Media Lens - Current Alert News analysis and media criticism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018.html Sun, 22 Jul 2018 22:19:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb No Nerve Agents Found - The OPCW Interim Report On Douma http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/874-no-nerve-agents-found-the-opcw-interim-report-on-douma.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/874-no-nerve-agents-found-the-opcw-interim-report-on-douma.html

In terms of suffering caused, there is often not, in fact, much to choose between dismembering and burning people alive with high explosives, shredding them with shrapnel, and choking them with poison gas. Modern 'conventional' weapons can be far more cruel and devastating than, for example, chlorine gas. But chemical weapons, prohibited by international law, are extremely potent in allowing Western 'humanitarians' to justify 'intervention' in response to crimes - real, hyped or imagined - that the West has itself far surpassed using more respectable forms of mass murder.

Noam Chomsky has observed that 'propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state'. This is certainly true for social control at home, but propaganda also allows nominally democratic states to wield their military bludgeons abroad in much the same way as totalitarian states.

Thus, in April, it happened again: the entire corporate media system rose up with instant certainty to damn an enemy state for crimes against humanity on April 7, in Douma, Syria.

This was not acceptable death by bomb and bullet; this was a nerve gas attack. The villainous agent on every journalist's lips: sarin, a highly toxic synthetic organophosphorus compound that has no smell or taste, but which quickly kills through asphyxiation.

As we discussed at the time, there was no question that this was a repetition of the fake justification for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, the Guardian editors insisted that this certainly was 'a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth'. From the safety of his Guardian office, assistant editor Simon Tisdall hammered the drum for a war that risked even nuclear confrontation:

'It means destroying Assad's combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad's and Russia's control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.'

By contrast, Scott Ritter - a former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq who understands the issues - was more cautious:

'The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons...'

No matter, on April 14, three days after Ritter's article appeared, the US, UK and France attacked Syria in response to the unproven allegations. 

Robert Fisk of the Independent visited Douma and spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged chemical attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

'I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a "White Helmet", shouted "Gas!", and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.'

When Fisk's report wasn't ignored, it was sneeringly dismissed. A headline in The Times read:

'Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk's failure to find signs of gas attack'

The Times, which is no stranger to controversy, suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk's record:

'Fisk is no stranger to controversy.' 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Tue, 17 Jul 2018 06:14:35 +0000
Enlightened Corners – The Russia 2018 World Cup http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/873-enlightened-corners-the-russia-2018-world-cup.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/873-enlightened-corners-the-russia-2018-world-cup.html

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

'Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham'

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

'I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.'

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian's sneering with his review of the World Cup's opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

'There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.'

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim 'Mr Vladimir Putin' – think Vlad the Impaler - was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin's Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

'This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world's crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.'

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

'Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he's doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.'

Ronay added:

'A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president's performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.'

Driven by an army of 'Russian bots', the 'Putin alternative reality machine' is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump's presidency, to Corbyn's rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West's alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

'To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.'

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

'Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of "Vladimir, Vladimir". When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia's involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.'

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron 'possibly expected' the Games 'to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community', having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the 'international community' that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

'Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.'

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

'There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.'

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered 'less enlightened corners of the world', given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in 'less enlightened corners', including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

'Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist's dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.' (Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, 'Thursday's best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,' The Guardian, 14 June 2018)

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in 'a human rights activist's dream'.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

'Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the "dictator" Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.'

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

'It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

'At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?'

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

'We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah's opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.'

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a 'thuggish pariah'.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

'Williams's stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn't of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull...'

As for the event:

'It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.'

Kelner's piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically: 'So nice of Robbie to say hello.'

In The Times, under the title, 'Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,' chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

'What does Russia want from this tournament?'

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was 'about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life'. (Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018)

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a 'modern, progressive approach to life' will have nodded sagely from their more 'enlightened corners of the world'.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV's senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

'One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that "Stalin had a proper 'tache". Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, "a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive."' ('Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,' Telegraph, 14 June 2018)

And:

'The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: "They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match."'

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya's oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

'Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

'"I'd be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won't," she admits. "But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that."' ('World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,' The Sun, 9 June 2018)

And then there was 'Putin's Russia with David Dimbleby', a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

'"In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here..." So begins David Dimbleby's thoughtful film in which - as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament - he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin's 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.' ('What's on TV tonight: Putin's Russia, The Fight for Women's Bodies and Beetlejuice,' Telegraph, 13 June 2018)

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 - one day after the US-UK's Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them 'smart bombs' - Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

'Isn't it in fact true that America is... by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we've seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it's beginning to look as though you're going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.' (Quoted, John Eldridge, 'Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,' Routledge, 2003, p.14)

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Thu, 21 Jun 2018 06:43:07 +0000
The Syrian Observatory - Funded By The Foreign Office http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/872-the-syrian-observatory-funded-by-the-foreign-office.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/872-the-syrian-observatory-funded-by-the-foreign-office.html

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

'Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights", often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The "Observatory" says on its website that it is "not associated or linked to any political body."

'To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson's Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that "the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras." That's quite a lot, isn't it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.'

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair. (Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018)

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is 'the fast-talking director of arguably Syria's most high-profile human rights group', SOHR:

'When he isn't fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.'

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR's influence is astonishing:

'Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.'

Described by Reuters as an 'opposition group', SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

'After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

'"I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I'll return when Bashar al-Assad goes".'

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

'Most of the [Syrian] opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue ... revealing more about the opposition's weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.'

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, 'like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism', Stratfor argued: 'the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.'

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as 'a pro-opposition watchdog'. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

'"I'm between two fires. But it shows I'm being neutral if both sides complain," he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.'

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

'Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.'

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world's leading medical journal:

'Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian "rebels" and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by... the world's leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, "main street bias" and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.'

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

'Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school (chair of Biostatistics Dept), so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!' (Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to Media Lens, October 30, 2004)

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

'And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. "At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began." This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.' (Aaronovitch, 'The great war of words,' The Times, March 18, 2006)

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

'Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.' (Helle Dale, 'Biased coverage in Iraq,' Washington Times, December 1, 2004)

As we described at the time, the 'mainstream' hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

'Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.'

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR's methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western 'intervention'. 

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of 'activists' supplying information from Syria. Claiming that 'I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights', Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: 'But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.'

Innumerable 'mainstream' reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday's front cover, which read:

'SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?'

The text beneath read:

'There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?'

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.'

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western 'silence':

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being "partners" in the killing "because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed".'

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: 'the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear'. Mood commented significantly:

'Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria... is that I should not jump to conclusions.'

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it 'could not rule out any of these possibilities': local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had 'a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators... were aligned to the Government'. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

'Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.'

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

'The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

'Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.'

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.'

The Los Angeles Times reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.'

Last February, the BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

'It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.'

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from 'rebel'-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

'All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War... The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.'

'Rebel' claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from 'areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them'.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

'In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

'However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries' far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.'

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

'The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.'

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes 'citizen journalist' investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is 'a notorious vehicle for US soft power'.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western 'humanitarian intervention'.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms 'Peter Hitchens' and 'Syrian Observatory'. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government's £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

DE

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Mon, 04 Jun 2018 12:07:07 +0000
‘Skirmishes’ – Israel’s Syria Blitz http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/871-skirmishes-israel-s-syria-blitz.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/871-skirmishes-israel-s-syria-blitz.html

A key 'mainstream' media theme in covering the Israeli army's repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel's military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as 'clashes'.

This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.

To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a 'clash' suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a 'clash'. There was no 'clash' in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.

Following Israel's massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, 'mainstream' coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:

'Israel retaliates after Iran "fires 20 rockets" at army in occupied Golan Heights' (Our emphasis)

For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression - they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.

The BBC reported of Israel's attacks:

'They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights.' (Our emphasis)

Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:

'Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria

'Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.' (Our emphasis)

The New York Times also reported:

'It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier.' (Our emphasis)

And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:

'Iran's rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday.' (Our emphasis)

According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.

So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:

'Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.'

Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:

'On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised - they were often shown as merely "responding" to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as "retaliating" or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).'

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Wed, 23 May 2018 11:57:10 +0000
‘A Suffocating Groupthink’: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/870-a-suffocating-groupthink-sampling-the-corporate-media-on-israel-iran-syria-and-russia.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/870-a-suffocating-groupthink-sampling-the-corporate-media-on-israel-iran-syria-and-russia.html

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

'We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.'

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

'Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.' (Chomsky, 'Year 501', Verso, 1993, p.20)

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen's assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on 'mainstream' media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

'I've never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda [...] What we're seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.'

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

'Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?'

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current 'mainstream' reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called 'failure' of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in 'Manufacturing Consent', published thirty years ago:

'The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.' (Herman and Chomsky, 'Manufacturing Consent', Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1; our emphasis)

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Wed, 16 May 2018 08:54:51 +0000
Douma: Part 2 - 'It Just Doesn't Ring True' http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/869-douma-part-2-it-just-doesn-t-ring-true.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/869-douma-part-2-it-just-doesn-t-ring-true.html

Jonathan Freedland's 'committed denialists and conspiracists', and Paul Mason's victims of Putin's 'global strategy' clutching at 'false flag theories', presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

'President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He'd had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn't ring true.

'It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there's likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there'd be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France...

'We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets - who, let's face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they're very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they're not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish - I would say: "Look, we've got to wait until there's another attack by Assad's forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they're dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we'll get the next attack from the allies...." And it is the only way they've got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.'

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

'The debate that seems to be missing from this... was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning... Don't take my word for it. Take the American military's word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom - he said to Congress the other day, "Assad has won this war, and we need to face that".

'Then you've got last week the statement by Trump - or tweet by Trump - that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

'And then suddenly you get this...'

At which point Shaw's sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

'Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?'

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

'I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.'

Only 'looking' for actual evidence?

'As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.'

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

'The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.'

Before Trump's latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

'The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons...'

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

'Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

'Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

'#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta'

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

'For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was - always - less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it's tumbling.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Thu, 26 Apr 2018 08:00:30 +0000
Douma: Part 1 - Deception In Plain Sight http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/868-douma-part-1.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/868-douma-part-1.html

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the 'Enemy', while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a 'denier', 'pro-Saddam', 'pro-Gaddafi, 'pro-Assad'. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: 'Apologist... Apologist... Apologist'.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

'I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.'

The 'mainstream' responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was 'a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth'.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian's assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

'It's time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad's ability to murder Syria's citizens at will.'

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

'It means destroying Assad's combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad's and Russia's control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.'

But surely after Iraq - when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – 'we' should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump's air raids:

'When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.'

Oborne added:

'Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.'

Tisdall was having none of it:

'Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?'

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had 'the motivation' to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed 'writhing' under gas attack. Tisdall's pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

'HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED'

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper's comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

'Besides, how much evidence do we need?... To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad's guilt is clear.'

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of 'inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch'. But when we actually click Freedland's link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not in fact unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall's claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as 'denialists' and 'apologists' – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In 'mainstream' journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

'Syria has paid a terrible price for the west's disastrous policy of doing nothing'.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA's billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian 'rebels' via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian's George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

'Don't you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn't think Assad did it.'

Monbiot replied:

'Then he's a fool.'

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

'I continue to attract attacks from the "respectable" corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.'

Monbiot tweeted back:

'I'm sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.'

The idea that Murray's effort has been 'to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes' is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an 'apologist' for 'the enemy'.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term 'apologist' might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad's responsibility is 'apologism', then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as 'Trump apologists', or 'May apologists', or 'Jaysh al-Islam apologists'? The term really means little more than, 'I disagree with you' – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

'Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Wed, 25 Apr 2018 06:48:12 +0000
Killing Mosquitoes: The Latest Gaza Massacres, Pro-Israel Media Bias And The Weapon Of ‘Antisemitism’ http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/867-killing-mosquitoes-the-latest-gaza-massacres-pro-israel-media-bias-and-the-weapon-of-antisemitism.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/867-killing-mosquitoes-the-latest-gaza-massacres-pro-israel-media-bias-and-the-weapon-of-antisemitism.html

The Palestinians have long been seen as an obstacle by Israel's leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

'Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.'

He also noted:

'The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the "Araboushim" - a term that belongs with "nigger" or "kike" - must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.' (Noam Chomsky, 'Fateful Triangle,' Pluto Press, updated edition, 1999, p.489)

Recent events encapsulate this all too well. On Friday, March 30, Israeli soldiers shot dead 14 Palestinians and wounded 1400, including 800 hit by live ammunition. By April 5, the death toll had risen to 21. During a second protest, one week later on Friday, April 7, the Israelis shot dead a further 10 Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, and more than 1300 were injured. Among those killed was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist who had been filming the protest. He had been wearing a distinctive blue protective vest marked 'PRESS' in large capital letters. The brutality, and utter brazenness with which the killings were carried out, is yet another demonstration of the apartheid state's contempt for the people it tried to ethnically cleanse in 1948, the year of Israel's founding.

On the first day of the protest, on March 30, many Palestinians had gathered in Gaza, close to the border with Israel, as part of a peaceful 'Great March of Return' protest demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. 100 Israeli snipers lay in wait, shooting at protesters, including an 18-year-old shot in the back while running away from the border. The Israel army boasted in a quickly-deleted tweet that the massacre had been planned, deliberate and premeditated:

'Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed'

BBC News and other 'mainstream' news outlets, including the Guardian, carried headlines about 'clashes' at the Gaza-Israel border 'leaving' Palestinians dead and injured. As we noted via Twitter, an honest headline would have read:

'Israeli troops kill 16 Palestinians and injure hundreds'

When the Israelis shot dead yet more Palestinians on the second Friday of protests, the BBC reported, 'Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protest'. BBC 'impartiality' meant not headlining Israeli troops as the agency responsible for the 'deadly unrest'.

Adam Johnson, writing for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, observed of news reports carrying inappropriate headlines about 'clashes':

'We do not have one party's snipers opening fire on another, unarmed party; we have "violent clashes"—a term, as FAIR has noted before, that implies symmetry of forces and is often used to launder responsibility.'

Later, the Guardian quietly removed the word 'clashes' from its headlines, while adding Israeli military spin: that the protest was a Hamas ploy to 'carry out terror attacks'; compare this early version with a later version.

On the first Friday of mass killing, we noted that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had reported the presence of Israeli snipers. We asked the public to look for any mention of this on BBC News. Around the time we made the request, the Newssniffer website picked up the first reference to 'snipers' on the BBC News website (albeit buried in a tiny mention at the bottom of a news article). Coincidence? Or were BBC editors aware that their output was under public scrutiny?

Within just one day, the BBC had relegated the news of the mass shootings in Gaza to a minor slot on its website. It considered 'news' about television personality Dec presenting Saturday Night Takeaway without Ant, and royal couple Harry and Meghan choosing wedding flowers, more important than Israel killing and wounding many hundreds of Palestinians.

When BBC News finally turned to Gaza, with a piece buried at the bottom of its World news page, it was from Israel's perspective:

'Israel warns it could strike inside Gaza'

and:

'Palestinian groups using protests as a cover to launch attacks on Israel'

This disgraceful coverage strongly suggested that Israel was the victim. As political analyst Charles Shoebridge observed:

'Editors especially at the BBC aren't stupid, they know exactly what they're doing, and the use of very many devices such as this isn't somehow repeatedly accidental. Indeed, it's a good example of how the BBC is perhaps history's most sophisticated and successful propaganda tool.'

By contrast, a powerful article in Haaretz from veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed to the reality that the mass shooting by Israeli 'Defence' Forces:

'shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Mon, 09 Apr 2018 23:31:53 +0000
No Spirit Of Liberty – The Salisbury Case, Corbyn And The Need For Dissent http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/865-no-spirit-of-liberty-the-salisbury-case-corbyn-and-the-need-for-dissent.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/865-no-spirit-of-liberty-the-salisbury-case-corbyn-and-the-need-for-dissent.html

Fifteen years ago this month, the US-led 'Shock and Awe' offensive began against Iraq, supposedly to disarm the country of its 'weapons of mass destruction'. The illegal invasion and subsequent brutal occupation led to the loss of around one million lives, created millions of refugees, destroyed the infrastructure of a country already ravaged by over a decade of cruel UN sanctions, and contributed significantly to the rise of Islamic State. All of this might never have happened were it not for an intense campaign of propaganda and deception in which the so-called 'mainstream' media, including 'impartial' BBC News, were enthusiastic participants.

In the Guardian, Martin Woollacott had declared of Saddam's supposed 'WMD':

'Among those knowledgeable about Iraq there are few, if any, who believe he is not hiding such weapons. It is a given.'

This conformity throughout the corporate media was remarkable. Ardent armchair war supporter David Aaronovitch, also writing in the Guardian, confidently asserted:

'If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again.'

As the Downing Street Memo showed, intelligence and facts were 'fixed around' the pre-existing policy of invasion. The Chilcot Report, finally released in 2016, was damning of the way Tony Blair's government took the UK into war. Analysis of the report published last year by Sheffield University's Piers Robinson, emphasised the fundamental deception at the heart of the 'war on terror':

'9/11 was exploited in order to pursue a regime-change policy against countries unconnected with Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.'

Iraq was not a one-off. As we have documented, an onslaught of media propaganda facilitated the 2011 devastation of Libya, the deaths of up to 25,000 Libyans, including the brutal murder of Gaddafi, and a refugee crisis that has seen thousands drown trying to make the perilous sea crossing to Europe. The rationale for 'intervention' was the alleged threat of a massacre by Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi.

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland had declared:

'If those nations with the power to stop these pre-announced killings had stood aside, they would have been morally culpable. Benghazi was set to become another Srebrenica – and those that did nothing would share the same shame.'

After 'something' had been done, the BBC's Nick Robinson observed that Downing Street:

'will see this, I'm sure, as a triumphant end. 

'Libya was David Cameron's first war. Col. Gaddafi his first foe. Today, his first real taste of military victory.'

(BBC, News at Six, October 20, 2011)

In September 2016, a report into the Libyan war was published by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. In contrast to the near-total uniformity in media coverage at the time, the parliamentary report concluded that:

'the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.'

As with Iraq, virtually an entire country's infrastructure had been destroyed by the West's 'intervention':

'The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in North Africa.'

Cynical geopolitics and media disinformation campaigns have also characterised the ongoing war in Syria, with confident and immediate declarations of Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons (for example: see here, here and here). Rational challenges to this establishment consensus, and reasonable questions raised, have elicited howls of outrage from establishment politicians and commentators. Dissent simply will not be tolerated.

The parallels with the confident and immediate declarations of Russian responsibility for the nerve agent Novichok poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4 are disturbing.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Wed, 21 Mar 2018 07:58:26 +0000
'Follow Your Bliss' - The Tweet That Brought Corporate Journalism To The Brink Of A Nervous Breakthrough http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/864-follow-your-bliss-the-tweet-that-brought-corporate-journalism-to-the-brink-of-a-nervous-breakthrough.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/864-follow-your-bliss-the-tweet-that-brought-corporate-journalism-to-the-brink-of-a-nervous-breakthrough.html

 

'I have tried trade, but I found that it would take ten years to get under way in that, and that then I should probably be on my way to the devil.'

(Thoreau, 'Walden')

 

 

Noam Chomsky once emailed us:

'Am really impressed with what you are doing, though it's like trying to move a ten-ton truck with a toothpick. They're not going to allow themselves to be exposed.' (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 14, 2005)

These were kind words from Chomsky. But in fact, 'they' - corporate journalists - often do an excellent job of exposing themselves.

Consider that, last week, one of us happened to notice this on Twitter:

'Under 27? Want to spend a year writing about politics for The Observer, @NewStatesman and @thetimes? Anthony Howard Award 2018 is now open: http://anthonyhowardaward.org.uk . It gave @LOS_Fisher @ashcowburn @patrickkmaguire @Dulcie_Lee and me our starts in Westminster. Apply!'

We responded:

'Forget it. Don't write for the "mainstream". Don't write for money. Don't write for prestige. Just "follow your bliss" by writing what you absolutely love to write to inspire and enlighten other people. Write what seems interesting, important and true, and give it away for free.'

The tweet quickly picked up 15 retweets and 40 likes. At first, nobody expressed strong feelings about it. But then, a clutch of corporate journalists and writers decided to scandalise what we had sent, generating a kind of 'mainstream' feeding frenzy. Emma Kennedy, actress, author of ten books, tweeted graciously:

'This is total bollocks. If you want to be a writer know this: you have a value and you ALWAYS deserve to be paid. Go fuck yourself Media Lens.'

Stephen Buranyi, who writes longreads for the Guardian, mimed:

'**does the jackoff motion so hard I glide across the floor like an unbalanced washing machine**'

Patrick Sawer, senior reporter at The Telegraph:

'Tell that to anyone trying to stage a play, paint a canvas, put together a film, get a book published. What arrant nonsense to pretend, for the sake of "purity" that the market economy doesn't exist.'

Kate Hind, Mail on Sunday Showbiz Editor, chipped in:

'I think this lot are in on the wind up'

Pressgirl wrote:

'I've worked as a journo for more than 30 years and only those with wealthy partners can afford to potter about doing what they fancy. Most have to do the grunt work of covering courts, sports, disasters and getting their hands dirty.'

Everyone seemed to find their own meaning, and outrage, in the tweet. Editor Wendy Rosenfield:

'This is literally the worst advice for writers. Write for yourself, on your own blog, or to promote your own work for free. Charge everyone else. It's work. It has value and deserves compensation.'

Ian Craig, a politics reporter:

'Abhorrent. I hope you apologise for this.'

Helen Black, a novelist, foresaw dark consequences:

'Have you got any idea how unattainable a career in the media/arts feels to millions of working class people? A tweet like this only serves to feed class division.'

Before long, the outrage went global. From New York:

'This is awful advice. Truly, truly awful.'

From Spain:

'Snobismo moralista de pacotilla...'

We got the gist from the first two words.

Even Owen Jones of the Guardian, normally a stickler for ignoring us, replied:

'The corporate media needs to be relentlessly critiqued. And that includes its dependence on unpaid/underpaid labour which is a) exploitative and b) turns journalism into a closed shop for the privileged. Which you helped justify.'

He added:

'And yes, sure, there'll be those using your stupid statement opportunistically because you more generally critique corporate media practices. That doesn't mean you're vindicated in giving pseudo radical cover to unpaid media labour.'

We replied:

'It's not possible for us to have "helped justify" corporate media exploitation and privilege when the first line of our tweet read: "Forget it. Don't write for the "mainstream".'

Jones has previously revealed that he is 'barred' from criticising his colleagues. With this in mind, we added:

'There's also a problem with corporate media requiring that young journalists refrain from criticising their colleagues, their company, their advertisers, their owners, "the industry". But that's not something you're willing or able to talk about, is it?'

Jones resumed his policy of ignoring us.

The New Statesman published an entire article on our tweet, titled:

'Telling journalists to "follow your bliss" by writing for free is as anti-socialist as you can get'

Abuse poured in liberally:

'You sound like a privileged twat here. Just saying.'

'Fucking new age wanky twaddle. Fuck off'

'Go stuff your bliss up your arse'

'Fuck you. Pay people.'

'You sound retarded.'

And so on, with the above representing only a small sample...

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:23:38 +0000
‘A Load Of Tosh’ – The BBC, ‘Showbiz News’ And State Propaganda http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/863-a-load-of-tosh-the-bbc-showbiz-news-and-state-propaganda.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2018/863-a-load-of-tosh-the-bbc-showbiz-news-and-state-propaganda.html

On January 22, BBC News at Ten carried a piece by 'defence' correspondent Jonathan Beale reporting a speech by General Sir Nick Carter, the British Army's Chief of General Staff. Carter gave his speech, pleading for more resources in the face of the Russian 'threat', at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an establishment thinktank with close links to the military and corporate media.

Beale began his BBC News piece with a prologue of raw propaganda, delivered in an urgent and impassioned tone:

'Russia's building an increasingly modern and aggressive military. Already tested in battle in Syria, using weapons Britain would struggle to match – like long-range missiles. In Ukraine, they've been using unconventional warfare, electronic cyber and misinformation. And they're even on manoeuvres on Europe's doorstep, with large-scale exercises near Nato's borders. Enough to worry the head of the British army who tonight gave this rare public warning.'

The essence of Carter's 'rare public warning' was that:

'Russia was building an increasingly aggressive expeditionary force and the potential military threats to the UK "are now on Europe's doorstep"... the Kremlin already boasted an "eye-watering quantity of capability" - a level the UK would struggle to match... Britain "must take notice of what is going on around us" or... the ability by the UK to take action will be "massively constrained".'

Carter continued:

'Rather like a chronic contagious disease, it will creep up on us, and our ability to act will be markedly constrained - and we'll be the losers of this competition.'

The army chief's warning had been approved by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

On News at Ten, Beale's reporting of the speech amplified the army chief's message – in other words, the Defence Secretary's stance - by deploying such key phrases as:

'Increasingly aggressive', 'tested in battle', 'Britain would struggle to match', 'manoeuvres on Europe's doorstep', 'near Nato's borders'.

There was, of course, no mention of US/Nato encroachment towards Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union (contravening assurances given to Gorbachev), or the US bases and military exercises close to Russia's borders as well as globally, or the long history of US threats and major crimes around the world. Nor was there any reference to Ukraine which has routinely been reported as an example of Russian 'aggression'. John Pilger observes that the BBC along with others, including CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian:

'played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and dangerous cold war.

'All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.'

Beale's credulous reporting of the army chief's speech was an exemplar of 'public broadcast' media whipping up fear to promote state interests.

Later, standing outside the Ministry of Defence, Beale said:

'This intervention by the head of the army is as much an appeal for more money for defence as it is a warning about the threat posed by Russia.'

And yet Beale had earlier dramatically highlighted the 'worrying' facts, asserting they were 'enough to worry the head of the British army' - in other words, that the army chief really was worried; not dissembling. Beale's subsequent comment was a token, blink-and-you'll-miss-it acknowledgement of the reality: that Carter's speech was aimed at propping up UK military power.

Note that Beale's 'neutral' reporting was not about an 'alleged threat posed by Russia'; simply the 'threat posed by Russia'. This subtly insidious use of language occurs daily on 'impartial' BBC News.

And, as ever, such a report would be incomplete without an establishment talking head from a 'defence and security' think tank. Professor Michael Clarke, a senior RUSI fellow, was on hand to perform the required role. This was BBC News in standard establishment/state/military/corporate mode.

Beale was duly confronted by several people on Twitter about his promotion of UK state and military propaganda on the Russian 'threat'. One Twitter user put to the BBC journalist:

'The only thing the MSM [mainstream media] is good for is fake news, falsification and manipulation of truth & propaganda. Ask yourself for whose benefit?'

This is a reasonable starting point for a debate about the major news media. Beale did not distinguish himself with the quality of his response:

'What a load of tosh.'

In contrast, Beale's 'opinion-free' response to the army chief's propaganda speech was:

'Coherent, detailed and impressive speech by @ArmyCGS @RUSI_org tonight making the case for investment in #defence. CDS [Chief of Defence Staff] in waiting?'

Imagine if the BBC man's observations had been reversed. It is, of course, completely unthinkable that a BBC reporter would respond to a major military or political speech with:

'What a load of tosh.'

It would be equally unthinkable for a BBC journalist to respond to a speech by, for example, Noam Chomsky with:

'Coherent, detailed and impressive speech tonight exposing Western war propaganda.'

And likewise, a dissident expert would never be invited to respond scornfully, or even sceptically, to a speech by the likes of Sir Nick Carter on the BBC's News At Ten.

Further examples are pumped out daily by this 'globally respected' broadcaster. On January 8, Fiona Bruce introduced an item about Syria on BBC News at Ten with the phrase: 'Syrian government forces, backed by Russia'. Why does BBC News not regularly use the phrase, 'Saudi government forces, backed by the United States and the UK' when reporting on bombs dropped on Yemen? The answer should be obvious.

On January 29, Huw Edwards announced on BBC News at Ten:

'We talk exclusively to the head of the CIA about the threat from Russia.'

Note the duplicitous wording once again. Not 'alleged' threat or 'claimed' threat, far less 'hyped-up' threat. BBC correspondent Gordon Corera's 'interview' of the CIA's Mike Pompeo was a travesty of journalism, with no meaningful challenge or context. That the US is regularly regarded by global public opinion as a major threat around the world was totally off the agenda. You will wait in vain for an exclusive interview on BBC News at Ten with a senior figure about the 'threat from the United States'.

Ironically, just the previous day, Piers Morgan had conducted a sycophantic ITV 'interview' with Donald Trump. The object of the exercise was clearly to garner high viewer ratings, and thus boost advertising revenue; not to challenge the US president in any meaningful way.

Afterwards, the BBC's John Simpson, the epitome of 'serious' BBC News journalism, mocked Morgan:

'The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard - not let them spout self-evident tosh. That's just showbiz.'

But when it comes to a showbiz-style BBC News interview with the head of the CIA? A convenient silence.

When one of our readers, Steve Ennever, uploaded the BBC's CIA interview to YouTube, complete with Huw Edwards' introduction, it was swiftly removed – within an hour or so - under pretence of a 'copyright claim'. What is the publicly-funded BBC so afraid of? The clip of the interview does appear on the BBC News YouTube channel. But why should they have a monopoly on it? Are they actually fearful of public-interest media activism that focuses on BBC News clips?

It is notable that all the brave BBC News voices go quiet at times like this. As far as we could tell, there was not a single dissenting voice about the BBC 'exclusive' interview plugging CIA propaganda. The conformity is remarkable and yet systemic.

The uncomfortable truth for the BBC is that the gap between showbiz and BBC 'news' is narrow. In fact, there is a significant overlap. Worse than that, BBC News is all too often a conduit for propaganda that promotes wars, corporate interests, 'patriotism', military pageantry, excessive consumerism and calamitous inaction on climate.

As we have previously noted, a persistent feature of BBC News reporting on Yemen, for instance, is that the UK's complicity in Saudi war crimes and Yemen's humanitarian disaster is buried. To take another example, this BBC News headline is permissible:

'Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds'

But these are not:

'US threatens 100% of Afghanistan, BBC finds'
'US threatens 100% of Iraq, BBC finds'
'Global opinion regards US a major world threat, BBC finds'

And when the BBC takes a rare look at propaganda, it only does so in order to examine the propaganda of Official Enemies. Thus, BBC News will robustly critique Russian propaganda in a way it never does with the West's.

In summary, it does not take extensive observation to discern the general pattern of BBC News 'journalism' on matters of great significance:

1. Western military or political leader says something.
2. BBC News provides headline coverage.
3. Policy 'expert' from a right-wing or 'centrist' think tank is quoted in support.
4. BBC correspondent provides supportive 'analysis'.
5. Token sceptical voice is briefly quoted.*
6. Extensive follow-up; talking points on BBC programmes such as Newsnight, Daily Politics, etc.

*Optional

When Eleanor Bradford, a former BBC Scotland health correspondent, rightly drew attention to the corporation failing women over the issue of pay equality, British historian Mark Curtis added an important corollary:

'It's true. Why should women be paid less than men for conveying state propaganda under the guise of news? It's only fair they should receive same salaries as all male govt employees.'

Curtis has published several books revealing the UK's real role in world affairs, based on diligent research of previously secret government records. He is currently releasing declassified documents that reveal the reality of post-WW2 British policy towards numerous countries, as opposed to the propaganda version of events that has filled books, newspapers, magazines, television and radio programmes, and even infected academia.

Curtis explains the rationale for his project:

'The British public has little idea what has been done, and is being done, in their names.

'I want everyone to be able to see at least some of the documents that I have seen because they tell a much truer story of this country's real role in the world than they will hear on the BBC or read in The Telegraph.'

Curtis is addressing some of the most 'ignored episodes' in British foreign policy - such as the UK's support for the Idi Amin coup in Uganda in 1971, and for the welcoming of the Pinochet military takeover in Chile, the covert operation to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia in the late 1950s, and the covert UK war in Yemen in the 1960s.

Curtis notes that now-released internal files reveal that:

'there is no interest in the human rights of the people that live in regions like the Middle East, Africa or Asia - British policy is all about geopolitics, promoting commercial interests and upholding Britain's power status.'

Moreover, the files show that:

'the British public is largely viewed as a threat and they therefore shouldn't be allowed to know what is being done in their names...The danger is that the public might deflect elites from their policy course - this is unacceptable to Whitehall.'

Curtis rightly points to the need to challenge traditional sources of 'news' which keep the public ignorant of crucial facts and context. Non-mainstream sources should be encouraged and supported:

'Social and alternative media is very encouraging - this is where people should be getting more and more of their information, bypassing mainstream sources.'

Ironically, it was a 'renegade producer' from the BBC who encouraged newspaper journalist John Pilger to start making documentaries. Charles Denton taught Pilger that:

'facts and evidence told straight to the camera and to the audience could indeed be subversive.'

Pilger encourages young journalists today to 'make a difference' by breaking the silence surrounding the reality of Western foreign policies. He adds a warning:

'The moment they [young journalists] accept, say, the BBC view of the world, that there are only two sides to an argument, and both those sides are on what we call the establishment side, then it's over.'

DC & DE

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2018 Thu, 08 Feb 2018 07:51:36 +0000