Media Lens - 2002 News analysis and media criticism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002.html Tue, 24 Apr 2018 18:32:47 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Message From America - ITN Declares War On Iraq http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/231-message-from-america-itn-declares-war-on-iraq.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/231-message-from-america-itn-declares-war-on-iraq.html

Any lingering notions that we have an independent and free media system must surely be evaporating under the vast weight of evidence emerging as the US and Britain manipulate and deceive their way to a war for control of Iraq's oil. Consider tonight's breathtaking report on ITN's Evening News at 6:30. Newsreader Katie Derham began the report on Iraq, declaring:

"Saddam Hussein has lied to the United Nations and the world is one step closer to a war with Iraq. That's the message from America tonight, as the UN's chief weapons inspector admitted there's nothing new in Saddam's weapons dossier. The White House confirmed a short while ago that president Bush is now ramping up towards an attack." (December 19, 2002)

Once again, the role of the media is merely to report the view of power. Given that this is the case, power is free to do exactly as it pleases - the public will be told what power believes is right, wrong, good and bad. With no rational challenge, with all other views ignored as irrelevant, the public will be in no position to contradict the "message from America".

Derham handed over to International Editor Bill Neely, who asked, "What's missing?" in the Iraqi arms dossier. Neely's answer:

"Iraq doesn't account for hundreds of artillery shells filled with mustard gas that inspectors know it had. Iraq said in the past it had lost them!"

No need to question if these missing artillery shells are being proposed in all seriousness as a reason for launching a massive war. No need to question if use of these awesome weapons - described by arms inspectors as battlefield weaponry of minimal importance - might be deterred by the US's 6,144 nuclear warheads. No need to question why, if these weapons are such a dread threat, weapons inspectors have been allowed to come and go as they please in Iraq.

Speaking under a banner graphic reading, 'Timetable to War', ITN newsreader Nicholas Owen said:

"It seems the question is no longer +if+ we'll attack Iraq, but +when+ and +how+. So what happens next? What's the timetable to war?"

All questions that might be asked by any sane individual at this critical time can safely be dumped, then, in the understanding that imminent war is now simply a fact of life to be accepted. If the powerful have decided on a course of action, then who are +we+ to question or challenge what they have resolved to do. Owen continued:

"Unlike the last Gulf War, there's no option of leaving Iraq with Saddam still in power. This war +will+ happen and Saddam +will+ be disposed, and that message comes from the top." (Nicholas Owen)

Again, the "message from America", this time from the president himself, is war! And so Owen declares war a certainty and predicts the fall of Saddam Hussein. The media's job is simply to relay the message - rational and moral concerns are of no concern to our free press. Owen then moved on to discuss 'The Risks' under a banner headline with the same words, indicating the possible need for hand-to-hand fighting on the streets of Baghdad:

"An urban warfare nightmare in which there could be many casualties... A risky strategy for any US president in a country that doesn't readily accept its soldiers returning home in body bags."

Imagine if a massive foreign superpower were contemplating hand-to-hand fighting on the streets of London. Other risks might spring to mind. But, as in Afghanistan, the horrors facing a captive population in thrall to a dictator and targeted by our bombs, is no concern of ours.

Next, correspondent John Irvine in Baghdad:

"On tonight's News at Ten, I'll be reporting on the problems any invasion force might face in this country. Following the Gulf War, the Americans do have experience fighting in the desert. But this time the ultimate prize will be different - the capture of this city, Baghdad."

Note that Irvine can actually stand in the target capital among a civilian population utterly crushed by earlier wars (by the 88,500 tons, the equivalent of seven Hiroshima-sized bombs, dropped during the Gulf War, for example) and a decade of genocidal sanctions, and refer to problems facing only an "invasion force". The problems facing the hundreds of thousands of people all around him - problems like being mutilated, incinerated and killed - are not now and never have been an issue for our media.

Under a banner graphic reading, 'War Against Saddam', Owen continued:

"As John said, he'll have more on the War Against Saddam on tonight's New at Ten."

Within hours of the US announcement of a "material breach", even as UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insists (deceptively) this does not mean an automatic trigger for war, ITN has decided in its infinite wisdom, and servility, that this is now a 'War Against Saddam'.

Finally, Robert Moore in Washington declared:

"The bottom line here at the White House, certainly, president Bush believes that Saddam Hussein has missed his final opportunity to save his regime."

Thus, with perfect symmetry, ITN's report ended as it had begun - with a "message from America", from the powerful - the only message that counts in a media world utterly lost in ignorance, casual brutality and servility.

Media Lens will unfortunately be going off-line over the next week. We would like to say a very sincere thank you to the many readers who swamped the BBC with cogent and heartfelt emails in response to last night's Media Alert. We hope you will continue sending emails - it is tremendously important to keep challenging the media.

Tonight, both the BBC and ITN maintained the, by now, insane level of saturation propaganda, reporting that sky marshals will be used to protect British planes from terror attack. Before we sign off, we thought it would be interesting to leave you with an explanation from Noam Chomsky of the rationale for this kind of propaganda in preparing a country for war. Please forward this with your letters to the email addresses at the bottom of the page. We send you our very best wishes.

The Editors - Media Lens

"First of all I think we ought to be very cautious about using the phrase 'War on Terror'. There can't be a War on Terror. It's a logical impossibility. The US is one of the leading terrorist states in the world. The guys who are in charge right now were all condemned for terrorism by the World Court. They would have been condemned by the U.N. Security Council except they vetoed the resolution, with Britain abstaining of course. These guys can't be conducting a war on terror. It's just out of the question. They declared a war on terror 20 years ago and we know what they did. They destroyed Central America. They killed a million and a half people in southern Africa. We can go on through the list. So there's no 'War on Terror...

You've got to kind of admire the intellectual classes not to notice that the only people in the world who are afraid of Saddam Hussein are Americans. Everybody hates him and Iraqis are undoubtedly afraid of him, but outside of Iraq and the United States, no one's afraid of him. Not Kuwait, not Iran, not Israel, not Europe. They hate him, but they're not afraid of him.

In the United States people are very much afraid, there's no question about it. The support you see in US polls for the war is very thin, but it's based on fear. It's an old story in the United States. When my kids were in elementary school 40 years ago they were taught to hide under desks in case of an atom bomb attack. I'm not kidding. The country is always in fear of everything. Crime for example: Crime in the United States is roughly comparable with other industrial societies, towards the high end of the spectrum. On the other hand, fear of crime is way beyond other industrial societies...

It's very consciously engendered. These guys now in office, remember they're almost entirely from the 1980s. They've been through it already and they know exactly how to play the game. Right through the 1980s they periodically had campaigns to terrify the population.

To create fear is not that hard, but this time the timing was so obviously for the Congressional campaign that even political commentators got the message. The presidential campaign is going to be starting in the middle of next year. They've got to have a victory under their belt. And on to the next adventure. Otherwise, the population's going to pay attention to what's happening to them, which is a big assault, a major assault on the population, just as in the 1980s. They're replaying the record almost exactly. First thing they did in the 1980s, in 1981, was drive the country into a big deficit. This time they did it with a tax cut for the rich and the biggest increase in federal spending in 20 years.

This happens to be an unusually corrupt administration, kind of like an Enron administration, so there's a tremendous amount of profit going into the hands of an unusually corrupt group of gangsters. You can't really have all this stuff on the front pages, so you have to push it off the front pages. You have to keep people from thinking about it. And there's only one way that anybody ever figured out to frighten people and they're good at it." (Chomsky, Winter Solstice 2002, Issue 386, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT'S YER CHRISTMAS. SchNEWS, CHOM'PIN AT THE BIT)

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to:

ITN's Head of Newsgathering:

jonathan.munro@itn.co.uk

And write to:

nicholas.owen@itn.co.uk

katie.derham@itn.co.uk

bill.neely@itn.co.uk

john.irvine@itn.co.uk

Write to the BBC's Director of News:

richard.sambrook@bbc.co.uk

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:52:22 +0000
BBC Channeling Government Propaganda http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/230-bbc-channeling-government-propaganda.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/230-bbc-channeling-government-propaganda.html

We have just sent this letter to BBC news reporter Margaret Gilmore, and to Richard Sambrook, director of BBC news:

Dear Margaret Gilmore

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declared today that Saddam Hussein "had rejected the path of peace" (BBC1 News at Six, December 18, 2002) increasing the likelihood of military action some time next year. The clouds of war are gathering fast over Iraq.

We have noticed a consistent pattern in recent BBC reports, beginning November 7, the day before the latest UN Resolution (1441) on Iraq. The BBC has passed on almost daily reports of terrorist threats based on government sources. To select a few examples from this month at random: there has been a report that sky marshals may soon be guarding against terror attacks on British planes, a report of possible smallpox vaccinations against the threat of a terrorist attack, of the arrest of a Taliban sympathiser by anti-terrorist police, of North Africans arrested on terrorism charges in Edinburgh and London. Tonight (December 18) you delivered the useful information that intelligence services believe that if al-Qaeda were to carry out an attack in the UK, they would probably go for a 'soft target' - large public gatherings - using traditional weapons such as cars packed with explosives, etc.

Last month, of course, there was a constant stream of BBC reports warning of attacks on ferries, tube trains, public events; talk of dirty bombs, of terrorist suspects arrested, of preparations to counter germ warfare attacks, of police snipers being distributed to kill suicide bombers, of fighter jets on permanent standby, of plans for the distribution of radiation pills, of plans to evacuate major cities, and so on, almost on a daily basis.

According to a former intelligence officer quoted in the Daily Mirror recently, this is part of a "softening up process," for a war on Iraq, "a lying game on a huge scale". (The Daily Mirror, December 3, 2002) A Guardian editorial noted, "it cannot be ruled out that Mr Blair may have political reasons for talking up the sense of unease, in order to help make the case for a war against Iraq that is only backed by one voter in three". (The Guardian, 'Gloom in Guildhall,' November 12, 2002) It is, after all, well understood in Downing Street and Washington that talk of terror threats increases the public's support for war. The results could be appalling. According to a report in November by the US Medical Association for Prevention of War, the intense bombardment that would undoubtedly precede another Gulf War could cost half a million Iraqi lives. Vincent Hubin, director of Premiere Urgence, the largest foreign aid agency operating in Iraq, warns: "It is not a war they are starting; it's a slaughter. It will be a catastrophe."

We believe you are being used to channel propaganda to generate public support for a cynical war against Iraq. It is the job of free and honest journalists to +challenge+ crude attempts to manipulate the public, not merely to pass them on without comment. Your responsibility to the British public and to the people of Iraq is clear. Please consider the moral gravity and responsibility of your position.

Yours sincerely

David Edwards and David Cromwell
The Editors - Media Lens

SUGGESTED ACTION

We urge all our readers to take five minutes of your time to protest this outrageous and lethal manipulation of British public opinion. Write to Richard Sambrook, either copying the above letter or writing a letter of your own:

Email: richard.sambrook@bbc.co.uk

and Margaret Gilmore:

Email: margaret.gilmore@bbc.co.uk

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:51:32 +0000
Adjusted Curiosity - Professional Servility And How To Overcome It http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/229-adjusted-curiosity-professional-servility-and-how-to-overcome-it.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/229-adjusted-curiosity-professional-servility-and-how-to-overcome-it.html

Life In The Box

We live in strange times. Day to day, journalists are seriously debating whether a single omission in a dossier on arms, or a single failure to open a door within two hours, justifies launching a massive war against a broken Third World country with a force of upwards of a third of a million troops. There is occasional dissent in the comment pages, asking why this is happening now when the target country has done nothing but suffer, sicken and starve for over a decade, threatening no one. But generally there is respectful silence - the media has assigned itself the role of 'weather forecaster of war', predicting if and when war will come, as though addressing an act of God (or perhaps, as they see it, an act of +the+ Gods). The idea that it might be the media's job to do all in its power to prevent the mass slaughter of innocents by a small group of patently cynical and ruthless men and women is dismissed as cringe-making 'committed journalism'. On current performance, it is reasonable to assert that the media would always adopt this servile stance no matter how corrupt the interests driving war.

A further remarkable feature of media coverage is revealing. While there has of course been endless speculation on possible violent conclusions to the current crisis, we at Media Lens have seen literally no mention of the possibility of what might happen in the event of a peaceful resolution. What if UN investigators were to give Iraq a clean bill of health on weapons of mass destruction? We may have missed it, but we have seen literally no journalist asking whether non-military sanctions, or indeed all sanctions, might or should then be lifted? We can speculate on the reasons for this silence, but it seems clear that whereas war and the maintenance of sanctions are favoured establishment aims, the lifting of sanctions without 'regime change' is desired by no one who matters.

In some 60 Media Alerts published this year, we have shown how media performance overwhelmingly promotes the views and interests of established power in this way. It might seem curious that we have also consistently argued that this happens in the absence of any conspiracy, with minimal self-censorship, and with even less outright lying. This seems to fly in the face of common sense, as Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow observed in his interview with us:

"Well, I'm sorry to say, it either happens or it doesn't happen. If it does happen, it's a conspiracy; if it doesn't happen, it's not a conspiracy." (Interview with David Edwards, January 9, 2001. See Interviews: http://www.Media Lens.org)

In his remarkable book, Disciplined Minds, American physicist and writer Jeff Schmidt shows how professionals throughout society, journalists included, come to promote the agenda of the powerful without awareness. Schmidt, formerly an editor at Physics Today magazine for 19 years, points out that professionals are trusted to run organisations in the interests of their employers. Clearly employers cannot be on hand to supervise every decision, and so professionals have to be trained to "ensure that each and every detail of their work favours the right interests - or skewers the disfavoured ones" in the absence of overt control. Thus, the whole process of selection, training, and even qualification, Schmidt argues, has evolved so that professionals internalise the basic understanding that they should "subordinate their own beliefs to an assigned ideology" and not "question the politics built into their work". Schmidt continues:

"The qualifying attitude, I find, is an uncritical, subordinate one, which allows professionals to take their ideological lead from their employers and appropriately fine-tune the outlook that they bring to their work. The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorise, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology. The political and intellectual timidity of today's most highly educated employees is no accident." (Schmidt, Disciplined Minds - A Critical Look At Salaried Professionals And The Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, p.16, http://disciplinedminds.com)

This is a brilliant summary of how mainstream journalists create, innovate, experiment and theorise, but within the ideological 'box' delimited by the requirements and goals of established power. Schmidt describes this perfectly as "adjusted curiosity". Thus, despite being a socially-approved form of mass insanity, it is simply understood by journalists that it is not their business to "question the politics built into their work" by the fact that their broadsheets depend for 75% of their revenues on big business advertisers, by the fact that wealthy business moguls and giant parent companies with fingers in any number of corporate pies have the power to hire and fire journalists reporting on corporate activity, and so on. Journalists may even attempt to justify their failure to challenge media corruption on the grounds that their particular media entity is somehow free of the compromising pressures that dominate all of society. Even if we were to take this seriously, it hardly explains their silence on the media system as a whole that indisputably +is+ compromised by such pressures. For us, this kind of discussion is like an intellectual maze in which every turn leads to ever more refined and convoluted versions of unreason bordering on madness.

Similarly, liberal journalists sincerely believe that echoing the words and claims of politicians without comment constitutes 'objective' journalism. Thus Ed Pilkington, foreign editor of the Guardian, recently told Media Lens, "We are not in the business of editorialising our news reports." (Email to Media Lens, November 15, 2002) To give only the establishment view of the world must be 'objective', after all, because the journalist has thereby refrained from giving his or her own personal view! The point being, as Schmidt writes, that "refraining from questioning doesn't +look+ like a political act, and so professionals give the appearance of being politically neutral in their work". (p.35)

But of course not questioning +is+ a political act. In fact nothing could be less neutral than echoing yet another Downing Street deception on Iraq without comment, thereby bringing closer a cynical war and the mass death of literally hundreds of thousands of innocent people - it could not be clearer that this 'neutral' act is morally monstrous. It doesn't matter that all the media professionals in the world refuse to recognise the myth of 'objective' echoing - the real world of cause and effect, of lies and manipulated public support, of moral responsibility for mutilation and death nevertheless +does+ exist.

The result of this widespread subordination to 'standards of professionalism ' - that is, to power - is a culture in which critical thought and honest questioning have come to be feared, and in fact hated, as unprofessional, dangerous and wrong. We at Media Lens meet fear all the time in our dealings with journalists - they are afraid of appearing irrational by denying obvious facts, but they are afraid of revealing truths that might cost them their columns, their respectability, their jobs. They are also, even more significantly, afraid of the implications of what we and our readers have to say for their sense of who they are. Bertrand Russell explained this with great force in an essay published in 1916:

"Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth - more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages... But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back - fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be." (Bertrand Russell, from Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1916. Quoted Erich Fromm, On Disobedience and Other Essays, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984, pp.34-5)

Nothing is more fearsome to liberal journalists than the possibility that they might not be the noble defenders of justice and truth they have always imagined themselves to be, and on which image they have built a lucrative, prestigious career. The problem is that liberals want it both ways. They want to be respected and rewarded by a hideously corrupt media system with the power to demonise or embrace them, but they also want to be seen as defenders of the powerless and suffering who are so often the victims of that very same media system and its state-corporate allies. One option is to ignore the obvious role of the media system in human misery, but that is simply absurd.

This is why so many liberals accuse Media Lens and its readers of 'personal attacks'. And yet we have made no personal attacks against any journalists - we are interested in challenging ideas, not in attacking individuals, for whom we feel no animosity whatever. But in truth our arguments +do+ have personal implications for how journalists see themselves.

Schmidt cites a comment by Noam Chomsky on the reception he generally receives from liberals at Harvard University as opposed to conservatives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

"By conventional measures, the Harvard faculty is much more liberal, in fact left-liberal. MIT faculty are very conservative often, even reactionary. I get along fine with the MIT faculty, even when we disagree about everything (which is the usual case). If I show up at the Harvard faculty club, you can feel the chill settle; it's as if Satan himself had entered the room." (Chomsky, quoted, Schmidt, p.14)

Readers may recall the tale of the little girl who, playing by a deep well, drops her golden ball into the well, whereupon it is rescued and offered to her by an ugly frog. American comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell described the significance of this repulsive character, which appears in different forms in fairy tales and folk tales throughout human culture and history:

"The disgusting and rejected frog or dragon of the fairy tale brings up the sun ball in its mouth; for the frog, the serpent, the rejected one, is the representative of that unconscious deep... wherein are hoarded all of the rejected, unrecognised, unknown, or undeveloped factors, laws and elements of existence... The herald or announcer of the adventure, therefore, is often dark, loathly, or terrifying, judged evil by the world; yet if one could follow, the way would be opened through the walls of day into the dark where the jewels glow." (Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, 1949, pp.52-53)

Chomsky is just such a frog! And Media Lens, too, we hope!

How And Why We Can Influence The Media

The great significance of what Schmidt has to say should be clear - professionals, including media professionals, are +not+ liars. They are people who have been selected and trained to subordinate their capacity for critical thought to a professional 'standard'. They do this without awareness in the understanding that it is 'just how things are done'. Journalists are totally, 100%, loudly and uncompromisingly honest - within the box delimited by power. And it works as long as no one lifts the lid and takes a peek outside the box.

If media employees were cynical liars, truth would be irrelevant - challenging emails and letters would simply be deleted and binned. But because media professionals, while deeply deluded, do see themselves as basically honest, their sense of self-identity means they cannot simply reject rational, restrained and accurate challenges out of hand. They cannot maintain their idea of themselves as reasonable people without taking account of reasonable views. This provides real leverage for those of us hoping to change and improve the system. Let's consider a couple of examples to indicate the significance of this reality for progressive social change.

We at Media Lens do not know much about Darren Smith, one of our subscribers, other than that he seems to be a student at Stirling University. We know, also, that he writes letters with real power and authority. Consider the following example sent to John Humphrys, senior presenter of BBC Radio's Today programme:

"Dear Mr. Humphrys/Today programme,

On 12 October 2002 you interviewed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on the Today programme. This email presents a complaint I have about your failure to confront Mr. Straw as he uttered a series of historical distortions during that interview. Below I explain the nature of this complaint followed by a small number of specific questions, to which I would appreciate your reply.

I've listened closely to what Mr. Straw said during that broadcast and written down the most blatant chorus of lies and half truths. This occurred at the start of the interview. Mr. Straw said to you and the listeners:

"... the most brutal attacks have been launched by the Iraqi regime on Iran first of all, on Saddam Hussein's own people and then the wholly gratuitous and totally unjustifiable invasion of Kuwait, and then after that it was only as a result of the resolve of the international community and the use of force that the inspectors were able to get in and to do their work until the international community's resolve, I'm afraid, fractured rather, and Saddam Hussein was able to exploit that and expel the inspectors." (Jack Straw, Today - BBC Radio 4, 12 October 2002)

This important passage contains at least one blatant lie and a wide assortment of half truths. These are:

1) "Saddam Hussein was able to ... expel the inspectors." - This is an outright lie - a deliberate mutilation of the truth. I focus on this in further detail below.

2) "brutal attacks have been launched by the Iraqi regime on Iran ... on Saddam Hussein's own people ... and then ... Kuwait". This is a half truth. Most of Saddam Hussein's worst atrocities took place while receiving support from Western states, including the US and UK.

3) "the inspectors were able to get in and to do their work". Another half truth. The work of UNSCOM inspectors was undermined by infiltration of agents who were spying on Iraq.

In response to Mr. Straw's opening statements, which includes the barrage of distortions listed above, I listened in astonishment to your agreement. You told listeners:

"Well much of that may be true, surely is true, certainly when you talk about Saddam's record and nobody would argue with any of that." (John Humphrys, Today - BBC Radio 4, 12 October 2002)...

I certainly - together with many others - would argue with *all of that*. I'll stick just to Mr. Straw's most blatant distortion - the lie that "Saddam Hussein was able to ... expel the inspectors." This surely is not true. UNSCOM evacuated Iraq on 16 December 1998 after being warned by US officials of the risk to their safety posed by an imminent air attack by US/UK bombers and cruise missiles - operation Desert Fox..." (Smith, email to Media Lens, October 15, 2002)

And so on.

The BBC never tires of telling us how passionately it seeks the interest and participation of the public in its political output, particularly the young. The response from Humphrys to Smith's email, however, was predictable enough:

"What you fail to appreciate is that Today interviewers don't have enough time to challenge every assertion made in every interview. Of course it's true that the inspectors were pulled out as opposed to thrown out - but, as Straw has said in previous interviews with me (which you apparenrtly chose not to hear) the argument was that Sadam made it impossible for them to say [sic]. But I'm wasting my time dealing with your points. You have decided (bizarrely) that I'm in favour of a war with Iraq and there's nothing I can to persuade you otherwise. It it is possible to agree that Saddam is a monster (which is what I was agreeing with) and STILL oppose war. Can't you understand that? Don't bother replying.

John Humphrys" (Email to Smith, October 16, 2002)

We should not be fooled into believing that these irate words indicate that Humphrys is here simply rejecting the challenge - the venom of the response suggests that Smith's email hit the target. Smith, indeed, subsequently received this response from Bill Rogers, editor of the BBC's Today programme:

"Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for your email. I think both myself and John acknowledge that on the issue of how and why the arms inspectors left Iraq ahead of the Gulf War, the Foreign Secretary was wrong in the interview you cite, and John's wish to move on to more productive questioning could narrowly be interpreted as "acceptance"... I would beg to suggest that we should now consider this correspondence closed, allowing my team to move on to more and better reporting of these matters.

Best wishes

Bill Rogers" (October 28, 2002)

More significantly, two days after this, on October 30, John Humphrys again interviewed Jack Straw on Iraq. This is what happened:

Straw: "...they did throw out the weapons inspectors..."

Humphrys: "Well they didn't actually throw them out. You keep getting into trouble when you say that, as you know, and I keep getting into trouble for letting you say it. The fact is they weren't thrown out, they did withdraw. Their lives were made difficult while they were there, and so they withdrew, which isn't quite the same." (Today programme, BBC Radio 4, October 30, 2002).

One individual writing a couple of passionate but rational and factually accurate letters, had helped to neutralise one attempt by this country's Foreign Secretary to promote a war by deceiving and manipulating a national radio audience. This was a tremendous triumph for Darren Smith personally and a real sign of what can be achieved. Anyone who thinks writing letters, and other forms of dissent, makes no difference should reflect on this example.

Media Lens has also been subjecting the BBC to consistent criticism for its atrocious reporting on Afghanistan, Iraq and other issues. After a particularly dire Panorama documentary on Iraq (Saddam: A Warning From History, BBC1, November 3, 2002) our readers sent a large number of emails in response to our Media Alert complaining of the factual errors and omissions in the programme. A month later a much more accurate Panorama programme appeared: Iraq: The Case Against War (BBC1, December 8, 2002). Although the programme's makers assembled a curious array of dissenting anti-war voices and omitted many important facts and arguments, it was a welcome improvement on much other BBC reporting. We asked a friend of ours at the BBC - Acting World Service Regional Editor, Bill Hayton - if he thought our criticism and that of our readers might have played a part in the programme being aired. This was Hayton's response:

"Yes I think the criticism probably did play a part. One (optimistic) explanation would be that it gives programme makers a bit of resolve to overcome any objections and the (cynical) explanation is that it lets other parts of the news machine of the hook. They must have been preparing the programme since at least early November since the sequence with the general was filmed on Remembrance Sunday. But there are clearly people within the organisation who want to make decent programmes, the question is how to make their job easier!" (Bill Hayton to David Edwards, December 11, 2002)

Although corporations, including media corporations, are indeed totalitarian structures of power, we do not live in a totalitarian society. Control is maintained not by violence, but by deception, self-deception, and by a mass willingness to subordinate our own thoughts and feelings to notions of 'professionalism' and 'objectivity'. There is much evil and violence in the world but the people who make it possible are not for the most part evil or violent. Psychologist Stanley Milgram reported that the most fundamental lesson of his study on obedience in modern society was, "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible, destructive process". (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p.24)

Milgram's second key lesson was that when other "ordinary people" refuse to obey, when they refuse to stay meekly in the box, and instead claim their human right to speak out in the name of their own perceptions, their own thoughts, their own truly felt compassion for the suffering of others, this has an inordinately powerful impact on the world around us. Greedy and destructive power based on thoughtless obedience is supremely vulnerable to compassionate rebellion. We should never lose sight of this.

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:50:31 +0000
Update: Final Exchange With George Monbiot On The Guardian And The Propaganda Model http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/228-update-final-exchange-with-george-monbiot-on-the-guardian-and-the-propaganda-model.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/228-update-final-exchange-with-george-monbiot-on-the-guardian-and-the-propaganda-model.html

 In response to our recent Media Alert Update, "George Monbiot Responds Again on Iraq and 'Just War'" (December 7, 2002), Monbiot has sent the following response. He has also published a Guardian article ('Who guards the guards', December 10, 2002) mentioning this debate: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,856994,00.html

Dear David and David,

I said I would write no more, but you have pointed out, correctly, that there are two questions I have not yet answered. These are: What is your view of the Guardian's performance? and Have you considered resigning your position as a columnist in protest at this performance?

I would certainly like to see more coverage of radical and dissident views in the Guardian. I also agree that governments lead the news agenda, and that their perspectives are all too often absorbed and reflected by journalists. But while I cannot speak for the Guardian, for I have never been to an editorial meeting, it's my understanding that the newspaper would take more radical journalism, if it was available. This may sound strange to you, but a - perhaps the - major constraint on radical journalism in the left-liberal independent press (which, as all the other papers are owned by multi-millionaires, is another way of saying the Guardian and Observer) is the dearth of good radical journalists. It is a source of constant frustration to me to see how few people on our side of the fence can construct an article which is engaging, coherent and concise. I think there are several reasons for this deficit.

The first is that most journalists are ambitious middle-class people who have seen with appalling clarity how few opportunities there are for radical journalism. As, like most people, they shape their morality to fit their circumstances, rather than the other way around, the majority appear to have decided, early in their careers, to make themselves employable by tailoring their politics to the market.

The second is that most of those who end up writing for the national press began by working for the local press. Anyone who can spend five years on a Gannett Corporation title and emerge with her ideals intact is made of sterner stuff than me.

The third reason is that, as people become successful, they tend to become complacent. There is no influence so depoliticising as a comfortable income. So even some of those who began their careers as radical journalists have, like many prosperous people, dropped their commitment somewhere along the way.

The Guardian's problem, as I perceive it, is that it has to recruit its journalists from somewhere. Just as every tourist who picks up a camera believes that she could cut it as a photographer, almost everyone who has touched a keyboard believes she could make it as a journalist, but the truth is that it's a profession (or, perhaps more accurately, a craft) which cannot be securely acquired without a fair bit of training and a great deal of practice.

There are many good people at the Guardian who long ago made the tough decision to put their principles ahead of their careers, and stick to their beliefs in the knowledge that this would probably make them unemployable in any other news organisation. There are many others who see their work there as simply one stage in a career which, they hope, will take them through several media companies.

There seems to me to be plenty of evidence that the Guardian would print more radical journalism if it could find it. I am repeatedly asked by the editors of other sections to write for them, but very seldom have the time to do so. I am also asked quite often to suggest other journalists. What everyone seems to discover, however, is that the few who make the grade tend to be hopelessly over-committed. You will doubtless be aware of the message Noam Chomsky sent when you suggested that your readers ask the paper's editor why he had "carried just five articles by Noam Chomsky in the four years since September 1998". Chomsky wrote: "It's actually not quite fair. The Guardian asks me for many more articles than I can deliver. Reason is that I'm focused here, where the media are mostly closed, which means that there is even more need to respond at least to a fraction of the huge number of requests for talks, which takes a lot of time and energy, but is worth it." I have to say that you appear to have taken no account of this reply in your subsequent mailings.

Chomsky's message, incidentally, also illuminates what I believe is one of your mistakes. You appear to have taken his media model, which seems to me to be a very fair description of how the corporate media works generally, and especially in the United States, and applied it indiscriminately, even to the non-corporate media in the United Kingdom. I wonder whether Chomsky himself would support this application. Have you asked him?

None of this is to suggest that the Guardian could not do more, or that it should not have dug deeper into certain stories and been more prepared to challenge the official version of events. But it seems to me that the problem begins not with the daily decisions taken by the newsdesk, but with the career decisions made by the people the newsdesk might seek to recruit. This is one of the reasons why I have been encouraging radical people to train as journalists (while seeking to preserve their ideals), to try to make up for the desperate shortage suffered by the left-liberal press.

And this, of course, takes me to the second question. Have I considered resigning my position as a columnist in protest at the Guardian's performance? Well, that would be a very smart move, wouldn't it? As a radical journalist, I am concerned that there are too few radical voices in the press. How will I combat this? By resigning. What will the result be? That one of the few radical voices in the press is silenced.

I have no fear for my "career" at the Guardian. This is not because I do not believe I could be sacked for speaking out: I could be. But simply because I have so many other things to get on with. As it is, I have great difficulty making the time to write my column, which often cuts across the other projects I work on. I stick with it because, like you, I believe that certain things need to be said, and that there are far too few people saying them. But I certainly wouldn't be beside myself with grief if I had more time to spend on my books and other projects.

This really will be the last thing I write, but could I end this message with a challenge? That you do not wait a week before publishing it, as you did with the last one. If you don't have time to respond, just send it out and then despatch your reply when you do have time. Otherwise you surely expose yourself to the suspicion that you hold this material back only in order that you might have the last word on everything you disseminate. If that is the case, I think it would be fair to question whether your instincts as editors are really so different from those of the editors of the corporate papers you criticise.

Yours Sincerely,

George Monbiot - 9.12.02 Br>

Dear George,

In today's Guardian you write that we have "suggested that even the war against Hitler should not have been fought, on the grounds that it provoked the Holocaust" ('Who guards the guards', the Guardian, December 10, 2002). As evidence, you reproduce the quote we used from Howard Zinn, describing how the psychic distortions of war promoted the worst horrors of Nazism, exacerbating its existing murderous tendencies. These arguments you dismiss as "a ridiculous evasion" and "intellectual wriggling".

Are you aware that Howard Zinn +did+ fight Hitler in the second world war? He was a bombardier in a B-17 Flying Fortress of the US Air Force 490th Bomb Group. Zinn was on the mission that attacked the French town of Royan in 1945 involving the first ever use of napalm in warfare - he saw the bombs explode in the town, "flaring like matches struck in fog". He quotes a New York Times despatch from the time on the results of his own actions:

"Royan, a town of 20,000, once was a vacation spot. About 350 civilians, dazed or bruised by two terrific air bombings in forty-eight hours, crawled from the ruins and said the air attacks had been 'such hell as we never believed possible'."

Zinn knows something about war. In one of the most moving passages we have ever read, he recounts a time when he was invited to a house in Hiroshima that had been established as a centre for the victims of the bomb. He was asked to speak to the group. This is his account of what happened:

"I wanted to say that I had been an air force bombardier in Europe, that I had dropped bombs that killed and maimed people, and that until this moment I had not seen the human results of such bombs, and that I was ashamed of what I had done and wanted to help make sure things like that never happened again.

"I never got the words out, because as I started to speak I looked out at the Japanese men and women sitting on the floor in front of me, without arms or without legs, but all quietly waiting for me to speak. I choked on my words, could not say anything for a moment, fighting for control, finally managed to thank them for inviting me and sat down." (The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.355)

This is the man you accuse of "ridiculous evasion". Your distorted and inflammatory summary of what he, and we, have argued is deeply regrettable.

Thanks for your latest reply. It's unfortunate that you conclude your letter by again suggesting that we might be in the business of holding back material in order to gain some kind of advantage, and suggesting that our instincts are little different to mainstream editors. It will be interesting to see if your mainstream editors allow us even a short letter in reply to your article in today's Guardian. You are welcome to post whatever you like on our busy message board whenever you like - it's a completely open forum. Please also bear in mind that we work on Media Lens in our spare time after finishing paid work - we cannot always respond as quickly as we would like. Also we are aware that our pieces are not light reading - we worry that one Media Alert a week is about as much as people can take.

We note that, beyond a few general comments, you are again unwilling to criticise the Guardian's role in limiting public understanding of our government's responsibility for crimes against humanity in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. You write of the Guardian:

"[I]t's my understanding that the newspaper would take more radical journalism, if it was available. This may sound strange to you, but a - perhaps the - major constraint on radical journalism in the left-liberal independent press (which, as all the other papers are owned by multi-millionaires, is another way of saying the Guardian and Observer) is the dearth of good radical journalists."

In more than 18 months of debating with the media, this has to be the most audacious apologetic for mainstream media performance we've encountered - no one else has made such an outlandish claim. Even Channel 4 newsreader, Jon Snow, in his tirade (see Interviews: www.Media Lens.org) argued that the problem was "lazy journalism", not insufficient dissident talent.

According to you, however, the reason that serious thought and analysis critiquing corporate domination of society is excluded across the corporate media throughout the world, is not because those ideas interfere with profits and control, but because (we suppose) human nature is so configured that the human race simply doesn't produce more good writers of an anti-corporate bent. You say that the Guardian "would print more radical journalism if it could find it" and that you often find yourself having to turn down the editors of other sections because you "very seldom have the time".

This is a remarkably self-serving view and reminds us of a similar statement you made to the editors of Squall a couple of years ago. Then, you described how the Guardian's editors had chosen you, or so they said, "because of the quality and range of my writing and analysis, not because of what I was doing elsewhere. People don't get Guardian columns because of their profile, but because of what they can deliver. Both John Pilger and Mark Steele have been dropped by the Guardian over the past 18 months, and replaced by people no one has heard of. Celebrity might govern the choice of columnists elsewhere, but it doesn't seem to work that way on the Guardian." (George Monbiot and Mayday 2000, www.squall.co.uk, January 17, 2001)

We know of a large number of excellent writers - John Pilger, Edward Herman, Howard Zinn, Mark Curtis, Sharon Beder, Milan Rai, Michael Albert, Norman Soloman, and many others - who are excluded from the Guardian for no good reason we know about. Has it occurred to you that you might be selected, in part, because unlike these writers you rarely criticise the media? Could this be a factor in your popularity in an industry that has never, not once, permitted an honest discussion on press freedom in corporate society? We don't know; it's speculation, but it's certainly worth thinking about.

We know several journalists who work, or who have worked, on the Guardian and who have told us of a situation in which reactionaries on the paper make life very difficult for dissidents who raise their heads above the parapet. One investigative journalist told us that he and several other writers had been "blacklisted". We have been told that while some radicals are tolerated on the comments page, none are tolerated on the more important news sections of the paper. You claim the Guardian is always looking out for new talent, but foreign journalists, together with their stories, are excluded by a system of 'stringers' - permanent employees whose job is to provide foreign news, and who thereby limit the number of people writing for the paper. We have been told that when writers in the news section step on too many powerful toes, they have a tendency to fall out of favour. This is a million miles from the picture you paint.

We weren't aware of Chomsky's reply. We have checked with him before and he told us that the Guardian had asked him to submit work, but mostly on subjects he wasn't interested in covering. At other times, he told us, he was indeed busy. But again we can't take seriously the claim that this is why someone of Chomsky's stature has been all but excluded from the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer, the Times, the Telegraph, the New Statesman, BBC TV and ITV.

Chomsky is included in the list of top ten most heavily quoted intellectuals of all time, along with the likes of Shakespeare, Freud and Marx. In fact, he is the only one in that top ten list who is still alive. And yet, remarkably, the mainstream media manages to almost totally ignore him, the Guardian included. It would take a matter of minutes for a Guardian editor to adapt one of Chomsky's vast number of ZNet or Z Magazine articles, one of his many interviews, lectures and discussions, or an extract from one of his books, to make a powerful article. The huge popularity of his books suggests that there is no great need to adapt his work to a British audience; what he writes is already supremely relevant. There has hardly been a more prolific writer with a greater range of material to choose from. The point is, of course, it's not just Chomsky - all dissident writers who criticise the media are treated this way. They can't all be busy!

We agree entirely that most journalists are ambitious middle class people who begin working on local newspapers, and who learn to love the privileges of a well-paid media job, who thereby become complacent and depoliticised, and so on. But that supports our point, not yours. People who don't share the required values, who ruffle feathers in the early stages of their career, tend to be judged 'a personality problem', 'too subjective', 'too committed', and so don't progress to national newspapers - they are filtered out. So the problem is exactly the reverse of the one you identify - the media system works to screen out good, radical journalists, ejecting those who fail to demonstrate the required attitudes and beliefs. So your comment that the "Guardian would print more radical journalism if it could find it" is like sympathising with a lonely cat who finds he has run out of mice to play with!

You write that we have taken the propaganda model and applied it "indiscriminately, even to the non-corporate media in the United Kingdom". Curiously you describe it as Chomsky's model and ask us if Chomsky would support such an application. In fact the model was formulated by Edward Herman; Chomsky had little to do with it. Acting on your suggestion, we asked Edward Herman for his view:

"On the applicability of the model to Britain, one can go through that list of filters and ask whether they fit. Ownership? Blatantly true with Murdoch, an important media proprietor, and no reason to think they are less powerful in Britain that in the US. For the BBC, the impact of government is probably at least as severe as under Thatcher, and she brought intervention to a pretty high level I do believe. Advertising? Why not effective in the UK in its usually subtle way. Sourcing? Little basis for difference from the US, although I suspect not quite as bad. Flak? Possibly not quite as bad, but flak from government and powerful lobbies is surely real. Ideology? Anticommunism, market ideology, possibly not quite as powerful as in US, but probably real--and the force of patriotism and demonization of enemies I suspect is as great and powerfully affecting ability to speak honestly on Israel or Iraq." (Email to Media Lens, December 9, 2002)

It's clear to us, also, that the record of the UK media, including the Guardian/Observer and the BBC, powerfully bears out the relevance of the propaganda model to the UK. It's probably fair to say that the media in the US, with its really staggering levels of business control of society, is worse than the British media, but even a glance through our Media Lens Media Alerts archive indicates that we have little cause to rejoice (www.Media Lens.org). We have reported, for example, that the US media site, FAIR (www.fair.org), recently showed how the US media had changed from reporting that UN arms inspectors were "withdrawn" from Iraq in 1998, to their having been "thrown out" in 2002. We reported that the same herd-like stampede away from truth has happened here too (a mistake you also made, by the way, when you wrote that "Unscom was thrown out of Iraq in 1998", in an April 16 article earlier this year).

The Guardian might be free of some of the pressures of ownership. But the impact of government, advertising (on which the Guardian is dependent for fully 75% of its revenue), sourcing, corporate flak, market ideology and patriotism mean that it is very much a part of the propaganda system and performs much as the propaganda model would predict.

It seems a shame to ignore Chomsky, as you specifically asked his opinion on the applicability of the propaganda model to "non-commercial" media and British media generally. It's not hard to gauge his view. Last year, when we sent Chomsky yet another example of establishment-friendly reporting on Iraq from the Independent (of a similar hue to the Guardian/Observer), he replied with the following observation on mainstream reporters in this country:

"Dear David,

It's worth remembering that no matter how much they try, they are part of the British educated elite, that is, ideological fanatics who have long ago lost the capacity to think on any issue of human significance, and entirely in the grip of the state religion. They can concede errors or failures, but anything more is, literally, inconceivable." (Email to David Cromwell, February 24, 2001)

When one of us sent Chomsky an article we had written, describing how it had been rejected by the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman, he replied:

"Dear David, Guess I can't say I'm surprised. A very good article, about a topic that strikes too close to home (hence unpublishable)." (Email to David Edwards, March 8, 2001)

Freelance investigative writer and author, Andy Rowell, who has often appeared in the Guardian, told one of us a couple of years ago:

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to get hard-hitting current affairs stories that have an in-depth understanding of environmental, development or human rights issues into the media." (Email to David Edwards, May 5, 2000)

But we're surprised you should raise such a question - you are forever reminding readers of the spread of globalisation, and how the corporate monoculture is progressively dominating all aspects of modern life. And this, of course, is exactly the case with the media, including the so-called "non-corporate media". In the new introduction to Manufacturing Consent, Herman and Chomsky write:

"Globalization, along with deregulation and national budgetary pressures, has also helped reduce the importance of noncommercial media in country after country. This has been especially important in Europe and Asia where public broadcasting systems were dominant (in contrast with the United States and Latin America). The financial pressures on public broadcasters has forced them to shrink or emulate the commercial systems in fund-raising and programming, and some have been fully commercialized by policy change or privatization. The global balance of power has shifted decisively toward commercial systems." (New introduction to Manufacturing Consent. Email from Edward Herman to Media Lens, August 10, 2002)

We've found this series of unplanned debates with you interesting, and hope our readers feel the same. But, like you, we feel it's time to move on. We wish you well.

Best wishes,

David Edwards and David Cromwell

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to George Monbiot expressing your views:

Email: g.monbiot@zetnet.co.uk

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:49:31 +0000
Update: George Monbiot Responds Again on Iraq and 'Just War' http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/227-update-george-monbiot-responds-again-on-iraq-and-just-war.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/227-update-george-monbiot-responds-again-on-iraq-and-just-war.html

In response to our recent Media Alert Update, "George Monbiot Responds on Iraq and 'Just War'" (December 2, 2002), Monbiot has sent the following response:

Dear Media Lens, Two issues appear to divide us, one philosophical, one practical.

The philosophical issue is the question of whether it is ever just to use violence as a last resort. Your responses appear to suggest that it is not. You even seem to argue that we should not have gone to war against Hitler. By contrast, I believe that, in certain circumstances, it is necessary to use violence to prevent a greater violence. This is the founding principle of democracy. The social contract implicit in democratic governance is that the state asserts a monopoly of violence, in return for protecting its citizens against external aggression, and preventing us from murdering each other. This contract recognises humanity's extraordinary capacity for violence, and acknowledges the fact that, in the absence of restraint, the strong will simply crush the weak.

Of course the paradox of governance is that any power great enough to crush the strong also has the capacity to crush the weak, and the monopoly of violence asserted on our behalf can, if we are insufficiently vigilant, be turned against us. This is the tension at the heart of democracy, with which all those of us who believe in freedom from oppression - whether the oppression of our neighbours or the oppression of the state - must continually engage. When it is clear that the social contract has been broken, and the violence of the state is turned against its peaceful citizens to such an extent that it outweighs any advantages we derive from its protection - in other words, when it drops all democratic functions and achieves political closure - then we surely have a democratic duty to seek to overthrow it. And if we cannot do so by peaceful means, we must do so through armed struggle, in the hope that this struggle will permit us to replace it with a state which will guarantee peace.

At the international level, the United Nations was founded with the same intent. It does not, of course, have the democratic credentials of an elected government - it is a delegated organisation, over which the citizens of the nations it represents have no real control. This problem is compounded by the capture, upon the UN's foundation, of its security functions by the five principal victors of the Second World War. Even so, if you were to ask me "would you prefer a world with or without this flawed agency?", I would have to answer "with". The atrocities of the kind you document, and of the kind we have seen in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Central America etc over the past two decades, suggest that an international peacekeeping body is essential. Indeed, as Rwanda, East Timor and the instances you cite suggest, it it is surely rational to have hoped that such an agency would have intervened more often and more effectively, rather than less often or not at all.

Of course, this issue is complicated by the partisan constitution of the Security Council and by the hegemonic will of its dominant member, both of which have significantly compromised public trust in its decisions and its operations. In practice, for obvious reasons, it will not act against US infractions of international law, or those perpetrated by its allies. This, as you know, is an issue I have been commenting upon for a long time.

But if, as you suggest, there should be no armed intervention, ever, and therefore no ultimate means of upholding international law, and therefore no international policing body (for there is no point in possessing laws or police forces if you cannot deploy them) I would suggest to you that you have simply reinvented a world in which the strong can act without restraint in their oppression of the weak. I would invite you to answer the following questions.

a. What would you have done to prevent Hitler's conquest of Europe?

b. What would you have done to prevent Interahamwe's massacre of the Tutsis?

c. Would you support the armed struggle of the Kurds in Iraq? Or of the West Papuans against Indonesian occupation? Or of the Sandanista government in Nicaragua? Or of Castro's Cuban revolution?

d. If your answer to c is yes, what form would this support take? Would you, if you were able to, send them arms? Would you send them money to buy arms? Or would you expect them to support that struggle, against a far stronger enemy, entirely with the use of their own resources?

e. If your answer to c is no, how would you suggest they respond to the oppression they faced or are facing if not through force of arms? Please do not fudge these questions. I really would like to know the answer.

The practical question which divides us is this: did I write what I wrote about Iraq because I was influenced by the barrage of propaganda in the media? Have I changed my opinions because I have succumbed to the will of the dominant minority?

The simple answer to this is no. If you look at the introduction to my website, you will see that it is dated April 2001. You will also see that the principles from which I argued in the column you criticise were laid down in that introduction. I have merely applied them to the issue now uppermost in people's minds. I stand by what I wrote. The current war being planned against Iraq is wrong on just about every count. But from this it does not automatically follow that all possible wars against the Iraqi regime would be wrong: we could, if the very strict conditions I laid down were applied, contemplate a just war against Saddam Hussein. I believe, as I explained in one of my earlier replies, that we could also contemplate a just war against the military junta in Burma, and a just war against the Indonesian occupation of West Papua. So the question then arises: why did I write that column about Iraq, rather than about Burma or West Papua?

The answer is that Iraq is the issue over which the ideological battles of the moment are being fought. Yes, of course the reason for this is that the hawks in the US have put it on the agenda. But since they put it on the agenda, I have written nine articles about Iraq. Far from attacking me for doing so, you have reproduced one of them on your website, which appears to suggest that you supported my decision to have concentrated on this theme. What do I conclude from this? I conclude that your objection to what I have written arises not from the fact that I have been provoked into responding to a news agenda set by the US, but that I have responded to it in a way with which you disagree. I conclude, therefore, that your attack is not analytical, but ideological.

And this surely highlights the trap into which Media Lens has fallen. There is a desperate need for what you appear to be doing: the world cries out for a thorough, critical analysis of the media, its agenda and its hidden interests. When your project began, I believed that this was what you were offering. But I have viewed your mailings over the past few months with growing concern. Rather than offering a clear, objective analysis of why the media works the way it does, who pulls the strings, how journalists are manipulated, knowingly or otherwise, you appear to have decided instead to use your platform merely to attack those who do not accept your narrow and particular doctrine. Whenever a journalist takes a line at variance to your own, your automatic assumption is that he has stopped thinking for himself, and has been, wittingly or otherwise, coerced by dark forces. As a result, you are in danger of reproducing the very problems you criticise. You appear to me to be confronting one form of bias and intolerance with another.

I must end this letter with an apology. I do not have time to write another, as I have a very busy schedule. So please do not expect a response to your next reply.

Yours Sincerely, George Monbiot - 3.12.02

Dear George,

Many thanks. You provide no examples to support your assertion that we have taken an intolerant attitude towards the press, so it's hard to comment. What we can say is that the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of emails we've received from readers over the last 18 months have been strongly supportive. A remarkable number of people have written simply urging us to "please keep going". Following the last Media Alert covering our exchange with you, we have received a large number of supportive emails, with just one against.

Not enough is said by dissidents about what actually is the motivation for their work. The beginnings of an explanation for ours can be found in a key observation made by American historian Howard Zinn:

"The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it."

The extent to which truth is reversed and obscured by the mainstream media was initially deeply shocking to us. We have often felt a sense of awe and bewilderment at the way the media's version of reasonable and true conflicts so dramatically with what seems to us to be reasonable and true, and humanly important.

A couple of years ago, one of us, David Edwards, interviewed the former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday on Iraq (see Interviews: www.Media Lens.org). It was a substantial interview and, in it, Halliday achieved two things of really tremendous importance: he demolished the US/UK governments' account of the effect of sanctions on Iraq and, in the process, showed how we really are responsible for the killing of a million people in Iraq. Edwards approached all the leading liberal newspapers and journals with a copy of the transcript. Although nothing like this had appeared in the mainstream before, he was told by various sections of different papers: 'There's no space this week, and there probably won't be next week either', 'The question and answer format isn't right for us', 'Halliday is yesterday's news', 'Government policy would need to change before we ran a piece like that... Oh that's what you think +we+ should be pushing for!', 'It's not right for our section', 'We've already published an article on Iraq this year', and so on.

What Halliday had to say was vital by any standard that we can imagine, and yet it was rejected out of hand for reasons that were so absurd that they could be met with no sensible response. It was breathtaking. And it was horrific, because of course it is in these moments - in these failures of reason and humanity - that power gains the strength to kill for profit. It is the coming together of many of these moments that makes genocide possible. We note, incidentally, that Halliday has yet to be mentioned even once this year in the Guardian, or in the Observer (where he has not been mentioned at all since 1998) in this year of crisis centred on Iraq.

Our motivation is to try to expose and disempower these silences, these gaps, for the simple reason that they facilitate the killing of people in large numbers. That, honestly, is our aim. We are not interested in attacking individual journalists but in challenging their ideas; the problem is systemic, and in fact global, far beyond the guilt of individuals. But journalism is made up of examples of individual reporting and we have to use these to indicate the wider trends.

You are a leading political commentator in this country. You are often named alongside John Pilger and Robert Fisk as one of a select few dissident journalists. You are deemed a supremely honest left voice writing in this country's leading liberal newspaper, and you clearly view yourself as uncompromisingly honest.

Consider, then, that we devoted more than 300 words in our last letter to you outlining the appalling, and central, role of the media in currently making possible a war that could cost 500,000 lives in Iraq. We have endlessly criticised this country's most credible and important media - particularly the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, the BBC and ITN. We haven't criticised these because we feel any kind of enmity towards them, but because they are the country's best and most credible media - they are the media that convince people we have a free press.

And so we asked you, as a leading honest journalist, to comment on the performance of the Guardian and the media generally on Iraq, even asking if you had considered resigning from the Guardian in protest. Your response to us - a media watch site that is focused precisely on lethal silences - was to say nothing at all on the matter. Instead you responded as if we had asked no such questions, as if no such issues even existed - these, the most vital issues of all. You even requested that +we+ not fudge our answers to your questions, as if in complete unawareness of what you yourself were doing. In 14 articles mentioning Iraq this year in the Guardian, you have made literally no mention of the role of the media in making war possible. Once again, George, we stand in utter bewilderment before the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance; before the fact that you can nevertheless write:

"There is a desperate need for what you appear to be doing: the world cries out for a thorough, critical analysis of the media, its agenda and its hidden interests."

This, indeed, resonates disturbingly with a comment you made in October:

"There is little that those of us who oppose the coming war with Iraq can now do to prevent it." ('Inspection as invasion,' the Guardian, October 8, 2002)

The relentless propaganda pouring out of Downing Street suggests that the government does not agree - the all-important battle for public support has +not+ been won. One thing we can do, then, is to seek to undermine the media uncritically channelling these government lies.

Perhaps your argument, shared by many, is that to radically criticise the media, let alone the Guardian itself, would rapidly reduce your employment prospects as a journalist, so limiting your capacity to do good. But would it? Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman do nothing but criticise their potential media employers. Herman, for example, wrote a piece on the US media with the evocative title, 'Nuggets from the Nuthouse'. He has recently said of the growing opposition to war on Iraq:

"This widespread and deepening dissent has had only a modest impact on the mass media, which are still serving mainly as conduits and press agents of the war party, and the liberals and 'leftists' who make it there commonly accept premises of the war party and serve its interests, which is of course why they make it into the media."

Chomsky has said of editors and journalists who ignore dissident work, people like your Guardian editor:

"Somehow they have to get rid of the stuff. [They] can't deal with the arguments, that's plain; for one thing you have to know something, and most of these people don't know anything."

Chomsky's book 9-11 has sold well over 100,000 copies. This time last year, in a version of intellectual Beatlemania, three of the top ten books on international affairs were by him. Chomsky is the world's most popular author on international politics, particularly among young people. Now you might argue that Chomsky is a special case, that he is a genius. We agree; he is a genius. But above all he has a genius for honesty. He has a genius for simply telling the truth, regardless of the consequences.

In an age when the media is instrumental in manipulating public opinion to lethally destructive effect, it is simply no longer reasonable for honest writers to keep silent. You can't be neutral on a moving media train - to be silent is to allow the media to use you as a fig leaf obscuring their delivery of islands of dissent within oceans of propaganda. To fail to speak out is to ensure that dissident voices are heard, but not enough to make a difference. Honest articles on Iraq, some of them by you, +have+ occasionally appeared in the Guardian, but hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people are now a hair's breadth away from death and mutilation. The nationality of the victims may change, but that's how it will always be unless there is a radical change in media reporting - business must have wars.

We urge you to act on your own words on your website:

"A professional trouble maker should be prepared to make trouble everywhere. She can afford no loyalties. She should seek not to be restrained by embarrassment or fear. She should not balk at causing offence, for those we feel most anxious to appease are those whom we should be most prepared to challenge."

Continuing our discussion on the theory of 'just war' feels like a terrible indulgence, particularly at the present time, but we'll answer your points. You ask:

"a. What would you have done to prevent Hitler's conquest of Europe?

b. What would you have done to prevent Interahamwe's massacre of the Tutsis?" Your question recalls Michael Buerk's response to Denis Halliday in a BBC radio interview earlier this year:

"You can't... you can't +possibly+ draw a moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and George Bush Senior, can you?"

The fact that you can ask us such a question tells us a lot about how you see the world. We would have done then exactly what we are doing now - exposing the lies and manipulation of state-corporate power - bearing in mind that for a lot of people around the world, particularly in places like Iraq, George Bush +is+ a Hitler figure, and the US Army is seen as a rampaging horde. The US, after all, killed a quarter of a million people in Iraq in the last Gulf War, and US/UK-led sanctions have killed a million people since. It may well be about to kill many more.

In 1933, we would have been hard at work trying to expose US/UK support for Hitler. We would have quoted, for example, the American charge d'affaires in Berlin, who wrote to Washington in 1933 that the best hope for Germany lay in "the more moderate section of the [Nazi] party, headed by Hitler... which appeal[s] to all civilised and reasonable people".

We would have done all in our power to support the brilliant anarchist Rudolf Rocker in his attempts to reveal how the crass selfishness of post-Great War capitalists was sowing the seeds for utter despair, and so future war, in Germany:

"It never occurred to them that in order to rescue the rest of the nation from helpless despair and misery after the war they might be content with smaller profits. They stole what they could lay their hands on, while the nation fed on dry bread and potatoes and thousands of German children died of under-nourishment. None of these parasites ever heeded that their uncontrolled greed delivered the whole nation to destruction. While the workers and the middle class of the great cities perished in misery, Stinnes became the owner of fabulous riches. Thyssen, who before the war had approximately two hundred million gold marks, is today [1936] the owner of a fortune of a billion gold marks, and the other representatives of German heavy industry enriched themselves in the same proportion."

You ask:

"c. Would you support the armed struggle of the Kurds in Iraq? Or of the West Papuans against Indonesian occupation? Or of the Sandanista government in Nicaragua? Or of Castro's Cuban revolution?

d. If your answer to c is yes, what form would this support take? Would you, if you were able to, send them arms? Would you send them money to buy arms? Or would you expect them to support that struggle, against a far stronger enemy, entirely with the use of their own resources?"

Would we send arms, or money for arms to West Papua? No, we wouldn't. Would you? Are you doing so now? Of course violence can be justifiable in some situations, but the consequences are at best highly unpredictable. Do we understand why victims take up arms against their oppressors? Of course. Would we do the same in their situation? Perhaps we would. Whether that makes it the right option for them, for us, or for humanity more generally, is very unclear. One of the worst things oppressed people can do in the face of ruthless power is to provoke it into even worse outrages. Success 'here', as we have said, can encourage disastrous and bloody failure 'there'. Some would argue that, despite the loss of 2 million Vietnamese and 60,000 US lives, the Vietnam War represented a 'just war' triumph against US imperialism. But Vietnam is now being conquered by global economics, as Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalisation of Poverty, explains:

"The achievements of past struggles and the aspirations of an entire nation are [being] undone and erased... The seemingly neutral and scientific tools of macro-economic policy constitute a non-violent instrument of recolonisation and impoverishment."

When Western corporations can now be assured that "Vietnam's open door invites you to take advantage of its low standard of living and low wages", as one advert puts it, then we must surely agree with Gabriel Kolko in Anatomy of a War that the Vietnam War has ended in "the defeat of all who fought in it and one of the greatest tragedies of modern history". The Sandanista's struggle in Nicaragua you mention ended in a similar, appalling catastrophe.

The ruthlessness of the Western-backed slaughter of 600,000 people from 1965 onwards in Indonesia was in large part motivated by a desire to avoid another Vietnamese-style 'loss' of natural resources to independent nationalism. The massacres in East Timor from December 1975, following hard on the heels of the final defeat in Vietnam, came at a time when no quarter was being shown to independent nationalism. Referring to US support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, US columnist Jack Anderson reported:

"The United States had suffered a devastating setback in Vietnam, leaving Indonesia as the most important American ally in the area. The US national interest, [President] Ford concluded, 'had to be on the side of Indonesia'."

It seems equally clear that the fanaticism of the subsequent Western-backed assault on libertarian movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Argentina and elsewhere, was at least in part inspired by the experience of Vietnam. The ferocity of the assault on Iraq during the Gulf war also resulted from a determination to put into practice lessons learned during the Vietnam disaster. One of the main lessons being: spare no enemy casualties to ensure a quick victory. These are the kinds of lethal unintended consequences that can spring from the use of mass violence.

Talk of 'just war' in current conditions is hopelessly hypothetical. The reality is that any corrupt regime overthrown by moral and rational forces - ie by forces unallied to US/UK power - would immediately be targeted for destruction by the West.

The real fear of the West is "the threat of a good example" - a nation of poor Third World people escaping tyranny in a way that inspires other poor people to attempt to do the same. The use of violence in the 'just' coup would be used as evidence of the vicious and despotic nature of this new 'rogue state' with its 'appalling human rights records'. The violence would be endlessly emphasised and hyped, and used to justify vast arms budgets and restrictions on democratic freedoms, and to terrify and pacify domestic populations. Economic sanctions would be imposed. If possible, internal military elements favourable to the West would be cultivated and empowered in the new 'rogue state' - a counter-coup would be encouraged. Failing this, outright external invasion would be organised. We know all this would happen, because it's exactly what has happened when progressive change has been attempted in the past in countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere.

The real hope for progressive change in countries so vulnerable to Western greed and violence abroad, is a reduction in the dominance and acceptability of greed and violence here, at home. To the extent that the public wakes up to, and opposes, Western exploitation and brutality, the harder it will become for cynical interests to do as they please. All of this supports the observation of the Buddhist philosopher, Tarthang Tulku: "

When fear and hatred motivate us in our attempts to destroy evil, the negative nature of such motivation, rather than destroying the forces of evil, lends them strength. Such action actually opens a gate for demons to enter."

We believe that the real enemies of humanity are unrestrained greed and blind hatred. If these really are the root causes of many of our problems, what role can violence realistically play in combating them? The antidotes to selfishness are concern for others and compassion; the antidotes to hatred are reason, understanding and tolerance. The problem is that violence and hatred annihilate reason and tolerance, and they annihilate the compassion that might otherwise oppose unrestrained selfishness.

You write:

"why did I write that column about Iraq, rather than about Burma or West Papua? The answer is that Iraq is the issue over which the ideological battles of the moment are being fought."

The issue has never been why you wrote a column about Iraq. The question is why you wrote +what+ you wrote abut Iraq, why you targeted Iraq in total isolation for 'just war' at a time when hawks everywhere are doing just that. We asked you why you added fuel to the anti-Iraqi propaganda that is vital in determining whether there will be another assault. Imagine if Jews had been involved in criminal activity at the time of the Holocaust, would it have been a moral act for a journalist to highlight such stories at the time in the German press? We are suggesting that your angle on Iraq, not your mentioning of Iraq, involved a dangerous submission to propaganda.

You made a telling point in the Guardian in May 2001, a month after elaborating your "first principles" on 'just war' on your website:

"The advocates of violence insist that their aggression is insignificant by comparison to the violence of global capitalism. This is true, but it's hard to see how it could be construed as a justification. I have heard activists condemn the continued bombing of Iraq on the grounds that violence of this kind will only hurt the people it is supposed to protect, then go on to advocate attacking the police as a means of saving the world. If, as they argue, advanced capitalism is the most violent of all political systems, then violent conflict with that system is surely doomed to fail..."

George, we have heard people condemn the continued bombing of Iraq, then go on to advocate attacking Iraq as a means of saving the world. Given that advanced capitalism is the most violent of all political systems, then violent conflict with that system is clearly doomed to fail.

Sincerely,
David Edwards and David Cromwell

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Email: g.monbiot@zetnet.co.uk

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:48:29 +0000
Update: George Monbiot Responds on Iraq and 'Just War' http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/226-update-george-monbiot-responds-on-iraq-and-just-war.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/226-update-george-monbiot-responds-on-iraq-and-just-war.html

In our recent Media Alert, 'Panorama and Guardian Editors Respond,' (November 27, 2002), we mentioned a recent article by George Monbiot, titled, 'See you in court, Tony,' (The Guardian, November 26, 2002)

Monbiot has since responded (see below). Prior to publishing our Alert we contacted Monbiot to check our understanding of his article. This is the exchange that followed:

Dear George

Hope all is well. In today's article you wrote, "[If] war turns out to be the only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and incontestable purpose is that and only that". Can you explain why you would prioritise the support of such a war ahead of a war to remove the Algerian generals, the Turkish regime, the Colombian regime, or maybe Putin? Would you also support a war to remove these regimes, if this turns out to be the only way?

Best wishes

David Edwards - 26.11.02

This was Monbiot's response:

Hi David,

Thanks for writing.

The other nations you mention have some, admittedly flimsy, domestic means of redress: in other words, being democracies, or nominal democracies, citizens can, in theory, remove them without recourse to violent means. There is no existing process within Iraq for removing the regime peacefully. Like many of those who oppose this war with Iraq, I also want to help the Iraqi people to shake off their dictator, and I feel I have a responsibility to do so, for two reasons.

The first is what I call the Empathetic Principle: that I would like others to be treated as I would wish to be treated myself. I would hate to live in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and if I did, I am sure I would want people in other nations to help me to remove him and his apparatus of government.

The second is historical: we helped to put him there, and that seems to me to suggest that we have a special responsibility to try to get rid of him.

As I suggest in my article, we must try the non-violent means first, and there are plenty which have not been exhausted. But if all the conditions which I believe would provide the case for a just war are met - namely that less violent options have been exhausted first, that it reduces the sum total of violence in the world, improves the lives of the oppressed, does not replace one form of oppression with another and has a high chance of success - then it seems to me that it would be right to seek to topple Mr Hussein by military means.

If you read the introduction to my website, you'll see that this is a position I have sought to derive from first principles: that we must always strive for the minimum of violence, which sometimes means using violence ourselves: "Political closure is inherently violent, both because systems which deploy it violate the rights of most of the people they govern and because violence is the only available means of challenging such systems. In these circumstances, the Empathetic Principle instructs us to kill, if killing some thousands of the oppressing political class is the only means of saving the lives of some tens of thousands of the oppressed."

What this means is that I believe that there is such a thing as a just war. I am also firmly of the opinion that the current plans to invade Iraq constitute nothing of the sort.

With my best wishes, George - 26.11.02

Media Lens' response:

Dear George

As you know, we're admirers of a lot of your work. But that doesn't mean we agree with everything you write, and doubtless the feeling is mutual. The front page of the Guardian last Tuesday read:

"George Monbiot: How to make a just war against Iraq."

Like some of our readers we assumed, given the current political situation, the comment must have been intended ironically or sarcastically. When we turned to the article, we found that, while you were quite clear that you vigorously oppose an unjust war of the kind being planned by the US/UK governments, you were being serious. You wrote:

"It is not difficult to conceive of a just war against Iraq. We know that it is governed by one of the world's most bestial regimes... [I]f war turns out to be the only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and incontestable purpose is that and only that; which will not stop until the people of Iraq are running their country themselves, but will stop the moment that this happens; and whose purpose is not to seize the oil wells, to support the ambitions of some of the most ruthless and dangerous people in the western world, or to overturn the norms of international law."

Here you have clearly accepted that, if war turns out to be necessary and is well motivated (a strictly hypothetical notion, by the way, given the real world, and therefore a curious point to make), then it would be acceptable as a last resort. The point we made in our recent Media Alert ('Panorama and Guardian Editors Respond,' November 27, 2002) is that we believe you would not be recommending any such thing, even as a last resort, had it not been for the endless demonising propaganda issuing out of Washington and London presenting Iraq as a special case requiring a military solution. Iraq is not a special case, it is one of many tinpot murderous regimes in the world.

To be consistent you would have to be in favour of waging 'just wars' against other similar regimes for similar reasons. Selecting states at random, Edwards wrote to you asking if you thought Algeria, Turkey, Colombia, or perhaps Russia, also qualified as targets for a 'just war'. You rejected the suggestion, arguing that we have a "special responsibility" to help the Iraqi people shake off their dictator for two reasons: 1) the "Empathetic Principle" - if we were living in Iraq we would want to be liberated from Saddam, and 2) we helped put Saddam in power.

You also wrote that:

"The other nations you mention have some, admittedly flimsy, domestic means of redress: in other words, being democracies, or nominal democracies, citizens can, in theory, remove them without recourse to violent means. There is no existing process within Iraq for removing the regime peacefully."

The idea that Iraq is different because people living in these countries have "some, admittedly flimsy, nominal democracies", and these citizens can "in theory" remove their governments is remarkable. Your theoretical possibilities do not help the victims struggling to survive in these countries, and in fact such possibilities do not exist.

Your "Empathetic Principle" clearly applies to Kurds living in Turkey, for example. Turkey has been "responsible for burning villages, inhuman and degrading treatment, and appalling failures to investigate allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of the security forces", according to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. "Mystery killings" of Kurds alone amounted to 3,200 in 1993 and 1994. These continued with torture, destruction of some 3,500 villages - seven times the US figure for Serb atrocities in Kosovo - bombing with napalm, and casualties generally estimated in the tens of thousands. Kurdish TV and radio are illegal, Kurdish may not be taught in schools or used in advertising, parents cannot give children Kurdish names.

As for our "special responsibility", 1994 marked two records in Turkey, veteran Washington Post correspondent Jonathan Randal reported: it was "the year of the worst repression in the Kurdish provinces," and the year when Turkey became "the biggest single importer of American military hardware and thus the world's largest arms purchaser". Turkey's arsenal, 80 percent American, included M-60 tanks, F-16 fighter-bombers, Cobra gunships, and Blackhawk 'slick' helicopters, all of which were eventually used against the Kurds. "Turkish officers educated in the United States employed the methods familiar to peasants from Vietnam to Guatemala", according to writer John Tiernan. The records reveal such actions as throwing people from helicopters, burning civilians alive while bound and tied with electric cables and chains, and a long gory list. Do you really believe that these people have "flimsy, domestic means of redress"?

How is all of this, and our support for it, materially or morally different from the horrors perpetrated in Iraq? Why are you not advocating a 'just war' against Turkey, our NATO partner?

In 1997 John Sweeney noted in the Observer that the weight of evidence indicted the state of Algeria in the slaughter of 80,000 people after the generals demolished democracy by scrapping the elections in 1991: "The government - le pouvoir - is corrupt, hated and stays in power by a reign of terror", Sweeney noted. The intelligence services in Europe know the government was responsible for the killing, but keep silent to protect access to Algerian oil. Sweeney continued:

"So why the silence? Let us not underestimate the power of the state of Algeria. It squats on huge oil and gas deposits worth billions. It supplies the gas that warms Madrid and Rome. It has a £1.8 billion contract with British Petroleum. No Western government wants to make trouble with the state of Algeria. Its wealth buys silence, buys complicity. Since the military junta overthrew the country's democracy, 80,000 have been killed: Europe's gas bill."

Again, appalling horror combined with special responsibility.

The slaughter in Colombia has also, of course, been appalling - 20,000 killed since 1986, 1 million refugees, 80% of the massacres perpetrated by government-backed paramilitaries, with all of this supported by vast quantities of US military, economic and political support ($1.3 billion in military aid was approved in 2000), and UK complicity - our special responsibility combines well with the "Empathetic Principle" here again, as Chomsky notes:

"The sharp increase in arms shipped to Colombia is officially justified in terms of the 'drug war,' a claim taken seriously by few competent analysts... The targets are guerrilla forces based on the peasantry and calling for internal social change, which would interfere with integration of Colombia into the global system on the terms that the US demands, dominated by elite elements linked to US power interests that are accorded free access to Colombia's valuable resources, including oil."

To reiterate, we accept that you reject US/UK plans, and that you see a 'just war' as a last resort. But the special case you make for Iraq just doesn't stand up - there are any number of monstrous Western-backed regimes that match your criteria in a very similar way.

US writer and Chomsky co-author, Edward Herman, has commented on the susceptibility of what he calls the "cruise missile left" to US/UK propaganda:

"Many of the liberals and leftists who have joined the war party, or criticize it only on tactical grounds, have been overwhelmed by the flood of administration and administration-supportive propaganda, and find it difficult to escape that barrage."

We don't believe you are a member of the "cruise missile left", but we do think that you have succumbed to administration-supportive propaganda in the writing of your recent article. We cannot, for example, imagine that you would be talking in terms of a 'just war' against Iraq now, if the US/UK had gone after Somalia as you note they originally planned.

Effective opposition to war on Iraq, we believe, should begin with an exposure of how the US/UK mass media has distorted public opinion by suppressing many of the most elementary facts about the supposed 'threat' of Iraq, and about the criminality and illegality of US/UK actions. We have shown how the Guardian has consistently failed to report that Iraq was 90-95% disarmed of weapons of mass destruction by December 1998. The Guardian has also consistently claimed that inspectors were thrown out of Iraq, contradicting its own 1999 reports. There have been vanishingly few mentions of the 250,000 Iraqi victims of the last Gulf War, of the half a million predicted victims of the next war (according to the Medical Association for Prevention of War), of the 1 million civilian dead as a result of US/UK sanctions. There has been next to no discussion of the corruption of the UN by the US, of the vast oil and arms interests driving the hidden US agenda, of the criminal nature of the sanctions, or of the illegality of a pre-emptive war. Instead the Guardian has been filled with literally thousands of articles echoing US/UK establishment views. As of November 26, the Guardian/Observer had mentioned Iraq in 2,955 articles this year - just 49 of these contained mentions of former chief UN arms inspector, now anti-war campaigner, Scott Ritter. There were 21 mentions of Noam Chomsky, 12 of John Pilger, 4 of Hans von Sponeck, and none at all of Denis Halliday. This constitutes a shocking suppression of dissident views by the country's 'leading liberal newspaper'. As a result, we believe the Guardian is complicit in covering up what senior UN diplomats have described as a US/UK "genocide" in Iraq, while making a further massive and murderous assault against Iraq possible. What is your view of the Guardian's performance? Have you considered resigning your position as a columnist in protest at this performance?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell - 1.12.02

Just prior to sending the above, we received the following email from Monbiot on December 1. Monbiot tells us that this message was originally sent on November 27 to the address from which we send our Media Alerts, and not to the address given at the end of our Alerts, and so we did not receive it. What follows is +not+ a response to our comments above. Monbiot begins with the following quote from our November 27 Media Alert:

"He [George Monbiot] holds his views (+he+ believes) because Iraq +is+ a special case, not because propaganda has +made+ Iraq seem a special case."

Hi David,

No, I do not believe that Iraq is a special case, or, rather, I do not believe that it is any more special than a number of other cases. I would advocate the same approach for ridding the people of Burma of their government, or liberating the people of West Papua from Indonesian colonisation. Indeed, if the cure was not more dangerous than the disease, I would suggest removing China from Tibet or the US from Guantanamo Bay by the same means, but I have a feeling that this could precipitate a third world war.

In my correspondence yesterday, I sought to explain to you that I have argued from first principles, and have tried to apply those principles, which were conceived long before the outbreak of this war, to the current situation. Either you have ignored that explanation, or you have chosen not to believe it. In either case, I think I have good cause to feel insulted. I notice that you usually publish your correspondence with the journalists you challenge. Have you chosen not to do so in this case because it would not assist your argument?

Yours Sincerely, George - 27.11.02 (received 1.12.02)

Dear George

Thanks for your second email. We did take account of your explanation when writing our Media Alert, and in fact immediately published your response on the message board at our website - there was, and is, no question of suppressing your correspondence.

In your first email you rejected David Edwards' examples of possible targets for a 'just war', making mention of no others. It seemed clear, then, that you believed that Iraq truly was our "special responsibility" based on the fact that it was "one of the world's most bestial regimes". That is why we wrote:

"He holds his views (+he+ believes) because Iraq +is+ a special case, not because propaganda has +made+ Iraq seem a special case."

Now you say there are two other "special cases" that fit your "first principles", thereby becoming suitable targets for a 'just war' "ridding the people of Burma of their government, or liberating the people of West Papua from Indonesian colonisation".

Can this be the same George Monbiot who, in May 2001, wrote an article titled 'Violence is our enemy'?:

"Violence is our enemy... If we can't divide ourselves from violence, then violence will divide us from society."

Your recent arguments recall Bakunin:

"Revolution, the overthrow of the state means war, and that implies the destruction of men and things."

In his history of anarchism, Demanding The Impossible, Peter Marshall summarised the reality of these earlier attempts to achieve progressive change through violence:

"These acts of terrorism not only sparked off repressive measures against anarchists in general but gave the anarchist cause a reputation for violence which it has never been able to live down. It has consequently done enormous harm to the movement."

Only you can know why those of us who hope to relieve human suffering "may find that this requires military force" in Iraq, Burma and West Papua, but not in Turkey, Algeria, Colombia, Russia, and in any number of other places around the world. But given that you "do not believe that Iraq is a special case, or, rather, I do not believe that it is any more special than a number of other cases", why did you single out Iraq as a uniquely "special responsibility" to a mass audience by failing to mention other "special cases" at a time when war mongering cynics absolutely +depend+ on the presentation of Iraq as uniquely evil to justify a monstrous war? Your isolating of the Iraqi regime in your article echoed and reinforced the isolating propaganda of Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Perle and the rest.

We reject your "first principles" for 'just war'. In the real world a successfully fought 'just war' here is a potent example inspiring a murderously fought unjust war there. The last thing the world needs is an apparently benign example of the therapeutic effects of mass violence. The success of the ultimate 'just war' of 1939-45 has been used to facilitate and justify a monstrous series of unjust wars ever since, right up to the present day's targeting of the latest 'New Hitler' in Iraq. Historian Howard Zinn argues that the war against Nazism helped to promote its worst horrors. Writing on the Holocaust in his essay 'Just and Unjust War', Zinn argues that Hitler's pre-war aim was the forced emigration of Jews, not extermination, with the policy degenerating into mass murder as the frenzy of war overtook the already deranged Nazi mind-set. Zinn writes:

"Not only did waging the war against Hitler fail to save the Jews, it may be that the war itself brought on the Final Solution of genocide. This is not to remove the responsibility from Hitler and the Nazis, but there is much evidence that Germany's anti-Semitic actions, cruel as they were, would not have turned to mass murder were it not for the psychic distortions of war, acting on already distorted minds."

Much the same point has been made by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman regarding another of the last century's great genocides: the mass slaughter in the 'killing fields' of Cambodia. Chomsky and Herman quote David P. Chandler, former Foreign Service Officer in Phnom Penh, who asks: 'What drove the Cambodians to kill?':

"To a large extent, I think, American actions are to blame. From 1969 to 1973, after all, we dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs on the Cambodian countryside. Nearly half of this tonnage fell in 1973... In those few months, we may have driven thousands of people out of their minds. We certainly accelerated the course of the revolution."

Zinn's conclusion:

"A war that apparently begins with a 'good' cause - stopping aggression, helping victims, or punishing brutality - ends with its own aggression, creates more victims than before, and brings out more brutality than before, on both sides. The Holocaust, a plan made and executed in the ferocious atmosphere of war, and the saturation bombings, also created in the frenzy of war, are evidence of this."

What the world needs are potent examples of how reason, compassion and concern for others have the power to undermine the unrestrained greed and hatred that are so often the causes of war and suffering. Together, Bush, Blair and Osama bin Laden are busy teaching us a lesson summarised well by an Indian philosopher many centuries ago:

"For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law."

Sincerely

David Edwards and David Cromwell - 2.12.02

We are anticipating a further reply from Monbiot to our December 1 and 2 emails above. If received, we will publish this with a response as an Update to this Media Alert.

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to George Monbiot expressing your views:

Email: g.monbiot@zetnet.co.uk

]]>
Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:46:59 +0000
Update: Iraq - Panorama Editor and Guardian Editor Respond http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/225-update-iraq-panorama-editor-and-guardian-editor-respond.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/225-update-iraq-panorama-editor-and-guardian-editor-respond.html

As the war clouds continue to gather over the Gulf, the latest opinion polls show that fully 40% of the British electorate are against war on Iraq. Anyone who has been monitoring the media with any consistency can only view these figures with horror. For the truth is that a majority of the British public is opposed to military action despite the failure of the British media to tell them even the most elementary truths about Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If the media had broken its self-imposed silence on the facts of how Iraq was almost completely disarmed of WMD by 1998, how any attempts to rearm would have been immediately detected by the West, how 250,000 Iraqis died in the last Gulf war, how countless thousands more would die in the next, about how a million civilians have died under Western sanctions, and about how Bush's administration is packed with powerful arms and oil tycoons, then the proportion of the British people opposing war would surely have made UK participation in an assault unthinkable.

As it is, the biggest shift in public opinion since early November has been a rise of support for military action from 32% to 39%. Voters are therefore split. This will be seen as a major triumph by the New Machiavellians in Downing Street, as they have pumped the public remorselessly with blood-curdling tales of ferries blasted to the bottom of the channel, of incinerated and gassed tube trains, of streets shimmering with the radioactive debris of 'dirty bombs'. Over the last three months, a majority of people have consistently opposed war, with one exception - the immediate aftermath of the Bali bombing. Terror, and mere talk of terror, stokes war fever, no matter who is responsible, as the government well knows. When asked about the latest split in public opinion on war, rebel Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, said:

"That's pretty much understandable. We have also seen the government, quite deliberately in my view, attempting to blur the line between the activities of al-Qaeda and the seeming threat of Saddam Hussein." (Newsnight, BBC2, November 25, 2002)

You will struggle to find even a hint of this hidden agenda in journalistic reporting - journalists take it as read that their job is to echo the government's lines, not to read between them.

The media +has+ presented a semblance of a balance of views, but, crucially, there has been no balance in credibility. Since the vote on UN Resolution 1441 on November 8, the BBC and ITN have aired the opinions of US/UK government spokespeople, as we would expect, but as 'balance' they have turned to the same Iraqi politicians demonised by the media for over a decade as a gang of liars and cut-throat murderers. This is convenient indeed - were the media to offer a balance in credibility, not just argument, it would mean turning to the likes of Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck, Scott Ritter, Noam Chomsky, and John Pilger - authoritative and credible voices, whose arguments would carry great weight with the public, and which would quickly expose the mendacity of the Bush/Blair camp, sending public support for war plummeting. When we think back to the Vietnam era, do we recall spokespeople for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front 'balancing' the views of the US government? Or do we remember the voices of anti-war dissidents? The media has managed to obliterate the obvious truth that home-grown peace movements are the credible opposition to home-grown war mongering - when violent dictators represent the cause of peace, that cause is effectively unrepresented, which is just fine by establishment interests.

It is one of the great, perennial ironies of propaganda that if power is to subordinate people to profit, then the public must be convinced of the essential virtue of power. Nothing is more important than that this basic understanding - communicated by associating power with religion, tradition, high culture, civility, and automatic deference - continuously marinades society. The effects on the unmindful are remarkable - they come to take the benevolence of power for granted without even realising that they do. Thus the decidedly unmindful Nick Cohen of the Observer can write:

"What opponents of the war against Iraq really mean is that American imperialism is worse than Saddam's tyranny; that it's better to be against war than for the liberation of the peoples of Iraq." (Cohen, 'Put him behind you,' The Observer, November 24, 2002)

You can be sure that the last seven words were written quickly, reflexively, without thought - Saddam is bad, war is bad, but liberation justifies the pain. It is taken for granted that there really is a 'free world' awaiting the Iraqis, that liberation from a dictator like Saddam really does mean emergence into the sunlight of 'freedom'. It is unthinkable that cruise missiles and B52s could blitz the Iraqi people from one unfree world into another. Billions of people around the planet are on hand to bear witness to this obvious reality, but high-tech propaganda is more than a match for them. Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot declares:

"[I]f war turns out to be the only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and incontestable purpose is that and only that..." (Monbiot, 'See you in court, Tony,' The Guardian, November 26, 2002)

Monbiot would doubtless deny to his last breath that his support for an assault against just this shattered Third World country as a last resort has anything to do with the ceaseless propaganda that has poured from the tireless cynics of the Bush/Blair administrations and their media commissars. He holds his views (+he+ believes) because Iraq +is+ a special case, not because propaganda has +made+ Iraq seem a special case. This is the awesome power of deception - fascinating for everyone except the people on the end of our bombs.

The UK media is responsible for distorting public opinion to such an extent that Bush has managed to secure a reasonably credible and supportive ally in the UK, so that Bush is therefore able to make war as part of a manufactured 'coalition'. If there is a war, the suffering of thousands of innocents will be on the hands of the editors and journalists of our 'liberal press'. Such a notion will seem utterly risible to them, of course, but then an unshakeable belief in personal innocence has always been one of the privileges of power.

In response to our media alert of November 8, "Our Pravda - The BBC, Panorama and Iraq", a number of Media Lens readers wrote to John Simpson and the Panorama team (http://www.Media Lens.org/alerts/021108_Pravda_Panorama.htm). Several readers made their own carefully constructed arguments, while others used the pro forma letter we suggested, as follows:

"Dear Mr Simpson,

In 'Saddam - A Warning From History' (November 3, 2002), you said that your aim was to see "what lessons we can draw from Saddam Hussein's past conduct in order to discover what he is likely to do now". Why, in evaluating that conduct, did you fail to interview, or represent the views, of even one person who has reported that the Iraqi regime cooperated in delivering fully 90-95% disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by December 1998? Why did you not interview, or report the views of, those who claim the US manufactured a crisis in December 1998 for cynical reasons, and perhaps because they did not want sanctions to end successfully? Why did you not report that any attempt to reconstitute Iraq's WMD programmes would be immediately detectable to Western technology? Why did you argue that the Gulf War did not produce a "terrible loss of life", when a quarter of a million Iraqis died in the conflict, and 47,000 children under five died as an indirect result in the first eight months of 1991 alone? Why did you use just 16 words to comment on Western responsibility for the one million civilians who have died as a result of sanctions, according to senior UN diplomats who resigned in protest? Why did use the past tense when discussing sanctions? Why did you limit your interviews almost entirely to US and UK government officials, intelligence operatives, and to Iraqi defectors? Why did you not warn viewers of the past record of Iraqi defectors in distorting the truth to secure media attention and support? Why did you not include interviews with Scott Ritter, Denis Halliday or Hans von Sponeck?"

In response, several Media Lens readers received the following from Panorama editor Mike Robinson on, or around, November 14:

"Thank you for your email concerning the Panorama programme, "Saddam - A Warning From History", broadcast on 3rd November 2002. Your comments, along with those of others who have visited the Media Lens web-site, have been noted by John Simpson who was the reporter on the film and passed on to me for a response. The film dealt with Saddam Hussein's pursuit and retention of power, from his boyhood in Tikrit to the present day. We looked at certain key moments in his life in order to judge how he might behave if faced with military action in the near future. We stand by the programme in its entirety.

We remain committed to fair coverage of world affairs - as well as home affairs - and, as you will be aware, we have covered a broad range of views on Iraq during the present run of Panorama, not to mention in series past. Over the years, these range from "Secrets, Spies and Videotape", Tom Mangold's film on the UNSCOM weapons inspection programme in Iraq which investigated whether the inspectors had been fatally compromised by the involvement of United States intelligence agencies (broadcast in March 1999), to "The Case Against Saddam" (broadcast 23rd Sept 2002) and "The Case Against War" (planned transmission, 8th Dec 2002).

Many thanks for your interest and comments.

Yours sincerely

Mike Robinson
Editor
Panorama"

We appreciate Mike Robinson taking the time to respond. However, we note that Robinson does not address +any+ of the substantive points made by readers, or by our media alert of November 8, but states merely, "We stand by the film in its entirety."

This is a standard 'free press' response when challenged: feel free to refuse to engage with any of the reasoned points made. Instead describe what the programme was about, and simply assert one's 'impartiality', 'broad coverage' and 'fairness' (see our media alert of October 3: "The BBC's robotic assertion of 'impartiality'"; http://www.Media Lens.org/alerts/021003_BBC_robotic.html).

Robinson claims that the BBC has "covered a broad range of views on Iraq". In reality, of course, the overwhelming proportion of coverage has presented US-UK establishment views. Meanwhile, as discussed above, the views of many rational and authoritative commentators are clearly considered unfit for public consumption. It is worth noting that Tom Mangold, the Panorama reporter mentioned by Robinson, recently repeated the pivotal establishment lie that "in 1998, Saddam kicked them [the weapons inspectors] all out". ('How Saddam hid his deadly bio arsenal,' The Times, September 13, 2002).

Meanwhile, on 15 November, Media Lens received an email from The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger. This was in response to readers' emails generated by our media alerts Iraq - the Big Lie (Parts 1 and 2), of October 28 and 29, respectively. See: http://www.Media Lens.org/alerts/021028_Big_Lie1.htm and http://www.Media Lens.org/alerts/021029_Big_Lie2.htm

"Thanks for your email - one of several generated in response to a Media Lens appeal. I'm afraid we can't answer every point individually.

Ed Pilkington, foreign editor of the Guardian, makes this comment by way of general response.

"We have referred, and will continue to refer, to the US government's abuse of arms inspections for spying purposes. If new information emerges about such activities, we will of course report it with due prominence.

There is a detailed debate surrounding the subject of why the arms inspectors withdrew in 1998. Some former inspectors such as Scott Ritter say a prime cause was the spying issue. Others such as Richard Butler and Charles Duelfer say the main factor was Iraqi obstruction. News journalism imposes brevity upon us; we cannot rehearse this detailed debate every time we refer to the suspension of inspections in 1998.

To say that the inspectors left Iraq following Iraqi complaints of CIA spying is wholly accurate. Media Lens accuses the Guardian of being biased because it quotes a senior Iraqi official accusing the US of spying through the arms inspectors. The fact that we offer no comment on his accusations is regarded by Media Lens as evidence of slant on our part. The truth is quite the contrary - we reported the Iraqi officials words accurately, and they speak for themselves. We are not in the business of editorialising our news reports."

Alan Rusbridger
Editor"

In fact the Guardian has given a tiny number of mentions of CIA infiltration of inspectors and has even less often drawn conclusions on the significance of the infiltration for determining Iraqi reluctance to allow the return of inspectors. We are pleased that the Guardian will report any new information, but we would also welcome the reporting of relevant old information, which had previously been reported by the Guardian itself. It truly speaks volumes for the Guardian that it is willing to suggest that the views of Ritter and Butler are of comparable credibility. However, we recall that even Butler had given Iraq a clean bill of health on WMD prior to the concocted crisis of late 1998. Media Lens readers will recognise the "brevity"/lack of space argument from earlier Media Alerts. In fact it turns out that there is plenty of space for establishment views of the most mendacious kind, but almost none for dissident views.

Pilkington claims that the Guardian is "not in the business of editorialising our news reports". The distinction between editorials and 'straight reporting' is one of the great myths of media coverage. In reality presenting only +some+ facts and voices, with or without personal comment, presents a very personal view of the world. Iraq has been mentioned in 2,955 articles in the Guardian/Observer this year (November 26, 2002) - 1,505 of these articles mention George Bush, 1,205 mention Tony Blair, 49 mention Scott Ritter. All of these mentions may have been free of any and all "editorialising", but still a personal opinion on whose views are worth attending to has clearly been communicated, and with overwhelming force. In the five weeks since we last checked - a period in which arms inspectors have been the intense focus of attention - Bush has received 242 new mentions on Iraq, Blair has received 168, Richard Perle 8 and Paul Wolfowitz 11. In this same period John Pilger, Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck and Milan Rai have all received no new mentions. Ritter has received six new mentions and Chomsky one.

As Media Lens has attempted to demonstrate in numerous Media Alerts, there is a consistent pattern in news reporting that supports the biased agenda of US/UK state power: facts, commentary and analysis that would damage elite power, or expose our leaders' self-serving rhetoric and imperialist ambitions, are given scant coverage in mainstream news channels and newspapers (see: http://www.Media Lens.org/alerts/index.html). The usual editorial apologetic appeals to "brevity", and not having the space to "rehearse this detailed debate every time", are a cover for shirking responsibility to present painful truths to home audiences about the immense threat of US power, supported by the UK government, in the world today.

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Mike Robinson, Panorama editor

Email: mike.robinson@bbc.co.uk

Copy your email to: John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor.

Email: john.simpson@bbc.co.uk

Copy your emails to the Panorama team at:

panorama@bbc.co.uk and the BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook:

richard.sambrook@bbc.co.uk

Write to Ed Pilkington, Guardian foreign editor

Email: ed.pilkington@guardian.co.uk

Copy your email to: Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor:

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

]]>
Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:45:56 +0000
Update: Bill Hayton of the BBC's World Service Responds Again http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/224-update-bill-hayton-of-the-bbcs-world-service-responds-again.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/224-update-bill-hayton-of-the-bbcs-world-service-responds-again.html

In response to our recent exchange of emails - Media Alert Update: BBC World Service Editor Responds on Panorama (November 14, 2002) - we have received this email from Bill Hayton, Acting Europe Region Editor of the BBC's World Service:

Dear David,

A few people have emailed me, so I gather that my notes to you are being circulated. I hope that this can become a stimulating exchange for all concerned. Thanks for your rejoinder which makes some fair points but I have a couple of my own in return!

In my second email to you I did suggest that your analysis relies on, "a simplistic and mechanistic analysis" - something which you deny. However I believe your last reply gives examples of just what I was referring to. For example:

"unless [journalists] happen to conform to institutional requirements, they will find no place in the corporate media"

"The uniformity of reporting simply follows from the interaction of human nature with the framing structures of state-corporate capitalism"

These are both mechanistic explanations - you argue that there is a 'machine' which always operates in the same way, with the same results every time. To reinforce the point you illustrate with an analogy of small balls landing in a square box - how mechanistic is that?! No decent social theorist could accept such an explanation. I presume you are familiar with the idea of dialectic, that social relations are negotiated over time and the outcomes vary according to the situation. This is a much richer vein of analysis than your current line.

This is not just an academic argument, I believe that it's profoundly political. You argue that "the system strongly requires the appearance of openness". (I'm not entirely sure in this context whether you are using 'the system' to mean the overall global capitalist structure or the Chomsky-Herman filter system. Since, in your analysis, the latter protects the former I'll take the risk of conflating the two.) Consider the conclusions which an individual journalist could draw from this argument. If they decide to conform to the dominant strands of reporting, then they are guilty of supporting an evil and oppressive system. If however they decide to be a dissident voice they are doing something even worse - concealing their role in supporting an evil and oppressive system. This is an argument of hopelessness and I don't believe that it is one which Chomsky and Herman would subscribe to. I remember Chomsky saying in 'Manufacturing Consent' (I think) that the survival chances of millions often depend on people in positions of relative power exploiting the gaps allowed in mainstream society. Under your argument, dissidents working in the mainstream shouldn't even bother looking for these gaps because they're just perpetuating the system which creates the oppression. We should all go and work for CNBC and talk about stock markets rather than trying to work for fairer mainstream news coverage. If you really think that media dissent is just a cover for media conformity, why do you bother sending out Media Alerts?

John Pilger may get periodically depressed about his own position within the media industry (I use the word deliberately) and he's not alone. He, and others like him, obviously have many admirers. But the simple and sad fact is that most people just aren't interested. Take yesterday's BBC complaint log for radio and TV. 373 people made calls about coverage. Not one of them mentioned Iraq. Those with internet connections are a bit more radical - fully three out of 93 emails mentioned Iraq. Why does The Sun sell more copies than the Morning Star? The depressing fact is that it's because it appeals to more potential readers. It's always tempting to blame the media for this state of affairs, just as its blamed for youth violence, the decline of moral standards and so on. It obviously has a part to play but it's just one part in a much bigger picture of decline in political culture. I really don't believe that a change in the phrasing of a few news reports or more current affairs exposes of imperialist behaviour by Britain and the US would suddenly lead to an outbreak of global peace and justice.

Those are my main points, but I'm going to ramble on a bit more about some other issues as well, particularly since you goad me to do so!

1. John Simpson can look after himself but I think he might be surprised to find himself labelled as a stooge of the Anglo-American conspiracy. I remember those governments being quite upset with his coverage of the bombing of Baghdad and Belgrade and he's still there to tell the tale. Under your argument his 'dissidence' was tolerated in order to lull us all into a false sense of security.

2. Media Lens' work is too often full of sweeping generalisations - the frequent use of 'always' and 'never' lets your arguments down. If your language was more nuanced it would get a better reception.

3. I'm amused by your defence of the partial nature of your criticism of Simpson and the BBC in your Media Alert, "to keep repeating the five filters ... would simply drive people crazy. So we sometimes reluctantly take a certain level of awareness as read by our readers." Yet at the same time you expect the poor editor of a three minute segment of a programme about Iraq to explore, "the US's atrocious record of selecting and installing, and/or arming and defending along list of Third World dictators (Saddam Hussein included) for the purpose of protecting Western corporate interests against the demands of Third World people. It would involve a detailed analysis of how the US continuously undermines and compromises the UN - for example by employing massive bribery and threats in building a UN mandate and coalition ahead of the last Gulf War - and completely ignores the UN as suits. It would involve a detailed analysis of Bush appointees, pointing out that 32 major policy makers had significant financial ties to the arms industry prior to joining the administration, as compared with 21 appointees with ties to the energy industry. Honest dissident commentators would be brought in to the studio to explain how these interests, not 9-11 or the supposed threat of weapons of mass destruction, were driving policy. It would examine the US's record of promoting democracy in the region, by looking, for example, at Iraq's neighbour, Iran. BBC viewers would be fascinated, I'm sure, to know the details of how the US installed the murderous Shah in 1953 in a military coup to safeguard access to Iranian oil. The Shah quickly came to have a record of murder and torture that was "beyond belief", according to Amnesty International. Just these words would take about a minute and a half to read and that's without explaining the latest developments! You excuse some abbreviation in your own work and condemn it in others.

4. There is plenty of BBC coverage of the background to Iraq if you know where to look. Its recent history, including the role of the RAF in bombing the peasantry is covered in a two-part documentary on World Service: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/ess_peo.shtml On Tuesday 19th November there's a special debate on Iraq on both World Service radio and BBC World TV "It will be presented by Lyce Doucet and, although the participants are still being finalised, it is hoped that Dr Mohammad Mudhefar Al-Adhemi, a member of the Iraqi parliament, and John Bolton, the US Undersecretary of State, among others, will take part." apparently.

5. I agree with your comments about Jane Corbin's edition of Panorama. It was rubbish, like most of the stuff she does.

6. Sometimes you've just got to accept that journalists do things because they're stupid, ignorant, lazy or busy. It's not always because they're victims of the filter system. Correcting their facts is a valuable service. Be aware that the BBC has a research department whose job it its to make sure that journalists are well briefed. This week they hosted a seminar with Chris Cobb-Smith, a former weapons inspector. I've attached the transcription of his talk, which you may find heartening.

<>

7. I note that your colleague David Cromwell works in an academic department whose oceanographic research supports the ability of the British navy to navigate its nuclear powered submarines to positions from where they can fire cruise missiles at Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia. I may work for the BBC but my hands aren't that dirty!

You're still welcome to come and visit, if you're interested.

Best wishes

Bill Hayton

PS I'm not 'World Service Editor' but an Acting Regional Editor. It might reduce people's expectations to a more manageable level if you described me simply as a world service journalist. People are welcome to email me, but there's not much point really, I'm already converted. They'd be better off ringing up the comment line or writing to people with more influence, particularly the others you mention in your Media Alerts. I'm afraid I'm far too busy with the bureaucracy of journalism to be able to give a decent answer to your committed supporters. Through you I'd like to offer my apologies to them all.

Dear Bill

What is so striking about your latest reply is what you +don't+ say. I have repeatedly asked you important questions relating to serious factual omissions and misreporting in BBC coverage. I asked about the BBC misreporting of the withdrawal of weapons inspectors from Iraq, of CIA infiltration, of the massive success of earlier inspections, and about why this misreporting so closely echoes US/UK government propaganda. I asked about the silence on the vested interests pushing for war in the Bush administration, and about why dissident facts and voices are forever excluded - for example, why Peter Sissons could never interview Noam Chomsky on the BBC1 News At Ten. I raised these and other issues because they are crucial in determining whether there will be public resistance to, or support for, a cynical war that will result in the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of people. And yet you have made no attempt to respond, other than to say that people are not interested in Iraq, and that there is plenty of background coverage. This is a further example of exactly the kind of silence we are protesting.

While you concentrate on the propaganda model, your organisation continues to perform as a propaganda organ for the US/UK governments. On November 7, the day before the UN vote on Resolution 1441, which "set the clock ticking" on war, Downing Street began issuing warnings of imminent terrorist threats against UK ferries, the underground, and major public events. The government is well aware that, even without mentioning Saddam Hussein, talk of terror has the effect of increasing support for war. It could not be more obvious that these warnings are designed to soften the public up for an assault on Iraq. And yet in the nearly two weeks since November 7, the BBC has faithfully passed on every warning, every day, without challenge, to the public. The Guardian managed to make an oblique reference in the direction of truth, noting, "it cannot be ruled out that Mr Blair may have political reasons for talking up the sense of unease, in order to help make the case for a war against Iraq that is only backed by one voter in three". (The Guardian, 'Gloom in Guildhall,' November 12, 2002) But the BBC's unwritten compact with Downing Street amounts to this: You may seek to manipulate the public as cynically and extensively as you like, and we will report your efforts as sincere and credible, exploring no possible hidden agenda, no matter the consequences for human life abroad.

As war draws closer there is still no mention on BBC TV News of the quarter of a million Iraqi victims of the first Gulf War, or of the one million dead civilians as a result of sanctions since. By contrast, any number of viewers are doubtless aware that 5,000 people died in the Iraqi gas attack at Halabja. So if I can answer your last point first, your hands are indeed dirty. You would do well to reflect on the judgement of Nazi media boss Julius Streicher at Nuremberg:

"It may be that this defendant is less directly involved in the physical commission of crimes against Jews. The submission of the prosecution is that his crime is no less the worse for that reason. No government in the world... could have embarked upon and put into effect a policy of mass extermination without having a people who would back them and support them... These crimes... could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him." (Conot, Robert E, Justice At Nuremberg, Carrol & Graf, 1983, NY, pp.384-385)

You suggest that I believe "there is a 'machine' which always operates in the same way, with the same results every time." Let's be clear that the propaganda model is merely an analytical framework that attempts to explain the performance of the media in terms of the basic institutional structures and relationships within which they operate; it doesn't talk about "a machine" or identical results. I have made no mention of any kind of mechanistic system. You support your assertion with quotes from our Alerts: "The uniformity of reporting simply follows from the interaction of human nature with the framing structures of state-corporate capitalism". But this contradicts your own claim - human beings are obviously not uniform, they are hugely varied and complex. The framing conditions are also not uniform, rigid structures; they are made up of complex economic and political systems, human goals, values and priorities. And so the interaction between them and the framing structures of state-corporate capitalism does not deliver "the same results every time". What it does deliver is overwhelming conformity with occasional instances of dissent.

You note that we offer "an analogy of small balls landing in a square box", adding, "how mechanistic is that?!" Here you are confusing an analogy with an explanation. An analogy merely indicates partial similarities between different phenomena as an aid to understanding. If I say a robot moves like a human being, I don't mean the robot +is+ a human being, or that a human being is a robot. Similarly, the framework/pyramid analogy simply indicates how regular patterns can emerge in nature (for example in crystal formation) and in society, in the absence of conscious design. It is absurd to argue that a simple mechanical analogy used to illustrate a complex model therefore means the model is simple and mechanistic.

You say that "This is not just an academic argument, I believe that it's profoundly political. You argue that 'the system strongly requires the appearance of openness'. (I'm not entirely sure in this context whether you are using 'the system' to mean the overall global capitalist structure or the Chomsky-Herman filter system. Since, in your analysis, the latter protects the former I'll take the risk of conflating the two.)"

You are confusing a system and a model. There is no such thing as "the Chomsky-Herman filter system" - the system I was referring to was corporate capitalist society (the mainstream media included). Chomsky and Herman have presented a propaganda model proposing five 'filters', which operate within the corporate capitalist system to remove dissident facts and opinions. The filters do not "protect" the state-corporate system, as you suggest, they are a function +of+ that system. You argue that I believe there is some kind of separate, conspiratorial 'machine' somehow operative within society, within the BBC for example, and which consciously polices information. I completely reject this kind of conspiracy theory, as do Herman and Chomsky, who write: "Our treatment is far closer to a 'free market' analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces." (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon, 1988, p.xii)

You write that "If they [journalists] decide to conform to the dominant strands of reporting, then they are guilty of supporting an evil and oppressive system. If however they decide to be a dissident voice they are doing something even worse - concealing their role in supporting an evil and oppressive system."

People rarely "decide to conform" to anything - journalists, for example, I believe, either come to internalise the beliefs and values that enhance their prospects for success without conscious intention, or they are weeded out as 'biased', 'over-committed', or 'too subjective'. Journalists are generally not liars, rarely even self-censoring, in my experience. Voicing dissent in the mainstream often means challenging, not supporting, evil and oppressive systems. There is no doubt, however, that the appearance of honest writers does risk lending the mainstream an ill-deserved legitimacy. So the New Statesman might be awful, but we can point to John Pilger. The Guardian might be awful, but we can point to George Monbiot. The Independent might be awful, but we can point to Robert Fisk. The problem is that the presence of these writers can create the impression among readers that the media is far more open and free than it actually is. Contrary to what you write, Herman and Chomsky are well aware of this problem:

"Media policy itself may allow some measure of dissent and reporting that calls into question the accepted viewpoint... The beauty of the system, however, is that such dissent and inconvenient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda." (New introduction to Manufacturing Consent. Email from Edward Herman to David Edwards, August 10, 2002)

What we have found is that the 'liberal' media +do+ give space to dissident voices, so giving the appearance of a willingness to challenge power. But, as Herman and Chomsky note above, the space provided is not nearly enough to compete with the coverage afforded to establishment voices.

You write that: "I remember Chomsky saying in 'Manufacturing Consent' (I think) that the survival chances of millions often depend on people in positions of relative power exploiting the gaps allowed in mainstream society. Under your argument, dissidents working in the mainstream shouldn't even bother looking for these gaps because they're just perpetuating the system which creates the oppression. We should all go and work for CNBC and talk about stock markets rather than trying to work for fairer mainstream news coverage. If you really think that media dissent is just a cover for media conformity, why do you bother sending out Media Alerts?"

Here you are confusing an analysis of society with a prescription for action. These are entirely separate. Journalists like John Pilger have done an enormous amount of good through their mainstream reporting, with real consequences for people in the Third World. They are well aware, however, that they are used as "fig leaves", and that awareness leads them to seek to counter the fact as far as possible. The tactical question of how best to respond to the "fig leaf" problem is open to discussion - arguments range from attempting to secure as much mainstream coverage as possible, to boycotting the corporate media altogether. My own view is that dissidents, Media Lens included, should refuse to appear in the mainstream unless it is on the understanding that they are free to criticise both the specific media entity publishing their work and the media system as a whole. This seems a reasonable request in a free society, but it is currently denied right across the media. Even high-profile writers consciously refrain from criticising the media for fear of the consequences (which are simply 'understood' throughout the media), as they have privately told us.

You argue that "the simple and sad fact is that most people just aren't interested". Having read Herman and Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, you will be familiar with the quote by John Milton with which they opened the book: "They who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their blindness."

You appear to be unaware of the massive growth in dissident movements around the world in recent years. Robert Fisk wrote recently in the Independent:

"Three years ago, I managed to fill a Washington auditorium seating 600 with just 32 Americans. But in Chicago and Iowa and Los Angeles this month, they came in their hundreds - almost 900 at one venue at the University of Southern California - and they sat in the aisles and corridors and outside the doors." (Fisk, 'Fear and Learning in America', the Independent, August 16, 2002)

Towards the end of last year, Z Magazine founder and ZNet editor, Mike Albert, told me that he had recorded 1.1 million people visiting his website in October alone, and that the number of visitors had doubled since September. Our own figures at Media Lens show that visitors and subscribers have increased by more than 500% since last December.

There are plenty of examples to indicate the massive appeal of dissident work, if only people can find it. 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. After a unique televised debate between Andrew Marr and Noam Chomsky on media control, the producer, Simon Finch, told me was "inundated" with "a flood of letters" the like of which he had never seen. Pilger's books are always best-sellers, as indicated by the appearance of his latest book in the top ten charts. Chomsky's book 9-11 has so far sold well over 100,000 copies. This time last year, Chomsky had no fewer than three titles in the top ten list of books on international affairs. Bookmarks general manager Judith Orr described Chomsky's popularity: "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." ('What's selling in international affairs,' The Guardian, November 10, 2001)

The film, Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media, is the most successful Canadian feature documentary ever made, playing in over 32 countries. Chomsky says the success of the film is such that he is continually invited to film festivals all over the world.

None of this should come as a surprise, 500,000 people marched against war and corporate control of society in Florence recently. In September, London saw what John Pilger described as the greatest anti-war march in a generation. In the United States, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, there were at least 400 major demonstrations against an attack on Iraq up to mid-October. The Washington Post reports, "There is a rising tide of activism, a burgeoning national anti-war movement that is gaining momentum by the day . . . They talk of protesting by people who have never protested before." (Quoted Pilger, 'Something is stirring among the people,' ZNet, November 4, 2002)

You wouldn't know any of this was happening from the endless stream of BBC and ITN journalists respectfully channelling the words of mainstream politicians from outside Downing Street and the White House.

You write that: "I really don't believe that a change in the phrasing of a few news reports or more current affairs exposes of imperialist behaviour by Britain and the US would suddenly lead to an outbreak of global peace and justice."

We are attempting to use examples of media bias to raise awareness of the deep systemic corruption afflicting the media. The 'liberal' press in particular, we believe, is used to stifle critical thought and compassion, and to promote passivity and obedience. We hope to encourage people to think for themselves, to challenge irrationality and brutality, and to work to relieve the human suffering that flows from unrestrained greed. Our aim is to improve the performance of the media as far as we are able within existing structural constraints, in an effort to save lives (for example in Iraq) in the short-term. But beyond this our goal is to raise awareness of the reality of these constraints so that they can be challenged and removed. Ultimately we hope to be a small part of a process of generating massive public pressure and, so, real change.

On your other points:

1. John Simpson's reporting from Belgrade was admirable, in stark contrast to his reporting for Panorama from Baghdad. We have not "labelled" Simpson a stooge of the Anglo-American conspiracy", indeed we have made no mention of any conspiracy. The Alert challenged factual errors and omissions in the Panorama report and pointed to pressures constraining honest reporting in the BBC. Also, the fact that governments become "quite upset" about journalistic performance tells us plenty about the totalitarian tendencies of governments, but nothing at all about the honesty of journalists.

2. You say that "Media Lens' work is too often full of sweeping generalisations - the frequent use of 'always' and 'never' lets your arguments down. If your language was more nuanced it would get a better reception." It's interesting to check. In the Panorama Alert we used the word 'never' once, and 'always' not at all. In the last Alert covering my exchange with you, I used "essentially never" once, and 'always' once.

3. You say that I "expect the poor editor of a three minute segment of a programme about Iraq to explore" the long list of omissions previously outlined. In fact I did not condemn abbreviation, I condemned the near-total +exclusion+ of ideas. You cited an example that you argued showed that the BBC had indeed challenged the "moral and legal right of the United States to 'get rid of'" Saddam Hussein. I pointed out that, to qualify, a serious challenge would have to mention the facts I described. My point was to refute your claim that the BBC had covered the issue, not to condemn the particular journalist cited by you for "abbreviation".

4. You say "There is plenty of BBC coverage of the background to Iraq if you know where to look." I agree and I'm sure Pravda also presented plenty of "background to Afghanistan" in the 1980s. The issue is the extent to which the background provides facts, ideas and voices that are accurate and important, but also damaging to powerful interests.

5. Your comments on Jane Corbin's performance are unfair. Her performance is not significantly worse than the rest of the BBC's output. If you deem her output "rubbish", why do you remain silent on the performance of Panorama, Newsnight, and BBC TV News generally?

6. You write, "Sometimes you've just got to accept that journalists do things because they're stupid, ignorant, lazy or busy. It's not always because they're victims of the filter system." Of course I agree that journalists are often guilty of laziness and ignorance. The problem is that the laziness and stupidity generally do not manifest themselves randomly - News At Ten journalists do not lazily assert that 2 million, not 1 million, Iraqi civilians have died under US/UK sanctions. Instead the ignorance and laziness tend to be of the kind that promotes ideas favourable to powerful interests: weapons inspectors were "thrown out" of Iraq, Mohamed Atta met Iraqi agents in Prague; or, as a recent Channel 4 documentary declared: "Iraqi secrecy means it's impossible to verify the claims that Iraq is starved of medicine... there seems to be plenty of medicine here." (Truth and Lies in Baghdad, Channel 4, November 17, 2002). This last example is lazy and ignorant journalism of the worst kind. The point is you'd be unlikely to hear an ignorant journalist declare something like: 'Western sanctions have meant that no medicines have reached Iraq for over a decade.'

7. You note that my colleague David Cromwell "works in an academic department whose oceanographic research supports the ability of the British navy to navigate its nuclear powered submarines to positions from where they can fire cruise missiles at Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia. I may work for the BBC but my hands aren't that dirty!"

In some respects, the situation at The University of Southampton, where Cromwell works, is worse than you portray. The University has just signed a new "partnership" with the Ministry of Defence which, in part, provides engineering training for navy officers, so that all academics and other workers at the university are now even more compromised than they were previously. Similar agreements may well have been signed at other establishments of higher education. This is an intensification of a long-standing pattern of military funding and ties with academia, which gets nowhere near the mainstream media coverage it deserves, despite the valiant efforts of such respected organisations in this country as Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Cromwell works at Southampton Oceanography Centre (managed by the University of Southampton), where the Ministry of Defence occasionally funds so-called "Blue Skies" research that has more immediate applications for the understanding of oceanography and climate change, than it does for any direct military use. Whether 'dual-use' scientific knowledge is applied for peaceful, or for military, applications is, as ever, of pressing importance. Cromwell's view is that it +is+ a matter of deep concern that scientists or workers in any field should be dependent, to any extent, on funding from a military-industrial sector which primarily benefits a privileged minority, while threatening societal and environmental interests. Some funding from oil companies also supports oceanographic and climate research. Cromwell regularly and publicly makes known his views on all such 'dirty' funding, sometimes to the scorn and dismay of senior management and colleagues. The UK government, like many governments around the world, regularly spends a huge percentage of GDP, i.e. taxpayer's money, on maintaining armed forces and a large armaments industry, while skewing academic research to the interests of the military sector. This is socialism on a huge scale in the form of considerable public subsidy and support for rich industries and investors, while the rest of us 'enjoy' the benefits of competition and dog-eat-dog capitalism.

Best wishes

David

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Bill Hayton expressing your views:

Email: bill.hayton@bbc.co.uk

]]>
Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:44:25 +0000
Update: BBC World Service Editor Responds on Panorama http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/223-update-bbc-world-service-editor-responds-on-panorama.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/223-update-bbc-world-service-editor-responds-on-panorama.html

MEDIA LENS MEDIA ALERT

 

14th November 2002

Media Alert 

In response to our recent Media Alert - Our Pravda: The BBC, Panorama and Iraq (November 8, 2002) - we received these emails from Bill Hayton of the BBC's World Service:

Hi,
Having read some of your material from time to time and agreed with parts of it, I wondered if you might be interested in seeing a corporate news organisation at work. I'd be happy to have you shadow me during a working Monday to see how the news agenda is planned and executed. You'd have to be here by 8:30 in the morning.
Interested?

Bill Hayton
Acting Europe Region Editor
BBC World Service - 12.11.02

Dear Bill

Many thanks for your kind offer to "shadow" you at work. To be honest, I'm not sure what the point would be. We would no doubt witness a group of highly professional and honest journalists sitting around planning and executing the news agenda according to their sincerely held beliefs of what constitutes objective and balanced reporting. Our point is that if they believed something different they wouldn't be sitting where they're sitting. We would, however, be very interested to hear any responses you might have to our recent Media Alert on the BBC and a recent Panorama documentary, below [attached].

Thanks for your time.

Best wishes

David Edwards
Co-Editor - Media Lens - 12.11.02

Dear David,

It was your media alert which prompted me to write. While much of what Media Lens writes is reasonable, at its heart lies a simplistic and mechanistic analysis of the causes of bias. I think your pieces will be much more sympathetically received by working journalists with a slightly defter touch and more sophisticated understanding of what working in journalism is actually like.

Your analyses repeatedly assert that there is a propaganda machine at work within the BBC - that because governors are appointed by the government that journalists' work is necessarily tainted. That's about as correct as saying that all academics are propagandists because their work is government-funded. I note for example that the research of your co-worker, David Cromwell used to be (perhaps still is?) part-funded by the Ministry of Defence but that doesn't mean that his mind was owned by the MOD.

There are clearly problems with working at mainstream media organisations but your analysis does not clearly frame them. I'd like to help "correct the distorted vision" (to coin a phrase) with the intention of making the analysis sharper, not blunter. At the moment you are regarded (in so far as you are regarded) as, "the Mary Whitehouse of the Green movement" as a colleague remarked. And mistakes such as your comment, "The moral and legal right of the United States to "get rid of him" was of course beyond the remit of the BBC's leading investigative programme, as it is beyond the remit of all BBC reporting." does not help you case. Take this, for one example:

DATE: 7/10/02 N.208
CUE: Britain has refused to comment on a report in the Financial Times that the government's senior law officers {the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General} have advised it that an attack on Iraq undertaken to change the regime would be a breach of international law. But British officials say this issue is a red herring, since legal authority for military action would be likely to come from the Security Council -- either through existing resolutions or the new one the United States and Britain are trying to get the Council to pass. Our diplomatic correspondent, Barnaby Mason, looks at the arguments:

It's clear that international legal authority cannot be found for military action specifically designed to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. That's the main reason the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, declines to adopt President Bush's regime change as his own policy; instead, he says, the objective is disarmament (-- though it would of course be wonderful if the Iraqi leader were to disappear). British officials say the question of whether there is a legal basis for regime change, or for the other American concept of pre-emptive action in self-defence, is a red herring. The authority for military action, they argue, derives from the Security Council. France and Russia and many others insist that there must be a new resolution giving explicit authorisation. But a British Foreign Office memorandum to a parliamentary committee in June (the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons) looked back to the Security Council's authorisation to use force to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait twelve years ago. According to the memorandum, the authorisation was only suspended at the end of the Gulf War, not terminated, and could be revived if Iraq was in breach of the disarmament obligations laid down in the ceasefire resolution. That argument was used to justify the American-British air attacks on Iraq in 1998 after the blocking of UN weapons inspections. However, the difference now is that the Iraqi government has promised unrestricted access for the inspectors. Another objection was raised by Richard Holbrooke, American ambassador to the UN under President Clinton. He said the argument that existing Security Council resolutions already provided sufficient legal authority might have some merit in legal circles, but it had none in political or practical terms. // The issue of international legality is one where the United States and Britain do not speak with one voice. And the Bush administration is impatient with fine legal points that inhibit its freedom of action.

I'm not expecting you to experience a Pauline conversion but your critique might benefit from a better understanding of the way things work inside a media organisation.

Whatever....

Bill - 13.11.02

Dear Bill

Many thanks for your response and for your generous offer to help us sharpen our analysis. I think you should be very cautious before deciding that at the heart of what we're doing "lies a simplistic and mechanistic analysis of the causes of bias". There is an enormous temptation when facing criticism to manufacture a 'straw man' version of the actual argument in order to easily dismiss it as fundamentally flawed. In fact we have published over 50 Media Alerts this year alone, and in these (and in our books - three of them between us) we have explored the many political, economic, structural and psychological pressures that constrain media reporting. You surely don't believe that we imagine that government appointment of the chairman is in itself sufficient to account for the performance of BBC journalists. The recent Panorama Alert asks how the BBC gave in to strong-arm political tactics that resulted in the temporary banishment of John Simpson. The answer given was that political influence extends right to the highest levels of BBC management, so such punishment should come as no surprise. But this is only one factor in constraining journalistic independence.

Our Alerts are sent to thousands of regular readers and much as we would love to keep repeating the five filters outlined in Edwards Herman and Noam Chomsky's propaganda model of the media in every Alert (and we have repeated them many times), it would simply drive people crazy. So we sometimes reluctantly take a certain level of awareness as read by our readers - the latest Alert on Panorama was intended as one more piece in the jigsaw. If you are determined to dismiss our view on the basis of that one Alert, then you are free to do so, but your judgement won't be based on the reality of what we're arguing, just as it would be absurd for us to judge the BBC's performance on the basis of one documentary.

In an earlier Media Alert, for example, we wrote "dissident arguments do not depend on conspiratorial self-censorship, but on a filter system maintained by free market forces - bottom-line pressures, owner influence, parent company goals and sensitivities, advertiser needs, business-friendly government influence and corporate PR 'flak' - which introduce bias by marginalising alternatives, providing incentives to conform and costs for failure to conform". (Guardian Journalist Responds on Dissidents, 12th January 2002 )

We quoted Orwell in another Alert:

"George Orwell wrote about censorship in ostensibly free societies, noting 'that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban.' In other words, no conspiracy is necessary for the establishment - including the mass media - to police legitimate dissent." (Liberal Herrings Part 2 - The Guardian's John Vidal Responds on Climate Coverage, 8th August 2002)

In another we wrote:

"The point is not that journalists or commentators are dishonest conspirators; rather, unless they happen to conform to institutional requirements, they will find no place in the corporate media. Journalists either consciously understand this, or so successfully internalise the required views that they are unable to think anything else. Dissenting voices do exist in the mainstream media, but they are few, marginalised, and, in the words of John Pilger describing his own position, act as 'fig leaves' hiding the general level of servility to power." (BBC Correspondent Responds on Red Cross Report, 4th January, 2002)

Sometimes we use analogies from the natural world to try and communicate the subtlety of the problem we are exploring:

"Chemistry teachers have long delighted students by showing how near-perfect symmetrical structures can be produced by pouring a large number of small balls into a square box, whereupon a perfect pyramid is inevitably produced. The balls either land in a pyramid-building position, bounce into such a position, or bounce out of the structure. The resulting pyramid - like crystalline structures found in the natural world - looks for all the world like it has been carefully designed; in fact it is merely a consequence of the random flow of small round objects over a square framework.

We believe that the flow of journalists in and out of the framing structure of the mainstream corporate media accounts, in a roughly analogous way, for the remarkably uniform patterns found in mainstream reporting. As we have shown in earlier Media Alerts, the corporate media is structured in a way that protects and furthers the interests of state-corporate power in the absence of any conspiracy, or even overt interference. The uniformity of reporting simply follows from the interaction of human nature with the framing structures of state-corporate capitalism - journalists with the correct views, priorities and goals 'fall into place' in the media pyramid, while others bounce (or are bounced) out.

This does not mean that there is no dissent in the mainstream; on the contrary the system strongly requires the +appearance+ of openness. In an ostensibly democratic society, a propaganda system must incorporate occasional instances of dissent. Like vaccines, these small doses of truth inoculate the public against awareness of the rigid limits of media freedom. The honest dissident pieces which occasionally surface in the mainstream are quite as important to the successful functioning of the propaganda system as the vast mass of power-friendly journalism. Dissidents (a tiny number of them) also have their place in the pyramid - the end result, however, is an overall performance that tends to mould public opinion to support the goals of state-corporate power." (Conspiracy-Free Conformity - How the Mainstream Smears Dissident Output, 26th July, 2002)

The quote you cited was interesting, and rare. But it can hardly be considered a serious challenge to the legal and moral right of the US to "get rid of" Saddam Hussein. That would involve an exploration of the US's atrocious record of selecting and installing, and/or arming and defending a long list of Third World dictators (Saddam Hussein included) for the purpose of protecting Western corporate interests against the demands of Third World people. It would involve a detailed analysis of how the US continuously undermines and compromises the UN - for example by employing massive bribery and threats in building a UN mandate and coalition ahead of the last Gulf War - and completely ignores the UN as suits. It would involve a detailed analysis of Bush appointees, pointing out that 32 major policy makers had significant financial ties to the arms industry prior to joining the administration, as compared with 21 appointees with ties to the energy industry. Honest dissident commentators would be brought in to the studio to explain how these interests, not 9-11 or the supposed threat of weapons of mass destruction, were driving policy. It would examine the US's record of promoting democracy in the region, by looking, for example, at Iraq's neighbour, Iran. BBC viewers would be fascinated, I'm sure, to know the details of how the US installed the murderous Shah in 1953 in a military coup to safeguard access to Iranian oil. The Shah quickly came to have a record of murder and torture that was "beyond belief", according to Amnesty International. But all of this belongs to an alternate reality that doesn't exist as far as the BBC is concerned. The three main BBC1 News programmes forever depict the US and UK governments as fundamentally respectable, law-abiding, reasonable and benign when it comes to international affairs, as a matter of long-established tradition. There are doubtless occasional exceptions, but they are invisible beside this basic deference to power - Stephen Sackur reporting from Washington, James Robbins outside the UN, for example.

Beyond all this, the fact is that the record of BBC performance - we tend to concentrate on TV news because it's so influential - indicates transparent servility to establishment interests. On issue after issue, facts and voices that are damaging to powerful interests are passed over, barely hinted at, or simply ignored. To take just one tiny, obvious example at random: Noam Chomsky is currently the most popular writer on international politics in the UK, and one of the greatest dissident thinkers ever to have lived. Can we imagine that he could ever appear on the BBC's News At Ten? Well why not? And yet the idea is absurd, it just couldn't happen. We can fantasise, of course:

Peter Sissons: "Professor Chomsky, what +is+ the goal of Western policy in Iraq?"

Chomsky: "Unfortunately, the elite interests controlling US/UK policy - and much of the media, incidentally, the BBC included - have a long and bloody history..."

Ultimately "what working in journalism is actually like" is really not the issue, the issue is what journalistic +performance+ is actually like. This is what interests us, what determines whether people live or die under Western bombs abroad. Anyone interested enough to check, and with a reasonable level of honesty, can very quickly see how compromised the media really is.

The idea that we are "the Mary Whitehouse of the Green movement" sounds about right. We offer serious structural analyses of media performance backed up by credible sources and verifiable facts, and promote democratic challenge of, and participation in, the media. This is threatening to the media we are exposing, and the many interests that depend on them, so of course we are dismissed by them as ridiculous, trivial and extreme - this has always been the response to our kind of analysis, it's a way of avoiding serious discussion. We've actually written about the constant charge of extremism, implied also in your comment, in several Media Alerts. We selected some typical descriptions from the press:

On Chomsky: "Chomsky knows so much but seems impervious to any idea of nuance." (Steve Crawshaw, The Independent, February 21, 2001)

On Pilger: "The brilliance of John Pilger's reporting is, or ought to be, beyond dispute." But he "can never end his criticisms and condemnation at the point when most people would think it reasonable to stop." (Roy Hattersley, the Guardian, July 20, 2002)

On Pinter: "He has this terribly imaginative vision of the world and everything has to fit it." (Jay Rayner, The Observer, May 16, 1999)

Or as you said, almost paraphrasing the above: "While much of what Media Lens writes is reasonable, at its heart lies a simplistic and mechanistic analysis of the causes of bias."

The idea that we are part of "the Green movement" is also suitably divorced from the reality of what we are doing.

In my first email I invited you to respond to the points we made in the Panorama Alert. Your failure to respond is a perfect example of the kind of silence on important issues we keep having to describe. So what +do+ you have to say about the claim made by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian on John Simpson?

"Downing Street made calls; three days later he was taken off the air. It was 1988 before he returned from the wilderness to a role as a foreign affairs specialist." (Oliver Burkeman, 'Simpson of Kabul,' the Guardian, November 14, 2001)

Is this true? Is it a regular occurrence? Does this kind of event influence journalistic performance? If not, why not? Might it be in some way connected to the government appointment of senior BBC managers?

And what did you make of the quote from Newsnight editor, Peter Horrocks?:

"Our job should not be to quarrel with the purpose of policy, but to question its implementation." (Quoted, Robert Newman, the Guardian, August 7, 2000)

Is this acceptable, in your view?

And what did you make of the fact that John Simpson passed over the US/UK slaughter of a million civilians in Iraq in 16 words on sanctions?:

"They [sanctions] were indeed a savage punishment, for they chiefly hurt the ordinary people of the country."

And why is it that BBC TV news essentially never mentions that arms inspectors were infiltrated by the CIA, that the information gained was used for bombing Iraq, or that inspectors were pulled out of Iraq after achieving 90-95% success, because of a dispute manufactured by the US government? The BBC's Jane Corbin stated on Panorama, "the inspectors were thrown out... and a divided UN Security Council let Saddam get away with it." (Panorama, The Case Against Saddam, BBC1, September 23, 2002)

On the BBC's Lunchtime News, James Robbins reported that inspectors were "asked to leave" after relations with Iraq broke down. (BBC1, September 17, 2002)

On BBC Radio 4, foreign secretary Jack Straw was allowed to promote the deception unchallenged by interviewer John Humphrys:

"The inspectors were able to get in and to do their work until the international community's resolve, I'm afraid, fractured rather, and Saddam Hussein was able to exploit that and expel the inspectors." (Jack Straw, Today, BBC Radio 4, October 12, 2002)

Humphrys said:

"Well much of that may be true, surely is true, certainly when you talk about Saddam's record and nobody would argue with any of that." To his credit, Humphrys subsequently challenged Straw, after complaints from Media Lens readers.

Can you provide a different explanation of why the BBC's consistent misreporting of these events so closely echoes US/UK lies? That would certainly help sharpen our analysis.

Best wishes

David - 14.11.02

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Bill Hayton expressing your views:

Email: bill.hayton@bbc.co.uk

]]>
Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:42:55 +0000
Update: Iraq and Arms Inspectors - The Guardian Responds http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/222-update-iraq-and-arms-inspectors-the-guardian-responds.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2002/222-update-iraq-and-arms-inspectors-the-guardian-responds.html

Media Lens has recently published several Media Alerts focusing on US/UK media coverage of Iraq, arms inspectors and the looming war. A front-page article in yesterday's Guardian reported:

"The British government is preparing for war against Iraq on the growing assumption that Saddam Hussein will fail to disclose his full weapons armoury, or will quickly prove unwilling to cooperate with the stringent conditions of the new UN weapons inspection regime." (Patrick Wintour and Brian Whitaker, 'UK expects Iraq to fail arms tests,' the Guardian, November 11, 2002)

Alternatively it could be argued that the British government is preparing for war on the growing assumption that Iraq will be +made+ to fail to cooperate, no matter how hard it might try to succeed. The above assertion may well be just one more piece in the propaganda jigsaw intended to prepare the country for war.

We recently had this exchange of emails with Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian on these issues:

Dear Oliver Burkeman

In yesterday's Guardian [8.11.02], you wrote:

"There are many glamorous jobs in international diplomacy, but being a UN weapons inspector is not one of them. Those who took part last time remember a life of endless frustrations thrown up by their reluctant Iraqi hosts - the bugged hotels, the hostile minders, the suspicious traffic-jams en route to chemical facilities, the laboratory doors that could only be unlocked by officials who were, sadly, unavailable."

Do you agree that this is of secondary importance beside the fact that Iraq, after seven years of inspections, was 90-95% disarmed of weapons of mass destruction by December 1998? I wonder, have you +ever+ mentioned the extent to which Iraq was actually disarmed by UNSCOM? It is obviously crucial in determining whether war is justified now.

Sincerely

David Edwards
Co-Editor - Media Lens - 9.11.02

Dear David Edwards,

Thanks for your email.

I think you'd have an arguable point if I'd been writing, as you suggest, about whether war in Iraq is justified or not -- whether Saddam Hussein poses a grave threat or not.

But I was writing about whether Hans Blix is or is not likely to be able practically to achieve the task demanded of him. The answer to that is clearly going to be hugely important in the coming months, not least to those who do seek to justify a war.

In the specific context of my article, whether there actually is anything there was not the central point. The point was whether Blix will be able credibly to establish whether there is anything there.

Also, we have indeed given space to the Scott Ritter perspective on Iraqi disarmament, most obviously here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,794759,00.html

All the best,

Oliver Burkeman - 9.11.02

We note that Burkeman failed to answer whether he had ever mentioned the success of arms inspectors from 1991-98. In fact in the 43 articles written or co-authored by him on Iraq this year, we found a single mention of "claims" of earlier success:

"Mr Ritter claims that [sic] of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were destroyed by the time the inspectors left and the country was unlikely to have developed new ones without detection." (Ewen MacAskill and Oliver Burkeman, 'Document leaves way clear for war,' The Guardian, November 7, 2002)

Amazingly, in a year of crisis and looming war precisely revolving around the issue of inspectors and peaceful/violent disarmament, this is Burkeman's sole reference to the fact that inspectors have previously delivered 90-95% disarmament. Recall that the Guardian is considered to be the UK's +most+ open and honest newspaper.

Dear Oliver Burkeman

Many thanks for the prompt response. As you say, you were "writing about whether Hans Blix is or is not likely to be able practically to achieve the task demanded of him". But how can the fact that 90-95% disarmament was achieved by Blix's predecessors by December 1998, not be worth mentioning (alongside the earlier difficulties) in evaluating Blix's chances of success now? If it is relevant to mention earlier difficulties and failures, why is it not relevant to mention earlier successes? The point, surely, is that mentioning the earlier problems in isolation has the effect of justifying US/UK government actions now (something had to be done), whereas mentioning the tremendous earlier successes calls those actions into serious question.

By the way, I didn't suggest that your article was about whether war against Iraq is justified. I asked if you had ever mentioned the previous success of arms inspectors, noting that this is vital for understanding if war is justified now. I'm aware of the Ritter/Pitt exchange in the Guardian - last time we checked, Ritter had been mentioned 43 times in over 2,300 articles mentioning Iraq this year in the Guardian/Observer.

Thanks for your time.

Best wishes

David Edwards - 9.11.02

David,

Again I take your points, but again I think they weren't the focus of my article and not necessarily even the most important thing at this current stage of the crisis.

In the resolution passed at the UN yesterday, everything hinges on whether Saddam co-operates. Theoretically, he could have no WMD at all, but if he chose to behave obstructively, he'd be in material breach and subject to "serious consequences". (And vice versa: if Iraq has massive nuclear arsenals but is up-front about it, then, taking the resolution at face value, it would avoid being in further material breach.)

That's what the next stage of this hangs on now. How far the inspectors were able to overcome the obstructions and disarm Iraq last time around is obviously hugely important -- especially if the US were to abandon the UN route and attack using a self-defence justification -- but the ultimatum issued yesterday is about co-operation.

If disarmament was indeed almost completely successful last time, as Scott Ritter says, the evidence would appear to suggest that it was in spite of Iraqi non-co-operation, not thanks to Iraqi co-operation.

Separately and secondarily, I'm not sure Ritter's figures should be taken as undisputed fact. It's precisely the obstructions encountered last time round that would lead many Unscom inspectors, I think, to argue that it was impossible to know what the 100% was from which Ritter derives his 90-95% figure.

And I think I'd be more in sympathy with your argument if my article on this aspect of inspections were the only article in the Guardian on any aspect of inspections. That's far from the truth, as you acknowledge -- although I fear we'll have to agree to disagree as to whether the overall picture presented in the paper as a whole has been fair.

Best wishes

Oliver - 9.11.02

Dear Oliver

Many thanks for your prompt response. I've responded to your points below:

OB: "Again I take your points, but again I think they weren't the focus of my article and not necessarily even the most important thing at this current stage of the crisis."

The focus of your article was, as you wrote, "whether Hans Blix is or is not likely to be able practically to achieve the task demanded of him". In considering his prospects you rightly mentioned the considerable earlier problems that faced UNSCOM inspectors. If this is rational, then it must also be rational to consider the enormous earlier +successes+ achieved by inspectors, as a matter of common sense. To fail to do this guarantees failure in achieving your own stated aim in writing the article. It also means the piece promotes the idea that current US/UK government initiatives are required and reasonable.

OB: "In the resolution passed at the UN yesterday, everything hinges on whether Saddam co-operates. Theoretically, he could have no WMD at all, but if he chose to behave obstructively, he'd be in material breach and subject to 'serious consequences'. (And vice versa: if Iraq has massive nuclear arsenals but is up-front about it, then, taking the resolution at face value, it would avoid being in further material breach.)"

But this is only one interpretation of events. If it is true that Iraq did cooperate in the dismantling of 90-95% of its WMD programmes, then, as has been argued, it may well be that US/UK governments were not then, and are not now, seeking a peaceful resolution to a crisis essentially concocted by them. As the US writer Sean Gonsalves wrote recently, "the United States didn't want the inspections to end. They wanted 'containment'. As long as the inspections were unfinished, the United States could keep Iraq under its control with 'Saddam in his box'." (Gonsalves, 'Looking For The Devil', ZNet Commentary, November 5, 2002)

If this is true then the issue of whether Saddam chooses to cooperate may be entirely academic. Scott Ritter and others have claimed that the US government deliberately manufactured a confrontation ahead of Operation Desert Fox in 1998, +despite+ extensive Iraqi cooperation -machinations that could easily be repeated now. The extent of the earlier cooperation, that you failed to mention, suggests that there is indeed an agenda other than disarmament driving policy, as senior US officials have themselves admitted ("regime change").

OB: "That's what the next stage of this hangs on now. How far the inspectors were able to overcome the obstructions and disarm Iraq last time around is obviously hugely important -- especially if the US were to abandon the UN route and attack using a self-defence justification -- but the ultimatum issued yesterday is about co-operation. If disarmament was indeed almost completely successful last time, as Scott Ritter says, the evidence would appear to suggest that it was in spite of Iraqi non-co-operation, not thanks to Iraqi co-operation."

Where is your evidence for this view? The fact is that Iraq, according to inspectors, +did+ ultimately deliver near-total disarmament. This has been carefully documented. According to Ritter it simply is not true that Iraq failed to cooperate. He writes:

"If this were argued in a court of law, the weight of evidence would go the other way. Iraq has in fact demonstrated over and over a willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors." (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p.25)

OB: "Separately and secondarily, I'm not sure Ritter's figures should be taken as undisputed fact. It's precisely the obstructions encountered last time round that would lead many Unscom inspectors, I think, to argue that it was impossible to know what the 100% was from which Ritter derives his 90-95% figure."

I agree, nothing should be taken as undisputed fact. But it is entirely uncontroversial, for example, that Iraq was 100% disarmed of nuclear capability by 1998 - all the relevant programmes, facilities and equipment had been tracked down and destroyed. Inspectors were equipped with highly sensitive detection and surveillance technology for locating nuclear, chemical and biological materials. This technology would also have detected any subsequent attempts to reconstitute WMD programmes.

OB: "And I think I'd be more in sympathy with your argument if my article on this aspect of inspections were the only article in the Guardian on any aspect of inspections. That's far from the truth, as you acknowledge -- although I fear we'll have to agree to disagree as to whether the overall picture presented in the paper as a whole has been fair."

Yes, we will have to disagree on that. We have reported how the Guardian/Observer described in 1998 and 1999 that inspectors were "withdrawn" from Iraq by Richard Butler ahead of bombing as the scandal of CIA infiltration of UNSCOM came to light. The Guardian/Observer reported at the time that US and UN officials "admitted" that spies had used information gained to target Iraq in Desert Fox. This year, by contrast, the Guardian/Observer have consistently reported that inspectors were "thrown out" of Iraq amid "Iraqi claims" and "allegations" of spying. Interestingly the same distortions have been found by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting right across the US media. The Guardian/Observer have made occasional mention of the views of Ritter and others, but you have essentially followed the US/UK government line that Iraq did not cooperate from 1991-1998, that inspectors achieved very little, that Iraq may now possess WMD capability, and that it may therefore be a serious threat. There has also been precious little mention of the vested interests driving US policy. A World Policy Institute (WPI) review of major Bush appointees published in May found that 32 major policy makers had significant financial ties to the arms industry prior to joining the administration, as compared with 21 appointees with ties to the energy industry. In April 2001, Julian Borger of the Guardian reported:

"In the Bush administration, business is the only voice... This is as close as it is possible to get in a democracy to a government of business, by business and for business." (Borger, 'All the president's businessmen', The Guardian, April 27, 2001)

There should have been far more emphasis of these key facts, in my view. It is appalling to think that literally thousands of innocents may be made to suffer agonising death and mutilation as a result of policies which may be rooted in cynical motivations. As journalists and human beings, I'm sure you will agree that we should expose cynicism wherever it exists and do everything we can to protect human life.

Many thanks again for taking the trouble to respond.

Best wishes

David - 10.11.02

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Oliver Burkeman expressing your views on his performance in the Guardian and in his exchange with Media Lens:

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Alerts 2002 Sat, 13 Nov 2010 11:39:35 +0000