18October2017

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Noam Chomsky And The BBC: A Brief Comparison

A recent interview with 88-year-old Noam Chomsky once again demonstrates just how insightful he is in providing rational analysis of Western power and the suffering it generates. By contrast, anyone relying on BBC News receives a power-friendly view of the world, systematically distorted in a way that allows the state and private interests to pursue business as usual.

In what follows, we present examples of Chomsky's clarity on several important topics and contrast them with the distortions and silences from BBC News. These examples are not intended to be fully comprehensive, with lots of detailed background. But they are highly illustrative of the propaganda nature of what the BBC broadcasts every day.

First, consider North Korea which has carried out missile tests that have 'demonstrated its growing power and expertise, stoking tensions with the US', as the BBC puts it. A helpful graphic shows much of the northern hemisphere within range of these missiles. In particular, the west coast of the United States is portrayed as under real threat from the 'hermit' state's nuclear missiles: a scaremongering scenario that BBC News has promoted in line with the propaganda requirements of the White House, the Pentagon and the arms industry. Video clips on the BBC News website have titles such as 'N Korea announces nuclear test', 'S Korea drill response to N Korea missile', 'We're used to hearing about being bombed' and 'I don't know when I might be killed'.

In a forthcoming book of interviews with journalist David Barsamian, 'Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy', Chomsky acknowledges that North Korea has a 'growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles' which does indeed 'pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond.' But then he provides vital context for this arsenal of weapons:

'its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.'

Yes, threat of destruction; something that is very real in the historical memory of the people:

'North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which "the Asian" depends for survival.'

Today, as Chomsky notes, we are instructed that 'the great challenge faced by the world' is how to compel North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programmes. 'Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation [...] perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea'.

He then continues:

'But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea's offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea's borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.'

Wait. What was that? There is another option? An article in The Diplomat, which describes itself as 'the premier international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region', outlines the proposal; namely that:

'Pyongyang declare a moratorium on both nuclear and missile tests, in exchange for the United States and South Korea halting their large-scale joint military exercises.'

China has given this proposal the succinct name of 'dual suspensions'.

Chomsky explains further:

'The offer to freeze North Korea's nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea's border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed.'

He continues:

'Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.'

So, there is a reasonable proposal from China and North Korea that could form the basis for negotiations leading to a peaceful resolution of the crisis – but it has been dismissed by Washington and US commentators. To what extent has it been covered by BBC News? Consider a report by Seoul-based BBC correspondent Stephen Evans when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson threatened North Korea with military action. Like Obama, Trump has ruled out negotiation with North Korea. The 'situation remains the same', said Evans in the section of the BBC News report grandly titled 'Analysis':

'North Korea shows no hint of being willing to renounce nuclear weapons, whatever economic blows it receives and whatever China might think.'

If a BBC News reporter presents an 'analysis' that does not mention an important proposal that could bring about peace, and which the US has outright dismissed, what does that say about BBC bias?

This is not a one-off. Washington-based BBC correspondent Barbara Plett-Usher noted dutifully that Tillerson had urged an 'international response' to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, without once mentioning the China-North Korea proposal.

Last month, BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie also offered her 'Analysis':

'China has insisted time and again that it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and it can't avoid the obvious and urgent question: how does China intend to stop it?'

There was nothing about the proposal that China has made, with North Korea, to address the stalemate. Likewise, earlier in the year, Gracie had said in another BBC News report:

'So in Beijing today, Mr Tillerson kept it diplomatic. There was no public repetition of President Trump's complaint that China is not doing enough to prevent North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.'

The BBC News reporter was thus uncritically presenting Washington's 'complaint' about China without pointing out that its rational proposal had been summarily dismissed by the US. This is not journalism; it is power-friendly propaganda.

Read more: Noam Chomsky And The BBC: A Brief Comparison

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