretty much black and white: his journalistic retina doesn't recognise shades of grey..." (Joseph, 7 March 2000)

Pinter too. Rayner quotes Oxford historian Timothy Garton-Ash:

"He [Pinter] has this terribly imaginative vision of the world and everything has to fit it."

Like Chomsky and Pilger, then, everything is black and white for Pinter - there's no room for nuance.

A major cause of these psychic disturbances, according to our mainstream analysts, lies in the same limitless egotism afflicting Vidal. David Rieff describes how one of Chomsky's books constitutes the "latest effusion... of arrogant fantasy-mongering", by a "radical conspiracy theorist". (Quoted Ed Herman, Z Magazine, December 2001) Chomsky is "so far out on the lunatic fringe that even the sensible things he has to say are lost", Rieff tells us in the Independent.

Bloated egotism also accounts for Pilger and Pinter's curious behaviour. Rayner writes of Pinter:

"Today, it seems, he is the author of a kind of drama distinct from his plays, one in which he is the star."

Or as Charles Jennings comments:

"I guess you have to have John Pilger. With his tan, his Byronic haircut, his trudging priestly delivery and his evident self-love, your main instinct is to flip right over to BBC1..." (Jennings, the Observer, 24 January 1999)

Also in the Observer, Roy Hattersley derides Pilger for his inability to be "right without being righteous".

A black and white view of the world distorted by anger, driven by arrogance and elephantine egotism - how remarkable that the four best-known dissidents and critics of the mainstream media suffer from near-identical personality flaws.

Notice that, Joseph aside, all of these comments appeared in the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent - considered bastions of liberal thought and honest journalism in this country.

We all know, as the Italian philosopher Aretino wrote, that "angry men are blind and foolish, for reason at such times takes flight, and in her absence anger plunders all the riches of the intellect". And so, by focusing on dissidents' allegedly "raging", "bitching", "furious ideas", 'liberals' are able to dismiss their arguments as foolish, unreasonable and anti-intellectual without debating them. The strategy - itself deeply irrational and anti-intellectual - can be summarised in one word: smear. It's not like locking people up in gulags, but it has a similar effect in silencing debate.

Chomsky is well aware of how and why corporate media commentators use this tactic:

"Somehow they have to get rid of the stuff. You can't deal with the [dissident] arguments, that's plain; for one thing you have to know something, and most of these people don't know anything. Secondly, you wouldn't be able to answer the arguments because they're correct. Therefore what you have to do is somehow dismiss it. So that's one technique, 'It's just emotional, it's irresponsible, it's angry.'"

The Guardian is only one example of an avowedly liberal newspaper that consistently ignores Chomsky's work. Ironic then that last Saturday's Guardian reported that three of the current top ten best-selling books on international affairs are the product of an arrogant and lunatic conspiracy theorist lacking all nuance: At number 2: Rogue States, by Noam Chomsky. At number 7: Propaganda and the Public Mind, by Noam Chomsky. And at number 8: The Fateful Triangle, by Noam Chomsky.

Bookmarks general manager, Judith Orr, puts the consensus of the great and the good of the mainstream media in proper perspective:

"Really, at the moment, many young people look to him [Chomsky] as the person who is offering the best critique of the capitalist system in general, and of US hegemony - economic, military and political - in particular." (The Guardian, 10 November 2001)


Write to Rory Carroll and ask him if he really believes that someone who "turns on the press" must thereby be in the grip of a "limitless" ego. Ask him if he is aware that most 'leftwing critics' are deeply critical of the mainstream press. Please copy your letters to Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor.

Ask Mr. Rusbridger why the Guardian doesn't publish Chomsky's work. It's what the public wants, as book sales show.

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Copy your letters to

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:30:24 +0000
Contributors' Special

Mighty though the Media Lens team is - what with its three part-time, unpaid staff! - there is only so much we can do. We are therefore truly delighted when readers and subscribers support our efforts by writing to journalists and editors, and by sending us their analysis, letters and replies. We are particularly keen to receive letters that maintain a polite tone - it is not at all our intention to insult, rile or attack journalists.

Some of the contributions we've received have been so excellent that we feel compelled to temporarily shelve our own paltry efforts to make space for them. Below, please find the first (of many, we hope) Media Lens Media Alert - Contributors' Special.

In a recent Guardian article, Rod Liddle, editor of Radio 4's Today programme, wrote: "The general level of intelligence is way higher in news than that demanded of it." Read it and weep, Mr. Liddle...

The Editors - Media Lens

From: Oliver Tickell, 5.12.01

Dear BBC,

I am getting really fed up with all this talk of Israel "striking Palestinian targets". The very word "targets" legitimises the actions of the Israeli military. After all, what are "targets" there for other than to be hit?

These "targets" as we know from past experience are schools, police stations, hospitals, people's homes, political party offices and random civilians who get in the way. They are no more legitimate than the targets chosen by the Real IRA on the British mainland.

Does the BBC refer to the Real IRA striking "British targets"? Does it speak of Palestinian suicide bombers as hitting "Israeli targets"?

What is increasingly clear is that terrorism in Israel/Palestine is a distinctly two-sided affair. On the one side, we have desperate Palestinian men who are prepared to commit suicide as they bomb Israeli buses and pizza parlours with their distinctly low-tech weaponry. Terrorism? Certainly.

On the other side, we have one of the world's most powerful military forces, equipped with the world's most advanced and deadly machines of death, supported by the world's most ruthless and effective security organisation, and backed to the hilt by the United States no matter how outrageously criminal its actions. This formidable military and political force is being used to murder children, assassinate political leaders, ravage orchards and farmland, demolish homes and destroy the little that remains of Palestine's already shattered infrastructure.

Let us add that the state of Israel, to which I am referring, is in possession of large swathes of Palestinian territory in clear violation of multiple UN resolutions. That homes for Israelis continue to be built on these illegally occupied terrritories. That the Israeli Government until recently (yes, when he was assassinated) included a man who described Palestinans as "lice" who should be expelled and "go to Mecca" (comparable in a British context to a position way to the right of even the despicable National Front).

That it is led by a man the BBC itself has held responsible for war crimes involving the murders of hundreds of civilian refugees in the Lebanon. That in the current phase of conflict 200 Israelis have been killed compared to 800 Palestinians. And that, as revealed on the BBC's Newsnight (well done, Paxman), that Israeli snipers deliberately shoot to kill children engaging in demonstrations as shown by the statistical bias of bullet wounds to head and chest.

Is Israel committing terrorism? Yes, on a truly grand scale! Both "sides" are using the tactic of terrorism, but in this conflict Palestine is David and Israel Goliath. Please, BBC, give us the even-handed and objective coverage of this conflict to which we are entitled!

Oliver Tickell

Answer from Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman received, 5.12.01

"Thanks for this. It's a good point about 'targets.' I'll do my best... JP

From Matt Ward, 4.12.01

Daily Telegraph, Op Ed piece "Arafat's deadly blunder", Tuesday December 4th.

"The bombings were a clear signal to Washington that its mediation was not welcome and that the only way of dealing with Israel was to drive it into the sea."

This ignores the fact that the weekend's suicide attacks were very likely conducted in response to the assassination of a leading figure in Hamas last week, and the ongoing sense of injustice that Israel is allowed to continue occupying Palestinian land, despite UN resolutions calling on them to withdraw. Compare and contrast the treatment of Iraq after invading Kuwait. There's more:

"But calling for peace talks in the present circumstances is cant. Eventual reconciliation between the two sides is, of course, desirable. It will not be achieved, however, by equating Palestinian terrorist attacks with Israeli countermeasures, as Peter Hain, a junior Foreign Office minister, did in October, nor by seeking to lessen Mr. Arafat's responsibility for violence, as Ben Bradshaw, his colleague, did over the weekend."

Note the use of the terms "Palestinian terrorist attacks" and "Israeli countermeasures", which clearly portrays Israel as the victim, despite the above-mentioned assassination, which was clearly highly provocative to say the least. Strangely, the article puts the blame squarely on Arafat's shoulders, despite the admission that he is in a no-win situation, and has very little room to manoeuvre:

"In November, when he arrested an Islamic Jihad commander in Jenin, more than 2,500 Palestinians rioted. It is that confrontation magnified that he faces in any serious attempt to crush the extremists."


Matt Ward

From: Eddie D'Sa, 9.10.01

To: BBC Ceefax
Subject: When is the term 'mob' used?

Dear Editor (Ceefax),

In today's Ceefax (page 101), there is one item about a "mob at US embassy (in Indonesia)".

The choice of word 'mob' suggests you disapprove of their stand against an ally and therefore depict them as an unthinking mass. This can influence your viewers unfairly.

Why not use the neutral word 'protestors'?

Would you say: "British mob gathers at Zimbabwe embassy"? I doubt it.

Please resist using terms that reflect the BBC's particular political affiliations and loyalties.

I'd welcome your comments.


From: Iain Rodger Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2001 1:31 PM Subject: RE: When is the term 'mob' used?

Thank you for your e-mail. I do not agree that the use of "mob" to describe a group of violent protesters suggests that the BBC disapproves of their stand. A mob typically is a disorderly crowd but, in fact, it is not necessarily unruly and might just as well be autograph hunters surrounding David Beckham as the sinister gathering you suggest. However, I can confirm that it is our policy to use neutral language, in line with the BBC's deserved reputation for neutrality, and I would accept it was possible that some people might assume from the headline that the protests had been more violent than they were. For that reason we have changed it.

Thank you again for contacting us - we do value the contributions of our readers. I must emphasise, however, that no "political affiliations and loyalties" are reflected in BBC news.


Iain Rodger
Deputy Editor, Ceefax

From: Eddie D'Sa, 7.10.01

To: NewsOnline
Subject: What's a terrorist to the BBC?

Dear BBC,

The word 'terrorist' has been overworked but curiously no clear definition is provided. What's the position of the BBC?

According to NBC News executive Bill Wheatley, the label applies to "A group of people commandeered airliners and used them as guided missiles against thousands of people."

Wall Street Journal tells its staff that the word terrorist "should be used carefully, and specifically, to describe those people and nongovernmental organizations that plan and execute acts of violence against civilian or noncombatant targets."

Note that this definition rules out 'state terrorism' which countries like the US have indulged in for years.

In sharp contrast, Reuters has been fairer:

"As part of a policy to avoid the use of emotive words," the global news service says, "we do not use terms like 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' unless they are in a direct quote or are otherwise attributable to a third party. We do not characterize the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity and background so that readers can make their own decisions based on the facts."

Unless we ignore "state terrorism", the restricted use of the term by U.S. media makes no sense. US backed interventions have killed millions of civilians throughout the world. During the 1980s, news accounts would have routinely referred to the Nicaraguan contra guerrillas -- in addition to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments -- as U.S.-backed "terrorists." Today, for instance, such a standard would require the term 'terrorism' to apply to Israeli assaults with bullets and missiles that take the lives of Palestinian children and other civilians.

Evenhanded use of the "terrorist" label would mean affixing it directly on the U.S. government. During the past decade, from Iraq to Sudan to Yugoslavia, the Pentagon's missiles have destroyed the lives of civilians just as innocent as those who perished on Sept. 11. Since then, by continuing to impose sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. government has killed hundreds of thousands more children.

The US & UK have been bombing Iraq for years - without UN sanction. Many civilians have been killed and infrastructure damaged. Is this state terrorism for the BBC or not? Can the West and Israel ever commit terrorist acts or are they the sole preserve of the uncivilised non-West? How precisely does the BBC view this term? Kindly clarify.

E D'Sa

Reply from BBC Information, 28.10.01

Dear Eddie

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the term 'terrorism'. I apologise for the delay in our reply. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response, and it is a matter of regret to us that you have had to wait for so long on this occasion.

The language and terminology used in our news reports is an important consideration. The reporting of terrorist attacks is not as straightforward as may first appear and each instance is considered individually. The way we describe particular organisations depends on many things, including the context in which we are reporting; what may be a fair description of one group may not be true of another. In respect of BBC policy, our Producers' Guidelines states:

'Reporting terrorist violence is an area which particularly tests our international services. Our credibility is severely undermined if international audiences detect a bias for or against any of those involved. Neutral language is key: even the word 'terrorist' can appear judgmental in parts of the world where there is no clear consensus about the legitimacy of militant political groups.'

Thank you again for contacting the BBC.


Colin Cumming
BBC Information

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:32:55 +0000
'Independent' Commentator Proposes Rule By Violence And Terror

Instilling fear is the key to US victory in the "war against terrorism", according to Stephen Pollard, a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe, Brussels. Writing in The Independent, Pollard claims that before the atrocities of September 11, terrorist attacks on US personnel had produced only "a feeble American response" ("America's get-tough attitude is succeeding beyond Afghanistan", The Independent, 26 November;

Pollard refers to the bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. He claims bizarrely "America's response was to do pretty much nothing". In fact, the US launched deadly air attacks on the Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation. Soon after, and possibly even at the time, it was clear that one of the targets - the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum - had never produced chemical weapons, despite US and UK disinformation to the contrary (Andrew Marshall, The Independent, 6 May, 1999). Around half of Sudan's pharmaceuticals capacity was destroyed in the attack. The number of direct and indirect deaths likely ran into the tens of thousands was likely in the tens of thousands (many people probably died as a result of the destruction of life-saving medicines). We do not know the exact number of casualties because the US blocked a UN investigation into the matter.

"Through her inaction", Pollard goes on, "America has been the greatest recruiting agent for Mr bin Laden's al-Qa'ida and other extremist movements. The more daring the terror, and the more unimpressive the response, the greater the lure of a movement that appeared to be winning against the Great Satan." Pollard continues in the same vein: "America has effectively turned the other cheek in response to previous terrorist attacks, and has thus been treated with contempt."

Presumably America's "inaction" and turning of the "other cheek" include active support for Israel's persecution of Palestinians, attacks on Libya, downing of Iranian airliners, the Gulf War, and the ongoing devastating sanctions regime imposed on Iraq which has directly contributed to the deaths of over one million Iraqis. Pollard writes "The Islamic extremists saw America as a soft target that never fought back,  no matter how much it was attacked. The message was clear: America was there for the taking." Media Lens is intrigued to know where Pollard obtained this information. The extremists themselves - bin Laden, for example - say they are responding to US support of violent, totalitarian regimes, sanctions against Iraq, and support for Israel's oppressive policies against the Palestinians. These arguments are freely available from interviews with bin Laden and others. We wrote to Mr. Pollard, asking him from which extremists he had learned that America was viewed as a "soft target". As yet we have received no answer.

Pollard's article promotes the dangerous idea that yet more violence will cow opponents of US foreign policy. We find it truly remarkable that a commentator can place so much faith in terror and violence when the hideous and unending tit for tat terror between Israelis and Palestinians is clear for all to see. How much evidence do we need before we are convinced that violence leads only to more violence.


Write to Stephen Pollard ( and ask him from which extremists he has learned that the United States was previously viewed as a "soft target". Ask him if he believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be resolved by a massive increase in force by one of the warring parties - if so, which one? Would he recommend that the other side should resort to violence to face down this increased violence, as he recommends in the case of the United States?

You may wish to copy your email to the Comment Editor of The Independent who published the article:

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:35:26 +0000
Greenpeace Esso Adverts Rejected By Press

The great unreported story of climate change is the true extent to which big business is opposed to the Kyoto climate change treaty and indeed any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the corporate media report climate change obstructionism, journalists talk in vague terms of "American opposition", point the finger at comparatively insignificant business pressure groups such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), or actually applaud business for leading the way. In the Independent on Sunday, environment correspondent Geoffrey Lean insists, "The good news is that industry is ahead of politicians" in working to cut emissions (Lean, the Independent on Sunday, 5.11.00). The New Scientist declares: "Arguably, it is now business rather than governments that are leading the drive against greenhouse gases. If American industry is moving this way, it's unlikely that Bush will oppose it." (New Scientist, 2.12.00)

The reality could not be more different. Consider, for example, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) - the two biggest voices of US big business. Unlike the GCC, the US Chamber and the NAM represent the interests of just about every large corporation you've ever heard of. Unbeknownst to the public the NAM has repeatedly affirmed its opposition to Kyoto. Consider the following declaration, widely available to the public through the NAM website but, to our knowledge, unreported in the press:

"We believe that the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention on Global Climate Change is inherently flawed... We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it. We also oppose attempts by the Administration to mandate greenhouse-gas emission reductions in the absence of Senate ratification of a protocol to the Convention on Global Climate Change and/or enactment of specific authorizing statutes."(

The influential US Chamber of Commerce takes a similar stance to the NAM and GCC. The following is taken from the US Chamber's website:

"Environmental & Regulatory Reform

Efforts by environmental extremists to over-regulate the marketplace and put huge new mandates on businesses will be opposed... Priorities include:

1. Prevent the implementation of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty." (

The reason that the public is in the dark about exactly who is responsible for obstructing action to halt climate change and why, is that the corporate media are part of the same big business system opposed to action. Oil companies are also leading advertisers, big owners of the media, and carry massive weight with governments and media companies. Since 1981 oil companies have been subsidising almost three quarters of prime-time shows on the US Public Broadcasting Service.

Last week both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express refused to run a full-page Greenpeace advert calling on consumers to boycott Esso. The advert, part of the "Stop Esso" campaign, was due to appear in national and regional newspapers on December 1. The campaign calls for a UK boycott of Esso service stations in protest at the company's support for the US withdrawal from the Kyoto climate change treaty ( A Greenpeace spokesperson told Media Lens:

"We approached many regional papers last week and some nationals to carry the ad ahead of Stop Esso day: the Guardian, Independent and Evening Standard all agreed. The Daily Express and Daily Mail, having seen it, turned it down, saying their editors didn't have to give a reason why... The following regional papers also turned it down, saying that the Newspaper Association had advised them not to carry it: Birmingham Evening Mail, Wolverhampton Express and Star, Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening news, Yorkshire Evening Post. Also, Glasgow evening Times, no reason given..."

Greenpeace said that, following a Guardian report on the story, the Daily Mail decided to run the advert and the Express was reconsidering its position. Media Lens was unable to confirm that the regional papers had maintained their ban at the time of sending this alert.

The rejection of Greenpeace's advert should be considered in light of the fact that oil companies are freely allowed to spend vast fortunes promoting their products together with their 'green credentials'. In July 2000, BP announced that a 'greener' brand change had cost $7m, with plans to spend a further $100m a year developing the new image. The press have been more than happy to fill their pages with these adverts.

It is also disturbing that the Greenpeace advert was rejected at a time when the press is desperate for advertising revenue. Writing in the Guardian recently, Emily Bell notes: "For the advertising-based media industry, the current recession is best characterised as abyss-shaped. Almost from nowhere, the ground has opened up under our feet and swallowed businesses, jobs, TV channels and magazines..." (Emily Bell, 'Staring into the abyss', Guardian, 19.11.01)

But still there is no room for Greenpeace's pinprick response to the oil giants' enormous advertising campaigns!

In reality, radical adverts (like so many news reports and articles) are often rejected as a matter of course, being subject to a de facto ban from billboards, TV screens and newspapers. In Canada and the United States the dissident campaigning organisation, Adbusters, has had its adverts routinely rejected by stations and newspaper. Adbusters' TV adverts ('spots') are extremely professional and are made by some of the best filmmakers in Canada and the United States. Nevertheless, Adbusters director, Kalle Lasn, told Media Lens:

"TV Station managers said 'Why should I run ads that hurt my business. We decide what we run or not, we're trying to run a business. Why don't you just go away.' These station managers were acting as if they owned the airwaves, even though, legally, these are public airwaves owned by the people and leased to stations. Broadcasters are supposed to act in the public interest, not merely in their own commercial interest. The big three stations in the United States: the ABC network, CBS and NBC, over the last eight years, have systematically, routinely refused to air any one of the twenty spots that we've thrown at them. They've refused every single one of them!"

The corporate media is free, fair, open and neutral - as long as what you have to say does not threaten the interests of the corporate system of which they are an integral part.

Do Media Lens readers sense a conspiracy, a cabal of evil liars colluding to censor and deceive? If so, we beg to differ - there is nothing more at work here than free market forces and the human capacity for self-deception. Corporate journalists are sincere and skilled performers... But perhaps we should let George Orwell fill in some of the detail:

"Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip."


Contact the Daily Express: (specifying Editor, the Daily Mail, in the 'Subject' box). Ask them why they initially rejected Greenpeace's Esso advert. Ask the editors how much advertising revenue they have accepted from oil and car companies in the last financial year.

Support Greenpeace and the Stop Esso campaign:

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:36:49 +0000
Dumb Is Not The Word...!

"And the main headline this lunchtime: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles have appeared as a couple, in public, for the first time." (ITN 1 O'Clock News, 29.1.99)

Very occasionally the corporate media subjects itself to some self-analysis. In a two-page spread in the Guardian on April 1, 1996, headlined, 'News You Can't Use', James Fallows, Washington Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, focused on 'How the media undermine American democracy'.

With a title like that, rational human beings eagerly anticipated incisive examination of the way giant media corporations, often owned by arms, oil and other parent companies, undermined political parties, ideas and value systems threatening to corporate interests. They awaited discussion of the significance of the fact that broadsheets are 75% dependent on advertising revenue, and of how this must shift support, profits, power and outreach towards business-friendly media and away from honesty.

Instead, Fallows began by arguing that the press should stop "portraying public life in America as a race to the bottom, in which one group of conniving, insincere politicians ceaselessly tries to out-manoeuvre another."

Too much negativity is bad news, Fallows continued, "If an awareness of the parts of life that go right is not built into an enumeration of what is going wrong, the news becomes useless, in that it teaches us all to despair." Similarly, what is really irksome is that media celebrities like to make themselves "the centre of attention" by making "fun of the gaffes and imperfections of anyone in public life".

In short, the press is too hostile to power, too willing to grab attention at the expense of imperfect politicians. A more up-beat press should present American public life with more respect and less cynicism. Fallows' arguments were subsequently described as a "fierce attack" on the American press in the Guardian.

The Guardian returned to the issue last week, with an article by Rod Liddle, editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme. This is what Liddle had to say:

"When we allege that TV has 'dumbed down', what exactly do we mean? Certainly not that it is dumber than it used to be - because clearly it isn' t. More like it's dumber than we are, or dumber than we like to think we are. Meaning the rest of the population, those people who settled down, uncomplainingly, to watch acres of the stuff every evening are - comfortingly - our intellectual inferiors. We are complaining about what other people want; not about television itself." (Rod Liddle, 'News to me', the Guardian, 19.11.01)

To complain, then, that 10 minutes, or thirty percent, of the BBC's 6 O' Clock News on January 26, 1998, dealt with the Queen Mother's fall and fracture of her left hip, is simply to be an intellectual snob. Dissidents, at least, do not accuse the TV of 'dumbing down', we accuse it of moral meltdown. Our government has been accused by senior UN diplomats of genocide in Iraq. It is supporting the US government (ie, US big business) in wrecking climate treaties. It has embraced a Russian government responsible for huge massacres of civilians in Chechnya. Failure to report this, and much else besides, is not 'dumbing down'; it is moral collapse.

In conclusion, Liddle drew up a "hate-list":

"· Deepscreen narcosis: the inability to turn off the television even when you loathe what you're watching and, worse, despise yourself for watching it."

The editors of Media Lens suffer from a related complaint: Broadsheet narcosis: the inability to stop reading trivial points made by 'liberal' commentators in response to grave and urgent issues such as press freedom. Liddle had more serious points to make:

"· Brevity and banality: the assumption, which is unfortunately correct, that we will grow bored or exhausted by intelligence presented in any depth or at any length."

Do we really grow bored or exhausted by "intelligence presented in any depth"? Or do we grow bored with deceptions, superficiality, half-truths, distortion, omission and deliberate obfuscation? Liddle's own article is an example of the problem he is discussing: arguments which do not penetrate illusions to reveal important truths, arguments that do not help people to understand the world, but instead side-track them and bewilder them with trivia, are naturally of no interest. Following John Pilger's documentary, Death of a Nation, on East Timor, British Telecom registered 4,000 calls a minute to the 'helpline' number displayed at the end of the programme - an enormous response, according to BT. After a unique televised debate between Andrew Marr and Noam Chomsky on media control, the producer, Simon Finch, was "inundated" with a flood of letters the like of which he had never seen.

Commentators like Liddle seem to associate "intelligence" with complexity and difficulty. Nothing could be further from the truth: honesty is often clear and simple; it is the convoluted, deceptive arguments of the corporate mainstream that are difficult and complex. Liddle's comments recall the words of John Milton: "They who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their blindness."

Liddle continues:

"· The deification of the celebrity: usually in inverse proportion to talent or virtue of the celebrity in question."

Another trivial point.

"· Standardisation of thought: partly a result of political correctness,
partly a lack of imagination."

Economic correctness is the problem, not political correctness - journalists careless of corporate sensitivities do not last long in the corporate media. The standardisation of thought and lack of imagination, quite obviously, are the result of the standardisation of media control: giant corporations +are+ the mass media, and giant corporations all have vested interests in promoting the same 'muzak' and public passivity.

"· The great god television: an overwhelming belief that television is the single most important thing in all of our lives, and that an appearance on TV, even if it is merely to be humiliated, is the acme of our existence."

A third trivial point. Focusing on the weaknesses and foibles of the public is preferable to analysing the horrific institutional corruption of a state and corporate controlled mass media system. The public desire for TV fame is not responsible for allowing corporations to wreck the climate and to devastate the Third World for short-term profit - corporate control of the media is.

Media Lens has also drawn up a "hate-list" to add to the comments above:

* TV news consistently reports less of the truth of Western crimes against people and planet even than the 'broadloids' (broadsheets and tabloids). Richard Falk, professor of international politics at Princeton, has explained how Western foreign policy is promoted by the media "through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen with positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence".

* TV journalism relies heavily on official sources. Reporters automatically turn to the PM's official spokesperson, the White House press secretary, various business associations and military experts. Such reliance on official sources gives the news an inherently establishment cast and gives those in power tremendous influence over defining what is or is not 'news'. Robert McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy, warns: "This is precisely the opposite of what a functioning democracy needs, which is a ruthless accounting of the powers that be."

* The mainstream media plays a large role in the demonisation of western 'enemies': Qaddafi, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The standard strategy involves arming and nurturing the monsters-to-be, covering for their human rights abuses, and then publicising those crimes as geopolitical interests dictate. This is vital for justifying violence in the cause of state-corporate interests around the world, while mollifying home-based critics of such behaviour. The creation of an 'evil empire' of some kind - as in post-war Western scaremongering about the 'Red Menace' or earlier talk of the 'Evil Hun' - has been a standard device for terrifying the population into supporting arms production and military adventurism abroad - both major sources of profit for big business. Iraq's Saddam Hussein has been a useful bogeyman for US arms manufacturers who have notched up sales of over $100bn to Saddam's neighbours in the Middle East. The mass media also demonises 'anti-globalisation' protesters - often described as 'rioters' - and anyone else perceived as a threat to free-market ideology.


Write to the Guardian editor (alan.rusbridger@g...) and Rod Liddle (rod.liddle@b...) and ask them to provide serious analyses of the economic and political forces that compromise press freedom.

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:38:48 +0000
Turning Towards Iraq

Most TV, and much broadhseet, news reporting consists of telling the audience what leaders are doing, not why, and of speculating on what they +say+ they are hoping and thinking, not on what they are actually hoping and thinking (unknown but often guessable from the historical record).

Focusing on leaders' thoughts is often a kind of propaganda. It involves repeating the government line without comment, thereby allowing journalists to claim neutrality as simple conduits supplying information. But it is not neutral to repeat the government line while ignoring critics of that line, as often happens. It is also not neutral to include milder criticism simply because it is voiced by a different section of the establishment, while ignoring more radical, but perhaps equally rational, critiques from beyond the state-corporate pale. A big lesson of history is that it is wrong to assume that power, or 'respectability', confers rationality. Media analyst Sharon Beder describes the reality of much mainstream reporting:

"Balance means ensuring that statements by those challenging the establishment are balanced with statements by those whom they are criticising, though not necessarily the other way round."

Talk of leaders' 'hopes' teaches us to empathise with their wishes by personalising issues: "Blair desperately hopes to build bridges in the Middle East." This is also a kind of propaganda based on false assumptions. It assumes that the reality of politicians' 'hopes' - their intentions, motivations and goals - is identical to the appearance. Machiavelli was kind enough to explain what every politician knows, and what almost all corporate media journalists feign not to know:

"It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above [mercy, good faith, integrity, humanity, and religion] but it is most essential that he should seem to have them; I will even venture to affirm that if he has and invariably practises them all, they are hurtful."

Personalisation also gives the impression that individuals, rather than forces deeply rooted in the political and economic structure of Western society, are responsible for generating policy. This makes possible the periodically repeated mantra that 'everything has changed [for the better]' as individual leaders and global conditions change, while in fact political and economic forces remain largely +unchanged+; and with them, policy.

A particularly dramatic example of these reporting tendencies is provided by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland's article 'Turning towards Iraq' (the Guardian, 21.11.01). The article consists of one long list of insights into US Hawks' rationale for targeting Iraq after Afghanistan. We are told what the Hawks are doing, what they are thinking, what they are hoping, how they are convinced, what has convinced them, why they reject less violent strategies: "The debate raging among the Bush team centres... on...". "It is Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon hawks who feel vindicated, insisting...". "For Perle, the logic could not be clearer". "In Perle's view...". "If that does not convince, the hardliners have another line of assault...". "Condoleezza Rice added to the chorus...". "But Perle doesn't care...". "They [the Hawks] are convinced that...". "Toppling Saddam remains the unfinished business of the first Bush administration. His defiant hold on power infuriates the Bushies". With Saddam blitzed, we are told the Hawks believe, "the boys [in Saudi Arabia] could pull out and come home", and after all, as "Kosovo had already shown", air power "works miracles".

There are no balancing arguments, not one word about the vast suffering already inflicted on Iraqi civilians by war, sanctions and continued bombing; nothing about the appalling human cost that would follow yet another onslaught; no reference to former Unscom chief inspector Scott Ritter's insistence that the threat from Iraq is now "zero". We are told what the Hawks +say+ they believe - nothing about the +truth+ of what they believe, or of whether they +actually+ believe what they say they believe.

The article appears neutral - Freedland is merely communicating the Hawks' views. But by communicating +only+ their views, the net result is that the Hawks are made to seem almost reasonable. In the absence of critical comment or balancing argument (unless we consider a brief reference to Colin Powell' s 'cautious' approach balance), the reader is left nodding.

Imagine if a comparable article had been written by a Serbian journalist explaining the Serbian leadership's rationale for attacking Kosovo: "It is Milosevic and his hawks who feel vindicated, insisting...". "For Milosevic, the logic could not be clearer...". "Serbia cannot leave them unhindered, in General Mladic's view...".

The point is not to suggest a moral equivalence between US Hawks and the Serbian leadership - although the former have been accused of "genocide" in Iraq by high-ranking UN diplomats and are responsible for vast human rights abuses around the world - but to suggest a kind of thought experiment: would the comparable article neutrally reporting Serbian plans, without balancing counter-arguments, strike us as morally repugnant? If the answer is 'Yes', then we believe that this indicates that the standard journalistic style of 'neutral' reporting of establishment views is not as neutral as it claims to be; that it in fact contains within it an implicit endorsement of the leadership and the plans being described - in this case, the launching of a major war against yet another starving country already utterly devastated by war, ten years of sanctions and in excess of a million civilian deaths.

The views may flow 'neutrally', without comment, along the journalistic 'pipe', but the fact that the journalist has chosen to deliver just these views says everything.


Write to Jonathan Freedland (j.freedland@g...) and ask him to report on conditions in Iraq, on the views of former UN Assistant Secretary-Generals Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck on Western policy, and on the humanitarian consequences of US Hawks "Turning towards Iraq".

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:40:37 +0000
Advertising Makes A Mockery Of Press Freedom

One of the great 'Flat Earth' ideas of our time is the notion that deep dependence on corporate advertising does not compromise the ability of our corporate press to report honestly and accurately. Contrary to common belief, most money is not made on a newspaper's cover price. Instead advertising constitutes fully 75% of the average broadsheet's total revenue.

In a recent Guardian article, Roy Greenslade reports the dramatic and, for the press, devastating collapse in advertising revenues following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Consider the significance of what Greenslade has to say:

"...We can now see the full effects of the British press price war after eight years. General Rupert Murdoch's great crusade to reverse the downward circulations of his papers after the last recession by selling them at drastically low prices now threatens the future of the whole industry. Advertising income has fallen away and, despite Murdoch's optimism, it is difficult to forecast when the trend will reverse. That wouldn't matter as much if his pricing strategy had not ensured that papers have been sold too cheaply for too long.

The net result of his war is that many rival papers, with the notable exception of Associated's Mail titles, have been scared to raise cover prices since 1993. It has meant that most owners, including Murdoch of course, have been disproportionately reliant on ad revenue." (Roy Greenslade, 'Oh no, sales are up...' the Guardian, 15.10.01)

Plausible deniability is one thing, but are we really to believe that these newspapers - "disproportionately reliant on ad revenue" as they are - would +voluntarily+ risk such disastrous falls in revenue by launching devastating and sustained attacks on corporate advertisers, corporate products, corporate activities and corporate philosophies, of the kind that are regularly seen in the non-ad-dependent radical press?

Greenslade, like almost all mainstream commentators, fails to asks some very simple questions about the media-advertising relationship: How likely is it that an ad-dependent press will reveal and consistently emphasise the most destructive aspects of the corporate system, made up of the advertisers on which it depends? How likely is it that such a press will emphasise the adverse health effects associated with products massively promoted in its pages, and on which it depends? What chance that it will seriously analyse the role of corporations in bypassing democracy by seeking to influence domestic and foreign policy? What chance that it will reveal the truth of the symbiotic relationship between corporations, state foreign policy, Third World dictators and profits?

These questions are absurd to editors and journalists, who dismiss the pressure of advertisers out of hand.

Media Lens asked Roger Alton, editor of the Observer, if it would ever occur to him that running certain kinds of stories might lose him major advertising revenue. Alton answered:

" No, if you had a story about ghastly goings on at Ford you wouldn't +dream+ of not running it."

Alton saw no problem and instead applauded the system:

"Commercial considerations are very, very important - any responsible journalist should take account of those. So it's not that all advertisers are bad: in a commercial world, we depend on advertisers as well as revenue to keep going."

Alton seemed to miss the point, so we turned to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian: Would he ever consider the effect on advertising incomes before printing something? Rusbridger said:

"Um, no, I don't think so. No, I think... I wouldn't have thought so. Sometimes you publish stories and advertisers pick their ball up in a sulk and go away. It does happen, and if you're a decent editor you don't take any notice; and eventually the advertisers either need you more than you need them, or... I don't think it's a sort of huge issue in the mainstream press, at the moment, in a thriving economy. I think it's much more of an issue for magazines that are very, very heavily dependent on a narrow range of advertisers, so I think the fashion press works like that."

We also asked one of Channel 4's newsreaders, Jon Snow, who said:

"Well how do you propose to fund them?... You want to produce a bland, boring, under-financed bloody media, which has no adverts, and which prattles on about events that occurred 30 years ago."

An international memo put out by tobacco company Philip Morris reveals the reality beyond these arguments:

"The media like the money they make from our advertisements and they are an ally that we can and should exploit... We should make a concerted effort in our principal markets to influence the media to write articles or editorials positive to the industry position on the various aspects of the smoking controversy."

In 1993 Mercedes Benz told 30 different magazines that it would withdraw its advertisements from any issue that contained articles critical of Mercedes, German products or Germany.

In a letter to over 100 magazines, Chrysler corporation advised in 1997: "In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, it is required that Chrysler corporation be alerted in advance of any and all editorial content that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or any editorial content that could be construed as provocative or offensive."

The Economist reports how media projects "unsuitable for corporate sponsorship tend to die on the vine," adding that media "have learned to be sympathetic to the most delicate sympathies of corporations".

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR - reports that in a 2000 Pew Centre for the People & the Press poll of 287 US reporters, editors and news executives, about one-third of respondents, said that news that would "hurt the financial interests" of the media organization or an advertiser goes unreported. Forty-one percent said they themselves have avoided stories, or softened their tone, to benefit their media company's interests. When a 2000 Time magazine series on environmental campaigners, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, failed to mention anti-auto campaigners, Time's international editor admitted that mentioning them would be inappropriate because, after all, "we don't run airline ads next to stories about airline crashes".

Proctor & Gamble, the world's biggest advertiser, explicitly prohibited programmes "which could in any way further the concept of business as cold, ruthless, and lacking all sentiment or spiritual motivation".

In a rare, dissenting article, Richard Ingrams of the Observer indicated the hidden connection between media silence on mobile phone health risks and profits:

"When the newspapers are obviously doing so well out of all this advertising, it is not so surprising that they tend not to give much coverage to the growing evidence that mobile phones are not only anti-social but extremely dangerous." (Richard Ingrams, the Observer, 19.12.99)

Advertising is only one of a range of powerful constraints on free reporting - media entities are themselves profit-seeking corporations, owned by giant parent companies (arms manufacturers, nuclear power construction companies, and the like), and by wealthy moguls with all kinds of fingers in all kinds of business pies. They are vulnerable to attack by powerful corporate front groups and flak machines, and deeply dependent for breaking news on business-friendly state news sources.

Together, these pressures combine to create the media servility that we see all around us. Corporate criminality +is+ exposed, globalisation +is+ challenged, but in such a piecemeal, disembodied and feeble way that it constitutes a massive distortion of reality; one which prevents the public gaining an awareness of the true scale and destructiveness of corporate power.

The 'free press' is a lynchpin of the corporate system. Its role is to maintain the vital illusion of neutrality and objectivity, while promoting an establishment agenda, obscuring the charade that is business-controlled domestic politics, and covering for state-corporate responsibility for massive human rights abuses abroad. We cannot possibly receive an honest picture of the world from the corporate press - not of the problems that face us, their urgency, their cause nor, most importantly, their solutions.


Contact The Guardian and ask one or more of the following questions:

* How likely is it that an ad-dependent press, including The Guardian, will reveal and consistently emphasise the most destructive aspects of the corporate system, made up of the advertisers on which it depends?

* How likely is it that such a press will seriously analyse the role of  corporations in bypassing democracy by seeking to influence domestic and foreign policy?

* How likely is it that such a press will reveal the truth of the symbiotic relationship between corporations, state foreign policy, Third World dictators and profits?

Roy Greenslade, columnist:

Alan Rusbridger, editor:

Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:41:56 +0000
The BBC's Political Editor Responds

Our media alert, "New Chairman Confirms the BBC as a Mouthpiece for Establishment Views" (October 3, 2001), provoked a response from the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr. This is Mr Marr's response (October 7, 2001) followed by the reply from Media Lens:

Dear David Cromwell

thank you. It is very easy, an old game, to caricature someone's views with brutally selective quotation. I was concerned enough about what you said I had said to go back and look up the article in which you allege I said the Serbs were beasts, etc.

Well, surprise, surprise, I didn't say that - as you must know perfectly well. And the 'like an alien race' comment was in the context of describing the division that has occured between the post- war consciousness of nuclear-protected Western society and others, for whom the old raw excitements and sacrifices of war remain - like the Serbs in Kosovo AND, I said, the KLA. I was attacking a policy of bombing civilians and poisoning water supplies from '15,000 feet', rather than threatening to push out Milosevic with the more dangerous option of ground troops. (As, you fail to note, then happened, leading to the Serb withdrawal and Milosevic's fall, neither of them, I assume events that you welcome.)

But I don't really know why I am bothering to say all this. You must have read the original. You must therefore know what a deliberate and cynical distortion of the original article you have published. I'm afraid I think it is just pernicious and anti-journalistic. I note that you advertise an organisation called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting so I guess at least you have a sense of humour. But I don't think I will bother with 'Media Lens' next time, if you don't mind.

Andrew Marr

Reply to Andrew Marr from Media Lens:

October 13, 2001

Dear Andrew Marr,

Thank you for your prompt response to our media alert of October 3. We appreciate you responding to our serious concerns. Our intention is to promote honest and rational debate; not to make personal attacks on you or anyone else.

You say that you did not use the word "beasts" in describing the Serbian people. Here is the paragraph in full from which we quoted you, as it appears on the Guardian Unlimited website at:,4273,3857957,00.html

"The Cold War, in short, could also have been called the Cold Peace. It was a time of stability - terrifying stability. When it ended we found ourselves in a new world, a place of reassuring instability, where the prospect of a final, crashing Armageddon seemed much less, but where, nevertheless, local conflicts could ignite more easily. After the permafrost, the beasts. We are not well-prepared for this. The idea that our people should go and die in large numbers appals us. Killing our enemies appals us too. The war-hardened people of Serbia, far more callous, seemingly readier to die, are like an alien race. So, for that matter, are the KLA."

You wrote "after the permafrost, the beasts", and then immediately introduced the Serbs whom you described as: "war-hardened... far more callous, seemingly readier to die ... like an alien race." If you were not describing the Serbs as "beasts", to whom were you referring? Including the KLA as callous beasts only added to your harsh judgement of the Serbs as a people. Such demonisation of groups targeted as "the enemy" by our government has, sadly, been standard practice in establishment-friendly reporting since WWI and earlier. As an admirer of Orwell's writing, you are doubtless aware of this.,4273,4266289,00.html.)

There was no mention in your article of the many victims of "nuclear- protected western society": the millions killed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or in Central and Latin America, Iraq, Indonesia, East Timor and elsewhere. These victims make a nonsense of any notion of a "feminised" west and the "far more callous" beasts.

You say that you were "attacking a policy of bombing civilians and poisoning water supplies from '15,000 feet', rather than threatening to push out Milosevic with the more dangerous option of ground troops." Nowhere in your article did you accuse Nato of "poisoning water supplies from '15,000 feet'" - a truly shocking claim. Instead you lamented "attacking TV stations and civilian water supplies" and warned of what might happen were the Danube to be poisoned by the effects of war - not the same thing.

You did describe the attacking of civilian targets as "decadent" - a curious word to describe what were, in fact, war crimes. Presumably you would not describe Milosevic's crimes in Kosovo as "decadent". Your article addressed your concerns that NATO victory might not be achieved by air power alone. But what about the welfare of civilians, who would have suffered far more had your advice on launching a ground war been taken?

Your claim that you were primarily concerned with the welfare of civilians is further undermined by your point that, "Nato could yet win the war and yet fail in its most important, undeclared war aim, which is to stay together and alive as the world's most potent military alliance." You added: "whether this happens or not - and on balance I'm more optimistic...", suggesting that you shared Nato's view that the war's most important - and undeclared - aim was to preserve NATO as "the world's most potent military alliance". Any "humanitarian" intent, then was presumably secondary. In fact, we would argue that it was non-existent, or almost so. [See, for example, Noam Chomsky's "The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo" (Pluto Press, London, 1999).]

Finally, we reject your presumption that we did not "welcome" the withdrawal of Serbs from Kosovo or the fall of Milosevic. However, to present these events as retrospective justification for NATO's war crimes is crass. As Robert Fisk of The Independent concluded in the wake of the bombing:

"Nato's bombing brought a kind of peace to Kosovo - but only after it had given the Serbs the opportunity to massacre or dispossess half the Albanian population of the province, caused billions of dollars in damage to Yugoslavia's infrastructure, killed hundreds of Yugoslav civilians, destabilised Macedonia and gravely damaged relations with China. And the media called this a successful war."  [The Independent, 29 June, 1999].

There are other aspects of your article, and mainstream reporting of the Balkans war, that we do not have space to address fully here: such as the nature of NATO's accept-or-be-bombed proposal, i.e. an ultimatum, to the Serbs in March 1999. Or the relative timing of NATO bombing and refugee flows: the west's leaders told us that the bombing was taken in "response" to expulsions of Kosovar Albanians and to "reverse" the flow. But there was scant mention anywhere in the mainstream media that the NATO bombing actually +precipitated+ a huge flood of refugees, creating conditions that allowed Serbian atrocities actually to escalate.

The aim of our media alert of October 3 was to show how the media - in particular, the BBC - act as an establishment mouthpiece. Accusing those who opposed NATO bombing of not welcoming the removal of Milosevic is an irrational and lamentable response.

David Edwards and David Cromwell, Media Lens


Alerts 2001 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 08:47:08 +0000