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’.

Exchange With The BBC’s Afghanistan Correspondent, Paul Wood

In the runup to the ten-year anniversary of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan, star presenter Fiona Bruce and her editors on the BBC News at Ten excelled themselves, as we mentioned in Part 1 of this alert:

‘It’s ten years this week since British forces first became involved in Afghanistan, and more than five years since they assumed responsibility for Helmand province. So what’s been achieved in that time?’ (BBC One, October 4, 2011, italics added)

Bruce then introduced a segment from Paul Wood, former embedded BBC correspondent in Iraq, and now firmly embedded in the NATO establishment in Afghanistan. His report, later posted online, typified the media’s unquestioning acceptance of the official line on Afghanistan. We emailed him the following day (October 5, 2011):

Hello Paul,

I hope you’re safe and well there. Thank you for your report from Afghanistan on last night’s BBC News at Ten.

You introduced your report:

Stabilising Afghanistan has cost Britain 382 lives.’

Portraying the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as ‘stabilising’ the country echoes NATO rhetoric. How can this constitute news ‘balance’?

And, later, you ask:

‘What, then, has the British army’s engagement in Helmand been for?’

In answer, you chose to include this from Lt General James Bucknall, deputy NATO commander:

‘Yes, there’s been considerable sacrifice by many, many courageous people. But actually I would say, you know, look at what we’re trying to achieve, and it is to enhance our own national security. And that is, you know, a price worth paying.’

What about the views of those who do not believe it is a ‘price worth paying’? In fact, more fundamentally, why ignore those who argue, including within Britain’s own intelligence services, that UK foreign policy has endangered ‘national security’?

In short, where is your journalistic scepticism of the official line? Are you really so unaware of the longstanding realpolitik: namely the Western push for geostrategic dominance over the valuable resources of this region? Shouldn’t the ample evidence for this be reflected somewhere in your reporting?

If you continue to echo state propaganda, then you are emulating Pravda and Izvestia when they reported the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in comparable terms.

I hope to hear back from you, please.

Best wishes

David Cromwell

Wood replied on 7 October:

David, sorry about the delay; it has been a bit busy.  I do try to answer emails personally (and quickly) and, as you know, we do have also a complaints unit, reachable through the website.

Anyway, you could regard ‘stabilising’ as being read with inverted commas, or without, depending on your point of view.  Let me deal at greater length with your other point, about the use of a clip by General Bucknall, who said that Britain was in Afghanistan to “enhance our own national security”.

It is certainly an argument that Britain’s national security was damaged rather than enhanced by invading Afghanistan — and one that, rightly, gets a hearing on our output.  But a report cannot go in all directions at once, and in this piece, General Bucknall was used to reply — or balance — a series of earlier criticisms of the way the Afghan campaign is going.

In Helmand, the piece showed a police chief saying that he couldn’t survive without Nato — and bear in mind that the whole strategy is to hand over to people like him — and also a long-serving aid worker, who had reached the pretty damning conclusion that all the blood shed in Helmand had simply been to return the place to its condition before British troops arrived.

This is hardly Izvestia style propaganda in the service of the British state — as I hope any dispassionate observer would agree.

You raise a number of good points about western motives, worthy of further debate, though I hope you will forgive me if I don’t enter into a protracted correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Paul Wood

BBC Afghanistan correspondent

We replied the same day:

Thanks Paul,

I appreciate you getting back to me. Many of your BBC colleagues are all too quick to duck direct challenges, and instead divert the public into the arcane depths of the hopeless BBC complaints system.

You claim that: 

‘…you could regard “stabilising” as being read with inverted commas, or without, depending on your point of view.’

I’m afraid that comes across as a cop-out in defence of poor journalism. To add ‘inverted commas’ in a spoken report on BBC News at Ten, you would have had to insert a word like ‘claimed’ or ‘alleged’ and say something like:

‘The UK government’s alleged goal of “stabilising” Afghanistan has cost Britain 382 lives.’

You also say that:

‘It is certainly an argument that Britain’s national security was damaged rather than enhanced by invading Afghanistan — and one that, rightly, gets a hearing on our output.’

But why did you not include such a relevant and crucial argument in this report? You claim that Lt General Bucknall’s assertion that Britain is in Afghanistan ‘to enhance our own national security’ is the ‘balance’ for criticisms of ‘the way the Afghan campaign is going.’ That’s a revealing admission. The argument is not that there are criticisms of ‘the way the Afghan campaign is going’, but that you have excluded the more fundamental criticism that the invasion-occupation cannot be justified. Instead, you deploy a standard cop-out: 

‘a report cannot go in all directions at once’

But a report like this could, and should, have been balanced on its own. Instead, you’ve decided to rely on a hand-waving appeal to balance having been achieved in some other report, somewhere else on the BBC. This is the eternal refrain from BBC journalists when challenged with serious biases and omissions. In fact, there can be no BBC news ‘balance’ when it consistently buries the argument that the British role in the invasion-occupation of Afghanistan is wrong.

The ‘good points about western motives’ that I made in my earlier email should be central to responsible news reporting from Afghanistan; not merely pushed aside as ‘worthy of further debate’.  Otherwise, you are indeed performing a useful role ‘in the service of the British state.’

I understand that you’re a busy reporter and that you may prefer not to become involved in a ‘protracted correspondence’. Or, more optimistically, you will see that there are fundamental and serious issues here that need to be addressed.

Best wishes




The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Please write to:

Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent

Email: [email protected]

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian

Email: [email protected]


Paul Wood, BBC Afghanistan correspondent

Email: [email protected]

James Stephenson, BBC News at Ten editor

Email: [email protected]

Please blind-copy us in on any exchanges or forward them to us later at:

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