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Category: Alerts 2001

BBC Ignores Climate Change In Reporting New Disaster Fund

The BBC reported today that the British Red Cross has launched a rapid response disaster fund to allow it to aid people in stricken areas as quickly as possible, such as flood victims in Mozambique. On the flagship BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme, David Loyn, the BBC's 'developing world correspondent', said that 'mounting disasters' and images of suffering since September 11 had raised public awareness of the need for a fund to cover all disasters, rather than just specific ones [December 28, 2001]. But there was no mention of climate change in his report - the greatest environmental threat today, particularly in many regions of the developing world. The BBC's online report suffers the same serious omission [http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1731000/1731245.stm].

We have already seen devastating loss of life and property in severe weather events that are arguably related to human-caused climate change. In 1998, hurricane Mitch caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people in central America. In 1999, a devastating cyclone hit Orissa, India - the worst in 30 years - leaving around 10,000 people dead. In the same year, 20,000 people were killed in floods in Venezuela. Two months later, severe flooding and a wave of tropical cyclones left Mozambique and Madagascar struggling to cope, with hundreds of thousands made homeless.

According to climate scientist Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia, we are already in a new climate regime that has been 'tainted' by industrial society. ‘There is no longer such a thing’, says Dr Hulme, ‘as a purely natural weather event’ [The Guardian, 15 March, 2000].

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising more than 2500 climate scientists and related experts, has warned that 'climate change is likely to have wide ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health with significant loss of life'. The respected London-based Global Commons Institute estimates that there will be more than two million deaths from climate change-related disasters worldwide in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Damage to property will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. [Global Commons Institute, letter to The Guardian, 14 March, 2000. Full text of letter available at http://www.gci.org.uk/signon/signon.html#Guardian]

IPCC scientists completed their Third Assessment Report on climate change in January 2001. The main new finding was deeply disturbing: that the atmosphere could warm at twice the rate anticipated in their previous report of 1996. This could mean global temperature rises by 2100 - in the worst-case scenario - of almost 6oC. The predicted range of temperature rise of 1.4o to 5.8 oC was described by the IPCC as 'potentially devastating'. Michael McCarthy, The Independent’s environment correspondent, remarked of the new findings on high temperature rises: ‘This implies absolute disaster for billions of people’ [The Independent, 14 November, 2000].


Write to David Loyn (david.loyn@bbc.co.uk) and ask him why he did not mention the threat of human-caused climate change in his report. Ask him to address this threat more fully in future reporting; in particular, you could ask him to investigate the 'climate debt' owed to countries in the poor South by the rich North (see http://www.gci.org.uk/signon/indlet.html for more details on this serious and under-reported issue).

Cc: your email to Rod Liddle, the editor of Today (rod.liddle@bbc.co.uk). You could also email the feedback contact for the BBC's online news pages:newsonline@bbc.co.uk

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Copy your letters to editor@medialens.org

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Category: Alerts 2001

US and UK Politicians Overlooked in Crimes Against Humanity

Should US and UK politicians be brought to account for alleged crimes against humanity in Iraq, Serbia, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere? Last week's appearance by Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Yugoslavia, in front of the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, was the spur for an Independent on Sunday 'Focus' news report by Raymond Whitaker entitled, 'Who could follow Slobodan into the dock?' (8 July). But while the usual suspects of Indonesia's Suharto, Chile's Pinochet and Uganda's Amin were all profiled, there was no mention of the US's Kissinger, Bush (Sr. or Jr.), Clinton, or Britain's Thatcher and Blair.

To his credit, Whitaker mentioned that the proposed International Criminal Court has not been ratified in Washington 'fearing that a president, say, might be indicted for his role in Nato action'. But there was no explanation or context provided for this remark. For example, Nato's 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, in which President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair and other western leaders played a major role, contravened international law. According to Amnesty International, the Nato action represented 'serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killings of civilians'.

Amnesty focused in particular on the April 23 1999 bombing of the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television, which left 16 civilians dead, describing it as 'a deliberate attack on a civilian object' which therefore 'constitutes a war crime.' The report also noted that the requirement that NATO aircraft fly above 15,000 feet to provide maximum protection for aircraft and pilots 'made full adherence to international humanitarian law virtually impossible'.

Meanwhile, the US and UK are the main proponents of ongoing economic sanctions against Iraq, imposed in the wake of the Gulf War, which according to UN and other authoritative observers, have led to the deaths of over one million Iraqi civilians. Over 4000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 are continuing to die every month. Madeline Albright, then Secretary of State, said that '[W]e think the price is worth it' (60 Minutes, CBS, May 12, 1996), when asked about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions.

In September 1998, Denis Halliday, the UN Assistant Secretary-General, resigned after 34 years with the UN, declaring the US and British sanctions regime imposed on Iraq 'genocidal'. Halliday, who ran the UN's 'oil for food' programme in Iraq, continues to openly place blame for the excess deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children under five, as reported by the United Nations Children's Fund, squarely on the shoulders of the US and British governments. In February 2000, Halliday's successor as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned after 30 years with the UN, asking, 'How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?' Halliday said recently: 'Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years - it's a
deliberate ploy. That's why I've been using the word genocide, because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I'm afraid I have no other view at this late stage.'


Please ask The Independent on Sunday why, given these accusations of grave human rights abuses - and even genocide - by authoritative voices, they did not name any US or British politician in their article asking 'Who could follow Slobodan into the dock?'

email to:sundayletters@independent.co.uk

email to: readerseditor@independent.co.uk

The Independent on Sunday article could not be found online at www.independent.co.uk

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Category: Alerts 2001

Guardian Wrong to Praise Business on Global Warming

To what extent is business a positive force for good in a world undergoing potentially devastating human-induced climate change? In the week that government leaders are meeting in Bonn to discuss the rapidly-crumbling Kyoto Protocol, The Guardian takes a look at the climate debate ('Melt Down', July 18, 2001). Environment editor Paul Brown does a fine job of marshalling the evidence and reiterating the conclusion of authoritative climate scientists that "we should cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80% by the middle of the century to stabilise the climate before things get out of hand". But, without supporting evidence, he then praises big business for an "extraordinary turnaround" in responding to the threat of global warming.

Paul Brown makes the remarkable statement that "perhaps the brightest spot in a gloomy picture has been the extraordinary turnaround in the views of big business." Brown continues, "With the exception of some US oil companies with Exxon/ Mobil (Esso in Europe) top of the list, the business community is reacting rapidly to the threat of global warming." The supporting statement for this rapid reaction and "extraordinary turnaround" is the following: "In the last five years companies like Ford, oil companies like BP and Shell have begun to pour billions into research in new technologies."  This is a partial picture, at best, of what has been happening.

Oil company green rhetoric is not matched by green actions. BP - now merged with Amoco and Arco - aims to increase the sales of its solar energy technology to $1 billion a year by 2010.  Shell International - in an attempt to catch up with BP's solar power initiatives - finally made a significant move into the market for renewable energy sources in October 1997. The Anglo-Dutch group announced that it would be investing $500 million over the following 5 years with the aim of capturing at least 10 per cent of the world market for solar and photovoltaic cells by 2005.

However, these initiatives from corporate giants wishing to capitalise on potential future market winners in renewables barely dent the 'business as usual' motorcade. Shell's investment in renewables is only 10 per cent of the oil giant's spending on hydrocarbon exploration ($1 billion annually), 0.8 per cent of its global investment ($12 billion) and only 0.06 per cent of its global sales ($171 billion) - a drop in the barrel, in other words. In 1999, Shell's renewable division and BP Solar closed down headquarter operations in the UK and moved abroad, highlighting their lack of commitment to job creation in Britain's renewable energy sector.

The US subsidiaries of BP and Shell were members of the Global Climate Coalition, the infamous fossil fuel lobby group that denies the reality of global warming, until October 1996 and April 1998, respectively. They withdrew from the GCC only following massive public pressure on them to do so.

However, both BP and Shell remain members of the American Petroleum Institute, which has lobbied the US government not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), comprising much of mainstream US industry, is forthright in its opposition: "The NAM strongly opposes the accord.  Heeding NAM advice, the Senate in 1997 approved a Byrd (D-WV)/Hagel (R-NE) resolution opposing any global climate accord that excludes developing nations and/or threatens serious damage to the U.S. economy.  The Kyoto Protocol fails on both counts. President Bush also opposes Kyoto and is now pursuing a more reasonable approach to climate change that is based on sound science, research and technology." (www.nam.org.19.7.01)

The other great voice of US business, the US Chamber of Commerce, is similarly bent on the destruction of the Kyoto Protocol. In a letter to the new US president, the US Chamber wrote: "Global warming is an important issue that must be addressed - but the Kyoto Protocol is a flawed treaty that is not in the U.S. interest. The U.S. Chamber agrees with your Administration's assessment - greater scientific understanding of global warming is necessary to resolve uncertainty concerning the potential affect of human activity on this phenomenon. Further research is needed to develop the best strategies to tackle this problem." (www.uschamber.org 19.7.01)

On its website, the U.S. Chamber proudly declares that it is the world's largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organisations of every size, sector and region. So much for Brown's "brightest spot in a gloomy picture"!

The election of George W. Bush, himself an oilman by trade, was achieved through the application of massive big business financial power. Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol merely reflects the interests of his backers. Julian Borger of the Guardian writes, "In the Bush administration, business is the only voice... This is as close as it is possible to get in a democracy to a government of business, by business and for business." (Borger, 'All the president's businessmen', the Guardian, 27.4.01) Robert Reich, Clinton's former labour secretary adds, "There's no longer any countervailing power in Washington. Business is in complete control of the machinery of government." (ibid)

In reality big business is passionately committed to obstructing even trivial action to combat global warming - the short-term costs are simply perceived to be too high. The spending of $100 billion on the National Missile Defence system is favoured for related reasons - responding to the 'threat' of 'rogue states' involves pouring billions of tax dollars into the bank accounts of high-tech big business. Likewise, the entire business-driven globalisation project is an attempt to generate ever-increasing sales and profits - restraint and responsibility are not on the agenda.

Last year, BP had a brand relaunch as 'Beyond Petroleum' featuring its new 'Helios' sunburst logo. Critics retorted that BP stands for 'Burning the Planet'. BP has portrayed itself as an environmentally responsible energy company, but this is deceptive. As Greenpeace UK reported last year, "BP's increase in oil production is wiping out its commitment to carbon savings many times over.  It may claim to be the leading solar company, but it has the least ambitious investment plans of the top six solar companies. BP not only has no strategy for getting out of oil, it is actually speeding up its search for fossil fuels." (Frontier News, Volume 2 Issue 9, 20 April, 2000).

As Andrew Rowell revealed in 'Green Backlash' (Routledge, London, 1996) and Sharon Beder in 'Global Spin' (Green Books, Totnes, 1997), it has become the norm for business to adopt a green veneer, courtesy of expensive public relations, without actually replacing damaging business practices with ecologically sustainable activities. US business spends an estimated $500 million every year in greenwashing.  Shell and BP "spend seven times more on advertising their green credentials than they spend on environmental projects" (Alasdair Clayre of the Oxford-based lobby group Millennium Energy Debate, quoted in The Guardian, 12 November, 1999).

The respected London-based Global Commons Institute estimates that there will be more than two million deaths from climate change-related disasters worldwide over the next ten years. Damage to property will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars (Global Commons Institute, letter to The Guardian, 14 March, 2000. Full text of letter available at  www.gci.org.uk/guardlet.html). As Andrew Rowell notes, The only moral and rational reaction to global warming is disinvestment in the processing of all fossil fuels. (The Big Issue, 15-21 February, 1999).


Please ask The Guardian to report the true extent of big business opposition to action on global warming, drawing attention in particular to the activities of the NAM and US Chamber of Commerce (unreported anywhere in the mainstream UK press, to our knowledge). Ask The Guardian to present some basic statistics that describe investment by big business into renewable energy compared to its ongoing expansion in oil and gas development.

CONTACT: The Guardian

email to: paul.brown@guardian.co.uk

email to: john.vidal@guardian.co.uk

email to alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

email to: letters@guardian.co.uk


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Category: Alerts 2001

The Independent Glosses Over the West's Complicity in East Timor Genocide

The bloody history of Western support for Indonesia's illegal annexation of East Timor in 1975 is glossed over in a recent news report by Kathy Marks in The Independent ('Australia bows to East Timor over oil and gas rights', 5 July, 2001). Australian ministers are portrayed as generous in agreeing to give East Timor 90 per cent of revenues from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea, lying between Australia and East Timor to the north. The report fails to explain that the agreement was struck following Australia's 'pragmatic' support of Indonesia's brutal annexation of East Timor in 1975, leading to the deaths of around 200,000 East Timorese.

Official documents reveal that Indonesia's annexation of East Timor was supported by the West. In July 1975, the British ambassador in Jakarta informed the Foreign Office that 'the people of Portuguese Timor are in no condition to exercise the right to self-determination' and 'the arguments in favour of its integration into Indonesia are all the stronger'. (Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 219).

As documented by Curtis, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and other commentators, the West - in particular, the US and the UK - actively supported Suharto's Indonesia in brutally subduing East Timor. But the Australian government was also complicit. Richard Woolcott, the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta in 1975, was tipped off by the Indonesians that the invasion was about to take place. Woolcott secretly cabled the Department of Foreign Affairs, proposing that '[we] leave events to take their course ... and act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia of their problems.' (John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p. 256). Woolcott is quoted in The Independent report as an authoritative 'analyst', with no mention of his complicit role in the deaths of 200,000 East Timorese. Instead the report notes that 'relations between Australia and Indonesia are recovering their traditional warmth ...as the bitter memory of East Timor fades.'

The 'private understanding' of Australian ministers at the time of the illegal invasion of East Timor clearly assisted in the subsequent carving up between Australia and Indonesia of the considerable oil and gas reserves covered by the Timor Gap Treaty, signed in 1989. Indonesia under President Suharto was a significant market for western arms sales. But by providing 'political stability', Suharto also offered Western business interests the opportunity to benefit from the country's extensive mineral resources.  A few months before the 1975 invasion of East Timor, a Confederation of British Industry report noted that Indonesia presented 'enormous potential for the foreign investor' and that, according to one press report, the country enjoyed a 'favourable political climate' and the 'encouragement of foreign investment by the country's authorities'. (Curtis, p. 225).

Curtis notes that 'RTZ, BP, British Gas and Britoil are some of the companies that have since taken advantage of Indonesia's "favourable political climate" '. The Independent's news report notes that Philips Petroleum is 'one of the commercial driving forces behind the oil and gas exploration'. An executive at Philips is quoted as saying that the new oil and gas agreement should 'provide a secure legal and fiscal level that supports continued investment'.

However, an honest appraisal of the historical record reveals that the establishment of political conditions conducive to Western corporate interests - using military power either directly, or indirectly with the aid of proxy forces, as in Suharto's Indonesia - at immense cost to human life has been a necessary condition for economic globalisation in this region.


Please ask The Independent to address the background to the recently announced oil and gas deal between Australia and East Timor; in particular, the role that Australia played in supporting Indonesia's brutal invasion of East Timor in 1975 and subsequent occupation. Unlike in Kosovo, there was no 'humanitarian intervention' for the East Timorese in the subsequent 24 years. Point out that in the run-up to the East Timor independence referendum in August 1999, Indonesian-backed atrocities were running at considerably higher levels than in Kosovo.

CONTACT: The Independent

Letters to the editor

email to:letters@independent.co.uk

Simon Kelner, Editor

email to:s.kelner@independent.co.uk

Read The Independent article at: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/australasia/story.jsp?story=81871

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Category: Alerts 2001

The Guardian Misses the Point on National Missile Defence

"The whole aim of practical politics," H.L. Mencken once wrote, "is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

The contemporary hobgoblins of choice, of course, are "rogue states", and more particularly their ballistic missiles which, we are told, may or may not one day be built and launched against the United States in an historic act of national suicide.

And yet as recently as 1996 the Sunday Times reported that the Pentagon was to spend $500m developing a new defence system against, not ballistic, but +cruise+ missiles. The decision was taken, we were told, "to counter warnings that... high-tech cruise missiles costing as little as £500,000 will soon become a threat to western nations."

Terry Taylor, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London, was on hand to thicken the plot:

"In Iraq they fitted out a pilotless plane and were planning to putrbiological weapons and a spray tank on it. Fortunately they didn't get it working. That is the low end of the scale and some people would not call that a cruise missile, but I would."

When nobody laughed, political and military planners, and their colleagues in high-tech big business, grew bolder. Cool intelligences observed the world and saw that infinitely bigger and more lucrative hobgoblins could be invented to empty taxpayers' wallets - National Missile Defence (NMD) was born!

The ultimate origins of NMD lie in the experience of Cold War propagandists, who made a fortune from concocting the "Communist menace". With invaluable assistance from the corporate mass media, the "red scare" was brought to a hysterical pitch, with talk of "bomber gaps" and "missile gaps" offering fatal "windows of opportunity" to Soviet conspirators supposedly plotting tirelessly to launch a surprise attack.

As historians such as Mark Curtis have shown (see "The Ambiguities of Power", Zed Books, 1995), secret planning documents from the Cold War era "areoften explicit about the absence of any real threat from the Soviet Union".The "threat" was fraudulent: for public consumption - and private profit -only. As early as 1947, George Kennan, head of US State Department planning,left us in no doubt when he declared, "It is not Russian military powerwhich is threatening us, it is Russian political power." In 1950, referring to the supposed threat of "international communism", Former Under-Secretary of State, Robert Lovett, pointed out, "If we can sell every useless article known to man in large quantities, we should be able to sell our very fine story in larger quantities."

Cold War analyst John Lewis Gaddis had this to say:

"To a remarkable degree, containment [of the Soviet 'threat'] has been the product, not so much of what the Russians have done, or of what has happened elsewhere in the world, but of internal forces operating within the United States... What is surprising is the primacy that has been accorded economic considerations in shaping strategies of containment, to the exclusion of other considerations."

Mark Curtis explains the mystery:

"Crucially, the immediate beneficiaries of the [Cold War] rearmament programme were to be the large corporations within the military-defence sector of the economy. With guaranteed industrial production and a guaranteed market (the Department of Defence) they were able to achieve high levels of output and reap large profits."

Despite the wealth of evidence (of which the above is only a sample), media commentators remain woefully unsceptical in reporting the true purpose of high-tech "responses" to declared "threats". In June this year, the Times wrote of how, "By the year 2030 nuclear blackmail by rogue states" might or might not be a major global worry; "experts can be cited... with very different prognoses". President Bush, we were told, "represents those who are confident that the technical difficulties associated with NMD can be overcome". In May 2000, the Independent's Rupert Cornwell wrote:

"The sword begat the shield, which begat the arrow, which begat the rifle, which begat the trench. Now we have the most terminally lethal weapons in history, and America, convinced of the omnipotence of technology, comes up with what it thinks will be a shield to fend off, if not all, at least some of them."

Richard Norton-Taylor similarly misses the point in his recent Guardian analysis, "The US search for absolute security is a threat to us all" (The Guardian, August 9, 2001). NMD is not, as Norton-Taylor writes, an impractical "quest for the chimera of absolute security" and it does not represent "an epochal shift in relations" with the rest of the world. Rather it is very much business as usual in a world of "practical politics" requiring an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

NMD, unworkable and pointless, is an excellent way of diverting $100 billion of taxpayers' money into the pockets of high-tech big business. This was the case with the original "Star Wars" concept, with the many NASA "space race" projects and, as we have discussed, with the many Cold War "defence" projects that emerged from the Pentagon system. Security is not, and never has been, the issue. Bush and his business associates are, after all, utterly fearless in the face of the very real threat posed by climate change. The common denominator between opposition to the Kyoto Climate Protocol and promotion of NMD is that in both cases genuine security is being recklessly subordinated to profits.

Writing in Newsday in July 2000, US journalist Robert Jensen pointed out:

"The real targets of the NMD system are not the illusory incoming missiles, but the main missile contractors who will profit - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and TRW."

According to the World Policy Institute's William Hartung, these companies "are looking to missile defence to revive them from mismanagement and technical problems that have slashed their stock prices and reduced their profit margins". Hartung reports that the same corporations gave $2 million to the 25 "hard-core" NMD promoters in the Senate, spending $34 million on lobbying during 1997-98.

NMD is symptomatic of a world in which "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business". The media should be exposing the role played by corporations in promoting non-existent "threats", and lucrative "responses" to them. Instead of taking political statements at face value, journalists should be looking to expose the corporate power behind the foreign policy makers' throne.

The problem, of course, is that the media are very much part of the corporate system. It is vital that citizens begin to challenge the corporate media's claims to honesty and neutrality. What influence do wealthy entrepreneurial owners, parent companies, advertisers, big business pressure groups, business-friendly governments and the profit motive have on corporate media performance? In a world dominated by big business it is time that the big business media became accountable.


Please ask The Guardian to investigate and report the role played by big business in promoting National Missile Defence and in hyping the threat of "rogue states". Ask The Guardian to highlight the huge public subsidies that are spent on developing weapons systems in western countries, and the price paid in genuine security for the poor and vulnerable, and for existing and future victims of environmental collapse.
CONTACT: The Guardian

email: richard.norton-taylor@guardian.co.uk

email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

email: letters@guardian.co.uk

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