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The Durban Climate Deal And Eight Corporate Media Unmentionables



The UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, ended with one of those marathon all-night cliffhanger negotiations that the media love so much. The outcome was a commitment to talk about a legally-binding deal to cut carbon emissions – by both developed and developing countries – that would be agreed by 2015 and come into effect by 2020. It was about as tortuous and vague as that sounds.

BBC News reported the UN chairperson saying that the talks had ‘saved tomorrow, today’.

But nothing substantive had changed. Carbon emissions, already at their peak, will continue to increase for at least the next eight years, pushing humanity closer to the brink of climate collapse. Rather than address the madness of a global system of corporate-led capitalism that is bulldozing us to this disaster, the corporate media mouthed deceptive platitudes.

A Guardian editorial assured readers that the Durban deal is ‘better than nothing’, and that:

‘There are times when inching forward can look like progress [...] a moment when it is cheerier to think of how bad things might have been than to rate the success of the final outcome.’

Adopting the standard, but discredited, establishment framework to explain the treacly mire hindering serious action on climate, this vanguard of liberal journalism opined:

‘There is an unvarying conflict of interest in the fight against climate change between developed and developing economies.’

No hint there that the conflict is, in fact, between the elite corporate 1% and the 99% of the global population that are their victims.

The Independent, another great white hope of liberal journalism, told its diminishing band of readers that the Durban outcome is ‘an agreement that gives new cause for optimism.’ Indeed, it ‘is an enormous advance on the position now.’

An editorial in The Times (‘A Change of Climate’, December 12, 2011)  conformed along similar lines while also taking care to kick the forces of rationality in the teeth:

‘Scientists and activists will complain that Durban's only commitment is to more talks and that any agreement will not become operational until 2020. But these campaigners have often proved poor advocates, either exaggerating or misusing data to make their case or showing an unwise disdain for the realpolitik and compromises essential for any deal.’

Climate scientists will be dismayed that an ostensibly responsible paper like The Times would make a sneering reference to the unfounded ‘Climategate’ claims of climate data manipulation. But perhaps readers will appreciate the irony that The Times is itself, of course, an enthusiastic practitioner of corporate ‘realpolitik’.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Thu, 15 Dec 2011 07:56:22 +0000
Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage


The latest round of UN climate talks has just begun in Durban, South Africa, but the world's richest nations are already planning to prevent any new treaty from taking effect before 2020. Achim Steiner, head of the UN environment programme, has condemned the action as a 'political choice', rather than one based on science, calling it 'very high risk'.

With the Kyoto Treaty due to expire in 2012, the so-called 'international community' has failed abysmally to fulfil its commitments to protect the planet. This should surprise no-one. As senior Nasa climate scientist James Hansen pointed out after the previous climate summit in Mexico in 2010, UN talks are 'doomed to failure' since they do not address the fundamental physical constraints of the Earth's climate system and how to live within them.

Public concern about climate change continues to rise. According to the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll (October 2011), 68% of Europeans polled consider climate change a very serious problem (up from 64% in 2009). Altogether 89% see it as a serious problem (either 'very serious' or 'fairly serious'). On a scale of 1 (least) to 10 (most), the seriousness of climate change is ranked at 7.4, against 7.1 in 2009.

Meanwhile, media interest in the subject has crashed. Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University describes a 'collapse of any significant coverage of climate change in the [US] media. We know that 2010 was a record low year, and 2011 will probably look much the same. If the media doesn't draw attention to the issue, public opinion will decline'.

In his authoritative Climate Progress blog, Joe Romm notes, for example, that the New York Times 'cut coverage sharply since its peak in 2006 and 2007'.

Equally disturbing is the variation in media performance across the globe. A wide-ranging Reuters study on the prevalence of climate scepticism in the world's media – Poles Apart – The international reporting of climate scepticism - focused on newspapers in Brazil, China, France, India, the UK and the USA. The periods studied were February to April 2007 and mid-November 2009 to mid-February 2010 (a period that included the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and 'Climategate'). Remarkably, the study concluded that climate scepticism is 'predominantly an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon', found most frequently in US and British newspapers:

'In general the UK and the US print media quoted or mentioned significantly more sceptical voices than the other four countries. Together they represented more than 80% of the times such voices were quoted across all six countries.'

The study concluded:

'In general, the data suggests a strong correspondence between the perspective of a newspaper and the prevalence of sceptical voices within it, particularly in the opinion pages. By most measures (but not all), the more right-leaning tend to have more such voices, the left-leaning less.'

But in all ten UK newspapers studied, there was an increase 'both in the absolute numbers of articles with sceptical voices in them and the percentage of articles with sceptical voices in them'.

And so we find that Britain and the US – the two countries responding most aggressively to alleged 'threats' to human security in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – are also the two countries least interested in responding to the very real threat of climate change. 

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Wed, 30 Nov 2011 09:44:44 +0000
‘They Found Nothing. Nothing.’

The IAEA, Iran And ‘Fantasy Land’

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its much-trailed report ‘presenting new evidence’, said the BBC, ‘suggesting that Iran is secretly working to obtain a nuclear weapon.’

Relying on ‘evidence provided by more than 10 member states as well as its own information’, the IAEA said Iran had carried out activities ‘relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device’.

Having looked deeply into the claims, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh commented this week in an interview with Democracy Now!:

‘But you mentioned Iraq. It’s just this — almost the same sort of — I don’t know if you want to call it a "psychosis," but it’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of — no lessons learned, obviously.’

Indeed, informed scepticism in the corporate media has been muted or non-existent - the image of Iran as a ‘nuclear threat’ has yet again been imposed on the public mind. Any reasonable news reader and viewer would find it extremely difficult to question the emphatic declarations offered right across the media ‘spectrum’.

Thus, a Guardian editorial asserted: ‘It really is time to drop the pretence that Iran can be deflected from its nuclear path.’

Two days earlier, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, anticipated the report’s publication on his ‘Global Security Blog’ with a piece titled ‘Iran “on threshold of nuclear weapon”’. The accompanying photograph helpfully depicted a giant mushroom cloud during a 1954 nuclear test over Bikini Atoll. His article was linked prominently from the home page of the Guardian website.

In a later article, Borger gave prominence to a quote from an unnamed ‘source close to the IAEA’:

‘What is striking is the totality and breadth of the information [in the IAEA report]. Virtually every component of warhead research has been pursued by Iran.’

Presumably all-too-aware of increased public scepticism in the wake of Iraq, the anonymous source continued in the Guardian:

‘The agency has very, very, high confidence in its analysis. It did not want to make a mistake, and it was aware it had a very high threshold of credibility to meet. So it would not be published unless they had that high level of confidence.’

In similar vein, a New York Times report opened with:

‘United Nations weapons inspectors have amassed a trove of new evidence that they say makes a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device,” and that the project may still be under way.’

The Daily Telegraph declared its version of the truth unequivocally in a leader titled ‘Iran’s nuclear menace’. It noted that the IAEA report ‘has for the first time acknowledged that Tehran is conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose is the development of weapons.’

Presumably drawing on clairvoyant powers, the editors added:

‘Indeed, the IAEA has known for years that Tehran was building an atomic weapon, but has been reluctant to say so.’

The title of an editorial (November 10, 2011) in The Times was similarly categorical and damning: ‘Deadly Deceit; Iran's bellicose duplicity is definitively exposed by an IAEA report’:

‘Tehran's decade-long nuclear programme is obviously not intended purely for generating electricity. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed this week that it has credible evidence that Iran has worked on the development of nuclear weapons.’

The editorial stamped this with the required emphasis:

‘This will sound, and is, a statement of such banality that it ought not to need saying.’

And then continued without a shred of uncertainty:

‘The IAEA report is extensive and understated. Founded on intelligence sources from ten countries, it explains in detail how Iran has established a programme to develop the technologies for a nuclear weapon. Its findings are entirely consistent with all that has been known and exposed before. Indeed, the IAEA is late in stating them.’

For anyone relying solely on corporate news media coverage, the case against Iran was closed. All that remained was to decide the necessary course of international action: ramped-up ’diplomacy’, international sanctions and perhaps – the threat was left ‘lying on the table’ – war.

What is so breathtaking is that the apparent consensus on Iran, like the case against Iraq, is a fraud.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Thu, 24 Nov 2011 04:02:49 +0000
Killing Gaddafi


In response to the torture and summary execution of an injured, blood-soaked, helpless human being, the front page of one British newspaper read:

'Mad Dog Put Down.'

The title of an article in the Sun declared: ‘Dead dog.’ (October 24, 2011)

The Daily Star reported that Gaddafi's son Mutassim had been filmed smoking a cigarette and drinking water shortly after being captured. The paper took up the story:

‘But in graphic images that have baffled UN investigators, he is then shown dead, lying next to Mad Dog, with bullet holes in his neck and stomach.’

In his report, ‘Mad Dog’ was the name journalist Gary Nicks used to refer to the executed Libyan leader. Nicks continued: ‘New footage emerged yesterday of Mad Dog’s dying words to a baying mob.’

Gaddafi and his son were not the only victims of the mob. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that between six and ten people appeared to have been executed at the scene of the Libyan leader’s capture. Around 95 bodies were found in the immediate vicinity, many of them victims of Nato airstrikes. In fact, it is clear that Nato, with the assistance of special forces (although ground troops were strictly forbidden by UN resolution 1973), had maintained a no-drive zone around Sirte: a crucial factor facilitating the murder of Gaddafi.

CBS reported 572 bodies ‘and counting’ in Sirte, including 300, ‘many of them with their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head’, collected and buried in a mass grave.

HRW reported the massacre of 53 people by anti-Gaddafi fighters at the Mahara hotel in Sirte. Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW, commented on the atrocity:

‘This latest massacre seems part of a trend of killings, looting, and other abuses committed by armed anti-Gaddafi fighters who consider themselves above the law.’

The BBC covered the massacre on its News at Ten (October 24). Wyre Davies reported:

'Some say Gaddafi's home town is where transitional government forces took their revenge; collective punishment for Gaddafi's own crimes. A vivid and graphic example of that in Sirte today. The bodies of 53 Gaddafi supporters, discovered shot with their hands tied.'

The segment lasted 20 seconds, with commentary on the massacre and footage of the bodies lasting 10 seconds. As one surviving resident of Sirte asked:

‘What would people in Europe and America say if Gaddafi was doing this?’

The answer is hardly in doubt - wall-to-wall coverage and volcanic outrage. Gaddafi was certainly a vicious tyrant responsible for gross human rights abuses. But callous indifference to human suffering was supposed to be the reason he was so beyond the pale, so unlike ‘us’.

Channel 4 anchor Matt Frei responded to the massacre in a style familiar from his years as the BBC’s Washington correspondent:

‘You could say even about this regime, this government, that they don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. So just how worried are they?’

When ‘our side’ is responsible, even a massacre becomes, first and foremost, a PR problem.

The response from Ian Black, the liberal Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, to the torture and extrajudicial killing of Gaddafi was a stark: ‘good riddance’.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, giggled with CBS journalists as she joked about Gaddafi’s murder:

‘We came, we saw, he died.’

Incongruous laughter appears to be a trait.

British prime minister David Cameron also found mirth amid the gore in a speech celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali:

‘Obviously, Diwali being the festival of a triumph of good over evil, and also celebrating the death of a devil [audience laughter], perhaps there’s a little resonance in what I’m saying tonight.’ (BBC News at Ten, October 20, 2011)

One of our regular message board posters, Chris Shaw, expressed his ‘despair and horror at the footage of a 69 year old man being beaten, tortured and murdered by a mob’ (Media Lens message board, October 24, 2011). The natural response of a feeling human being, one might think. By contrast, Andrew Gilligan wrote in the Telegraph: ‘the one thing Gaddafi retained to the very end was his ability to put on a show… [His] demise was as box-office as his 42-year rule’.

We suspect that most journalists are not actually unfeeling brutes. They are conformists wary of the high price they can be made to pay for even the suspicion that they might be 'apologists' for an official enemy. A risk that has increased markedly in our age of 'political convergence', deprived as it is of any established mainstream political dissent.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Thu, 27 Oct 2011 07:15:17 +0000
Britain’s Own Pravda-Style Propaganda: Part 2

The Statistics of Western State Terror

Ten years later, the violent consequences of the invasion of Afghanistan are truly appalling. A Stop the War video, ‘What is the true cost of the Afghanistan war?’ details some of the appalling statistics:

9,300 Afghan civilians have been killed by International Security Assistance Forces, i.e. Nato.

380 British soldiers are dead.

£18 billion of UK taxpayer’s money has been spent.

The war is costing Britain £12 million per day. The same amount could employ 100,000 nurses (at £21,000 annually) and 150,000 care workers (£15,000).

A study by Brown University in the United States estimates an unimaginable combined sum of up to $4 trillion to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, ‘cautious estimates’ of the total civilian death toll exceed 40,000 people, of which:

25.6%  killed by ISAF forces.

15.4%  killed by anti-government forces.

60%  killed by poverty, disease and starvation.

In particular, the horrendous killing of Afghan children in US air strikes and night raids gets scant coverage, if any, before the Western media swiftly looks away.

There are now three million refugees from Afghanistan: 30.7% of the world’s total, exceeding the figures of 16.9% from Iraq, 7.7% from Somalia and 4.8% from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

74% of the British public want the occupation to end either ‘immediately’ or ‘soon’.

Very little of this reality made it into the largely uncritical coverage of the ten-year anniversary of the West’s aggression against Afghanistan.

In the conclusion to a new report for Stop the War, David Swanson provides a stunning example of the media’s systematic bias:

‘On August 6, 2011, numerous US media outlets reported "the deadliest day of the war" because 38 soldiers, including 30 U.S. troops, had been killed when their helicopter was shot down.

‘But compare that with the day of May 4, 2009, discussed in this report, on which 140 people, including 93 children, were killed in U.S. airstrikes. We are denying to each other through silence and misdirection every day that the children of Afghanistan exist. But their deaths are rising.’

But the deaths of Afghan children, and the suffering of the people of Afghanistan, are seemingly of little consequence for most Western journalists who would rather focus on the ‘progress’ and ‘achievements’ of the Nato ‘campaign’.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Thu, 20 Oct 2011 04:27:27 +0000
Britain’s Own Pravda-Style Propaganda: Part 1

Ten Years Of ‘Involvement’ In Afghanistan

Imagine Britain had been invaded and occupied by armed forces from another region of the world with China, for example, as a significant ‘partner’ in the ‘coalition’. Imagine tens of thousands of Britons had been killed, and millions had fled as refugees. This is how the Chinese state broadcaster might report the invasion ten years hence:

'It’s ten years this week since Chinese forces first became involved in Britain, and more than five years since they assumed responsibility for south-east England. So what's been achieved in that time?'

These were the actual words that presenter Fiona Bruce used on the flagship BBC News at Ten:

'It’s ten years this week since British forces first became involved in Afghanistan, and more than five years since they assumed responsibility for Helmand province. So what's been achieved in that time?' (BBC One, October 4, 2011, italics added)

This is BBC 'impartiality' in action. These words were a prelude to a piece by Paul Wood, the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent, that was a model of Pravda-style propaganda which we will examine further in Part 2.

Meanwhile, in a shameful editorial, the Guardian burnished its credentials as a hand-wringing liberal supporter of the war. Readers were told that the war that had been ‘unavoidable’ and that ‘we’ had then stayed in the country ‘through all the twists and turns imposed by events’, struggling with ‘the incoherence of our own changing policies, for reasons which have become less and less understandable.’ The paper sighed that ‘an anniversary of this kind has a sobering effect’ in that ‘we hugely overestimated the capacity of our military, diplomatic and intelligence establishments to change other societies.’ This ‘hubris was most evident in the United States, but it was not absent in Britain.’

‘The trouble’, claimed the editorial, ‘was that, once in that obscure corner, whether Iraq or Afghanistan’, coalition forces ‘were confronted by shrewd and ruthless opponents.’ Historically, invaders do tend to be resisted by those ‘shrewd and ruthless’ people in ‘obscure corners’ whose land is being occupied, and whose lives, livelihoods and resources are at risk.

‘Some Afghans’, however, ‘were indeed “like us”, recognisably middle class or western in their beliefs and aspirations, and the effect of our intervention may well have been to increase that number.’

The white man’s burden is surely lightened by that happy realisation. Especially because some of these people ‘like us’ – yes, the Guardian really did say that - ‘may have a more important role to play’ in the future. Thus reassured, ‘we can hope we have planted seed that will bear fruit later.’

The tragedy of the Afghanistan war, asserted the Guardian, is that ‘we’ stumbled into an age-old conflict not of our making:

‘The problem is not that Afghanistan is unconquerable, as some claim. It is that we, like the Russians before us, joined an ongoing conflict between different ethnicities, between modernisers and traditionalists, between social classes, and between newer and older forms of religiosity.’

Now, ‘after 10 years of muddle and mayhem’, our ‘minimal common interest’ – indeed, 'our remaining duty’ - must be to aim at ‘a power-sharing settlement’ involving the Taliban.

There was no hint from this supposed vanguard of critical and liberal journalism that ‘our remaining duty’ should involve an immediate withdrawal of our forces. No hint that this country should make some attempt at restitution for the decade of ‘muddle and mayhem’ that ‘we’ have inflicted on yet more victims of the West’s grasping and destructive foreign policy.

The Independent’s editorial derived from a similarly tortured perspective of perplexed liberalism: ‘questions about what has been achieved yield far from encouraging answers’ and ‘what little progress there has been is looking increasingly vulnerable.’

However, the editors added, ‘it would be a mistake to overlook the real advances that have been made’ such as ‘democratic elections, a written constitution and a degree of social freedom’. The paper also appealed yet again to ‘the issue of women's rights – or the lack of them’ as ‘one of the most convincing’ supposed ‘justifications for international involvement in Afghanistan.’

There was token acknowledgement in the editorial of ‘Afghanistan's vast natural resources’ which, we are to believe, ‘could still be a source of funding and stability.’ But there was only silence about the realpolitik underlying Western foreign policy; namely, that control of these huge resources was, in fact, ‘one of the most convincing’ reasons for the invasion-occupation of Afghanistan.

Instead, the editorial makes a benign-sounding but pathetic plea for the ‘international community’ to ‘help realise the potential.’ But for whose benefit? The corporate media would have us believe that the interests of the Afghan people would be paramount, and that they would be allowed to prosper. For the truth, we have to look elsewhere.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Tue, 18 Oct 2011 05:25:55 +0000
Targeting Syria – The ‘Bad News’ For The Guardian


Afghanistan and Iraq may still be in flames. A bloodbath may continue to flow from Nato’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya. No matter, mainstream journalists are appalled that a double Russian and Chinese veto at the UN has thwarted Western efforts to do more good in Syria. The two powers rejected the latest draft of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government and preparing the way for international sanctions.  

In the Guardian, Middle East editor Ian Black wrote last week:

‘Bashar al-Assad can certainly feel satisfied that powerful allies have stood by him and prevented international action that might – just – have given him pause for thought as he pursues his vicious crackdown on Syria's protest movement.’

This is the standard media version of events, repeated endlessly, for example, by the BBC and ITV. We are to understand that the Syrian government is responsible for a vicious repression of peaceful protestors along the lines of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen. But is it an accurate depiction of the conflict?

In May, Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa, commented on the first outbreaks of violence in Syria:

‘What is clear from these initial reports is that many of the demonstrators were not demonstrators but terrorists involved in premeditated acts of killing and arson. The title of [an] Israeli news report summarizes what happened: ‘Syria: Seven Police Killed, Buildings Torched in Protests.’ 

The initial conflict, Chossudovsky noted, ‘had all the appearances of a staged event involving, in all likelihood, covert support to Islamic terrorists by Mossad and/or Western intelligence. Government sources point to the role of radical Salafist groups (supported by Israel). Other reports have pointed to the role of Saudi Arabia in financing the protest movement.’

Jeremy Salt, associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University, Ankara, wrote this month:

‘The armed groups are well armed and well organised. Large shipments of weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey. They include pump action shotguns, machine guns, Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, Israeli-made hand grenades and numerous other explosives. It is not clear who is providing these weapons but someone is, and someone is paying for them.’

So why do Western media keep referring to a ‘vicious crackdown on Syria’s protest movement’? Chossudovsky explained:

‘The existence of an armed insurrection is not mentioned by the Western media. If it were to be acknowledged and analysed, our understanding of unfolding events would be entirely different. What is mentioned profusely is that the armed forces and the police are involved in the indiscriminate killing of protesters.’

He added some background:

‘Since the Soviet-Afghan war, Western intelligence agencies as well as Israel's Mossad have consistently used various Islamic terrorist organizations as "intelligence assets". Both Washington and its indefectible British ally have provided covert support to "Islamic terrorists" in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya, etc. as a means to triggering ethnic strife, sectarian violence and political instability… The ultimate objective of the Syria protest movement, through media lies and fabrications, is to create divisions within Syrian society as well as justify an eventual "humanitarian intervention".’

As Chossudovsky observed, Syria is on the US list of ‘rogue states.’ In 2004, in an interview with Democracy Now!, former Nato chief General Wesley Clark recalled a conversation with a Pentagon general in 2001, a few weeks after the September 11 attacks:

‘He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”’


The Guardian's Morality Play

Ian Black continued in the Guardian:

‘The veto by Russia and China of a binding UN security council resolution threatening unspecified measures against Syria caps months of feverish diplomatic action at the UN. Britain, France and Portugal knew they were facing an uphill struggle, so they diluted and qualified the text of what they were proposing in order to avoid failure. But they failed anyway.

‘Since military action was explicitly excluded in the final "blue" draft of the resolution, the optimists thought, or hoped, that Russia might comply.’

But the dilutions and qualifications did not rule out more aggressive action later. The final resolution allowed for the Security Council to consider unspecified measures against Syria after a 30-day period. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook responded to our request for comment:

‘Black mentions the exclusion of "military action" but this is not in itself a guarantee that the US won't find other ways to bring about regime change. There was plenty of evidence during Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006 that the US and Israel were trying to widen the attack to Syria. Israel is very concerned about Syria's stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that nearly match its own. It isn't too far-fetched to see the US using this resolution as a prelude to a variation of the Iraq strategy: demanding Syria destroy its WMD; upping world fury; isolating Damascus; and then allowing/enabling an Israeli attack.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 6, 2011)

Black added:

‘But on Tuesday night, officials said, there was a last-minute hardening of Moscow's position. Beijing, as ever, dutifully followed suit. Lebanon, India, South Africa and Brazil – currently on the council – abstained.’

Cook again:

‘The US tries to shape the world in ways that are beneficial to its strategic and commercial interests, and does so through arm-twisting and threats to those countries that object but are not strong enough to stand up to its power…

‘This is so obvious it should not even need to be stated. And yet Black's analysis totally ignores this reality, turning the Security Council vote into some kind of morality play. He is positively misty-eyed about Western interests, as though they were informed solely by a resolute determination to stand up for human rights and the oppressed. His approach is typified by this weasely line:

'"Beijing, as ever, dutifully followed suit."

 ‘As though Britain, France, Portugal and co don't also "dutifully follow suit" when the US demands it.'   

Abandoning any pretense of neutrality, Black continued:

‘This is bad news for protesters in Syria, where at least 2,700 have been killed since March, and bad news for those who yearn for a UN that can prove effective, if not in tackling all the world's ills at once, then at least in responding to one of its most glaring and urgent injustices.

‘The chorus of condemnation from western capitals sounded genuine.’

The resiliance of Black’s faith in Western moral concern is impressive. This year, the West has supported dictators in Tunisia and Egypt to the bitter end, before dumping the tyrants, hailing a triumph for democracy, and then working for a restoration of the status quo. It continues to support tyrants killing their own people in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It has criminally exploited a UN resolution to achieve regime change in Libya. It has also promised to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood and membership of the UN. In fact, the West has again shown itself to be a fierce opponent of the cause it claims to be defending in Syria.

Black wrote:

‘Susan Rice, Barack Obama's ambassador to the UN, expressed outrage. "This will be seen in the region as a decision to side with a brutal regime rather than with the people of Syria," complained William Hague, "and will be a bitter blow to all those Syrians who have implored the international community to take a stand."… Privately, but fairly openly, the Russians were accused of being hypocritical and cynical.’

By contrast, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, commented:

‘I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently foreseeable result of America’s own rash actions [in Libya], was just pathetic.’

On the World Socialist Web Site, Peter Symonds noted the breathtaking hypocrisy of Rice’s walk-out: the US having, after all, vetoed numerous UN resolutions condemning Israeli crimes.

Black added in a feeble gesture towards balance:

‘Arms sales and a strategic relationship with Syria certainly played a role in Russia's calculations, just as US links to Bahrain have tempered its criticism of repression in the Gulf state.’

As we have seen, Bahrain is only one example of how the West is systematically subordinating democracy to self-interest.

Although Russia and China have concerns about the way Nato interpreted UNSCR 1973 in Libya, Black noted: ‘Still, Muammar Gaddafi's menacing advance on Benghazi and excoriation of his enemies as "rats" was not a western ploy.’

US analyst David Peterson responded to our request for comment:

‘There are still no grounds to believe that as of March 2011, the possibility of a bloodbath carried out by the Gaddafi regime in Benghazi was anything but western propaganda to facilitate the adoption of 1973 and then immediately use 1973 to launch an aggressive war against the regime.  If, inside Syria, the protests are becoming militarized -- how do you suppose this has come about?  The weapons and organizational capabilities just fell from the sky above.  Right?  Exactly like Libya from February 15 on.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 6, 2011)

Black made vague mention that Russian and Chinese objections to the proposed resolution on Syria had been ‘far more about their anger over Libya’. By contrast, Craig Murray heroically translated a portion of the Russian speech at the UN - a feat apparently beyond the capacity of any mainstream media Moloch - allowing readers of his blog to evaluate the reasoning. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said:

‘The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.’

Churkin continued on Libya:

‘In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.

‘The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.

‘The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.

‘The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.

‘The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.

‘This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.'

As Murray observed:

‘The fact is that what the Russians say is precisely true. NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties.’

Peter Symonds added a rarely-reported fact:

‘In an obvious reference to Libya, South African ambassador Baso Sangqu issued a statement declaring that the Security Council had been abused and that implementation of its resolutions had gone far beyond mandates. South Africa was concerned, he said, about the imposition of punitive measures on Syria, believing that they had been designed “as a prelude to other actions.” Explaining South Africa’s abstention, Sangqu insisted that the Council should not be part of any hidden agenda for regime change.’

Finally, Black summarised:

‘The failure of diplomacy seems likely to mean further escalation on the ground, where the protests are becoming militarised and there is talk of a fully-fledged civil war.’

A likely reversal of the truth, as indicated by the ferocious civil war Nato has stoked, and perhaps caused, in Libya. It was Nato’s political support for violent resistance in Libya, its air campaign in support of anti-Gaddafi forces, its flat rejection of all ceasefire and peace proposals, and its demand that Gaddafi ‘step down’, that created the conditions for civil war and, as planned, regime change. The same powers are surely intending to pursue the same strategy and result in Syria.


Update - October 14, 2011

We have received a number of heartfelt responses to this alert suggesting, for example, that we have 'cast doubt on the authenticity of the people's protests and the ongoing violent response of the Al Assad regime'.

To be clear, our point is not at all to contest that there has been fierce government repression of entirely authentic protest in Syria. Our point is that, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, there is also a heavily-armed opposition fighting government forces in Syria, and that the significance of this armed element is rarely, if ever, discussed by the mainstream media. As Jeremy Salt commented in the article cited above:

'There is no doubt that the bulk of people demonstrating in Syria want peaceful transition to a democratic form of government. Neither is there any doubt that armed groups operating from behind the screen of the demonstrations have no interest in reform. They want to destroy the government.'

To raise important questions about the possible involvement of our own government in fomenting violence - an infamous strategy of the West - has nothing to do with smearing peaceful protest or apologising for tyranny. 

Update 2 - October 31, 2011

We have responded to a critique of this alert by Rupert Read.



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Please write to:

Ian Black


Also on Twitter:!/ian_black

Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger


The Guardian readers' editor



]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Wed, 12 Oct 2011 06:07:17 +0000
Inciting Violence - Irony And The English Riots

Ironies abound in the media reaction to the English riots that erupted between August 6-10.

It was widely reported that two young men acting independently - Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22 – had been sentenced to four years in prison for trying to incite riots via Facebook in the Manchester area. This ‘despite both being of previous good character’, and despite the fact that their Facebook entries - viewed by a few hundred people – failed to generate a single rioter. Farcically, the only people waiting for Blackshaw at his gathering point were the police.

The four-year jail sentences were harsh indeed, as the Guardian noted:

‘If the two Cheshire men had left home and actually taken part in a riot, it is likely they would have been charged with violent disorder. The average sentence passed on the 372 people convicted of violent disorder in 2010 was just over 18 months. The 1,434 people convicted of public order offences last year got, on average, two months inside.

‘Normally, to qualify for a four-year sentence, a convict would have to kidnap somebody (average sentence 47 months in 2010), kill someone while drink driving (45 months), or carry out a sexual assault (48 months).’

Clearly, judges felt that even failed attempts to incite disruption via social media were worse than actual participation in the riots.

Writing in the Daily Mail, columnist Melanie Phillips located the cause of the riots in ‘fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them’.

This vicious behaviour is fostered by ‘a world without any boundaries or rules. A world of emotional and physical chaos. A world where a child responds to the slightest setback or disagreement by resorting to violence.’

And who can doubt that compassion and restraint in the face of disagreement offer the best hopes for a peaceful world? The 11th century Buddhist poet Ksemendra recalled the wise counsel offered to one enraged king:

'Lord, do not talk like this. If you return anger for anger, anger increases. If you give hate in return for hatred, you will never be rid of your enemies. Would you put out a fire by covering it with wood? It will always rekindle... If you meditate on tolerance to overcome anger, all will become your friends.' (Leaves of the Heaven Tree, Dharma Publishing, 1997, p.333)

Earlier this month, Phillips commented on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks:

‘The real problem with the US and UK reaction to 9/11 was that they did not follow through… we should have gone on to deal with Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi as well.’

Did she mean ‘deal with’ their concerns and grievances in a just and even-handed way? Should the US and UK have recognised their own wrongdoing, their own responsibility for generating hatred? In clarification, Phillips quoted herself from September 2002:

‘The US hopes that sorting Saddam will deliver to these other states the simple message: unless you desist from terror, you're next.’

A world ‘without any boundaries or rules’, in other words, where unilaterally ‘resorting to violence’ and 'lashing out' is the natural response.

Journalists like Phillips, who use national media platforms like the Daily Mail (circulation 2 million) to agitate for war at a time when the decision lies in the balance, are typically garlanded with awards, not sent to the slammer.  After two years spent cold-selling Blair’s war on Iraq, David Aaronovitch, then of the Guardian, won the What the Papers Say Columnist of The Year Award for 2003. In the same year, following a similar pro-war performance, the Independent’s Johann Hari was made Young Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards (to his credit, Hari has since recanted his support for the Iraq war). Phillips was awarded the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1996.

Politicians do even better, of course. Last month, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Tony Blair, now the Middle East Quartet’s Special Envoy, was to receive an award ‘to express Israel’s appreciation for his efforts toward Middle East peace'. A decision worthy of a different kind of Orwell Prize. Meanwhile, Channel 4 reports:

‘Since resigning in June 2007 Tony Blair has financially enriched himself more than any ex-Prime Minister ever. Reporter Peter Oborne reveals some of the sources of his new-found wealth, much of which comes from the Middle East.’ 

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Wed, 28 Sep 2011 07:13:06 +0000
The Golden Rule Of State Violence: Terrorism Is What They Do; Counterterrorism Is What We Do

A defining feature of state power is rhetoric about a ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ role in world affairs. Errors of judgement, blunders and tactical mistakes can, and do, occur. But the motivation underlying state policy is fundamentally benign. Reporters and commentators, trained or selected for professional ‘reliability’, tend to slavishly adopt this prevailing ideology.

Thus, on the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an editorial in the Independent on Sunday gushed about ‘Bush's desire to spread democracy as an end in itself’. It was, the paper said, ‘the germ of a noble idea’. There was  ‘an idealism’ about Blair’s support for Bush. The drawback was that the execution of the righteous vision had been ‘naive, arrogant and morally compromised by torture and the abrogation of the very values for which the US-led coalition claimed to fight’.

But now we have Nato’s ‘successful’ mission in Libya to help wipe the slate clean. The paper writes that ‘the deserts of North Africa ... turned out to be more fertile soil for democracy than could have been imagined.’ Libya is the great cause ‘where the idea of liberal intervention could be rescued and to an extent redeemed from the terrible mistake of Iraq.’

Note that the invasion-occupation of Iraq is described as a ‘mistake’, not the supreme international crime as judged by the standards of the post-WW2 Nuremberg Trials.

The horrendous murder of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi civilian, by British soldiers ‘was a reminder of how much the Iraq war tarnished Britain's reputation abroad.’ The implication is that Britain’s ‘reputation’ is fundamentally decent, only occasionally ‘tarnished’.

The paper concludes:

‘there is a hope that Britain, with a more realistic understanding of its capability, could regain some of the ethical role in the world that it lost after its mistaken response to 9/11.’

In the wake of all that has happened in the past ten years (and more), it takes a committed form of self-deception to cling to the shredded image of Britain’s ‘ethical role in the world’.

In several powerful books, based on careful research of formerly secret UK government documents, historian Mark Curtis has laid bare the motivations and realpolitik of British foreign policy. Ethics and morality are notable in these internal state records by their absence. Curtis observes:

‘a basic principle is that humanitarian concerns do not figure at all in the rationale behind British foreign policy. In the thousands of government files I have looked through for this and other books, I have barely seen any reference to human rights at all. Where such concerns are evoked, they are only for public-relations purposes.’ (Unpeople, Vintage, 2004, p. 3)

But the myth of benevolence must be maintained, even to the extent of active deception of the British public:

 ‘in every case I have ever researched on past British foreign policy, the files show that ministers and officials have systematically misled the public. The culture of lying to and misleading the electorate is deeply embedded in British policy-making.’ (Ibid., p. 3)

In his political work, Noam Chomsky often cites a definition of terrorism from a US army manual as:

‘the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.’

By this definition, Chomsky points out, the major source of international terrorism is the West, notably the United States.

As for Britain, Curtis says:

‘The idea that Britain is a supporter of terrorism is an oxymoron in the mainstream political culture, as ridiculous as suggesting that Tony Blair should be indicted for war crimes. Yet state-sponsored terrorism is by far the most serious category of terrorism in the world today, responsible for far more deaths in many more countries than the "private" terrorism of groups like Al Qaida. Many of the worst offenders are key British allies. Indeed, by any rational consideration, Britain is one of the leading supporters of terrorism in the world today. But this simple fact is never mentioned in the mainstream political culture.’ (Web of Deceit, Vintage, 2003, p. 94)

In Unpeople, Curtis estimates the number of deaths in the post-WW2 period for which Britain bears significant responsibility, whether directly or indirectly. He tabulates mortality estimates for all the wars and conflicts in which Britain participated or otherwise played a significant role, for example in covert operations or diplomatic support for other governments’ violence. The examples include: war in Malaya (1948-1960), war in Kenya (1952-1960), the Shah’s regime in Iran (1953-1979), Indonesian army slaughters (1965-1966), the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975), US aggression in Latin America (1980s), the Falklands War (1982), the bombing of Yugoslavia (1999), the bombing of Afghanistan (2001) and the invasion of Iraq (2003).

As Curtis acknowledges, estimates of deaths in any conflict often vary widely and he does not pretend to be offering a ‘fully scientific analysis’. But erring on the side of caution, he arrives at a figure of around ten million deaths in the post-war period for which Britain bears ‘significant responsibility.’ Of these, Britain has ‘direct responsibility’ for between four and six million deaths. These are shocking figures, and essentially unmentionable in corporate news and debate.


]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Tue, 20 Sep 2011 06:13:42 +0000
To Avert A Bloodbath – Libya And The Press - Part 2

The Fall Of Kabu... Bagh... Er, Tripoli

 On August 23 and 24, the media once again abandoned all pretence of objectivity in celebrating the 'fall' of Tripoli, as they had in celebrating the 'fall' of Kabul and Baghdad. This, again, was a moment of national triumph, of vindication - the famed concern with 'balance' was brushed aside as mean-spirited, even nasty (the media's Royal Wedding mode). On the BBC's News at Six (August 22), deputy political editor, James Landale, described feelings inside 10 Downing Street:

'But all that caution has been matched by some satisfaction and optimism. Satisfaction that all David Cameron's critics, who said that this couldn't be done - that aerial bombardment would not work - have been proved wrong. And also a sense of optimism that, if the diplomacy works, if the TNC [the 'rebels' Transitional National Council] do as they have promised, it's just possible this could end the right way. And if it does, that would be an achievement this administration [thumb jabbing over shoulder at the door of Number 10] would claim some credit for.'

This carried uncanny echoes of political editor Andrew Marr's, April 9, 2003 report on the BBC's News at Ten as Baghdad 'fell' to US tanks:

'Well, I think this does one thing - it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of... well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren't going to thank him - because they're only human - for being right when they've been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics.'

Marr later wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History Of British Journalism:

'Gavin Hewitt, John Simpson, Andrew Marr and the rest are employed to be studiously neutral, expressing little emotion and certainly no opinion; millions of people would say that news is the conveying of fact, and nothing more.' (Marr, My Trade, Macmillan, 2004, p.279)

The 'Fall of Tripoli' was sold as the 'rebels'' success (in corresponding with one of our readers, a leading Guardian reporter stubbornly used inverted commas in referring to 'the rebels', punctuation that does not appear in his published journalism).

Thus, on August 21, Channel 4 News reported: 'Rebels launch assaults on Tripoli' (Snowmail). The BBC also focused on 'rebel advances'.  Under the front page headline, 'Fall of Gaddafi's citadel', the Guardian declared:

'Rebels breach last stronghold in capital.'

The article described how 'The rebels' breakthrough came 'after a day in which they had insouciantly demonstrated their superiority.'

But 'rebels' had not breached the 'last stronghold'. It was breached by state of the art fighter-bombers, helicopter gunships and missiles supplied by some of the world's premier air forces, and by a ragtag army of 'rebels'. The Independent's Patrick Cockburn noted on ZNet:

'The insurgents themselves admit that without the air war waged on their behalf – with 7,459 air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets – they would be dead or in flight.'

Clearly, but inconveniently, reporters should be referring to a 'Nato-"rebel" alliance', or perhaps a 'Nato-led-"rebel" alliance'. The truth might be much darker. US congressman Dennis Kucinich has asked:

'Was the United States' Central Intelligence Agency involved in planning for regime change prior to events in February and March in Benghazi? Did the CIA and its assets have a role in fomenting a civil war?

'Was the United States, through participation in the overthrow of the regime, furthering the aims of international oil corporations in pursuit of control over one of the world's largest oil resources?'

You will struggle long and hard to find mainstream journalists willing to ask, much less answer, these questions. 

  ]]> (Editor) Alerts 2011 Mon, 05 Sep 2011 06:27:09 +0000