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Category: Alerts 2011

‘A Death Sentence For Africa’

The Durban Climate Deal And Eight Corporate Media Unmentionables



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: ‘A Death Sentence For Africa’

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Category: Alerts 2011

Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study concluded:

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

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

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

Read more: Climate Crisis – The Collapse In Corporate Media Coverage

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Category: Alerts 2011

Killing Gaddafi


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

'Mad Dog Put Down.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We came, we saw, he died.’

Incongruous laughter appears to be a trait.

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

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

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

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

Read more: Killing Gaddafi

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Category: Alerts 2011

‘They Found Nothing. Nothing.’

The IAEA, Iran And ‘Fantasy Land’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presumably drawing on clairvoyant powers, the editors added:

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

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

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

The editorial stamped this with the required emphasis:

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

And then continued without a shred of uncertainty:

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

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

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

Read more: ‘They Found Nothing. Nothing.’

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Category: Alerts 2011

Britain’s Own Pravda-Style Propaganda: Part 2

The Statistics of Western State Terror

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

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

380 British soldiers are dead.

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

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

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

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

25.6%  killed by ISAF forces.

15.4%  killed by anti-government forces.

60%  killed by poverty, disease and starvation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: Britain’s Own Pravda-Style Propaganda: Part 2

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