- Created on 09 March 2003
- 28 October 2010
1. Do you have any predictions about what we might expect in the coming weeks?
If anything's obvious from the history of warfare, it's that very little can be predicted. But what's going to happen is not war. The disparity of force is so extraordinary that the term "war" doesn't apply. We wouldn't call it a boxing match if the world champion were in a ring with a kindergarten child. So this one is fairly predictable, just as it was predictable, and predicted (right here, for example), that the Taliban would be easily defeated.
My guess is that the superhawks are right. There'll be a devastating blow, and the society will collapse. What happens then in Iraq is anybody's guess. Or elsewhere, including here. There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgment that an attack on Iraq will increase the threat of terror and development and use of weapons of mass destruction. And the threat is serious, as has been known for many years, long before 9-11. Perhaps it is enough to quote the primary conclusion of the high-level Hart-Rudman task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations: America -- Still Unprepared, Still in Danger: The threat of "catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil" is grave, and "the need for immediate action [to counter the threat] is made more urgent by the prospect of the United States's going to war with Iraq." The reasons have been repeatedly explained, and are pretty obvious without reliance on experts.
2. Is there any chance of Blair backing out at this point, and if so do you think Bush would consider proceeding solo?
Blair is under a lot of internal pressure, and the same is true of other members of "the coalition of the willing." It can hardly have escaped notice that the huge February demonstrations reached by far the largest scale and intensity where the governments were lining up with Washington, in every case over enormous popular opposition: Spain, Italy, Engand. In Italy, it's reached almost 90 percent opposition to war under any conditions, and close to that in Spain. In the international Gallup poll released in January, support for the Bush-Powell war scarcely reached 10 percent anywhere, meaning that it is essentially non-existent among the public. Even totalitarian states have to pay some attention to public opinion, more democratic societies even more so. If Britain backs down, which is unlikely but not inconceivable, the Bush administration will face some difficult choices, which they have attempted to pre-empt by making it almost impossible for them not to go to war. Still, nothing is certain in human affairs.
3. Assuming that war comes, should the anti-war movement be depressed about its ineffectuality?
That's like suggesting that abolitionists, or advocates of rights of working people or women, or others concerned with freedom and justice, should have been depressed about their inability to attain their goals, or even make progress towards them, over very long periods. The right reaction is to intensify the struggle. In this case, we should recognize that the anti-war movement was unprecedented in scale, so that there is a better base for proceeding further. And that the goals should be far more long-term. A large part of the opposition to Bush's war is based on recognition that Iraq is only a special case of the "imperial ambition" that is widely condemned and rightly feared; that's the source of a good part of the unprecedented opposition to Bush's war right at the heart of the establishment here, and elsewhere as well. Even the mainstream press now reports the "urgent and disturbing" messages sent to Washington from US embassies around the world, warning that "many people in the world increasingly think President Bush is a greater threat to world peace" than Saddam Hussein (Washington Post lead story). That actually goes back to the Clinton years, but it has become far more significant today. With good reasons. The threat is real, and the right place to counter it is here. Whatever happens in Iraq, the popular movements here should be invigorated to confront this far larger and continuing threat, which is sure to take new forms, and is quite literally raising issues of the fate of the human species. That aside, the popular movements should be mobilized to support the best outcomes for the people of Iraq, and not only there of course. There's plenty of work to do.
4. Does the US agenda include democracy in Iraq and beyond?
If it's left to Washington, the best that can realistically be hoped is the kind of "democracy" that the current political leadership -- mainly, recycled Reaganites -- and others in power have instituted elsewhere in their domains: Central America and the Caribbean, to take the region that provides the richest evidence the last time they controlled the government, through the 1980s, and in fact over a century. But under popular influence, other outcomes are possible. We don't live in a a military dictatorship, after all. We are highly privileged, by comparative standards. There are plenty of opportunities to shape "the US agenda."
5. How do you think the U.S. ability to carry out that agenda will be affected by the opposition of traditional U.S. allies to the war?
Hard to say. I presume they will be even more reluctant to deal with the wreckage left by a US assault than they have been elsewhere, which does not bode well for Iraq or the region. But speculation about that should not be our highest priority. The more significant question is how we can shape the agenda.
6. Can you describe what, if any, shifts there might be in the alignment of power among nations as the U.S. pursues this unilateral course? What might be the implications for NATO?
The US has always been ambivalent about European unification. It has obvious advantages for US economic and strategic power, but there has always been concern that Europe might move towards an independent course. Furthermore, the social market system in Europe has always been regarded as a threat, rather in the way that Canada's health care system has been feared: these are "viruses" that might "infect" the US population, to borrow the terminology of US planners when they moved to crush independent social and economic development throughout the third world. These concerns have motivated US policies towards Europe (and Japan, and elsewhere) since World War II, constantly taking new forms. They were, for example, expressed by Henry Kissinger in his "Year of Europe" address in 1973, when he instructed Europe that it had only "regional responsibilities" within an "overall framework of order" managed by the US government. NATO was conceived, in part, as a way to ensure US control over Europe -- not without support from sectors of European elites, who despise the social market system, and fear European independence, for much the same reasons as their counterparts here. The US is strongly in favor of the accession of the Eastern European countries to the European Union for these reasons. Washington expects to have enough control over them so that they will dilute tendencies towards independence in Europe. And there is quite unconcealed exultation that their reservoir of cheap and easily exploited labor will undermine the European welfare state and the rights of working people, and will drive Europe to the US model of low wages, high workload, limited benefits and job security, high concentration of wealth -- and general economic performance pretty similar to Europe's by most measures. And that has obvious appeal to the corporate sector in Europe as well.
These are long-term factors. How they will play out, and how they will be affected by popular movements, no one can say with any confidence.
That's just Europe, not the world. For about 30 years, the world has been "tripolar" economically, with three major power centers, including Japan-based Asia and now the growing role particularly of China. That raises all sorts of other questions, too intricate to try to pursue here.
7. Is there anything different that the broad global movement for peace and justice should be doing as we enter this new post-Iraq era?
Its priorities should be about the same as before, as far as I can see. I also think it's an exaggeration to speak of a "new post-Iraq era," except with regard to the region itself, and the further affirmation of the "imperial ambition" that is a cause of deep concern in the world, rightly, and even within the US establishment.
8. If the Bush administration proceeds with its war plans, along with a "coalition of the willing," what will it mean for the future of the UN?
Like other questions, that's really for us to decide. Speculation is pretty idle, if only because the answers will depend a lot on what we do inside the most powerful country in world history.
The UN has never been able to act beyond the limits imposed by the great powers, which means primarily the US. The current administration, in its Reaganite phase, announced very clearly and explicitly that the UN, the World Court, international law, and other institutions of world order are irrelevant unless they support Washington's resort to violence. The State Department explained that since other countries do not agree with us, we will reserve to ourselves the decision as to what lies within the "domestic jurisdiction" of the US: in the specific case in question, Washington's international terrorist campaign against Nicaragua. The Reaganites were not breaking entirely new ground of course, but this was an unusually brazen articulation of the reigning doctrine of contempt for anyone who gets in the way. The fact that all of this is wiped out of official history (and never reported at the time) doesn't make it unreal. If freedom and democracy were considered to be values by elite sectors here, all of this would be taught in elementary school. Pretty much the same political leadership is back in power, and in their current phase, they even more extreme and forthright in telling the world to get lost: either you authorize us to do what we want and remain "relevant," or you refuse to do so, in which case we will do what we want anyway and you will be kicked into the ashcan of history. They could hardly be more clear, and it's well understood around the world. Whether these clearly-announced plans can be implemented -- that is for us to determine. There's no point in speculation.
9. Do you think we would be seeing the same policies had Gore become president following the 2000 election?
Not easy to say. Take the peak moments of American liberalism, the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. Were they less violent and aggressive, less prone to risking global destruction, than their predecessors and followers? Not easy to reach that conclusion. I think there would have been some differences in the present case, mostly reflecting domestic policies. The Bush administration is escalating the assault on the general population that they carried out in the 1980s. Just as then, these policies are naturally very unpopular, and they can retain their hold on power only by keeping the population frightened -- very much as in the 80s. They are following the same script very closely. That leads to more aggressive and violent policies, and a confrontational stance in world affairs. With a somewhat different domestic agenda, "new Democrats" of the Gore variety would be less prone to adopt such means to keep the population under control. On the other hand, they are less resistant to attacks from the reactionary statist elements (called "conservative" in political rhetoric). That might drive them towards more aggressive policies to fend off charges of lack of "vigor" or "patriotism" and the rest of the familiar tirade. So, hard to say. And again, a large part of the answer to the question is for us to determine, not speculate about.
- Created on 17 December 2001
- 28 October 2010
By Matthew Rothschild
Two common items circulating among progressives on the Internet after September 11 have been Robert Fisk's dispatches for the London Independent and W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939." The last stanza of that poem begins: "All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie." That's what Fisk does: He uses his voice to expose falsehoods and highlight injustice and, as Auden put it, to "exchange messages" with the rest of us who are in this together.
The most decorated British foreign correspondent, Fisk has been based in the Middle East for the last twenty-five years, and his knowledge of the area is unparalleled. He has interviewed Osama bin Laden three times, once in the Sudan and twice in Afghanistan, and his take on the man is instructive. So, too, is his warning about the current war, which he views as a trap. Here's what he said in his article of September 13: "A slaughter by the U.S. in retaliation for the New York and Washington bloodbaths might just move the Arab masses from stubborn docility to the point of detonation.
Three years ago, I interviewed Fisk when he came through Madison (see our July 1998 issue). This time, I called him in his hotel room in Islamabad on October 24 and spoke with him for an hour and forty-five minutes.
Unique in his ability to mix first-hand reporting with trenchant analysis, Fisk is a storyteller at heart, and he interrupted his conversation several times to check his notebook to make sure he was giving me precise quotations. Toward the end, he cited the British pacifist poet Siegfried Sassoon, and before we signed off, he invoked Auden, whose "Epitaph on a Tyrant" is about Stalin, Fisk said, "but is perfect for Saddam Hussein." Auden wrote, "When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets."
Just then, the operator broke in on the line, and Fisk said, "Matt, we'll have to stop the poetry session.
Here is an excerpt of our talk:
Q: Where were you when you first heard about the September 11 attacks?
Robert Fisk: I was actually on an airliner, about to head from Europe across the Atlantic. The plane hadn't moved away from the stand when I got a phone call from the office saying that it looked like two hijacked planes had just flown into the World Trade Center. I walked back and immediately told the crew members, and they told the captain, who came out and asked me what I knew. We took off anyway and started over the Atlantic. The pilot was talking to Brussels, and the co-pilot was coming back and telling me what they were being told. Then we heard there was a fourth aircraft that had somehow crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. After a while, they came on in French--it was a French airliner--and said that America had just closed all its air space, so we're turning around. Back I went toward Europe again.
Q: Do you think Osama bin Laden is responsible for the attacks?
Fisk: When you have a crime against humanity that is so awesome in scale and death, it is more than permissible to look around and say, who recently has been declaring war on the United States? Of course, the compass points straight to bin Laden.
But why is it that we go to immense lengths getting the Serbs who were responsible for the massacre of 7,000 at Srbrenica--that's slightly more than the total figure for New York--and we take them to a tribunal in The Hague, and one after another, we arraign them, try them, convict them, and punish them in front of the world, but no plans have been brought forward to get bin Laden and his friends and put them on trial?
Q: What do you make of the evidence against bin Laden?
Fisk: I was very struck by the fact that Colin Powell said he would produce evidence and then never produced it. Then Tony Blair produced a document of seventy paragraphs, but only the last nine referred to the World Trade Center, and they were not convincing. So we have a little problem here: Ifthey're guilty, where is the evidence? And if we can't hear the evidence, why are we going to war?
Q: At the beginning of the war, you said the U.S. might be falling into a trap. What did you mean?
Fisk: If it is bin Laden, he's a very intelligent guy. He's been planning his war for a long time. I remember the last time I met him in 1997 in Afghanistan. It was so cold. When I awoke in the morning in the tent, I had frost in my hair. We were in a twenty-five-foot-wide and twenty-five-foot-high air raid shelter built into the solid rock of the mountain by bin Laden during the war against the Russians. And bin Laden said to me (he was being very careful, watching me writing it down), "From this mountain, Mr. Robert, upon which you are sitting, we beat the Russian army and helped break the Soviet Union. And I pray to God that he allows us to turn America into a shadow of itself." When I saw the pictures of New York without the World Trade Center, New York looked like a shadow of itself.
Bin Laden is not well read and he's not sophisticated, but he will have worked out very coldly what America would do in response to this. I'm sure he wanted America to attack Afghanistan. Once you do what your enemy wants, you are walking into a trap, whether you think it's the right thing to do or not.
Q: And what is that trap?
Fisk: To bring the Americans in, to strike so brutally and with so much blood at an innocent Muslim people that an explosion comes throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden was constantly revolving in his mind the fact that he had got rid of the Russians; therefore, the Americans can be got rid of, too. And where better than in the country where he knows how to fight?
As things continue, it will be more and more difficult for the dictators, kings, and princes in the Middle East to go on justifying this. They are going to have to start saying, "No, stop." When they do that, the United States is going to have to ignore them. Once they are ignored, they lose the last element of respect. The longer this war goes on, the better for bin Laden.
Q: You've interviewed bin Laden three times in the 1990s. What's he like?
Fisk: He's very shrewd. But he struck me, even in 1997, as being remarkably out of touch. I remember thinking this does not look like the type of guy who walks to the top of a mountain with a mobile phone and says, "Operation B, attack."
Bin Laden was very keen to point out to me that his forces had fought the Americans in Somalia. He also wanted to talk about how many mullahs in Pakistan were putting up posters saying, "We follow bin Laden." He even produced a sort of Kodak set of snapshots of graffiti supporting him, which had been spray-painted on the walls of Karachi four and a half years ago. He gave me some of the snapshots and said, "You can keep them, you can keep them. See, this is proof that my word is getting out."
So when the Americans put a million-dollar reward on his head, I thought, first of all, it probably isn't high enough; he could out pay anyone who tried to get it. Secondly, I can't think of anything he wanted more. Now he is America's number one enemy. He's always wanted to be that. The bin Laden I met each time was in a simple Saudi white robe, with a simple, cheap kafiya and very cheap plastic sandals. But a videotape released before September 11, which I saw on Lebanese television, had him in a gold embroidered robe. When I saw this, I thought, whoa, has this guy changed? I wouldn't have imagined him ever appearing in such golden robes when I met him.
Q: What is bin Laden after?
Fisk: At the end of the day, bin Laden's interest is not Washington and New York, it's the Middle East. He wants Saudi Arabia. He wants to get rid of the House of Saud. There's a great deal of resentment, even inside the royal family, at the continued military presence of the United States there. Saudi Arabia is the most fragile of all Arab states, though we're not saying so. And, unfortunately, bin Laden puts his finger on the other longstanding injustices in the Arab world: the continued occupation of Palestinian land by the Israelis; the enormous, constant Arab anger with the tens of thousands of Iraqi children who are dying under sanctions; the feelings of humiliation of millions of Arabs living under petty dictators, almost all of whom are propped up by the West.
Whether he's doing it cynically and has no interest in these matters, or whether he's doing it out of genuine conviction, his voice has a tremendous resonance throughout the Arab world. One editorial in a Lebanese paper said it is a matter of great humiliation for the Arabs that the only man who can outline, truthfully, what our humiliations are is an Arab who has to say it from a cave in a foreign country.
I've lived in the Middle East for twenty-five years. I know exactly how these issues come up. Even my landlord, who is a moderate Lebanese guy, says, "But bin Laden says what we think." These people believe that bin Laden is being targeted not because of the World Trade Center and Washington; they are not convinced by the evidence that has been produced. They believe he's being targeted because he tells the truth.
Q: Bush says this is a war of freedom-loving people against the evil ones. What do you make of that?
Fisk: The three main Muslim partners of this so-called coalition are Uzbekistan, whose president, Islam Karimov, has 7,000 political prisoners, no opposition, and no free press; Saudi Arabia, which is a complete autocracy, with absolutely no representation, and women treated more or less as women are treated by the Taliban, with regular Friday amputations and head-choppings; and Pakistan, which has a military dictator running the show. The three main local Muslim props of a famous coalition have nothing to do with democracy at all, nor are we trying to bring democracy to these countries. This isn't a war against terror; it's a war against America's enemies.
Q: What's your opinion of the Northern Alliance?
Fisk: The Taliban are iniquitous, but so is the Northern Alliance. Some of the guys in the Northern Alliance are war criminals. One of the Northern Alliance commanders ran a slave girl network in Kabul in 1994. Remember that there was a period when every woman on the streets was at risk of being raped. This was the Northern Alliance period of glory. These are our new foot soldiers. What was it that Cheney said the other day? "Some of the people who are on our side are not the kind of people we would invite to dinner or we would want as neighbors." Now that's sarcasm gone to obscenity.
Q: Do you think Mohamed Atta was the mastermind of the attacks, or do you think he was taking orders?
Fisk: You know, the whole issue of orders is something I've been debating. We live in a society in the West, where, when men do violent things, they do them under orders. They are soldiers carrying out orders or mafia men carrying out killings for bosses. But the way things happen in the Middle East is not the same as in the West. Look, international capital has been globalized, so bin Laden is globalized. It's not surprising to find followers of bin Laden in all these countries. There are followers of Dunkin' Donuts and Colonel What's His Name, if you see what I mean. Individuals in various countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia listen to the tapes of bin Laden. They gather in groups of four or five. They feel they want to do something to express their support for what they've heard. The idea that they were taking orders is a particularly Western idea.
I still wonder if the United States realizes how much planning went into this. When we talk about "mindless terrorists," we are lying to ourselves. Because none of them--not the guy who walks into an Israeli pizzeria full of kids, I was down that street, I covered that story--get up in the morning, eat some hummus, have a cup of coffee, and say, "Hmm. Let's go and set off a suicide bomb today." I've invariably found out they'd spent weeks and weeks and weeks planning it. It's not like they got this religious feeling, and one week later they blow themselves up. For example, the guys who drove cars into Israeli convoys would for weeks practice driving the same car on the same piece of road over and over again. Dummy runs, right?
Now these guys must have done dummy runs on the airplanes. They must have spent months buying airplane tickets, going on the same aircraft over and over, actually doing the whole journey, checking to see if the flight deck was normally open and how many crew members were on board. And of course, they worked out that a full fuel load would kill everyone and bring the World Trade Center down. These guys must have traveled up the elevators looking at the buildings, deciding which side to hit, and how many floors down you have to go. They must have worked out the structural instability of the building. They must have taken many pictures of it.
Q: What do you think are the roots of terrorism?
Fisk: These terrible acts occur because of political situations and injustice in various parts of the world. The Middle East is heavy with injustice. After September 11, Bush announced that he had always had a vision of a Palestinian state. Why didn't he tell us that before September 11, when it would have been a bit more impressive? Then Tony Blair announces that he's always wanted a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital, and Arafat gets invited to Downing Street. Then Powell arrives here in Pakistan and announces he wants to solve the Kashmir crisis. All of which shows that the United States and Britain realize that there is a connection, otherwise why are they trying to patch up all these longstanding injustices suddenly now?
Q: What about other causes of terrorism, like poverty and Islamic fundamentalism?
Fisk: We love to think this is all about poverty, and, of course, it has a connection. You can see that these people not only are poor but they have no outlets. These governments allow no opposition. So what do people do? They go to Islam. It's the only organizational institution where they can express their feelings.
But it's not about poverty. I've never seen a single demonstration in Pakistan, in the streets of Gaza, in the West Bank, in which the people have come out with signs saying, "Please give us better roads. Please give us new prenatal clinics. Please give us a new sewage system." I'm sure they'd like those things, but it's not what they demand in the demonstrations. In the demonstrations, they talk about justice, they talk about an end to Israeli occupation. In the demonstrations here in Pakistan, they talk about their anger at the killing of innocent Afghans. They talk about their need for democracy. But they do not talk about poverty. Fundamentalism is not bred in poverty. There are plenty of poor countries in the world that don't have violence because amid the poverty there is a kind of justice and in some countries a democracy. The violence stems from injustice, because people feel they have been treated unfairly, whether that means military occupation, starvation under U.N.! sanctions, whether it means that they have a dictatorship imposed on them, propped up by the West. This is why people turn to violence, because they have no other avenue left.
Q: And what about Islamic fundamentalism itself?
Fisk: The Muslim world has not begun to ask about the bin Ladens, and the Mullah Omars, and the Mohamed Attas. There hasn't been a single sociological inquiry, not one serious discourse about how these people came to be what they are. When are Muslims in the Middle East and in the subcontinent going to ask these questions? How could believers, people who regard themselves as true Muslims, get on those planes, quoting the words of God delivered through the Prophet to themselves, knowing they were going to kill innocent people? They saw the other passengers on the plane. They could see the woman with her little daughter. They saw people making phone calls to their wives or their husbands. They knew who they were killing. These guys got on airplanes with kids and women and innocent people on board, knowing that they were going to vaporize them. And they came on board allegedly rereading quotations from the Koran. There is a problem here. And I don't think that problem has got any! where near being addressed in the Muslim world. Whatever the political injustices are that created an environment that brought this about, it was not Americans who flew those planes into those buildings. And we should remember that. The crimes against humanity were perpetrated by people who were Arab Muslims. And I haven't seen anyone address that issue out here. And they should.
Q: What's your take on the theological language coming out of Bush's mouth, as when he said: "God is not neutral"?
Fisk: All I can say is that I remember the Siegfried Sassoon poem in which God is listening to the soldiers on the German front lines and on the British front lines, both praying for victory. The line goes: "God this, God that. 'My God,' said God, 'I've got my work cut out.' "
Q: What happens if Bush gets bin Laden?
Fisk: I don't know what happens if they get bin Laden. I'm much more interested in what happens if they don't get bin Laden.
Q: Then what?
Fisk: We're going to have to produce a whole plate load of things that we've achieved and say that he's been neutralized, and that he may be dead. But when the next videotape comes up, I don't know what we do. It's very easy to start a war but the muftah, as the Arabs say, the key to switch off a war, is very difficult to find. Invariably, if this goes on, the civilian casualties will go into the thousands. That's what happens in wars. And when we reach 5,000 are we going to say, "OK, that's equal"? Or are we going to go to 12,000 and 24,000? In about three or four weeks time, this could turn into a tragedy of biblical proportions, as the starving and dying of famine arrive at the borders. They're going to die in front of the cameras. At which point, there's going to be a most unseemly and revolting argument in which we're going to say, "It's the Taliban's fault. They got all the food; they didn't distribute it. If they weren't there, we wouldn't be bombing." And the Taliban and a lot of Muslims are going to say, "These people are dying because they are fleeing from your bombs, and now you're not going to help them." That's where this war is going to go off the tracks. And that's what's going to enrage Arabs.
The Arabs have seen the pictures of emaciated Iraqi kids dying. Are they now going to see pictures of emaciated Afghan kids dying?
Q: What do you make of the talk in Washington about the possibility of going to Baghdad next?
Fisk: If the Americans really want to make the Middle East explode, that's all they have to do. I mean, how much further can you go before you turn a whole people against you? How much more provocative do you have to be? You know, when you see what is happening out here, and you see it in the perspective of how many dead over how many years, the surprise to me is that we didn't see planes flying into buildings long ago. How come it took so long? This is not an excuse for these wicked crimes against humanity, but I'm very surprised this didn't happen earlier. And if we go into Iraq as well, then stand by for more bin Ladens.
Matthew Rothschild is Editor of The Progressive.
- Created on 03 June 2001
- 28 October 2010
David Cromwell: First of all, congratulations on your recent award in Sweden [the prestigious Monismanien Prize for 2001 - known as Sweden's 'Nobel Prize' for Journalism].
John Pilger: Thank you! Sweden is becoming a bit of a second home to me. I'm published there and books are translated. I've had a column published in one of the Swedish papers. I always find that good things happen when I go to Sweden!
DC: So you're a bit of a regular there then?
JP: Oh yes. I've been there regularly and I have a column in Aftonbladet which is a daily Stockholm paper. And all the films are shown there.
DC: Pleased to hear it. I'd just like to begin, if I may, with the documentary's accompanying press release which begins by saying: 'Who really rules the world now? Is it governments or a handful of huge, multinational companies?' Some would argue that those are questions already raised by the likes of Naomi Klein, George Monbiot and Noreena Hertz. So what's different about what you've come up with?
JP: Well, I don't know about 'already' but I think I've been raising them for quite a long time, actually.
JP: Well, I don't know about 'different'. I think the whole issue of globalisation is now only becoming a public issue. And then it's hardly a public issue in terms of the extent of the worldwide protest against globalisation. Most people in this country, and in other Western countries, are not aware that throughout most of the world - Latin America, especially - there is [an] extraordinary resistance movement and a very popular resistance movement against the globalised economy. There was a plebiscite in Brazil - 10 million people voted to get the IMF out of Brazil. Bolivia - a sort of national revolt against the privatisation of water, and so on. These are all very significant.
George Monbiot is in my film, for instance. But a lot of the people who are in the broad anti-globalisation coalition subscribe to the view that the new rulers of the world are the multinational corporations. I don't agree. I think it's a combination of state power - with state power still dominant - and the multinational corporations. The two are really wedded together. It's risky to start describing the world as simply run by corporations.
DC : Well that's a good point, isn't it, because that argument implies that governments have already handed over their power to the multinationals which they haven't.
JP: Well they haven't. They haven't. The United States government has never been more powerful. Capitalism in the United States depends on subsidy - always has. All the great corporations - the war industries, the great companies like General Electric, Cargill, the food grain corporation and so on. These are all the beneficiaries of massive government subsidy. A kind of socialism for the rich. That's centralised state power. And that's state patronage of great capital in the United States -[that] has been the engine room of globalisation.
DC: Yes, it's a great phrase that: 'socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor'. I'm not sure whether it was you or Noam Chomsky that came up with that one, but it's a great phrase. It describes in a nutshell what's happened. But something which is specific about your films that's so powerful is that you often get access to top figures in the United Nations, or whoever it might be. With this specific film, have you interviewed figures in the World Bank and the IMF?
JP: Yes. I've interviewed the chief economists of both the World Bank and the IMF. But the film takes as its prime example, Indonesia. So, it's a balance between telling the story of what globalisation has meant for Indonesians and an overarching theme of globalisation across the world, and what it means. It traces the little-known history of how globalisation began in Asia - and began in Indonesia. And it began in Indonesia in a bloodbath. Now, although historians and others who are interested are now aware that large numbers of people died when Suharto came to power in the mid 1960s, what is little known is the role of international capital. The film describes how in the wake of the Suharto seizure of power, which was backed by the United States and Britain, some of the most powerful capitalists in the world, the likes of David Rockefeller, convened - or rather it was Time magazine actually that convened - a secret meeting in Geneva in 1967, where Suharto's ministers sat across the table from Rockefeller and various other people, like representatives of the Carnegie Foundation and the great banks in the United States, and the whole of the Indonesian economy was redesigned - in a week. And in fact various sections of it were - there were separate rooms - this was in a hotel. One room was transport, and another room was agriculture. So this was the direct result of the bloodbath in Indonesia the year before in which the United States and Britain had played important, supportive roles. Indonesia then fell under the control of a group called the Joint Inter-Governmental Working Group which was all the main Western governments - Japan, Australia, the World Bank and the IMF. They effectively guided the Suharto economy for many years, determining investment, debt, central bank policy, and so on. That was really the beginning of Indonesia as the 'model pupil' of globalisation which the World Bank described it as, shortly before the crash in '98.
Indonesia's a very good example because it brings in the roles of the World Bank, the IMF - of foreign investors, the exploitation of natural resources and of labour. So all the ingredients, if you like, of the globalised economy can be found in Indonesia.
It took some time to select the country to concentrate on. I had thought of doing an African country like Zambia which has been terribly burdened by debt and by structural adjustment programmes. But Indonesia has a wider range of afflictions.
DC: I'm just wondering - given that history, to what extent the figures are aware of that history, that you interviewed at the World Bank and the IMF. To what extent have they denied that history that you've just recounted to me?
JP: Well, I don't know whether they're aware of it or not. I don't think it matters to them whether there's a history or not. They are simply implementing a neoliberal policy and that's their role. In terms of IMF and the World Bank, they're implementing policies that were decided at Bretton Woods near the end of the Second World War. The United States then made it clear that what it wanted to do was to control the world economy. And it was Keynes, of course, who objected to this and came up with quite an imaginative idea of taxing creditor countries if they allowed debt to become too entrenched. He was worried about the world becoming seriously indebted which it now is. The United States told Britain that if its representative persisted with this line of thinking then they wouldn't get the war loans they'd been promised. So that was that! The policy that has indebted so many countries - with the World Bank and the IMF and the Asia Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and all these other institutions really imposing the conditions of the debt - that's been around for a long time and I don't think it matters to them how Indonesia fell into the globalised economy. But it matters to the Indonesians, of course, because they've been the victims of it.
DC: Once that kind of history has been recounted, as you've just done, it's almost like hearing a message from Neptune because people in the street are just completely unaware of this. This is where we get to the issue of propaganda and censorship. It's very difficult indeed to break through the filter system that exists and this is what your films are attempting to do. It's such an appalling story that you've just recounted it brings to mind a quote from Noam Chomsky: 'What is being reported blandly on the front pages would elicit ridicule and horror in a society with a genuinely free and democratic intellectual culture'. This is getting to the nub of the problem - that awful as poverty, injustice and inequity are, even the freedom of thought is being eroded away - and this has been a message, I think, of your films.
JP: It's been eroded away mainly by two things. By the illusion that the mainstream media carries a great deal of diverse information, whereas in fact it carries a great deal of repetitive and politically safe information. The illusion that there is an information age, when in fact there is a media age in which there's a great deal of media. But that doesn't mean a great deal of information. Those are important distinctions.
The other thing is that it's easier now to conduct the most effective censorship - that is censorship by omission - because there is the illusion of saturation [of] information. There is now a virulent censorship in the mainstream media, in my view. Every time I look at the mainstream media, I'm struck by this. The election campaign and the lack of real challenge to the politicians. There's challenge to them within a very limited framework. Elections like this are similar to elections in totalitarian countries where you just get a rubber stamp. You've got now a single ideology state with two competing factions, both of them identical.
DC: Well, since you mentioned the election coverage this is something that I got from David Edwards. This was a report that came out from Peter Golding and colleagues at Loughborough University. They produced a shocking report in the last week that this election, the media coverage of various issues, the environment and foreign policy, for example, each represent less than 1 per cent of the coverage. To be precise, in the first three weeks of campaigning the environment comprised 0.8 per cent of election themes covered, defence 0.6 per cent, and employment 0.8 per cent. There has been virtually nothing about the so-called "ethical foreign policy" deception, or the "genocide" in East Timor and Iraq. That's just astonishing. You couldn't get a better performance from a totalitarian regime.
JP: Well they're usually left out. And there might be a case made for people voting about the things that concern their lives, although if one has a world view it's also about how the world is run. You mention there employment - that's being left out. All the issues that actually directly touch people's lives like the enormous insecurity about today's so-called 'booming economy'. The falsity of it - the absolute fakery of it. There's a report by Bristol University recently which concluded that there are 5 million people living in absolute poverty in this country. And that almost half of all single parents are living in extreme poverty, and that probably the figure of children growing up in poverty is between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4. Now, none of these realities, which you are struck by when you drive out of London and make your way up through Nottingham and go to the north-east, and across to Merseyside, and so on - none of these realities are reflected in this campaign. These are domestic issues. And the whole issue of so-called 'flexible working', which is institutionalised insecurity, of people being counted as 'employed', when they've got a job, a sort of two-day-a-week job. So the fact is - the unemployment figures are all cooked and doctored, and they don't reflect the reality. Now, that domestic reality - putting aside the things that are happening in other countries - but that domestic reality which does affect people's daily lives, has been left out.
DC: To what extent are you covering this in the film?
JP: Well, as much as we can. There'll be a brief section near the end that'll talk about the United Kingdom. But the film will go out on television in 52 minutes and to try and take on this subject in that time has been very, very difficult.
DC: I know you've concentrated on Indonesia as a great example, but did you interview any British ministers for this film?
JP: No, because first of all we'd have to go through the charade we had to go through in trying to interview Robin Cook which Panorama, on tonight, had to go through in trying to get Alan Milburn to be interviewed. Their trickery now is to demand a full, uncut interview - something like 12-15 minutes of screentime which, of course, gives them editorial control and a censorial hand on the work. I didn't agree to give that to Cook and I wouldn't agree to give it to anybody else. There's no point really in going to them now - they're all so - they don't even appear on the Today programme.
DC: Astonishing arrogance.
DC: Going back to this issue of the media. I know that you're absolutely au fait with Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model and Manufacturing Consent, which to some extent I am as well. But one of the responses that I get when I write about it is that this model is only applicable or largely applicable in the United States - not here in the UK, where we have stronger public broadcasting - and also it's a 'deterministic' model, or leaning too far towards a conspiracy view, which I know that Herman and Chomsky absolutely refuted. So, there's those two points: that it's applicable in the US, but not here and that it's a deterministic view.
JP: There's a variation. There's a version of it here. Of course there is. And I don't think Chomsky ever said it's conspiratorial.
DC: No, he denied that.
JP: The problem is that journalists are only now - very tentatively - beginning to analyse the way they work. A few years ago it was considered an intrusion for anybody to challenge the way journalism works. And there is still today an extreme defensiveness. There's a defensiveness because there's a great deal to criticise, and there's a great deal to understand that isn't understood about the workings of the media.
DC: It's normally interpreted in terms of a few 'bad apples' - like your Murdochs and Maxwells..
JP: Well, it always is.
DC: .but it's much more in-depth than that.
JP: The problem is, I've always felt, not so much in the tabloids or in the more obvious examples of all the popular media but it's in the serious media. When you have PR Week, the public relations house magazine, suggesting that 50 per cent of broadsheet newspapers, including the sporting section, are influenced to some degree by public relations - that's something that is extremely serious and is not debated at all, and ought to be. The influence of public relations now on journalism where stories - particularly financial stories - are pre-packaged and go into the newspapers with very little change, often because the journalist has many jobs to do under the new rules of multi-skilling.
But I would start with the BBC. The BBC is able to cover probably the most refined form of state censorship in the world because it has such high professional standards. It produces brilliant drama, technically it's probably without equal in the world. Among its reporters, they're professional. But its terms of reference are so narrow and so integrated into a consensus view, the prevailing wisdom or the establishment view - whatever you want to call it - that it is a form of propaganda. If you turn on the BBC television news, the way the news agendas are presented is something that is simply an extension, in my view, of an established, an almost accredited point of view. In other words, the famed objectivity and impartiality of the BBC.
DC: The Reithian ideals.
JP: . have as its main ingredient the accredited point of view.
DC: That's right - you can see that clearly in the bombing of Iraq and Serbia and so on.
JP: Well, it's always from the point of view of authority - and of Western authority. Countries, whole societies, whole issues are invariably seen in terms of their importance and usefulness to Western interests or Western power. Countries are reported in terms of their usefulness and importance to Western power. Why should East Timor be virtually ignored by the BBC for years? Indeed, ignored by most journalists. It was only in 1998 that journalists en masse descended upon East Timor and discovered it.
DC: What produced that reaction? Was that popular pressure in Australia and around the world? What was the motivation?
JP: I think it had a lot to do with that. I think the Western world was woken up by what was happening in East Timor by a tremendous outpouring of public opinion - of public outrage - in Australia. People in Australia were disgusted with the role of their government and the collaboration of successive Australian governments with the Suharto regime. The demonstrations in city after city around the country - it was one of those moments where public outrage influenced the government to act. That had a knock-on effect in other countries.
DC: Well, you've mentioned already that Brazil and Bolivia are also good examples. Have you got other examples in the film?
JP: The point is about these places - on the news - if you look at the way that globalisation, or the resistance, or the critique of globalisation is presented, it's presented in terms of stereotypes: Robocop policemen chasing so-called 'anarchists' around McDonald's. Time and again, that's the way it's presented. It's only when the police become so extreme in their policing methods, as they did on Mayday in London, and detained 5000 people in Oxford Circus, was there then a suggestion - and it was merely a suggestion - in the reporting that this was outrageous. The fact that several million people in the last six months or so have come out and demonstrated all over the world against the imposition of various forms of the global economy on themselves has been ignored by the free press. Most people have had no idea of the extent of the opposition to globalisation and that's going to be one of the ingredients in the film. We're going to talk about the extent of the opposition to it and how it has been misrepresented, generally speaking.
DC: It's been misrepresented quite often as 'apathy', hasn't it? I've seen it during this election that people are supposedly apathetic, which is the big lie - they're not at all apathetic.
JP: Well they're not apathetic. What a lot of people are going to do on Thursday [8 June, 2001] is go on strike. The idea that millions of people will be 'abstaining' or 'apathetic' is nonsense. They're angry and they're making a statement by not voting. You can agree with that or not, but that's what it is. It's strike action.
DC: That's right. If there was a box that said 'none of the above' it would quite possibly win the election. It certainly would have done in the United States where more than 50 per cent didn't bother to vote for Bush or Gore, or Nader for that matter.
Well, let's stop there. Thank you very much.
- Created on 15 October 2001
- 28 October 2010
By Mike Phipps
MP: You say in the book you used to work in the corporate sector. To what extent did this shape your current views?
DC: That's difficult to say. I already considered myself quite 'green' when I joined Shell in 1989. The big issue vis-à-vis Shell then was South Africa and apartheid. I recall vividly discussing this on the Shell training course with some of the other raw recruits from university. Many of us agreed Shell was wrong to be working in South Africa and we approached personnel there and then and said that we would like it noted on our records that we very much preferred not being given a South African assignment for that reason. My concerns about climate change, Shell's operations in Nigeria and so on came later.
Working for a large company showed me how difficult it is for an individual to challenge the status quo, and how much more comfortable it is to just 'go with the flow'. We tend to justify to ourselves what we do in terms of 'At least, I'm not doing something as nasty as working on weapons production'.
MP: In your book you distinguish between the ideas of 'standard of living' and 'quality of life'. In the light of the impact of the broader environmental movement, do you think socialists need to re-examine not just their language and methods but also their traditional aims?
DC: Actually, that distinction was made by the economist Richard Douthwaite in his excellent book The Growth Illusion. I think environmentalists and socialists are increasingly recognising that their aims are mutually interdependent. In the last few years Friends of the Earth have made the links between environmental protection and tackling poverty. For example, they did some good work recently showing that polluting factories are far more likely to be located in areas where poverty is prevalent. There are 662 polluting factories in the UK in areas with average household income of less than £15,000, and only five in areas where average household income is £30,000 or more. The more factories there are in a given locality, the lower the average income.
The overriding concern in evaluating language and methods - for socialists and others - should be how best to engage with fellow citizens in order to build a true grassroots movement. Different 'constituencies' of activists must see that their own success is intimately connected to the successes of all the other constituencies that are resisting economic globalisation. US economist and leftist Robin Hahnel talks of the 'Lilliput strategy': each constituency does its best to tie its own string to contain the 'Gulliver' of global capital, fully aware of 'how weak and vulnerable that single string is without the added strength of tens of thousands of similar strings'. The best hope lies in building a bottom-up movement based on grassroots organisations, trade unions, independent institutes and coalitions.
MP: You mention attending a SERA [the Socialist Environment Resources Association, affiliated to the Labour party] meeting in the book - how far do you think it's possible to pursue a green agenda through the structures of the Labour Party - especially in these days of corporate sponsorship - and the trades unions?
DC: I don't think there's much hope of pushing a green, or people-centred, agenda while the current lot are in charge. The corporate lobby certainly have the ear of the Labour Party who are only too eager to please, so it's no surprise that there has been an entrenchment of private tyranny since Labour came to power in May 1997. When the state ideology is the pursuit of global capitalism, it's hardly surprising that the two major parties are essentially barely distinguishable wings of the Business Party. I hope that trades unions - decimated though they are after decades of Thatcherism/Majorism/Blairism - can find increasing confidence to dissociate themselves from what passes for Labour policy. Hopefully, there are enough committed people inside the Labour Party and trades unions who will pursue a green agenda, which after all, is as much about social justice as well as a healthy environment.
MP: After Gothenburg and Genoa, do you think that anti-corporate activists and the new social movements need to modify their tactics, and if so, how?
DC: I think that the same tactics of non-violent protest and making trouble for authority have to continue and be strengthened. I worry for the personal safety of those who are brave enough to participate in future demonstrations. Tyrannical authority will attempt to crush dissent in the usual time-honoured fashion: by brutality, intimidation and fear. There needs to be effort on many varied fronts. Boosting 'alternative' media; campaigns to raise the issue of the massive public subsidies, benefits and tax loopholes doled out to transnational corporations and international investors; education to counter state-corporate propaganda; consumer pressure on companies to adopt measures that promote sustainability. Perhaps we should be encouraging more people to boycott elections, just as many people did earlier this year. Tony Blair was re-elected on only 25% of the vote. What if it had been only 10% or 5%? What does it take to make the government's 'power' so obviously illegitimate? Now there's a challenge for activists.
Green activist Helena Norberg-Hodge talks of the twin approach of peaceful resistance and renewal. She's right. We've seen some of the resistance at the big demos - even more so at even bigger demos in countries of the South such as Brazil, Mexico and India. 'Renewal' means developing alternative grassroots structures, building coalitions that promote democracy, accountability, equity and so on. Developing local networks for production and consumption of fresh, wholesome food, for instance. Campaigning for empty and dilapidated properties to be converted or renovated into affordable homes for the homeless. Demanding reform of land ownership - a hot topic in parts of Scotland.
More people have to get involved in engaging with these issues. We need to challenge the status quo, question authority at all times and promote compassion for our fellow creatures, human and otherwise. How we best do all that is an age-old problem to which there are no easy answers.
Private Planet by David Cromwell is published by Jon Carpenter, price £12.99.
- Created on 09 January 2001
- 28 October 2010
By David Edwards
DE: "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and so on, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Are you aware of that argument, and what do you make of it...?"
JS: "I'm aware of the argument; I don't believe it's true."
DE: "You don't believe it's true."
JS: "No. No. I mean I don't think that's the motivation. I think they just know that sex and those sort of things sell a lot better. After all, Channel 4 has no institutional owner. What process would exist to fulfil this operation in Channel 4?"
JS: "A wholly owned, publicly owned trust."
DE: "Well, for example..."
JS: "I turn your attention to the 9th of January, 2001, page 8 of the Independent review. I think you would get a very interesting insight into the way sex is taking over from facts. But maybe sex is facts, who knows!"
DE: "Richard Ingrams wrote in the Observer last year, 'When the newspapers are obviously doing so well out of all this [mobile phone] advertising, it is not so surprising that they tend not to give much coverage to the growing evidence that mobile phones are not only anti-social but extremely dangerous.' Isn't that..."
JS: "Well, but I don't +agree+ with that. Unfortunately, and I've tried bloody hard on this, there just +isn't+ the evidence, and that's the problem."
DE: "Well have you heard of the Wireless Technology Research Group?"
JS: "I have."
JS: "But I mean, all these findings are extremely problematical, and the Government's own research has also failed to pin it. I'm +very+ keen to pin mobile phones, I'd like to see them out of operation as of today."
DE: "Tim Radford in the Guardian said there is no evidence that mobile phones can cause harm. The BBC news has said that, so has the ITN and so has the Independent..."
JS: "Well we've also said that they do cause harm but have not been able to prove it."
DE: "But it's quite a different thing to say there is +no+ evidence isn't it? I mean there is evidence, even anecdotal evidence."
JS: "I'm not even sure there is. I don't think there is. You see the thing is about all these things, it's so much easier for hacks to be able to blame some corporate conspiracy that prevents them from discussing these matters. Unfortunately, I wish there was, we would really have something to kick against then. I think, mainly, the biggest culprit in all this is the hack: journalists are lazy, they live in a goldfish bowl, they're not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff themselves. And it isn't because they've got the advertisers breathing down their necks – they couldn't give a shit about the advertisers – it's because it's easier to do other things, where they're spoon-fed."
DE: "For example, the New York Times – one calculation was that it's about 65% adverts..."
JS: "I'm surprised it's as little as that."
DE: "... NBC's owned by General Electric and CBS is owned by Westinghouse..."
JS: "Yes but it's no good looking at the United States to get your... What about looking here?"
DE: "But shouldn't these issues be discussed?"
JS: "Well they are discussed all the time, but we don't look to the United States for quality journalism."
DE: "But have you seen a systemic analysis of the threat to freedom of information of the fact...?"
JS: "I have and unfortunately I don't travel with it."
DE: "Where have you seen it in the mainstream press?"
JS: "Well I've seen it in the Guardian media section; I've seen it in the Observer. There have been discussions about media ownership over the years – it comes up every time one of these organs changes hands."
DE: "But shouldn't it be a ...?"
JS: "Look at Desmond taking over the Express. I mean the Express wasn't worth taking over in the first place, but anyway, this is the reduction of something which once purported to be a right-wing political daily, which is now going to become a sex mag. Now is that some great corporate conspiracy? Alas not!"
DE: "Well I'm certainly not suggesting it's a corporate conspiracy; what I'm suggesting is that the profit-orientation of the media, the fact that they are so dependent on advertisers, they are owned by wealthy owners..."
JS: "But +we're+ not owned by wealthy owners, we're mainstream..."
DE: "I know, I'm not just talking about Channel 4, I'm talking generally."
JS: "No, but I am giving you Channel 4 as an example. I'll give you the BBC as an example."
DE: "But don't you think this sort of debate should be standard for the media?"
JS: "Well I mean, but there are plenty of things that ought to be standard for the media. I mean, I don't think the self-interest of who owns us is necessarily the most paramount issue we should be dealing with."
DE: "But I mean the whole range of issues of influences?"
JS: "Well how about tobacco, do you want to do that?"
DE: "Well, I'll tell you what I would like to do is Pinochet. Greg Palast wrote in the Observer: 'The October 1970 plot against Chile's President-elect Salvador Allende, using CIA "sub-machine guns and ammo", was the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company's former lawyer, President Richard Nixon.' I saw that in the Observer, but I didn't see it discussed anywhere else. Did you see that discussed anywhere else?"
JS: "Well, I haven't seen that particular story discussed anywhere else, but we all +know+ that the Pinochet coup was a corporate American coup, and it's been detailed to bloody oblivion! If I read another story about ITT..."
DE: "Did you cover it?"
JS: "I was +involved+! I +went+! I +reported+ it!"
DE: "I didn't see it in the mainstream press, apart from..."
JS: "But it happened in +1970+... When was the coup in Chile? I can't even remember, it was so long ago!"
DE: "But Pinochet was under house arrest for 18 months; I was amazed that I didn't see it discussed during that period."
JS: "But it was discussed very extensively at the time of the coup."
DE: "But not when he was under house arrest."
JS: "Well what difference would that make?"
DE: "Well isn't it incredibly important that Palast – he wrote this article basically saying that corporate America was behind it..."
JS: "Well who is he?"
DE: "He's a columnist with the Observer."
JS: "But why should I be following up something he's written?"
DE: "But as you say, it's widely known but not discussed."
JS: "But it +is+ discussed. There's nobody who discusses Chile who doesn't know it's a corporate conspiracy. If there is, introduce me! ITT led the coup – that's a fact!"
DE: "Did you discuss that much on Channel 4?"
JS: "Endlessly! But there isn't anybody who's discussed Chile and not mentioned the corporate American involvement!"
DE: "Have you heard of the British historian Mark Curtis?"
JS: "I don't know."
DE: "He argues that there's a pattern to post-1945 British and US interventions, basically defending profits and installing people like the Shah in Iran..."
JS: "Oh this is bollocks! Total bollocks!"
DE: "Do you think so?"
JS: "Utter bollocks!"
JS: "I wish it was true, it would make life so much easier."
DE: "Why do you think it's bollocks?"
JS: "Because, I'm afraid there are many, many other factors. Do you know the role Winston Churchill played in disposing of... of the brilliant, democratically elected prime minister, 1952 – what the fuck was his name? – the greatest Iranian politician of all time?"
JS: "Mussadiq, wonderful man – assassinated by Britain. Do you hear people discussing that? There's a conspiracy not to tell the truth about Iran!"
DE: "I don't think there's a conspiracy at all, I reject all ideas of a conspiracy. But it is extraordinary that these issues aren't discussed."
JS: "You're calling for a debate which, quite frankly, is out there to be had any time you want it."
JS: "Yes. I just don't travel with +any+ of this crap! What I travel with is lazy journalism."
DE: "But isn't there a pattern to the lazy journalism?"
JS: "No, unfortunately there is +not+! You mean, white, middle-class, middle-aged men, sitting around desks hatching plots which have nothing to do with the main interests of women and ethnic minorities? Well there is a bit of that, yes!"
DE: "Can I talk about global warming briefly?"
JS: "Global warming you can. I think you're +bananas+!"
DE: "Do you?"
JS: "You're completely off the clock!" (laughs)
DE: "Oh really (laughs). Well that's fair enough, yeah."
JS: "You should attend some of the editorial meetings in the mornings. You'd hear all this stuff flying."
DE: "Obviously there was the failure of the Hague convention, and very little coverage of that in the States. Now..."
JS: "I must say, this newspaper or news programme that you have in mind will be fantastically dull watching. So far it's going to be a few letters to a man from Pepsi-cola. It's going to be a discussion of a coup that occurred over 30 years ago. It's going to be a discussion of the murder of a politician in Iran in 1952. What about living in the present?"
DE: "That's why I want to talk to you about global warming. The US National Association of Manufacturers have said on their website, 'We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it.' Big business in America is against the Kyoto Protocol..."
JS: "That has been repeatedly covered in +every+ newspaper I've seen discussing Kyoto. It has been completely trashed by American corporate business. There is +nobody+ that has not accused America of being the dirty man of the Kyoto convention."
DE: "But they tend not to identify the +corporate+ obstructionists..."
JS: "I think they do..."
DE: "Geoffrey Lean said in the Independent, "The good news is that industry is ahead of politicians". The New Scientist said: "Arguably, it is now business rather than governments that are leading the drive against greenhouse gases. If American industry is moving this way, it's unlikely that Bush will oppose it."
JS: "Well you're reading the wrong organs, that's all I can say. I've seen plenty of it in the Observer and the Guardian, and in the Herald Tribune, which is after all an American newspaper... I +totally+ reject this!"
DE: "You totally reject it."
JS: "+Totally+! I wouldn't even give it five minutes. I'd like to support it because it would make life so easy. We'd have an enemy that we could really define and paint into a corner."
DE: "Have you actually read any of the analyses that support this case, like Manufacturing Consent, by Herman and Chomsky, for example?"
JS: "Chomsky I've read endlessly on both global warming and Third World fascism."
DE: "Have you read Manufacturing Consent?"
JS: "I have."
DE: "And you don't think there's any credibility..."
JS: "But I mean, lots of what Chomsky says appears in the mainstream press, amazingly; it's just that you don't want to read it."
DE: "He says it doesn't."
JS: "Well, he's wrong! He doesn't read the British press."
DE: "Well he does actually. His favourite newspaper's the Financial Times. What Chomsky basically says is that there is a filtering process, whereby the corporate media tends not to radically criticise corporate behaviour - that's his fundamental argument. He says it's not a conspiracy, it just ends up that way."
JS: "Well, I'm sorry to say, it either happens or it doesn't happen. If it does happen, it's a conspiracy; if it doesn't happen, it's not a conspiracy."
DE: "Couldn't it happen unconsciously, with people not aware of the pressures they're under to conform?"
JS: "Well where are these pressure coming from – identify them for me? I can tell you if somebody rings me up from Pepsi-cola – and I must say I don't think I've ever been rung by any corporation, would that I was! – I'd give them short shrift!"
DE: "Couldn't you argue that the fact that wealthy owners own corporations, they recruit the editors who recruit the journalists – you could argue that..."
JS: "Yeah, but your big problem is that you're dealing with a multi-media activity in Britain, in which there is a huge non-corporate involvement. What is the consequence of that? Does it produce anything different? Question! Does it? I don't know!"
DE: "There is a complex range of influences..."
JS: "I mean the Scott Trust owns the Guardian. What effect does that have? Is the Guardian the same as all other newspapers? Does it make any difference who owns the paper? Who knows!"
DE: "But a third of newspaper profits are made up of advertising."
DE: "Isn't that, even unconsciously, going to be a strong influence on what people report?"
JS: "Well how do you propose to fund them?"
DE: "Well that's a different question isn't it."
JS: "No it +isn't+! You want to produce a bland, boring, under-financed bloody media, which has no adverts, and which prattles on about events that occurred 30 years ago."
DE: "Not at all. What I'm saying is, shouldn't the influence of advertisers even be discussed? I very rarely see that discussed. It's such an obvious issue."
JS: "Well I think what would be much more intelligent would be to get somebody to do some research and show how it affects the content of the paper."
DE: "That's what these radical analyses attempt to do."
JS: "Not very successfully, as far as I can see! I'm sorry to say I would look to lazy journalism before I start to look to corporate interference... I'm a numero uno fan of Chomsky, but I live in the real world and I do not experience these things... Britain boasts some of the most right-wing media in the world. I mean, that's what people want. It also boasts the Guardian, also boasts the FT."
DE: "You consider the Guardian liberal do you?"
JS: "I consider it mainstream centre."
DE: "So where's the mainstream left, then?"
JS: "Well, unfortunately, the mainstream left don't seem to be able to get any money together to run a newspaper. Well whose fault is that? Yours and mine! We're too busy looking for conspiracies! We should be running newspapers instead."