Media Lens - Media Lens - News Analysis and Media Criticism News analysis and media criticism http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012.html Thu, 24 Jul 2014 04:09:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Illusion Of Democracy http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/713-the-illusion-of-democracy.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/713-the-illusion-of-democracy.html

By David Cromwell

Liberal Journalism, Wikileaks And Climate Deceptions

In an era of permanent war, economic meltdown and climate weirding’, we need all the champions of truth and justice that we can find. But where are they? What happened to trade unions, the green movement, human rights groups, campaigning newspapers, peace activists, strong-minded academics, progressive voices? We are awash in state and corporate propaganda, with the ‘liberal’ media a key cog in the apparatus. We are hemmed in by the powerful forces of greed, profit and control. We are struggling to get by, never mind flourish as human beings. We are subject to increasingly insecure, poorly-paid and unfulfilling employment, the slashing of the welfare system, the privatisation of the National Health Service, the erosion of civil rights, and even the criminalisation of protest and dissent.

The pillars of a genuinely liberal society have been so weakened, if not destroyed, that we are essentially living under a system of corporate totalitarianism. In his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, the former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges notes that:

‘The anemic liberal class continues to assert, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that human freedom and equality can be achieved through the charade of electoral politics and constitutional reform. It refuses to acknowledge the corporate domination of traditional democratic channels for ensuring broad participatory power.’ (p. 8)

Worse, the liberal class has: ‘lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.’  (pp. 9-10) 

This pretense afflicts all the major western ‘democracies’, including the UK, and it is a virus that permeates corporate news reporting, not least the BBC. For example, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson has a new book out with the cruelly apt title, ‘Live From Downing Street’. Why apt? Because Downing Street is indeed the centre of the political editor’s worldview. As he explains in the book’s foreword:

‘My job is to report on what those in power are thinking and doing and on those who attempt to hold them to account in Parliament.’ (Added emphasis).

Several observations spring to mind:

1. How does Nick Robinson know what powerful politicians are thinking?

2. Does he believe that any discrepancy between what they really think and what they tell him and his media colleagues is inconsequential?

3. Why does the BBC's political editor focus so heavily on what happens in Parliament? What about the wider spectrum of opinion outside Parliament, so often improperly represented by MPs, if at all? What about attempts in the wider society to hold power to account, away from Westminster corridors and the feeble, Whip-constrained platitudes of party careerists? No wonder Robinson might have regrets over Iraq, as he later concedes when he says:

‘The build-up to the invasion of Iraq is the point in my career when I have most regretted not pushing harder and not asking more questions.’ (p. 332).

4. Thus, right from the start of his book Robinson concedes unwittingly that his journalism cannot, by definition, be ‘balanced’.

But, of course, corporate media professionals have long propped up the illusion that the public is offered an ‘impartial’ selection of facts, opinions and perspectives from which any individual can derive a well-informed world view. Simply put, ‘impartiality’ is what the establishment says is impartial.

The journalist and broadcaster Brian Walden once said: ‘The demand for impartiality is too jealously promoted by the political parties themselves. They count balance in seconds and monitor it with stopwatches.' (Quoted, Tim Luckhurst, ‘Time to take sides’, Independent, July 1, 2003). This nonsense suggests that media ‘impartiality’ means that one major political party receives identical, or at least similar, coverage to another. But when all the major political parties have almost identical views on all the important issues, barring small tactical differences, how can this possibly be deemed to constitute genuine impartiality?

The major political parties offer no real choice. They all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; or towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.

The essential truth was explained by political scientist Thomas Ferguson in his book Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press, 1995). When major backers of political parties and elections agree on an issue ­– such as international ‘free trade’ agreements, maintaining a massive ‘defence’ budget or refusing to make the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – then the parties will not compete on that issue, even though the public might desire a real alternative.

US media analyst Robert McChesney observes:

‘In many respects we now live in a society that is only formally democratic, as the great mass of citizens have minimal say on the major public issues of the day, and such issues are scarcely debated at all in any meaningful sense in the electoral arena.’ (McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The New Press, 2000, p. 260).

As the Washington Post once noted, inadvertently echoing Ferguson’s Golden Rule, modern democracy works best when the political ‘parties essentially agree on most of the major issues’. The Financial Times put it more bluntly: capitalist democracy can best succeed when it focuses on ‘the process of depoliticizing the economy.' (Cited by McChesney, ibid., p. 112).

The public recognises much of this for what it is. Opinion polls indicate the distrust they feel for politicians and business leaders, as well as the journalists who all too frequently channel uncritical reporting on politics and business. A 2009 survey by the polling company Ipsos MORI found that only 13 per cent of the British public trust politicians to tell the truth: the lowest rating in 25 years. Business leaders were trusted by just 25 per cent of the public, while journalists languished at 22 per cent.

And yet recall that when Lord Justice Leveson published his long-awaited report into 'the culture, practices and ethics of the British press' on November 29, he made the ludicrous assertion that ‘the British press – I repeat, all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time.’

That tells us much about the nature and value of his government-appointed inquiry.

 

The Flagship Of Liberal Journalism On The Rocks

Damning indictments of the liberal media were self-inflicted by its vanguard newspaper, the Guardian, in two recent blows. First, consider Decca Aitkenhead’s hostile interview with Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange in which he is described as a ‘fugitive’ who has been ‘holed up’ in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for six months. Aitkenhead casts doubts over his ‘frame of mind’, with a sly suggestion that he might even be suffering from ‘paranoia’. She claims Assange ‘seems more like an in-patient than an interviewee [...]. If you have ever visited someone convalescing after a breakdown, his demeanour would be instantly recognisable. Admirers cast him as the new Jason Bourne, but in these first few minutes I worry he may be heading more towards Miss Havisham.’

He ‘talks in the manner of a man who has worked out that the Earth is round, while everyone else is lumbering on under the impression that it is flat’. Aitkenhead continues: ‘it's hard to read his book without wondering, is Assange a hypocrite – and is he a reliable witness?’ Indeed ‘some of his supporters despair of an impossible personality, and blame his problems on hubris.’

Aitkenhead asks him ‘about the fracture with close colleagues at WikiLeaks’ and wants him to ‘explain why so many relationships have soured.’ She gives a potted, one-sided history of why the relationship between the Guardian and Wikileaks ‘soured’, saying dismissively that ‘the details of the dispute are of doubtful interest to a wider audience’.

The character attack continues: ‘the messianic grandiosity of his self-justification is a little disconcerting’ and ‘he reminds me of a charismatic cult leader’. Aitkenhead concludes: ‘The only thing I could say with confidence is that he is a control freak.’

The hostile, condescending and flippant tone and content contrast starkly with the more respectable treatment afforded to establishment interviewees such as Michael Gove, Michael Heseltine, Christopher Meyer and Alistair Darling. Aitkenhead almost fawns over Darling, then the Chancellor:

'His dry, deadpan humour lends itself to his ironic take on the grumpy old man, which he plays with gruff good nature. [...] He reminds me of childhood friends' fathers who seemed fearsome until we got old enough to realise they were being funny.'

Darling says that 'I was never really interested in the theory of achieving things, just the practicality of doing things.' Aitkenhead sighs:

'One might say this has been Darling's great strength. The pragmatic clarity made him a highly effective minister... But it may well also be his weakness - for at times he seems almost too straightforward, even high-minded, for the low cunning of political warfare.'

Sometimes people would approach the Chancellor in public and demand that he fix the economy. Darling recalls that one chap accosted him at a petrol station:

' "I know it's to do with oil prices - but what are you going to do about it?" People think, Well, surely you can do something, you are responsible - so of course it reflects on me.'

Aitkenhead asks him sweetly: 'Is it painful to be blamed so personally?'

Two days after the Guardian’s hit job on Julian Assange, it was followed by the paper’s low-key announcement of its public poll for person of the year: Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of leaking state secrets to Wikileaks. The implication of the Guardian’s grudging note was that Manning had only won because of ‘rather fishy voting patterns’:

‘Manning secured 70 percent of the vote, the vast majority of them coming after a series of @Wikileaks tweets. Project editor Mark Rice-Oxley said: "It was an interesting exercise that told us a lot about our readers, our heroes and the reasons that people vote."’

Although the short entry appeared in the Guardian’s online news blog, there was no facility for adding reader comments, thus avoiding any possible additional public embarrassment. Perhaps the paper is mortified that it has been shown up by Wikileaks and Manning for not doing its job of holding power to account.

As Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian journalist, wrote last year:

‘The Guardian, like other mainstream media, is heavily invested – both financially and ideologically – in supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk questioning a system of corporate power and control of which the Guardian is a key institution.’

So much for the British flagship of liberal journalism then.

 

Climate Betrayal And Deceptions

One of the biggest failures of the liberal class has been its inability to see, far less challenge, the inherently destructive and psychopathic nature of corporations.

We once wrote to Stephen Tindale, then executive director of Greenpeace UK, and asked him why they did not address this in their campaigning:

‘Let us see Greenpeace (and other pressure groups) doing more to oppose, not so much what corporations do, but what they are; namely, undemocratic centralised institutions wielding illegitimate power.’ (Email, January 7, 2002)

Ignoring or missing the point, Tindale replied: ‘We will continue to confront corporations where necessary  [...] we are an environmental group, not an anti-corporate group. We will therefore work with companies when we can do so to promote our campaign goals.’ (Email, January 28, 2002)

Corporate Watch has pointedly asked of nongovernmental organisations, such as Greenpeace: ‘Why are NGOs getting involved in these partnerships?’ One important factor, it seems, is 'follow the leader'. Corporate Watch notes:

'For many NGOs, the debate on whether or not to engage with companies is already over. The attitude is “all the major NGOs engage with companies so why shouldn't we?” ' (Corporate Watch, ‘What's Wrong with Corporate Social Responsibility?’, 2006, p. 2).

The sad reality is that Greenpeace and other major NGOs accept the ideological premise that the corporate sector can be persuaded to act benignly. To focus instead on the illegitimate power and inherent destructive nature of the corporation is a step too far for today’s emasculated ‘pressure groups’, whether they are working on environmental protection, human rights or fighting poverty.

Adding to the already overwhelming evidence of corporate power protecting itself at almost any cost, a recent book titled Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark (Pluto Books, 2012) exposes the covert methods of corporations to evade democratic accountability and to undermine legitimate public protest and activism. Using exclusive access to previously confidential sources, Eveline Lubbers, an independent investigator with SpinWatch.org, provides compelling case studies on companies such as Nestlé, Shell and McDonalds. ‘The aim of covert corporate strategy’, she observes, ‘is not to win an argument, but to contain, intimidate and ultimately eliminate opposition.’

Lubbers also points out that dialogue, one of the key instruments of ‘corporate social responsibility’, is exploited by big business ‘as a crucial tool to gather information, to keep critics engaged and ultimately to divide and rule, by talking to some and demonizing others.’ Lubbers’ book, then, is yet another exposure of corporate efforts to prevent civil society from obtaining real power.

And yet virtually every day comes compelling evidence showing how disastrous this is for humanity. A new scientific report this month reveals that global carbon emissions have hit a record high:

‘In a development that underscores the widening gap between the necessary steps to limit global warming and the policies that governments are actually putting into place, a new report shows that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will likely reach a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 2011.’

This is a disaster for climate stability. Meanwhile, a new study based on 20 years of satellite observations shows that the planet’s polar ice sheets are already melting three times faster than they were in the the 1990s.

In September, senior NASA climate scientist James Hansen had warned of a ‘planetary emergency’ because of the dangerous effects of Arctic ice melt, including methane gas released from permafrost regions currently under ice. ‘We are in a planetary emergency,’ said Hansen, decrying ‘the gap between what is understood by scientific community and what is known by the public.’

As ever, the latest UN Climate Summit in Doha was just another talking shop that paid lip service to the need for radical and immediate action in curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate chaos.

The failure of the liberal class to rein in, or seriously challenge, corporate power is typified by this appalling gap between climate change rhetoric and reality. The rhetoric is typified by the political call to keep the average global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. The appalling reality is that the rise is likely to be in the region of 4-6 deg C (but potentially much higher if runaway global warming kicks in with the release of methane). This gap - actually a chasm of likely tragic proportions - is graphically depicted by climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University in a recent powerful and disturbing presentation.

Anderson cites an unnamed ‘very senior political scientist’ who often advises the government. This adviser says:

‘Too much has been invested in two degrees C for us to say it is not possible. It would undermine all that has been achieved. It would give a sense of hopelessness that we may as well just give in.’

Anderson also reports that on the eve of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2010, he had a 20-minute meeting in Manchester with Ed Miliband, then the of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Miliband told Anderson:

‘Our position is challenging enough. I can't go with the message that two degrees C is impossible - it's what we've all worked towards.’

Anderson also relates that he attended a Chatham House event where the message from both ‘a very senior government scientist and someone very senior from an oil company’ – which he strongly hinted was Shell – was this:

‘[We] think we're on for 4 to 6 degrees C but we just can't be open about it.’

Anderson warns that this deception is ‘going on all the time behind the scenes’ and ‘that somehow we can't tell the public’ the truth. The consequences could be terminal for large swathes of humanity and planetary ecosystems.

In short, we desperately need to hear the truth from people like Kevin Anderson, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

To return to Chris Hedges on ‘the death of the liberal class’:

‘The liberal class is expected to mask the brutality of imperial war and corporate malfeasance by deploring the most egregious excesses while studiously refusing to question the legitimacy of the power elite's actions and structures. When dissidents step outside these boundaries, they become pariahs. Specific actions can be criticized, but motives, intentions, and the moral probity of the power elite cannot be questioned.’ (Hedges, op. cit., pp. 152-153)

and he warns:

‘We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilizations will blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites, who successfully convinced us that we no longer possessed the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe, will use their resources to create privileged little islands where they will have access to security and goods denied to the rest of us.’ (p. 197)

We must have the vision to imagine that, however bleak things appear now, things can change: if we put our minds to it and work together.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 18 Dec 2012 08:51:40 +0000
Won't Get Fooled Again? Hyping Syria's WMD 'Threat' http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/712-wont-get-fooled-again-hyping-syrias-wmd-threat.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/712-wont-get-fooled-again-hyping-syrias-wmd-threat.html

By: David Edwards

Reading about crimes of state over many years, it is tempting to try to fathom the mind-set of political leaders. What actually is going on in their heads when they order sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of children? What is in their hearts when they wage needless wars that shatter literally millions of lives? Are they desperately cruel, mindlessly stupid? Do they imagine they are living in a kind of hell where monstrous acts have to be committed to avoid even worse outcomes? Are they indifferent, focused on what will bring them short-term political and economic gain? Are they morally resigned, perceiving themselves as essentially powerless in the face of invincible political and economic forces ('If I didn't do it, someone else would.')?

Similar questions come to mind as the US and UK governments once again raise the spectre of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to demonise a target for ‘regime change’, this time in Syria. What is actually going on in the minds of people who know that exactly the same ploy was exposed as a cynical deception just a few years ago? Do they view the public with contempt? Are they laughing at us? Are they playing the only card they perceive to be available to them; one that they know will work imperfectly, but will have to do?

In the US, NBC commented:

‘U.S. officials tell us that the Syrian military is poised tonight to use chemical weapons against its own people. And all it would take is the final order from Syrian President Assad.’

US media watch dog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting asked: ‘So where did all of this new information come from?’ The familiar, ominous answer: ‘Anonymous government officials talking to outlets like the New York Times.’ This, for example:

‘Western intelligence officials say they are picking up new signs of activity at sites in Syria that are used to store chemical weapons. The officials are uncertain whether Syrian forces might be preparing to use the weapons in a last-ditch effort to save the government, or simply sending a warning to the West about the implications of providing more help to the Syrian rebels.

‘“It's in some ways similar to what they've done before,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “But they're doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It's not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.”’ (Michael Gordon, Eric Schmitt, Tim Arango, 'Flow of arms to Syria through Iraq persists, to US dismay,' New York Times, December 1, 2012)

FAIR commented:

‘Absent any further details, that would seem to be a strange standard for confirmation… But the theatrics – satellite images, anonymous sources speaking about weapons of mass destruction and so on – are obviously reminiscent of the lead up to the Iraq War.’

They are indeed. On May 26, 2004, the New York Times published a humbling mea culpa titled, ‘The Times and Iraq.’ The editors commented:

‘Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.’

As a result, the paper published a ‘Confidential News Sources Policy’, which included:

‘In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story.’ (Confidential News Sources, New York Times, February 25, 2004)

Clearly this has all been forgotten.

The same claims about Syrian WMD have of course also poured out of the UK media. A December 5 leading article in The Times was titled: 'Assad's Arsenal.' The first line of the editorial:

'The embattled Syrian regime may be preparing to use chemical weapons. That would be a catastrophe; it must be averted, whatever it takes.’

As ever, Rupert Murdoch's editors - and, no doubt, the boss, standing just over their shoulders - regretfully declared that Western military 'intervention' might turn out to be the only answer: ‘we must also hope that the US and its allies would take any action that was deemed necessary to prevent the human and moral disaster that would be caused by the Syrian regime attempting its final exit in a cloud of mustard gas’.

War, for the West, is now as normal as the air we breathe. Obviously it is the job of the West, with its blood-soaked track record, to save the peoples of the world from tyrannies that just happen to obstruct its geostrategic goals.

In November 2002, as war loomed on Iraq, The Times reported:

‘President Saddam Hussein has been trying to buy from Turkish suppliers up to 1.25 million doses of atropine, a derivative of deadly nightshade.

‘It has wide-ranging medical uses but also protects the body from nerve agents that can paralyse their victims and kill in as little as two minutes.’ (Elaine Monaghan, ‘Iraq move increases chemical war fear,’ The Times, November 13, 2002)

In 2010, The Times published the claim that Iran intended to develop a ‘trigger’ for a nuclear weapon. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter reported:

‘U.S. intelligence has concluded that the document published recently by the Times of London… is a fabrication, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency official.’

The counterterrorism specialist Porter had in mind, Philip Giraldi, commented:

‘The Rupert Murdoch chain has been used extensively to publish false intelligence from the Israelis and occasionally from the British government.’

In April 2011, The Times reported of Libya:

'There are increasing fears that Colonel Gaddafi could use suspected stocks of chemical weapons against [Misrata]... There are also fears that Colonel Gaddafi has stocks of nerve gas in the southern desert city of Sabha.' (James Hider, 'Amid rigged corpses and chemical weapon threat, city fears for its life,' The Times, April 27, 2011)

No matter, The Times might yet see a Libya-style 'intervention' in Syria. The Guardian reports this week:

'Britain's military chiefs have drawn up contingency plans to provide Syrian rebels with maritime, and possibly air, power in response to a request from David Cameron, senior defence sources said on Monday night.’

The UK government is planning to fight with ‘rebels’ despite clear evidence of war crimes and the involvement of numerous foreign mercenaries armed and funded by regional tyrants. The Syrian government also stands accused of appalling crimes.

 

Rusting Bins Of Mass Destruction - The Fantasy Specialists

In the Guardian, Matt Williams and Martin Chulov used dramatic language to report claims ‘that the [Syrian] regime is considering unleashing chemical weapons on opposition forces’.

The Guardian article cited CNN, which in turn cited ‘an unnamed US official as the source of its report’. Williams and Chulov expressed not a word of scepticism in their piece, adding a two-sentence denial from the much-demonised Syrian ‘regime’ as ‘balance’.

A BBC article managed this reference to scepticism:

‘Pressed in the interview by the BBC's Frank Gardner, he said he could understand why the public might be sceptical after the blunders made over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction 10 years ago.’

To his credit, the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus did rather better:

‘Was there an element of political spin here to accompany Nato's decision to deploy patriot missiles in Turkey?

‘Sources contacted by the BBC say that there are indications of activity at certain chemical weapons storage sites.

‘However it is of course impossible to determine if this is a preliminary to the weapons' use or, as some analysts believe, much more likely, the movement of munitions to ensure their security. Indeed such movement has been noted in the past.’

Despite the caution, Marcus promoted the idea that Syrian WMD might fall into the ‘wrong’ hands and that the US might need to intervene to prevent that happening.

In the Independent, Robert Fisk went much further, pouring scorn on the claims:

‘The bigger the lie the more people will believe it. We all know who said that – but it still works. Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own Syrian people. If he does, the West will respond. We heard all this stuff last year – and Assad’s regime repeatedly said that if – if  – it had chemical weapons, it would never use them against Syrians.

‘But now Washington is playing the same gas-chanty all over again. Bashar has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own people. And if he does…’

Fisk added: ‘over the past week, all the usual pseudo-experts who couldn’t find Syria on a map have been warning us again of the mustard gas, chemical agents, biological agents that Syria might possess – and might use. And the sources? The same fantasy specialists who didn’t warn us about 9/11 but insisted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in 2003: “unnamed military intelligence sources”... And yes, Bashar probably does have some chemicals in rusting bins somewhere in Syria’.

If accurate, Fisk's ‘rusting bins’ make a nonsense of the ‘considerable pressure' on 'the US to come up with plans to secure the Syrian weapons in the event of the collapse of the regime’ described by Marcus.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News wrote an excellent piece titled: 'Syria, a weapon of mass deception?’:

‘Without wishing to delve too far into The Who’s back catalogue… we need to remind ourselves in the UK that we won’t get fooled again.’

Thomson offered a rare 'mainstream media' example of rational thinking on the issue:

‘But just to be old fashioned: what’s the evidence of any threat? What’s the basis for all this? What, in short, are they all talking about? Yes, by all accounts Syria has nerve and chemical agents. But possession does not mean threat of use. Israel is not credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran, despite possessing them.’

He noted that 'the story built upon nothing [has been] accepted as global fact when it’s nothing of the kind' and made the obvious point:

‘After Iraq and WMD, if the CIA or MI6 say it’s cold at the north pole, any sensible person would seek at least a couple more sources or would fly there and check.'

Amid the standard channelling of propaganda, then, a small number of journalists have learned from the past and are willing to challenge official claims. But we should also not be fooled by these admirable but rare examples of dissent. The overwhelming majority of corporate media reports - notably the TV broadcasts reaching millions of people - echo the claims of government ‘impartially’; that is, without the least sign of independent thought or critical comment. The best journalists reject such an obviously compromised version of ‘professionalism’ – but they are few and far between.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 11 Dec 2012 08:51:44 +0000
'Flatten All Of Gaza' - The 'Benghazi Moment' That Didn't Matter http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/708-flatten-all-of-gaza-the-benghazi-moment-that-didnt-matter-sp-1796863820.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/708-flatten-all-of-gaza-the-benghazi-moment-that-didnt-matter-sp-1796863820.html

By: David Edwards

On March 30, 2011 - eleven days into Nato’s war on Libya - Professor Juan Cole wrote from his armchair at the University of Michigan:

‘The Libya intervention is legal [sic] and was necessary to prevent further massacres… and if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure. If NATO needs me, I’m there.’

Cole thus declared himself ready to suit up and reach for the sky with Nato's bombers. It was an extraordinary moment.

The rationale, of course, was the alleged risk of a massacre in Benghazi by Gaddafi's forces. Cole told Democracy Now!:

‘They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters… And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.’

This was mostly a product of the fevered atmosphere generated every time state-corporate propaganda targets a ‘New Hitler’ for destruction (Gaddafi, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Assad, et al). Two or three weeks of sustained moral outrage from Washington, London and Paris, echoed across the media, are more than sufficient to generate the required hysteria. Almost anything can then be claimed, with even rational questioning denounced as 'apologetics for tyranny’. In The Politics of Genocide, Edward Herman and David Peterson wrote:

‘The vulgar politicisation of the concept of genocide, and the “emerging international norm” of humanitarian intervention, appear to be products of the fading of the Cold War, which removed the standard pretexts for intervention while leaving intact the institutional and ideological framework for its regular practice during those years.’ (Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Monthly Review Press, 2010, pp.10-11)

With mainstream political parties no longer exercising restraint on the war wagon, the need to 'do something' can be turned on and off like a tap.

By way of a rare exception, Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian of Gaddafi that ‘there is in fact no evidence – including from other rebel-held towns Gaddafi re-captured – to suggest he had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000’.

But most of the press was untroubled by a lack of evidence - the West was simply right to act. A leader in The Times commented on October 21, 2011:

‘Without this early, though sensibly limited, intervention, there would have been a massacre in Benghazi on the scale of Srebrenica.’ (Leading article, 'Death of a Dictator,' The Times)

An Independent editorial agreed:

'Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.’ (Leading article, ‘The mission that crept,’ Independent, July 29, 2011)

 

'We Must Blow Gaza Back To The Middle Ages'

With the above in mind, consider that, on November 16, on the third day of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, with at least 18 Palestinians already killed, the BBC reported:

‘Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza has intensified after it authorised the call-up of 30,000 army reservists, amid reports of a possible ground offensive.’

Israel's cabinet quickly approved the activation of 75,000 reservists, as well as hundreds of Merkava main battle tanks, armoured bulldozers and other assault vehicles, which were transported into position for attack.

Was a massacre looming? The Israeli deputy prime minister Eli Yishai appeared to promise as much on November 18:

‘We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.’

A prominent front-page article in the Jerusalem Post by Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, openly advocated mass killing:

‘We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

‘There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.’

Was the call to 'Flatten all of Gaza' beyond the pale of respectable discourse? Apparently not for the BBC, which quoted a less frenzied comment by Sharon three days later.

Recall the human cost of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week offensive waged between December 2008 and January 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:

‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so.’

There is no question, then, that a ‘Benghazi moment’ had arrived for Gaza around November 16 or shortly thereafter. A Cast Lead-style massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians was a very real possibility. If Hamas rockets had killed more civilians, for example in Tel Aviv, it might well have happened.

Whereas Benghazi was being torn apart by a Western-fuelled insurgency, Gaza is under decades of military occupation and years of siege, greatly strengthening the moral case for external intervention. Escape from a ground assault would have been completely impossible for Gaza's 1.6 million people, about half of them children. And whereas Benghazi was up against Gaddafi’s tin pot army, Gaza was targeted by the most advanced weaponry US taxpayers’ money can buy. Gaza, certainly, was facing a cataclysm beyond anything Gaddafi could have inflicted on his own people.

By any reasonable accounting, then, the case for a no-fly zone, indeed a no-drive zone – some kind of humanitarian intervention – was far more compelling for Gaza than it had ever been for Libya. And yet our search of the Lexis media database found no mention in any UK newspaper of even the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone over Gaza. There was no reference to Gaza’s ‘Benghazi moment’.

By contrast, many ‘Benghazi moments’ have been identified in Syria. A leader in the Independent commented in July:

‘It was the imminent threat to civilians in Libya's second city, Benghazi, that clinched the argument at the UN for outside intervention. But with multiplying reports that the fight is on for Syria's second city, Aleppo, the signs are that even government air strikes will not spur a similar Western and Arab alliance into action. Morally, that has to be deplored.’

We saw no commentary suggesting that Western military action might have been justified to prevent a massacre of civilians in Gaza.

 

Moral ME – The Armchair Warriors Doze Off

In 1999, David Aaronovitch (then of the Independent) made an announcement on Nato's war to 'defend' Kosovo that equally stunned and inspired readers (Juan Cole among them, perhaps):

‘What would I myself be prepared to sacrifice in order to stop the massacres and to strike an immense blow against the politics of racial and ethnic nationalism? Would I fight, or (more realistically) would I countenance the possibility that members of my family might die?’

His answer:

‘I think so… So yes, for this cause, if the government asked me to, I'd do what was necessary without complaining a lot.’ (Aaronovitch, 'My country needs me,' The Independent, April 6, 1999)

Presumably, with Gaza facing another massacre this month, Aaronovitch must again have been eager to swap his armchair for a cockpit to ‘strike an immense blow’ against racial and ethnic nationalism. Not quite:

‘Thinking about how to write about Gaza without just repeating laments of last decade. Sometimes seems little that is both true and useful to say.’

No fighting to be done, it seems, and not even much to be said - it was just all very sad. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky commented in Manufacturing Consent of a similar case:

‘While the coverage of the worthy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.’ (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p.39)

Leading Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland also shook his head sadly and wondered whether Israelis and Palestinians would be ‘locked in a battle that drags on and on, perhaps till the end of time?’ Freedland focused on ‘the weariness’: ‘I feel it myself, a deep fatigue with this struggle, with the actions of both sides’. ‘So yes, I'm weary’, ‘weary of it’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm weary’, ‘And I'm especially tired’, ‘I feel no less exhausted. For I'm weary’, ‘I'm tired, too’, ‘And I'm weary’, ‘this wearying’… and so on.

Prior to the onset of this moral ME, Freedland had been the very picture of interventionist vim and vigour. In March 2011, he wrote an energetic piece on Libya titled, ‘Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.’ A key obstacle was that ‘Iraq poisoned the notion of "liberal interventionism" for a generation’. No matter:

‘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.’

Last February, ignoring the chaos he had helped make possible in Libya, Freedland wheeled out the same arguments in response to the Syrian crisis. The article featured a picture of Syrian children holding up a cartoon of a green-headed Assad pointing a Kalashnikov at the head of a little girl holding an olive branch. Freedland wrote:

‘The 2003 invasion of Iraq has tainted for a generation the idea once known as "liberal interventionism".’

He added: ‘We have new problems now. Fail to see that and we make the people of Homs pay the price for the mistake we made in Baghdad.’

And Tripoli! Freedland had clearly not wearied of the price paid by the victims of ‘liberal interventionism’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

 

‘Terror Attack’ In Tel Aviv

One week into Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud, on a day when 13 Palestinians were killed – with more than 136 people in Gaza killed by that point in 1,500 attacks since the operation began on November 14 - 28 people were injured in a Tel Aviv bomb attack. ITV News's international editor Bill Neely commented: ‘Tel Aviv bus bomb is first terror attack there in 6 years.’ And: ‘Israeli Police confirm terror attack.’

We wrote to Neely: ‘Bill, are the attacks on Gaza “terror attacks”? Have you described them as such?’

Neely replied: ‘Media Lens; Love what U try 2 do - keep us all honest - but pedantry & refusing 2 C balance hs always bn ure weakness.’

Neely wrote again to us and another tweeter: ‘U & Media Lens R absolutely right. Language is v. important. But a bomb on a bus, like a missile, is terror weapon.’

Neely clearly agreed that missiles were also weapons of terror. So we asked him: ‘Bill, agreed. Given that's the case have you ever referred to Israel's “terror attacks” in a TV news report?’

Neely responded: ‘Just to be clear, do you think British bombs on Afghanistan are terrorism? Or on Berlin in 44?’

We answered: ‘Very obviously. Winston Churchill thought so, too.’

We sent a comment written by Churchill to Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of RAF’s Bomber Command in 1945:

‘It seems to me that the moment has come that the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed.’ (Blitz, Bombing and Total War, Channel 4, January 15, 2005)

Neely wrote back: ‘States use terror - the UK has in war, but groups do 2 & we shd say so.’

We tried again: ‘Bill, you're not answering. You've described Hamas attacks as “terror” on TV. How about Israeli, US, UK attacks?’

Neely simply wouldn’t answer our question. But how could he? The truth, of course, is that ITV would never refer to these as ‘terror attacks’. Words like ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’, ‘militant’, ‘regime’, ‘secretive’, ‘hermit’ and ‘controversial’ are used to describe the governments of official enemies, not our own government and its leading allies.

 

'Is This What They Mean By The Cycle Of Violence?'

The November 21 bus bombing, injuring 28 Israelis (initially reported as ten injured), was a far bigger story for the media than the killing of 13 people in Gaza that day. The bias was reflected in the tone of coverage. The BBC reported 'Horror in Israel' whereas they had earlier referred to a 'difficult night for people in Gaza' after 450 targets had been struck with scores of people killed.

Ordinarily, the BBC loves to compare the line-up of hardware available to combatants, for example here and here. But during Operation Pillar of Cloud, the broadcaster was far more interested in comparing the ranges of Hamas’ home-made rockets. In this deceptive example of BBC ‘balance’ two maps show ‘Areas hit in Gaza by Israel’ and ‘Areas hit in Israel and the West Bank by Gaza militants’ (only the Palestinians are 'militants'). The impression given is of two roughly equal threats.

The BBC graphic also shows the exact ‘Range of Hamas rockets.’ But there was no graphic of this kind comparing Palestinian and Israeli firepower. Perhaps the juxtaposition of home-made weapons and a long list of very powerful high-tech weapons would have been too absurd, even embarrassing.

The final death toll of the latest massacre is horrifying: 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians. Of these, 30 were children - twelve of them under ten-years-old. More than 1,000 Palestinians were injured. Six Israelis were killed, two of them soldiers. This infographic provides a shocking comparison of numbers killed on both sides since 2000. And this excellent little animation asks: 'Is this what they mean by the cycle of violence?'

Inevitably, president Obama said: ‘we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself’.

Noam Chomsky has been a rare voice making the counter-argument:

‘You can't defend yourself when you're militarily occupying someone else's land. That's not defense. Call it what you like, it's not defense.’

Obama also said: ‘There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’

Try telling that to the many bereaved in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Irony is dead, it seems – killed by drone-fire!

 

Suggested Action

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. Write to:

Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian

Email: jonathan.freedland@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @j_freedland

 Email us: editor@medialens.org

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.
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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 27 Nov 2012 11:16:44 +0000
Gaza Blitz - Turmoil And Tragicomedy At The BBC http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/706-gaza-blitz-turmoil-and-tragicomedy-at-the-bbc.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/706-gaza-blitz-turmoil-and-tragicomedy-at-the-bbc.html

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

BBC News is in turmoil. Having last year dropped a report on claims of sexual abuse against the late DJ and television presenter Jimmy Savile, the flagship Newsnight programme this month wrongly implicated Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child abuse. As a result, after just 54 days in his job, the BBC director-general, George Entwistle, ‘stepped down’ on November 10. The BBC’s head of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, were then also ‘asked’ to ‘step aside’. Peter Rippon, the Newsnight editor responsible for the Savile decision, had already 'stepped aside'.

The Lord Patten-led BBC Trust, which is supposed to ensure that the BBC is run in the public interest, has once again been revealed as a useless, dangling appendage.

Newsnight’s journalistic failures on child abuse are bad enough, rightly heaping pressure on the broadcaster. But there was no comparable pressure for senior staff to 'step aside' over the BBC's truly catastrophic failure to challenge US-UK propaganda on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and the country's supposed 'threat' to the West. This failure paved the way to war in Iraq and the subsequent brutal and bloody occupation at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. As Media Lens noted recently on Twitter: ‘If you think Newsnight failed badly now, compare with anchor Jeremy Paxman's 2009 confession on Iraq’: namely, that he and his media colleagues were ‘hoodwinked’ by propaganda about Iraq. Paxman made these extraordinary comments:

'As far as I personally was concerned, there came a point with the presentation of the so-called evidence, with the moment when Colin Powell sat down at the UN General Assembly and unveiled what he said was cast-iron evidence of things like mobile, biological weapon facilities and the like...

'When I saw all of that, I thought, well, "We know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he's seen the evidence; I haven't."’

In other words, BBC journalism ended where serious journalism, and simple common sense, begins.

 

How Can This Be ‘Self Defence'?

The role of BBC News as handmaiden to power is exemplified by its reporting on the latest series of brutal Israeli assaults on Gaza. On the first day of Operation Pillar of Cloud, thirteen people, including three children, were reportedly killed, and about 100 wounded. Israeli forces succeeded in their objective of ‘assassinating’ Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in a clear act of extrajudicial state execution.

On November 16, Israel was reported to have hit 150 sites in Gaza the previous night, with 450 strikes in total. And yet the main BBC headline that morning read: 'Egypt PM arrives for Gaza mission.' What would the BBC headline have been if 450 targets in Tel Aviv had been hit by F-16 bombs, drone missiles and artillery?

The Israeli attacks have routinely been reported as 'retaliation' for Palestinian ‘militant rocket attacks’ on southern Israel. In a study of news performance in 2001, the Glasgow Media Group noted that Israelis ‘were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians.’ A BBC correspondent in Gaza said ‘there are now fears now (sic) of a major escalation of violence’.  But the Israeli execution of Ahmed al-Jabari was a major escalation of violence. BBC News reported three Israeli deaths by rockets fired from Gaza with the briefest mention of the earlier deaths of ‘eleven Palestinians - mainly militants but also children’. As ever, there was no explanation of how a Gaza civilian is distinguished from a ‘militant’.

The sequence of recent events, so lacking in 'mainstream' reports, that led to Israel's massive attacks on Gaza can be summarised thus:

  • October 29: The BBC reports that 'Militants in Gaza have fired 26 rockets into Israel, officials say, amid a flare-up in fighting which shattered a brief ceasefire between the two sides. No injuries were reported from the barrage, in the south of the country.' The BBC said that, 'It came hours after Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza, after militants fired rockets following the killing by Israel of a Gazan who Israel said fired mortars at its troops.'

  • November 4: an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, is shot when he wanders close to the border with Israel. Medics have to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay.

  • November 8: Israeli soldiers invade Gaza, shooting and killing a 13-year old Gazan boy, Ahmad Abu Daqqa, who was playing football.

  • November 10: Palestinian resistance fighters attack an Israeli army jeep near the boundary with Gaza, injuring 4 Israeli occupation soldiers. An Israeli shell kills two children in Gaza. An Israeli tank later attacks a funeral service killing two more civilians, wounding more than 20 others.

  • November 11: Palestinian resistance fighters reportedly agree a ceasefire.

  • November 13: Reuters reports that truce between Palestinians and Israel appears to be holding.

  • November 14: Israel breaks ceasefire by killing Ahmed al-Jabari and launching intense attacks on Gaza. According to investigative journalist Gareth Porter: 'Israeli assassination of Jabari destroyed possibility of mediated Israeli-Hamas truce.'

Stop the War concluded:

'Israeli government claims that they are conducting a "defensive" operation in response to rocket fire from Hamas is not true. Israel is directly responsible for the latest round of violence and must cease attacking Gaza immediately.' (Email, November 15, 2012)

On November 15, retaliating to the escalation in Israeli violence, Hamas missile strikes launched from Gaza into southern Israel killed three people. Every violent death is a tragedy but Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, gave much-needed perspective in an article published the same day:

'While Israeli officials are quick to rattle off the numbers of projectiles fired from Gaza, rarely do they tell you what they fire into Gaza, what the effects of this fire is and what the fallout from it is.

'For example, in 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where (sic) women or children [...]

'Through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. [...] It is important to note that these figures do not represent a totality of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza but rather only Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza which cause casualties. The total number of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza is bound to be significantly larger.

Munayyer added: 'more Palestinians were killed in Gaza yesterday than Israelis have been killed by projectile fire from Gaza in the past three years.'

The Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook noted via Facebook on November 15:

'Here, according to the BBC, are the five most important stories relating to Israel's attack on Gaza. (Screengrab via Nour Bakr):

'Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv

'Israel's Gaza rocket problem

'"Hamas targets our children"

"'Determined to follow the path of jihad"

'UK's Hague criticises Hamas'

Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv

As Cook observed, it was as though 'nothing newsworthy is happening to the people of Gaza'.

A letter signed by Noam Chomsky and a number of other signatories noted the relentless corporate media channelling of the Israeli perspective over the Palestinians' and summarised:

'It doesn't take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst willfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.'

On Newsnight (November 14, 2012), BBC presenter Gavin Esler allowed Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, to present his state’s propaganda view essentially unchallenged. The 'taking' of Ahmed al-Jabari, Ayalon said, was 'self-defence, it’s a classic self-defence', adding:

'There is no other way to deal with terrorists who you cannot reason with but by defending yourself in a way that they will not be able to operate again.'

Esler did not counter the Israeli 'self defence' argument by pointing to the actual chronology of recent events. Ayalon then went on to state that Israel 'gave Gaza, entirely so, to the Palestinians. We left Gaza altogether in 2005, seven years ago.'

Again, Esler failed to offer any serious journalistic challenge. He did not point out that although Israel says it 'withdrew' from Gaza in 2005, its control of Gaza’s water, electricity, sewage and telecommunications systems, and its control of Gaza’s land and sea borders and airspace, means that the UN still views Israel's control of Gaza's population as an occupation. As indeed does the UK government. The Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on record as saying in November 2010:

'Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza's borders, airspace and territorial waters, the UK judges that Israel retains obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power.' (Hansard, 30 Nov 2010 : Column WA425).

There was also no mention during Newsnight of released Israeli state documents revealing that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment. The documents showed that 'the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are "putting the people of Gaza on a diet".'

By contrast, Al Jazeera English broadcast a powerful interview with Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian American journalist and co-founder of Electronic Intifada. He referred to the largely unreported timeline of events which emphasises once again how absurd it is for the corporate media to echo the Israeli claim that its violent acts can properly be described as ‘defending itself’:

‘How can Israel be defending itself if it is crossing into Gaza, killing children, that when Israeli occupation forces are attacked - and Palestinians have a right to self-defence, they have a right to resist occupation - Israel responds by shelling civilians. I mean who in their right mind would call that "self-defence"? Who would call a siege – a six-year long siege where they count the calories of children in Gaza and only allow a drip-feed of food in to meet the minimum calories to avoid starvation – who would call that self-defence? Who would call it self-defence, the fact that Israel shells fishermen on a daily basis?'

Noam Chomsky recently visited Gaza and reported his impressions in a moving piece.

‘Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

‘The intensity of this commitment on the part of the Israeli political leadership has been dramatically illustrated just in the past few days, as they warn that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the UN. That is not a new departure. The threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) is deeply rooted, back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related “Samson Complex”: we will bring down the Temple walls if crossed. It was an idle threat then; not today.’

The ongoing blitz on Gaza is surely another horrific example of Israel's willingness to 'go crazy'.

 

Fear Of The Israeli Phone Call

Between December 2008 - January 2009, Israeli forces mounted a massive campaign of violence against Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. B’Tselem estimates that 1,389 Palestinians were killed including 344 children. In addition to the large numbers of killed and wounded, there was considerable damage to Palestinian medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes.

The BBC later refused to broadcast a charity appeal on behalf of the people of Gaza, an almost unprecedented act in BBC history.

Amena Saleem, a campaigner with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, points to the BBC ‘keep[ing] the truth about Israel’s illegal actions from its audiences’, a clear failing which is ‘spread across the whole of BBC programming, from news right through to entertainment.’

Why is this? One factor is the intense pressure applied by a powerful pro-Israeli lobby. The flak sometimes originates from the Israeli government itself. The Glasgow Media Group's Greg Philo and Mike Berry noted in their 2009 book, 'More Bad News From Israel':

‘to criticise Israel can create major problems. Journalists spoke to us of the extraordinary number of complaints which they receive. We have presented our findings to many groups of media practitioners. After one such meeting a senior editor from a major BBC news programme told us: "we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis". He then said that the main issues they would face were from how high up had the call come (e.g. a monitoring group, or the Israeli embassy), and then how high up the BBC had the complaint gone (e.g. to the duty editor or the director general).' (p. 2)

When confronted by Philo and Berry’s careful analysis, the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief ducked our challenge, retreating into ever more exotic contortions.

In our book 'Newspeak in the 21st Century' (Pluto Press, 2009), we devoted two whole chapters to the BBC: the first, exposing the fiction of BBC ‘balance’, the second comprising an A-Z compendium of BBC propaganda. Further examples were sprinkled throughout the book. One Media Lens reader was so determined to get the book’s message across that he paid for 100 copies of 'Newspeak' to be sent to the BBC. Thanks to his generosity, and the efforts of our publisher, the book was sent to virtually all senior BBC news journalists and editors, members of the BBC Executive Board, as well as the BBC Trustees. A letter from the publisher, enclosed with the book, asked politely for a response from each BBC person approached. A dedicated email address was provided to receive BBC replies. The response? Almost complete silence.

Over a number of years, Helen Boaden, the now suspended BBC head of news, was a sparring partner – or often non-sparring partner – of Media Lens and our readers. In 2006, we challenged Boaden about the assertion from BBC reporter Paul Wood, who was embedded with 'coalition' troops, that British and American forces ‘came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights’. (BBC, News at Ten, January 5, 2006). Her defence: ‘this was indeed one of the stated aims before and at the start of the Iraq war - and I attach a number of quotes at the bottom of this reply.’ (Boaden, email to Media Lens, January 20, 2006)

Boaden supplied no less than six pages of quotes from George Bush and Tony Blair ostensibly proving her point that the war on Iraq was waged ‘to bring democracy and human rights’. This summed up the tragicomedy of BBC News reporting.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to: Fran Unsworth, acting head of BBC News

Email: fran.unsworth@bbc.co.uk

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Fri, 16 Nov 2012 10:07:35 +0000
'Sworn Enemies'? A Response To George Monbiot http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/704-sworn-enemies-a-response-to-george-monbiot.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/704-sworn-enemies-a-response-to-george-monbiot.html

 

Hi George

It's good to know that your email is intended in a 'friendly and constructive spirit'. We hope you will post a link to this response on your home page and via Twitter.

You write that Media Lens is a ‘project whose purpose is to engage and persuade progressive journalists by critiquing their work and encouraging people to write to them’.

We do, of course, encourage readers to send polite emails to journalists. But our primary purpose is to raise public awareness by highlighting examples of corporate media bias. What people do with that awareness is really up to them. Our hope is that it feeds into activism, campaigning and the creation of non-corporate media like MediaBite, News Unspun and BS News.

Above all, we’re trying to stimulate debate and participation. Engaging with journalists is certainly part of that, but we have few illusions about influencing media employees who often have little room for manoeuvre and who are deeply dependent on the corporate system. We do hope for marginal improvements as a direct result of our work - they do happen and do matter - but it’s not a primary concern.

You write:

‘As you know, journalists whose politics are broadly in line with yours, and who are hostile to big business and the corporate domination of politics and the media, have become, following your attempts to engage with them, not your allies but your sworn enemies.’

Specifically, you focus on 'the issue of bombardment’:

‘Bombarding a very busy person with the same thing, over and over, is an effective formula for infuriating them and making them think “to hell with the lot of you!”.

But cast your mind back to July 2004 when you slammed the media for ‘falsehoods’ prior to the invasion of Iraq that were ‘massive and consequential’, adding: ‘it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job’. You bravely included the Guardian and Observer in your criticism, and asked: ‘So who will hold the newspapers to account?’

Your conclusion:

‘It seems that the only possible answer is you. You, the readers, must take us to task if we mislead you. Pressure groups should be bombarding us with calls and emails - you'd be amazed by the difference it makes.’

An example followed when you wrote an article in the Guardian on the problem of advertising and climate change after being 'challenged by the editors of a website called Medialens'.

Eight years ago, we would be ‘amazed’ at what a positive difference ‘bombarding’ makes. Now we’d be amazed at how counter-productive it is. This is another reversal of opinion reminiscent of your dramatic conversion to nuclear power.

The big addition to the Guardian over the last year, of course, has been the fine American journalist Glenn Greenwald. Last year, we challenged him on his willingness to criticise the Guardian. He replied in his usual forthright manner, describing our argument as ‘moronic’. So far so good for your hypothesis that we do a great job of alienating like-minded journalists. But Greenwald told another Twitter user (copying to us):

‘I don't mind - I actually like - debates like these. They're healthy among allies. I'm not interpreting it as rudeness.’

Last month we responded to news that Greenwald had joined the Guardian by challenging this tweet from him:

‘Would NPR [National Public Radio] ever do a panel called: "Iran perspectives on Israel," with 3 advocates of the Iranian govt and nobody else?’

We wrote: ‘Would the Guardian ever do a panel called: "Herman/Chomsky perspectives on the corporate media"?'

You will recognise this as the kind of annoying challenge we’ve been sending you for years. Again, consider Greenwald’s message to us just days later after David Aaronovitch of The Times described us as ‘Twitter dickheads’ who thought ‘killing US embassy staff is cool’:

‘You are really deeper in the heads of the British establishment-serving commentariat than anyone else – congrats.’

Greenwald went on to condemn Aaronovitch’s charge as a ‘lie’ and a ‘wretched falsehood’. He defended us against Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm (The Times), Nick Cohen (Observer) and other hard-right ‘liberal-left’ commentators.

A concerned Twitter user then warned Greenwald about us, essentially making your point:

‘You should look at ML's targets since 2001. Very revealing. So much time spent on [Seumas] Milne, Monbiot, Nick Davies, IBC [Iraq Body Count], etc.’

But Greenwald understands what we’re doing and is not easily swayed. He replied: ‘Journalists with a large corporate platform, and who are seen as liberal commentators, wield lots of influence.’ And added of us: ‘They've criticized me before, too - sometimes harshly - that doesn't make me think they're evil.’

 

The Curious Case Of Sweden’s Fria Magazine

This confirms many years of experience. Obviously no-one likes criticism, particularly prominent journalists accustomed to warm applause from progressives. But, to their credit, we’ve found that many of the better journalists are able to keep their heads. They judge us by the rationality of our arguments and by the value of what we’re saying; they don’t just write us off or lash out.

A few years ago, we wrote a media alert with the harsh but irresistible title, ‘Debunking Buncombe’, inviting readers to contact the eponymous Andy Buncombe of the Independent. Despite the ensuing ‘bombardment’, Buncombe has since cited our work in his newspaper and often retweets our media alerts on Twitter, even when they criticise the Independent. For example:

'@MediaLens has some useful thoughts on the coverage of Gaddafi's killing.'

As usual when a high-profile journalist mentions us positively (or indeed mentions us at all), Oliver Kamm worked hard to scare Buncombe off with hair-raising tales of our involvement with ‘genocide denial’. Buncombe’s response:

‘As for MediaLens, while I certainly don't agree with everything they say, I've never read anything they've produced that would support your very strident allegation.’

You, by contrast, are Kamm’s great triumph – you swallowed his smears hook, line and libel, echoing them in a Guardian column that alienated a huge swath of the Left. You even gave one of your blog entries the title: ‘Media Cleanse’, writing of how 'a group which claims to defend human rights turned into an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers'.

We challenged Buncombe exactly as we challenged you, but he took it upon himself to publicly defend us against a hard-right fanatic. The risk, as he must surely have been aware, was that he would be labelled ‘one of them’. Or as Aaronovitch told Greenwald: ‘Your funeral.’

A journalist who knows better than most what it’s like to be ‘bombarded’ by Media Lens is Peter Barron, who was editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme at a time when we sent dozens of media alerts criticising BBC performance on Iraq in 2002-2003. Barron commented on the BBC website: ‘after every controversial episode I get hundreds of e-mails from sometimes less-than-polite hommes engages’.

Despite this, he wrote:

‘Another organisation that tries to influence our running orders is Medialens... They prolifically let us know what they think of our coverage… In fact I rather like them. David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they're plain right.’

Starkly contradicting your 2012, although not your 2004, analysis, Barron added:

‘Are these unsolicited interventions helpful or unhelpful? The former, I think, as long as we read them with eyes wide open. You might argue that it would be purer to ignore the pressure from all quarters, but I think lobbying can actually improve our journalism, as long as it's not corrupt, that access to the editors of programmes is equally available to everyone (via e-mail it is) and that we question everything we're told.’

Barron noted that when the second Lancet study on the death toll in Iraq was published in 2006, he received a wave of emails from ‘anti-war groups’ urging him to cover the story. But he then received ‘a second wave of e-mails. Not really suggesting we don't do the story, but urging that, if we do, to note that even the authors claim that it is of "limited precision". Don't be bullied by the anti-war lobby’.

One might wonder who these ‘second wave’ emailers were and what their motive was. The question naturally arises: are we to leave the field to pro-war lobbyists often centrally organised and funded, with roots in corporate-sponsored think tanks and state-sponsored agencies, with journalists of the hard-right working diligently to advance their agenda? While we are two writers solely dependent on the donations of individual readers (none of them wealthy philanthropists), these flak groups have huge resources. On Twitter, we agreed not to put your name at the bottom of any more alerts because doing so was driving you ‘bananas’. You shouldn’t expect the same understanding from the pro-war lobby.

Former New Statesman editor, Peter Wilby, whose email featured in our ‘Suggested Action’ section even when he was publishing David Edwards’ articles on a regular basis for two years, subsequently reviewed one of our books, Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media, in the New Statesman:

‘All journalists should read it, because the Davids make a case that demands to be answered.’

As a final example, we’ve had intense debates with another well-known journalist at the Guardian whose email address has appeared many times in our alerts. Exactly contradicting your 2012 hypothesis, in April 2011 this journalist recommended us to the editor-in-chief of Sweden’s Fria magazine, Madelene Axelsson, who then interviewed us about our work. She wrote to us:

‘Well you know he was in fact the one who directed me to you. He spoke very highly of your work and said more than one time what important work you do.’ (Email, Madelene Axelsson to David Edwards, April 26, 2011)

The ‘he’ in question, George, as you know, was you!

 

Power Concedes Nothing

You write:

‘I do not love receiving scores of almost identical messages from people who sound as if they haven’t thought through an issue for themselves, but are parroting a line – often the exact words – formulated by someone else.’

No-one has read more of these emails than we have over the years and we wholly reject your description. By the very nature of what we’re doing we tend to attract non-conformists. We are anti-authoritarian, anti-conformity, anti-parroted thinking. In our experience, the vast majority of emails sent to journalists are of a very high standard – restrained, thoughtful, serious. We suspect it is precisely this that annoys you. It is easy to dismiss idiotic abuse. It is much harder to deal with intelligent, accurate criticism.

You write:

‘I’ve stayed with the Guardian because I believe it provides the best opportunity I have at the moment to change the way people see the world.’

That’s fine – you sincerely believe that - but we fear you may have suffered from the process of corporate assimilation you warned against many years ago:

‘It is an exceptional person who emerges from this process with her aims and ideals intact. Indeed it is an exceptional person who emerges from this process at all. What the corporate or institutional world wants you to do is the opposite of what you want to do. It wants a reliable tool, someone who can think, but not for herself: who can think instead for the institution. You can do what you believe only if that belief happens to coincide with the aims of the corporation, not just once, but consistently, across the years (it is a source of wonder to me how many people’s beliefs just happen to match the demands of institutional power, however those demands may twist and turn, after they’ve been in the company for a year or two).’

It is ‘a source of wonder’ to us that your perceptions of the Guardian ‘just happen to match the demands of institutional power’. Thus, you write: ‘the bulk of the Guardian’s coverage of these issues has presented fierce challenges to the Murdoch empire, the banks, the government’s cuts, its privatisation and outsourcing, the war with Iraq, the drone war in Pakistan and a host of other topics of interest to you’.

Fierce challenges? Not true, as we'll see below. For now, consider that in 2010, you and a host of other liberals signed a letter published in the Guardian titled ‘Lib Dems are the party of progress’:

‘The Liberal Democrats are today's change-makers. They have already changed the election; next they could drive fundamental change in our political and economic landscape.’

In your booklet, An Activist’s Guide to Exploiting the Media, you wrote:

‘We’re genuine people, not hired hands defending a corporate or institutional position.’ (George Monbiot, An Activist’s Guide to Exploiting the Media, Bookmarks Publications Ltd, London, 2001)

We wonder how the younger George Monbiot would have viewed your defence of the Guardian now.

You told us on Twitter that while comments posted about your work on the Comment is Free website can be annoying, it is somehow worse to have them appear in your inbox. But think what you're saying, George! Some two million people are lying dead in Iraq as a result of Western war, sanctions and yet more war – some of the most barbaric crimes of modern times. While catastrophic climate change looms, the political and media silence is deafening. Authentic democratic choice has dissolved to nothing. And we need only remember the struggles of the past when civil rights, peace and other activists organised, mobilised - and even fought and died - to achieve progressive change. And yet, from the comfort of your salaried position at the Guardian, you are publicly protesting a tiny website urging people to send polite emails! In the last five years, your email address has appeared seven times at the bottom of our media alerts – a little more than once a year. How complacent and comfortable have you become? The abolitionist Frederick Douglass said:

‘Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ (Frederick Douglass, 1857. Cited, Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, Perennial Classics edition, HarperCollins, 1999, p.183)

 

Moral Complexity

Let's look in more detail at some of your claims. You write that the issues surrounding ‘the matter of whether NATO support for the rebels opposing Gaddafi was a good or a bad thing, are morally complex. I still don’t know where I stand on that (which is why I haven’t written about it), because I can see compelling moral arguments on both sides.’

The West clearly exploited UN Resolution 1973 to illegally pursue regime change in Libya. As Seumas Milne noted, the cost was paid in tens of thousands of Libyan lives. Libya is now in a state of violent chaos with numerous armed militia running a lawless country awash with weapons. If we care about international law, Libyan lives and resisting our government’s violence, there is really no moral complexity.

Last year you tweeted: 'I find myself seriously torn by it. I feel the right thing has been happening for all the wrong reasons.'

In fact terrible things were happening, supported by Nato – massacres, ethnic cleansing, widespread destruction – for all the wrong reasons.

You write that we ‘often seem to ascribe to people the worst of all possible motives’:

‘I’ve noticed over the years that when a journalist working for the Guardian disagrees with your line, you have characterised them as a corporate stooge.’

This is simply false. We have never referred to any journalist in any alert as ‘a corporate stooge’. One of the really fascinating issues for us – something we have thought about and discussed for many years – is the question of how it is that intelligent, well-intentioned people can unwittingly come to conform to destructive power. You make no concessions to this kind of discussion or the reality behind it in your letter to us. The fact is that media professionals do conform to the needs of their employers. Coincidentally, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook emailed us two weeks ago to discuss just this issue. He wrote:

‘I've always loved the metaphor you have in Newspeak [our 2009 book] of the great shoals of fish that move and turn in absolute synchronicity, even though it is impossible to identify a leader or a hand directing them. That is exactly how it felt when I was at the Guardian. We all knew precisely what was expected of each of us and yet one couldn't identify a single person, not even the Editor, who was guiding or directing us. We simply knew what we should do. If we gave it a label, it was the "ethos" of the place. That's why you were at the Guardian, after all. You either accepted it willingly as your own ethos or left. It's another way of understanding Chomsky's filters: the reason senior journalists always say no one ever told them what to write etc. No, we didn't need to be told. We were Guardian worker bees or drones: we had the Guardian "ethos". Those who didn't were picked off, like a straggler fish caught by a shark.’ (Jonathan Cook, email to Media Lens, October 25, 2012)

This is the kind of honest, thoughtful, self-critical analysis that fascinates us; not the crude demonisation of ‘stooges’ and ‘quislings’.

 

Missing Frameworks Of Understanding

You write:

‘The third issue is what I perceive as confirmation bias: that you appear to have begun with a conclusion – that the Guardian conforms to the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model – then sought evidence to support it.’

In fact, like most people, when we first read the Guardian, we assumed it was indeed an open, independent window on the world. It was only after the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman opened our eyes that we began to question that view. You write:

‘I challenge you to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the paper’s coverage of climate change over the past few years…’

The US media analyst David Peterson commented on this point:

‘George Monbiot is trying to dissuade Media Lens from even bothering to counter his statement and his general belief about the Guardian – Observer’s performance as a news organization by raising the bar of evidence sufficiently high (i.e., exhaustive case studies of Guardian - Observer performance on a variety of important topics) that he expects you not to take him up on his challenge.

‘The readership of his website will find his letter to you (or be directed to it via Twitter), see that you have not just turned-on-a-dime and in short order produced, say, ten case-studies of sufficient scope as to meet his criteria, and come away feeling that you cannot answer him.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 28, 2012)

Sadly, that does appear to be what you had in mind. In fact, we have extensively followed and analysed Guardian coverage on climate change over many years (see our Post Script, which provides a small sample of this work. You quoted not a single word from our alerts or books in support of your arguments).

Paired examples can be used to demonstrate bias in quite a simple way. In May, we noted that the media had instantly decided that Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, had been personally responsible for the massacre of women and children in Houla. Within hours of the massacre being reported, a cartoon in the Guardian depicted Assad with his mouth and face smeared with blood. We recalled that, in March, a US soldier had shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children. We asked what kind of evidence the media would have required before finding Barack Obama (and even Michelle Obama) personally responsible for this or any other massacre. It is inconceivable that the Guardian would have published a comparable cartoon with Obama’s face smeared with blood so soon after a massacre had been reported.

This was a small but significant example of how the media, including the Guardian, consistently treat ‘our’ leaders, 'our' violence, 'our' crimes, one way, and those of the Official Enemy another way. This was not hard science, but it was common sense. By the way, compare our actual purpose with the absurd suggestion that we were apologising for Assad’s violence and tyranny, as Kamm and others have claimed.

We have also provided comprehensive assessments of Guardian and Observer reporting. In 2003, we found that the number of articles mentioning Iraq in January of that year in the two papers totalled 760. These are some of the mentions we found:

Iraq and George Bush, 283 mentions. Iraq and Tony Blair, 292. Iraq and Jack Straw, 79. Iraq and Colin Powell, 67. Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld, 40. Iraq and Dick Cheney, 17. Iraq and Richard Perle, 3.

We also found these mentions for major anti-war voices:

Iraq and Tony Benn, 11 mentions. Iraq and George Galloway, 10. Iraq and Harold Pinter, 5. Iraq and Scott Ritter, 4. Iraq and Noam Chomsky, 4. Iraq and John Pilger, 2. Iraq and Denis Halliday, 0. Iraq and Hans von Sponeck, 0. Iraq and Milan Rai, 0.

So these leading voices for peace at a time of massive public opposition to war totalled 36 out of 760 mentions of Iraq, less than Donald Rumsfeld alone received. Again, this was not hard science, but it did provide serious evidence of Guardian/Observer opinion bias in favour of warmongers. We found a similar pattern of coverage in 2002. See our Post Script for further key examples.

You set a very low bar in triumphantly pointing to the Guardian’s better coverage of climate science compared with the likes of the Telegraph, Express and the execrable Mail. This is hardly a badge of honour. The veteran, award-winning climate campaigner Aubrey Meyer is now so unimpressed by the Guardian that he told us: ‘I stopped reading the paper because the coverage became so trivial.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 29, 2012)

On climate, you write: ‘I think you’ll discover that far from doing so, the Guardian has mounted a fierce and sustained challenge to the corporate-friendly coverage of this issue in the media…’

A deeper problem with the Guardian’s performance on climate change is that the honest frameworks of understanding required to generate radical change are simply ignored or side-lined throughout the newspaper. For example, it should be a part of basic awareness that corporations, including your employer, are locked into a biocidal logic demanding maximised revenues in minimum time at minimum (corporate) cost. Front and centre of Guardian reporting on climate should be the fact that corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for shareholders; that it is in fact illegal for corporations to prioritise the welfare of people and planet above private profit. The Guardian should be presenting the state-corporate system as fundamentally pathological. This it manifestly does not do, even when challenged to do so (specifically economics editor Larry Elliott and environment editor John Vidal: see Post Script).

The long and spectacular history of corporate power organising to manipulate culture, economics and politics should also be a central theme in comment pieces and editorials. Your newspaper barely skims the surface of these issues. Instead, it endlessly peddles the party political charade as meaningful. It persuades readers to find hope in a Blair (even after Iraq!) and an Obama, when it should be exposing the biocidal nature of the entire system of which they are a part, and calling for grassroots change through massive public mobilisation. As we and others have pointed out, voters are free to choose from two or three political ‘choices’ that have in reality all been pre-selected by established power. A significant proportion of the Guardian’s output is devoted to selling this fraudulent choice as a positive exercise in democracy.

Similar non-issues for the Guardian are the true nature and role of the corporate media, and the part it plays in normalising irresponsible consumption and in stifling awareness of the threat of climate change. The Guardian has never published a serious structural analysis explaining why a corporate media system cannot be trusted to report honestly on a world dominated by corporate power. How could it? There are occasional mentions of isolated aspects of the problem – the role of advertisers, Murdochian monopolies and so on – but the basic structure of the system is just not up for discussion. Your idea that the Guardian is a ‘fierce’ contributor to action on climate change when it is dependent on advertisers for 60 per cent of its revenues is darkly humorous, nothing more.

We could go on – our comprehensive assessments, over many years, reveal that these basic frameworks are ignored in favour of ‘left-liberal’ ‘optimism’ and ‘pragmatism’. There is no meaningful discussion of structural change because corporate media like the Guardian are literally in the business of maintaining the status quo. It is remarkable that this is not obvious to you.

As well as the above and the Post Script, you can read responses from Jonathan Cook and David Peterson here. We twice emailed Glenn Greenwald asking for his thoughts on your criticism - we received no reply.

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell

 

Update November 6, 2012

In the first paragraph, we originally wrote:

'It's good to know that your email is intended in a "friendly and constructive spirit", and not as a follow-up to something you wrote of us three weeks earlier: "I could spend my life unpicking their falsehoods. Perhaps I should, cos no one else is."

George Monbiot has clarified that he was not in fact referring to us.

We are happy to correct this misunderstanding.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 05 Nov 2012 10:09:03 +0000
Bad Pharma, Bad Journalism http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/702-bad-pharma-bad-journalism.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/702-bad-pharma-bad-journalism.html

By David Cromwell

Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor and science writer who, until November 2011, wrote the Guardian’s Bad Science column which was presented as a thorn in the side of pseudoscience, quackery and ‘Big Pharma’, the giant and powerful pharmaceutical industry. On September 21, the Guardian published an extract, ‘The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal’, from Goldacre's new book, Bad Pharma. (Unfortunately no longer available on the Guardian website. However, it can currently be accessed here). A disturbing picture emerges of corporate drug abuse:

'Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects.’

As an example, Goldacre cites detailed medical reviews of trials testing the benefits of statins, cholesterol-reducing drugs, taken to reduce the risk of heart attacks. In 2003, two such reviews were published. Both found that industry-funded trials were about four times more likely to report positive results. A further review in 2007 found twenty new studies in the intervening four years. All but two of them showed that industry-sponsored trials were more likely to report flattering results. In other words, industry-funded drug trials with negative results tend to be buried, glossed over or otherwise ignored.

Goldacre notes:

‘In any sensible world, when researchers are conducting trials on a new tablet for a drug company, for example, we'd expect [...] that all researchers are obliged to publish their results, and that industry sponsors – which have a huge interest in positive results – must have no control over the data. But, despite everything we know about industry-funded research being systematically biased, this does not happen. In fact, the opposite is true: it is entirely normal for researchers and academics conducting industry-funded trials to sign contracts subjecting them to gagging clauses that forbid them to publish, discuss or analyse data from their trials without the permission of the funder.’

As a further example, consider the giant pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline which wanted to extend the market for the commonly used antidepressant paroxetine to children. Drugs that are licensed for use in adults are sometimes also prescribed for children. Clearly this represents a potential hazard with the risk of unknown side-effects. Regulators have tried to address this by offering inducements to companies to apply for formal authorisation for drug use in children. GSK therefore conducted a series of trials of paroxetine in children. However, at the end of the trials there was no clear benefit in treating depression. Rather than tell doctors and patients, or withdraw the drug, a secret internal company memo concluded: 'It would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine.’ In the year after this secret memo, 32,000 prescriptions were nonethless issued to children for paroxetine in the UK alone. So while the company knew the drug didn't work in children, it was in no hurry to tell doctors, despite knowing that large numbers of children were taking it.

Goldacre continues:

‘It gets much worse than that. These children weren't simply receiving a drug that the company knew to be ineffective for them; they were also being exposed to side-effects. This should be self-evident, since any effective treatment will have some side-effects, and doctors factor this in, alongside the benefits (which in this case were nonexistent). But nobody knew how bad these side-effects were, because the company didn't tell doctors, or patients, or even the regulator about the worrying safety data from its trials. This was because of a loophole: you have to tell the regulator only about side-effects reported in studies looking at the specific uses for which the drug has a marketing authorisation. Because the use of paroxetine in children was “off-label” [i.e., marketing authorisation had been granted for adults, but not specifically for children], GSK had no legal obligation to tell anyone about what it had found.’

And he concludes:

‘Missing data poisons the well for everybody. If proper trials are never done, if trials with negative results are withheld, then we simply cannot know the true effects of the treatments we use. Evidence in medicine is not an abstract academic preoccupation. When we are fed bad data, we make the wrong decisions, inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering, and death, on people just like us.’

No reasonable person could fail to be troubled by Goldacre’s damning assessment of the drugs industry. But had he gone far enough? Economist Harry Shutt didn't think so. Shutt is a rare example of a professional economist who is also a radical critic of the current economic system. Since the 1970s, he has been a consultant for international development agencies including the UN and the World Bank. He has also written easily-digested books, such as The Trouble with Capitalism (Zed Books, 1998/2009) and The Decline of Capitalism (Zed Books, 2005), exposing the growing unsustainability of the status quo. In 2005, he warned presciently of 'an unavoidable financial crisis' on a greater scale than any before. Ever since the global crash of 2007-2008, he has argued that a return to enduring growth is neither desirable nor possible, and that western societies have to 'grasp the nettle' of a 'post-capitalist' economic future. His articulate thoughts on this can be found in his latest book, Beyond the Profits System (Zed Books, 2010).

 

Those Dirty Words: 'Public Ownership'

Shutt emailed Goldacre:

‘The blindingly obvious inference of the extract from your book published in the Guardian - as of so many others you once commendably wrote in your Bad Science column - is that this is an industry totally unsuited to being run on profit-maximising lines by conventional shareholder companies. Given that, and the tremendous level of subsidy the industry already receives from governments around the world, why not spell out the vital necessity of locating it within publicly owned/non-profit organisations where there need be no obstacle to full transparency?’

In an Observer interview, Goldacre responded to Shutt (as well as other readers who had submitted questions after publication of the book extract):

I am a realist about this. I don't want a central-command state economy. In general, drug companies are reasonably good at developing new treatments and there's also a lot of good in the industry. The point of my book is that it's possible for good people in badly designed systems to perpetrate acts of great evil completely unthinkingly. I don't think any of the people I write about would punch an old lady in the face, but they would inflict the same level of harm when they are abstracted away from the outcomes of their actions.

‘This is made easier, I think, because in general, most drugs do work better than nothing: it's just that we may be misled into using, for example, an expensive new drug where an older, cheaper one is more effective.

‘Overall, the problem is we don't have a competent regulatory framework that prevents things from going horribly wrong. If companies are allowed to hide the results of clinical trials then they will, and that will distort clinical practice. Doctors and patients will be misled and make sub-optimal decisions about what treatment is best for them.

‘Similarly, if you can get on to the market by making a me-too copycat drug that represents little or no therapeutic advance and is even less effective than the drugs that it copies, then you will. And you can get such a drug to the market because regulators approve new treatments even when they've only been shown only to be better than placebo.’

But this ducked the question that had been put to him, as Shutt pointed out in a follow-up email (October 9, 2012):

Dear Ben Goldacre

I was disappointed in your response to my question regarding the appropriateness of the profit-maximising model for the pharmaceutical industry and surprised at your implied suggestion that I must be advocating a centrally planned (Soviet-style?) economy.

You must be aware that many major industries in market economies are or have been state-owned without the countries concerned being identifiable as centrally planned. An obvious example is the rail industry, which is state-owned in nearly every European country and demonstrably performs more cost-effectively than its privatised UK counterpart, which (as pointed out in a recent Guardian article) the overwhelming majority of the British public has consistently favoured being renationalised (along with the water sector) without anyone inferring that those expressing this view must be card-carrying Communists. You must likewise know that a major British drug manufacturer - the Wellcome Foundation - was until 1986 a wholly owned subsidiary of a charitable trust, and that charitable and NHS institutions continue to provide vital funding for medical research here and around the world - to the considerable profit of Big Pharma.

In view of this and of your own work demonstrating the damaging consequences of profit-driven business models in terms of a) bad health outcomes and b) wasted public resources, I find your position rather baffling. Yet I am not so cynical as to suppose you might be motivated by a fear that reducing or eliminating perverse incentives to Big Pharma would tend to reduce the market for investigative journalism in the sector.

Best regards

Harry Shutt

Receiving no reply, Shutt emailed him again on October 15:

Dear Ben Goldacre

Further to my message of 9 October I have just noticed that in your response to some of the comments arising you repeat your assertion that you 'don't think it's common that medical interventions do more harm than good'. This statement seems an obvious and regrettable departure from your normal very proper insistence that findings and policy in the field of medical science should be evidence-based. May I also point out that the same principle is supposed to apply as far as possible in social sciences such as economics, although there practitioners are much more easily allowed to get away with claims - such as that 'cutting taxes stimulates growth' - for which there is no real evidential basis.

It is of course well known that bigotry is too readily passed off as science in any field according to whichever ideology or vested interest is dominant. It has been one of the great merits of your Bad Science column that you have consistently challenged this tendency in the field of medicine and diet. It is therefore all the more disappointing that you seem unwilling to maintain this rational stance when the evidence you have so commendably accumulated points to a conclusion which, although totally logical, may be viewed as too politically extreme by Big Pharma and other powerful commercial interests.

Given what is now at stake in the disintegrating global economy, leadership towards rational solutions to our problems from those such as yourself with established authority in their field has never been more needed. I hope you will not shrink from giving it through whatever medium you can.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Best regards

Harry Shutt

Ben Goldacre has not replied to Harry Shutt’s follow-up emails.

 

Power, Profit And The Law

Meanwhile, the Guardian published a positive review of Goldacre's book by Luisa Dillner who works for the British Medical Journal. She concurred with his assessment of 'how the $600bn drug industry, doctors, academics, regulators and medical journals have let patients down.'

How will Big Pharma respond to Goldacre's book? Dillner speculates:

'Drug companies may say that the problems he identifies have now disappeared. New rules insist they register the details of trials, and publish the results – whether negative or positive. But as Goldacre points out, little has really changed, because no one checks up.'

Like Goldacre, Dillner hopes that better, tougher regulation will fix things, adding weakly:

'At the BMJ we are revising our declarations of interest form to say we will seek [our emphasis] to work with doctors who have not received financial hand-outs from drug companies...'

Making it clear she doesn't want to push things too far, she adds:

'But pharmaceutical companies are, after all, not charities. They exist to make and sell drugs, some of which work well, and to make a profit for their shareholders.'

Which begs the question: why not charities or public ownership, as suggested by Shutt? Dillner herself points out that doctors do not like admitting that they could ever be influenced by corporate ads and sponsorship, 'even though the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.' And because they are not charities or publicly owned, and exist to make a private profit for shareholders, Big Pharma massively inflates the cost of developing new drugs. Companies claim that it costs £550m to bring a new drug to the market, but Goldacre cites evidence putting it at a quarter of that cost.

Nick Harvey reports in New Internationalist that:

'one-fifth of the world’s generic drugs – containing the same active ingredients as a patented drug but made by a different company at a fraction of the price – are made in India. As well as supplying India’s huge population, these drugs are shipped to poor countries around the world.'

Moreover, notes Harvey, the majority of global research and development funding is used to produce merely minor variations in existing drugs. This leads not only to high prices - indeed 'mammoth profits are generated by aggressive pricing' - but a dearth of genuinely new drugs.

Harvey adds:

'Countries are allowed by the World Trade Organization to produce generic drugs if there is a major public health imperative, a practice known as compulsory licensing. India issued its first compulsory licence in March, ordering German drugmaker Bayer to allow a generic manufacturer to make its cancer drug Nexavar (sorafenib) for one-thirtieth of the usual $5,000 price tag. India’s patent controller argued that not only had Bayer failed to make the drug "reasonably affordable", it had failed to supply the drug in large enough quantities, a decision Bayer is challenging in the courts.'

Novartis, another large drugs company, is also mounting a legal challenge in India to enable it to continue patenting 'new' drugs that are little different from existing drugs.

Big Pharma is abusing its power to attack a legal framework that allows generic drug production to benefit people, particular in poor countries. So again - why not charities or public ownership?

 

Who's Living In Cloud-Cuckoo Land?

In an astute piece on Goldacre’s published response to Shutt's first email, titled ‘Bad Pharma meets the Good Regulation Fairy’, one commentator started off by quoting the Slovenian cultural critic Slavoj Žižek:

‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

Goldacre’s evasive answer to Shutt illustrated that point. The author of the piece, a freelance journalist who maintains anonymity on his blog, rightly noted that Goldacre, in raising the spectre of a Soviet-style ‘central command economy’, was dismissive of Shutt’s perfectly reasonable challenge. Goldacre's riposte was ‘a very jaded straw man and definitely not what Shutt was advocating.’

The journalist continued:

‘This was followed, most bizarrely, by the assertion that people in the drugs industry perpetuate acts of great evil, not because they are innately evil, but because they work in a badly designed system. This is precisely what Shutt was saying – it’s a badly designed system, its acts are not the “fault” of the individuals working in it, so change the system. As an answer, that lacks something. It’s like saying 2+3 isn’t 5, it’s 5.’

Goldacre’s ineffectual rebuttal of Shutt's challenge boiled down to the good regulation fairy of a ‘competent regulatory framework’ to fend off rampant global capitalism. This displays a curious ideological faith in an inequitable system; curious, because it comes from a science writer and doctor who prides himself – usually with justification - on reliance on hard evidence and clear analysis.

The journalist then asks us to imagine the reaction if the state had been guilty of flooding hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries with dangerous or dysfunctional drugs. There would, of course, have been howls of outrage followed immediately by urgent and deafening demands for the privatisation of pharmaceuticals. That critics of the cynical, profit-driven and abusive practices of corporate drug companies call merely for better regulation provides a crucial insight into the dangerous imbalance of power in society. In his naive and faith-based appeal for a ‘competent regulatory framework’, Goldacre has overlooked the fundamental problem that western ‘democratic’ political systems are utterly dominated and skewed by destructive, profit-driven corporate priorities.

Given the failure of Goldacre’s imagination, the journalist suggests a thought experiment. Consider ‘an ideal world where the state sits benevolently above the fray and government regulation can do its job unimpeded. What would regulation actually do?’

'...competent and effective regulation will, if it does anything, radically reduce the number of pharmaceuticals that are allowed to go on the market. Thereby massively hitting drug company profits (they are currently the darlings of stock markets worldwide because they are so profitable) and, in turn, the number of people they employ.

‘Thus, you are soon face to face with a fundamental conflict of our capitalist system. An unavoidable collision between the impulse most decent people share for reducing the anti-social effects of capitalism, against the need for capitalism to prosper so that everyone can have good jobs and incomes. We are, whether we like it or not, materially dependent on the system’s success. But a successful system causes results, such as global warming and prescribing dangerous medicines, that are inherently destructive.’

He sums up cogently:

‘If regulation of the pharmaceutical industry were actually competent, as Goldacre wants it to be, it would prevent capitalism from working (actually it’s not working well anyway but effective regulation would be another drag on profits). A 2009 UN report found that a third of the profits of the world’s biggest 3,000 companies would be wiped out if firms were forced to pay for the use, loss and damage to the environment they cause. In other words, truly effective environmental regulation would render capitalism impossible.

‘So regulation is, quite deliberately, not effective. It allows, as research has found, just enough reform to buy off critics without seriously impeding corporate priorities. In the end, Goldacre’s vision of a “competent regulatory framework” is far more utopian than changing the system so that profit maximization is not the modus operandi of pharmaceutical companies.’

This is a devastating conclusion: it’s the would-be reformers who are living in cloud-cuckoo land. The same applies to other ‘mainstream’ journalists, activists and writers, on any number of topics, who are propping up the present unjust, unstable and planet-devouring system of global capitalism by calling merely for ‘better regulation’. Anything more challenging than this is well off the corporate media agenda. It is even off the agenda of the bulk of the green movement, trade unions, human rights groups and other major nongovernmental organisations that we are supposed to believe are challenging the status quo.

 

Cut To The Chase

As mentioned earlier, Ben Goldacre has still not responded to economist Harry Shutt’s polite and rational follow-up emails. Perhaps he realises the simple points made by Shutt are unassailable. This is not unusual in our experience. Challenging those with a platform in the corporate media about its failure – indeed, its systemic inability – to question the very framework of corporate capitalism in which it is embedded is routinely met with silence, evasions or even condescending brush-offs. Media Lens has seen them all, whether from The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Times or the Financial Times

Indeed, it was the Sunday Times economics editor who declared dismissively from his Murdoch-funded position that:

‘Most of us get these things out of our system when we are students.’

Well, undoubtedly he did; and perhaps with some residual feelings of regret or even guilt.

When the documentary film-maker Michael Moore was asked why he made his 2009 film, Capitalism: A Love Story, he responded:

‘Well, I’ve been making movies for about twenty years now. Actually, it’s twenty years ago this week Roger & Me was at the New York Film Festival. And the films I’ve done, from that one all the way through Sicko, always seem to come back to this central core concern, which is the economic system we have is unfair, it’s unjust, it’s not democratic, it seems to lack any sort of ethical center to it. And I guess I can keep making movies for another twenty years about the next General Motors or the next healthcare issue or whatever, but I thought I’d just kind of cut to the chase and propose that we deal with this economic system and try to restructure it in a way that benefits people and not the richest one percent.’

Our battle, then, is not for ‘reform’ or better ‘regulatory frameworks’ applied to a fundamentally unjust and undemocratic state of affairs. It’s about restructuring the economic system so that it benefits everyone and not just the rich few.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to Ben Goldacre, Bad Science website. 

Email: ben@badscience.net

Twitter: @bengoldacre

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 23 Oct 2012 08:03:29 +0000
'But' Or 'And'? Reporting Chavez, Obama, Biden, Miliband, Cameron http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/701-but-or-and-reporting-chavez-obama-biden-miliband-cameron.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/701-but-or-and-reporting-chavez-obama-biden-miliband-cameron.html

 

By: David Edwards

 

Liberal journalism is balanced, neutral and objective, except when it’s not. A BBC news report on Hugo Chavez’s latest election triumph in Venezuela commented:

'Mr Chavez said Venezuela would continue its march towards socialism but also vowed he would be a “better president”.’ (Our emphasis. The article was subsequently amended, although the 'but' remains)

The ‘but’ revealed the BBC's perception of a conflict between Venezuela’s ‘march towards socialism’ and Chavez becoming a ‘better president’. Despite the appearance of neutral reporting, the ‘but’ snarled at both Chavez and socialism.

A second BBC article described Chavez as ‘one of the most visible, vocal and controversial leaders in Latin America’.

Another found him a 'colourful and often controversial figure on the international stage'.

Is Chavez more ‘controversial’ than war—fighting leaders like Bush, Blair, Brown, Obama and Cameron? How many tens or hundreds of thousands of people has Chavez killed? Imagine the BBC reporting: ‘David Cameron is an often controversial figure on the international stage.’ In fact the term is reserved for enemies of the West.

The same bias is found in editorials that often express, or reflect, the passionately partisan views of owners and editors. In 1997, the Independent proclaimed that Tony Blair’s election victory ‘bursts open the door to a British transformation’ to a ‘freer land’. (Neal Ascherson, ‘Through the door he can begin to create a freer land,’ The Independent, May 4, 1997)

For the editors of the Guardian, Blair’s triumph was ‘one of the great turning-points of British political history... the moment when Britain at last gave itself the chance to construct a modern liberal socialist order.’ (Ibid)

If that wasn’t enough, the Observer described how Blair would create ‘new worldwide rules on human rights’, no less, and enforce ‘tough new limits on arms sales’. Blair, Jack Straw (foreign secretary from 2001-2006) and others would make this part of a new, ‘ethical’ foreign policy.

In his newly published autobiography, Last Man Standing, Straw ‘dismisses an “ethical foreign policy” as an “unhelpful” label’, Peter Wilby notes. Was that all it meant to him? Wilby explains:

‘The abiding principle of Straw's life is that Labour should be in power. What it should use power for is something he hardly seems to think about.’

It turns out that Straw was famous among his peers for his ‘guile and low cunning’. But when it mattered, the press were happy to mistake that ‘low cunning’ for impassioned sincerity. In 2001, the Guardian editors commented on a speech by Blair:

‘The core of the speech - intellectual as well as moral - came when he contrasted the west's commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the terrorists' proven wish to cause as many civilian casualties as possible, a point which Jack Straw followed up powerfully in the Commons yesterday. Let them do their worst, we shall do our best, as Churchill put it. That is still a key difference.’ (Leading article, 'Blair plays it cooler - A new tone, but few new answers,' The Guardian, October 31, 2001)

The reality was rather less heroic, as Wilby observes:

‘The big philosophical issues of politics… are scarcely on Straw's radar. Big pictures and big ideas are not for him. His habit is to amble along in roughly the same direction as everyone else.’

The direction, in 2001, was the killing of 100,000s of people, the devastation of entire nations.

Responding to Barack Obama's victory in 2008, a Guardian leader again exulted:

‘Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America's hope and, in no small way, ours too.’

In the Guardian news section, Oliver Burkeman appeared to be hyperventilating through tears of happiness:

‘Just being alive at a time when it's so evident that history is being made was elating and exhausting...’

Obama has certainly been making history in the Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan. Waziristan is not being hit with occasional drone strikes; it is being subjected to permanent drone siege. Ahmed Wali Mujeeb writes on the BBC website:

‘The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound.

‘“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can't sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan.

‘“It's like a blind man's stick - it can hit anybody at any time.”

‘Wali Mujeeb commented: “Everybody believes they could be next.”’

Noam Chomsky summarises Obama’s 'historic' policy shift:

‘If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.’

Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald notes that Obama’s ‘claimed right to target even American citizens for extrajudicial assassinations, without a whiff of transparency or oversight, is as radical a power as any seized by George Bush and Dick Cheney’.

The reality for voters asked to choose between Obama and Mitt Romney in November’s presidential election is that ‘they have no discernible differences when it comes to any of the underlying policies’.

The media response to Obama’s ‘historic’ election was a lie.

 

Great Speech - No Content

In similar vein, consider the media reaction to a recent speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband. Influential columnist Polly Toynbee set the tone with a Guardian article entitled: ‘Ed Miliband's breathtaking bravura and a One Nation stroke of genius.’

For Toynbee, the speech was another historic moment:

‘That was it: the day Ed Miliband wiped the smile off Conservative faces. With breathtaking bravura he held the hall rapt. No autocue, at ease, personal and passionate... It was the day Miliband's private qualities at last turned into public strengths: not just brainy but funny, likable and an unashamed egalitarian to the core of his being.’

Notice, we are so far focused on Miliband’s personal qualities and the lack of an autocue (he spoke without notes). Toynbee continued:

‘One Nation Labour is a stroke of genius, one short phrase finally burying the shifty uncertainty about how to escape the difficult legacies of both Blair and Brown. Not Old Labour, not New Labour, but One Nation Labour.’

A propaganda phrase, pilfered from the Old Tories by the New Tories was the big story. The BBC unwittingly revealed the true extent to which this ‘stroke of genius’ merited celebration when it reminded readers that the phrase was ‘normally associated with moderate Tories’. Democratic choice in Britain is now limited to ‘moderate Tories’ or less moderate Tories. The BBC noted that Miliband had thus ‘attempted to snatch the centre ground of British politics’, blithely contradicting its own implication that Labour had shifted to the right.

The Guardian’s Jackie Ashley also celebrated the triumph, as did Simon Hoggart. A Guardian leader agreed: ‘his speech was certainly that of an unusually able person.’ Moreover: ‘He said what he meant and he meant what he said. You cannot ask more of a leader than that.’

Tragicomically, former New Statesman political editor, Mehdi Hasan, now writing for the Huffington Post, was above all impressed by the fact that Miliband had ‘produced a powerful and passionate 65-minute speech, without notes… There was not a lectern or autocue in sight. Journalists weren’t offered the traditional mid-speech hard-copy transcript: there wasn’t one to offer.’ Hasan mentioned the amazing lack of notes no less than seven times in his 800-word piece.

So what did the speech have to say about looming catastrophic climate change, our political and economic thraldom to corporate power, the West’s addiction to Permanent War, the general insanity of global capitalism, and so on? Hasan’s answer:

‘Forget content and policy; this wasn’t supposed to be that sort of speech.’

A Guardian leader confirmed the observation:

‘There were relatively few specifics in Mr Miliband's speech… That's fair enough. This is not yet the moment for details.’

Instead, Miliband's speech offered: ‘A vision of a Britain where patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out...’ and so on.

 

 

Compassionate Boasts

The same is true of the US presidential race where ‘Personality quirks and trivialities about the candidates dominate coverage, and voter choices, leaving little room for substantive debates.’

In the first Obama/Romney debate, neither candidate mentioned the greatest threat of our time, catastrophic climate change. British prime minister David Cameron also ignored the issue in his recent conference speech; as did the Guardian in listing ‘Five things that were left out of David Cameron's speech.’

Cameron argued that ‘it's not enough to know our ideas are right - we've got to explain why they are compassionate too’; a key goal for ‘the modern compassionate Conservative party, who are the real champions of fighting poverty in Britain today’. This recalled comments made by George Bush Snr in his inaugural address in 1989. Shortly before devastating Central America and Iraq, Bush declared:

'America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world. My friends, we have work to do.’

Compassion, famously of course, is also a major theme for Obama’s Democrats. In his vice presidential debate with Republican contender Paul Ryan, Joe Biden boasted of the catastrophic impact of US-led sanctions on Iran:

'These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period.'

Biden added:

'The ayatollah sees his economy being crippled... He sees the currency going into the tank. He sees the economy going into freefall.’

Perhaps Biden would have spoken with more humility if he had remembered the impressive performance of US-led sanctions on Iraq from 1990-2003, which resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 children under five. To be fair to Biden, the current sanctions are killing people. The New York Times reports:

‘When he joined Iran’s state airline in 1983, its fleet of Boeings and Airbuses was in mint technical condition. Whenever he walked down the gate toward his plane, black Aviator sunglasses under his pilot’s cap, Captain Shahbazi said, he would swell with pride and confidence.

‘But after 17 years of United States sanctions that have prevented the Islamic Republic from buying new Western planes and spare parts, he said he now felt ashamed before his passengers and angry over American policies, which he said, were responsible for Iranian plane crashes that have left more than 1,700 passengers and crew members dead.’

The Guardian fills in some background:

‘Western sanctions are compounding the country's economic woes, sending the national currency into a nosedive and making dollars hard to come by. The situation has worsened significantly in recent months; the latest US and EU sanctions on Tehran came into effect in July. As a result, the prices of chicken, milk, cheese, bread, sugar and yogurt, among other staples, are now rising almost every day.’

The results:

‘Among those bearing the brunt of the crisis are patients and hospitals reliant on currency for imported medicines and foreign-based services. Iran's Haemophilia Society, for example, has blamed the sanctions for risking thousands of children's lives due to a lack of proper drugs.’

The journalist moderating the Biden/Ryan debate, CNN’s Martha Raddatz, commented of Iran that ‘there's really no bigger national security... [threat?] this country is facing’. If we accept the baseless claim that climate change is a fantasy, then this is indeed correct, although Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has indicated the level of sanity:

‘But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.’

And of course Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers, not least Israel with its several hundred warheads. No matter, perspective is something no-one should expect from the corporate press anytime soon.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Steve Herrmann, editor BBC News website

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Polly Toynbee at the Guardian

Email: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk

Mehdi Hasan at Huffington Post via Twitter

@mehdirhasan

Write to us at Media Lens: editor@medialens.org

Helen Boaden, head of BBC News.

Email: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 16 Oct 2012 06:02:57 +0000
The Ice Melts Into Water http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/700-the-ice-melts-into-water-sp-288431020.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/700-the-ice-melts-into-water-sp-288431020.html

Arctic Ice Melt, Psychopathic Capitalism And The Corporate Media

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

 

Last month, climate scientists announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to its smallest surface area since satellite observations began in 1979. An ice-free summer in the Arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible just a few decades from now. Some scientists say it may happen within the next few years.

The loss is hugely significant because Arctic sea ice reflects most solar energy into space, helping to keep the Earth at a moderate temperature. But when the ice melts it reveals dark waters below, which absorb more than 90 per cent of the solar energy that hits them, leading to faster warming both locally and globally.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, warns that the Arctic may be ice-free in summer as soon as 2015. Such a massive loss would have a warming effect roughly equivalent to all human activity to date. In other words, a summer ice-free Arctic could double the rate of warming of the planet as a whole. No wonder that leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen says bluntly: ‘We are in a planetary emergency.’

In a comprehensive blog piece on the Scientific American website, Ramez Naam points out that:

‘The reality of changes to the Arctic has far outstripped most predictions. Only a few years ago, in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the bulk of models showed the Arctic ice cap surviving in summer until well past 2100. Now it’s not clear that the ice will survive in summer past 2020. The level of sea ice we saw this September, in 2012, wasn’t expected by the mean of IPCC models until 2065. The melting Arctic has outpaced the predictions of almost everyone – everyone except the few who were called alarmists.’

As well as global warming from carbon dioxide (CO2), there is the additional risk of warming from methane (CH4) being released into the atmosphere. Huge quantities of methane are locked up in land permafrost. But even vaster quantities exist as methane hydrates frozen below the shallow waters of the Arctic Ocean’s continental shelves. Naam warns:

'If even 10% of the northern permafrost’s buried carbon were released as methane, it would have a heating effect over the next decade equivalent to ten times all human greenhouse emissions to date, and over the next century equivalent to roughly four times all human greenhouse emissions to date.'

That's just the methane on land, trapped in the permafrost. If the methane hydrates buried on the Arctic continental shelves were to be released, that would have a warming effect equivalent to hundreds of times the total human carbon emissions to date.

Although Namm says 'we are probably not in danger of a methane time bomb going off any time soon', recent observations show that Arctic methane is being released into the atmosphere. And there is scientific controversy over how serious and how rapid this release is.

In summary, Naam points to a triple whammy effect:

1. Warming from the greenhouse gases we are currently emitting.

2. Warming from the loss of ice and permafrost in the Arctic, and the exposure of dark water and dark land below.

3. Warming from the release of more carbon into the atmosphere as the permafrost and the Arctic sea floor methane begin to melt.

The situation is already dire. According to a new report commissioned by twenty governments, more than 100 million people will die by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change. Five million deaths already occur each year from air pollution, hunger and disease as a result of climate change and carbon-intensive economies. This death toll would likely rise to six million a year by 2030 if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue. More than 90 per cent of those deaths will occur in developing countries.

On a sane planet, action would have been taken long before now to limit the risk. But, as Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo notes, fossil fuel industries have been working hard to corrupt the political process:

‘Why our governments don't take action? Because they have been captured by the same interests of the energy industry.’

As we noted in an alert last year, a Greenpeace study titled Who's Holding Us Back? reported:

'The corporations most responsible for contributing to climate change emissions and profiting from those activities are campaigning to increase their access to international negotiations and, at the same time, working to defeat progressive legislation on climate change and energy around the world.'

Greenpeace added:

‘These polluting corporations often exert their influence behind the scenes, employing a variety of techniques, including using trade associations and think tanks as front groups; confusing the public through climate denial or advertising campaigns; making corporate political donations; as well as making use of the "revolving door" between public servants and carbon-intensive corporations.’

Unsurprisingly then, meaningful action on tackling climate change is nowhere on the political agenda.

 

Drilling To Oblivion

Around the same time that a record low in Arctic sea ice was being recorded, a new report from the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee urged a halt to all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, at least 'until new safeguards are put in place.' Committee chair Joan Walley MP said:

'The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast. Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves.'

Caroline Lewis, member of the committee, warned that ‘the race to carve up the Arctic is accelerating faster than our regulatory or technical capacity to manage it.’

But the record of corporate capitalismshows that powerful industrial forces will do all they can to lobby governments to allow for continued economic exploitation of the planet’s resources. According to the US Geological Survey, within the Arctic Circle there are some 90 billion barrels of oil - 13 per cent of the planet's undiscovered oil reserves - and 30 per cent of its undiscovered natural gas. The race for corporate profits is now on, with Shell already committed to a ‘multi-year exploration program’ in the Arctic.

The receding Arctic ice is a 'business opportunity' for those wishing to exploit newly available shipping routes. Cargo that now goes via the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal will, in many cases, have a shorter Arctic route, ensuring ‘efficiency savings’ for big business.

Companies are also licking their lips at the prospect at getting their hands on vast deposits of minerals as Greenland’s ice cap recedes.

‘For me, I wouldn’t mind if the whole ice cap disappears,’ said Ole Christiansen, the chief executive of NunamMinerals, Greenland’s largest homegrown mining company, with his eyes on a proposed gold mining site up the fjord from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. ‘As it melts, we’re seeing new places with very attractive geology.’

A good example of the psychopathic mind-set at the heart of corporate capitalism. Science writer Peter Gleick responded incredulously on Twitter: '25 foot sea rise?' For that is indeed the catastrophic scale of global sea level rise that would occur with the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

 

The BBC Parks The Problem

The BBC’s extremely poor and biased coverage of climate change continues to dismay seasoned observers. As Verity Payne and Freya Roberts noted on The Carbon Brief website, the corporation’s ‘fondness for pitting non-experts against each other over particularly complex areas of climate science reached surreal heights’ in a recent BBC2 Newsnight segment on Arctic sea ice loss. The encounter between Conservative MP Peter Lilley and the Green Party’s new leader Natalie Bennett eventually degenerated into an argument over the merits of locally-sourced food. Payne and Roberts concluded:

‘It's hard to understand how, over a year after the BBC Trust reviewed the corporation's science coverage, paying particular attention to topics such as climate change, this is what we end up with.’

In fact, the BBC's awful performance is not that much of a mystery. The corporation has always been a reliable supporter of state and corporate power. But particularly since the fallout from reporting the government’s ‘sexing-up’ of discredited claims about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, when heads rolled at the BBC, the broadcaster has been at pains not to offend the government and allied interests. Its abysmal failure to inform the British public of the coalition’s effective dismantling of the National Health Service is another key example.

According to former BBC correspondent and editor Mark Brayne, who was privy to internal editorial discussions in 2010, the BBC has ‘explicitly parked climate change in the category “Done That Already, Nothing New to Say”.’ Brayne added:

‘On climate change, that BBC journalistic urgency to be seen to be fair now means, after a period between Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and the disaster of [the 2009 UN Climate Summit in] Copenhagen when global warming was everywhere in the output, that the Corporation has been bending over backwards to reflect the opposite, sceptical view.’

Consider the analogy of two men at a bar, says Brayne. One man claims that two plus two equals four, and the other that two plus two equals six. The BBC solution to this disagreement? ‘Put them both on the Today Programme, and the answer clearly lies somewhere in the middle.’

The Today programme, BBC Radio 4’s ‘agenda-setting’ morning programme, is a serial offender when it comes to irresponsible climate coverage. On July 13 this year, veteran interviewer John Humphrys interviewed Ralph Cicerone, president of the US National Academy of Sciences. Part of the interview went like this:

JH:  ‘But to say nearly every spot on the globe has warmed significantly over the past 30 years and indeed the entire planet is warming is different from saying it's going to continue to warm to such an extent that we have to spend vast and unimaginable amounts of money to protect ourselves against a catastrophe that many people, some distinguished scientists say, isn't actually proven.’

RC: ‘Well of course the way you've worded it, it was quite strong; "vast and unimaginable sums of money", I don't think I've heard anybody make such a proposal.’

Moments later, Humphrys made the idiotic assertion that:

‘You can’t absolutely prove that CO2 in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming.’

As climate writers Christian Hunt and Ros Donald put it politely:

‘If the Today programme brought this level of research and preparation to interviewing politicians, it probably wouldn't be taken particularly seriously.’

In fact, the standard of political debate on Today, as with the rest of BBC News, is on a similarly appalling level: routinely tilted towards state-corporate power, and all at public expense.

Meanwhile, BBC News happily chunters along issuing a stream of articles and broadcasts about Britain’s ‘dreadful weather’ this year and how it has, for example, ‘cost rural Britain £1bn’ in lost income. But you would be hard pressed to find any links drawn between this and human-induced climate change.

 

Guarding The Mythology Of 'Feeble Response'

Greens like to flock to the Guardian almost as though it were the house paper of the environment movement. One recent Guardian editorial noted that: ‘pessimists in the climate change community warn that within the next century global mean temperatures could rise by 6C. A fierce, sustained drought in the US, with 170 all-time US heat records broken in June alone, has already hurt world food stocks.’

These are important points. But given the observed rapid changes in the Arctic under global warming, the Guardian’s pejorative use of ‘pessimists’ should probably be replaced with ‘realists’. The Guardian continued:

‘The global response to these signals of potential calamity has so far been feeble.’

This hugely understates the problem. But, even more damning, it diverts attention from root causes. As mentioned earlier, huge vested interests have mounted decades-long campaigns of disinformation, fierce lobbying and intimidation to subvert and bully governments into (a) avoiding what needs to be done in the face of climate chaos; and (b) providing tax breaks, subsidies and other measures to enhance rapacious corporate practices under the guise of boosting economic ‘growth’ and ‘job creation’ (newspeak terms for corporate profits).

Senior Guardian editorial staff seem unable to move beyond the same anodyne waffle they have been publishing for thirty years:

‘Britain's “greenest government ever” has shown what it thinks of scientific evidence, by placing a homeopathic medicine enthusiast in charge of the National Health Service, and a reputed climate sceptic as environment secretary. The outlook is not promising.’

The Guardian has almost nothing to say about the deep-rooted changes required to redress the imbalance of power in society; or about its own role in pushing climate-damaging policies and practices. The Guardian is a corporate newspaper dependent on advertisers for around 70 per cent of its income. Put simply, like other corporate media, it is part of the problem.

 

Media Malpractice - Challenging The Decline In Coverage

In the US, climate blogger Joe Romm notes that the decline in corporate media climate coverage has been well documented, both in print and the evening news. Bill Blakemore of ABC News observes that a number of the climate scientists ‘are perplexed by — and in some cases furious with — American news directors.’ Blakemore elucidates:

‘“Malpractice!” is typical of the charges this reporter has heard highly respected climate experts level — privately, off the record — at my professional colleagues over the past few years.

‘Complaints include what seems to the scientists a willful omission of overwhelming evidence the new droughts and floods are worsened by man made global warming, and unquestioning repetition, gullible at best, of transparent anti-science propaganda credibly reported to be funded by fossil fuel interests and anti-regulation allies.’

Blakemore adds that he has spoken with climate scientists who ‘agree with those, including NASA scientist James Hansen, who charge that fossil fuel CEOs are guilty of a “crime against humanity,” given the calamity that unregulated greenhouse emissions are quickly bringing on.’ With 100 million deaths from global warming predicted by 2030, the charge is no hyperbole. Indeed this surely represents the greatest crime in all human history. And yet governments and big business, shielded by the corporate media, are getting away with it.

It probably comes as no surprise that the worst US media offenders belong to the Murdoch stable. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that Fox News had been 'misleading' viewers about climate science in 93 per cent of primetime programmes that addressed the subject over a six-month period in 2012. Fox News hosts and guests ‘mocked and disparaged statements from scientists and drowned out genuine scientific assertions with cherry-picked data and false claims.’ The opinion pages of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal performed slightly better: only 81 per cent of the examples studied were misleading, according to the UCS analysis. Similar surveys of the UK media are sorely needed. And, more to the point, action taken to challenge this corporate media complicity in history's premier crime.

We have to re-examine our assumptions about what might be most effective in changing things for the better. For years, left and green activists have argued that we should work with corporate media to reach a wider public. For a long time the argument may have seemed unassailable. But after decades of accelerating planetary devastation and rapidly declining democracy, the argument has weakened to the point of collapse. By a process of carefully rationed corporate 'inclusion', the honesty, vitality and truth of environmentalism have been corralled, contained, trivialised and stifled.

Corporate media 'inclusion' of dissent has deceived the public with the illusion of openness and change, while business-as-usual has taken us very far in the opposite direction. Ironically, meek 'cooperation' has handed influence and control to the very forces seeking to disempower dissent. And in the absence of serious left/green criticism, corporate media performance has actually deteriorated.

Why should progressives help this system sell the illusion that the corporate media offers a ‘wide spectrum of views’ when its biased output overwhelmingly and inevitably promotes Permanent War for resources and war on the planet? The corporate media must be confronted with the reality of what it is, and what it has done. It is vital that this be highlighted to the public it has been deceiving.

While the power of the internet remains relatively open, there is a brief window to free ourselves from the shackles of the corporate media and to build something honest, radical and publicly accountable. Climate crisis is already upon us, with much worse likely to come. The stakes almost literally could not be higher.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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.

Write to:

Helen Boaden, head of BBC News.

Email: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk

Fraser Steel, Head of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit.

Email: fraser.steel@bbc.co.uk

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor.

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

John Vidal, Guardian environment editor.

Email: john.vidal@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @john_vidal

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 02 Oct 2012 05:42:13 +0000
US Consulate Killings - Spontaneous Religious Or Planned Political? http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/697-us-consulate-killings-spontaneous-religious-or-planned-political.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/697-us-consulate-killings-spontaneous-religious-or-planned-political.html

 

By: David Edwards

 

On September 11, four Americans, including the US ambassador, were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The following day, the BBC's Lunchtime News reported that the killings were part of 'disturbances' which were 'linked to an anti-Islamic video' (BBC News, September 12, 2012). The BBC's News at Six explained that the US ambassador was killed 'in a protest'. This was mild language indeed given that the consulate had been attacked with assault rifles, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. (According to the New York Times, two US security guards were killed by mortar fire).

We can easily imagine the BBC reaction if the killings had happened under Gaddafi, Chavez or some other official enemy. The favoured adjective, 'terrorist', would surely have made an early appearance.

How to explain the BBC's response? The key, of course, is that the current Libyan government owes its existence to Western military intervention. It achieved power because the West exploited UN resolution 1973, which authorised a 'no-fly zone', as an excuse to bomb Gaddafi's forces to defeat. The 'no-fly zone' in fact became a 'no-drive zone' for one side of the conflict. As so often, the BBC was taking its cue from Washington and Downing Street. Obama expressed 'appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government and people in responding to this outrageous attack... This attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya'.

Like most other media, the BBC instantly concluded that the 'protest' and killings were expressions of religious rather than political anger. As late as September 22, the BBC reported: 'The attack on the US consulate was triggered by an amateur video made in the US which mocks Islam.'

In similar vein, Julian Borger wrote an article in the Guardian under the title: 'How anti-Islamic movie sparked lethal assault on US consulate in Libya.' Kim Sengupta commented in the Independent:

'The US ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff were killed in an attack by an armed mob which stormed the country's consulate in Benghazi in a furious protest over an American film mocking the Prophet Mohammed.'

How, the world asked, could any sane human being kill over a second-rate film, over the idea that a religion had been insulted? Reasonable questions. On the other hand, one might ask how anyone could kill or die for a flag, or an idea like 'the Homeland/Fatherland/Motherland', or for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Subsequent reporting suggested that the initial media consensus blaming a provocative film was false. The Telegraph noted:

'A security guard wounded in the attack... has insisted it was a planned assault by Islamist fighters, and not a protest that got out of hand.

'The guard, who works for a British firm, said there was no demonstration over a controversial anti-Islamic film before extremists stormed the compound in the eastern city of Benghazi.'

Matthew Olsen, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: 'I would say [the four Americans] were killed in the course of a terrorist attack.'

Olsen added:

'A number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. We are looking as well at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaida or al Qaida's affiliates, including al Qaida in the Maghreb.'

US Senator Joe Lieberman also questioned the US regime's assertion that the attack was spontaneous:

'I will tell you based on the briefings I have had, I have come to the opposite conclusion and agree with the president of Libya that this was a premeditated, planned attack that was associated with the... anniversary of 9/11. I just don't think people come to protest equipped with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and other heavy weapons.'

Between June and August in Benghazi, there had been bomb, grenade and RPG attacks on the US consulate, the UK ambassador's motorcade, the Tunisian consulate, and the local headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with leafleted warnings of more to come. CNN reported that Chris Stevens was 'worried about what he called the never-ending security threats' and 'mentioned his name was on an al Qaeda hit list'.

The attack also gave an insight into the US role in the country it helped 'liberate'. The New York Times observed:

'Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.'

Their role in a Libya that we are told is 'free' and 'independent':

'American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of Colonel Qaddafi's forces; they aided in efforts to secure Libya's chemical weapons stockpiles; and they helped train Libya's new intelligence service, officials said.'

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, evidence that the attack was a carefully planned, politically-motivated attack, rather than a spontaneous eruption of religious ire, is the wrong kind of news for the many supporters of Nato's intervention in Libya:

'Critics of the war in Libya warned that the US was siding with (and arming and empowering) violent extremists, including al-Qaida elements, that would eventually cause the US to claim it had to return to Libya to fight against them – just as its funding and arming of Saddam in Iraq and the mujahideen in Afghanistan subsequently justified new wars against those one-time allies.'

The truth of the attack 'underscores how unstable, lawless and dangerous Libya has become'. Indeed, as we noted in July, the media did an excellent job of burying an Amnesty International report which described 'the mounting toll of victims of an increasingly lawless Libya, where the transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to rein in the hundreds of militias formed during and after the 2011 conflict'.

This post-intervention mayhem is something supporters of Western intervention are naturally keen to hide – focus on a 'mocking' film has served the purpose.

 

'Killing US Embassy Staff Is Cool' – The Media Lens View, Obviously

David Aaronovitch of The Times shared the standard view that religious fanatics had attacked the embassy, adding:

'Protesters protest. We need another word for people who want to storm buildings and burn them down.'

Perhaps we also need another word for Aaronovitch. He wrote in 2003:

'Kosovo was, most of us agree, "worth it". Worth it even though we hit the train on the bridge at Leskovac, killing 10, and the refugee convoy at Prizren in Kosovo which slaughtered more than 70. "Worth it" to both Robin Cook (then foreign secretary) and me. As was the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 or, in Afghanistan, the infamous missile attack on the gun-toting wedding party.'

After we sent a tweet noting Aaronovitch's own enthusiasm for embassy burning, a small number of readers challenged him. His response:

'I couldn't work out where the trickle of "killing US embassy staff is cool" Twitter dickheads was coming from. Then medialens tweeted.'

To his credit, Glenn Greenwald - who had begun following us on Twitter a few days earlier – spoke up in our defence (a rare occurrence for a high-profile mainstream journalist), observing that Aaronovitch had 'just smeared @medialens with a lie' and 'a wretched falsehood'.

Greenwald wrote to us: 'You are really deeper in the heads of the British establishment-serving commentariat than anyone else - congrats.'

On Twitter, he noted that we had in fact challenged political analyst Sharmine Narwani on the same point after she had asked:

'100s of 1,000s of Arabs & Muslims slaughtered by American troops. Tell me again why I should care about whatshisname-plus-three? #Libya.'

We responded: 'Because all suffering is equal.' (David Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

Narwani missed the point, replying: 'If it were equal, the NYTimes would cover dead Arabs every day...uoften dead b/c of US policies.'

We wrote back:

'That's right - they certainly don't see suffering as equal. I'm saying that's our reason for caring about all, including those 4.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We never quite get used to the jaw-dropping cynicism of the smears flung at us by Aaronovitch et al. Anyone who has read even a small sample of what we have written knows that we would never endorse the idea that 'killing US embassy staff is cool' (Aaronovitch is certainly familiar with our work; he once urged one of us to meet with him, insisting: 'I'm not that bad.').

We had earlier written on Twitter:

'Terrible when anyone dies (so many have suffered in Libya), but notice the very particular shock and horror when the Empire is struck.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We expanded on this in a tweet quoted by Greenwald in his Guardian column:

'A crucial task is to perceive how our compassion is channelled towards some and away from others. It's the foundation of all mass violence.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We were obviously arguing against the idea that the US consulate deaths were 'cool' and in favour of equalised compassion for all.

Greenwald commented: 'There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.'

A key focus of our work over the last decade has been to show how media bias reinforces this 'hierarchy of human life'. It plays a crucial role in fuelling the barbarism of our world.

Aaronovitch responded to Greenwald's expression of support for Media Lens, reminding him we were 'Kooks', before adding his perception of the likely consequences for Greenwald's reputation: 'Your funeral.'

In conclusion, Aaronovitch advised Greenwald: 'One last piece of information. You have signed up alongside the stupidest and most extreme section of the British left. Enjoy.'

But, someone asked, surely Greenwald was aware that Media Lens 'deny Serbian atrocities' (we do not). Did he not agree that these accusations were accurate? Greenwald replied: 'I didn't follow their views on that at the time, but from what I've seen since: false.'

Prize-winning former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, commented:

'David Aaronovitch's Twitter comment "Your funeral" to Glenn Greenwald was exceptionally revealing, didn't you think? Among other things, it suggested not only that he sees the UK liberal media as an exclusive old boys' club - and he's not wrong about that, it seems – but that he regards himself as the president of it. Would that make [The Observer's] Nick Cohen the treasurer, and [The Observer's] Peter Beaumont the receptionist?' (Email to Media Lens, September 14, 2012)

So what are we to make of the media's reflexive tendency to report and accept the claims of power at face value, and even to adopt the exact same tone in responding to controversial events? Do we at Media Lens imagine that senior editors and journalists sit around conspiring to deceive the public?

The truth is much more prosaic and even more disturbing. Establishment bias is built into the very structure, the very DNA, of professional journalism. Robert McChesney and John Nichols explain in their book Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press, 2005):

'Professional journalism places a premium on legitimate news stories based upon what people in power say and do. The appeal is clear. It removes the tinge of controversy from story selection – "Hey, the Governor said it so we had to cover it" – and it makes journalism less expensive: Simply place reporters near people in power and have them report on what is said and done. It also gives journalism a very conventional feel, as those in power have a great deal of control over what gets covered and what does not. Reporting often turns into dictation as journalists are loathe to antagonize their sources, depending upon them as they do for stories.'

No conspiracy theory is required – the corporate system naturally tends to generate conformity across the media 'spectrum'.

 

Suggested Action

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.

Write to David Aaronovitch on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DAaronovitch

@DAaronovitch

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 25 Sep 2012 07:56:46 +0000
Why Are We The Good Guys? http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/695-why-are-we-the-good-guys.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/695-why-are-we-the-good-guys.html

 

Reclaiming Your Mind From The Delusions of Propaganda

By David Cromwell

 

One of the unspoken assumptions of the Western world is that ‘we’ are great defenders of human rights, a free press and the benefits of market economics. Mistakes might be made along the way, perhaps even tragic errors of judgement such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the prevailing view is that 'the West' is essentially a force for good in the wider world. Why Are We The Good Guys? is a provocative challenge to this false ideology. The book digs beneath standard accounts of crucial issues such as foreign policy, climate change and the constant struggle between state-corporate power and genuine democracy.

Analysis of these pressing issues today is leavened by some of the formative experiences that led the author to question the basic myth of Western benevolence: from schoolroom experiments in democracy, exposure to radical ideas at home, and a mercy mission while at sea; to an unexpected encounter with former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the struggles to publish hard-hitting journalism, and the founding of Media Lens in 2001.

Historian Mark Curtis, the ground-breaking exposer of previously secret government files in books such as Web of Deceit and Unpeople, welcomes the publication of the book:

‘This book is truly essential reading, focusing on one of the key issues, if not THE issue, of our age: how to recognise the deep, everyday brainwashing to which we are subjected, and how to escape from it. This book brilliantly exposes the extent of media disinformation, and does so in a compelling and engaging way.’

Dr John Robertson, Reader in Media Politics at the University of West Scotland, says:

‘This is a tremendously comprehensive review of all the ways in which mainstream Western media distort our view of reality in the key context of foreign affairs. With a particular emphasis on the Middle East but with good historical depth rooting understanding in US policy after World War II, Cromwell does an excellent job of organising a wide range of evidence, neglected by our media, yet fundamental to any meaningful understanding of our deeply embedded bad faith. The bad faith, which enables our media and many of its consumers to think that we are “the good guys”. This is an ideal introduction for any reader and, also, is a very useful source for students in schools, colleges and universities.’

And John Pilger, the renowned journalist and documentary maker, says:

‘One of the beacons in a politically dark world is the light cast by a moral few who analyse and reveal how journalism works in the cause of power. David Cromwell has pride of place in this company. Every member of the public and every journalist with an ounce of scepticism about authority should read his outstanding book.’

What follows are adapted extracts from the book.

 

The Golden Rule Of State Violence

One of the cardinal principles of Western elites is that ‘we’ are, by definition, ‘the good guys’ and anyone ‘we’ attack are ‘the bad guys’. You could say that the golden rule of Western state violence is: terrorism is what they do; counterterrorism is what we do.

It is, of course, fine for journalists in the West to point to the crimes of official enemies, and to mock them for their transparent propaganda efforts. Thus, the BBC’s Emily Maitlis was able to introduce Newsnight with a touch of sardonic wit: ‘Hello, good evening. The Russians are calling it a “peace enforcement operation”. It’s the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.’

Maitlis was referring to the invasion of Russian forces into the Georgian province of South Ossetia in August 2008. By contrast, it would be inconceivable for a BBC presenter to refer sceptically to the West’s invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya as a ‘peace enforcement operation’, and to describe such language as ‘the kind of newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.’

Corporate media reporting of the global financial and economic crisis of recent years fits the same biased pattern. From the perspective of power, it is important that a steadying hand is applied to the tiller of news and commentary on the crisis, as well as the global economy itself. The liberal media has its role to play in shoring up public confidence in a discredited, unjust system.

In the Guardian’s comment pages, star columnist Jonathan Freedland was permitted to express a glimmer of dissent in 2008, near the start of the current crisis. ‘Turbo-capitalism is not just unfair,’ he wrote, ‘it is dishonest and dangerous.’ He pleaded: ‘surely this is the moment when Labour and the centre-left can dare to question the neoliberal dogma that has prevailed since the days of Thatcher.’

Freedland’s dissection of the crisis was limited at best, timidly suggesting that ‘you could argue’ that ‘capitalism is always [...] parasitical on the state.’ What he called for was a kinder, gentler form of capitalism instead of the ‘turbo-capitalism’ which is happy to rely ‘on us, the public, and our instrument, the state, when it gets in trouble.’ Thin on details, he concluded weakly: ‘Now we should demand a say the rest of the time, too.’ It was grim fare indeed.

Economist Harry Shutt, author of several books including The Trouble with Capitalism (Zed Books, London, 1998/2009), notes astutely that one of the most striking features of the ongoing crisis is: ‘the uniformly superficial nature of the analysis of its causes presented by mainstream observers, whether government officials, academics or business representatives.’ This applies very much to journalists too, not least in the liberal media.

Shutt continues:

‘Thus it is commonly stated that the crisis was caused by a combination of imprudent investment by bankers and others [...] and unduly lax official regulation and supervision of markets. Yet the obvious question begged by such explanations – of how or why such a dysfunctional climate came to be created – is never addressed in any serious fashion.’

 

 

The Marshall Plan: Myth and Actuality

And then, of course, someone will pop up with a counter example; something that demonstrates that actually Western states can and do make huge gestures of benevolence. A classic case is the Marshall Plan, the post-World War II ‘rescue package’ implemented by the US government, ostensibly to restore the devastated economies and infrastructure of Europe. The offer of aid was made to all of Europe, even including those parts under Russian occupation.

Walt Whitman Rostow, an economist who worked on implementing the Marshall Plan, and who later played a key role in the US war against Vietnam, stated that the plan was actually part of an ‘offensive’ which aimed ‘to strengthen the area still outside Stalin’s grasp’.William Clayton, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, raised fears in December 1947 that if Washington did not provide such aid, ‘the Iron Curtain would then move westward at least to the English Channel.’ While the Marshall Plan had still been under discussion, Clayton had stated that ‘we will hold in our hands the powerful weapon of discontinuance of aid if contrary to our expectations any country fails to live up to our expectations.’ Chester Bowles, chief of the Economic Stabilization Bureau, was candid: ‘The real argument for the Marshall Plan is a bolstering of the American system for future years.’

With the post-war ascendancy of the US in global affairs, America was now flexing its muscles as part of its ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom, the former seat of imperial power. The Marshall plan was a crucial political ace as part of this global muscle-flexing. In Washington, the British Embassy was informed ‘that Britain’s socialism [sic] could stand in the way of the loan ... Congress was greatly concerned to establish that US dollars weren’t going to be used to bolster up a red dictatorship or, equally perverse, to subsidise welfare measures [in Britain].’ The British Consul General Frank Evans reported that he ‘could not but be depressed by the violent dislike and distrust manifest by these men towards the British experiment in social democracy’.

US pressure was exerted on UK policy; in particular, to abandon any further reforms such as nationalisation. In July 1947, the US Ambassador said bluntly: ‘It would help the US obtain from congress the help which the United Kingdom required if it were made clear that there would be no further nationalisation of great industries in this country.’  In June 1948, the Foreign Office recommended that the nationalisation of iron and steel should be postponed if not abandoned for the sake of ‘Anglo-American relations.’

Not much of this is ever mentioned today.

 

 

A Shock to the System

When I was in the sixth and final year of secondary school – a Catholic school – I somehow got involved in a discussion with my physics teacher about Northern Ireland. It was 1979. There had just been yet more violence. I don’t recall whether it had been perpetrated by the IRA, unionist extremists or British forces. Whatever was the spur for the classroom political discussion, veering away that day from electromagnetism, Newtonian dynamics and atomic theory, I remember being stunned when the teacher asserted that the British used intimidating and abusive methods against the Catholic population of the province, extending even to targeted assassinations. There was just one other pupil in the class; a grand total of two doing Sixth Year Studies in physics that year. I’m not sure who was the more flabbergasted. About all I could manage in reply was a weak, ‘How do you know?’ The teacher responded: ‘I lived in Northern Ireland for several years. These things were simply well known locally.’

Perhaps one of the most infamous cases of British violence in Northern Ireland is Bloody Sunday, the killing of thirteen people by soldiers during a peaceful civil rights march in Derry on 29 January 1972. Seven of the dead were teenagers. In all, twenty-seven people were shot. An inquiry into the events, the Widgery Tribunal, was widely criticised as a ‘whitewash.’ The subsequent Saville Inquiry began in 1998 and dragged on until 2010 amid controversy about its rising costs estimated at more than £400 million. The final report vindicated the relatives who had campaigned for years to clear the names of those who were killed, some of whom were shot as they attempted to flee. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that the army killings were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable.’

Primary blame was affixed to the soldiers on the ground. But Niall Ó Dochartaigh, lecturer in political science and sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, pointed out that senior military commanders, in particular General Sir Robert Ford who’d planned the disastrous security operation that day, had ‘got off extraordinarily lightly.’

Ó Dochartaigh continued: ‘Saville has done an extraordinary job in his primary task of forensically examining the details of individual shootings, but his analysis of the politics of Bloody Sunday is open to question. The story of high-level responsibility has yet to be told.’

I was aware of Bloody Sunday and had a vague memory of being appalled by reports of that day in 1972. The event was portrayed in the media and in subsequent mainstream debate as a tragic aberration. So the notion that British forces, whether soldiers or intelligence networks, were involved in a systematic campaign of intimidation, even terror, in Northern Ireland was a shock. It was an early experience that made me question: are we really the good guys here?

 

Why Are We The Good Guys? by David Cromwell

Publication date: 28 September, 2012

Pages: 317

Paperback price: £15.99 / US$26.95               ISBN: 978 1 78099 365 2

eBook version: £6.99 / $9.99                          ISBN: 978-1-78099-366-9

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 18 Sep 2012 05:35:20 +0000
'The Man Who Knew Everyone' - Gore Vidal Through The Eyes Of The One Per Cent Press http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/694-gore-vidal-through-the-eyes-of-the-one-per-cent-press.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/694-gore-vidal-through-the-eyes-of-the-one-per-cent-press.html

 

By: David Edwards

 

Gore Vidal took great delight in demolishing the fragile confections of ‘mainstream’ politics. While corporate journalists typically portray US Presidents as benign demigods, Vidal described George W. Bush as ‘the stupidest man in the United States’. In 2008, Vidal said of the 2003 war on Iraq:

‘You can see little Bush all along was just dreaming of war, and also Cheney dreaming about oil wells and how you knock apart a country like Iraq and of course their oil will pay for the damage you do. For that alone, he should have been put in front of a firing squad… They - Cheney, Bush - they wanted the war. They’re oilmen. They want a war to get more oil. They’re also extraordinarily stupid. These people don’t know anything about anything.'

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Vidal replied: ‘I don’t give a goddamn.’

Just as well. As the above comments make clear, not only did Vidal's analysis lack any semblance of what corporate journalists call ‘nuance’, he poured scorn on their entire profession:

‘I tried to explain to the press club what it is they do that they don't know they do. I quote David Hume: “The Few are able to control the Many only through Opinion.” In the eighteenth century, Opinion was dispensed from pulpit and schoolroom. Now the media are in place to give us Opinion that has been manufactured in the boardrooms of those corporations - once national, now international - that control our lives.’ (Vidal, Virgin Islands - Essays 1992-1997, Andre Deutsch, 1997, p.188)

This, of course, is the same 'press club' that has been reviewing Vidal's life and work since his death on July 31.

 

Sex, Flag, Foetus

A celebrated novelist, essayist and screenwriter, Vidal's primary focus in the last two decades of his life was overwhelmingly on radical political analysis. He wrote books with titles likes ‘Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace’ (2002), ‘Dreaming War – Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta’ (2003), and ‘Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia’ (2004). Vidal argued that corporate power had overthrown democracy in the United States and was waging a permanent war for profit around the planet.

So how much attention would we expect the corporate media to afford Vidal's political dissent in accurately and honestly reviewing his oeuvre? This comment from 1998 indicates his own expectation:

‘When a ruling establishment will not let daylight in on their workings because they own the media as well as the permanent rental of most of Congress, judiciary and executive, that doesn’t leave much to talk about at election time except sex, the flag, the foetus and, in the good old days, Communism. So the fact that Clinton’s sex life is now central to our political discourse is par for the current course.' (Vidal, ‘New World Ordure,’ The Observer, January 25, 1998)

And indeed reviews of Vidal’s own life have mostly focused on ‘sex, the flag, the foetus’, as it were, with literary editors leading the way. In the Independent, Boyd Tonkin opened with:

‘One evening, when I dined with Gore Vidal, he told me all about the time he outpolled his good friend Jack Kennedy. There: does that capture the late Master's sleek tone of name-dropping omniscience?’

Gaby Wood, Head of Books at the Telegraph, wrote:

‘There was a time when a visit to Gore Vidal at his villa in Ravello was the literary equivalent of Lourdes… He was related to Jackie Kennedy, he campaigned (unsuccessfully) with Eleanor Roosevelt. He would shake his head over stars of Hollywood’s golden age as if he were their maiden aunt mourning an unfortunate choice of boyfriend (“Well, Rita [Hayworth] never had any luck”)… ’

And so on…

Thus is the life of an important political dissident boiled down and strained through the ‘culture’ pages of the one per cent press, leaving a glutinous residue of ‘celebrity’ and ‘glamour’. Wood added:

'It does not, perhaps, fall to strangers to wonder whether the great literary socialite was bitter because he was lonely. But eventually, his famous bon mots became so outlandish that they rattled many of his sometime admirers. Was it the drink, the passing of time, or a consistent commitment to the holding of unpredictable opinions? Some rolled their eyes, others laughed, and one or two, at least, took it upon themselves to hold him to account.'

In the Telegraph, Philip Hensher noted that Vidal was ‘the man who knew everyone’. But there was a dark side: ‘an immense series of perverse, but massively well-informed, anti-readings of American history’ and ‘even more perverse essays on public and literary matters’.

This recalled Steve Crawshaw’s comment in the Independent on how ‘Chomsky knows so much... but seems impervious to any idea of nuance.’ (Crawshaw, ‘Furious ideas with no room for nuance,’ The Independent, February 21, 2001)

Hensher had nothing serious to say about why Vidal’s reading of American history should be considered ‘perverse’. In the Independent, Christopher Hawtree described how Vidal would often look at the country of his birth ‘askance’. Again, readers had to work out for themselves what that might mean, with Vidal’s ‘opposition to the Israeli lobby within America’ offered as a throwaway clue.

Quoting Vidal in the Sunday Times, Andrew Sullivan provided a rare mainstream glimpse of what Hensher and Hawtree surely had in mind:

‘There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party... and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats... But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.’ (Andrew Sullivan, ‘The twin sources of Vidal's vitriol; The death of a young love and despair for his country gave the writer his voice,’ Sunday Times, August 5, 2012)

Clearly, then, Sullivan observed, when it came to covering 20th century America, Vidal’s ‘anger, bile and resentment got the better of him’.

Alas, the same weakness afflicted the late Harold Pinter. In The New York Times, James Traub found the playwright’s politics ‘so extreme... it is hard to think of anyone save Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal who would not choke on Pinter's bile’. (Traub, ‘Their Highbrow Hatred of Us,’ New York Times, October 30, 2005)

The sage minds of the corporate media occasionally puzzled over Pinter’s malfunctioning moral gallbladder. In the Independent, the precocious Johann Hari wrote:

‘Ever since Pinter was a teenager, he has been relentlessly contrarian, kicking out violently against anything that might trigger his rage that day.’

Pinter was just a classic left loon, then, the target of his ire incidental.

Sullivan at least found a little more method in Vidal’s madness:

‘Why such anger? That's the question of his life.’

‘His soulmate died in warfare at the age of 19… Vidal carried this wound for a lifetime - building an armoury of wit, bile and erudition to protect himself from another. But another was coming. For Vidal, his other great love, the American republic, died of warfare in 1941. So much of his writing after that is rooted in anger.’

To this psycho-political babble, Sullivan added the standard smear:

‘Vidal ruined his case by exaggeration, of course, and absurd moral equivalence. There were times when he blithely dismissed the horrors committed by America's enemies - such as the Vietcong or Al-Qaeda - while never failing to note America's own hypocrisy and paranoia and occasional clumsy cruelty abroad.’

It is tempting to psychoanalyse Sullivan’s own view of America’s cruelty as ‘occasional’, ‘clumsy’ and 'abroad'. He concluded of Vidal: ‘his [gay] sexual orientation was surely central to this: it fuelled a grief that he could never be the statesman he once yearned to be, in a country he subsequently loved to hate’.

There is an alternative explanation: Vidal had a functioning brain and heart, and a sufficiently independent mind to perceive the mass killing of innocents in pursuit of maximised US profit.

David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

‘Bit by bit Vidal transformed himself from thinker to polemicist. His political essays, much loved in the anti-American press over here, began to take on a mildly unhinged quality.’ (Aaronovitch, ‘Praise to the man who beat about Mr Bush; Gore Vidal dazzled in his early novels and essays, but gradually turned into a mildly unhinged isolationist,’ The Times, August 2, 2012)

Readers will struggle to find a better example of what psychologists call ‘projection’.

Echoing the standard obsession, a Guardian article was entitled: ‘Adam Mars-Jones my lunch at the Dorchester with Gore Vidal.’ Mars-Jones commented: ‘few writers have shown so much flair in using television to maintain their public image’.

In fact, as Vidal made clear, his political analysis had long been banished from our screens:

‘The press won't report me, television is shut to me, I've been erased. Noam Chomsky never had a chance, he never had a great public; but I had one through my books and movies and plays and of course essay writing. Now I am no longer a guest on anything where I might cause trouble, where I might say something that they would find embarrassing, which would be practically anything I would say about how the country is run. So I am the perfect example of censorship in the United States.’ ('I am the perfect example of censorship in the United States'. Gore Vidal talks to Michael March about history, the cold war and who really runs America, the Guardian, March 29, 2001)

Consider, as discussed, that Vidal was a rare honest and articulate opponent of the Iraq war. In October 2002, we checkedthe Guardian/Observer website and found that it had mentioned Iraq in some 2,381 articles in that crucial year of propaganda hype before the war was launched in March 2003. By October 19, the words ‘Bush’ and ‘Iraq’ had been mentioned in 1,263 of these articles. The words ‘Gore Vidal’ and ‘Iraq’ had been mentioned in seven articles.

Precisely because Vidal's dissent was excluded by the media, the Telegraph obituary was able to get away with this dumbed down version:

‘By the 1980s, Vidal observed, politics had become trivialised by television, its substance and debate replaced by flickering images, its figures transmuted into talking heads allowed only seconds to make arguments about the future of the nation and the world.’

He ‘detected a failure of education, manners on the decline, and political leaders cynical, ignorant and blinded to the realities of the outside world’.

The analysis was itself a good example of the kind of trivialisation it was describing. Quite simply, since Vidal's death the corporate media have had nothing serious to say about his political dissent warning against the dominance of corporate power.

Vidal's summing up certainly generalises to UK politics and media:

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

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Fri, 17 Aug 2012 07:15:05 +0000
The Return Of The King – Tony Blair And The Magically Disappearing Blood http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/692-the-return-of-the-king-tony-blair-and-the-magically-disappearing-blood.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/692-the-return-of-the-king-tony-blair-and-the-magically-disappearing-blood.html

By David Cromwell

How many war crimes does a western leader have to commit before he is deemed persona non grata by the corporate media and the establishment? Apparently there is no limit, if we are to judge by the prevailing reaction to Tony Blair’s return to the political stage.

On July 11, it was announced that Blair would be ‘contributing ideas and experience’ to Labour leader Ed Miliband’s policy review. He will apparently provide advice on how to ‘maximise’ the economic and sporting legacies of the 2012 London Olympics.

The Guardian described the announcement mildly as a ‘controversial move’; not necessarily in the country at large, the paper claimed, but ‘perhaps especially within the Labour party’. One Guardian headline declared ‘Return of the king’.

The ‘left-wing’ John Harris did his bit in the Guardian to smooth Blair’s path:

‘He's only 59, the picture of perma-tanned vitality and keen to “make a difference”. Could a fourth stint in No 10 even be on the cards? We shouldn't rule it out.’

Harris declared ‘that for all his mistakes, transgressions and howling misjudgments, there remains something magnetic about his talents.’

When Blair appeared at a Labour fundraising dinner at Arsenal's Emirates stadium, Harris noted that:

‘He was greeted by the obligatory crowd of protesters, still furious about his role in the Iraq war.’

That’s the curious thing about peace protesters; endlessly ‘furious’ about the country being dragged into an illegal war that led to the deaths of around one million people, created four million Iraqi refugees, devastated Iraq’s infrastructure, generated untold suffering and burned obscenely huge sums of public money in times of ‘austerity’. Perhaps we Brits should simply display that famed stiff upper lip and move on. Certainly that’s what Richard Beeston, foreign editor of The Times, suggested in 2009:

‘All this happened six years ago. Get over it.’ (‘The war went wrong. Not the build-up. Stop obsessing about the legality of invading Iraq. The campaign itself was the real disaster’, The Times, February 26, 2009.)

A recent Times editorial welcomed Blair’s return:

‘Labour is coming together, drawing on its best available talent and starting to get serious again. (Editorial, ‘A year in politics’, The Times, July 14, 2012)

The second coming of Blair was launched by a friendly chat on the BBC's Andrew Marr show. Marr, of course, is well-known as a totally impartial political analyst and a 'congenial and knowlegable [sic] interviewer' (to quote a cable from the US embassy in London to Hillary Clinton).

The PR onslaught continued when London’s Evening Standard published an interview with the former PM on the day he ‘guest-edited’ the paper. Would he like to be prime minister again one day? ‘Sure’, he replied. A supportive Financial Times interview with editor Lionel Barber proclaimed:

'Five years after leaving power, Tony Blair wants back in. He is ready for a big new role. But what exactly is driving him? And can he persuade the world to listen?'

Unnamed 'friends' and 'allies' were quoted, no doubt passing on the Blair-approved message:

'Friends say he is desperate to play a bigger role, not because he has any ambition to run for high office but because he wants to be part of the argument. “He would really like to be the centre of attention again,” says one long-time ally.'

A Guardian editorial did its bit to help:

‘he seems to have mellowed a touch since his book [‘A Journey’, published in 2011]; maybe he's even learnt a little respect for international law.’ (‘Unthinkable? Tony Blair for PM again.’)

The paper continued:

‘Besides, this is no time to fret about the policy details – there is the showbiz to consider. In 2007 John Major likened Mr Blair's long goodbye to Nellie Melba; the coming comeback must demonstrate he is more like Sinatra and Elvis. There can only be one true heir to Tony Blair, and that is Tony Blair II.’

Could the vanguard of British liberal journalism really be making an editorial call for the return of Blair? It shouldn’t be a total surprise. Recall that even in the wake of the supreme international crime of invading Iraq, the Guardian still called for its readership to re-elect Blair at the 2005 general election.

 

The Self-Deprecating War Criminal

Last month, the Guardian promoted the diaries of Alastair Campbell, Blair’s warmonger-in-chief, with one extract recounting a meeting with ‘Britain's famous Swedes', Sven Göran Eriksson and Ulrika Jonsson, and another describing the former PM's liking for olive oil. It was left to John Pilger to make the point that in the diaries:

‘Campbell tries to splash Iraqi blood on the demon Murdoch. There is plenty to drench them all.’

The Guardian’s Andrew Brown, editor of the ‘Belief’ section of Comment is Free, steered clear of the blood to tell readers that at a recent debate with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Blair was ‘funny, and sometimes self-deprecating’. Brown gave an example of Blair’s modest humour:

‘I once wrote a pamphlet about why a human rights act in Britain would be a thoroughly bad idea – then, as prime minister, I introduced one.’

Perhaps it is useful to be reminded that even war criminals can be ‘funny’ and ‘self-deprecating’.

In contrast, Independent columnist Matthew Norman made clear his disdain for Blair:

‘Call it an atrocious strategic misjudgment, a dementedly misguided Neocon experiment, a war crime or whatever, it is perfectly well understood in these child-like terms: Mr Blair did a truly terrible thing, with unspeakably terrible consequences for the people of Iraq, the troops killed and maimed in prosecuting his folly, and those who died and were injured here in retaliatory bombings in July 2005, the morning after the 30th Olympiad was hereby awarded to the city of London.’

He continued:

‘Tony Blair is no wrongly dishonoured prophet but a pariah in his own land. He is a pariah because he colluded in an act of abundant wickedness, and untold hundreds of thousands died and millions more suffered monstrously in consequence.’

Norman rightly noted that Blair is ‘armed with a cabal of loyalist ultras in the press.’ This, coupled with his protection by a largely supportive establishment, means that ‘perhaps no force on earth can penetrate his titanium shell.’

But a vital component of the ‘titanium shell’ protecting Blair is that 'mainstream' journalists refrain from describing the actions of the former PM and his co-conspirators as war crimes. Matthew Norman himself floundered when he wrote with loss of nerve:

‘Call it an atrocious strategic misjudgment, a dementedly misguided Neocon experiment, a war crime or whatever.’

As for the ‘cabal of loyalist ultras in the press’, Norman supplied no names. But they include senior editors at Norman’s own newspaper, the Independent; not to mention at least one of his colleagues at the Independent on Sunday, the Blair hagiographer John Rentoul. Just as Matthew Norman will not step over a line in the sand, so too Simon Jenkins of the Guardian when he argues that 'an act of grovelling atonement would salvage the ex-prime minister's reputation.' Glaring by its omission is any call for Blair and his accomplices to stand trial in The Hague and face charges of war crimes.

As Pilger rightly says of the West’s war of aggression against Iraq:

‘recognition that the respectable, liberal, Blair-fawning media were a vital accessory to such an epic crime is omitted and remains a singular test of intellectual and moral honesty in Britain.’

As well as the titanium shell of the corporate media, Blair is also being protected by ‘fierce opposition in Whitehall to the disclosure of key documents relating to the invasion of Iraq, notably records of discussions between himself and George Bush.’ This has meant that the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will now not publish its report until sometime in 2013. Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell reportedly told Chilcot that releasing Blair's notes would damage Britain's relations with the US and would not be in the public interest. This is code for ‘the establishment must protect itself’.

 

Fixing Intelligence And Facts For Iran

On The Real News Network, Annie Machon and Ray McGovern remind us that it is almost exactly ten years since Blair met at Downing Street with senior ministers and top military and intelligence officials for a briefing on how the US planned to ‘justify’ attacking Iraq. Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, had just returned from the US where he had met with his counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet.

The famous ‘Downing Street Memo’, the official minutes of the briefing on July 23 in 2002, reveals what Dearlove told Blair and those present about what he had heard from Tenet; namely, that Bush had decided to remove Saddam Hussein by launching a war that would be ‘justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.’

Dearlove explained how it was being done: ‘The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.’ This followed the agreement in April 2002 between Bush and Blair when the British prime minister stayed at the president's Texas ranch in Crawford. Blair pledged UK support for invading Iraq.

Machon and McGovern recall the propaganda campaign to which the public was then subjected:

‘In late summer 2002, the synthetic threat from Iraq was “sexed-up” by a well-honed US-UK intelligence-turned-propaganda machine. The spin was endless: headlines screaming “45 minutes from doom”; the lies about Saddam reconstituting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program; and yellow journalism about the “yellowcake” uranium Iran was said to be seeking from darkest Africa.

‘UK citizens were spoon-fed the fake intelligence of the September Dossier and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet, together with unverified, raw intelligence that turned out to be false — all presented by spy and politician alike as hot, ominous intelligence.

‘So was made the case for war. All lies; hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, maimed, and millions of Iraqi refugees; yet no one held to account.’

Rather than being held to account, some of the perpetrators have been rewarded:

‘Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented all this had he the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honours and became the Master of a Cambridge college. John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award. Shameless.’

Machon and McGovern argue that intelligence is once again being fixed; this time in support of a possible attack on Iran:

‘Just last week [Sir John] Sawers, who succeeded Scarlett as head of MI6 three years ago, gave a remarkable speech in which he not only bragged about MI6's operational role in thwarting Iran's alleged attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, but also asserted that Iran would have the bomb by 2014. Shades of MI6’s pandering to policy in 2002.’

And yet, the consensus – even amongst US and Israeli agencies -  is that Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear weapon since its programme came to a halt in 2003. Media professionals seemingly cannot grasp this basic fact. A Robert Fisk article on Syria in the Independent on Sunday yesterday had a subtitle making an unqualified assertion about Iran and 'its nuclear weapons'. Presumably this was written by one of the paper's subeditors. Will Fisk go straight to his editor and complain about this misrepresentation?

But Iran's lack of nuclear weapons has not prevented the country being lined up for western ‘intervention’. It is worth referring once again to the testimony of General Wesley Clark, the former Nato chief, when he 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.”’

It seems that journalists simply cannot help themselves in ignoring such inconvenient facts. And so, unless the public demands otherwise, corporate editors and journalists will continue to perform their usual obedient role in the service of power.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

John Mullin, Independent on Sunday editor

Email: j.mullin@independent.co.uk

Chris Blackhurst, Independent editor and Group Editorial Director, Independent and Evening Standard

Email: c.blackhurst@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @c_blackhurst

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 30 Jul 2012 05:50:59 +0000
The Right Kind Of Terror http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/691-the-right-kind-of-terror.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/691-the-right-kind-of-terror.html

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

When is an act of terrorism not terrorism? When the victims are officially sanctioned state enemies. This was clear from the political and media response to the assassinations of senior ministers of the Syrian ‘regime’.

On 18 July, a bomb attack on the national security headquarters in Damascus killed three top Syrian ministers: Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha, President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat and General Hassan Turkomani.  Two days later, Syria's national security chief, Hisham Ikhtiari, died from injuries he received in the attack.

Reuters reported U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the situation in Syria was ‘spinning out of control’. For good measure, he added that President Bashar al-Assad's government would be held responsible if it failed to safeguard its alleged chemical weapons sites. The brazen echoes of the propaganda campaign against Iraq a decade ago could be heard reverberating around the world’s news media.

UK defence minister Philip Hammond, standing alongside Panetta at a Pentagon news conference, said that the bomb attack demonstrated Syria’s growing instability:

‘I think what we're seeing is an opposition which is emboldened, clearly an opposition which has access increasingly to weaponry, probably some fragmentation around the edges of the regime as well.’

Neither men described the bombing as a terrorist attack.

On the same day, an Israeli tourist bus in eastern Bulgaria was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing at least seven people. US President Barack Obama had no hesitation in describing the bombing unequivocally as a ‘barbaric terrorist attack’.

On the BBC News at Ten, news presenter Huw Edwards delivered the required script about the attack in Syria:

‘A bomb attack strikes at the heart of the Assad regime in Damascus.’ (BBC News at Ten, headlines, 18 July 2012)

No mention of the dreaded ‘t-word’ here.

The BBC’s ‘security’ correspondent Frank Gardner reported of the ‘Assad regime’:

‘But the government, which blames terrorists funded from abroad, vows to defeat the rebels.’

Here the accusation of terrorism could be safely put in the mouth of the enemy ‘regime’. Those five words, ‘blames terrorists funded from abroad’, hint at dangerous truths that simply cannot be explored on BBC News. Again, the safe option is to attribute the allegation to the Syrian ‘regime’, thus undermining the claim.

US columnist Glenn Greenwald notes:

‘Needless to say, if such an attack — perpetrated by an “Islamist” suicide bomber — were aimed at a Western government or those of their allies in the region, it would immediately be branded Terrorism and vehemently denounced. One need not speculate about that, as it has already happened. It was called the Pentagon part of the “9/11 attack,” where a plane was flown into America’s military headquarters. More analogous was Nidal Hasan’s 2009 assault on the U.S. military base at Fort Hood, which was instantly branded Terrorism by American media outletsWashington officials, and a majority of Americans.’

Greenwald continues:

‘Indeed, even if this kind of attack were directed at Western-supported tyrannies in the region — such as, say, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain — the Terrorism label would be widely applied by mainstream Western outlets. In fact, the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador — not civilians, but just this single official from a repellently oppressive regime — was instantly denounced as Terrorism.’

 

When 'Terrorists' Become 'Freedom Fighters'

One of our messageboard visitors posted an extract from a New York Times article on the apparently increasingly effective use of improvised explosive devices by the Syrian ‘insurgency’:

‘Joseph Holliday, a former American Army intelligence officer who is now an analyst covering Syria for the Institute of the Study of War, in Washington, said the changes were not in the rate of attacks, but in a rapidly evolving prowess . . .

‘ . . . The exact means by which anti-Assad fighters have improved their manufacture and use of bombs, and who trained them, is not clear.

‘Mr. Holliday said the capability "comes in part from the expertise of Syrian insurgents who learned bomb-making while fighting U.S. troops in eastern Iraq"'. 

The poster, Peter, then made the point that:

‘while they were “fighting U.S. troops in eastern Iraq”, we were told in no uncertain terms that they were evil, terrorist bad guys. Islamo-fascist, Al Qaeda linked, Saddam sympathisers who had to be mercilessly slaughtered.’

Now apparently similar forces in Syria using similar tactics to attack an ‘enemy regime’ are cast as ‘rebels’ or 'freedom fighters' helping to foment a ‘revolution’ as part of the latest stage of the ‘Arab Spring’.

Peter concludes of the bomb attack in Damascus:

‘the tenor of the coverage clearly has nothing to do with moral or logical consistency, and everything to do with the reported act’s utility to Western power.’

By contrast, the violent killings of the Syrian ministers were greeted by ‘Socialist, Independent columnist’ Owen Jones with:

‘Adios, Assad (I hope)’

Jones also tweeted that 'this is a popular uprising, not arriving on the back of Western cruise missiles, tanks and bullets'.

We asked him on Twitter:

'So you disagree with Charles Glass, Patrick Seale, Alastair Crooke et al that the West is supplying arms, training, forces..?'

and:

'John Pilger argues US elites are waging a proxy war on Syria. What do you know that he doesn't know? Any sources?'

Again, the Independent's Owen Jones evaded the questions. We asked Richard ‘lenin’ Seymour and Jones whether they opposed US-UK involvement in Syria. They both said that they did, but neither had yet managed to evaluate the evidence supplied by analysts like Charles Glass, Patrick Seale, Alastair Crooke, Aisling Byrne and others on US-UK arming of the Syrian conflict.

There were two key responses: first from Jones:

Media Lens: 'Have you condemned Western interference in Syria in the Independent, Owen? Any links?'

Jones: 'I haven't written a Syria column. If you want past articles condemning wars from Kosovo to Libya though.'

and then from Seymour:

Media Lens: 'What about arms? Have you written anything on Glass, Seale, Crooke, Byrne, WashPo [Washington Post] evidence on the US-UK proxy war? Is it imp [important]?'

Lenin: 'It's important, but I don't think we would evaluate that evidence in the same way. I'll prob write something about this later.'

Two more joined the fray: Mehdi Hasan, political director of Huffington Post UK (and, until recently, political editor of New Statesman) and Sunny Hundal, editor of the Liberal Conspiracy website and a Guardian contributor. Their Tweets descended into juvenile bouts of ‘humour’ mocking Media Lens for its supposed po-faced stance against ‘imperialism’:

Owen Jones:

I bet Media Lens are a right laugh down the pub.

Mehdi Hasan:

@OwenJones84 @sunny_hundal Bet I'm more secretly pro-Iraq-war than you are...

Owen Jones:

@mehdirhasan @sunny_hundal I'm going to call my first-born Bush. BEAT THAT

Mehdi Hasan:

@OwenJones84 @sunny_hundal I married a Texan. Beat that!

Sunny Hundal:

@mehdirhasan @owenjones84 I was hoping it wouldn't come to this.... but... I'll say it. I'm in love with GW Bush's daughters. *shame*

Owen Jones:

@sunny_hundal @mehdirhasan I intend to marry one (or both), with Rumsfeld as best man, preferably in the Pentagon control room

Mehdi Hasan:

@OwenJones84 @sunny_hundal I've been to the Pentagon control room #iwinagain

Owen Jones:

@mehdirhasan @sunny_hundal Blimey, Mehdi. Maybe MediaLens are right after all. Bet you're on nickname terms with Petraeus

Then, in a farcical nod towards Ronald Reagan making a 'joke' about bombing Russia, Hundal said:

@OwenJones84 @mehdihasan This isn't fair, I wanted to marry Bush's daughters! You two stealing my thunder *prepares to bomb Iran himself*

If anyone wonders just what is wrong with ‘mainstream’ left journalism, the above performance in response to serious questions about Syria and media coverage provides a clue.

There are plenty of damning facts that need to be highlighted. For example, the New York Times reports that the Obama administration is 'increasing aid to the [Syrian] rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the [Syrian] government'. US officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel 'over how to manage a Syrian government collapse.' One senior US government insider said:

'You'll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened. Now we're ready to accelerate that.'

The newspaper also reports that the US government is 'working with Syrian rebels to establish a transition process for the day that Mr. Assad's government falls'; a day that the US is clearly determined to bring about. 'We're looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime,' said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The CIA is 'helping to vet rebel groups... in Turkey... and to establish new ties to fighters who may be the country's leaders one day.'

The pattern of such US 'interventions' is long and bloody, and the age of the 'American Empire' has not yet ended.

 

Propaganda Rule Number One

It should hardly need to be emphasised that criticising Western state and corporate propaganda about events in Syria should in no way be interpreted as support for Assad. To suggest this, as a few critics have done, is cynical, ignorant and deceitful. Over the years, we have been accused of being pro-Milosevic, pro-Saddam, pro-Gaddafi, pro-Iran, pro-Assad, and even pro-North Korea, when what we have done is expose Western media bias against these official enemies of the West. As a matter of simple common sense it should be obvious that highlighting systemic bias in the corporate media is important, regardless of one’s moral evaluation of the targets of that bias.

Glenn Greenwald sums up what matters here:

‘I’m certainly not calling into question the heinous violence and oppression of the Syrian regime (though I think Western Manichean reporting on the nature of the fighting and the identity of the rebels has been typically and substantially oversimplified). The point here is that we pretend Terrorism has some sort of objective meaning and that it is the personification of pure evil which all decent people (and Good Western nations) by definition categorically despise, when neither of those claims is remotely true.’

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, the major source of international terrorism is the West, notably the United States with the UK an ever-reliable accomplice.

The point is that Western ‘mainstream’ media outlets report from a propaganda viewpoint that accords with Western state ideology. Violence perpetrated by enemy actors is ‘terrorism’; what ‘we’ or ‘our’ allies do is ‘counterterrorism’ or ‘peace-keeping’. This is arguably the first rule of propaganda. But the question we keep asking is: Why are we the good guys?

Despite its publicly-funded obligation to be fair and impartial, BBC News is forever trapped in this ideological mire. Consider the BBC article asking the loaded question, ‘Is it time to intervene in Syria?’, and answered by ‘five leading analysts’.  The very question presupposes some kind of ordained right by Nato and its allies ‘to intervene’. None of the five ‘leading analysts’, all linked to Western governments or their major institutions, even question the premise of the question. And in any case who should intervene? According to the BBC, it’s that amorphous entity known as ‘the international community’ which, as Chomsky points out, is ‘a technical term referring to Washington and whoever happens to agree with it’. (‘Hopes and Prospects’, London, 2010, pp. 196-197).

That this ‘international community’ has shocked and awed its way around the Middle East and beyond - obliterating lives, nations’ infrastructures, hopes and dreams - is the kind of rational analysis so often deemed irrelevant by BBC News and the rest of the ‘mainstream’ media.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Helen Boaden, Head of BBC News

Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

Steve Herrmann, Editor of BBC News website

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Twitter: @BBCSteveH

Jon Williams, BBC foreign editor

Email: jon.williams@bbc.co.uk

Twitter: @WilliamsJon

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 23 Jul 2012 04:43:18 +0000
Libyan Elections – Burying The Amnesty Report http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/690-libyan-elections-burying-the-amnesty-report.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/690-libyan-elections-burying-the-amnesty-report.html

By: David Edwards

 

In January 2005, we described how the British media were united in celebrating Iraq’s ‘first free election in decades’. (Leader, 'Vote against violence,' The Guardian, January 7, 2005)

The BBC's main evening news reported ‘the first democratic election in fifty years’ (BBC1, News at Ten, January 10, 2005). The Daily Telegraph wrote of ‘the first democratic elections’ (Leader, 'Mission accomplished,' Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2004). The Independent argued that ‘democratic and free elections can bring a hope of peace’ (Borzou Daragahi, 'Bin Laden backs deputy Zarqawi,’ The Independent, December 28, 2004).

In their excellent book, Demonstration Elections (South End Press, 1984), Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead listed six criteria of election integrity:

'Freedom of speech.'

'Freedom of the media.'

'Freedom of organization of intermediate groups.'

'The absence of highly developed and pervasive instruments of state-sponsored terror.'

'Freedom of party organization and ability to field candidates.'

'Absence of coercion and fear on the part of the general population.'

As Herman and Brodhead noted, a good way of ‘looking at the validity of elections is to examine the conditions making for a free election and see how the actual electoral case conforms to these criteria.’

But this the US-UK mass media never seriously attempt to do in covering elections in states newly 'liberated' by the West. Instead:

‘Following the government’s lead, the media accept the election at face value, focusing on the personalities of candidates, the surface mechanics of election day procedure, and other secondary matters and propaganda gambits, the most important being the alleged efforts to disrupt the election by the bad guys. They carefully avoid or downgrade issues such as the prior decimation of a political opposition, death squads as an institutionalized phenomenon, and the exclusion of major political opposition groups from participation.’

In regard to Iraq, for example, serious analysis was replaced by the simplistic message that, no matter how much killing the ‘coalition of the willing’ had done (with journalists consistently undercounting the death toll by an order of magnitude) at least ‘we’ had brought political freedom to Iraq.

But tragicomedy was always close at hand. On the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Jon Leyne reported that the victorious Shia United Iraqi Alliance would choose a new prime minister from two candidates: ‘both religious Shiites, but also both acceptable to the Americans’. (Leyne, Newsnight, February 14, 2005)

Leyne continued: ‘We call them a religious Shiite alliance... but they're very sensitive to what the Americans would feel if guys with turbans took over this country.’

And indeed everyone, of course, knew that ‘democracy’ in Iraq had to be ‘sensitive’ to American concerns, not least in regard to ‘guys with turbans’ (which sounded like a euphemism for ‘towelheads’). It was obvious what ‘acceptable to the Americans’ meant for the claim that the elections were in any real sense ‘free’. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush I, made the point in April 2003:

‘What's going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win? What do you do? We're surely not going to let them take over.’ (Quoted, Walter Gibbs, 'Scowcroft Urges Wide Role For the UN in Postwar Iraq,' The New York Times, April 9, 2003)

That was clear, as was the lesson implicit in the punishment meted out to Iraq’s third city, Fallujah, just weeks before the election. Smeared by the media as an insurgent ‘stronghold’, the city was subjected to all-out assault by US forces leaving 70 per cent of the houses and shops destroyed, and at least 800 civilians dead. (‘Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival,’ www.irinnews.org, November 30, 2004)

Also, in October 2004, the prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet, published a report estimating that almost 100,000 more Iraqi civilians had died than would have been expected had the invasion not occurred.

The media turned a blind eye to this and much other evidence clearly challenging the claim that elections were conducted in the ‘absence of coercion and fear on the part of the general population’ and without 'the prior decimation of a political opposition'. Instead, with smoke still rising from the ruins of Fallujah, the likes of Ewen MacAskill in the Guardian reported that Iraq was preparing ‘for the country's first democratic election’. (MacAskill, 'Blair 'feels the danger' on visit to Baghdad,' December 22, 2004)

 

Libya – ‘Dawn Of A New Era’

The same media, echoing different politicians, are this month responding in near-identical fashion to elections in Libya. In line with Herman and Brodhead's analysis there has been much discussion of 'personalities of candidates' and other 'secondary matters', but no serious attempt to judge the integrity of the elections against rational criteria. The Telegraph reported: ‘a coalition led by the Western-educated political scientist and former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril appears to have won Libya’s first free elections in 60 years…’

The Times hailed Libya’s ‘first free elections today’ (James Hider, ‘After the pain, a hope for liberty and democracy,’ The Times, July 7, 2012).

Luke Harding wrote in the Guardian: 'Libya's former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril has won a landslide victory in the country's first democratic election...'

Barack Obama described the elections as ‘another milestone in the country’s transition to democracy.’ The European Union hailed the ‘dawn of a new era’.

In selling Libya’s elections as free and fair, the media have had little to say about a report by Amnesty International published as Libyans were preparing to vote: ‘Libya: Rule of law or rule of militias?’ (July 2012), based on the findings of an Amnesty visit to Libya in May and June 2012.

Amnesty reported ‘the mounting toll of victims of an increasingly lawless Libya, where the transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to rein in the hundreds of militias formed during and after the 2011 conflict’.

The militias are now ‘threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections… They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities... They are also recklessly using machineguns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.’ There is ‘a very real risk that the patterns of abuse that inspired the “17 February Revolution [sic]” will be reproduced and entrenched’.

Amnesty added:

‘The authorities have also failed to resolve the situation of entire communities displaced during the conflict and unable to return to their homes, which were looted and burned by armed militias seeking revenge… The entire population of the city of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000, was driven out by Misratah militias and remains scattered across Libya, including in poorly resourced camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

‘Not only are such communities barred from going home; they also continue to face arbitrary arrest and other reprisals. These human rights violations are taking place against the backdrop of a judicial system that simply cannot cope with the volume of cases and is failing to provide justice and redress.’

Indeed Kim Sengupta reported in the Independent this week on horrendous conditions facing Tawerghans forced to live in an old cement factory in the outskirts of Benghazi:

'The outside of it has been turned into camps that serve as a sprawling "home" for people from his city – about 17,000 of them in all, who shelter in shacks made out of PVC pipes.'

Sengupta commented: 'not many Tawerghans turned up at the polling stations set up at the camp. "Would voting bring back my son? He is a prisoner, or maybe they have killed him. I do not know. We are not free to find out," said Raga Ahdwafi, a 50 year-old resident of the camp.'

Undeterred, Sengupta blithely concluded his article with a comment reviewing 'Libya's first free election in half a century.'

Amnesty noted more problems impacting on the credibility of elections:

‘Public criticism of the thuwwar [revolutionaries], who are widely hailed as heroes, is uncommon. Even officials, activists, journalists, lawyers and victims of human rights violations who privately acknowledge the prevailing lawlessness and abuses committed by the thuwwar do not raise their concerns in public, fearing reprisals. Their fears are justified.’

As for any new government:

‘They will inherit a country with weak and unaccountable institutions and devoid of independent civil society organizations and political parties. The legacy of powerful officials and security forces acting above the law will not be easy to dismantle.’

According to the LexisNexis database, the words ‘Libya’ ‘election’ and ‘Amnesty’ have appeared in just four national mainstream newspaper articles in the last month.

In one of these four articles, Patrick Cockburn reported that clashes between rival tribes and communities were ‘leaving hundreds dead’. Worryingly for free speech, Cockburn noted that this kind of bad news from Libya is being suppressed: ‘the widespread arbitrary detention and torture of people picked up at checkpoint by the thuwwar (revolutionaries) is not publicised because the Libyan government wants to play them down, or people are frightened of criticising the perpetrators and becoming targets.’

Cockburn cited Amnesty report researcher Diana Eltahawy's view that ‘things are not getting better’. Eltahawy commented that in May the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) passed a law giving immunity to the ‘thuwwar’ for any act they carry out in defence of 'the 17 February Revolution' last year. Interrogations by militias, though very often involving torture, are deemed to carry legal weight. Eltahawy said there is ‘a climate of self-censorship’ within the post-Gaddafi government about these abuses.

Part of the problem, Cockburn added, is that ‘foreign governments and media alike… rejoiced in the overthrow of Gaddafi last year’ and so ‘they do not want bad news to besmirch their victory.’ A rare example of honest criticism directed by a corporate journalist at his own colleagues. As the burying of the Amnesty report suggests, the implications of this 'bad news' for claims of electoral integrity have not been seriously discussed anywhere.

And what about the West’s goals for the elections? We have to leave the 'mainstream' media far behind if we are to encounter common sense analysis of this kind from the World Socialist Web Site:

‘The elections for a new General National Congress in Libya are an attempt to provide a “democratic” facade for an authoritarian and undemocratic government, subservient to the interests of the major Western powers, corporations and banks.

‘The NATO-installed National Transitional Council (NTC) ensured that candidacy was restricted to a relatively small layer approved by the Electoral Commission.’

The reality, as Herman and Brodhead noted way back in 1984, is that the US government uses the symbolic value of a client state election ‘to mobilize home support for its preferred policies… to mislead the home populace about both the situation in the occupied country and the intentions of the US government’ and is thus ‘designed to win approval of external policy by deception’. This applies equally to the UK government, of course, and is unlikely to change any time soon.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Luke Harding at the Guardian

Email: luke.harding@guardian.co.uk

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

Chris Blackhurst, Independent editor

Email: c.blackhurst@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @c_blackhurst

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:21:32 +0000
Blocked By The BBC http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/688-blocked-by-the-bbc.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/688-blocked-by-the-bbc.html

By David Cromwell

 

Has the internet made journalists more accountable to the public? Only if media professionals are actually willing to engage with those who consume their output. In the case of the publicly-funded BBC, the onus on editors and journalists is surely all the greater.

Last year, I wrote to Jon Williams, a senior BBC news editor:

Dear Jon Williams,

I hope you’re well. As the BBC’s World News Editor, presumably you will have a view of ‘More Bad News From Israel’, an updated study by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group (Pluto Press, 2011).

For instance, in a new chapter they present a careful analysis of BBC and ITV news coverage of the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-2009. The researchers recorded, transcribed and analysed over 4000 lines of broadcast news text from the BBC and ITV.

‘The most striking feature of the news texts’, note Philo and Berry, ‘ is the dominance of the Israeli perspective, in relation to the causes of the conflict.’

Specifically, they note of BBC news during Operation Cast Lead:

‘the [Israeli] themes of “ending the rockets”, the “need for security” and to "stop the smuggling of weapons" received a total of 316.5 lines of text. Others such as the need to “hit Hamas” and that “Hamas and terrorists are to blame” received 62 lines. The total for Israeli explanatory statements on the BBC is 421.25. This compares with a much lower total for Hamas/Palestinian explanations of just 126.25.’

But even these 126.25 BBC lines of ‘explanations’ lack substance: ‘the bulk of the Palestinian accounts do not explain their case beyond saying that they will resist.’ What is almost non-existent are crucial facts about ‘how the continuing existence of the blockade affects the rationale for Palestinian action and how they see their struggle against Israel and its continuing military occupation.’

Notably:

‘There are just 14.25 lines referring to the occupation and only 10.5 on the ending of the siege/blockade.’

Instead, BBC news tended to reflect the Israeli framework of events:

‘The dominant explanation for the attack was that it was to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas. The offer that Hamas was said to have made, to halt this in exchange for lifting the blockade (which Israel had rejected), was almost completely absent from the coverage.’

So BBC news coverage was skewed by the Israeli perspective, perpetuating ‘a one-sided view of the causes of the conflict by highlighting the issue of the rockets without reporting the Hamas offer’ and by burying rational views on the purpose of the attack: namely the Israeli desire to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinian people.

In classic academic understatement, Philo and Berry conclude:

‘It is difficult in the face of this to see how the BBC can sustain a claim to be offering balanced reporting.’

These are serious and well-substantiated charges. I’d be interested in hearing your response, please.

Best wishes

David Cromwell (Email, May 16, 2011)

Williams didn’t email back. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t respond to the challenge: shortly afterwards, Media Lens found that we were blocked from following him on Twitter.

He’s not the only journalist to have done so. In the wake of a similar Media Lens challenge to Paul Danahar, the BBC’s Middle East Bureau Chief, we were also blocked from following him.

At the end of last week, Danahar tweeted glowing words for the outcome of the West’s attack on Libya:

‘Happy voters in #Tripoli #libya pic.twitter.com/bqb3v0kr’ (Twitter, July 7, 2012; 'protected account', so no accessible URL available. But photo can be seen here.)

Media activist David Traynier responded cogently:

‘Hope they don't make the Palestinian mistake & get punished for electing a govt the US doesn't like. #libya

Traynier was referring to the consequences of the surprising victory of Hamas in the Palestinian election of January 2006. As Noam Chomsky notes, the election had been carefully monitored and 'pronounced to be free and fair by international observers, despite US-Israeli efforts to swing the election towards their favourite, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.'

Chomsky added:

'The punishment of Palestinians for the crime of voting the wrong way was severe. With US backing, Israel stepped up its violence in Gaza, withheld funds it was legally obligated to transmit to the Palestinian Authority, tightened its siege and even cut off the flow of water to the arid Gaza Strip.

'The United States and Israel made sure that Hamas would not have a chance to govern. They rejected Hamas’s call for a long-term cease-fire to allow for negotiations on a two-state settlement, along the lines of an international consensus that Israel and United States have opposed, in virtual isolation, for more than 30 years, with rare and temporary departures.

'Meanwhile, Israel stepped up its programmes of annexation, dismemberment and imprisonment of the shrinking Palestinian cantons in the West Bank, always with US backing despite occasional minor complaints, accompanied by the wink of an eye and munificent funding.'

Following Traynier's tweet referring to all of this, writer and broadcaster Charles Shoebridge then cautioned:

‘.@DTraynier Be careful with @pdanahar Challenge his reports, and he'll block you from seeing them @bbcworld https://twitter.com/shoebridgec/st …'

Shoebridge explained that the BBC's Danahar had sent this tweet at 9.47 am on July 5, 2012:

'It's because most #Libyans have never had the chance to vote in their lives that they need a poster like this one.'

Shoebridge had then replied to Danahar:

'It's a nice line, but actually electoral education posters like this are seen in many developing countries, including democracies.'

and was promptly blocked by the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief. Shoebridge noted in response to Danahar’s blocking of him and Media Lens:

‘It seems a policy of hiding what you say from those who would challenge it. Hardly in keeping with open ethos of BBC.’

Shoebridge told Media Lens that:

'in the past I've on occasion defended, retweeted and recommended Danahar's tweets to others. In each case he would have known this, because of course each time his name @pdanahar is mentioned he is informed by twitter, in the same way he's informed when people reply to his tweets.' (Email, July 9, 2012)

He emphasised that his Twitter comments, and those by Media Lens, had been 'polite and reasonable'.

When Danahar was challenged about his blocking, he replied:

‘this is my personnel [sic] twitter account you don't have to follow it, so why do you bother’ (Twitter, July 8, 2012; again, no direct link possible because his account is ‘protected’)

This poor excuse neglects the prominence given in his Twitter bio to his BBC credentials and the fact he frequently tweets about BBC News reports.

The responses from Shoebridge were on the mark:

‘Paul, you see the irony of you defending censorship from a place [Libya] you're celebrating as newly free?

‘It's particularly wrong to hide your much valued reports from those paying for them to be provided.’  

‘Paul, pls step back, restore access, and learn to either accept or ignore polite dissent.’

In a subsequent email to Media Lens, Shoebridge made the following vital points:

'To clarify, I deliberately used the word "reports" to refer not to traditional reports as carried by the BBC website, but to emphasise the fact that when journalists such as Paul Danahar tweet, particularly when they tweet live events, their tweets actually are reports. Those reports are as much paid for by licence fee payers as are the product of more traditional reporting, and as such it's clearly wrong that licence fee payers should be denied access to them in anything but the most extreme of circumstances (ie abuse).  From a journalistic censorship perspective, they of course shouldn't be denied to anyone, irrespective of whether they pay for a license.' (Email, July 9, 2012)

 

Invisible Irony At The BBC

As we saw above, the BBC’s World News Editor Jon Williams, too, seems thin-skinned. More evidence for this popped up recently. Last Thursday, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme had an interview with a former correspondent from a Syrian government-affiliated TV channel who had just defected to join the opposition activists. It was a dramatic exposé of how Syrian journalists at the channel were allegedly told to broadcast stories painting the Syrian government in a favourable light.

The BBC’s James Reynolds asked the Syrian journalist:

‘The channel portrays a reasonably straightforward world: a brave Syrian government leads the fight against foreign-led terrorists. [...] Do you think the Syrian people believe what they see on the channel?’

This was a key moment of raw propaganda gold. Has a BBC journalist ever thought to ask whether the BBC ‘portrays a reasonably straightforward world: a brave British government leads the fight against foreign-led terrorists’? Do we ever hear the BBC asking whether the British people believe what they see on the channel?

The irony that this interview was taking place on the BBC, which has been almost wholly uncritical of the UK government’s foreign ‘interventions’, was glaring. But of course the irony was invisible to BBC journalists themselves. Indeed, Richard Coleborne, BBC News Middle East producer, felt compelled to plug Reynolds’ piece via the Twittersphere:

#Syria govt TV journalist now in Turkey tells BBC how the message is managed. "We tell those we interview what to say."'

Coleborne’s message was then retweeted higher up the BBC chain of command by Jon Williams.

Charles Shoebridge noted all this and expressed a modicum of deserved scepticism:

‘.@rcolebourn @WilliamsJon Whereas the BBC, at least with regards to #Syria, interviews only those they already know what they'll say.’

That was enough for Jon Williams to block Shoebridge who responded, with good reason:

‘There's a disturbing policy among some @BBCWorld @BBCNews journalists of hiding what they say from those that might challenge it.’

And it’s not just the BBC. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger no longer responds to us or Media Lens readers following our critical account of the paper’s attempt to smear Noam Chomsky in 2005. So much for Rusbridger's declared commitment to 'open journalism' which is based on 'a distributive model of journalism that has a richness and diversity of content'. Genuine 'open journalism' should be open to public challenge, as Rusbridger himself acknowledged in his 2011 Orwell lecture:

'we should have some confidence that good things will flow from holding the press up to scrutiny, however difficult it may be at times.'

Fine words. But in practice it has become so difficult for the Guardian editor that he has resorted to blocking dissenting voices on Twitter.

Understandably, not everyone is a fan of Twitter which seems almost designed for time-wasting, endless blathering and ego inflation. But it can offer the occasional insight into the inner workings of journalistic minds, revealing disdain for public challenge, ugly group-think and cowardly bullying; as we saw in the pathetic ‘jokes’ and abuse directed recently at Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.

Blocking of the public by senior journalists is yet another example of the fragile ‘tolerance’ permitted by our famously ‘free press’.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Jon Williams, BBC World News editor

Email: jon.williams@bbc.co.uk

Twitter: @WilliamsJon

Paul Danahar, BBC Middle East Bureau Cheif

Email: paul.danahar@bbc.co.uk

Twitter: @pdanahar

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 10 Jul 2012 03:48:51 +0000
Houla Massacre Update - The UN Report http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/687-houla-massacre-update-the-un-report.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/687-houla-massacre-update-the-un-report.html

 

By: David Edwards

 

In two alerts on May 31 and June 13, we noted how the UK corporate media system instantly found, not just the Syrian government, but its leader Bashar Assad, responsible for the May 25 massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria.

Numerous cartoons depicted Assad smeared with blood or bathing in blood. Just two days after the massacre, the Independent on Sunday’s front cover wanted to know what its readers were going to do about it:

‘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?’ (Independent on Sunday, May 27, 2012)

Quite what readers were supposed to do, other than gaze, was unclear. After all, one of the great triumphs of modern politics is the near-complete insulation of US-UK foreign policy against democratic pressures.

Inside the paper, David Randall wrote these bitter words:

‘He is the President; she is the First Lady; they are dead children. He governs but doesn't protect; she shops and doesn't care… And one hopes that those on the United Nations Security Council, when it reconvenes, will look into the staring eyes of these dead children and remember the hollow words of Assad's wife when she simpered that she “comforts the families” of her country's victims.’

This was standard for political commentary and media coverage right across politics and media. Houla was not reported as just one more ugly event in world news. It was sold to the British public as an historic ‘something must be done’ tipping point on a par with the contestedRacak and hypothetical Benghazi massacres used to justify the West’s attacks on Serbia in 1999 and Libya in 2011, respectively.

US and UK politicians were clearly desperate to use Houla to stoke their regime-change agenda. Rehearsing the crude tactics of the Bush-Blair era, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague endlessly repeated their damning judgements: facts were irrelevant, propaganda stunts everything. No holds were barred. The media, as ever, were happy to go along for the ride.

If the US-UK alliance was to succeed in justifying externally-imposed regime change, then the Assad government had to be declared responsible – certainly, solely, unforgivably. And that indeed was the message supplied by the media.

However, as we explained in our June 13 alert, cracks in the story quickly began to emerge. It turned out that women and children had not had their throats cut, as had been universally asserted. Moreover, the BBC’s World News editor Jon Williams commented:

‘In Houla, and now in Qubair, the finger has been pointed at the shabiha, pro-government militia. But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it's not clear who ordered the killings - or why.’

But these and a handful of other comments – and the sources informing them – were kept low-profile and did not become part of the media discussion. Inexplicably, the implications for earlier media claims went unexamined, undiscussed.

 

The UN - 'Unable To Determine The Identity Of The Perpetrators At This Time'

Last week, on June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry delivered its report on the massacre. In considering those responsible, the UN described the three most likely possibilities:

‘First, that the perpetrators were Shabbiha or other local militia from neighbouring villages, possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, the Government security forces; second, that the perpetrators were anti-Government forces seeking to escalate the conflict while punishing those that failed to support – or who actively opposed - the rebellion; or third, foreign groups with unknown affiliation.’

The report’s assessment:

‘With the available evidence, the CoI [Commission of Inquiry] could not rule out any of these possibilities.’

The UN summarised:

‘The CoI is unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators at this time; nevertheless the CoI considers that forces loyal to the Government may have been responsible for many of the deaths. The investigation will continue until the end of the CoI mandate.’

A remarkably cautious conclusion, given that it was produced in the face of intense Western political and media pressure (no doubt also behind the scenes) to blame the Syrian government.

So how did the media react to this high-profile report starkly contradicting its consensus on Houla? An honest media would have headlined the UN’s doubt, alerting readers to the earlier baseless assertions and misreporting.

Instead, the LexisNexis media database search engine finds (July 5) just six articles mentioning the report in UK national newspapers and their websites, with only five of these mentioning Houla. An astonishingly low level of coverage given the massive media attention that preceded it. LexisNexis records 1,017 print and online articles mentioning Houla in all UK newspapers since the massacre on May 25.

The Independent, which, as discussed, initially led the field in Houla hype, described the UN findings thus:

‘Gunmen raided the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station yesterday, killing seven employees, kidnapping others and demolishing buildings. The government described the killings as a “massacre,” just as the UN was blaming state forces for the Houla massacre.’

If this was a gross misrepresentation of the UN's findings, it was rendered absurd by clicking an online link to ‘More’, which took readers to these words from Patrick Cockburn:

‘The UN report on last month's massacre at Houla, near the northern city of Homs, does not name those responsible, saying only that forces loyal to the government “may have been responsible” for many of the deaths.

‘It does not name the Alawite militia – the Shabiha – as being responsible, as has been widely reported, but said they had easiest access to Houla.’

That indeed was the news – the UN report had starkly contradicted the ‘widely reported’ but false certainty.

In similar vein, a Guardian piece was titled: ‘Syrian government loyalists “may be responsible” for massacre – UN report.’

A separate Guardian headline bullet point read: ‘Assad forces may be to blame for many Houla deaths – UN.’

By contrast, more accurately, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News tweeted:

'UN Syria report: says al-Houla massacre of 108 could have been done by either pro or anti Assad militias'

We wrote to Thomson: 'Interesting, the Guardian is reporting it thus: 'Syrian government loyalists "may be responsible"' UN report.'

Thomson replied: 'true but UN equally saying anti-govt militia could have done it. And I speak as someone interviewed by UN on this.'

The former Guardian and Observer journalist, Jonathan Cook, emailed us:

'Yes, in fact, the Guardian's headline stating that Syrian government loyalists "may have been responsible" for the Houla massacre is simply preposterous. The narrative already promoted by the Guardian (and everyone else) is that they *were* responsible. So it should be blindingly obvious to the editors that the only *news* in this UN report is that the government loyalists may *not* have been responsible. Jonathan' (Email to Media Lens, June 27, 2012)

Just three days after the UN report was published, Martin Chulov wrote in the Guardian:

‘In the Syrian village of Qatma, not far from the Turkish border, a family from the town of Houla, where a massacre widely blamed on regime backers took place in late May, has taken refuge.’

In the article, which focused solely on the perspective of Syria’s armed opposition, Chulov made no mention of the UN report or the fact that it had challenged the ‘widely’ circulated claims. Instead, he concluded:

‘Where the UN and the international community may have been seen as ponderous in the Balkans, they are viewed in a worse light through a Syrian opposition lens – impotent.

‘"What they are talking about [in Geneva] is meaningless," said Idris [a Syrian exile]. "It won't change things."’

Seen as ‘ponderous’ by whom? Presumably not the current Syrian opposition. And presumably not by those of us appalled by the mendacious propaganda used to justify Nato’s war on Serbia in 1999. Chulov meant, of course, right-thinking people. The comment recalled Chulov’s earlier response on Twitter:

‘Took a v long time to muster support for a response in Bosnia and Kosovo. Syria will be even more difficult.’

Even The Times did better than the Guardian:

‘The [UN] authors said that they were unable to determine who carried out a massacre of more than 100 people in Houla last month but added that forces loyal to Mr Assad may have been responsible for many of the killings.’ (Janine di Giovanni, ‘Assad and rebels think they have more to gain from violence, UN general says,’ The Times, June 28, 2012)

The BBC website initially commented:

‘UN investigator and author of the report Karen Abuzayd told the BBC that “there is the possibility of three different groups who may have done this”.

‘She said that government forces were responsible for the initial shelling in which some people died. But what she called the “massacre” afterwards in people's homes was done either by militiamen from Alawite villages - known as shabiha - or possibly by armed opposition groups.’

As the News Sniffer website recorded, these words were quickly edited out. Similar comments were later restored.

Media response to the UN report on Houla is a striking example of how the corporate system has evolved to channel and boost government propaganda claims on demand. As ever, counter-evidence, even from highly-respected sources, struggles to make any headway against this ‘babbling brook of bullshit’.

One might think that the primary concern of editors and journalists would be to provide media consumers with accurate, comprehensible information, not least by correcting earlier high-profile errors. But not a single editorial or comment piece examining the implications of the UN report on Houla has sought to do this. Most readers and viewers will continue to believe that women and children had their throat cuts, certainly on the orders of the Syrian government. Others will be simply bewildered by an overwhelming consensus punctuated by odd, apparently credible, but unexplored contradictions.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

John Mullin, editor of the Independent on Sunday

Email: j.mullin@independent.co.uk

David Randall at the Independent

Email: d.randall@independent.co.uk

Martin Chulov at the Guardian

Via Twitter: @martinchulov

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Via twitter: @arusbridger

Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Thu, 05 Jul 2012 07:15:04 +0000
Incinerating Assange - The Liberal Media Go To Work http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/686-incinerating-assange-the-liberal-media-go-to-work-sp-1707777774.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/686-incinerating-assange-the-liberal-media-go-to-work-sp-1707777774.html

By: David Edwards

 

On June 19, in a final bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange requested asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Credible commentators argue that Assange has good reason to fear extradition to the United States from Sweden. Ray McGovern, who was a CIA analyst for 30 years, commented:

‘Not only is Julian Assange within his rights to seek asylum, he is also in his right mind. Consider this: he was about to be sent to faux-neutral Sweden, which has a recent history of bowing to U.S. demands in dealing with those that Washington says are some kind of threat to U.S. security.’

Former US constitutional and civil rights lawyer Glenn Greenwald supplied some detail:

‘The evidence that the US seeks to prosecute and extradite Assange is substantial. There is no question that the Obama justice department has convened an active grand jury to investigate whether WikiLeaks violated the draconian Espionage Act of 1917. Key senators from President Obama's party, including Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, have publicly called for his prosecution under that statute. A leaked email from the security firm Stratfor – hardly a dispositive source, but still probative – indicated that a sealed indictment has already been obtained against him. Prominent American figures in both parties have demanded Assange's lifelong imprisonment, called him a terrorist, and even advocated his assassination.’

Greenwald argued that smaller countries like Sweden are more vulnerable to American manipulation. Moreover, Sweden ‘has a disturbing history of lawlessly handing over suspects to the US. A 2006 UN ruling found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for helping the CIA render two suspected terrorists to Egypt, where they were brutally tortured.’

Greenwald concluded that Assange's ‘fear of ending up in the clutches of the US is plainly rational and well-grounded’.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, explained the risks associated with extradition to Sweden:

‘Sweden does not have bail. Now, these are on allegations of sex charges — allegations, no charges — and they’re to interrogate Julian Assange. But despite that, he would have been in prison in Sweden. At that point, our view is that there was a substantial chance that the U.S. would ask for his extradition to the United States.

‘So here you have him walking the streets in London - sure, under bail conditions - going to a jail in Sweden, where he’s in prison, almost an incommunicado prison; U.S. files extradition; he remains in prison; and the next thing that happens is whatever time it takes him to fight the extradition in Sweden, he’s taken to the United States. There’s no chance then to make political asylum application any longer. In addition, once he comes to the United States—we just hold up Bradley Manning as example one of what will happen to Julian Assange: a underground cell, essentially abuse, torture, no ability to communicate with anybody, facing certainly good chance of a life sentence, with a possibility, of course, of one of these charges being a death penalty charge…

‘So, he was in an impossible situation… This is what Julian Assange was facing: never to see the light of day again, in my view, had he gone to Sweden.’

Journalist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, stated:

‘Political asylum was made for cases like this. Freedom for Julian in Ecuador would serve the cause of freedom of speech and of the press worldwide. It would be good for us all; and it would be cause to honor, respect and thank Ecuador.’

In considering Assange’s plight, it is also worth considering the tremendous good he has done at extreme personal risk. Coleen Rowley, a former FBI Special Agent and Division Counsel, commented:

‘WikiLeaks’ efforts combating undue secrecy, exposing illegal cover-ups and championing transparency in government have already benefited the world. And I’m convinced, more than ever, that if that type of anti-secrecy publication had existed and enabled the proper information sharing in early 2001, it could have not only prevented the 9/11 attacks but it could have exposed the fabricating of intelligence and deceptive propaganda which enabled the Bush Administration to unjustifiably launch war on Iraq.’

Newsweek recently placed Assange first in its list of ‘digital revolutionaries’.

Consideration of the hideous suffering inflicted on Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have leaked information to WikiLeaks, should generate further concern for Assange’s plight. A UN investigation found that Manning’s pre-trial conditions of severe solitary confinement were ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.

As a serving US soldier, rather than a journalist, Manning was certainly more vulnerable to this type of punishment. But consider the ferocity with which US elites are pursuing Assange. A leading article in the Washington Post commented of Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa:

‘There is one potential check on Mr. Correa’s ambitions. The U.S. “empire” he professes to despise happens to grant Ecuador (which uses the dollar as its currency) special trade preferences that allow it to export many goods duty-free. A full third of Ecuadoran foreign sales ($10 billion in 2011) go to the United States, supporting some 400,000 jobs in a country of 14 million people. Those preferences come up for renewal by Congress early next year. If Mr. Correa seeks to appoint himself America’s chief Latin American enemy and Julian Assange’s protector between now and then, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome.’

On Fox News, Roger Noriega, US Ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001-2003 and Assistant Secretary of State from 2003-2005, observed:

‘It remains to be seen whether Correa will grant Assange asylum in Ecuador. If he does, it will put his country on a collision course with Britain, Sweden, and the United States, which has spoken publicly of charging Assange with crimes for publishing classified government documents.’

 

‘The Most Massive Turd’ Goes To Harrods

The evidence, then, that Assange has plenty to fear is overwhelming. But not for the great and the good of liberal journalism. The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore set the tone on Twitter on June 19:

‘Seems like Assange's supporters did not expect him to skip bail? Really? Who has this guy not let down?’

She added: ‘I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.’

Moore later complained that, after writing articles about Assange, she had suffered ‘vile abuse’. We wrote to her:

‘That's a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone “the most massive turd”? Vile abuse?’

Moore replied: ‘no I wouldnt call that vile abuse. I mean nasty threats etc.’

She added: ‘also I would advise you to stop sounding so bloody patronising’.

Moore later commented to Deborah Orr of the Guardian and 'Victoria Peckham' (Janice Turner) of The Times: ‘I never met him [Assange]. Did you?’

Journalists found Assange’s predicament endlessly amusing. The Guardian’s Luke Harding commented:

‘Assange's plight seems reminiscent of the scene in Monty Python where the knights think to storm the castle using a giant badger’

Christina Patterson of the Independent wrote:

‘Quite a feat to move from Messiah to Monty Python, but good old Julian Assange seems to have managed it. Next Timbuktu?’

She wrote again: ‘Meanwhile, the latest on Assange: he's hiding up a tree. Or in a ditch. Or in an embassy.’

Twitter quickly filled up with this curiously insipid form of comedic sludge. The Guardian’s Technology editor Charles Arthur tweeted:

‘It is absolutely not true that Julian Assange got twitter to fall over so that he could sneak out of the Ecuadorean embassy for a latte.’

David Aaronovitch of The Times wrote:

‘When the embassy stunt fails expect Assange, slung over the shoulders of muscular friend, to be swung into St Paul’s shouting “thanctuary!”’

The Times' home news reporter, John Simpson, tweeted:

‘There are now signs offering a free #assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. Apparently nobody wants him. #occupyknightsbridge’

Charlie Beckett, Guardian contributor and director of Polis at the London School of Economics, wrote:

‘Fly Me To Cuba! (Or Ecaudaor) [sic] Julian Assange hijacks WikiLeaks’

The Deputy Editor of the Guardian US, Stuart Millar, tittered:

‘I like to think that Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it's so convenient for Harrods bit.ly/LcMsNd’

Millar posted a link to a map showing the proximity of the Ecuadorian embassy to Harrods. Indeed this was a popular theme among senior liberal journalists. The Independent’s Joan Smith wrote a piece under the title: ‘Why do we buy Julian Assange's one-man psychodrama?:

'The news that the increasingly eccentric founder of WikiLeaks had sought political asylum in Knightsbridge, of all places, was greeted with equal measures of disbelief and hilarity. The London embassy of Ecuador is convenient for Harrods, although I don't imagine that was a major consideration when Assange walked into the building on Tuesday afternoon.'

Indeed not - Harrods was, of course, a total irrelevance. But anyway Smith concluded with these words:

'Ladies and gentlemen, I give you this superb vignette: the people's champion, shopping for human rights near Harrods.'

But it wasn’t a ‘superb vignette’; it made no sense at all. Smith also joked on Twitter: ‘Some people will go to any lengths to avoid the Olympics.’

In the Financial Times, Robert Shrimsley wrote a spoof of Assange’s ‘imagined embassy diary’:

‘Hour 1: Have to say Harrods is looking very faded. Not what I expected at all. Have given police the slip and smuggled myself into the store where I intend to hide out in the Food Hall till I can request political asylum from the Qataris.’

In the Guardian, Tim Dowling offered ‘five escape routes from the Ecuadorean embassy’, including:

‘Ascend to embassy roof. Fire cable-loaded crossbow (all embassies have these; ask at reception) across the street to Harrod's roof. Secure and tighten the cable, then slide across, flying-fox style, using your belt as a handle. Make your way to the Harrod's helipad.’

BBC World Affairs correspondent, Caroline Hawley, enjoyed Dowling’s piece, sending the link to her followers on Twitter:

‘Advice for #Assange escape: order a pizza and escape as delivery boy via @guardian guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jun…’

Ian Dunt, Editor of politics.co.uk. wrote:

‘Julian Assange, Chris Brown and Mike Tyson are party of the same depressing tapestry of hatred towards women bit.ly/LjSKZI’

Chris Brown and Mike Tyson have both been convicted of serious crimes against women – assault and rape, respectively. Assange has not been charged with any crime.

Aaronovitch tweeted on the same theme: ‘Don’t you think that many Assange supporters are misogynistic?’

On the Reuters website, John Lloyd, a contributing editor to the Financial Times, took the prize for crazed comparisons:

'When we talk of fallen angels, we invoke the original fallen angel, Satan or Lucifer, once beloved of God, the highest in his closest council, whose pride impelled him to challenge for heaven’s rule – and came before his fall to Hell. Assange was an angel of a sort, at least to many.'

Contributor to the Guardian and Gay Times, Patrick Strudwick, commented: ‘Does anyone think Julian Assange isn't enjoying all this?’

Stephen Glover wrote in the Daily Mail: ‘The story of Julian Assange would be hilarious if he had not caused so much damage.’ Glover added:

‘If Julian Assange comes out, he shouldn’t be given free passage to anywhere. If he stays put, I suggest we happily leave him for 15 or even 30 years in the Ecuadorean embassy, where his hosts can furnish him with a computer so that he can continue to hack away. Female embassy staff, however, should probably tread warily.’

On and on, journalists poured scorn on Assange. The Guardian’s Deborah Orr tweeted: ‘I think we can safely say that Julian Assange's bid to run the world has faltered. A bit.’

Orr added in the Guardian: ‘It's hard to believe that, until fairly recently, Julian Assange was hailed not just as a radical thinker, but as a radical achiever, too.’

The sub-heading above Orr’s article read: 'Of course Assange should face the charges brought against him in Sweden.'

We, and others, asked her: ‘What “charges”?’

Orr replied: ‘I've informed the Guardian's reader's editor of the Assange inaccuracy. They'll follow it up. Thanks to all who pointed it out, and sorry.’

The gaffe, corrected here, but not in the original sub-heading here, was widespread across the media.

The Guardian’s Stuart Millar commented: ‘The serious downside of the #Assange situation is having to watch his risible Russia Today show for research purposes’

The Economist’s International editor Edward Lucas quipped: ‘my short piece on Assange: Leaker unplugged. I wonder if he's really in the embassy at all.’

Lucas's piece was surprisingly balanced and restrained, until the final paragraph:

‘The choice of Ecuador is not as odd as it seems. Mr Assange recently interviewed Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television channel. The men got on splendidly, sharing splenetic anti-American views. Both also come across as thin-skinned, narcissistic and selective when it comes to media freedom. Mr Assange wanted to censor his own biography. Mr Correa has built up a state media empire while threatening private outlets. Ecuador says it is now weighing the fugitive Australian’s request, though its options seem limited. So do his.’

George Monbiot asked on Twitter:

'Can anyone point me to persuasive piece on why Sweden would be more likely to extradite #Assange to US than UK? Genuine inquiry.'

Monbiot's judgement was duly delivered two hours later:

'OK, having read strongest cases tweeps cld find, not convinced that Sweden more likely to extradite #Assange than UK.'

We tweeted:

'Now that's what I call professional journalism! Research begins (on Twitter!) 4:54 and ends 6:55 - done and dusted! :o)'

David Allen Green, legal correspondent for the New Statesman, wrote:

‘Wonder what those well-meaning sorts who stood #Assange bail now think of his latest ploy to evade due process.’

He added:

‘And @Jemima_Khan, on hook for #Assange's bail, *not* told of his flight to Ecuador embassy, see bit.ly/LColT0. Shameful.’

A Guardian piece also focused on Khan, concluding with these words:

‘Jemima Khan, socialite and associate editor at the New Statesman, was a high-profile donor to the fund – to the tune of £20,000 – but has called for Assange to face the allegations made against him in Sweden.

‘"For the record, in response to those asking about Assange and bail money …" she wrote on her Twitter page, "I personally would like to see Assange confront the rape allegations in Sweden and the two women at the centre have a right to a response."’

Rod Liddle made the same point in a Sunday Times article about ‘the WikiLeaks weirdo’. (Liddle, 'Leaking cash, WikiMugs?,' Sunday Times, June 24)

But in fact Jemima Khan had said rather more than these reports suggested. She tweeted:

‘Annoyed by journos quoting only half my tweet about Assange & deliberately ignoring other half.’

And: ‘My tweet misinterpreted. Obvs I'd like Assange to answer allegations & clear his name but I understand why he's taken such drastic action.’

Khan also retweeted a letter signed by Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and many others calling for Ecuador to grant Assange asylum.

The media response to Assange’s asylum request tells us much about the default brutality and reflexive herdthink of elite corporate journalism. We witnessed a rush to be seen to revile Assange as a ‘turd’, ‘weirdo’, ‘narcissist’ and joke. The crucial importance of his achievements, of his cause, was deemed utterly irrelevant beside his allegedly unbearable personal failings.

Almost as disturbing as the tsunami of mindless vitriol is the lack of dissent. US analyst Glenn Greenwald has so far been the sole high-profile political commentator willing to take on the UK’s hard-right ‘liberals’. By contrast, the Guardian and Independent’s dissident figleaves, and the many aspirational leftists who long to join them, have kept their heads down, saying nothing in support of a man who has risked his freedom and life to expose vast crimes of state.

It is yet more evidence, if any were needed, that political ‘convergence’ – the empty ‘choice’ between Old Tories and New Tories – has brought with it a dramatic and dangerous narrowing of 'mainstream' thought and dissent. We seem to be at the dawn of a brave new world: a high-tech Dark Age dominated by a kind of corporate feudalism.

(Special thanks to filmmaker and activist Gabriele Zamparini who posted many of the above tweets and quotes on the Media Lens message board, archived here by the FiveFilters website.)

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Suzanne Moore at the Guardian

Twitter: @suzanne_moore

Christina Patterson at the Independent

Email: c.patterson@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @queenchristina_

Joan Smith at the Independent

Twitter: @polblonde

David Aaronovitch

Twitter: @Daaronovitch

Stuart Millar Guardian US

Twitter: @stuartmillar159

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

Chris Blackhurst, Independent editor

Email: c.blackhurst@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @c_blackhurst

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 26 Jun 2012 13:14:29 +0000
Game Over For The Climate? http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/684-game-over-for-the-climate.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/684-game-over-for-the-climate.html

Whatever happened to the green movement? It’s been 50 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring, a powerful book about the environmental devastation wreaked by chemical pesticides. Since then we’ve had the rise and fall - or at least the compromised assimilation - of green groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Forum For the Future.

Last week, the Independent marked the half-century with a well-meaning but frankly insipid ‘landmark series’ titled ‘The Green Movement at 50’. But there’s a glaring hole in such coverage; and, indeed, in the ‘green movement’ itself: the insidious role of the corporate media, a key component of corporate globalisation, in driving humanity and ecosystems towards the brink of destruction.

The acclaimed biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson puts the scale of the crisis bluntly:

‘We’re destroying the rest of life in one century. We’ll be down to half the species of plants and animals by the end of the century if we keep at this rate.’

And yet ‘very few people are paying attention’ to this disaster. Wilson, who is 82, directed his warning to the young in particular:

‘Why aren’t you young people out protesting the mess that’s being made of the planet? Why are you not repeating what was done in the ‘60s? Why aren’t you in the streets? And what in the world has happened to the green movement that used to be on our minds and accompanied by outrage and high hopes? What went wrong?’

The trouble is that most of what the public hears about politics, including environmental issues, comes from the corporate media. This is a disaster for genuine democracy. As discussed in a recent alert, the media industry is made up of large profit-seeking corporations whose main task is to sell audiences to wealthy advertisers – also corporations, of course - on whom the media depend for a huge slice of their revenues. It’s blindingly obvious that the corporate media is literally not in the business of alerting humanity to the real risk of climate catastrophe and what needs to be done to avert it.

Last month, leading climate scientist James Hansen, who was the first to warn the US Congress about global warming in 1988, observed that:

‘President Obama speaks of a “planet in peril,” but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course.’

Hansen added:

‘The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. [...] Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.’

If adequate action doesn’t happen soon, says Hansen, it’s ‘game over for the climate’.

 

Always Stuck On Square One

And yet even liberal media outlets repeatedly present as fact that there has been government ‘failure’ to respond to climate change. They do very little to report that big business, acting through and outside government, and the corporate media itself, has been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the required radical action.

Indeed, media debate on how best to respond to environmental crisis has barely moved in a generation. For years, the public has been assailed by the same anodyne editorials urging ‘the need for all of us to act now’. Meanwhile, for obvious reasons, corporate media organisations are silent about the inherently biocidal logic of corporate capitalism. They are silent about the reality that politics in the US and UK is largely ‘a two-party dictatorship in thraldom to giant corporations,’ as Ralph Nader has observed (interview with Paul Jay, The Real News Network, November 4, 2008). They are silent about the role of the mass media, especially advertising, in normalising the unthinkable of unrestrained consumption. The corporate media, including its liberal media wing, is a vital cog of the rampant global capitalism that threatens our very existence.

But – and here some of our readers start to protest or scratch their heads -  surely the Guardian is immune to such political and commercial pressures? After all, it is owned by the non-profit Scott Trust, as the paper’s editors and journalists are fond of reminding their audience. But delve a little deeper and you will see that the newspaper is managed and operated by influential bigwigs with extensive ties to the establishment, ‘mainstream’ political parties, finance and big business (as we discussed at greater length in our book, Newspeak in the 21st Century, Pluto Press, London, 2009).

The truth is the Guardian is just as grubbily commercial as other corporate media organisations. In fact, a media insider revealed to us recently that the Guardian has a confidential business plan to address its current massive loss-making (a common affliction in today’s newspaper industry with the increasing leakage of advertising from papers to the internet). He told us that when a media website is ranked in the top 10 in the United States, the floodgates of online advertising open and its coffers start to fill. The online Guardian has therefore been marketing itself to US audiences as heavily as it can. Its stringently-moderated Comment is Free website is one of the crucial elements of that strategy. The Guardian is now at the threshold of accessing lucrative sums in advertising revenue.

With humanity heading for the climate abyss, it’s time for the green movement and those on the left to wake up to the reality that the Guardian, and the rest of the liberal-corporate media, is not in favour of the kind of radical change that is desperately needed.

 

The Sound Of A Door Closing Forever

Despite an endless series of escalating alarms from Mother Nature indicating the urgency of the climate crisis, no serious action is being undertaken to avert catastrophe. Whenever the corporate media bothers to report the latest sign of climate threat, it usually does so in passing and without proper analysis of the likely consequences, and what can and should be done.  And then the issue is simply dropped and forgotten.

For example, the head of the International Energy Agency recently warned that the chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) above pre-industrial levels is reducing rapidly.

‘What I see now with existing investments for [power] plants under construction...we are seeing the door for a 2 degree Celsius target about to be closed and closed forever,’ Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, told a Reuters’ Global Energy & Environment Summit.

‘This door is getting slimmer and slimmer in terms of physical and economic possibility,’ he warned.

According to the IEA, around 80 per cent of the total energy-related carbon emissions permissible by 2035 to limit warming to 2°C have already been taken up by existing power plants, buildings and factories.

The 2°C limit was agreed in 2010 at the UN climate summit in Cancún, Mexico. Why 2°C? The Reuters report explains:

‘Scientists say that crossing the threshold risks an unstable climate in which weather extremes are common...’

Tragically, the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions means that rising carbon dioxide emissions may well produce a 2°C rise as early as 2050 and a 2.8°C rise by 2080.

If there is ever any ‘mainstream’ discussion of ‘climate risk’, it is usually couched in terms of this ‘safe limit’ of  2°C warming. This was a major theme of the most recent UN climate summit in Durban in December 2011. For example, Louise Gray, environment correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, wrote that:

‘UN scientists have stated that emissions need to peak and start coming down before 2020 to stand a chance of keeping temperature rise within the “safe zone” of 2C.’

Lord Julian Hunt, former head of the UK Met Office, pointed out the best current estimate for global temperature rise by 2100 is 3.5°C and said that the ‘international consensus’ is that it ‘should be limited to 2C’.

And a Guardian editorial declared:

‘The race to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C is still winnable if there is a big change in the pace,’ although conceding that ‘a 3-4C rise looks the most likely outcome.’

Few voices disagree with this framing of the climate debate and what the ‘safe’ target should be. But Chris Shaw, a social sciences researcher at the University of Sussex, is one exception. Shaw has been investigating how international climate change policy is being driven by the ideological notion of a single global dangerous limit of 2°C warming. In reality, however, such a precise limit cannot be supported by the complexities of climate science. For example, low-lying coastal regions such as Bangladesh and Pacific islands are clearly more vulnerable to likely sea-level rises than elevated inland regions. Also, 2°C warming would be more harmful to some ecosystems than others; coral reefs may bleach out of existence once the oceans warm by as little as 1°C. Additionally, because of geographical variation in the effects of climate change, 2°C global average warming means that some parts of the world would actually experience as much as 4°C-5°C warming.

Shaw’s analysis shows how the ‘two degree dangerous limit’ framework of debate and policy-making has constructed climate change ‘as a problem solvable within existing value systems and patterns of social activity.’ In other words, corporate globalisation is not up for challenge. He stresses that even if we had a perfect forecast of future climate change and our vulnerability to it, 'deciding what counts as dangerous is still a value choice because what is considered to be an acceptable risk will vary between individuals and cultures.' The 2°C-limit ideology ‘elevates the idea of a single dangerous limit to the status of fact, and in so doing marginalises egalitarian and ecological perspectives’. 

This propaganda process of marginalising sane alternatives has been no accident. As Shaw rightly observes:

'Since the Second World War, the prevailing consensus has been that all problems can be solved through the expert application of industrial technologies, rather than real changes in how we live our lives or, more fundamentally, in human consciousness. The two degree limit perpetuates this approach by diverting attention away from questions about the political and social order.'

Shaw concludes:

'What should be a political debate about how we want to live becomes reduced to a series of expert calculations about "how much CO2 can we continue emitting before we warm the world by two degrees?" or "what will be the effect on GDP of reducing emissions by 20 per cent?" Consequently, we are invited to see the world as a kind of planetary machine that requires engineering management and maintenance by experts.' (Email, June 18, 2012)

Climate activist and independent journalist Cory Morningstar observes that the first suggestion to use 2°C as a critical temperature limit for climate policy was not even made by a climate scientist. Rather it was put forward by the well-known neoclassical economist, W. D. Nordhaus:

‘Nordhaus has been one of the most influential economists involved in climate change models and construction of emissions scenarios for well over 30 years, having developed one of the earliest economic models to evaluate climate change policy. He has steadfastly opposed the drastic reductions in greenhouse gases emissions necessary for averting global catastrophe, “arguing instead for a slow process of emissions reduction, on the grounds that it would be more economically justifiable.”’

Morningstar, initiator of the grassroots group Canadians for Action on Climate Change, has carefully traced the cynical machinations of corporate ‘environmentalism’. She highlights the little-known fact that, rather than a 2°C target, the original ‘safe limit’ was given as just 1ºC by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990. But an unholy alliance of corporate interests resulted in it being buried and replaced by the higher target.

She adds:

‘As a consequence of such interference by many powerful players who sought to ensure the economic and political power structure would not be threatened, adaptation surfaced as the primary goal in international climate science and policy, effectively replacing the goals of prevention and mitigation from the 1980s.’

Morningstar warns of making false friends in the struggle to avert the climate chaos ahead:

‘The mainstream environmental movement no longer inspires nor leads society to an enlightened existence – it simply bows down to the status quo.’

Too many of these mainstream groups have, she says, essentially ‘teamed up’ with the very same corporations that need to be challenged; the same corporations who:

‘greenwash summits and caused such social injustice and environmental degradation in the first place and continue to lobby and bully to maintain the status quo of corporate dominance today.’ 

Chris Shaw points out that powerful policy actors, notably the European Union, have imposed the simple metric of the two degree limit which ‘is then parroted uncritically by the media and NGOs. The danger is that the concept communicates a fallacious sense of certainty.’ (Email, May 24, 2012)

He sums up:

‘The argument reduces to this - defining what counts as dangerous is a value choice, not an expert calculation. The neoliberal globalization agenda cannot accommodate almost seven billion different opinions [i.e. the global population] about how much warming should be risked in the name of continued economic growth.’

And so the ideology that best fits within the neoliberal agenda of corporate globalisation – in other words, a single warming limit - is the framework that prevails. Shaw says that 'a new way of talking and thinking about climate change is long overdue' and intends to set out options for this at his blog.

 

Contraction And Convergence

In a rare exception in the corporate media, an article by the Independent’s science editor Steve Connor at least allowed James Hansen a few short paragraphs to spell out the dangers of the 2ºC threshold - if not the economic-growth ideology that lies behind it - and what is really required instead:

‘The target of 2C... is a prescription for long-term disaster ...we are beginning to see signs of slow [climate] feedbacks beginning to come into play.

‘Ice sheets are beginning to lose mass and methane hydrates are to some degree beginning to bubble out of melting permafrost.’

Along with other scientists and climate campaigners, Hansen believes the focus should be on limiting the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – now at around 390 parts per million (ppm) and rising annually by 2 ppm. Hansen says it should be no higher than 350 ppm to stop catastrophic events such as the melting of ice sheets, dangerous sea level rises and the huge release of methane from beneath the permafrost. This will require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and even ‘biosequestration’, for example through reforestation, to soak up some of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

But even 350 ppm may well be too high, as Hansen himself acknowledges. There may need to be an upper limit of 300 ppm. Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, goes further stating:

‘Our survival would very much depend on how well we were able to draw down carbon dioxide to 280 ppm.’

This would mean giving up fossil fuels completely; a move which would be fiercely and relentlessly opposed by vested interests.

So, if not the current UN process with its 2°C ‘safe limit’, what should be the framework for averting climate catastrophe? For many years now, we have advocated the climate policy known as ‘contraction and convergence’ proposed by the London-based Global Climate Institute led by the indefatigable Aubrey Meyer. By agreeing to a level of, say, 280 ppm, both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations would contract (i.e. reduce) their production of global-warming gases. This would be done by converging to an equitable per-capita basis of shared emission rights: more populous nations would be allowed to emit proportionally more than smaller nations.

Now that the Kyoto Protocol – the previous climate treaty - has expired in 2012, the United Nations is currently considering the best way forward for its climate negotiations. The GCI’s proposal of contraction and convergence is gathering a good head of steam. For the sake of planetary health – indeed humanity’s survival – it should be accepted and implemented.

 

The Megalomaniacal Megamachine

The mainstream environment movement, with its career campaigners and high-level hobnobbing with power, has largely failed the public. Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth (FoE), speaks grandly of the ‘two parallel discourses’ of planetary boundaries and economic growth ‘going in polar opposite directions’. That is all too obvious, and has been well-known for decades. He then claims that ‘the profoundest failure of all is our underlying disconnect from the Earth.’

Juniper explains:

‘We work to take on these environmental challenges without having any kind of profound connection with nature. We've lost it talking in a mechanistic, policy-oriented way.

‘We've tried to make it all about numbers, parts per million, complicated policy instruments, and as a result, we've lost something that's essential. Most people couldn't tell you the names of country flowers by the side of the road, the birds that are singing. It's a disconnect in our world view – a failure in our philosophy.’

Being able to name flowers by the side of the road is all good and well. But what about the deep structural causes in economics and politics that generate destruction and stifle change? In the late 1990s, one of us asked Juniper what he thought about the problem of the mainstream media acting as a propaganda system for corporate power. It was clear he had no idea what we were talking about.

Do leading environmentalists really have nothing more astute, inspiring and hard-hitting to say about a global industrial system of destructive capitalism which is consuming the planet? As one of the characters in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang observes in the battle against the corporate assault on nature:

‘We're not dealing with human beings. We're up against the megamachine. A megalomaniacal megamachine.’

Feeling ‘a profound connection with nature’ is vital for one’s well-being. But it will not get us very far if we do not also recognise and then dismantle the destructive financial practices of global ‘investors’, institutions of state-corporate power - with the media a key element - and the warmongering 'adventures' that are crushing people and planet.

In the week of the Rio 2012 Earth summit, 20 years on from the original jamboree in 1992, George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

‘So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.

‘Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope from which we all hang.’

Stirring words. But Jonathan Cook, an independent journalist who used to work for the Guardian, notes sagely that:

‘There are no mass protest movements today because “we are endlessly seduced by hope". And who, I wonder, does most to promote such hope? How unfortunate that he ran out of space when he did - otherwise he might have been able to answer that very question for us.’ (Email, June 18, 2012)

In other words, Guardian columnist Monbiot misses out the crucial role of the corporate media, not least his own newspaper, in endlessly seducing us all by hope.

Cook adds:

'I was a little surprised by this level of chutzpah from Monbiot. In truth, who or what does he think could be capable of generating such hope and be so practised in the art of seduction? It's clearly not the politicians: they were around decades ago, when there were serious protest movements. But a wall-to-wall "professional" (ie corporate) media is of much more recent origin. In fact, the rise of such media appears to track very closely the increase in our soma-induced state.'

For years, the corporate media has selected and promoted high-profile green spokespeople - like the Green Party's Jonathan Porritt and Sara Parkin, Greenpeace's Lord Peter Melchett and Stephen Tindale, FoE's Charles Secrett and Tony Juniper, author Mark Lynas and Monbiot himself - who have then come to limit and dominate the environment debate within ‘respectable’ bounds.

In the 1980s, big business openly declared war on the green movement which it perceived as a genuine threat to power and profit. By a process of carefully limited corporate media 'inclusion', the honesty, vitality and truth of environmentalism have been corralled, contained, trivialised and stifled. Today, even as environmental problems have lurched from bad to worse, the green movement has virtually ceased to exist. The lessons are obvious. Corporate media 'inclusion' of dissent hands influence and control to the very forces seeking to disempower dissent. No-one should be surprised by the results.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

George Monbiot, Guardian columnist

Email:george@monbiot.info

Twitter: @georgemonbiot

Chris Blackhurst, Independent editor

Email: c.blackhurst@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @c_blackhurst

Michael McCarthy, Independent environment editor

Email: m.mccarthy@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @mjpmccathy

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 19 Jun 2012 07:11:36 +0000
'Shades Of Grey'- Rethinking The Houla Massacre http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/683-the-houla-massacre-part-2-shades-of-grey.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/683-the-houla-massacre-part-2-shades-of-grey.html

In our recent alert, The Houla Massacre, we noted how virtually all UK corporate media instantly found, not just the Syrian government, but its leader Bashar Assad, wholly responsible for the brutal massacre of 108 people, including 49 children.

While initial accounts blamed Syrian government forces for mass death by shelling the UN quickly reported that shelling was responsible for fewer than 20 of the deaths.

'Pro-government militia' were then blamed for the close-quarter butchery involving, we were told, the slashing of throats and point-blank gunshots to the head. Diplomatic correspondent James Robbins commented on the BBC's News at Ten:

‘The UN now says most victims, including many children, were murdered inside their homes by President Assad’s militias.’ (BBC News At Ten, May 29, 2012)

These claims of clear responsibility for hideous crimes strongly empowered calls for overt Western military intervention (covert Western intervention appears to be well underway).

Last week, however, in what might almost be interpreted as a mea culpa, the BBC’s World News editor, Jon Williams, began a June 7 blog emphasising ‘the complexity of the situation on the ground in Syria, and the need to try to separate fact from fiction’.

This was a surprising emphasis – the BBC had previously communicated no sense of ‘complexity’ in blaming the Syrian government. Williams continued:

‘In the aftermath of the massacre at Houla last month, initial reports said some of the 49 children and 34 women killed had their throats cut. In Damascus, Western officials told me the subsequent investigation revealed none of those found dead had been killed in such a brutal manner. Moreover, while Syrian forces had shelled the area shortly before the massacre, the details of exactly who carried out the attacks, how and why were still unclear… In Houla, and now in Qubair, the finger has been pointed at the shabiha, pro-government militia. But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it's not clear who ordered the killings - or why.’

Williams added: ‘stories are never black and white - often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior Western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as "brilliant". But he also likened it to so-called "psy-ops", brainwashing techniques used by the US and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true. A healthy scepticism is one of the essential qualities of any journalist - never more so than in reporting conflict. The stakes are high - all may not always be as it seems.’

These comments were reinforced on the same day in a further 'shades of grey' paragraph published by the BBC’s reporter Paul Danahar on the BBC website:

'There is a sense in Damascus shared by many diplomats, international officials and those opposed to President Assad that his regime may no longer have complete and direct day-to-day command and control of some of the militia groups being blamed for massacring civilians. The world has looked at the Syrian conflict in very black and white terms over the past 15 months. It now needs to acknowledge the shades of grey that are emerging.'

Danahar added:

‘Members of the international community in Damascus say that, contrary to initial reports, most of the people in Houla were killed by gunfire spraying the rooms, not by execution-style killings with a gun placed to the back of the head. Also, people's throats were not cut, although one person did have an eye gouged out.’

These were crucial new claims challenging key aspects of the consensus on Houla - the media had been as one in reporting as established fact the horrific cutting of children’s throats, for example. It now appears that this was a fabrication. Even more importantly, the same media had suggested there was no doubt that the Syrian government was to blame for the atrocity and that this justified military intervention.

If Williams’ and Danahar’s reports from Syria merited headline coverage, they did not get it. While Williams' views were confined to his blog, the BBC initially included Danahar’s comments in a small analysis box to the right of a main article focusing on a different massacre in al-Qubair. The excellent News Sniffer website, which tracks changes made to online media articles, has recorded 16 versions of the article. Danahar’s comments first appeared in the second version and were then moved to the very end of the long main article. Version 10, however, directly swapped the 'shades of grey' paragraph above (beginning, 'There is a sense in Damascus...') with these comments:

'The carnage at Houla, and now Qubair, has injected a dangerous new element into an explosive situation.

'The shabiha militia is almost entirely drawn from the Alawite community, the minority to which President Assad and his ruling clan belong. Most of the victims are from the majority Sunni community in which the uprising is to a large extent based.'

In other words, rare mainstream scepticism was directly replaced by the standard line suggesting Syrian government responsibility.

Regardless of the editing, this was unjustifiably low-key publishing of a major scoop starkly contradicting earlier reports on an extremely high-profile issue. Danahar’s gruesome testimony on the al-Qubair massacre was later mentioned in several press articles in the Guardian and Independent. But we have been unable to find any reference outside the BBC to his claims that pro-government militia might be beyond Assad’s control and that the world ‘needs to acknowledge the shades of grey that are emerging’.

 

The Guardian – ‘The Report Appears To Be A Little Second Hand’

According to a June 7 report in Germany’s leading daily newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the victims in Houla were almost exclusively from the Alawi and Shia communities, and were killed by anti-Assad Sunni militants. The National Review commented:

‘The FAZ report echoes eyewitness accounts collected from refugees from the Houla region by members of the Monastery of St. James in Qara, Syria. According to monastery sources cited by the Dutch Middle East expert Martin Janssen, armed rebels murdered “entire Alawi families” in the village of Taldo in the Houla region.’

We have found no evidence of any UK newspaper covering the FAZ story. When challenged, the Guardian’s Matthew Weaver explained:

‘Thanks, but that report appears to be a little second hand and contradicts what are [sic] reporters found’ (Email posted by Gabriele Zamparini on Media Lens message board, June 11, 2012)

Middle East specialist and Guardian op-ed contributor, Patrick Seale, appears to disagree. On Middle East Online (June 12), he gives the story detailed attention, noting that FAZ is 'a very serious newspaper'. Seale concludes: 'An independent investigation is clearly needed to establish which of these two versions is correct.'

Curiously, the Guardian has published numerous second hand accounts from Syrian ‘opposition activists’ based in the UK. For example, on June 7, the Guardian’s Ian Black reported the al-Qubair massacre under the title, 'Syria accused of massacring 100':

‘The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the massacre was carried out at a farm by pro-regime shabiha militiamen armed with guns and knives after regular troops had shelled the area.’

The Guardian has quoted the Syrian Observatory dozens of times. And yet, according to Reuters, the organisation consists of a single individual, Rami Abdulrahman, the owner of a clothes shop, who works from his ‘two bedroom terraced home in Coventry’.

Patrick Seale again appears to contradict the Guardian on the al-Qubair massacre:

'After monitors reached al-Qubair, a spokeswoman for the UN supervision mission, Ms Sausan Ghosheh, said, “The circumstances surrounding the incident are not clear.”'

The Guardian has also had no problem reporting the possibility of ‘false flag’ attacks in Syria. Consider the title of this Guardian article:

‘Syria blames al-Qaida after two car bombs kill dozens in Damascus - Opposition activists dismiss official account, accusing Assad regime of plotting blasts that coincided with Arab League visit’

Numerous other media have entertained the possibility that the Syrian government committed atrocities in order to blame the rebels. Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, wrote of the same car bomb attacks in the Independent:

‘A government that has tortured and slaughtered thousands of its own citizens would have little compunction about mounting a false-flag operation to justify its crackdown.’

By contrast, to reiterate, the German report that Syrian rebels were responsible for a ‘false flag’ atrocity in Houla appears not to have been reported anywhere in the UK media.

Channel 4’s Alex Thomson, who visited Houla immediately after the massacre, suggests that pro-government militia probably committed the atrocity, but he cautions:

‘The jury’s out on exactly who did it – I don’t think we’ll ever know firmly...’

Thomson has also claimed that the Free Syrian Army lured him and other journalists into the firing line to be shot:

‘I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.’

Thomson wrote:

'Please, do not for one moment believe that my experience with the rebels in al Qusair was a one-off.  This morning I received the following tweet:

'"@alextomo I read your piece "set up to be shot in no mans land", I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”

'That was from Nawaf al Thani, who is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria earlier this year. It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria.'

Thomson’s claims have been reported by several major media. Writing in the Daily Mail, Peter McKay was alone in linking Thomson’s experience to an earlier tragedy:

‘“Dead journos are bad for Damascus,” [Thomson] explains, a reference to Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times who was killed in a Syrian forces bombardment. Was she, too, set up by the “Free Syria” forces?’

McKay added:

‘But the so-called Arab Spring — of which the Syrian civil war is part — is a far more complex event than credulous innocents in the West imagine. It’s not simply uprisings by ground-down peasants against tyrants who repress them.

‘It’s about a transfer of power to rival clans and/or religious groups. And about a continuation of the old, U.S.-Russia Cold War stand-off.’

Mary Dejevsky provided a tiny glimpse of scepticism in the Independent:

‘At every level the picture is deceptive. Even on the smallest, most local scale things are less black and white than they have been made to look… Even the assumption that Assad forces were responsible for the carnage is not quite true. In both Houla and now Qubair, it is shabiha militias – from Assad's Alawite clan, but not regular army troops – that are identified as the culprits.’

The Times made a suitably vague gesture in the direction of the truth:

‘Verifiable information is scarce, because the Assad regime ensures that this is so.’ (Leading article, ‘Heart of Darkness,’ The Times, June 8, 2012)

But The Times was not about to let a small problem like scarcity of information stand in its way:

‘More massacres in Syria illustrate the depravity of the regime. Western diplomacy recognises the necessity of a post-Assad future, despite international division.’

 

‘Will The World Ever Step In To Stop The Iraqi Slaughter?’

Little scepticism was apparent in a June 8 Guardian leader. The killers in Houla and al-Qubair remained clear:

‘There are ominous similarities: both attacks were launched after artillery barrages; women and children accounted for a large number of the deaths; pro-government militias worked hand in hand with the army...’

The logic?

‘Once again, Assad's terror is tactically ahead of the game: sectarianism is the tool to dig himself further in.’

And yet, as we discussed in our previous alert, the influential risk analysis group Stratfor reported that Syrian government massacres against civilians were unlikely because the ‘regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds’.

And with good reason, given what WikiLeaks has leaked of Pentagon thinking:

'They dont believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi move against Benghazi.'

The Guardian’s lead reporter on Syria is Martin Chulov. In the aftermath of Houla, Chulov was asked on Twitter:

‘Memories of the inhuman inexcusable inaction of Bosnia surfacing?’

Chulov replied:

‘Took a v long time to muster support for a response in Bosnia and Kosovo. Syria will be even more difficult.’

We tweeted Chulov:

‘As a neutral reporter, are you actually supporting Kosovo-style Western intervention in Syria?’

Chulov replied: ‘nope’.

This week, an article in the Independent by Kim Sengupta was published under the headline:

‘Will the world ever step in to stop the Syrian slaughter?

‘As the West's rhetoric has escalated, so has the death toll from Assad's killers. Kim Sengupta asks whether a military response is anywhere on the horizon’

Did the Independent ever publish an article with the title: ‘Will the world ever step in to stop the Iraqi slaughter?’?

In November 2004, Sengupta published an article under this matter-of-fact title: ‘US begins its biggest urban offensive since Vietnam with long-awaited Fallujah assault.’

The Observer’s latest editorial on Syria might have been emailed from a lush armchair in some elite Gentleman’s Club: ‘Outrage is the easiest part of responding to Assad's crimes,’ the editors opined. The difficulty lies in the fact that the world ‘is more cautious after a decade of problematic, western-led, military interventions, founded on better and worse premises’.

Thus an allegedly 'left-leaning' newspaper described the death of one million Iraqis, the devastation of the lives of four million refugees, and the virtual destruction of an entire country, as ‘problematic’. The editors continued:

‘The results of these interventions have been disappointing at the very least.’

For the survivors, no doubt; less so for the dead. The Observer warned that wars in the region can be hard-fought: ‘As Israel discovered during its protracted adventure in Lebanon…’

It was an ‘adventure’, and again 'disappointing' for Lebanese civilians, perhaps even ‘problematic’. As for Syria, the West is currently unable to indulge its natural appetite for destruction:

‘If a full-scale military intervention either to topple Assad or protect civilians with ground troops seems off the menu of options for now, a second option – the wholesale training and arming of Syria's rebels – seems equally problematic.’

With the favoured delicacies, invasion and bombing, ‘off the menu of options’, the carnivorous West casts around helplessly for an alternative. As ever, genuine diplomacy in pursuit of a peaceful, compassionate solution is not an option when the overriding goal is regime change.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Martin Chulov at the Guardian

Via Twitter: @martinchulov

Matthew Weaver at the Guardian

Email: matthew.weaver@guardian.co.uk

Via Twitter: @matthew_weaver

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Via twitter: @arusbridger

Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Helen Boaden, BBC news director

Email: helen.boaden@complaints.co.uk

 
]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 12 Jun 2012 11:22:40 +0000
The Houla Massacre http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/682-the-houla-massacre.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/682-the-houla-massacre.html

 

The appalling massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria, dominated the Independent on Sunday’s latest front cover cover. Above a few short lines of commentary the banner headline read:

‘SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?’

The text beneath observed:

‘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?’ (Independent on Sunday, May 27, 2012)

Readers, then, knew exactly where to direct their anger - the 'brutal' Syrian 'regime' was responsible for the massacre.

It is not quite true that the 'international community' has averted its gaze. And the Syrian government is not the only party to have violated the April 12 ceasefire. Earlier this month, four weeks into the attempted pause in fighting, the Washington Post reported:

‘Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.’

The weapons were having an impact:

‘The effect of the new arms appeared evident in Monday’s clash between opposition and government forces over control of the rebel-held city of Rastan, near Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces who overran a government base had killed 23 Syrian soldiers.’

This kind of detail was not allowed to disturb the trans-spectrum media insistence that Assad, and Assad alone, was responsible for the slaughter of innocents in Houla. Nobody reading and watching the national media could come to any other conclusion. Also in the Independent on Sunday, David Randall wrote bitterly:

‘He is the President; she is the First Lady; they are dead children. He governs but doesn't protect; she shops and doesn't care… And one hopes that those on the United Nations Security Council, when it reconvenes, will look into the staring eyes of these dead children and remember the hollow words of Assad's wife when she simpered that she “comforts the families” of her country's victims.’

In March, US soldier Robert Bales shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children, in a night-time massacre in a village outside a US base in southern Afghanistan. The Guardian reported:

‘Among the dead was a young girl in a green and red dress who had been shot in the forehead. The bodies of other victims appeared partially burned. A villager claimed they had been wrapped in blankets and set on fire by the killer.’

What kind of evidence would the media need before finding Barack Obama (and even Michelle Obama) personally responsible for this or any other massacre? Clearly, the involvement of US forces would need to be confirmed beyond doubt. They would need to have been acting under orders. Presumably Obama would need to have signed these orders, or at least to have been aware of them and agreed to them on some level.

But in the case of the Syrian leader, direct personal responsibility was attributed instantly, even before the killers had been identified. Within hours of the massacre being reported, a cartoon by Martin Rowson in the Guardian depicted Assad with his mouth and face smeared with the blood of children. In the Independent, Assad was shown sitting in a bath filled with blood.

We challenged Rowson on Twitter: ‘On what actual evidence about the massacre in Houla is your cartoon based?’

We were asking what sources Rowson could offer indicating that Syrian forces were responsible, indeed that Assad was himself personally responsible. Rowson replied:

‘I have no more evidence than media & UN reports, like anyone else. Also used cartoonist's hunch - are you saying I'm wrong?’

We asked: ‘Would you rely on a "hunch" in depicting Obama and Cameron with mouths smeared with the blood of massacred children?’

Rowson continued: ‘Or are you saying I need New Yorker levels of verification for every story I cover? I'm a cartoonist, for f*ck's sake...'

Media Lens: ‘But shouldn't a cartoon also be based on fundamentally rational analysis, on credible evidence?'

We repeatedly and politely asked Rowson to supply some of the evidence (links to articles, quotes) that had informed his thinking. We received numerous and varied responses but no mention of evidence. Instead, Rowson erupted:

‘[Media Lens] has succeeded in riling me. Well done. If I'm proved worng I'll apologise. Meanwhile, f*ck off & annoy someone else.’

And: ‘No time for this anymore. Sorry. I stand convicted as a c*nt. End of...’

But Rowson did continue Tweeting and explained: ‘I'm answering you out of politeness…’

He finally pointed to one sentence in a BBC article quoting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

‘There is no doubt that the government used artillery and tanks and this has been reported by UN observers who have visited the scene.’

This single sentence, Rowson claimed, 'seems to nail it'.

This was indeed the initial Western focus in blaming the Syrian government. Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said:

‘We are appalled at what appears to be credible reports that the Syrian regime has been responsible for the deaths of 92 civilians in Houla, including 32 children. The UN Head of Mission has been able to confirm the numbers and also that artillery tank shells have been used. If this is the case then it's an act of pure, naked savagery and we condemn it in the most strongest possible terms.’ (Our emphasis)

But it turns out that shelling was not the major cause of deaths. Associated Press has more recently reported:

‘The U.N.'s human rights office said most of the 108 victims were shot execution-style at close range, with fewer than 20 people cut down by regime shelling.’

Also, if Rowson felt that the quote from Lavrov justified blaming Assad solely and personally for the massacre, he should have checked the previous sentence, also from Lavrov:

‘We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people…’

The exchange with Rowson is available, in full, here.

Two days after Rowson’s cartoon appeared, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Maj Gen Robert Mood, as saying: ‘the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear’. Mood commented: ‘Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria... is that I should not jump to conclusions.’

 

The BBC’s Washington Correspondent – ‘Was Russia Actually Persuaded?... Who Knows?’

The BBC also had no doubts about culpability. Diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins, claimed on the BBC's News at Ten:

‘The UN now says most victims, including many children, were murdered inside their homes by President Assad’s militias.’ (BBC News At Ten, May 29, 2012)

Thus, in a change from the initial claims, the Syrian government was now additionally being blamed for the close-quarter killings. But this is what UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous had actually said that day:

'Part of the victims had been killed by artillery shells, now that points ever so clearly to the responsibility of the government. Only the government has heavy weapons, has tanks, has howitzers. But there are also victims from individual weapons, victims from knife wounds and that of course is less clear but probably points the way to the (pro-Assad) shabbihas, the local militia.' (Our emphasis)

This gave the lie to Robbins' emphatic claim on the BBC's highest profile news programme. We emailed him asking for alternative sources but received no reply.

According to the BBC, even the Russians agreed with the Western view that the Syrian government was wholly to blame. The BBC’s Washington correspondent, Jonny Dymond, commented on a UN meeting in response to the massacre:

‘Going into the meeting, Syria's big-power ally, Russia, made it clear that it needed to be convinced of the Syrian government's culpability for what had happened at Houla. It appears to have been persuaded.’

Activist and filmmaker Gabriele Zamparini challenged Dymond, asking: ‘Was Russia persuaded?’ Zamparini quoted from the Guardian:

‘Russia said it is unlikely government forces would have killed civilians at point-blank range and suggested there was a third force – terrorists or external agents – seeking to trigger outside intervention.’

Also in the Guardian:

‘Lavrov said “both sides” were to blame for the deaths of innocent civilians in Houla.’

Dymond responded:

‘Dear Gabriele,

‘Thanks for writing.

‘Who knows the truth of Great Power diplomacy? People are still arguing about the intentions of Metternich.

‘Going into the meeting the Russian deputy ambassador to the UN said he needed to see proof (I paraphrase). According to diplomatic sources Major General Mood said there was a direct link between the deaths from shelling and Syrian government forces. The UNSC then issued a statement making that link, to the surprise of some that believed Russia would veto such criticism of Syria. Was Russia actually persuaded? Does it really need persuasion or is this part of a diplomatic dance entirely unconnected with the truth or the lives of those in Houla? Who knows[?] But I wrote that it "appears" (the qualification is important) to have been persuaded because to an observer of the process, that's the story of the day, and I stand by it.

‘Thanks again for taking the time to write in touch.

‘Best,

‘Jonny’ (Email, forwarded to Media Lens, May 28, 2012)

And so, on the BBC website, Dymond asserted that Russia ‘appears to have been persuaded’ that the Syrian government was responsible. And yet, on the same day in response to an activist, Dymond asked: ‘Who knows[?]’

This is typical of the propaganda that issues forth from the BBC. Under the headline, ‘Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows,’ the BBC website published a picture of a young child jumping over a huge number of white body bags. But the picture was actually taken on March 27, 2003 of a young Iraqi child jumping over bags of skeletons found in a desert south of Baghdad. The photographer who took the picture, Marco Di Lauro, said he nearly ‘fell off his chair’ when he saw the image being used to illustrate a story from Syria:

‘What I am really astonished by is that a news organization like the BBC doesn't check the sources and it's willing to publish any picture sent it by anyone: activist, citizen journalist or whatever.’

In similar vein (to select at random), offering literally no serious supporting evidence at all, two Guardian articles casually reported claims that the Syrian government was behind the massacre:

'Syria's fragile peace process is in shreds after what was claimed to be a regime-backed massacre left 32 children among more than 90 dead and triggered a wave of international revulsion.'

And:

'Although long-planned, the visit gained new urgency following the weekend massacre in Houla, when more than 90 people, including 32 children, were killed in an attack claimed to have been backed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.'

 

The Case For Critical Thinking

There are reasonable grounds for questioning the claim that the Syrian government, and Assad personally, was wholly responsible for the massacre. First, as the Sunday Telegraph noted:

‘Damascus has long accused activist groups of exaggerating and falsifying accounts to draw international attention to their plight, a charge that independent observers say has sometimes been justified.’ (Ruth Sherlock, Colin Freeman, Richard Spencer, Magdy Samaan, ‘Massacre of the innocents,’ Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2012)

A rare dissenting view was offered by the highly respected Syria analyst Alastair Crooke, founder and director of Conflicts Forum. On responsibility for Houla, Crooke commented:

‘We don’t know for sure yet… But one thing that stands out quite clearly, and which is very important, is that the methodology, this type of killing - of beheadings, of slitting of throats, slitting of throats of children, too, and of this mutilation of bodies - has been a characteristic, not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but really of what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that had been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States, who have perhaps returned to Syria, or perhaps Iraqis who have come up from Anbar to take part in it…. But this whole process of mutilation is so very much against the tradition of Levantine Islam that I think it’s very hard to see this will have come either from soldiers or even from others who might have been bent on revenge… I don’t think this speaks of soldiers going on the rampage.’

Crooke added:

‘This is very much a possibility; that what we’re looking at here is a deliberate and cold-blooded attempt to cast Syria into civil war, to initiate civil war, to bring Western intervention, if possible. But simply, again, to bring down the regime. And it is clearly, I think, perpetrated in the interests of those external parties and groups at the end of the spectrum of the opposition, which are jihadi groups, who want no part in the peace process but who want to bring down the system and for Syria to turn into civil war.’

Crooke believes ‘al-Qaeda-like groups’ were to blame. (Crooke, RT, May 29, 2012)

John Bradley, author of After The Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts, wrote in the Daily Mail:

'The expressions of outrage over Houla and the consequent threats of military action all feed into the conventional Western narrative of the Syrian crisis whereby Assad is portrayed as a bloodthirsty tyrant and the rebels as heroic freedom-fighters trying to liberate the Syrian people from oppression. It is a picture that has been sedulously cultivated by the anti-Assad opposition, who are masters of manipulative propaganda aimed at gullible Western politicians, broadcasters and protest groups. But the truth about the violence in Syria is far more complex than Assad’s enemies would have us believe.'

Massacres and crises of this kind (real, imagined, or manufactured) have been used to justify Western armed intervention in the past. In 1999, the contested Racak massacre provided the trigger for Nato military intervention in Kosovo. In 2003, as the Downing Street memo made clear, the US and UK conspired to manufacture a trigger event to justify war on Iraq. Britain and the US did not use UN diplomacy as a way to avoid war, but as a way to lure Iraq into supplying a casus belli for war. Last year, the alleged threat of a massacre in Benghazi was used to trigger an attack on Libya. Clearly, Syrian rebels are hoping for a ‘Benghazi moment’ enabling Western intervention in Syria.

Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from the influential risk analysis group, Stratfor, noted that 'most of the opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue'. Stratfor argued that Syrian government massacres against civilians were unlikely because the ‘regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds’.

So why would the Syrian government order the one action that risks triggering Western intervention, regime change and the fate suffered by Gaddafi in Libya? Perhaps Syrian government forces, or allied militias were responsible. Would that mean the Syrian government, and Assad himself, ordered, or knew about, the killings? Might the killers be rogue supporters of the government acting independently? These would be natural questions if the finger of blame was pointing at the US or UK. They are almost unthinkable, now, when the latest official enemy is being targeted for destruction.

Sharmine Narwani, Senior Associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University, quotes from the US 2010 Unconventional Warfare (UW) Manual of the US Military’s Special Forces on the dark art of generating regime change.

‘First, there should be local and national “agitation” – the organization of boycotts, strikes, and other efforts to suggest public discontent. Then, the “infiltration of foreign organizers and advisors and foreign propaganda, material, money, weapons and equipment.”

‘The next level of operations would be to establish “national front organizations [i.e. the Syrian National Council] and liberation movements [i.e. the Free Syrian Army]” that would move larger segments of the population toward accepting “increased political violence and sabotage” – and encourage the mentoring of “individuals or groups that conduct acts of sabotage in urban centers.”

‘Now, how and why would an uncommitted – and ostensibly peaceful - majority of the population respond to the introduction of violence by opposition groups? The UW manual tells us there is an easy way to spin this one:

‘“If retaliation [by the target government] occurs, the resistance can exploit the negative consequences to garner more sympathy and support from the population by emphasizing the sacrifices and hardship the resistance is enduring on behalf of “the people.” If retaliation is ineffective or does not occur, the resistance can use this as proof of its ability to wage effect combat against the enemy. In addition, the resistance can portray the inability or reluctance of the enemy to retaliate as a weakness, which will demoralize enemy forces and instill a belief in their eventual defeat.”’

We recognise the bloody ruthlessness of the Syrian Baathists, epitomised by Assad's father and continued now by his son, Bashar. Whatever the truth of Houla, the reaction of the corporate media has, yet again, made a mockery of the claim that it is a 'free press'. Rather, it has propagandised relentlessly in promoting the US-UK view of the conflict. Once again, war in pursuit of regime change is the real goal behind the 'humanitarian' deceit.

With its usual depth of sincerity and compassion, Murdoch’s Times commented:

‘This newspaper is as wary as anyone in Britain of becoming once again involved in foreign struggles.’

Tragi-comically echoing John Lennon, the editors sighed:

‘We wanted and argued to give peace a chance… But what kind of country would Britain be, and what kind of people would young Syrians take us for, if we allowed the slaughter to continue?’ (Leader, ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ The Times, May 30, 2012)

War, again war, always war - endless war! But then corporate greed is a form of eternal war in pursuit of profit. We are living, very clearly, in a pathologically violent and structurally insane society.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

 

John Mullin, editor of the Independent on Sunday

Email: j.mullin@independent.co.uk

David Randall at the Independent

Email: d.randall@independent.co.uk

Martin Rowson at the Guardian

via Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/MartinRowson @MartinRowson

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Helen Boaden, BBC news director

Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

 

 

@MartinRowson

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 30 May 2012 11:57:43 +0000
A Private Conversation - The Leveson Inquiry, Corporate Journalism And Elite Collusion http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/681-a-private-conversation-the-leveson-inquiry-corporate-journalism-and-elite-collusion.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/681-a-private-conversation-the-leveson-inquiry-corporate-journalism-and-elite-collusion.html

Advertising revenue is almost the life-blood of the press. Although the figure has fallen in recent years, today it constitutes around 60 per cent of newspapers’ total income, including 'quality' titles like the Guardian and the Independent.

This obviously has profound implications for media performance, as even the corporate media are sometimes willing to accept. Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson notes in the Financial Times:

‘Behind their journalistic missions, most news organisations have always been commercial operations that sell audiences to advertisers.’ (‘News industry can survive in the digital age’, Financial Times, March 21, 2012)

Media corporations are also typically owned by wealthy individuals or giant conglomerates, and are legally obliged to subordinate human and environmental welfare to maximised revenues for shareholders. (See Joel Bakan, ‘The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power’, Constable, 2004.)

The consequences for democracy are normally ignored. But again, the truth sometimes pops up. After giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry in April 2012, the owner of the Independent, Evgeny Lebedev, tweeted:

‘Forgot to tell #Leveson that it's unreasonable to expect individuals to spend £millions on newspapers and not have access to politicians.’

Even a Guardian report had to note:

‘It was a funny and refreshingly honest message after all the recent humbug and hypocrisy from media magnates about not wanting to influence the political class.’

A less refreshingly honest morsel was served up by Brian Leveson himself when he said:

‘The majority of journalism is people doing their job honourably with dedication, fearlessly and entirely in the public interest.’ (our emphasis)

Imagine if Leveson had noted that the majority of journalism is fearlessly doing its job ‘in the corporate interest’. It would have elicited mayhem among the politico-media classes.

Perhaps we’re being a tad unfair to Leveson, given that he appeared to let slip that he supports media activism. He said that internet-based scrutiny is ‘leading to greater accountability for journalists. People will study them, and I think there's no reporter - no decent reporter - in the land who would not welcome this extra scrutiny.’ 

Or so one would like to think. Alas, it is not quite our experience over the last eleven years of being blanked, blocked, abused and dumped beyond the pale of media ‘respectability’; even by people who very much like what we're doing but who would rather not be tarred with the same brush.

 

The Thumb-Sucking 5-10 Per Cent Rule

The Leveson inquiry has exposed the profound influence of corporate owners on media reporting. The Guardian’s Nick Davies, whose reporting of the Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal has been justly praised, claimed in his book, ‘Flat Earth News’, that the cumulative effect of owners and advertising was no more than 5-10 per cent:

‘Journalists with whom I have discussed this [i.e. what Davies calls “the retreat from truth-telling journalism”] agree that if you could quantify it, you could attribute only 5% or 10% of the problem to the total impact of these two forms of interference.’ (‘Flat Earth News’, Chattus & Windus, 2008, p. 22)

As we have pointed out, these numbers are contradicted even by the fact that so many aspects of the modern newspaper have evolved in response to the demands of advertisers and corporate owners.

Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian journalist, has been keeping a beady eye on the Leveson inquiry evidence challenging Davies’ 5-10 per cent claim. For example, Harold Evans, a former Rupert Murdoch editor at the Sunday Times, described to Leveson how, in 1981, Murdoch rebuked him for reporting gloomy economic news and ‘not doing what he [Murdoch] wants, in political terms’. Evans says that Murdoch came to his home and the two ‘almost ended up in fisticuffs over a piece on the economy.’

Evans added:

‘Murdoch would also haul in senior staff for meetings to tell them to alter their coverage, including the editorial line of the leader columns and telling the foreign editor to “attack the Russians more”.’

No wonder former Sun editor David Yelland described how editors ‘go on a journey where they end up agreeing with everything Murdoch says … “What would Rupert think about this?” is like a mantra inside your head’. 

Cook also pointed out two articles ‘that as good as admit the obvious: that Murdoch decided what parties his papers would back in return, of course, for political support for his business interests.’

The first described how, in 2009, James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp, had told David Cameron, then Tory leader of the Opposition, that the Sun would switch its support in the upcoming general election from Labour to the Conservatives. This announcement was made shortly after Jeremy Hunt, then the Tory shadow culture secretary, had visited News Corp offices in the US.

A second article reported that Murdoch was ‘attracted by the idea’ of Scottish independence and thought that Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, was a ‘nice guy’. Murdoch ‘cleared the way’ for the Scottish edition of the Sun to endorse Salmond's Scottish National Party at the Scottish elections in spring 2011, ‘just as [Salmond] was promising to lobby for News Corporation to take control of BSkyB.’ The SNP won a landslide victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections on May 5. Salmond admitted that he had been ‘happy’ to make a direct call to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to support Murdoch’s controversial attempt to take complete control of the satellite broadcaster.

But this wasn’t just a one-off; it was - and remains - a crucial part of the political process. As Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin told Leveson, News International bosses ‘could be very demanding’. Referring to then Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, charged last week with conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice:

‘If you are on the same side as her, you have to see her every week. This was how it worked.’

Letwin added:

‘The realpolitik is that you have to get on with people who run newspapers. Labour did the same.’

Indeed, in 1995, opposition leader Tony Blair flew halfway round the world to curry favour with Rupert Murdoch at the luxury Hayman Island resort in Queensland, Australia. Addressing senior News Corporation executives, the Labour leader pledged an end to the ‘rigid economic planning and state controls’ of the ‘Old Left’ and declared that ‘the battle between market and public sector is over.’ Two years later, after 18 years of supporting the Tories, Murdoch used the Sun to officially endorse Blair and New Labour who then won a landslide victory at the 1997 general election. In 2011, Blair even became godfather to Murdoch’s youngest child.

And Murdoch isn't alone in casting a shadow over the political process. Prime Minister David Cameron admitted that ‘he and other politicians became too close to too many newspaper proprietors and executives.’ So politicians have been bending to the will of media owners, and media owners have been influencing, and even directing, what their own editors and journalists do.

Jonathan Cook told us why he believes it’s important to document examples of senior journalists revealing the extent of proprietorial interference:

‘Davies’ book [‘Flat Earth News’] was so influential, especially with other journalists, because it propped up the lie journalists like to tell themselves and others that the problem of the “profession” is essentially a lack of funding and proper care from media owners. They prefer that assessment for two obvious reasons: first, journalists want more money invested in their papers because they hope it means promotions and wage rises; and second, it helps to avert their gaze from the reality that editorial independence is, and always was, a myth.’ (Email, April 26, 2012)

Cook also told us:

‘It's really about time Davies retracted that bit of nonsense from his book. The problem is that, were he to do so, he could no longer justify his argument that media failure is the result chiefly of economic pressures rather than structural flaws.’ (Email, April 25, 2012)

 

A Private Conversation Between Elite Groups

Peter Oborne, chief political commentator at the Daily Telegraph, is no raving leftie. But as a political conservative, he had some astute observations to make to Leveson on the corrupt state of politics and media in this country.

Oborne said that when he arrived on the political reporting ‘scene’ he was ‘staggered’ by the closeness of politicians and journalists:

‘It was ceasing to be a conversation between activists and politicians but between the media and the politicians. The News International annual party at the Tory and Labour conference was an extraordinary power event to which people were excluded. Unfortunately I never got in, but you got the entire cabinet and all the influence brokers and the senior members of the media class, and it was a very important statement I felt about how Britain was being governed.’

He continued:

‘And then you got the astonishing business of the senior News International people sitting just behind the Cabinet. They were the VIPs in the chamber, I believe really important media types were there as well, they were brought into the inner sanctum. I felt this was a perversion of our democracy, it was starting to become a private conversation between elite groups rather than a proper popular engagement.’

He described the politico-journalism collusion as a ‘conspiracy against their [newspapers’] readers’. When challenged by Leveson to justify such a blunt assertion, Oborne responded:

‘That's exactly what was going on. [...] In order to report during that time you had to get close to the people who ran new Labour, there were very few of them. [...] People who tried to report objectively and fairly were bullied and victimised and not given access to information. People who were part of the circle were favoured and of course there was a price for that. Very hard to be an independent observer, to keep your integrity in those circumstances.’

Political reporting, he said, had become ‘private deals, private arrangements, between media and politicians.’ Collusion between politicians and the media helped to explain why the public was so ‘grievously misinformed’ about Iraq in the run-up to war. And we would add that it also helps explain why the public has been grievously misinformed about the post-invasion death toll in Iraq which likely exceeds one million, with four million refugees, in a country that has been utterly devastated.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Nick Davies, special correspondent for the Guardian

Email: nick.davies@guardian.co.uk; http://www.nickdavies.net/contact/

Twitter: @Bynickdavies

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @arusbridger

On campaigns for democratic media, see:

Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

Dan Hind, author of 'The Return of the Public'

http://thereturnofthepublic.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @danhind

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 23 May 2012 05:33:13 +0000
Good Rockets, Bad Rockets - BBC Bias On India And North Korea http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/680-good-rockets-bad-rockets-bbc-bias-on-india-and-north-korea.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/680-good-rockets-bad-rockets-bbc-bias-on-india-and-north-korea.html

 

In the space of one week last month, the BBC offered an opportunity to compare its reporting on two nuclear powers: India, an ally of the British government; and North Korea, an official enemy.

The Federation of American Scientists estimates that India has a stockpile of 80-100 nuclear weapons while North Korea has less than ten. North Korea originally signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons (NPT) but withdrew in 2003.

Like Israel and Pakistan, also nuclear powers, India has never signed the NPT. Despite this, the US has supported the development of nuclear weapons in all three countries – India receiving particular support from George W. Bush and Obama. The 2008 India Civilian Nuclear Agreement — an agreement of cooperation between India, the US, and other providers of nuclear technology — is linked with plans to build dozens of nuclear plants in India, a country that exploded five nuclear devices at its Pokhran test site in 1998. Environmental journalist Gar Smith writes:

‘While this scheme will generate a lot of global cash-flow for the nuclear marketers and their government boosters, it could deal a death blow to nonproliferation hopes by allowing India to become the first country to buy nuclear materials without being a party to the NPT. In April 2010, Washington signed off on a deal that permits India to reprocess its own nuclear fuel. The arrangement, however, has raised fears in neighboring Pakistan, which is now expected to embark on a “significant nuclear military buildup.”’

Meanwhile, the US government regularly lambasts North Korea for its nuclear weapons programme and, of course, Iran for an alleged nuclear weapons programme that, according to the 16 US intelligence agencies, does not exist.

As Noam Chomsky comments:

‘Small wonder that outside the West few can take the US charges against Iran very seriously…’ (Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects, Hamish Hamilton, 2010, p.220)

The headline for the BBC article on India was neutral enough:

‘India test launches Agni-V long-range missile’

The headline for the article on North Korea struck a different tone:

‘UN “deplores” North Korea botched rocket launch’

The introduction to the Korean piece continued with the same emphasis:

‘The UN Security Council has deplored the launch by North Korea of a rocket which broke up shortly after take-off.

‘A statement issued after closed-door talks said the launch was in breach of two Security Council resolutions…’

The introduction to the India piece was positive, even celebratory:

‘India has successfully launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile able to carry a nuclear warhead, officials say...

‘India said the launch was “flawless” and the missile had reached its target…

‘With this, India joins an elite nuclear club of China, Russia, France, the US and UK which already have long-range missiles, although with a much greater range. Israel is also thought to possess them.

‘"It was a perfect launch. It met all the test parameters and hit its pre-determined target," SP Das, director of the test range, told the BBC. He confirmed the missile had flown more than 5,000km before reaching the target.

‘Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the scientists for the “successful launch” of the missile.’

If anyone on Planet Earth had anything negative to say about the launch, the BBC was unable to find them.

The primary source for views on the Indian launch were Indian. By contrast, North Korean opinion was buried in the last of five sections in the article. Perhaps no humanising comments from named North Korean officials or experts were available – the BBC provided only two bland, anonymous sentences from ‘North Korea's state news agency KCN.’

 

Ask A World Policeman

The article on North Korea presented the missile launch as a threat eliciting punishment:

‘Earlier, Washington accused the communist state of threatening regional security. It said North Korea had isolated itself still further from the outside world.

‘The US has also cancelled a proposed food aid deal with Pyongyang.

‘A US National Security Council spokesman said they would look at additional sanctions if Pyongyang continued its "provocations".’

As for the Indian launch:

‘The BBC's Andrew North in Delhi says Indian officials deny it, but everyone believes the missile is mainly aimed at deterring China…’

The North Korean missile, then, was portrayed as a threat; the Indian missile as a deterrent. Additionally, the BBC commented: ‘Many outside the country saw the launch as an illegal test of long-range missile technology.’ The sentence could apply to either launch – we will leave readers to guess in which article it appeared.

The article on North Korea repeatedly referenced US sources: ‘US ambassador Susan Rice,’ ‘Washington,’ ‘A US National Security Council spokesman,’ ‘Washington’ (again), and finally ‘White House spokesman Jay Carney’. When media discussion centres on global ‘Bad Guys’ it is US opinion that matters. This not so subtly portrays the US as the actual and rightful World Policeman. One might reasonably wonder what on earth events on the Korean peninsula ever had to do with the United States.

The North Korea piece lined up the denunciations, here White House spokesman Jay Carney:

'North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry.'

Nothing along these lines appeared in the article on India, a country with 57 billionaires and one-third of the world's poor. In January, India's Premier Manmohan Singh called malnutrition in the country ‘a national shame’ as he released a major survey that found 42 per cent of children under five were underweight. One of the NGOs that produced the report commented that, measured by the prevalence of malnutrition, India is ‘doing worse than sub-Saharan Africa’.

To round off the criticism, the BBC article on North Korea cited South Korea, the North’s main enemy:

‘South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan accused the North of a “clear breach of the UN resolution that prohibits any launch using ballistic missile technology”.’

No mention was made of the Pakistani view of India’s launch. There was also no word at all on the view from ‘Washington’ or the US more generally.

The silence is understandable. As discussed, while preaching against nuclear proliferation to countries like North Korea and Iran, the US and Britain have been working hard to arm both India and Pakistan.

In September 2003, Britain’s BAE Systems announced the sale of 66 Hawk jets to India in a £1 billion package. This constituted 10 times the value of annual UK development aid to India. In July 2010, a further 57 aircraft were sold in a deal worth £700,000,000 described by The Times of India as ‘a quantum jump for Indo-British military ties’.

The Hawks, which can also be used as ground-attack aircraft, are used to train Indian pilots to fly more powerful jets, including 139 BAE Systems Jaguar bombers built under licence. The Ministry of Defence accepts that Jaguars could deliver India’s nuclear weapons. The Indian government receiving these jets has fought three wars with Pakistan in the last 70 years.

In 2003, the Guardian provided the sensible emphasis in a piece entitled: ‘5,000 jobs safe as India buys Hawks.’

Similarly, in March 2005, the press reported that the United States had agreed to sell two dozen F-16 nuclear-capable jet fighters to Pakistan. US Senator Larry Pressler commented in The New York Times:

‘Pakistan... is a corrupt, absolute dictatorship. It has a horrendous record on human rights and religious tolerance.’ (Pressler, ‘Dissing democracy in Asia,’ The New York Times, March 21, 2005)

It could be coincidence that, with important arms contracts and strategic alliances at stake, the BBC should fail to muster a single criticism of Indian nuclear missile technology. It could also be coincidence that the BBC demonises and lambasts an enemy of the same state-corporate interests. But in truth the pattern is so obvious, so consistent, over years and decades. We can debate the precise mechanisms corrupting BBC performance – the fact that senior managers and trustees are Establishment grandees selected by the government of the day. Or we can focus on the role of the entire corporate media system in furthering state-corporate power – system-wide corruption that generates industrial strength pressure to conform on the less overtly corporate BBC. Whatever the reasons, there is no question that the BBC heavily promotes the interests of power at the expense of honesty, critical thought and compassion.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor

Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Helen Boaden, BBC news director

Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 15 May 2012 13:53:00 +0000
‘People Will Die’ - The End Of The NHS. Part 2: Buried By The BBC http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/678-people-will-die-the-end-of-the-nhs-part-2-buried-by-the-bbc-sp-1301151320.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/678-people-will-die-the-end-of-the-nhs-part-2-buried-by-the-bbc-sp-1301151320.html

In Part 1 of this alert, we exposed the sham of UK ‘democracy’ in opening the door to the corporate ransacking of the National Health Service.

Every day, researcher Éoin Clarke runs a check on the number of parts of the NHS that have been 'carved up and offered to privateers that day. The sad news is that the NHS sell off is indeed accelerating.' Clarke has identified 81 NHS contracts worth a total of more than £2 billion that are set to be privatised, or have recently been so.  He adds that there are over 2,300 'chunks of the NHS that private companies can now bid for.'  Amazingly, 'cuddly' Richard Branson's Virgin now controls 18 NHS contracts across 15 English counties.

Andrew Robertson, founder of the blog Social Investigations, observes that more than one in four Conservative peers - 62 out of the total of 216 - and many other members of the House of Lords 'have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England' that has just been implemented. These unelected peers - with personal interests in insurance companies, private healthcare and private equity groups – were able to help push through a bill from which they will now profit. If they had been elected local councillors, such personal interests would have debarred them from voting.

Consider just one example: Lord Waldegrave, who was Secretary of State for Health from 1990-1992. He is an adviser to UBS Investment Bank whose healthcare division has earned the firm over $1 billion since 2005. He has a poor voting record in the House - less than 8 per cent of votes in his time there - but he did manage to vote on the Health and Social Care Bill. He is Director of Biotech Growth Trust plc which is managed by Orbimed, the world's largest healthcare-dedicated investment firm, with approximately $5 billion in assets under management.

Robertson rightly points to 'the network of vested interests that runs between Parliament and the private healthcare industry. This cosy, toxic relationship,' he warns, 'threatens not only the future of the NHS but that of democracy in the UK.'

He adds:

'the companies who have lobbied for the NHS to be privatised have taken one giant leap into its eventual dismantling.'

Although clearly a scandal, it is no surprise that:

'Our politicians sit on the boards, they own the companies, they are the directors. [...] They are meant to be public servants, yet the evidence points towards them serving another element of society, one that is hidden behind corporate confidentiality and "Chatham House" rules.'

Along with the NHS, the BBC is supposed to epitomise the best of British institutions. The BBC has a duty, enshrined in its Charter, to report objectively on stories of national and international interest. The NHS affects every man, woman and child in the country. And yet we suspect very few members of the public realise what has just happened to their health care system.

The BBC mostly failed to cover the story, and otherwise offered coverage heavily biased in favour of the government’s perspective. On the very day the bill passed into law, the tag line across the bottom of BBC news broadcasts said ‘Bill which gives power to GPs passes’. The assessment could have come from a government press release, spin that has been rejected by an overwhelming majority of GPs. The BBC has also repeatedly failed to cover public protests, including one outside the Department of Health which stopped the traffic in Whitehall for an hour.

It is nigh-on impossible for Media Lens, with our meagre resources, to closely monitor the prodigious output of BBC television and radio news; even on a single topic. But one activist who has been following the NHS story closely over an extended period sent us this last month:

‘For the past two years there has been so little coverage of this bill that even as some were desperately fighting to stop it - through e-petitions, lobbying campaigns and even demonstrations - many people did not appear to be even aware of it. I have been on a demonstration in which people sat down in the road in Whitehall, outside the Department of Health and blocked the traffic, yet this was not mentioned at all on the news.

‘When the BBC have reported on the bill they have been sparse with their explanations of its implications or the reasons why so many - including most medical professionals - have objected to it. They have tended to limit their comments to those of the type “Some people say it's privatisation” without explaining why or exploring the issue.

‘There have not been - as we might have expected for so momentous a change - debates on the Today Programme, on BBC Newsnight, or blackground analysis programmes, with politicians being challenged and questioned on the policy. Radio 4 ran a programme at 8pm [The Report, on March 22, 2012] which appeared to be very biased in favour of the bill, with opposing views not adequately represented. Contrast this programme with this article by Hackney Keep Our NHS Public (KONP)

‘Whatever one's views on the Health and Social Care bill, surely such large scale changes which may affect the health of so many, should have been widely reported and debated, especially when you consider that the coalition government was not elected and did not put this issue in their manifestos.’ (Email, name withheld, March 23, 2012)

Why did we never see a BBC television news report like this one from RT: ‘UK govt bill opens up NHS to private profiteering’?

 

Dear BBC - Where Were You When The Tories Dismantled The NHS?

On the day the NHS bill was passed, insightful and bitter public comments on the BBC's paltry coverage were tracked by Isobel Weinberg on Twitter:

‘As the sun sets on the #NHS isn't it great to know what a nice dress Kate Middleton was wearing. Thanks #tvnews #BBC #ITV #media’

‘Did anything happen to the #NHS today, OECD leading health system? Who IS making these editorial decisions? #BBCnews @BBCNews @BBCNewsnight’

‘Dear #BBC where were you when the #Tories dismantled the #NHS?’

‘Just checked to see and tis indeed true not a word on the NHS bill on the BBC – unbelievable.’

‘It is our arrogance that makes us mistrust every other state-run media but believe ours to be independent and free. #NHS #BBC’

And Clive Peedell, deputy chair of the NHS Consultants' Association, observed:

‘England's biggest ever robbery took place today - The #NHS was stolen from under the noses of the public by the Health & Social Care Act.’

Author and journalist Marcus Chown, a consultant for New Scientist, has been valiantly documenting examples of protests against the bill that have made no inroads into corporate news coverage (Chown’s wife works for the NHS). These include:

  • Unreported ‘Drop the NHS bill’ protest on Mothers’ Day in Parliament Square, London.

  • Unreported doctors’ ‘Drop the NHS bill’ protest.

  • Unreported ‘Drop the NHS bill’ sit-down protest that blocked traffic for an hour in Whitehall, London.

  • Unreported ‘Drop the NHS bill’ candle-lit vigil, St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University, has challenged the BBC, as have many others. She rejects the standard BBC brush-off that the corporation has given ‘extensive coverage’ to the bill. Professor Bishop points to ‘a remarkable disconnect between what was being reported on BBC News outlets and what was concerning many members of the public’.

So why has the BBC coverage been so appalling?

 

The BBC's Private Healthcare Perks And The Lord Living It Large

Some have suggested that a possible factor explaining BBC indifference is that many BBC staff don’t themselves depend on the NHS. The BBC actually spends millions of pounds on private healthcare for its staff. Under a Freedom of Information request, it was revealed that the BBC shelled out almost £2.2 million of public money on private healthcare for several hundred senior BBC staff between 2008-2010.

The Daily Telegraph reports that last year 506 BBC managers benefited from the £1,500-a-year perk. When challenged, the BBC responded that this is ‘common industry practice’ for senior managers, ‘although the BBC has recently announced this benefit will no longer be made available to new senior managers'. (‘Medical insurance for 500 BBC bosses’, Daily Telegraph, March 12, 2012; not found online). No word, though, on existing senior BBC managers having to forgo their private health insurance.

There are also ties that link BBC bosses with private health companies. Recall that the BBC is managed by an Executive Board while the BBC Trust is there to ensure that standards such as impartiality and fairness are maintained in the public interest.

Consider Dr Mike Lynch OBE who sits on the BBC's Executive Board. Lynch is a non-executive director of Isabel Healthcare Ltd, a private company specialising in medical software. He is also a director of Autonomy PLC, a computing company whose customers include Isabel Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield (a health insurance firm), AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and several other pharmaceutical companies.

He is also on the advisory board of Apax Partners, which describes itself as ‘one of the leading global investors in the Healthcare sector’ and has invested over €2.5 billion in the area. These medical interests all stand to gain from the new legislation. Is this the resumé of a man who would really insist on impartial reporting of controversial ‘reforms’ of the NHS? (For more info click here.)

The Chairman of the BBC, Lord Patten of Barnes, is similarly tied up in private medical and financial interests. Lord Patten is a member of the European Advisory Board for a private equity investment company called Bridgepoint. Alan Milburn, the former Secretary of State for Health under Tony Blair, is chair of Bridgepoint’s board. The company has been involved in 17 healthcare deals over recent years. Its current investments in the UK total more than £1.1 billion.

One company acquired by Bridgepoint for £414 million in July 2010 is the residential care company Care UK. As mentioned in Part 1 of this alert, Care UK chairman Jonathan Nash donated £21,000 in November 2009 to run Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Further transactions for Bridgepoint and a private healthcare company involved Alliance Medical who sold the MRI scan company for £600 million to Dubai International LLC in 2007.

Lord Patten was appointed to the Lords in 2005 and, before being accepted as the head of the BBC, was urged to cut back on his business activities. However this didn’t happen, and in addition to his advisory role in Bridgepoint,  he remains a stakeholder of energy giant EDF, advisor to telecom business Hutchison Europe and a member of the advisory board of BP.

None of this is intended to suggest that BBC managers have been crudely leaning on BBC editors to suppress news coverage of opposition to the dismantling of the NHS. We are aware of no evidence to that effect. But the interests and priorities of senior managers certainly have a more subtle impact on the culture of the organisation beneath them. As even the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (no radical) once told us:

'If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, "Rupert Murdoch", or whoever, "never tells me what to write", which is beside the point: they don't have to be told what to write.'

The observation, of course, generalises to the broadcast media. And anyway, surely the interlocking links between politics, the media and private financial and industrial interests should be exposed and widely debated.

A strong additional factor is likely that the Hutton Inquiry fiasco generated a climate of fear at the BBC that deters journalists from challenging the government too strongly. We will return to this point below.

 

Dear Nick Robinson - About That Email...

Marcus Chown recently highlighted an extraordinary email that he received from a BBC employee. The email read:

‘The BBC under/non-reporting of the opposition to the bill is even more of a mystery after I’ve read over the BBC news briefs myself (I don’t work in news, but anyone can see the news briefs). There are pages and pages of text on the opposition to the bill. Someone, or some people have clearly gone to a great deal of effort enumerating the objections, documents that have existed for over a month, and there is a long and comprehensive (and regularly updated list) outlining the latest views of all the professional bodies.  All the fact checking and detail anyone needs to run a detailed story on the opposition to the bill is there, and there are no official restrictions on reporting it, but somehow it still isn’t happening. I can’t make sense of it.’ (Email to Marcus Chown, Twitter, March 23, 2012, 2.05pm)

This prompted us to email Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, on April 17, 2012. He had previously written to us to say he was investigating ‘BBC impartiality’ on related issues:

‘I am looking solely at my own patch ie issues of domestic politics.’ (Email, April 3, 2012)

We reminded him of this and asked:

‘Presumably, then, you will examine the evidence that the BBC failed to report impartially on the Health and Social Care Bill?

‘There are many serious and reputable sources that you could ask, not least the 27 professional medical bodies in this country who opposed the Bill, such as the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses.

‘You could also approach Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University. She has challenged the BBC about its supposed “extensive coverage” of the NHS bill. She describes “a remarkable disconnect between what was being reported on BBC News outlets and what was concerning many members of the public”.

‘Or Liz Panton, a speech and language therapist who has worked for the NHS for over 30 years, who says:

“The BBC seems completely out of touch with the general mood of public opinion and widespread fear and anxiety about the changes to our way of life as a result of the NHS Bill.”

‘And what about apparent conflicts of interest at the BBC? Will you investigate the evidence?

‘For example:

‘“BBC chief Lord Patten of Barnes, Bridgepoint and the Conflicts of Interest”

“Why did the BBC ignore the NHS Bill?”

‘When you have a moment, could you possibly give us your response, please? Many thanks.’

Alas, as so often, we received the familiar BBC response of no-response.

So why the BBC behaved in the way it did over the NHS bill remains an intriguing puzzle. It is not a complete mystery, of course, given that the BBC is dependent on government money (i.e. public money), and given that the UK government sets the BBC Charter and determines who runs the organisation. As we saw with the government’s deceptions on Iraq’s non-existent WMD, and the subsequent fallout over BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan’s reporting (both the BBC Chairman and Director-General resigned), there is always the threat of repercussions if the state broadcaster becomes too critical of the state. Whether any actual high-level decision was taken at the BBC to adopt a government-friendly line on the NHS will never be known unless whistleblowers speak out. Much more likely is that no executive 'decision' was required and that this has simply become the default mode of BBC reporting.

We asked Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East correspondent for over ten years, if his insider perspective could shed some light on the BBC's performance. He began by candidly admitting that UK health care 'is outside my area of normal close perusal'. But he then continued with his usual, splendid honesty:

'My first observations are, though, to say that I don't think it has much to do with Chris Patten, unless the BBC has become an even more sinister place than I thought. He would not interfere in coverage decisions as such, and I don't think even BBC news execs and editors would be so puerile or pusillanimous as to tailor their coverage of the NHS outrage to suit his perceived sensitivities.

'Second, what has happened at the BBC is that (as with Israel, another area where powerful interests and government forces operate), especially since the kicking it got over Iraq from Alistair Campbell/Tony Blair in 2004, it has become an institution that does not like any longer to take anyone on or to challenge received ideas or vested interests or risk being seen to take sides. There is no backbone left in current affairs programmes; news operates on the principle that X says Y and Y says X and this adversarial knockabout is a substitute for real analysis and questioning. (Even before Hutton, there was no proper, analytical reporting of Northern Ireland until long after the Good Friday Agreement had made it to some extent history.)

'In this climate of fear, which is what basically it is, reporters and producers know what they have to do to get on air. Leave well alone, report the surface, filter any controversies through studio debates and Question Time, arenas in which, of course, "balance" can be seen to be being practised.

'I don't suppose the medical health bandits sit on the BBC's shoulders in the same way the Zionist lobby does, it's a different kind of thing.

'But it's part of the argument why the BBC fails over Israel/Palestine and reports the US so blandly. The organisation is big and rich and potentially powerful, but it is scared, of everybody and does not wish to rattle any important cages in case something nasty leaps out.' (Email, April 24, 2012)

Regular readers will be only too aware that BBC News reporting fits snugly within the skewed constraints set by elite interests. Over the years, Media Lens has tended to focus on exposing the biased, marginal or missing news coverage of ‘our’ crimes abroad – for example, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. But powerful state and corporate forces are obviously dominant here at home as well. There is no reason to believe that BBC News coverage of domestic issues will be any different. Its shameful lack of coverage to opposition to the corporate takeover of the NHS highlights the BBC's structural failure to report in the public interest – yet again.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Helen Boaden, BBC Head of News

Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

Email: Nick.Robinson01@bbc.co.uk

You can also submit official complaints here (although note our previous cautionary remarks about the BBC complaints system here).

If you choose this route, your case will be strengthened if you argue that BBC news reporting breaches BBC editorial guidelines. The relevant general principles are 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.2.4. Of particular note here are: 4.4.2 and 4.4.9.

Please consider becoming involved in campaigns to save the NHS, e.g. 38 Degrees

Please copy us in on any exchanges with journalists or forward them to us later at:

editor@medialens.org

We would like to thank Marcus Chown and Media Lens readers for assistance in identifying key points regarding the NHS bill and lack of coverage.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 25 Apr 2012 09:58:11 +0000
‘People Will Die’ - The End Of The NHS. Part 1: The Corporate Assault http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/676-people-will-die-the-end-of-the-nhs-part-1-the-corporate-assault.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/676-people-will-die-the-end-of-the-nhs-part-1-the-corporate-assault.html

Few political acts have exposed the sham of British ‘democracy’ like the decision to dismantle the National Health Service. In essence, the issues are simple:

 1. The longstanding obligation of the UK government to provide universal health care has now been ditched.

 2. The NHS is being carved open for exploitation by private interests.

The media, notably the BBC – often ranked alongside the NHS as one of the country’s greatest institutions -  have failed to report this corporate assault on the country’s health service.

What is deeply disturbing is how little the British public has been told about what has happened, and about the likely consequences for an institution we all hold dear.

 

Much Profit To Be Made!

On March 20, 2012, MPs passed the Health and Social Care Bill (commonly called ‘the NHS bill’) more than 14 months after it was first put before Parliament. Virtually every major professional medical body had fought against it, and there were numerous public protests. But the opposition was given scant media coverage and the government was able to force the bill through.

Recall that the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won just 36% of the vote in the 2010 general election. Outrageously, the Conservative manifesto said nothing about the NHS bill. The former Conservative minister and leading political pundit Michael Portillo explained the reasoning:

‘They did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do because people are so wedded to the NHS.’ 

Cameron had pledged that there would be: ‘No more pointless and disruptive reorganisations’. Instead, he said change would be: ‘Driven by the wishes and needs of NHS professionals and patients.’ The coalition agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems of May 2010 had promised: ‘We will stop the top-down reorganisation of the NHS.’ That promise has been well and truly smashed.

The government tried to justify the bill by arguing that the NHS is not working and that it must be ‘reformed’. In fact, the NHS is one of the fairest, most cost-effective and efficient healthcare systems in the world. Its per capita costs are half that of the US healthcare system, a country which has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality (OECD figures). One can only look on in horror across the Atlantic to see the way our health service is headed.

Michael Moore, writer and director of Sicko, a film about the US health system,  tweeted of Cameron’s recent visit to the United States:

‘Is British PM Cameron here in USA this week to study our health care system & bring it back to the UK? There's much profit to be made!

‘Last nite, Brit PM watched 1st ever basketball game. Today he goes to hospital 2 watch sick ppl turned away & denied care. It's a fun trip!’

The NHS bill was hideously complicated and virtually unreadable. Critics claimed this was intentional, serving to hide the bill's true purpose - selling off more and more of the NHS to private companies. The British Medical Association denounced the bill as ‘complex, incoherent and not fit for purpose, and almost impossible to implement successfully, given widespread opposition across the NHS workforce’.

In a rare instance of BBC Question Time actually putting a senior politician on the spot about something that matters, Dr Phil Hammond challenged Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, on the disaster the bill would create for genuine health care, for cooperation between medical professionals and for basic human compassion. Imagine if news editors and journalists had been consistently making this kind of challenge in the 14 months before the bill became law.

 

The Coming Disaster

Most fundamentally, the new Act removes the formal commitment of the Secretary of State for Health to provide healthcare for every man, woman and child in England (it does not apply elsewhere in the UK - yet). In effect, this removes the founding principle of the NHS which was set up in 1948. It means that one of the finest health services anywhere, created by the British people in the wake of the Second World War, has just been primed for demolition.

Private companies will be able to move in and take over NHS infrastructure such as hospitals. The new law also allows hospitals to earn up to 49% of their revenue from private patients; previously the limit was 2%. Doctors and nurses say this will create a two-tier system, with one queue for the rich and one for the poor, with the rich having priority regardless of the seriousness of their condition. So that’s goodbye to one of the founding principles of the NHS: to supply care based on need, not the ability to pay.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, warns that instigating a new era of private sector colonisation of health services is ‘simply reckless. Not one expert inside or outside government believes this is a sensible strategy.’ As a result,  he says, there will be ‘unprecedented chaos’ in the NHS. He continues:

‘People will die, thanks to the Government’s decision to focus on competition rather than quality in healthcare. The coming disaster puts even greater responsibility on us to overturn this destructive legislation.’

No wonder that the NHS bill was opposed by 27 professional medical bodies, including the Royal College of GPs, the BMA and the Royal College of Nurses: that’s all but one of the relevant medical bodies. (Only the Royal College of Surgeons did not actually call for the bill’s withdrawal, but they did warn that it ‘will damage the NHS’.)

The BMA warned before the bill became law:

‘... if passed the Bill will be irreversibly damaging to the NHS as a public service, converting it into a competitive marketplace that will widen health inequalities and be detrimental to patient care.’

The Royal College of General Practioners said they were:

‘concerned that the Bill will cause irreparable damage to patient care and jeopardise the NHS. Three quarters of respondents to a poll carried out by the RCGP said they thought it appropriate to seek the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill.’

The Royal College of Midwives also called for the bill to be scrapped:

‘This bill is a massively expensive distraction from the challenges that the NHS faces in trying to improve healthcare at a time of severe spending restraint... We join the growing chorus of voices calling for the bill to be withdrawn, and the proposed reforms stopped in their entirety.’

It was all to no avail. The government bulldozed the bill through Parliament into law.

Researcher Éoin Clarke has produced a map of England showing the areas affected so far by the NHS carve-up. SERCO, once described as ‘probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of', and Virgin are two of the corporate giants who have been quick to move in. Virgin Care won a £500 million contract to provide community services across Surrey and began running these services, as well as the county’s prison healthcare, on April 1. Max Pemberton, a junior doctor ‘writing about life on the NHS frontline’, notes that Virgin Care’s takeover in Surrey exposes two fundamental lies propagated by the government (with media collusion):

‘The first is the flat denial that the Bill represented any sort of privatisation of the NHS, despite it being obvious to anyone who read it that this is precisely what it was.’

The NHS will become ‘a nominal logo’, warns Pemberton, and ‘a bureaucratic governing body dishing out public money to private companies.’

The second lie now exposed is the lunatic government claim that the reforms were underpinned by ‘the concept of choice within a nationalised healthcare system’. Pemberton asks pointedly:

‘What real choice did the people of Surrey have in who provided their community health services?’

The answer?

‘None. The choice was made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who use “public consultation” as a fig leaf for fundamentally changing the nature of how healthcare is delivered. Increasingly, the details of these decisions and the contracts that are drawn up are deemed commercially sensitive, so we are not privy to what is happening to our NHS and our money.’

What about choice of health care providers? There’s none – it’s Virgin Care or nothing. So much for the much-touted ‘market’. The outcome is ‘perverse, warped and corrupt’.

Dr John Lister, of the campaign group London Health Emergency, says:

‘Now we can see Lansley’s nightmare vision of the NHS taking shape, as the full chaos of cuts coupled with privatisation hits services around the country.’ (Dr John Lister, ‘It didn’t have to be this way’, Labour Briefing, April 2012, p. 5)

Lister warns:

‘Report after report highlights the chronic, systemic failure of home care services and nursing homes for frail older people – services entirely dominated by for-profit private providers, offering clients the spurious “choice” of uniformly awful services at extortionate rates while paying most of their exploited staff just the minimum wage. The chaos in this sector gives a real flavour of what many other sectors of health care will look like once they have been carved up between “any qualified provider”. ’

Lister cites just one disturbing example from Camden in London following a long-running fiasco in which the local GP surgery was handed over to US multinational United Health on a cut-price contract. They then pulled out and the practice was taken over by the blandly-titled The Practice plc. But now this company has failed to secure premises or invest in services. As a result, 3000 or more patients will be without a GP from next month.

 

Vested Interests of MPs And Lords

Many of the MPs and Lords who voted the bill through stand to gain financially from the Health and Social Care Act. In a responsible democracy, this would be deemed a serious conflict of interest, and yet it would presumably not come as a shock to a British electorate used to unpleasant surprises – if they ever get to hear of it.

Research by Éoin Clarke has revealed that 333 donations from private healthcare sources totalling £8.3 million have been gifted to the Tories. (Click here for the database of those donations and ‘gifts’.) Moreover, the website Social Investigations has compiled an extensive list of the financial and vested interests of MPs and Lords in private healthcare. This list, says the site, ‘represents the dire state of our democracy’.

Here is a sample from the list:

Lord Bell: Conservative - Chairman of Chime Communications group whose companies include Bell Pottinger, and whose lobbying clients include Southern Cross, BT Health and AstraZeneca.

Lord Blyth of Rowington: Conservative - Senior adviser to ­investment bankers Greenhill. Former Boots Chemists deputy chairman. Tory Donor. Stands to gain from the break up and privatisation of the NHS, and would surely like to buy NHS Walk-in Centres at an agreed cut-price with Cameron.

Nick de Bois, Conservative MP for Enfield North: De Bois is the majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, an events management company heavily involved with the private medical and pharmaceutical industries, and whose clients include leading names such as AstraZeneca. The company, which had a turnover last year of £13 million, was established by the Tory MP in 1998. A number of the company’s clients are ‘partners’ of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC), a lobby group that supported the NHS bill. Rapier Design Group’s biggest clients stand to profit now that the NHS has been opened up to wider private-sector involvement. The GP commissioning consortium for south-west Kent, covering 49 GP practices and known as Salveo, has already signed a contract with the pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca.

And then there is Andrew Lansley himself, the Tory Secretary of State for Health. John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Lansley’s personal office in November 2009. According to a senior director of the firm, 96 per cent of Care UK’s business, which amounted to more than £400 million last year, comes from the NHS. Hedge fund boss Nash is one of the major Conservative donors with close ties to the healthcare industry. He and his wife gave £203,500 to the party over the past five years.

Nash is also a founder of City firm Sovereign Capital, which runs a string of private healthcare firms. Fellow founder Ryan Robson is another major Tory donor who has given the party £252,429.45. His donations included £50,000 to be a member of the party’s ‘Leader’s Group’, a secretive cash-for-access club. The would-be MP, who tried but failed to get selected as the election candidate in Bracknell, is managing partner at Sovereign Capital.

And so on.

As Social Investigations asks:

‘Why are these people allowed to be in charge of our NHS, to vote on a bill that they clearly have something to gain from? Who cares that they have put it in the register of interests? This doesn’t excuse their interests, it merely highlights clearly why they should have no part in voting for the privatisation of the NHS. It is privatisation, despite the media’s continued use of the word “reforms”. The question must be asked. Are they public servants or corporate servants?’

An insidious network, then, links healthcare companies, politicians, ‘think tanks’, lobbyists and big money. This is yet another example of how public interests and accountability are seemingly forever bypassed by powerful forces.

If this had been happening in an officially-declared enemy state, the British news media would have been shouting themselves hoarse about corruption, greed and the pathetic state of ‘democracy’ over ‘there’. If this had been happening in Libya (under Gaddafi) or Syria or Iran, the airwaves and newspapers in this country would have been filled with condemnations and scorn about the oppression of the people by an unaccountable, tyrannical government.

That is it happening under their noses here at home, largely with the corporate media's connivance, says it all.

 

Part 2 focuses on the BBC and will follow shortly. In the meantime, here are additional useful resources:

‘NHS Reforms - what they mean for you’

The Powerbase Health Portal: a guide to some of the companies, lobbyists and think tanks involved in healthcare in the UK.

Save our NHS

38 Degrees

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 23 Apr 2012 06:55:20 +0000
When Populism Is Dangerous For Democracy - To The Media Gallows With 'Controversial' George Galloway http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/675-when-populism-is-dangerous-for-democracy-to-the-media-gallows-with-controversial-george-galloway-sp-941175823.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/675-when-populism-is-dangerous-for-democracy-to-the-media-gallows-with-controversial-george-galloway-sp-941175823.html

George Galloway’s stunning victory in last week’s Bradford West by-election afforded a rare opportunity to witness naked imbalance, establishment scorn of any challenges, and blatant anti-Muslim propaganda in the corporate British media.

The excellent News Sniffer website exposed how the Guardian hurriedly fixed political editor Patrick Wintour’s ugly analysis of Galloway’s 10,140 majority win, with a staggering swing of 36 per cent from Labour to the Respect party. Wintour’s shoddy journalism had initially focused on how the constituency’s ‘Muslim immigrant community’ had largely abandoned Labour. The offensive trope of ‘immigrant’ Muslims appeared three times in his piece. And Galloway’s popular call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and ‘a fightback against the job crisis’, was disparagingly cast as ‘fundamentalist’.

It was shocking to see such elitist disdain for majority British views and for ‘immigrant’ communities expressed by a senior Guardian journalist. Someone on the newspaper, perhaps spotting the danger of the nation's flagship ‘liberal’ newspaper appearing so illiberal, acted swiftly to hide the evidence. Too late, News Sniffer was on the trail. This is what Wintour wrote:

‘It appeared that the seat's Muslim immigrant community had decamped from Labour en masse to Galloway's fundamentalist call for an immediate British troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fightback against the job crisis.’

This was amended to:

‘It appeared that the seat's Muslim community had decamped from Labour en masse to Galloway's call for an immediate British troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fightback against the job crisis.’

Further key changes are easily visible here.

 

'The Muslim Vote'

It is customary for the media to cast an honest, uncompromising political voice as ‘controversial’ and ‘maverick’ (or worse). And journalists did not disappoint. On the News at Ten, celebrity presenter Fiona Bruce, reportedly on a BBC salary of half a million pounds per year, referred blithely to ‘controversial ex-Labour MP George Galloway’. (March 30, 2012). The British public will wait in vain for her to refer to the ‘controversial’ Prime Minister David Cameron or  the ‘controversial’ President Barack Obama.

In a News at Ten ‘analysis’, the BBC’s Iain Watson reported, with the broadcaster’s version of impartiality, that Galloway had compared his victory to the Arab Spring and ‘cheekily suggested he was challenging the entire British establishment’. (March 30, 2012)

But perhaps Galloway’s suggestion was accurate, ‘cheeky’ or no. Galloway was, in fact, pretty devastating in challenging the British media establishment in interview after interview. On Channel 4 News, Midlands correspondent Darshni Soni asserted that Galloway’s ‘fiery rhetoric on Iraq and Afghanistan specifically targeted young Muslims’; as though only ‘young Muslims’ should be concerned about Iraq and Afghanistan. (‘“Young Muslims defied elders to vote for Galloway”’, C4 News, March 30, 2012)

Soni tried to trip up Galloway:

Soni: ‘But what do you say to people who say you played that race card -  you specifically targeted young Muslim men?’

George Galloway: ‘Well, I think it was Labour that put up the Pakistani Muslim candidate, not us. So that’s a ludicrous charge, to be honest.’

Soni: ‘But you talked a lot about Iraq, Afghanistan.’

Galloway: ‘Well, Iraq and Afghanistan are not issues only for Muslims.’

Also on Channel 4 News, Cathy Newman sought, like so many before her, to outwit Galloway - only to come out of the encounter with egg on her face. (‘Cathy Newman interviews George Galloway’, C4 News, March 30, 2012)

Newman: ‘George Galloway - you’ve described this as the most sensational upset in history. I think you got a little carried away – there were two previous results with bigger swings. But it is pretty sensational nevertheless. What do you put it down to?’

Galloway: ‘No I don’t think I was exaggerating, if you’ll forgive me, I’m a bit of a student of these matters. No party to the left of Labour has ever taken a Labour seat in a period when Labour has been in opposition.’

Newman pressed on:

‘You’re defining your terms very clearly and quite narrowly, but within those terms a sensational victory – what do you put it down to?’

Galloway responded amicably:

‘I don’t know why you’re being so churlish about this. I know more about left-wing history than you do, I assure you. But anyway, I put it down to a tidal wave of alienation in the country, and not just in Bradford, against the Tweedledee-Tweedledum politics of the major parties.’

This is surely right. When much that matters is so clearly going wrong in this country and the world at large, no wonder the public is thoroughly sick of the fodder that is dished out as ‘responsible’ policies, debate and reporting.

Galloway continued:

‘I think we saw what I described last night as “a Bradford Spring” moment – a kind of uprising, a peaceful democratic uprising of especially young people.’

Newman responded with barely disguised disdain:

‘Isn’t it slightly presumptuous or even arrogant though to describe a ... to compare a by-election victory with a revolution that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the Arab world?’

Galloway exposed the biased stance of C4 News:

‘Well I can see you and I are not getting on very well and probably that’s a sign that I should go and do one of the many other interviews that are waiting for me. You obviously weren’t listening or you’re not hearing me ...’

Newman: ‘I’m hearing you perfectly well...’

Galloway: ‘...I said a peaceful democratic uprising, a peaceful democratic uprising – that’s what I think it was. You evidently don’t. We’ll see if it comes to anything. Thanks very much – because I really do have a lot of very important interviews to do.’

As one of our regular readers later reminded us on the Media Lens message board, the encounter was reminiscent of Jeremy Paxman’s remarkable May 2005 interview with Galloway after he had won the Bethnal Green and Bow seat from the war-supporting, Blairite MP, Oona King. In a dismal lowlight of a long BBC career, Paxman repeatedly asked Galloway:

‘Are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?’

Galloway rightly disparaged Paxman’s question as ‘preposterous’ saying that: ‘I don’t believe that people get elected because of the colour of their skin. I believe people get elected because of their record and their policies.’

There was more to come from the BBC. In an extraordinary segment on BBC Radio Five Live, reporter Anna Foster fired a series of hostile and loaded questions at Galloway. Just hours after his electoral victory, Foster kept asking why he had come to Bradford – an issue that he rightly said he had dealt with on numerous occasions before the election. Galloway took her to task for focusing on ‘the’ Muslim vote, as though Muslim voters were a homogeneous mass:

‘This is very incendiary and inflammatory language which the BBC keep using.’

After giving Foster several more minutes of his time, Galloway rightly described the interview as ‘a hatchet job’ and left the studio, leaving the BBC reporter flabbergasted.

Later that day on BBC2’s Newsnight, reporter Peter Marshall recycled the same discredited language:

‘It’s said you’ve relied very heavily on the Muslim vote. I mean, you yourself have said in the past that you used (sic)... you have the Muslim vote...’

Galloway responded:

‘I really reject this concept of “the” Muslim vote. Muslims are individuals just like everyone else. You wouldn’t say that there’s a “Christian vote” because Christians vote in all sorts of ways. And the Labour candidate, I remind you, was a Pakistani Muslim. So I really don’t think that’s a valid question. Every voter is an individual and every voter has to be appealed to.’

Marshall managed to include the standard description of Galloway as ‘a singular figure, a political maverick’ who ‘in triumph’ is ‘unrepentant’. What he was supposed to be ‘unrepentant’ about wasn’t made clear. Perhaps for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, pretending to be a cat licking milk from Rula Lenska's cupped hands: stock footage that news broadcasters are seemingly obliged to repeat whenever Galloway is mentioned.

 

The Wolf Man

The Observer played its part as well, publishing not just one but two anti-Galloway comment pieces. The first, by Andrew Rawnsley, set the tone, referring acerbically to Galloway’s ‘blushing modesty which makes him such an appealing character’. This was a dig at the Respect politician supposedly acclaiming Bradford West ‘the most sensational victory in British political history’. But, shooting himself in the foot, Rawnsley had got the quote wrong. Galloway had called it ‘the most sensational result in British by-election history’, not ‘political history’ – a crucial distinction. As we have seen, Galloway had clearly explained the basis for his claim.

For Galloway to draw any kind of comparison with the Arab Spring was, said Rawnsley, ‘a very advanced form of narcissism’. The Observer columnist then added the sly comment that Galloway had ‘declined to offer his fusion of Marxism and Islamism to voters at the five previous byelections of this parliament’. Whatever counts as a ‘fusion of Marxism and Islamism’ was not spelled out. It was instead left hanging in the air as something to be regarded by right-minded people as dangerously anti-capitalist and un-Christian; perhaps even unpatriotic and anti-British. But arguably the most blatant propaganda element of the Observer piece was the accompanying sinister-looking photograph of Galloway, reminiscent of Lon Chaney Jr as The Wolf Man.

By an amazing coincidence – or not – a second Observer hit piece by Nick Cohen deployed a similarly sinister photograph of Galloway. The Observer’s picture editor had obviously been busy scouring the pictorial archives and struck gold not once, but twice. The comment piece also had a cartoon-like flavour. For example, Galloway's ‘claim’ that his by-election victory was the ‘Bradford spring’ exhibited, Cohen said, ‘contemptible willingness to exploit the suffering of others for the purposes of self-aggrandisement’ which ‘no politician can beat’. No politician? Not even Cohen's hero Tony Blair, who exploited the deaths of millions in the Middle East for his own self-aggrandisement as a ‘peace maker’?

Almost in a parody of himself, Cohen wrote that:

‘Galloway and others on the far left believe that Muslims can replace the white working class that let them down so badly by refusing to follow their orders to seize power.’

One had to check the date of publication. Yes, it was published on April 1. But, nonetheless, Observer readers were forced to accept that this was indeed not a spoof piece by a spoof Cohen.

The attitude was summed up by the title of a Liberal Conspiracy blog, run by Sunny Hundal: 'When populism is dangerous for democracy'. Hundal, the Guardian's 'blogger of the year' in 2006, was himself busy on Twitter. He referred to Galloway in responding to a questioner: ‘I don't want any part of a left that supports dictators thanks. Maybe you do.’

We were intrigued by this and responded: ‘Yet you write that Obama's re-election “is worth fighting for”. Does Obama not support, indeed arm, dictators?’

The following day, Hundal replied. Here are some highlights from the subsequent exchange:

Sunny Hundal (SH): ‘answer to that question is simple: as Us Prez Obama can't easily call for dictators to go. But Galloway isn't leader: he can.’

Media Lens (ML): ‘You can't reject George Galloway for dictator “support” and then back Obama who arms them, actually helps them kill.’

SH: ‘can you name me one dictator that one Obama has cheerleaded for?’

Writer and activist Ian Sinclair replied:

‘Mubarak “is a stalwart ally... a force for stability and good” - Obama to BBC, 2009 http://bit.ly/H2ZeLg

We responded to Hundal:

ML: ‘Simple questions 1) Has Obama armed dictators? 2) Is that more or less important than what he/Galloway says about dictators?’

SH: 1) ‘Has he personally sanctioned arming of dictators? No. They can buy weapons from China/Russia too, as Libya did.’

SH: ‘he [Obama] didn't support Mubarak.’

We replied with a quote from 2011 in The Times on US aid to Egypt:

ML: ‘"the Mubarak regime is still receiving $1.3 billion of military aid each year from America.” (The Times, January 31, 2011)'

SH: ‘Just for your info, since you guys set yourself up as a major source of info and critique: “military aid” is not guns/ammo.’

ML: ‘True. Do F-16 jets, M-1A1 tanks, Harpoon, TOW, Hellfire, and Stinger missiles count? http://tinyurl.com/5rwx7zf

SH: ‘might help if you recognised that most of it referred to stuff over a decade, not during Obama. Now, answer my question?’

ML: ‘Details here: http://tinyurl.com/2ekorm9 May 2009 Apache attack helicopter sale here: http://tinyurl.com/7djfdzl'

And indeed Hundal’s position was completely untenable. To sample at random, the Washington Post reported last December:

‘The Obama administration on Thursday announced an arms deal with Saudi Arabia valued at nearly $30 billion, an agreement that will send 84 F-15 fighter jets and assorted weaponry to the kingdom.’

And so on. Hundal wriggled and dug himself ever deeper. For us, it was another encounter with the curious capacity for ‘selective inattention’ found at the intellectual fringe otherwise known as ‘the mainstream media’. For Hundal, Galloway’s words really are far worse crimes than Obama’s active participation in the arming and diplomatic protection of murderous dictators who use his support to kill large numbers of people.

 

Closing Remarks

In our 2005 media alert, Ambushing Dissent, also analysing media treatment of Galloway, we noted how ‘across the spectrum, “rogue” thinkers, politicians and parties are relentlessly smeared and mocked by the elite media. The effect is as inevitable as it is intended - to persuade the public to revile and turn away from radical voices threatening established privilege and power.’

The response to Galloway’s latest electoral victory from the Guardian, the Observer, Channel 4 News and the BBC piles on the evidence. It shows – once again – that the supposedly liberal media, purveyors of 'open journalism', will fight tooth and nail to neutralise anyone who challenges the establishment status quo.

And yet it could hardly be more obvious that the British political system has degenerated into a grotesque, neo-feudalist fraud representing the same elite interests under different brand names. Our politics is structurally addicted to greed-based 'humanitarian' militarism, to exacerbating the catastrophic threat of climate change, and to denying the public any serious choice on the major policy issues of the day. An honest media would welcome any small sign of hope that the iron grip of this corrupt and oppressive system might be subject to serious challenge.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

James Stephenson, BBC News at Ten editor

Email: james.stephenson@bbc.co.uk

Patrick Wintour, Guardian political editor

Email: patrick.wintour@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: @patrickwintour

John Mulholland, Observer editor

Email: john.mulholland@observer.co.uk

Jim Gray, Channel 4 News editor

Email: jim.gray@itn.co.uk

Sunny Hundal, blogger and Guardian columnist

Email: sunny@pickledpolitics.com

Twitter: @sunny_hundal

Please copy us in on any exchanges or forward them to us later at:

editor@medialens.org

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 03 Apr 2012 12:25:31 +0000
Postcard From The Precipice - An Appeal For Support http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/673-postcard-from-the-precipice-an-appeal-for-support.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/673-postcard-from-the-precipice-an-appeal-for-support.html

 

Erich Fromm understood that ‘selective inattention’ was at the heart of the problem. He devoted his life to exposing man’s capacity for ‘not observing what he does not want to observe; hence, that he may be sincere in denying a knowledge which he would have, if he wanted only to have it’. (Fromm, Beyond The Chains Of Illusion, Abacus, 1989, p.94)

It is not too much to say that the corporate media runs on ‘selective inattention’. This week, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger responded in a question and answer session on the newspaper’s website. Writer and activist Darren Allen of the Gentle Apocalypse website took a deep breath and asked him:

'Why can nobody who works at the Guardian seriously answer the criticisms of Media Lens, seriously respond to the challenge posed to corporate journalism by Chomsky and Herman's propaganda model or seriously discuss how the output of a newspaper owned by a corporate trust (i.e. that has many links with corporations), that is funded by corporate advertising revenue, that is staffed by Oxbridge graduates and that regularly sources its information from official sources (e.g. Simon Tisdall's notorious May 2007 front page parroting Pentagon claims as news) will necessarily be skewed towards establishment (meaning corporate establishment) values and views - ignoring a massive range of structurally critical views of the left-liberal press, corporate hegemony and the systematic criminality of UK-US foreign policy (to name just three examples)?’

Rusbridger replied:

'Darren, I'm just not sure where to go with all this. Suppose it's all true and that corporate advertising revenue is a fatally corrupting influence on journalism. Should the Guardian therefore turn away all such advertising? The paper wouldn't last very long. I don't actually feel corrupted by advertising (see my response, citing Francis Williams, a good socialist, elsewhere). I do understand why people may feel deeply suspicious of "corporate journalism", but I don't personally find some of the critiques - especially when they descend into conspiratiorial accounts of what is supposed to go on at the Guardian - very helpful.'

Only ‘selective inattention’ can account for Rusbridger’s otherwise inexplicable focus on just advertising when media critics have tirelessly described a whole set of 'fatally corrupting', non-conspiratorial influences that compromise media performance: the profit motive, wealthy ownership, dependence on subsidised state-corporate news, vulnerability to state-corporate flak, and so on. And yes, the media’s 75% dependence on advertising is deeply problematic. As the Financial Times’ media editor blithely observed last week:

‘Behind their journalistic missions, most news organisations have always been commercial operations that sell audiences to advertisers.’ (Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, ‘News industry can survive in the digital age,’ Financial Times, March 21, 2012)

At other times, Guardian journalists, including the editor, have ignored all of the above factors bar one, conveniently focusing on the fact that ‘We're owned by a trust; we haven't got a proprietor. So we're in a sort of unique position of being able to discuss this kind of stuff.’

Later in the Guardian Q&A, Rusbridger added:

‘I recommend a brilliant history of the British press, written in 1958 by Francis Williams, a former editor of the Daily Herald.

‘The book, Dangerous Estate, argues that it was advertising that set the British press free.

‘“The daily press would never have come into existence as a force in public and social life if it had not been for the need of men of commerce to advertise....Only through the growth of advertising did the press achieve independence.”

‘There are clearly dangers in over dependence on advertising, but, broadly I think it's been a beneficial factor in newspaper publishing over the centuries... and will continue to be.’

We asked the award-winning former Guardian and Observer journalist, Jonathan Cook, for his thoughts. As ever, he kindly took time out from his busy work and nappy-changing schedule to generate some light:

‘It is revealing that Rusbridger believes the advertising boom set the British press free. What actually happened was that some media owners became fabulously wealthy and the socialist/radical presses were both starved of advertising and out-spent by the emerging corporate media. There was, of course, a degree of trickle-down to editorial staff, and - as a bonus - it allowed a bit of lavish, though rare, investigative reporting. Journalists stopped being working class and practitioners of a trade and instead became middle-class professionals. To survive as a journalist, one had to become a signed-up capitalist.

‘What also happened was that an emerging powerful corporate media, with deep pockets for libel cases, was much better equipped to take on wayward individual members of the elites (corrupt politicians, pervert judges, sex-mad footballers, the royals etc) but much less ready to explain to readers the structural flaws of British society (class, the rise of the corporations, the military-industrial complex etc). Rusbridger wants us to cheer a minor gain (occasional savaging of the greedy) that came at the cost of a much more important benefit (dissident critiques that would have allowed us to put into a much wider context the behaviour of the occasional erring member of the establishment).

‘The Guardian excels at the quality end of exposes of individual waywardness (fat cats and corrupt police) rather than the gutter end (footballers and royals). But it does not shed much more light than the tabloids to help us understand what is really taking place in national and global politics, or mobilise us to take action.’ (Email to Media Lens, March 27, 2012)

This was splendidly concise and astute. But the basic theme is readily accessible in the standard text on British media history: Power Without Responsibility by James Curran and Jean Seaton. In other words, Rusbridger knows all this – of course he does.

Notice Rusbridger’s grudging recognition, ‘I do understand why people may feel deeply suspicious of “corporate journalism”,’ as though it were controversial or debatable to assert that media corporations are indeed corporations. In similar vein, the editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, commented to the Leveson inquiry:

‘I can’t defend and won’t defend some of the things that journalists have done, but if we set up an inquiry right now into the ethics of the food industry, or the ethics of the transport industry, or the ethics of medicine, we’d be sitting forever and all sorts of horrors would be revealed.’

Could it be clearer that Blackhurst views the media as just another corporate enterprise selling Truth rather than fast food or cars? Of course we have problems with corruption, says Blackhurst, all industries have problems. Ruled out of this view of the world is the possibility that his business should be exposing the problem with business as such. For journalists like Blackhurst, the idea that there might be something deeply, inherently flawed in the notion that a corporate media system can be trusted to report on a world dominated by corporations makes no sense; certainly no business sense. Instead, other corporations are perceived merely as valued allies in the quest for profits.

 

Mainstream? Or Ethical Freak Show?

Which brings us to an interesting issue that arose out of a recent interview when we were asked how our perceptions of ‘the mainstream media’ had changed since we began in 2001.

We also sometimes use the term ‘mainstream’ media, but it’s a bit misleading. The dominant news media are structurally fanatical, money-grubbing, undemocratic hierarchies. They do notrepresent mainstream interests, if by that we mean the concerns and priorities of the general population.

For example, it cannot be considered ‘mainstream’ human thinking to downplay or reject credible evidence of imminent climate catastrophe. Consider that Reuters reported this week, 'Global warming close to becoming irreversible - scientists':

‘The world is close to reaching tipping points that will make it irreversibly hotter, making this decade critical in efforts to contain global warming, scientists warned on Monday.

‘Scientific estimates differ but the world's temperature looks set to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to rise uncontrollably.'

Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University's climate change institute, comments:

‘This is the critical decade. If we don't get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines.’

The story received no significant media attention and vanished from sight - as one would expect, given that researchers have observeda 'collapse of any significant coverage of climate change in the media’. Serious discussion of the corporate obstacles to action to avert climate chaos is even less likely to appear now than when we started in 2001; as is analysis of the disastrous impact of global capitalism on our cringing planet.

Likewise, it is not ‘mainstream’ human behaviour to promote one non-existent threat after another as part of a Permanent War to control fossil fuel resources that, if consumed, will exacerbate a genuine threat made invisible by ‘selective inattention’.

Iran, now in the crosshairs of US-Israeli fire-power, is hyped as the 'next big thing' for Western security. It seems that no matter how awful the crimes of the West, no matter how longstanding and endemic the pattern of global exploitation, corporate news media can be relied upon to echo the propaganda emanating from Washington and London.

On a sane planet, after the continuing nightmares inflicted on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, it should be nigh on impossible to get away with targeting any more countries for Western ‘intervention’. But the state’s blood-drenched record is always wiped clean, and journalists’ memories with it. The public is supposed to accept that state objectives are essentially benign, and to overlook horrors of the recent past in which ‘our’ media are deeply complicit.

Even though we have observed this phenomenon closely since Media Lens’s inception in 2001 – and, in fact, for many years before - we still find it truly shocking. Thankfully, so do many others.

One recent example in The Sunday Times sums up the casual, unthinking propaganda. We wrote to the paper’s editors on March 5, 2012:

'Your article "Obama asks Israel to delay strike on Iran until after election" by Uzi Mahnaimi (Sunday Times, March 5, 2012) states that Iran has a "nuclear weapons programme". This is inaccurate reporting and you may wish to consider issuing a correction.

'Nowhere in President Obama’s interview in The Atlantic does he use the phrase ‘nuclear weapons programme’.

'US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated recently: "Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No."

'Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has pointed to the consensus among the intelligence and military agencies of the United States and Israel that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme.

'When Huw Edwards recently announced on BBC News at Ten that Iran has a "nuclear weapons programme", the BBC’s News at Ten editor later conceded that this was an error that should not have been broadcast. He added: "We will make sure this does not happen again in the future."

'Given past inaccurate reporting of Iraq’s supposed WMD, and the very high stakes now over the risk of another war in the Middle East, I hope that the Sunday Times will similarly admit its error and take more care in its reporting.

'I look forward to your reply.

'Regards,

'David Cromwell'

For over a week there was no response, other than an automated acknowledgement. After we sent a nudge by email, we finally received a reply on 16 March, almost two weeks after the article had been published. The reply came, not from The Sunday Times editor, but from the acting letters page editor:

 

'Dear David Cromwell

'Thank you for your letter. We have checked the Atlantic article concerned and would like to run a brief letter, as per below:

'"Your article 'Obama asks Israel to delay strike on Iran until after election’ by Uzi Mahnaimi (Sunday Times, 4 March 2012) states that Iran has a "nuclear weapons programme'. This is inaccurate.

'"Nowhere in President Obama’s interview in The Atlantic, which your article refers to, does he use the phrase ‘nuclear weapons programme’.

'"US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated recently: ‘Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.’"

'Yours sincerely

'Anna Bruning

'Acting Letters Editor'

We emailed back:

'Dear Anna Bruning,

'Thank you for your reply and your offer to print a letter which I decline for the following reasons:

'The Sunday Times erroneously referred to Iran’s "nuclear weapons programme" as if its existence were an established fact. This is a serious matter and the editors of the paper should issue a prominent correction.

'As I said in my original email, BBC News recently admitted that they were wrong to refer to Iran’s "nuclear weapons programme".

'Also, both the New York Times' public editor Arthur Brisbane and Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton have recently chided their own organisations about this too.

'Offering to print a letter is not a substitute for the Sunday Times editors stating clearly and prominently that they got this vitally important fact wrong. The paper should be fair and honest enough to do so.

'I look forward to hearing from you promptly, please.

'Regards

'David Cromwell'

We then received a brief email later the same day:

‘The paper has decided to run a correction. It will appear on Sunday.’

This is what appeared on the letters page (p.26) under ‘Corrections and Clarifications’:

'On March 4 we reported ("Obama asks Israel to delay strike on Iran until after election", Foreign News) that the US president had told the Atlantic magazine he was prepared to destroy "Iran's nuclear weapons programme" if sanctions failed. In fact, he had referred to "Iran's nuclear programme" and said his purpose was to prevent it from having a nuclear weapon.'

It was a small but welcome victory for media activism. With your help, we can do much more.

It could be that a golden opportunity for honest dissent is passing. Media corporations are focused like never before on exploiting the internet as the main base for their expanding ‘business models’. They are busily recruiting dissidents to the cause – penetrating the US market with US leftists who they know will not cause embarrassment by discussing UK politics and media, about which they often know little and care less. The unwritten rules are understood – topics other than media analysis are agreed for discussion, no need to mention problems with the corporate media at all.

We are happy to admit that it may all be much too much to be countered. Corporations have immense power to generate attention and outreach. And the public has been desperately slow to appreciate the opportunity for honest media and real change offered by the likes of The Real News Network, Democracy Now! and ZNet. It seems such an easy, natural thing to pay for glossy corporate media, such an effort to support honest dissent. No surprise – we've all been trained to think this way for years and decades.

The great claim among sections of the left is that ‘We have to cooperate with the corporate media to get our message out – how else are we going to be heard?’ For decades, often well-intentioned progressives have committed themselves to 'changing the system from within'. Alas, as 'insiders', it is more often the system that changes them from within. The simple response is: 'Look around you!' Because the argument for cooperation is a lot less convincing from the edge of a precipice.

Consider that in the time when high-profile environmentalists like George Monbiot have been writing regular columns in the Guardian and the Independent, the Green movement has been all but destroyed as a force in British politics. The collapse since the mid-1980s has been beyond anything anyone could have imagined or feared. In the same period, we have seen democratic choice in the UK reduced from an imperfect but real one between left and right to the lethal no-choice of Old Tories and New Labour, with the NHS the latest target for rollback.

As Jonathan Cook says so well, the liberal media want us ‘to cheer a minor gain’ at the cost of a much more important benefit: understanding ‘what is really taking place in national and global politics’, and mobilising to take action.

Cooperation with the corporate Moloch has been tried and has failed, utterly. Why not try something else? The only hope now is for people inside and outside the media to finally speak out with uncompromised courage and honesty. It is in all our interests! We invite you, please, to read this recent email from James in London and support us:

‘I've been a ravenous devourer of media lens alerts for a few years now, so I thought it was time to chip in with some financial support!

‘I've just set up a monthly payment of £10 through Pay Pal.

‘The latest alert [Constructing Consensus - The 'Victims-And-Aggressor Meme'] convinced me. People who care about the world really need the elegant, subtle, compassionate and truthful deconstruction of corporate media propaganda that you guys provide.

‘My last straw with the corporate media was last week, when I read a fawning article about Nigel Lawson in the Evening Standard. It was written by David Sexton, I think, and basically portrayed him as a wise man of great wealth and taste. His views on greed and climate change were presented as completely un-controversial: "We are all naturally greedy, bankers just have more of a chance to do something about it" and "I realised no-one was presenting facts in the climate change debate - that all the evidence is quite shaky. It is a lonely battle - you do get subjected to a lot of attacks from people who play the man, not the ball". I just could not believe it! Next time I am offered an Evening Standard I'm gonna say. "No thanks, we're all stocked up on toilet paper this week"!

‘I get the proper information from yourselves, Democracy Now and Reader Supported News, all of whom I now donate to on a monthly basis. I think this could well be the media model for the future?!

‘Keep it up guys, you're doing a brilliant job :-)

‘James M' (Email to Media Lens, March 23, 2012)

 

Global warming close to becoming irreversible-scientists

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 28 Mar 2012 14:19:12 +0000
Constructing Consensus - The 'Victims-And-Aggressor Meme' http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/672-constructing-consensus-the-victims-and-aggressor-meme.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/672-constructing-consensus-the-victims-and-aggressor-meme.html

 

Journalists are supposed to tell the truth without fear or favour. In reality, as even the editor of the Independent acknowledges, MPs and reporters are ‘a giant club’.

Together, politics and media combine to provide an astonishingly consistent form of reality management controlling public perception of conflicts in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Alastair Crooke, founder and director of Conflicts Forum, notes how the public is force-fed a ‘simplistic victims-and-aggressor meme, which demands only the toppling of the aggressor’.

The bias is spectacular, outrageous, but universal, and so appears simply to mirror reality. Ahmad Barqawi, a Jordanian freelance columnist and writer based in Amman, said it well:

‘I remember during the “Libyan Revolution”, the tally of casualties resulting from Gaddafi’s crackdown on protesters was being reported by the mainstream media with such a “dramatic” fervor that it hardly left the public with a moment to at least second-guess the ensuing avalanche of unverifiable information and erratic inflow of “eye witnesses’ accounts”.

‘Yet the minute NATO forces militarily intervened and started bombing the country into smithereens, the ceremonial practice of body count on our TV screens suddenly stopped; instead, reporting of Libyan casualties (of whom there were thousands thanks only to the now infamous UNSC resolution 1973) turned into a seemingly endless cycle of technical, daily updates of areas captured by NATO-backed “rebel forces”, then lost back to Gaddafi’s military, and again recaptured by the rebels in their creeping territorial advances towards Tripoli…

‘How is it that the media’s concern for human rights did not extend to the victims of NATO bombing campaigns in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Sirte? How come the international community’s drive to protect the lives of Libyan civilians in Benghazi lost steam the minute NATO stepped in and actually increased the number of casualties ten-fold?’

It is a remarkable phenomenon – global media attention flitting instantaneously, like a flock of starlings, from one focus desired by state power to another focus also desired by state power.

But the bias goes far beyond even this example. The media’s basic stance in reporting events in Libya and Syria has been one of intense moral outrage. The level of political-media condemnation is such that media consumers are often persuaded to view rational, informed dissent as apologetics for mass murder. Crooke writes:

‘Those with the temerity to get in the way of “this narrative” by arguing that external intervention would be disastrous, are roundly condemned as complicit in President Assad's crimes against humanity.’ They are confronted by the ‘unanswerable riposte of dead babies - literally’.

 

Monopolising The First Draft Of History

Just as the West has a near-monopoly on high-tech violence, so the Western media has a near-monopoly in creating the ‘first rough draft of history’. Consider this headline in The Times last month:

‘Moral Blindness; Russia and China acted for self-serving motives in vetoing the Security Council's condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria.’ (Leading article, The Times, February 6, 2012)

Times readers were assured that the violence – which, by curious coincidence, was said to have peaked just as the UN vote was taking place - was enormous:

‘Without warning, cause or compassion, the Syrian Army opened fire on the centre of Homs in the night, killing at least 200 people and leaving hundreds more maimed and wounded.’

As we discussed at the time, this was the ‘first rough draft of history’ across the media. A second, sharply contradictory draft is already emerging, but only at the media margins. Jonathan Steele, formerly chief foreign correspondent at the Guardian, recently wrote of Russia and China in the London Review of Books:

‘The Western media have largely caricatured them as defenders of the regime thanks to their vetoes of the UN Security Council resolution on Syria. But in the days before the vote on 4 February diplomats in New York had been working with two separate drafts, trying to find a compromise text. Far from siding with Assad, the Russian draft differed little from the Moroccan one the West supported. It condemned the authorities’ “disproportionate use of force”. It called for an immediate ceasefire. The two substantive differences were that the Russian draft said the political process should start "without preconditions" while the Western-backed draft supported the Arab League’s call for Assad to transfer power to his vice-president before a dialogue could begin. In the event of non-compliance, the Western draft threatened “further measures”. The Russians had no such clause. For reasons that are still not clear, the West decided to ambush the Russians and Chinese and put the Moroccan draft to a sudden vote just before Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was due to visit Assad to conduct negotiations. The West knew that in its regime-changing form the Russians and Chinese would have no choice but to veto the resolution. If the Russians had been less diplomatic, they might have put their own draft to a sudden vote. We might then today be shouting at the West for vetoing a solution.’

As for the Times’ and other media’s endlessly repeated, but unverified, claims of 200 dead in Homs, Steele cites a source who said he ‘started having doubts about the media coverage when al-Jazeera claimed two hundred people died on the day the UN Security Council resolution was debated. My friend in Homs said it was more like sixty’.

The influential risk analysis group, Stratfor, reports that 'most of the opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue'. Emails from Stratfor published by WikiLeaks argued that Syrian government massacres against civilians were unlikely because the ‘regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds’.

Reuters recently profiled the key source for much mainstream reporting of casualties, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in an article titled, ‘Syrian shop-keeper wages lonely war from English city.’ The report notes of the lone warrior, Rami Abdulrahman:

‘Thousands of miles away from home, in a small rented house in Coventry, Abdulrahman runs Syria's most prominent activist group which has become central to the way the uprising is being reported - and understood - in the world.'

When Human Rights Watch recently reported 'kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members,' the activist and filmmaker Gabriele Zamparini asked: 'So, why weren't we informed of this by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights? What are they observing?' (Email to Media Lens, March 20, 2012) Two more questions the media will doubtless not be asking.

It is not outrageous that Abdulrahman should be saying whatever he likes about the conflict. It is outrageous that the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times are presenting him as a primary source for hard evidence.

As discussed, media outrage has typically been communicated at a high pitch of damning condemnation. And yet casualties in Libya under Gaddafi and in Syria now are likely far below those caused by Nato’s war in Libya. They are certainly minor events compared to the searing holocaust inflicted by the West on Iraq over more than two decades at the cost of more than 2 million lives. Nevertheless, while moral outrage is turned on like a tap in response to the crimes of official enemies, ‘our’ crimes – horrors for which we are morally accountable as democratic citizens – elicit only murmurs of mild concern. Once again, in an instant, the media flock alters direction in a way that just happens to favour state interests.

The groundwork persuading us to accept this bias is being laid on a daily basis. As Western demands for Syrian regime change reached a peak in early March, a Guardian photo spread was titled, ‘Dictators’ Wives - Their husbands have run some of the most brutal regimes of the Arab world, but present and former first ladies presented a different image to the world.’

The first six of these photos, fully half of the dozen on display, focused on Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian official enemy du jour. If Guardian readers didn’t know that Assad was being portrayed by the US-UK governments as the latest Hitler, Saddam, Milosevic and Gaddafi, they could have guessed from this piece. Notably absent from the remaining pictures were the dictators’ wives of surviving Western allies in countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen.

A week earlier, the Guardian had published ‘The Arab world's first ladies of oppression.’ Again, the photo beneath the title featured ‘Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma’. An Independent article asked: ‘So, what do you think of your husband's brutal crackdown, Mrs Assad?’

We accept that Assad is a ruthless dictator. And of course politicians, and arguably their spouses, should be subjected to serious challenge. But can we imagine anything comparable being directed at the wives of other men running two of ‘the most brutal regimes’ in the world – Barack Obama and David Cameron?

By contrast, the Guardian ‘Picture of the day’ on January 25, included this comment:

‘The first lady shines in sapphire at the state of the union address, surrounded by a sea of dark suits.’

The piece added:

‘Michelle Obama doesn't do trends. Instead she wears clothes that convey a message but never overpower her.’

A Guardian review of last week’s meeting between Obama and Cameron in Washington, observed:

‘Catwalk season might be over, but Washington has gallantly rushed in to fill the vacuum. This week, DC is playing host to a fascinating geopolitical fashion show featuring an all-star cast and headlined by Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron.’

Try imagining a British journalist asking: ‘So, what do you think of your husband's brutal drone campaign, Mrs Obama?’

 

‘We Are Not Investigative Reporters’

A foundation stone of structural journalistic bias is the assumption that it is the role of ‘balanced’ journalism to defend democracy by uncritically reporting the thoughts and deeds of elected leaders. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, then ITN political editor (now BBC political editor), Nick Robinson, wrote:

‘It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking... That is all someone in my sort of job can do. We are not investigative reporters.’ (Robinson, '"Remember the last time you shouted like that?" I asked the spin doctor,' The Times, July 16, 2004)

By contrast, challenging what ‘those in power’ are doing or thinking is said to be the task of less high-profile news journalists. In reality, they also often merely echo officialdom.

Thus, two of the Guardian’s senior news reporters, Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, recently reported David Cameron’s claim that ‘Iran is planning an inter-continental nuclear weapon' that 'would threaten the west’. Wintour and Borger failed to offer a single fact or source to challenge this preposterous claim that so closely resembled the lies that preceded the war on Iraq in 2002-2003 (after complaints, the Guardian amended the article).

Or consider that Reuters reported:

‘U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Thursday she was devastated by the destruction she saw in Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs and she wants to know what happened to residents there as result of an assault by government forces.

‘"I was devastated by what I saw in Baba Amr yesterday," Amos told Reuters TV after leaving a meeting with ministers in Damascus.

‘"The devastation there is significant, that part of Homs is completely destroyed and I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who live in that part of the city."’

Reuters did not mention that Valerie Amos is the same Baroness Amos who was made a life peer by Tony Blair in 1997, and made a cabinet minister by him in 2003, replacing Clare Short after she resigned over the Iraq war. Amos said in May 2003:

‘It is absurd to suggest that we invented, exaggerated or distorted evidence for our own ends. There have been successive United Nations Security Council resolutions about Iraq's WMD. We have evidence that Iraq used its WMD against its own people. These are the facts.’ (Paul Waugh, 'Rumsfeld changes tack by insisting that WMD will be found,' Independent, May 31, 2003)

Amos insisted that the Government's dossier on WMD in Iraq had been ‘thorough and accurate’. She commented:

'On the 45-minute claim, it is absolutely clear from reading the Hutton report that the Government did not dramatise the evidence.' (Catherine Macleod, '"War president" Bush changes tack on WMD,' Herald, February 9, 2004)

In truth, it is left to a tiny handful of ‘crusading’ journalists buried in the ‘quality’ press to offer a heavily compromised challenge to power.

Additionally, the fact that big media corporations are owned by wealthy individuals, or even larger corporations owned and run by wealthy people, means that high-profile journalists tend to be selected on the unspoken assumption that they will support elite versions of the world. Unsurprisingly, then, we find that the leading political correspondents of major broadcast and print media tend to be highly sympathetic to the official view. The investigative journalist I.F. Stone wrote:

‘The reporter assigned to specific beats like the State Department of the Pentagon for a wire service of a big daily newspaper soon finds himself a captive. State and Pentagon have large press relations forces whose job it is to herd the press and shape the news. There are many ways to punish a reporter who gets out of line; if a big story breaks at 3 a.m, the press office may neglect to notify him while his rivals get the story. There are as many ways to flatter and take a reporter into camp – private-off-the-record dinners with high officials, entertainment at the service clubs.’

The BBC’s Nick Robinson commented recently:

‘David Cameron will become the first world leader to be welcomed aboard Airforce One by President Obama so that both men can travel to the crucial swing state of Ohio. The pin up of the global left and the leader of the British right will add the latest image to the photo album of the Special Relationship.'

He added:

'Last week President Obama had the opportunity to look Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu in the eye and judge how close he is to launching a war. David Cameron will want to know what he saw.'

This mythologising of leaders as virtual Hollywood heroes – and the depiction of policy as emerging from powerful individuals rather than powerful groups - urges the public to defer to leaders portrayed as far more than mere representatives of the people.

The undiscussed, system-supportive foundation of professional journalism adds a guaranteed second promotional layer reinforcing officialdom’s version of the world. Politicians can simply report the threat of a terrible impending massacre in Libya and the press will report them saying it - over and over again.

Compromised international organisations like the United Nations and even some well-intentioned but naïve human rights groups, can also be depended on to reinforce the official view. The UN, for example, is not, as presented, a divinely independent body free from the taint of realpolitik. It is subject to superpower control achieved through manipulation, threat, punishment and reward. If the UN reinforces the official view, the media can cite this as ‘independent’ confirmation of what the United States and Britain are claiming. Right-wing thinktanks and less high-profile ‘journalists of attachment’ – some of them out and out state stooges - also add their shrieks to the swelling chorus insisting: 'Something must be done!'

Perceiving an apparently rock solid consensus across the political, media and NGO spectra, the best compassionate instincts of many media consumers will prompt them to accept calls for 'humanitarian intervention' to obstruct the crimes of official enemies.

The danger is clear, then – the 'victims-and-aggressor meme' can become insulated against facts, against even discussion of the facts, by a kind of press-button, structural propaganda.

 

David Cameron: Iran is planning an 'inter-continental nuclear weapon'
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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 20 Mar 2012 09:39:16 +0000
Bombing Osirak, Burying UN Resolution 487 – An Exchange With The BBC’s Jonathan Marcus http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/671-bombing-osirak-burying-un-resolution-487-an-exchange-with-the-bbcs-jonathan-marcus-sp-522652427.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/671-bombing-osirak-burying-un-resolution-487-an-exchange-with-the-bbcs-jonathan-marcus-sp-522652427.html

 

On June 7, 1981, eight Israeli aircraft bombed the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor ten miles southeast of Baghdad. Ten Iraqis and one French civilian were killed. In his book State of Denial, journalist Bob Woodward argued that the raid intensified Iraq’s nuclear programme:

‘Israeli intelligence were convinced that their strike... had ended Saddam's program. Instead [it prompted] covert funding for a nuclear program code-named “PC3” involving 5,000 people testing and building ingredients for a nuclear bomb…’ (Woodward, State of Denial, Simon & Schuster, 2006, p.215)

In response to the attack, UN Security Council Resolution 487 was passed 15-0, on June 19, 1981, with no-one opposing and no-one abstaining - not even the United States. It is worth quoting the Resolution at some length:

‘Fully aware of the fact that Iraq has been a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons since it came into force in 1970, that in accordance with that Treaty Iraq has accepted IAEA safeguards on all its nuclear activities, and that the Agency has testified that these safeguards have been satisfactorily applied to date,

‘Noting furthermore that Israel has not adhered to the non-proliferation Treaty...

‘Considering that, under the terms of Article 2, paragraph 4, of the Charter of the United Nations: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations",

‘1. Strongly condemns the military attack by Israel in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct;

‘2. Calls upon Israel to refrain in the future from any such acts or threats thereof;

‘3. Further considers that the said attack constitutes a serious threat to the entire IAEA safeguards regime which is the foundation of the non-proliferation Treaty;

‘4. Fully recognizes the inalienable sovereign right of Iraq, and all other States, especially the developing countries, to establish programmes of technological and nuclear development to develop their economy and industry for peaceful purposes in accordance with their present and future needs and consistent with the internationally accepted objectives of preventing nuclear-weapons proliferation;

‘5. Calls upon Israel urgently to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards;

‘6. Considers that Iraq is entitled to appropriate redress for the destruction it has suffered, responsibility for which has been acknowledged by Israel...'

Readers may be wondering why they have not seen or heard more about Resolution 487 during a period of intense speculation that Israel might launch a similar attack, involving the same violation of international law, on Iran. We can all, of course, remember the endless political and media references to UN Resolutions 1441 and 687, said to be relevant to the US-UK attack on Iraq in March 2003. The likes of Tony Blair and Jack Straw never stopped reminding the public of their crucial significance. We will return to media coverage of Osirak and Resolution 487 below.

 

'Getting There' – An Exchange With Jonathan Marcus

Last week, the BBC published an article by Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus under the title, ‘How Israel might strike at Iran’ (Subsequently altered to, 'How Iran might respond to Israeli attack').

Like a tourist guide, the piece listed Israeli aircraft under the banner ‘Getting There – Aircraft, Details, Task’ and identified ‘Potential targets’, including Iranian nuclear energy facilities (as discussed in our previous alert, there is currently no evidence that Iran is even planning to attempt to build a nuclear weapon).

The nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz is a clear target. Marcus commented: ‘The facility is underground, making bunker-busting munitions essential.’

The military site at Parchin was also mentioned:

‘IAEA inspectors were prevented from visiting the site in February 2012 as they sought to clarify the “possible military dimensions” of Iran's nuclear programme.’

In an article also published last week titled, ‘How the media got the Parchin story wrong,’ investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote that ‘explicit statements on the issue by the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA and the language of the new IAEA report indicate that Iran did not reject an IAEA visit to the base per se but was only refusing access as long as no agreement had been reached with the IAEA governing the modalities of cooperation’. (Our emphasis)

Porter added:

‘But not a single major news media report has reported the significant difference between initial media coverage on the Parchin access issue and the information now available from the initial IAEA report and Soltanieh [Iranian Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh].’

Returning to the BBC analysis, the ‘Task’ for each Israeli weapon system was described. However, when it came to Iranian defences, instead of ‘Task’, Marcus used the word ‘Threat’, thus presenting the imagined conflict from an Israeli perspective. Of course the Iranians might well perceive Israeli ‘Tasks’ as ‘Threats’. The media monitoring website News Unspun noted the biased language, complaints followed, and the BBC changed ‘Threat’ to ‘Efficacy’.

On February 27, we wrote to Jonathan Marcus about his article:

Hi Jonathan

Regarding this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17115643

Presumably the legal issues surrounding an Israeli attack, and the possibility of major civilian casualties, don't merit a mention. Amazing to see such a close copy of the 'toys for boys' journalism that preceded the war on Iraq, which claimed 100,000s, perhaps a million, human lives. That ought to be sobering.

Best wishes

David Edwards

Marcus responded the same day:

Well that I suppose sounds an incisive point but when I am asked by my editors to write a military assessment of Israel's capacities to carry out such a mission, I speak to the air power experts and write the piece.

There are indeed many other aspects to this story and I am sure they are being coveted and will be covered extensively over the coming weeks and months.

This is not "toys for boys"- go to a wargaming exhibition if you want that - this is a military analysis - nothing more, nothing less.

JM

Further exchanges took place on the same day:

Thanks Jonathan. You wrote:

‘Only a few days ago, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen Martin Dempsey, said that an Israeli attack would not be prudent. Such a strike, he said, "would be destabilising and would not achieve their long-term objectives".'

What's the difference between citing a US general on the imprudent nature of a strike and citing an expert on international law on the illegal nature of a strike? Dempsey was talking about political consequences - it 'would be destabilising' - which could also justify mention of possible civilian casualties, which would certainly be destabilising.

As an independent journalist, you could include this material, or suggest it to your editors for inclusion, or protest if they took it out.

Best

David

Marcus replied:

The piece dealt with the subject that was requested, which is why the General was quoted. Indeed there would have been a prominent USAF general (retd) cited in the piece but he was not able to respond in time, though that probably wouldn't have made you any happier.

The other issues you mention, not least the legality of such a strike, were not  the issue here. I daresay that I will probably be asked to do something on that subject in due course.

While discussing military matters the piece did not give any sense that this would be an easy nor an un-problematic undertaking. Indeed one of the people interviewed gave a pretty blunt view of the desirability of such an attack.

Your glib toys for boys reference annoyed me since I think it rather betrays your own prejudices. The freedoms you and I enjoy - me to broadcast what I believe is a fair assessment - and you to write in and criticise it - were maintained by "boys with toys" as you call them.

Your implication is that the piece is in some sense "war-mongering" which I entirely disagree with - for all I know you may be a battle-scarred recipient of the VC - but I have in the past seen some fighting reasonably close-up. It is not pleasant. But I know what wars are about and - if I may speak personally for a moment - have no enthusiasm for them.

That's it - you've had my two responses (on my day off as well - there's public service). You should be glorying in the fact that we have a BBC and especially the World Service - celebrating its 80th birthday this year), rather than always carping and complaining. But you are of course entitled to your opinion, as I am to provide my informed assessment.
Regards
JM

We responded:

Thanks Jonathan. Sorry if you were annoyed by the 'toys for boys' comment. I meant to suggest that it is wrong and dangerous to discuss military possibilities as a kind of technical issue distinct from political and humanitarian concerns. As I mentioned, you did refer to political issues, but you haven't explained why these were included when the related issues of legality and possible civilian casualties were not.

In his analysis of obedience in modern society, the psychologist Stanley Milgram remarked on the growing 'tendency of the individual to become so absorbed in the narrow technical aspects of the task that he loses sight of its broader consequences,' such that he 'entrusts the broader tasks of setting goals and assessing morality to the... authority he is serving'. (Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p.25)

It seems to me that your piece was an example of what Milgram was warning against. He pointed out that, finally - regardless of what is 'requested' of us - we are all morally responsible for our own actions. If BBC editors ask for a purely technical analysis of a possible future conflict, they should be resisted.

Best wishes

David

Marcus replied:

There will be a follow up piece later this week looking at at least  of the issues you raise. this one happily was the most looked at page today so there is clearly interest.

I am not going to get into the sociology of the media - It gives me indigestion.
JM’

We answered:

That's good to hear, thanks.

Best

David

We didn't mean we were glad to hear that 'sociology' gives Marcus indigestion. We were grateful for his lengthy, if somewhat gruff, responses. He deserves credit for responding at all (so many BBC journalists do not). We look forward to his article ‘looking at at least [some?] of the issues’ we raised. If he mentions Osirak, and especially Resolution 487, he will have reinvented himself as a media outlier.

So how extraordinary would a Marcus mention of these issues be? Recall that June 7, 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Israel’s historic raid on Osirak – the world’s first attack on a nuclear facility. And yet the LexisNexis media search engine records just eight mentions of Osirak in all UK national newspapers in the last 12 months. On the day of the anniversary itself, the attack was mentioned in single-sentence, ‘On this day in history’ comments in the free London newspaper Metro and in the Paisley Daily Express. The words ‘Osirak’ and ‘Resolution 487’ produced zero results for all available dates in all print media.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Jonathan Marcus, BBC Defence Correspondent

Email: jonathan.marcus@bbc.co.uk

Please copy us in on any exchanges, or forward them to us later at:

editor@medialens.org

 

 

How Iran might respond to Israeli attack

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 06 Mar 2012 09:07:24 +0000
Iran – Next In Line For Western ‘Intervention’? http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/668-iran-next-in-line-for-western-intervention.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/668-iran-next-in-line-for-western-intervention.html

What would it take for journalists to seriously challenge government propaganda? A war with over one million dead, four million refugees, a country’s infrastructure shattered, and the increased threat of retail ‘terror’ in response to the West’s wholesale ‘terror’? How horrifying do even very recent experiences have to be, how great the war crimes, before media professionals begin to exhibit scepticism towards Western governments’ hyping of yet another ‘threat’. Why is warmongering the default mode for the corporate media?

On Channel 4 News, the famed ‘pinko-liberal’ news presenter Jon ‘Six Pilgers’ Snow intoned ominously:

‘It is still not a nuclear weapon, but an upgrading of Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium ostensibly for its nuclear power plant.’ (C4 News headlines, February 15, 2012)

‘Still’ not a nuclear weapon - not yet? - but the primary focus is absolutely on an alleged military threat that does not actually exist. Foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller added:

‘This development does not bring Iran any closer to building a bomb… But if Tehran is trying to convince the world that its purpose is peaceful, no-one’s buying it...' (C4 News, ‘Iran reveals its latest step in nuclear arms’, February 15, 2012)

That is not quite true, as we will see below. Miller added:

'This may look like the set of a 70s Bond movie, but this is the Natanz reactor…’

The reference is telling - much media reporting does seem to be inspired by a Bond movie vision of the world. Token balance was provided:

‘There’s no evidence that Iran is intending to construct a nuclear weapon.’

This put Snow’s opening comment in perspective. A more accurate version would have been: ‘It is still not evidence that Iran has plans to build a nuclear weapon.’

Instead, the required propaganda pitch was clear. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was defiantly sticking ‘two fingers up to the UN and a hostile world’. As ever, it is 'us' (the 'world') versus 'them'. Miller continued:

‘The 74 million people of the Islamic republic are paying a high price for their leader’s defiance.’

As in Iraq, the Bad Guys, not the West, are responsible for any suffering caused. No question that Israel, the US and its allies bear any responsibility for the tension, or the lethal effects of sanctions. Miller added:

‘Their nation is isolated, they’re suffering from sanctions – prices are rising, credit tightening, currency plummeting. The Tehran regime thinks its brinkmanship gives it leverage – it has written to the EU offering to resume stalled nuclear talks.’

In media Newspeak, 'isolated' means 'bad'. Likewise, 'secretive' and 'hermit'. When North Korea is described as 'the secretive, hermit state' that is 'increasingly isolated', it means North Korea is Bad! Bad! Bad!

Meanwhile, on the BBC's News at Ten, Huw Edwards presented the headlines:

'The Iranians delight in the latest advances in their nuclear programme.’

Little wrong with that. But moments later, when the actual news report was introduced, ‘nuclear programme’ had mysteriously morphed into ‘nuclear weapons programme’. Edwards told the watching millions:

'Iran has announced new developments in its nuclear weapons programme. State television reported that for the first time Iranian-made nuclear fuel rods have been loaded into a research reactor in Tehran. The event was attended by President Ahmadinejad.’

Behind a veneer of polite impartiality, the BBC - like Channel 4 News and the rest of the media - presents official enemies as Bond villains: grandiose, dangerous and absurd. Thus James Reynolds began his report:

‘Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a PhD in traffic management. But he often likes to play the part of nuclear physicist. This afternoon Iran’s president inspected new home-made fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran, all made without any help from the West.’

In 1998, an ITN report described how Saddam Hussein was ‘playing his favourite role of defender of the Arab people’. (James Mates, ITN, 10 O'Clock News, February 16, 1998)

Obama, by contrast, is the 'leader of the free world'; he doesn't 'play' at 'roles'.

Reynolds continued:

‘The most important of the president’s announcements on state TV may be the installation of 3000 new centrifuges for uranium enrichment. In itself, this does not prove that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. But it puts the country in a better position to do so, if it chooses.’

BBC ‘balance’ dictates that a reliable talking head should next provide a quote. This is almost never a whistleblower willing to counter the official view - people like veteran reporter Seymour Hersh, former IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelley or foreign affairs analyst Gareth Porter. A ‘respected’ think tank with close ties to the military-political establishment is preferred, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

‘If it’s true that Iran is introducing 3000 more centrifuges, and that they are more efficient, that is significant. It means that the timeline for Iran being able to introduce a nuclear weapon, if they were to decide to do so, is significantly shorter.’

Perhaps within 45 minutes of a decision being taken? Is Cyprus at risk?

Reynolds again:

‘Exactly how much shorter is something that negotiators will try to work out. The last time that world powers and Iran sat down for nuclear talks - a year ago. They achieved nothing. But Iran has now told the West it’s ready to have another go.

‘And this is what makes things all the more urgent. Only this week, Israel accused Iran of carrying out assassination attempts against Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and Thailand. It’s a charge denied by Iran but it adds to Israel’s own sense that Iran must be stopped.’ (BBC1, February 15, 2012)

The ‘explanation’ echoes the official line. Rational scrutiny and serious appraisal are consigned to the margins, seemingly just beyond the reach of BBC journalism.

 

‘We’ Are Patient Peacelovers; ‘They’ Are Defiant Warmongers

Away from BBC News, the print media went further. A front page story in The Times on February 20 made no pretence of balance or accuracy. Captured by the media monitoring group News Unspun, this story from an ostensibly serious paper in the Murdoch stable, asserted – contrary to the evidence - that there is an ‘illicit atomic weapons programme' and 'atomic weaponry' in Iran (Hugh Tomlinson and Roger Boyes, 'Defiant Iran cuts off oil to Britain,' The Times, February 20, 2012). This propaganda was reinforced, if also contradicted, by a Times editorial the following day which declared, quite outrageously, that it is ‘beyond doubt’ that ‘Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon’ (Leader, ‘Iran On The Brink’, The Times, February 21, 2012).

In a media alert last November, we examined the media’s biased coverage of a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Despite all the political and media rhetoric, there was, in fact, no new evidence of any nuclear weapons programme. The respected investigative reporter Seymour Hersh summed up where things now stand:

‘They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities to build the bomb. This is simply a fact.’

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has pointed to the emerging consensus among the intelligence and military agencies of the United States and Israel that Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that ‘Israel believes Iran itself has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to intelligence assessment to be presented later this week to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey.’

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented recently: ‘Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.’

A recent article in the New York Times was entitled: 'US Agencies See No Move By Iran To Build A Bomb.'

Nevertheless, an Independent editorial declared that Iran’s leaders are ‘potentially, courting disaster.’ It is Tehran, not the West, that is ‘upping the ante’. The conclusion:

‘Before pursuing their present course further, Iran's leaders should understand that they risk provoking the very response they, and most of the rest of the world, are desperate to avoid.’

If Israel or the US attacks this year, it will be the result of Iran's provocation, even though there is simply no evidence that they are attempting to build a bomb.

A Guardian report by Chris McGreal came heavily laden with the views of unnamed ‘US officials' with their ‘long-held doubts... about whether the Iranians can be enticed or cajoled into serious negotiations.' Alas, 'We don't see a way forward,' said one official. 'The record shows that there is nothing to work with.' McGreal continued:

‘official analysts working on Iran have identified what one described as a “sweet spot”, where the mix of diplomacy, political timetables and practical issues come together to suggest that if Israel launches a unilateral assault it is more likely in September or October, although they describe that as a "best guess".’

Meanwhile, Israel is in need of US reassurance but portrayed as being patient; a simulacrum of responsible statehood:

‘"The sanctions are there to pressure Iran and reassure Israel that we are taking this issue seriously," said one official. "The focus is on demonstrating to Israel that this has a chance of working. Israel is sceptical but appreciates the effort. It is willing to give it a go, but how long will it wait?"’

It is standard practice to portray the official enemy as guilty of warmongering and sabre-rattling; not the West with its encirclement of Iran by military bases and autocratic US-supported Gulf states, together with the threatening presence of British, French and US warships in the region:

‘Iran's increasingly belligerent moves – such as the botched attempts, laid at Tehran's door, to attack Israeli diplomats in Thailand, India and Georgia – are compounding the sense that Iran is far from ready to negotiate.’

A comparison of US and Iranian military spending is embarrassing and, so, rarely provided. As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times:

'But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.'

There was a stunning lack of journalistic scepticism in the Guardian report; no quotes or insights from credible experts who doubt Iran is even trying to build a bomb. Had McGreal read anything by Hersh, for example, or followed Hersh's sources and links? Surely McGreal recalled the grave journalistic refusal in 2002-2003 to reflect the extent of scepticism concerning Iraq's alleged WMD. Amazingly, the mainstream’s default mode is so fixed that even the recent – and continuing - catastrophe of Iraq is unable to disturb the propaganda production process.

We emailed McGreal but did not receive a response.

 

Exchange With BBC News At Ten Editor

On February 16, we emailed James Stephenson, editor of BBC News at Ten, to say that the previous night’s item on Iran had breached the news organisation’s obligations on accuracy and impartiality:

Dear James,

I hope all’s well with you. Do you have a moment to explain the important wording of your Iran item on the News at Ten last night, please?

Huw Edwards said during the introductory headlines:

'The Iranians delight in the latest advances in their nuclear programme.'

But then when he introduced the Iran item itself, at around 13 mins, he said:

'Iran has announced new developments in its nuclear weapons programme.’

A ‘nuclear’ programme had now become a ‘nuclear weapons’ programme. You ought to be aware that there is no definitive evidence of a ‘nuclear weapons’ programme and that you are misleading the BBC audience by stating it as a fact.

Hersh wrote about this on The New Yorker website.

Hersh quoted Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst, who said: ‘there is nothing that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb.’

Hersh also described the IAEA report as a ‘political document,’ not a scientific study. ‘They [the US’s Joint Special Operations Force Command] found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization.’

‘In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities to build the bomb. This is simply a fact.’

How do you justify your assertion of a ‘nuclear weapons’ programme?

I hope you will respond soon.

Best wishes

David Cromwell

Co-Editor, Media Lens

www.medialens.org

To his credit, Stephenson responded the following day:

Dear David

Thank you for your email.

As you say, the headline was accurate. The piece made clear that the latest developments do not prove Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, although it would make it easier to do so. This should have been reflected in the cue.

Best wishes

James Stephenson

Editor, BBC News at Ten

‘This should have been reflected in the cue’ is about the biggest concession we’ve ever seen from a BBC editor in all the years we’ve been doing Media Lens. As we’ve pointed out over the years, such 'slips' consistently tilt in the direction of state-corporate propaganda. They never seem to go the other way: towards undermining the deceptions and falsehoods generated by government and big business.

One of our regular posters on the Media Lens message board, ‘junglefish’, received a similar reply from Stephenson. Pressing further, he asked the BBC editor whether ‘the cue’ was scripted or whether it had been inserted on the hoof by Huw Edwards. Stephenson replied that it had been ‘an error in the script’. (Email, February 23, 2012).

Our reader emailed back:

‘So, we can ascertain that a (presumably) senior BBC journalist, having reviewed the content of the item in question decided to write a cue that stated, "Iran has announced new developments in its nuclear weapons programme." This was then presumably sub-edited and checked by other members of the BBC News team, and yet no one noticed the obvious and I believe very important error. I find this quite remarkable.

‘I would be interested to know what your views are regarding this error, whether you feel that the BBC ought to exercise more care in this regard, and what steps you might be able to take to correct the mis-representation in this item?’

The BBC editor replied:

‘We work to very high standards and mistakes are rare. It is unfortunate a slip occurred on this occasion. We will make sure this does not happen again in the future. As I said in my earlier email, the headline was accurate and the piece made the Iranian position clear, so the full picture was given in the coverage despite the error in the cue.

‘I am afraid I do not have anything further to add. Of course you have the right to make a formal complaint via the BBC website if you wish to do so.’ (Media Lens message board, February 25, 2012)

Regular readers will be all too aware of the stifling, bureaucratic treacle of the BBC complaints process described even by one former BBC chairman as ‘absolutely hopeless’.

Poster ‘johnlilburne’ noted on our board:

‘You can be damn sure such an “error” would not be made if it cast the Israelis in a bad light.

‘If one did slip through, there would be hell to pay and heads would roll.’ (Media Lens message board, February 25, 2012)

Finally, as another of our regular posters, George_HK observed sardonically:

‘Isn't it peculiar how these regular “mistakes” always favour the lies being propagandised about the official enemies and never told about our “allies”.

‘That's because these “mistakes” happen when people aren't careful to hold back on their prejudices and thought processes. Things which don't cross these peoples thoughts are never “mistakenly broadcast”.’ (Media Lens message board, February 25, 2012)

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

James Stephenson, BBC News at Ten editor

Email: james.stephenson@bbc.co.uk

Huw Edwards, BBC News presenter

Email: huw.edwards.01@bbc.co.uk

Chris McGreal, Guardian reporter

Email: chris.mcgreal@guardian.co.uk

Richard Beeston, Times foreign editor

Email: richard.beeston@thetimes.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/timesforeigned

Please copy us in on any exchanges or forward them to us later at:

editor@medialens.org

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 29 Feb 2012 23:45:59 +0000
UN 'Travesty': Resolutions Of Mass Destruction - Part 2 http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/666-un-travesty-resolutions-of-mass-destruction-part-2.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/666-un-travesty-resolutions-of-mass-destruction-part-2.html

 

On February 6, a cry of moral outrage arose from that collection of selfless humanitarians otherwise known as The Times newspaper. Responding to fighting in the Syrian city of Homs, which has included government shelling of civilian areas variously reported to have claimed scores or hundreds of lives, a Times leading article observed:

‘Pensioners, the sick, women, children - none was spared as the military took revenge on the centre of opposition to the Assad dictatorship.’ (Leading article, ‘Moral Blindness; Russia and China acted for self-serving motives in vetoing the Security Council's condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria,’ The Times, February 6, 2012)

The leader pulled no punches in describing ‘the carnage the regime's minders have tried to hide: corpses with their eyes gouged out, their skulls crushed, their faces burnt off.’

The editors fumed:

‘Russia's moral bankruptcy and China's self-serving blindness have been denounced from the Gulf to Morocco...’

As we saw in Part 1, and as also in this case, the denunciations are mostly offered by people drowning in hypocrisy. The Times concluded that, ‘no veto can, in the end, save [the Syrian government] from the fury of a nation so humiliatingly brutalised’.

Syrian government violence is real and horrific, but not a word in the article commented on the armed fighters in Syria that are reported to have killed many hundreds of Syrian troops and police. Unable to perceive the Western interests described by former Nato chief Wesley Clark (See Part 1), The Times was able to identify cynical self-interest elsewhere:

‘Russia is determined, above all, to protect its naval presence in Syria, thwart Western interests in the region and shield a regime that now owes it an existential debt.’

Compare The Times’ response to Israel’s far more destructive Operation Cast Lead offensive in the Gaza strip between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:

‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.’

Three Israeli civilians and six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fire.

In a leader, The Times sternly rejected the subsequent Goldstone Report – a mission established by the UN to investigate war crimes during the crisis. Goldstone found that crimes had been committed by both sides. Understandably, the report focused heavily on the ‘disproportionate use of force’ by the Israelis in its ‘deliberate targeting’ of Palestinian civilians. Despite the casualty figures, The Times found this absurd because ‘there is no equivalence between the actions of Israel in self-defence and those of Hamas in seeking to destroy it’.

Describing the offensive as merely an ‘incursion’ (the Syrian government’s attacks in Homs are a ‘massacre’ for The Times) the editors wrote of Israel:

‘It had no choice but to respond to [Palestinian] provocations.’ (Leading article, ‘The Gaza Trap; The Goldstone report is biased and Europeans on the UN Human Rights Council should reject it rather than abstaining,’ The Times, October 16, 2009)

Despite the obvious scale of the carnage, The Times claimed: ‘Israel adheres to standards higher than those of its enemies.’

A recent leader in the Independent expressed similar revulsion at Russia and China’s veto: ‘the violence in Homs in recent days – with fears of a full-scale military assault to come – is a direct result of their unforgivable self-interest’. It added:

‘Moscow has abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of a regime that is daily becoming more murderous.’

As we have seen, the reality could be close to the reverse – the proposed resolution might have inflicted far worse violence on the Syrian people. It might have abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of the West. As for the ‘unforgivable self-interest’ noted by the Independent, do we really believe – after Iraq and Libya – that US-UK interests are less self-centred?

Again, by contrast, two weeks into Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive, an Independent leader commented on January 10, 2009:

‘Israel's invasion of Gaza seemed depressingly far from an endgame last night, despite the encouraging signs from the UN Security Council. Although the Security Council produced a ceasefire resolution, it was fatally undermined by the American abstention.’

The US's undermining of UN action was not widely condemned as a ‘travesty’ at the time – how Hillary Clinton described the vetoing of the UN resolution on Syria, with the Independent’s approval. Instead, the Independent noted of Operation Cast Lead:

‘A good deal of nonsense has been spoken this past week regarding Israel's military operation. The most egregious contribution has come from a senior Catholic cardinal, who has compared the Gaza Strip to a "concentration camp". The comparison is entirely spurious…

‘Moreover, the idea being pushed by some propagandists in the West that the Israeli state is deliberately setting out to kill innocent Palestinians is just as offensive and wrong. The Israel administration's priority in this operation is to defend its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas.

 

Arming Bahrain - A William Hague Tragi-Comedy

Happily, not all of the Independent's coverage is as crass and biased as this. As discussed in Part 1, UK foreign secretary William Hague commented last week on the Russian and Chinese veto:

‘More than 2,000 people have died since Russia and China vetoed the last draft resolution in October 2011. How many more need to die before Russia and China allow the UN security council to act?’

Tragi-comically, two days later, the Independent reported:

‘Two Cabinet ministers will be challenged today over fears that British-made weapons have been used to suppress dissidents in Bahrain and Egypt.

‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, are to be tackled by MPs over arms sales worth more than £12m to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in just three months.’

The article continued:

‘Between July and September 2011, Britain sold weapons worth £2.2m to Bahrain, of which £1.3m was specifically for military use. It included gun silencers, naval guns and weapons sights.

‘At least 35 people died as the Gulf state's monarchy crushed the so-called Pearl Revolution last year. It called in help from its ally, Saudi Arabia, which sent troops and armored vehicles across the causeway linking the countries.

‘Over the same period £8.9m-worth of arms were sold to Saudi Arabia, of which £4.5m was for military use. It included parts for combat aircraft, for army vehicles and for machine guns.

‘As well as the suspicion that the UK could have indirectly helped to put down the Bahraini uprising, MPs will also raise concerns over Saudi Arabia's human rights record.’

Unfortunately, US and UK journalists almost never join the evidential dots for and against Hague and Cable’s claimed enthusiasm for ‘humanitarian intervention’. Hence this comment in a Guardian leader last week:

‘Does Russia really want to be the global protector of tyrants who turn their guns on their own people simply in order to get one back against the west after the overthrow of a worthless leader like Gaddafi?... Russia has put itself on the wrong side of the argument.’

The West’s extraordinary history of supporting tyrants – including Suharto, Somoza, Trujillo, Armas, Pinochet, Diem, Amin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Saleh, Mubarak, and many others - makes this laughable. So, too, does the travesty of the US’s long history of vetoing UN resolutions intended to protect the Palestinians and others. The Guardian added:

‘There is a case, of an extremely limited sort, to be made for some of Russia's obstructionism over Syria. Moscow has decided it was misled by the west over Libya. It is therefore determined not to help sanction any sort of repetition over Syria (even though the vetoed UN motion explicitly renounced regime change and the use of force).’

Moscow has ‘decided’ nothing – it was misled over Libya. The UN did not authorise the regime change that the West achieved by transforming UN Resolution 1973 into a weapon of mass destruction.

Analysis of the wording of the failed UN resolution on Syria also makes a nonsense of the Guardian’s assurances on the West having ‘renounced regime change and the use of force’ – ‘further measures’ would have been sought after 21 days in the event of ‘non-compliance’.

The BBC’s Paul Wood, a safe pair of hands reporting from Homs, Syria, commented:

‘In the first hour or so, we heard a lot of gunfire from rebel fighters of the Free Syria Army. It was a futile gesture - Kalashnikovs against artillery.’

In October 2004, reporting from Iraq’s third city, Fallujah, the same Paul Wood referred to the ‘so-called “resistance fighters”’ of Fallujah. (Wood, BBC1, 13:00 News, October 22, 2004)

In 2004, Fallujah faced a rather more formidable foe than does Homs. It was subjected to all-out assault by 3rd Battalion/1st US Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, the US Army's 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines, and the Army's 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry, totalling 10,500 heavily armed troops. Some 2,000 Iraqi soldiers joined the attack. These were supported by massive air support, as well as Marine and Army artillery battalions. The 850-strong 1st battalion of the British Black Watch regiment was tasked to help encircle the city.

This was more than shelling; it was a major, World War II-style offensive on residential areas.

On November 30, 2004, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network described the results:

‘Approximately 70 per cent of the houses and shops were destroyed in the city and those still standing are riddled with bullets.’ (‘Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival,’ www.irinnews.org, November 30, 2004)

In January 2005, an Iraqi doctor, Ali Fadhil, reported of the city:

‘It was completely devastated, destruction everywhere. It looked like a city of ghosts. Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn’t see a single building that was functioning.’

The Red Cross estimated 800 civilian deaths by November 16. Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia have also since been reported.

Paul Wood commented from Homs:

‘"The UN abandoned us," one Homs resident told me. "Who's going to help us now, who's going to help us now?"

‘People said that to me over and over; that they felt abandoned, alone.

‘After the failure of the vote in the UN Security Council at the weekend, they have lost hope that the outside world will help.

‘They expect the worst from a regime they fear can now act without restraint.’

We can recall nothing comparable from Wood in November 2004 as Fallujah was being devastated by the US-UK attack. Then, it would have been politically incorrect for a BBC journalist to suggest that Iraqi civilians ‘felt abandoned’, that they had ‘lost hope that the outside world will help’. After all, the BBC portrayed US and UK forces attacking Iraq as liberators. How could the people require saving from the troops sent to ‘save’ them? As Wood himself said in December 2005:

‘The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.’ (Paul Wood, BBC1, News at Ten, December 22, 2005)

Ironically, like other media that dismissed highly credible scientific analyses of the death toll in Iraq - published in one of the world's most respected medical journals, the Lancet - the BBC has been reporting hundreds of deaths in Homs based on anecdotal evidence and highly questionable sources. Robert Dreyfuss comments in The Nation:

‘The killings in Syria are ugly, but no doubt wildly exaggerated. Nearly all, repeat all, of the information about the violence in Syria is coming from a handful of exiled Syrian opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various Western powers. Did 200 people really die in Homs this past weekend, conveniently just on the eve of the UNSC debate [on the resolution]? Who knows? The only source for the fishy information, though ubiquitously quoted in the New York Times, the wire services, the network news and elsewhere, are the suspect Syrian opposition groups, who have axes galore to grind.’

A key source for BBC reporting has long been the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Aisling Byrne writes in the Asian Times:

‘Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations - the pillars of the narrative - all are part of the “regime change” alliance. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money…. What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, “facts”, and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide”.’

In an interview with ABC News, the Syrian Observatory’s Dr Mousab Azzawi gave an idea of the dispassionate tone of the analysis: ‘In two words, this is a genocide.’

Just as deep media scepticism in response to the peer-reviewed Lancet studies on Iraq was near-universal, so blind faith in the claims of Syrian ‘activist groups’ has become the accepted norm. A Telegraph leader even combined the two biases to paint the preferred picture:

'Over the weekend, the Syrian government carried out the most savage reprisals against its opponents since the recent uprising began. More than 200 people are thought to have been killed by artillery, tanks and mortars in Homs. That figure compares with the worst daily spikes in violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. And the death total in Syria over the past 11 months – more than 5,600, according to UN estimates – is well above that over the same period for its still troubled eastern neighbour.'

That is true, if we accept unsubstantiated reports from ‘activists’ in Syria. And if we ignore the Lancet’s science in favour of figures supplied by the obviously flawed and incomplete Iraq Body Count.

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme, high-profile anchor Jeremy Paxman opened the programme with:

‘We don’t know precisely how many people have been killed by the Syrian army as President Assad tries to murder those who oppose his dictatorship. But we do know that they include children. All this while China and Russia provide a form of diplomatic protection.’ (Newsnight, February 6, 2012)

Has Paxman ever accused Bush, Blair, Obama, Cameron or their armies of trying ‘to murder’ their opponents?

And Paxman’s opening question to Alexander Nekrasov, former Kremlin advisor: ‘Are you comfortable having the blood of Syrians on your hands?’

Imagine Paxman asking something comparable of a high-ranking British or American politician. But in fact Paxman could pose a similar question to Hague, Cameron and Obama: Why did the West prioritise regime change over peace in Libya, at such horrific cost? And why is it doing so now in Syria?

Paxman’s Newsnight colleague, Mark Urban, commented helpfully: 'the US, UK, and France have emphasised that their approach on Syria has been motivated by humanitarian compassion and the desire to see a transition to democracy, rather than a desire to strike a blow against Iran by toppling its close friend President Assad’.

Wesley Clark’s revelations, the facts, and simple common sense, suggest that genuine answers will not be found in the ‘humanitarian compassion’ of a Western political system notoriously in thrall to corporate interests.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Paul Wood at the BBC

Email: paul.wood@bbc.co.uk

Tony Gallagher, editor of the Daily Telegraph

Email: tony.gallagher@telegraph.co.uk

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/arusbridger

Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent

Email: c.blackhurst@independent.co.uk

 

Please forward your emails and any exchanges with journalists to us at:

editor@medialens.org

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 15 Feb 2012 08:49:44 +0000
UN 'Travesty': Resolutions Of Mass Destruction - Part 1 http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/665-travesty-un-resolutions-of-mass-destruction-part-1.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/665-travesty-un-resolutions-of-mass-destruction-part-1.html

 

It has been said that compassion is 'the only beauty that truly pleases' (Aryasura, The Marvelous Companion, Dharma Publishing, 1983, p.305). While beauty ordinarily provokes the fiery itch of desire or the sullen shadow of envy, compassion is cooling, blissful, inspiring awe and wonder. It implies an ability to stand outside our own needs as observers, to perceive the suffering of others as of equal or greater importance. But like all forms of beauty, compassion can be faked, exploited.

On February 4, Western politicians and journalists responded with outrage to the Russian and Chinese vetoing of a UN security council resolution calling for Syrian president Bashar Assad to step down as part of a ‘political transition’. UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said:

‘More than 2,000 people have died since Russia and China vetoed the last draft resolution in October 2011. How many more need to die before Russia and China allow the UN security council to act?

‘Those opposing UN security council action will have to account to the Syrian people for their actions, which do nothing to help bring an end to the violence that is ravaging the country. The United Kingdom will continue to support the people of Syria and the Arab League to find an end to the violence and allow a Syrian-led political transition.’

The corporate media took the same view. A leading article in the Independent commented:

‘Hillary Clinton described the vetoing of the UN resolution as a “travesty”. She is right. But this cannot be the international community's last word.’

Curiously, while Hague talked of the West’s determination ‘to find an end to the violence’, and the media railed against the Russians and Chinese for failing to seek the same, almost no-one noticed that the resolution had itself subordinated the possibility of a ceasefire to the demand for regime change.

The draft resolution did call ‘for an immediate end to all violence’. But it specifically demanded ‘that the Syrian government… withdraw all Syrian military and armed forces from cities and towns, and return them to their original home barracks’.

This one-sided demand that only Syrian government forces should withdraw from the streets closely resembled the Machiavellian device built into UN Resolution 1973 on Libya, passed on March 17, 2011.

This also called for ‘the immediate establishment of a cease-fire’ supported by ‘a ban on all flights’ in Libyan airspace. But crucially, the determination was added ‘to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi…’

This clearly had nothing to do with the mere banning of flights. Indeed, the authorisation to protect civilians by ‘all necessary means’ transformed Nato planes from neutral monitors of Libyan airspace into a ground-attack air force for ‘rebel’ fighters.

Far from bringing an end to the violence, UN Resolution 1973 unleashed overwhelming Western force in pursuit of regime change, in a war that was fought to the bitter end. To ensure the right outcome, Western and other powers supplied special forces and weapons, simply ignoring the resolution's call for 'strict implementation of the arms embargo' and 'excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory'. In short, the resolution resulted in a massive escalation in violence. Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian last week:

‘When it began, the death toll was 1,000 to 2,000. By the time Muammar Gaddafi was captured and lynched seven months later, it was estimated at more than 10 times that figure. The legacy of foreign intervention in Libya has also been mass ethnic cleansing, torture and detention without trial, continuing armed conflict, and a western-orchestrated administration so unaccountable it resisted revealing its members' names.’

The New York Times also reported last week: ‘The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution [sic] is foundering’ with a government ‘whose authority extends no further than its offices’ and where ‘militias are proving to be the scourge of the revolution’s aftermath’.

Militia violence is rife – Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates 250 separate militias in the city of Misrata alone. Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at HRW, said:

‘People are turning up dead in detention at an alarming rate. If this was happening under any Arab dictatorship, there would be an outcry.’

On January 26, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced its decision ‘to suspend its operations in detention centers in Misrata’. Detainees ‘are being tortured and denied urgent medical care’:

‘MSF doctors had been increasingly confronted with patients who suffered injuries caused by torture during interrogation sessions… In total, MSF treated 115 people who had torture-related wounds.... Since January, several of the patients returned to interrogation centers were again tortured.’

MSF general director Christopher Stokes commented:

‘Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.’

As ever, violence for which the West shares responsibility has been met with indifference and quickly forgotten. According to the media database Lexis-Nexis, Stokes' comments were mentioned once in half a dozen newspapers on January 27, with no follow up. Ironically, Bouckaert's comments on the absent 'outcry' have themselves been ignored.

As a result, the post-war disaster in Libya has given journalists little pause for thought on the merits of the West's latest 'humanitarian intervention' in Syria. Facts have to be recognised as real and important to have an impact.

 

'Further Measures'

Returning to the vetoed UN resolution, the one-sided demand that Syrian government forces withdraw, but not anti-government fighters, was combined with the demand that the Syrian government ‘facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system’ – regime change by any other name - ‘in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation and extremism’. The draft text promised ‘to review implementation of this resolution within 21 days and, in the event of non-compliance, to consider further measures’.

The trap was clear enough – Syrian forces would have been ordered back to barracks. If the fighters had continued fighting and government forces had responded, this would have constituted ‘non-compliance’, opening the way for ‘further measures’, including foreign intervention leading to regime change. This would have given Syrian fighters every motivation to continue the violence in hopes of triggering the kind of Western intervention that destroyed Gaddafi and that they have been openly seeking.

None of this should come as a surprise. For the West, a peaceful solution in Libya (as in Iraq) was perceived as an obstacle to the actual goal, regime change. Milne observed last August: ‘If stopping the killing had been the real aim, Nato states would have backed a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement, rather than repeatedly vetoing both. Instead, UN Resolution 1973 ‘has since been used as Nato's fig leaf to justify the onslaught against Gaddafi and deliver regime change from the air’.

Consider, then, that we have strong evidence that the vetoed resolution on Syria would have escalated violence in pursuit of regime change (an illegal aspiration under international law). We have the clear example of Libya, from just last year, of very similar machinations producing regime change, a ten times increase in violence, and massive post-war chaos and violence.

If this isn’t enough to question the ‘black and white’ portrayal of the Russian and Chinese veto as a ‘travesty’, we can consider the filmed testimony of former Nato chief, General Wesley Clark, when he 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.”’

Clark added:

‘They wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.’

He recounted a conversation he had had in 1991 with Paul Wolfowitz, then US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, who told Clark: ‘we’ve got about 5 or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet regimes – Syria, Iran, Iraq – before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us’.

In response, Clark said he asked himself: ‘the purpose of the military is to start wars and change governments? It’s not to deter conflicts?’

Clark’s conclusion will be blindingly obvious to future historians, if not to contemporary journalists:

‘[T]here are always interests. The truth about the Middle East is, had there been no oil there, it would be like Africa. Nobody is threatening to intervene in Africa. The problem is the opposite. We keep asking for people to intervene and stop [violence]. There’s no question that the presence of petroleum throughout the region has sparked great power involvement.’

It is hard to imagine Clark being dismissed as a crazed conspiracy theorist lacking 'insider' knowledge – he was Nato chief, after all. But his account has been ignored – talk of a hidden agenda of realpolitik challenges the Manichean view of the world that makes ‘humanitarian intervention’ possible. We can find only one mention of Clark's comments in all UK national newspapers – by Clark himself in an article for The Times in 2003 (Clark, ‘Iraq: Why it was the wrong war on the wrong enemy for the wrong reasons,’ The Times, October 23, 2003).

In light of the above facts and arguments, it is interesting to consider the comments of UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who condemned the Russian and Chinese veto as ‘disastrous for the Syrian people’. The failure to agree on collective action, he said, had ‘encouraged the Syrian government to step up its war on its own people’.

But honest analysis suggests serious room for doubt - the vetoed resolution might itself have been disastrous for the Syrian people. With these words, the UN secretary-general told us much about his own position. Indeed, the near-unanimity in outrage that has characterised so much commentary, despite obvious holes in the reasoning, is symptomatic of a widespread conformity that defers to 'pragmatic' considerations rather than to common sense.

It is interesting, also, to consider in more detail the response of the corporate press.

Part 2 is archived here.

 

 

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 13 Feb 2012 10:52:35 +0000
Snow, White And The Two Daves - The Guardian Responds http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/664-snow-test.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/664-snow-test.html

 

Our most recent media alert, Silence Of The Lambs, created a small ripple in the Guardian universe. We had asked why even the paper’s most radical journalists, Seumas Milne and George Monbiot, are silent on the propaganda role of the liberal media, particularly the Guardian, in propping up power. We noted that, in this regard, they are no different from other journalists. Of course, it is obvious why any corporate employee would be reluctant to criticise his or her employer in public; but our primary intention was to shine some light on an issue that is never discussed. After all, the Guardian sells itself as a vanguard of liberal journalism, holding power to account and hosting wide-ranging debate. The reality is different.

Former Guardian and Observer journalist, Jonathan Cook, shares our incredulity:

‘It really is astounding that we still need to talk about this as though it is controversial - though, of course, we do.

‘Everyone accepts that the mainstream media are businesses. As such they are out to maximise profits, increase their brand visibility and market share, and to develop the best possible public image they can (though this last aim usually takes a back seat to the other commercial imperatives if they conflict). This is true for all large businesses…

‘With that context, we can see that Seumas Milne – however nice, open-minded, progressive he is as an individual – cannot speak honestly about the media or his role in it. It's rather like the scene in Ricky Gervais' film The Invention of Lying when the Cola rep tastes his company's drink in a TV promotional ad and admits (because he is incapable of lying), "Oh, that's rather sweet". it's funny precisely because we know that's exactly what no Coca Cola employee could ever dare do publicly. It would be career suicide. Milne and Monbiot's situation is no different.’ (Email to Media Lens, January 25, 2012)

Further support for our attempt to boost public discussion came from a rather surprising source: Michael White, the Guardian’s assistant editor. In a piece titled, ‘Media Lens shows it doesn't get the whole picture’, White wrote that our latest alert ‘is largely devoted to badmouthing the Guardian’.

The pejorative use of ‘badmouthing’ signalled that, however reasoned and well-referenced our criticism of the Guardian might be, it was, as usual, to be dismissed as angry invective. The familiar litany of stock mainstream responses to our work was rolled out: We don’t ‘do subtle’. Rather, we exhibit ‘strident conceit’, ‘narcissism’, and ‘mean-spirited nit-picking’. We are also ‘naïve’, guilty of ‘artlessly framing’ our own narrative ‘as truth’. Ours is a ‘childishly apocalyptic polemic’. We think we ‘know how the world works’ but we ‘may grow out of that’. Affable, but in fact effortlessly patronising, White noted that Media Lens was set up in 2001 by ‘a couple of bright and determined young graduates’. Mature students, perhaps, given that we were both a year shy of 40 at the time. As with so much mainstream reaction over the years, White saw what he wanted to see – nothing really meriting serious attention. But as many readers observed, he was paying us attention, at some length – something didn't add up!

‘This week's attack,’ White continued, ‘focuses on colleagues of mine, specifically George Monbiot and Seumas Milne, two of the Guardian's more radical leftwing contributors. In effect, Media Lens is saying, they trim their sails and pull their punches to accommodate their paymasters, their presence in the paper's Comment columns little more than a gesture to pluralism or dissent.’

He added:

‘OK, if you say so. Most people have to trim their views at one time or another, though I have watched journalists smuggling dissenting opinions into even the Murdoch press with admiration for years.’

Yes, most people have to trim their views. But media omissions and bias go far beyond trimming, and far beyond the self-restraint required in everyday life. As we will see below, our point is that whole areas of thought and discussion are demonstrably off the agenda for corporate journalists, with disastrous consequences for our species. If this is a grand claim, it is one that predicts that it will be perceived as grandiose by journalists and media consumers trained to view even the most pathological aspects of our society as ‘normal’.

It seems our ‘nit-picking’ focus also ignores the blocks on reactionary views. Describing himself as ‘an elderly herbivore of moderate opinions’, White complained that it had been difficult to place a defence of Blair in the paper when the former prime minister first gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry:

‘There was a distinct lack of pluralism in the media that day, but I doubt if Media Lens spotted it.’

This could be a sign of the Guardian's intolerance. Or a sign that even it has abandoned its attempts to defend the indefensible (having urged citizens to vote for Blair, even after his worst crimes had been thoroughly exposed, in 2005).

This, White's solitary red-herring, was supposed to undermine our detailed argument that the corporate nature of the mass media tends to produce performance that defends and furthers the goals of the corporate system. A propos of nothing much, White completed his fairy tale account of mainstream radicalism with the estimation that Channel 4's Jon Snow 'does more good for progressive attitudes than half a dozen Pilgers'. Ironically, it was our own unpleasant confrontation with the reality of Snow's self-professed 'pinko-liberalism' that helped motivate us to start Media Lens.

But White’s real ‘worry’ about Media Lens ‘which disinclines me to seek wisdom on its site very often is that it betrays the narcissism of small difference that is so destructive on the left.’

Again, despite serious evidence supplied over ten years, White dismisses our critique as trivial - the ‘narcissism of small difference’.

Jonathan Cook concluded his reaction to White’s article:

'What to do when an “irritant” unsettles you? Unleash the ad hominems - lots of references to how “childish” you are – while trying to shore up his and the Guardian's credentials as worldly and self-deprecating. It's a master-class in how to belittle an argument and avoid dealing with it entirely.

'As for the “they may grow out of it”, doesn't that cut both ways? I was one of the lentil-eating Guardianistas in my early 20s and a devoted Michael White wannabee in my 30s, when I was working there. I'm now 46, seen a bit of the world, and sense I may be nearly all grown-up. And my verdict: they're starting to run scared.

'Keep up the good work.' (Email to Media Lens, January 27, 2012)

 

Readers Respond – And The Return Of Monty Python

Scores of readers responded in the Guardian Comments section below White’s online article. To his credit, White also joined in, describing the responses as ‘a decent spread.’  In truth, White received a pummelling - responses favoured our position by about 10 to 1.

While White’s five follow-up posts elicited a grand total of four ‘Recommend’ clicks from readers, by far the most popular comment, recommended by 82 readers, is this one:

‘If medialens are so “wrong” and naive and “don't get it” then why the long article?

'The reason is that they are right.

'Assange smears, Iran nukes lies, Chavez smears, silence on the sky high obscene pay of the guardian executives and editor, the tax avoidance of the gmg [Guardian Media Group], all examples of Guardian hypocrisy.

'The guardian gives the impression of being radical yet it is just a slightly less right wing media outlet publishing pro war establishment propaganda.

'Why didn't the guardian call the illegal Bombing of Libya, the terrorism we support and create in Syria, the war crimes in iraq, the war crimes of Israel, the war crimes in Afghanistan, the illegal murders and torture in Pakistan by the USA, all by the name they are. War crimes. And call for those that carried them out and those who printed propaganda about them, to be tried for crimes against humanity? Because it was and is complicit.

'The guardian is yet another establishment outlet and medialens exposed you and you don't like the truth. Hence the smear article here.’

In one post, White responded to a reader who had challenged him to justify his use of “nit-picking” to describe Media Lens:

‘“Nit-picking"? This started with my surprise that ML thinks it helpful to go after two Guardian colleagues whose views are more closely aligned with ML's own that most of us are. I'm not the only person posting on this thread who has had this feeling.

‘That strikes me as both "naive" and lacking "the bigger picture" though it is common enough among small groups - left, right and centre - who feel they have a unique and righteous insight into virtue. It's the Popular Front of Judea joke in the Monty Python sketch in Life of Brian.’

The Monty Python sketch did provide an amusing satire on left infighting. But like the standard association of ‘Big Brother'-style thought control with totalitarian regimes, the idea that toxic infighting is the preserve of leftists – a sign of their naïve, unworldly idealism – is an ironic product of mainstream propaganda. Thought control is far more important in ostensibly free societies like our own, while totalitarian regimes rely far more on force. Similarly, mainstream intolerance is such that progressive, compassionate ideas and aims are efficiently shredded and thrown out. Thus, for all its disagreements, the left has made far more progress in developing enlightened, compassionate analyses than the mainstream.

Consider, for example, that the left does not simply seek and demand more for the poor as a response to the insatiable greed of elite bankers. Rather, it calls for a society based on respect and compassion for all, rooted in the enlightened position that the suffering of every individual is of exactly equal importance (some, rightly, extend this compassion to all sentient beings).

Note also that while petty infighting based on rivalry, clashing egos and the like, is of course needlessly destructive, some disagreements on key issues can be a vital part of a process of development and maturation.

Imagine if three characteristics follow from the fact that the mass media is corporate in nature – ie, that it is profit-maximising, owned by parent corporations and/or wealthy individuals, heavily dependent on corporate advertising, on subsidised state and business news sources, and so on. Imagine if this means that:

1) The corporate media are deeply dependent on, and closely allied to, other corporations responsible for promoting environmental and human rights disasters, tyrannies, wars and other horrors around the world.

2) Profit-maximising within this fiercely competitive media system – requiring, as it does, that the business be sold hard to both readers and advertisers, and to corporate and state allies with the power to heavily punish and reward – makes any criticism from vulnerable, employed journalists extremely threatening, unpopular and unlikely.

3) As a result, even ‘liberal’ journalists avoid criticising the corporate product in any way in front of the all-important customers and advertisers. Moreover, they feel reluctant to criticise other ‘liberal’ media corporations (potential future employers). They also feel reluctant to criticise the corporate media system as a whole for fear of being tarred as a liability, ‘one of them’, by all potential employers.

Theory is one thing, but if we are to test the truth of these claims honestly, we simply have to do so in reference to the performance of the best journalists. In this case, to ask if even Milne, Fisk and Monbiot have seriously discussed whether a corporate media system is able to report honestly on the corporate system is not ‘nit-picking’ or ‘naïve’ infighting at all. It is an important attempt to show that discussion on key issues is currently shut down right across our culture.

In an age of impending climate disaster – when corporate media are doing such a good job of presenting the suicidal status quo as ‘normal’, and all but ignoring the astonishing and massive corporate efforts to prevent vital action on climate change – this discussion might actually be considered crucial to human survival.

If we are right, then Milne and Monbiot are making a terrible mistake in encouraging readers to perceive this pathological - even anti-life - media system as a source of hope. To lead hope down a blind corporate alley, at this late stage, may prove to be the final nail in the coffin.

 

Post Script

Seumas Milne has responded to an email from us asking whether Michael White speaks on his behalf. Milne told us: ‘of course he doesn't’, adding that he didn’t know White would respond. He also told us, and a number of readers, that he is still some way off full fitness, that he still intends to answer our original points and he apologises for not having done so. We sent him our sincere best wishes for a full recovery. We note, however, that Milne’s failure to respond to our challenges pre-dates his recent health problems, stretching back to 2001.

George Monbiot has not responded to our alert.

 

SUGGESTED ACTION

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:

Michael White, Guardian assistant editor

Email: michael.white@guardian.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/MichaelWhite

Please copy us in on any exchanges or forward them to us later at:

editor@medialens.org

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Thu, 02 Feb 2012 08:38:19 +0000
Silence Of The Lambs http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/662-silence-of-the-lambs.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/662-silence-of-the-lambs.html

Seumas Milne, George Monbiot & ‘Media Analysis’ In The Guardian Wonderland

One of the original aims of Media Lens, when we began in 2001, was to engage in honest, open and rational debate with journalists working for major news organisations. It wasn’t about ‘bashing’ them or trying to make them look bad. We wanted to examine media assumptions, challenge journalists’ arguments and find out more about the unwritten rules of ‘responsible’ reporting.

One of the aspects of journalism that we find particularly fascinating is the extent to which even the best, most honest or most radical journalists can push back the mainstream walls enclosing media debate. How dissenting are they really permitted to be? And how might their presence in the media underpin the public’s perception of a ‘free press’?

As we noted in Newspeak in the 21st Century, the journalist Jonathan Cook addressed these points in an eye-opening reply to one of our media alerts. Cook, who previously worked for the Guardian and the Observer, agreed with us that the most consistently challenging voices are systematically filtered out of the mainstream. He asked:

‘How is it then, if this thesis is right, that there are dissenting voices like John Pilger, Robert Fisk, George Monbiot and Seumas Milne who write in the British media while refusing to toe the line?’

 

But as Cook himself observed, this tiny group almost entirely exhausts the list of writers who can be said to confront the established consensus from a progressive perspective.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Wed, 25 Jan 2012 04:39:32 +0000
Selective Outrage – Iran And Libya http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/661-selective-outrage-iran-and-libya.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2012/661-selective-outrage-iran-and-libya.html

News that a fourth scientist in two years, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, had been assassinated in Iran by an unknown agency generated minimal outrage in the press.

Patrick Cockburn noted in the Independent:

‘While the identity of those carrying out the assassinations remains a mystery, it is most likely to be Israel's foreign intelligence service, Mossad…’

The Sunday Times published a meticulous account of the planning and execution of the attack provided by ‘a source who released details’ on the actions of ‘small groups of Israeli agents’ operating inside Iran. (Marie Colvin and Uzi Mahnaimi, ‘Israel's secret war,’ Sunday Times, January 15, 2012)

Julian Borger’s article in the Guardian warned against 'Goading a regime on the brink.'

We wonder if the Guardian would have described the Iranian assassination of scientists on US or Israeli streets as ‘goading’. We also wonder if Borger would have described these as terrorist attacks.

Using the media database Lexis-Nexis we have been able to find just one example of a UK journalist describing Roshan’s assassination as an act of terror - New Statesman's senior political editor Mehdi Hasan writing in the Guardian. Otherwise, almost all references have been limited to the use of the word by Iranian officials behind scare quotes. (After challenges from Media Lens and other activists, Borger did publish a rare example of non-Iranian use of the term.)

By contrast, in October, the US accused Iran of recruiting a used car salesman, Manssor Arbabsiar, as part of a terrorist plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in a restaurant in Washington, DC. In that case, journalists had no qualms about using the word terror without inverted commas. Karen McVeigh reported in the Guardian:

‘Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalised US citizen, was arrested last month, and stands accused of running a global terror plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran.’

The Daily Mail:

‘An extraordinary terrorist plot has been foiled - which would have seen the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. murdered on American soil.’

The Telegraph:

‘Iranian government officials were accused by the Obama administration of plotting a string of deadly terrorist attacks on American soil.’

On Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald posted numerous similar examples from the US media. The alleged Arbabsiar plot was subsequently debunked by analyst Gareth Porter.

As Greenwald observed, ‘accusing Israel and/or the U.S. of Terrorism remains one of the greatest political taboos’. Responding to a Media Lens reader who had suggested, not unreasonably, that ‘a terrorist is one who brings terror to another person’, Channel 4's Alex Thomson wrote:

‘Your definition of a terrorist as one bringing terror is nonsensical as it would encompass all military outfits’ including ‘the Royal Fusilliers [sic]’. (Forwarded to Media Lens, February 25, 2005)

Is that really so absurd? After all, following the murderous firebombing of Dresden in February 1945, prime minister Winston Churchill wrote to Bomber Command:

‘It seems to me that the moment has come that the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed.’ (Blitz, Bombing and Total War, Channel 4, January 15, 2005)

Presumably, then, one can argue that the RAF is a terrorist organisation.

Returning to last week’s assassination, while no-one has yet suggested that Iran is now obliged to bomb Washington, Borger argued:

‘If Americans had been killed in the Georgetown restaurant that was supposedly the target [of the debunked Arbabsiar ‘plot’], the Obama administration would have been obliged to respond militarily.’

In similar vein, the aptly-named James Blitz asked in the Financial Times:

‘But even if an immediate military conflict… is averted, this still leaves a wider question: how much longer can Israel and the US wait before they bomb Iran’s nuclear sites?’

The day after Roshan's killing, Andrew Cummings, formerly an adviser on the Middle East and US affairs in the UK cabinet office national security staff, commented in the Guardian on ‘the risks’ of ‘this audacious approach’ - he meant the murdering of scientists. The sub-heading explained:

‘The death of another Iranian scientist has led to criticism of such actions, but Tehran's refusal to co-operate leaves little alternative.’

Cummings clarified:

‘What many people fail to recognise, though, is that a covert campaign, while rife with physical, diplomatic and legal risks, is the lesser of many evils.’

And yet, as Patrick Cockburn noted, ‘the US has found no evidence Tehran is trying to make a nuclear bomb, though US politicians [and US-UK journalists] often speak as if this was an established fact...

‘The US National Intelligence Estimates on Iranian nuclear progress, the collective judgement of all the US intelligence organisations, said there was no evidence Iran had been trying to build a bomb since 2003. The Defence Intelligence Agency concluded that Iran's nuclear weapons programme at that time was directed against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and when he was overthrown by the US, it was ended.’

Compare this with Blitz’s version:

‘Some western intelligence agencies believe Iran will bide its time a little longer and enrich more uranium – but will not take the big strategic decision to race for the bomb in 2012. Still, in every other respect, the auguries are not good.’

Again by contrast, Greg Thielmann, a former US State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst, told veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh last year: ‘there is nothing that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb’.

Readers might respond that Cummings and Blitz are entitled to their baseless views, and the Guardian and FT are perfectly entitled to publish them – that’s what free speech is all about. We agree.

But a problem arises when we try to imagine the Guardian publishing a piece justifying the Iranian killing of a US scientist on a US street one day after he had been murdered. And try imagining the FT hosting an opinion piece that asked: ‘How much longer can Iran wait before launching its bombers against the US and Israel?’

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 17 Jan 2012 14:10:17 +0000