Media Lens - 2014 News analysis and media criticism Wed, 19 Sep 2018 23:54:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb ‘Grievous Censorship’ By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed’s Blog

In July, regular Guardian contributor Nafeez Ahmed examined claims that Israel is seeking to create a 'political climate' conducive to the exploitation of Gaza's considerable offshore gas reserves - 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, valued at $4 billion – which were discovered off the Gaza coast in 2000.

Ahmed quoted Israeli defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, to the effect that military efforts to 'uproot Hamas' were in part driven by Israel's determination to prevent Palestinians developing their own energy resources. Ahmed also cited Anais Antreasyan who argued, in the highly-respected University of California's Journal of Palestine Studies, that this is part of a wider strategy of:

'separating the Palestinians from their land and natural resources in order to exploit them, and, as a consequence, blocking Palestinian economic development. Despite all formal agreements to the contrary, Israel continues to manage all the natural resources nominally under the jurisdiction of the PA [Palestinian Authority], from land and water to maritime and hydrocarbon resources.'

At the time of writing, Ahmed's July 9 piece has received a massive 68,000 social media shares and is far and away the most popular Guardian article on the Gaza conflict. In the event, however, it was the last article published by him in the Guardian. The following day, his valuable Earth Insight blog, covering environmental, energy and economic crises, was killed off.

The Earth Insight series had accrued around three million views and was the most popular Guardian environment blog. It published stories which went viral, generating global headlines, such as Ahmed's interview with ex-CIA official Robert Steele on the 'open source revolution' (44,000 Facebook shares); the Pentagon's Minerva project and Ministry of Defence initiatives targeting domestic activists and political dissidents (47,000 shares); and the little-understood link between NSA mass surveillance and Pentagon planning for the impact of climate, energy and economic shocks.

Ironically, given that the Guardian has just dumped him, Ahmed recently won a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for a Guardian article on Ukraine, published earlier this year. He also won a 2014 Project Censored award for his first Guardian article, published in 2013, which was about food riots as 'the new normal'. This year, Ahmed was also included as one of the Evening Standard's 'Power 1000' most globally influential Londoners, in the 'Campaigners: Ecowarriors' section.

Former Guardian and Observer journalist Jonathan Cook comments:

'Ahmed is that rare breed of journalist who finds stories everyone else either misses or chooses to overlook; he regularly joins up the dots in a global system of corporate pillage. If the news business were really driven by news rather than a corporate-friendly business agenda, publications would be beating a path to his door.'

High praise indeed. At first sight, then, the Guardian's ditching of Nafeez Ahmed is counter-intuitive, to say the least.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 08 Dec 2014 12:59:01 +0000
Russell Brand's 'Revolution' - Part 2, The Backlash


From Messiah To Monty Python

If Julian Assange was initially perceived by many as a controversial but respected, even heroic, figure challenging power, the corporate media worked hard to change that perception in the summer of 2012. After Assange requested political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the faux-feminists and corporate leftists of the 'quality' liberal press waged war on his reputation.

This comment from the Guardian's Deborah Orr summed up the press zeitgeist:

'It's hard to believe that, until fairly recently, Julian Assange was hailed not just as a radical thinker, but as a radical achiever, too.'

A sentiment echoed by Christina Patterson of the Independent:

'Quite a feat to move from Messiah to Monty Python, but good old Julian Assange seems to have managed it.'

The Guardian's Suzanne Moore expressed what many implied:

'He really is the most massive turd.'

The attacks did more than just criticise Assange; they presented him as a ridiculous, shameful figure. Readers were to understand that he was now completely and permanently discredited.

We are all, to some extent, herd animals. When we witness an individual being subjected to relentless mockery of this kind from just about everyone across the media 'spectrum', it becomes a real challenge to continue taking that person seriously, let alone to continue supporting them. We know that doing so risks attracting the same abuse.

Below, we will see how many of the same corporate journalists are now directing a comparable campaign of abuse at Russell Brand in response to the publication of his book, 'Revolution'. The impact is perhaps indicated by the mild trepidation one of us experienced in tweeting this very reasonable comment from the book:

'Today humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.' (p.345)

Sure enough, we immediately received this tweet in response:

'As a big supporter of your newsletters and books, I'm embarrassed by your promotion of Brand as some sort of visionary.'

In a rare defence of Brand, Mark Steel explained in the Independent:

'This week, by law, I have to deride Russell Brand as a self-obsessed, annoying idiot. No article or comment on Twitter can legally be written now unless it does this...'

Or as Boris Johnson noted, gleefully, in the Telegraph:

'Oh dear, what a fusillade of hatred against poor old Brandy Wandy. I have before me a slew of Sunday papers and in almost all there is a broadside against Russell Brand...'

Once again, the Guardian gatekeepers have poured scorn. Suzanne Moore lampooned 'the winklepickered Jesus Clown who preaches revolution', repeating 'Jesus Clown' four times. Moore mocked:

'To see him being brought to heel by an ancient Sex Pistol definitely adds to the gaiety of the nation.'

After all: 'A lot of what he says is sub-Chomskyian [sic] woo.'

An earlier version of Moore's article was even more damning: 'A lot of what he says is ghostwritten sub-Chomskyian woo.'

This was corrected by the Guardian after Moore received a letter from Brand's lawyers.

The Guardian's Hadley Freeman imperiously dismissed Brand's highly rational analysis of corporate psychopathology:

'I'm not entirely sure where he thinks he's going to go with this revolution idea because [SPOILER!] revolution is not going to happen. But all credit to the man for making politics seem sexy to teenagers. What he lacks, though - aside from specifics and an ability to listen to people other than himself - is judgment.'

Tanya Gold commented in the Guardian:

'His narcissism is not strange: he is a comic by trade, and is used to drooling rooms of strangers.'

In the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's patronising judgement was clear from the title:

'Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans - Politics needs to be cleaned up, not thrown into disarray by irresponsible populists'

Alibhai-Brown commented:

'It is heartening to see him mobbed by teenagers and young people... Brand, I fear, will only fail them.'

Grace Dent of the Independent perceived little point in throwing yet more mud:

'with the lack of a political colossus on the horizon like Tony Benn, we can make do with that guy from Get Him To The Greek who was once wed to Katy Perry. I shall resist pillorying Brand any further. He looks exhausted. I'm not entirely evil'.

Sarah Ditum sneered from the New Statesman:

'Russell Brand, clown that he is, is taken seriously by an awful lot of young men who see any criticism of the cartoon messiah's misogyny as a derail from "the real issues" (whatever they are).'

Brand fared little better among the male commentators of the liberal press. The title of David Runciman's Guardian review read:

'His manifesto is heavy going, light on politics and, in places, beyond parody. Has the leader of the rebellion missed his moment?'

Runciman wrote:

'This book is an uncomfortable mashup of the cosmic and the prosaic. Brand seems to believe they bolster each other. But really they just get in each other's way. He borrows ideas from various radical or progressive thinkers like David Graeber and Thomas Piketty but undercuts them with talk about yogic meditation.'

As we saw in the first part of this alert, there is a strong case for arguing that mindfulness – awareness of how we actually feel, as opposed to how corporate advertising tells us we should feel – can help deliver us from the shiny cage of passive consumerism to progressive activism.

Alas, 'too often he sounds like Gwyneth Paltrow without, er, the humour or the self-awareness. The worst of it is beyond parody... his revolution reads like soft-soap therapy where what's needed is something with a harder edge'.

Also in the Guardian, Martin Kettle dismissed 'the juvenile culture of Russell Brand's narcissistic anti-politics'.

Hard-right 'leftist' warmonger Nick Cohen of the 'left-of-centre' hard-right Observer was appalled. Having accumulated 28,000 followers on Twitter (we have 18,000) after decades in the national press spotlight, Cohen mocked the communication skills of a writer with 8 million followers:

'His writing is atrocious: long-winded, confused and smug; filled with references to books Brand has half read and thinkers he has half understood.'

This is completely false, as we saw; Brand has an extremely astute grasp of many of the key issues of our time.

As ever – think Assange, Greenwald, Snowden – dissidents are exposed as egoists by corporate media altruists:

'Brand is a religious narcissist, and if the British left falls for him, it will show itself to be beyond saving.'

Cohen strained so hard to cover Brand in ordure he splashed some on himself, commenting:

'Brand says that he is qualified to lead a global transformation...'

Not quite. Brand writes in his book:

'We don't want to replace Cameron with another leader: the position of leader elevates a particular set of behaviours.' (p.216)


'There is no heroic revolutionary figure in whom we can invest hope, except for ourselves as individuals together.' (p.515)

Similarly, Cohen took the cheap shot of casually lampooning Brand's 'cranky' focus on meditation:

'Comrades, I am sure I do not need to tell you that no figure in the history of the left has seen Buddhism as a force for human emancipation.'

We tweeted in reply:

'@NickCohen4 "no figure in the history of the left has seen Buddhism as a force for human emancipation". Erich Fromm, for one.'

Cohen was so unimpressed by this response that he immediately blocked us on Twitter.

Writing from that other powerhouse of corporate dissent, the oligarch-owned Independent, Steve Richards praised Brand's style and decried the right-wing conformity of journalism, before providing an example of his own. He lamented Brand's 'vague banalities' and 'witty banalities':

'He is part of a disturbing phenomenon - the worship of unaccountable comedians who are not especially funny and who are limited in their perceptions... We await a revolutionary who plots what should happen as well as what is wrong.'

In the same newspaper, Howard Jacobson effortlessly won the prize for intellectual snobbery:

'When Russell Brand uses the word "hegemony" something dies in my soul.'

Oh dear, does he drop the 'haitch'? For Jacobson, who studied English at Cambridge under the renowned literary critic F.R. Leavis, it was 'a matter of regret' that Brand didn't 'stick to clowning'. Why? Because it detracts from the enjoyment of a comedian's efforts 'to discover they are fools in earnest'. Brand, alas, has not 'the first idea what serious thought is'. To read the book is to know just how utterly self-damning that last comment is.

James Bloodworth of the hard-right Left Foot Forward blog, commented in the Independent:

'Russell Brand is one of those people who talks a lot without ever really saying much.'

Bloodworth clumsily sought to mock Brand's clumsiness:

'Well-intentioned, he can often come across like the precocious student we all know who talks in the way they think an educated person ought to talk - all clever-sounding adjectives and look-at-me vocabulary.'

Words like 'hegemony', perhaps. Or as Nick Cohen wrote in 2013: 'He writes as if he is a precocious prepubescent rather than an adolescent...'

Bloodworth's damning conclusion:

'Millions of people may be fed up of the racket that is free market capitalism, but this really is Revolution as play, and in indulging it the left risks becoming a parody of itself.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Wed, 12 Nov 2014 09:49:37 +0000
Russell Brand's 'Revolution' - Part 1, 'The Fun Bus'

On October 23, 2013, Russell Brand appeared to crash through the filter system protecting the public from dissident opinion.

His 10-minute interview with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC's Newsnight programme not only attracted millions of viewers - the YouTube hit-counter stands at 10.6 million - it won considerable praise and support from corporate journalists on Twitter. Brand was arguing for 'revolution' and yet was flavour of the month, cool to like. Something didn't add up.

The hook for the interview was Brand's guest-editing of New Statesman magazine, promoted by him in a video that featured editor Jason Cowley giggling excitedly in the background among besuited corporate journalists. Again, this seemed curious: why would a drab, 'left of centre' (i.e., corporate party political) magazine support someone calling for a 'Revolution of consciousness'?

The answer is perhaps easier to fathom now than it was then, for time has not been kind either to the Newsnight interview or the New Statesman guest issue.

It is clear that an unprepared Brand was largely winging it with Paxman. In response to the predictable question of what political alternative he was proposing, Brand replied:

'Well, I've not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I had a lot on my plate. But here's the thing it shouldn't do. Shouldn't destroy the planet. Shouldn't create massive economic disparity. Shouldn't ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people doing a magazine.'

In his new book, 'Revolution,' Brand recognises that the first part of this response 'ain't gonna butter no spuds on Newsnight or Fox News' (Brand, 'Revolution', Century, 2014, ebook, p.415) and he is clearly keen to move on from 'the policy-bare days of the Paxman interview' (p.417). On the other hand, the second part of Brand's answer helps explain the huge impact of the interview – he was speaking out with a level of passionate sincerity and conviction that are just not seen in today's manufactured, conformist, marketing-led media. Brand looked real, human. He was telling the truth!

Similarly, the New Statesman guest edition was a curious hodgepodge, with good articles by Brand, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky alongside offerings from BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker, rock squib Noel Gallagher, actors Alec Baldwin and Rupert Everett, multi-millionaire entrepreneur Martha Lane-Fox, and even Russian media oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev. This was revolution as some kind of unscripted celebrity pantomime.

Brand's Newsnight performance, then, was an inspiring cri de coeur. But a 10-minute, impassioned, ill-formed demand for 'Change!' from a lone comedian is not a problem for the media's gatekeepers. It makes for great television, enhances the illusion that the media is open and inclusive, and can be quickly forgotten – no harm done.


Killing Corporate Power – Humanity's Stark Choice

Brand's new book, 'Revolution,' is different – the focus is clear, specific and fiercely anti-corporate. As we will see in Part 2 of this alert, the media reaction is also different.

Brand begins by describing the grotesque levels of modern inequality:

'Oxfam say a bus with the eighty-five richest people in the world on it would contain more wealth than the collective assets of half the earth's population – that's three-and-a-half billion people.' (p.34)


'The richest 1 per cent of British people have as much as the poorest 55 per cent.' (p.34)

But even these facts do not begin to describe the full scale of the current crisis:

'The same interests that benefit from this... need, in order to maintain it, to deplete the earth's resources so rapidly, violently and irresponsibly that our planet's ability to support human life is being threatened.' (p.36)

For example:

'Global warming is totally real, it has been empirically proven, and the only people who tell you it's not real are, yes, people who make money from creating the conditions that cause it. (pp.539-540)

We are therefore at a crossroads:

'"Today humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet."

'The reason the occupants of the [elite] fun bus are so draconian in their defence of the economy is that they have decided to ditch the planet.' (p.345)

And so 'we require radical action fast, and that radical action will not come from the very interests that created and benefit from things being the way they are. The one place we cannot look for change is to the occupants of the bejewelled bus.' (p.42)

The problem, then, is that 'we live under a tyranny'. (p.550) The US, in particular, 'acts like an army that enforces the business interests of the corporations it is allied to'. (p.493)

But this is more than just a crude, Big Brother totalitarian state:

'A small minority cannot control an uncooperative majority, so they must be distracted, divided, tyrannised or anaesthetised into compliance...' which means 'the colonisation of consciousness by corporations'. (p.165)

Brand notes that 70 per cent of the UK press is controlled by three companies, 90 per cent of the US press by six:

'The people that own the means for conveying information, who decide what knowledge enters our minds, are on the fun bus.' (p.592)

He even manages a swipe at the 'quality' liberal press:

'Remember, the people who tell you this can't work, in government, on Fox News or MSNBC, or in op-eds in the Guardian or the Spectator, or wherever, are people with a vested interest in things staying the same.' (p.514)

Thus, the 'political process' is a nonsense: 'voting is pointless, democracy a façade' (p.45): 'a bloke with a nice smile and an angle is swept into power after a more obviously despicable regime and then behaves more or less exactly like his predecessors'. (p.431)

The highly debatable merit of voting aside, anyone with an ounce of awareness will accept pretty much everything Brand has to say above. Put simply, he's right – this is the current state of people, planet and politics. A catastrophic environmental collapse is very rapidly approaching with nothing substantive being done to make it better and everything being done to make it worse.

Even if we disagree with everything else he has to say, every sane person has an interest in supporting Brand's call to action to stop this corporate genocide and biocide. A thought we might bear in mind when we subsequently turn to the corporate media reaction.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:27:07 +0000
A Match Made In Heaven - President Obama And The BBC’s John Simpson

Sometimes a piece of propaganda is so glaring you almost have to splash cold water on your face to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you. Take a bow John Simpson, the grandly titled 'World Affairs Editor' of BBC News. You don't earn a moniker like that by offending the global power elite. But is it really necessary to genuflect before US President Barack Obama as Simpson did in a recent article masquerading as informed commentary?

Simpson began poetically:

'On a chilly November night in 2008 I stood with my camera crew in Grant Park, in Chicago, and watched the new 44th president of the United States being greeted by his ecstatic supporters.

'It was a magnificent, unforgettable moment.'

He added:

'I had heard several of his speeches and knew what a moving and thoughtful orator he could be.'

Simpson, in other words, like so many corporate journalists, gets that lovely warm feeling in his tummy in the presence of Great Power devoted to the cause of doing Great Good. As a Guardian leader simpered in 2008:

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

Simpson, though, had 'a nagging question' in his mind about Barack Obama. What could this be? That Obama was a fabricated PR puppet? That he would turn out to be like all modern American presidents - a heavily-marketed figurehead for elite US corporate, financial and military interests? That he would maintain, perhaps even intensify, the grip of US imperial power around the globe? Not exactly. Rather, it was that Simpson:

'had a nasty feeling that he wanted me and everyone else he met to like him.'

The veteran BBC journalist 'found that worrying.' After all, Simpson had 'spent much of my career reporting on strong political leaders who didn't care whether you liked them or not.' His finely-attuned journalistic antennae were twitching that Obama might not be up to the job. Indeed now, six years later, 'it's hard to imagine that Barack Obama can possibly be judged a success when he leaves office.' You could almost hear Simpson sigh:

'In a way, it's deeply unfair.'

After all, claimed the BBC man, the 'economic judgement' of Obama is 'clearly positive'. Informed commentators may well beg to differ. Noam Chomsky, for example:

'If you take a look at the [US] economy that is being created, it's one in which real wages for male workers are back to the level of 1968. Over the last decade, about 95% of the growth has gone to 1% of the population. This is not a functioning economy. Just take a look around the country. The infrastructure's collapsing. There's a huge amount of work that has to be done. There are eager hands, tens of millions of people trying to get work, there are plenty of resources, corporate profits are going through the roof, the banks and financial institutions are rich. They don't invest it, but they've got it. [...] If you look at the unpeople (the majority of the population), their economic positions, wages and income have pretty much stagnated or else declined for a generation. Is that an economy that's working?'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 03 Nov 2014 01:27:21 +0000
The Establishment - Andrew Marr And Owen Jones

Picture the scene: No.10 Downing Street, September 16: 'a gentlemen's-club-style reception room, given factitious poshness by two marble pillars'. The event: a book launch party hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron himself to 'mark the publication' of a political novel, 'Head of State', by the BBC's senior interviewer and former political editor, Andrew Marr.

Reporting for the Independent, eyewitness John Walsh saw the significance:

'To see how the establishment operates, you really needed to be at this week's launch party for Andrew Marr's new book.'

Walsh noted that the room was packed with political and media bigwigs:

'Jeremy Hunt, George Osborne, Yvette Cooper. Journalists talked to each other, eyes busily flickering, desperate not to miss anything. Beside the bar stood Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman.'

The BBC's creative director, Alan Yentob, was there. So, too, was Lord Chadlington, or Peter Gummer - brother of John Selwyn Gummer, or Lord Deben, former chairman of the Conservative Party - who 'has long-standing links' to David Cameron, is President of the Prime Minister's Witney Conservative constituency association and 'lives in a manor house that neighbours Mr Cameron's Oxfordshire home'. Chadlington is also chief executive of Huntsworth, a major public relations firm. In 2011, Cameron bought a plot of land from Chadlington for £140,000, the latter having donated £10,000 to Cameron personally to fund his 2005 run for the Conservative leadership.

John Walsh describes Lord Chadlington 'as the link between Marr and David Cameron', adding of Marr's fictional debut:

'It was [Chadlington] who gave Marr the central idea for the plot; his name is on the book's copyright page; there's an introductory note about him by Marr, and another one by himself, delivering his imprimatur.'

If that sounds chummy, so, too, did Cameron, commenting in his speech at the book launch:

'I haven't read Andy's book yet, but I gather it's about political assassination. After the week I've had, that sounds like a very welcome idea...'

One wonders just how favoured Marr must be to receive such gracious treatment from the unlovely Tory grandees he is supposed to be holding to account.

Remarkably, an awkward question managed to breach the bonhomie. Liz Thomson, co-editor of the website 'Book-Brunch', asked Marr if having Cameron host the book launch 'mightn't compromise his position as impartial political interviewer for the BBC'. (Private Eye, Books & Bookmen column, Issue 1376, 19 September - 2 October, 2014)

According to Private Eye magazine, Marr became 'very defensive indeed'. Marr's wife, Jackie Ashley – Guardian columnist and daughter of Lord Ashley of Stoke – buttonholed Thomson, declaring, 'you've ruined my evening'. Ashley subsequently 'resumed the harangue, calling [Thomson] 'despicable' and 'a B-I-T-C-H'.

It says plenty about the state of modern journalism that Ashley was appalled that one of the BBC's most senior political journalists should be asked the one question that cried out to be raised. Or perhaps she would think nothing of her husband having his book launch party hosted by Putin, or Assad, or Maduro. Or, more to the point, of a leading Russian journalist teaming up with Putin in the same way.

Ironically, in his book, 'My Trade', Marr was happy to discuss the issue:

'If you really talk with a politician about their in tray, and the problems of rival departments, or of dodgy past initiatives, it is hard to avoid seeing things their way. The same perspective that gives you insight, also blunts your hostility... then you drift closer to them emotionally and may very well flinch from putting the boot in when they have failed in some way.' (Andrew Marr, 'My Trade - A Short History of British Journalism,' Macmillan, London, 2004, p.184)

Also ironically, the problem was explored in a WikiLeaks cable from the US Embassy in London to Hilary Clinton:

'On the public diplomacy side, I hope you can take some time out to tape an interview with leading British journalist Andrew Marr, to be broadcast on his Sunday morning BBC TV talk show... It would be a powerful way for you to set out our priorities for Afghanistan/Pakistan, and underline our premier partnership with the United Kingdom. Marr is a congenial and knowledgeable interviewer who will offer maximum impact for your investment of time.'

It is not, then, that Marr is biased towards the Conservatives. Indeed, in 2005, the former BBC reporter and producer, Tim Luckhurst, wrote in the Daily Mail:

'Andrew Marr has dismayed licence-payers with apologias for New Labour in general and Tony Blair in particular... Such conscientious rewriting of history deserves a place in George Orwell's 1984, not on a national television station funded by the taxpayer.' (Luckhurst, 'As John Humphrys announces his retirement. The giant the BBC hasn't got the guts to replace,' Daily Mail, May 3, 2005)

A wry comment piece in the Evening Standard was 'amazed' by the launch party: 'we simply had no idea that Marr and Cameron were such close chums'. After all:

'it just doesn't seem that long ago that Marr and his wife... were staunch allies of Cameron's rivals, hosting intimate dinner parties for Labourites Tony Blair, David Miliband and Tessa Jowell. Blair even returned the favour by having the pair over at Chequers, back when he had the keys'.

Historian Walter Karp observed:

'It is a bitter irony of source journalism that the most esteemed journalists are precisely the most servile. For it is by making themselves useful to the powerful that they gain access to the "best" sources.' (Quoted Sharon Beder, Global Spin, Green Books, 1997, p.199)

True. And notice that the BBC is not owned - no gimlet-eyed media mogul is either available, or required, to pressure Marr to obey rules that are perfectly understood for all that they are unwritten.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Tue, 14 Oct 2014 12:29:21 +0000
The Comic Book Simplicity Of Propaganda

The referendum campaign on Scottish independence heightened many people's awareness of the pro-elite bias of the 'mainstream' news media. The grassroots power of social media in exposing and countering this bias was heartening to see. But the issue of independence for Scotland is just one of many where the traditional media consistently favour establishment power.

The essential feature of corporate media performance is that elite interests are routinely favoured and protected, while serious public dissent is minimised and marginalised. The BBC, the biggest and arguably the most globally respected news organisation, is far from being an exception. Indeed, on any issue that matters, its consistently biased news coverage - propped up, by a horrible irony, with the financial support of the public whose interests it so often crushes - means that BBC News is surely the most insidious propaganda outlet today.

Consider, for example, the way BBC editors and journalists constantly portray Nato as an organisation that maintains peace and security. During the recent Nato summit in Wales, newsreader Sophie Raworth dutifully told viewers of BBC News at Ten:

'Nato leaders will have to try to tackle the growing threat of the Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria, and decide what steps to take next. (September 4, 2014)

As we have since seen, the 'steps' that were taken 'next' meant a third war waged by the West in Iraq in just 24 years.

The same edition of BBC News at Ten relayed, uncontested, this ideological assertion from Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

'Surrounded by an arc of crisis, our alliance, our transatlantic community, represents an island of security, stability and prosperity.'

In fact, the truth is almost precisely the reverse of Rasmussen's assertion. Nato is a source of insecurity, instability, war and violence afflicting much of the world. True to form, BBC News kept well clear of that documented truth. Nor did it even remind its audience of the awkward fact that Rasmussen, when he was Danish prime minister, had once said:

'Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think, it is something we know.'

That was embarrassing enough. But also off the agenda was any critical awareness that the Nato summit's opening ceremony was replete with military grandeur and pomposity of the sort that would have elicited ridicule from journalists if it had taken place in North Korea, Iran or some other state-designated 'enemy'. Media Lens challenges you to watch this charade without dissolving into laughter or switching it off before reaching the end.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Thu, 02 Oct 2014 04:36:00 +0000
The Purpose And The Pretence - Bombing Isis


Tom Bradby, ITV News political editor, nutshelled the media zeitgeist in a single tweet:

'I am not at all religious, but I can't help feeling there may be a seventh circle of hell reserved somewhere for Jihadi John [the killer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines].'

For 'Jihadi John' and the West's close allies in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where 'scheduled beheading reflects authorities' callous disregard to human rights', according to Amnesty International.

Bradby's comment indicates just how rapidly Isis has come to represent nothing less than Pure Evil for the state-corporate media. Or as Mehdi Hasan, political director of Huffington Post, commented (without irony):

'Isis, in other words, is evil. Scum. The worst of the worst. Unique, to borrow Obama's phrase, in its brutality.'

Traditionally, claims that an Official Enemy is uniquely Evil rise to a deafening crescendo just prior to an attack on that enemy. In late 2002, a former intelligence officer told John Pilger that the flood of government terror warnings at the time were 'a softening up process' ahead of an attack on Iraq and 'a lying game on a huge scale'. (Pilger, 'Lies, damned lies, and government terror warnings,' Daily Mirror, December 3, 2002)

Sure enough, the US and various unsavoury allies this week began a bombing campaign ostensibly against Isis in Syria. As Jonathan Cook notes, the attack has taken place without a UN Security Council resolution or any serious argument that the US is acting in self-defence:

'That makes it a crime of aggression, defined at Nuremberg as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".'

Compared to Obama - now embarking on his seventh war - George W. Bush appears a paragon of virtue, having at least troubled with UN resolutions. Bush commented in March 2003:

'The world needs [Saddam Hussein] to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by Resolution 1441? Or has it not?'

Early reports estimated that eight Syrian civilians had been killed in the latest bombing raids by US militants. The BBC buried a reference to the killings in a ten-word sentence in the middle of a news report:

'Eight civilians, including three children, were reported to have died.'

Bad enough that civilians 'died', but how much worse if they had been killed by Britain's leading ally.

A September 4 search of the Nexis media database for mentions of 'Isis' (Islamic State) and its alternative title, 'Isil', found the following mentions:

January 1 - May 31, 2014, CNN mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 110 times.

June 1 - August 31, 2014, CNN mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 1,465 times.

Between these same dates, the New York Times mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 89 times and 389 times, respectively. (David Peterson, email to Media Lens, September 4, 2014)

Much of this coverage has of course focused on Isis beheadings, massacres and other crimes - self-declared and alleged - in Iraq and Syria.

Absent from most media coverage is the recognition that these conflicts have been characterised by appalling violence on all sides. A curious omission, given that the same media have focused intensively on gruesome atrocities committed, for example, by the pro-Assad 'shabiha' militia in Syria, alleged to have been responsible for the May 2012 Houla massacre.

In the last three years, Lexis media database finds 933 UK national newspaper articles mentioning 'shabiha'. In the last twelve months, there have been just 28 mentions, with 19 this year (Media Lens search, September 15, 2014). Yet another Damascene conversion, it would seem, just as the Western state-corporate media crosshairs moved from Assad to Isis.

Similarly, while it is true that Sunni forces, including Isis, have committed horrific crimes in Iraq, Sunnis have also suffered terribly. A recent New York Times headline made the point: 'Sunnis in Iraq Often See Their Government as the Bigger Threat.' The report explained:

'Iraq's Sunnis vividly recall how militias linked to the governing Shiite parties staged attacks against Sunnis during the worst years of the sectarian conflict last decade, often in cooperation with Iraq's military and police forces, or while wearing their uniforms.

'Mr. Maliki [former Iraqi president] was criticized for his inability or unwillingness to dismantle the groups, hardening Sunni mistrust of the government.'

Investigative journalist Scott Peterson added some background:

'From the indiscriminate bombing of Sunni areas... to large numbers of languishing detainees, many Sunnis say the roots of discontent are obvious, and have resulted in support for groups as radical as IS.'

While the tit-for-tat nature of Sunni-Shia tortures, disappearances and massacres was extensively covered during the US-UK occupation, it is rarely mentioned now in media condemnations of Isis.

In fact, arguing that the West should 'degrade and ultimately destroy' Isis on the basis of its human rights record, without mentioning the context, is like arguing that Britain and America should have been wiped out for their conventional and atomic bombing of cities packed with civilians in the Second World War without mentioning German and Japanese crimes. Indeed, to be consistent, the West should be arguing that much of the Middle East and all members of the 'coalition of the willing' should be degraded and destroyed for committing atrocities.

In reality, of course, the attack on Isis is not about preventing atrocities. As Glenn Greenwald notes, 'the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose'.

We wonder if state-corporate propagandists are able to reflect on the irony that even before two US journalists were murdered, the US had sent bombers half-way around the world to kill Isis fighters. And yet, over the last three years, the West has tirelessly condemned the actions of the Syrian government in a literal war for survival against Isis and other foreign-backed 'rebel' groups, on Syrian soil – a war that is alleged to have cost 190,000 lives, including 50,000 Syrian government forces. Certainly Assad's troops have committed appalling war crimes. But one can barely imagine the scale of the US reaction if Isis had wreaked even a tiny fraction of this death and destruction on its homeland and forces, much less threatened its very survival.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Wed, 24 Sep 2014 10:59:41 +0000
‘Dark Omens’ And ‘Horror Shows’: Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda

Established power hates uncertainty, especially any threat to its grip on the political, economic and financial levers that control society. And so it is with elite fears that the United Kingdom, formed by the 1707 Acts of Union, could be on the verge of unravelling.

No informed commentator doubts that elite interests will do all they can to maintain hegemony in an independent Scotland, should that historic shift occur following the referendum of September 18. But if it does happen, there will likely be significant consequences for the Trident nuclear missile system, the future of the NHS and the welfare state, education, climate policy, energy generation and other industry sectors, the media and many additional issues; not just in Scotland, but beyond, including Nato and the European Union. There is clearly a lot at stake and established power is concerned.

Just over a week ago, to the consternation of Westminster elites and their cheerleaders in media circles, a YouGov opinion poll showed that the 'Yes' vote (51%) had edged ahead of 'No' (49%) for the first time in the campaign, having at one point trailed by 22%. The Observer noted 'signs of panic and recrimination among unionist ranks', adding that 'the no campaign is desperately searching for ways to seize back the initiative'. The panic was marked by 'intensive cross-party talks' and underpinned George Osborne's announcement on the BBC Andrew Marr show on September 7 that 'a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland' in the event of a No vote would be detailed in the coming days.

Confusion reigned in the Unionist camp, and in media reporting of their befuddlement. According to the rules governing the referendum, the UK and Scottish governments are forbidden from publishing anything which might affect the outcome during the so-called 'purdah period' of 28 days leading up to September 18. So, how to reconcile the opportunistic 'promise' during purdah to grant Scotland new powers following a 'No' vote? BBC News dutifully reported the government sleight-of-hand that:

'the offer would come from the pro-Union parties, not the government itself.'

Voters, then, were supposed to swallow the fiction that the announcement came, not from the UK government represented by Chancellor George Osborne, but from the pro-Union parties represented by senior Tory minister George Osborne!

However, Alastair Darling, leader of the pro-Union 'Better Together' campaign, told Sky News that all new powers for Scotland had already been placed on the table before the purdah period. What had been announced was 'merely... a timetable for when the Scottish Parliament could expect to be given the limited powers already forthcoming.'

Thus, an announcement setting out a timetable for enhanced powers was completely above board and not at all designed to influence the very close vote on independence. This was establishment sophistry and a deeply cynical manipulation of the voters.

Media manipulation was exposed in stark form when Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, was rumbled by viewers able to compare his highly selective editing of an Alex Salmond press conference last Thursday with what had actually transpired. Robinson had asked Salmond a two-part question about supposedly solid claims made by company bosses and bankers -  'men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits' - that independence would damage the Scottish economy. Not only did the full version of the encounter demonstrate that Salmond responded comprehensively, but he turned the tables on Robinson by calling into question the BBC's role as an 'impartial' public broadcaster. The self-serving report that was broadcast that night by Robinson on BBC News at Ten did not reflect the encounter which the political editor summed up misleadingly as:

'He didn't answer, but he did attack the reporting.' 

The distorted BBC News reporting was picked up on social media and no doubt encapsulated what many viewers and listeners, particularly in Scotland, have been observing for months, if not years. One reader wrote an excellent email to us in which he said:

'Honestly, this is just ONE example of pathetic bias which more and more Scots are seeing through. I've long been a follower of your site, and I make a point of reading each and every alert. This is the first time I've taken to contacting you, and as I said, I imagine lots of others will be doing just that on the same subject.

'I've seen so much media bias with BBC Scotland since the turn of the year, but it's now getting to laughable proportions. And now that we have the entire London press-mafia crawling all over it too, it's daily headline news - all doom and gloom about how Scotland will fail, Scotland will be bankrupt, there's no more oil left, jobs will go, etc etc. It's been diabolical.'

The BBC's dismissive response to the public complaints about Robinson's skewed report concluded with the usual worn-out boilerplate text:

'the overall report [was] balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines.'

It is not only the bias in BBC News reporting that has alienated so many people, but the way the public broadcaster fails to adequately address public complaints - on any number of issues.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 15 Sep 2014 00:06:55 +0000
Damascene Conversions - Isis, Assad And The Bombing Of Iraq

This time last year, Western corporate media were focused on a single, grave threat to human life and civilised values. An endless stream of atrocity claims – some real, some fabricated with 'evidence' posted on YouTube - depicted President Assad of Syria as the latest incarnation of Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, Gaddafi: namely, the Official Enemy to be targeted for destruction.

Once again, 'quality' media generated a sense of inevitability – this Enemy was also so monstrous that the US-UK alliance had to 'intervene', to 'act'. It later transpired that the plan was to 'completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had'.

The massacre claims were part of a rolling propaganda barrage intended to clear a path through public opposition to an attack. It was a close copy of the 1991 Gulf War media campaign described by the late historian Howard Zinn:

'The American population was bombarded the way the Iraqi population was bombarded. It was a war against us, a war of lies and disinformation and omission of history. That kind of war, overwhelming and devastating, waged here in the US while the Gulf War was waged over there.' (Zinn, Power, History and Warfare, Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, No. 8, 1991, p.12)

This summer, the Assad atrocity stories splashed across newspaper front pages and TV broadcasts for so long have mysteriously dried up. If the BBC website looked like this last year, it now looks like this, this and this. The Independent published an article with a title that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago:

'Putin may have been right about Syria all along - Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration that Assad must go'

Has the man universally loathed and reviled by corporate commentators undergone an appropriately Damascene conversion? A more prosaic explanation was supplied by the Financial Times:

'US and allies must join Assad to defeat Isis [Islamic State], warns British MP' (Sam Jones, Financial Times, August 21, 2014)

The MP in question, Sir Malcolm Rifkind - chairman of parliament's intelligence and security committee, and a former foreign secretary - declared:

'"[Isis] need to be eliminated and we should not be squeamish about how we do it... Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier."'

One year ago, Rifkind called for a 'military strike' on Syria of 'a significant kind':

'If we don't make that effort to punish and deter, then these actions will indeed continue.'

Richard Dannatt, former head of the British army, observed last month:

'The old saying "my enemy's enemy is my friend" has begun to have some resonance with our relationship in Iran and I think it is going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad.'

Again, unthinkable in the recent past, when Media Lens was smeared as 'pro-Assad' for challenging obviously suspect, warmongering claims.

Fighters hailed by the media last year as heroic 'rebels' opposing Assad's army are now decidedly 'jihadists'. In 2012, the New York Times reported:

'Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists...'.

Assad, it seems, is yesterday's 'bad guy' - Isis is the new 'threat'. On this, almost every media commentator appears to agree. A Guardian leader of August 11, commented:

'President Obama had no real alternative to the air strikes he ordered last week against Islamic State (Isis) forces... Quite apart from the threat to the future of Iraq as a whole, the US and Britain have a humanitarian duty to the endangered minorities, and a debt of honour to the Kurds.'

It is pretty remarkable that journalists are still able to believe (presumably dismissing Gaza as a blip) that US-UK foreign policy is guided by notions of 'duty' and 'honour'. The UK's leading 'liberal-left' newspaper is apparently not appalled by the prospect that the killers of half a million children through sanctions and in excess of one million people as a result of the 2003 invasion are once again affecting to 'help' Iraq. Why, because the editors can perceive 'ignorance and incompetence' in Western actions but not self-interested criminality. Thus, for the Guardian, 'America is right to intervene.'

The editors offered the vaguest of nods in the direction of one of the great bloodbaths of modern times:

'After all that has passed in recent years, hesitation about any kind of intervention in the Middle East is entirely understandable. But the desperate plight of the Iraqi minorities and the potentially very serious threat to the Kurds surely warrants a fundamental reconsideration.'

Alternatively, 'all that has passed in recent years' might provoke 'a fundamental reconsideration' of the idea that the US-UK alliance is guided by concern for the plight of Iraqi minorities.

As Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker last month:

'ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the many oil and gas firms large and small drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms.'

Coll added sardonically:

'It's not about oil. After you've written that on the blackboard five hundred times, watch Rachel Maddow's documentary "Why We Did It" for a highly sophisticated yet pointed journalistic take on how the world oil economy has figured from the start as a silent partner in the Iraq fiasco.'

The conclusion:

'Obama's defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal - as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example - are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company...'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 01 Sep 2014 11:17:50 +0000
'Disgustingly Biased' - The Corporate Media On The Gaza Massacre

Soon after Malaysian Airlines MH17 crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine on July 18, killing 298 people, the BBC website quickly, and rightly, set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling reports and commentary on the disaster. This was clearly an important and dramatic event involving horrific loss of life with serious political implications. The public would, of course, be searching for the latest news.

However, since July 8, ten days prior to the crash, Israeli armed forces had been bombarding the trapped civilian population of Gaza with airstrikes, drone strikes and naval shelling. As the massive Israeli assault ramped up on July 9, the World section of the BBC News website had this as its headline:

'Israel under renewed Hamas attack'

By July 18, around 300 people had been killed in Gaza, 80% of them civilians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key political issue of our time, one that was clearly developing by the minute after July 8. And yet at no point had the BBC set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling news.

That finally changed on July 20 after so many days in which so many Palestinians had been killed. Why July 20? The answer appears to be found in the fourth entry of the live feed under the title 'Breaking News':

'Some 13 Israeli soldiers were killed overnight in Gaza, news agencies, quoting Israeli military sources, say. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the nation shortly.'

Despite this small number of military deaths compared to the Palestinian toll, it seems clear that the killing of the Israeli troops triggered the BBC live feed. It focused intensely on these deaths, with entries of this kind:

'Ben White, writer tweets: Israel has lost more soldiers in a 3 day old ground offensive than it did during Cast Lead & Pillar of Defense combined (12).'


'View to the Mid East, a writer in Ashdod, Israel tweets: One of the soldiers who was killed in Gaza tonight prays at the same synagogue I go to. Grew up in the same neighbourhood.'

The feed incorporated no less than five photographs from two funerals of the Israeli soldiers but none from the far more numerous Palestinian funerals (one picture showed Palestinian relatives collecting a body from a morgue), with these captions:

'Friends and relatives of Israeli Sergeant Adar Barsano mourn during his funeral at the military cemetery in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya.'


'Sagit Greenberg, the wife of Israeli soldier Maj Amotz Greenberg, mourns during his funeral in the central town of Hod Hasharon.'

Obviously, Israeli suffering also merits compassion, but these military deaths were overshadowed by a far higher loss of Palestinian lives, most of them civilian men, women and children. The toll currently stands at 746 Palestinians killed and 4,640 wounded. Israel has suffered 32 military and two civilian deaths. One foreign worker from Thailand has also been killed.

In the following days (and at time of writing) the live feed was cancelled; a period that has seen hundreds of Palestinian deaths and a handful of Israeli military deaths.

For some time on the morning of July 21, the sole Gaza content on the BBC News home page was 'Breaking News' of an 'Israeli soldier missing in Gaza'.

Remarkably, on the morning of July 23, when 18 Palestinians were killed, the BBC set up a live feed for the wrecked Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, which showed the ship being towed to Genoa. There was no live feed for Gaza.

The BBC has supplied names, ages, pictures and emotive background stories of the Malaysian air crash victims while, with rare exceptions, Palestinian dead have been presented as nameless figures, briefly mentioned, then forgotten.

The level of BBC bias was emphasised by an article headline that placed inverted commas around the siege in Gaza, as if it were a matter for debate: "Palestinian PM says lift Gaza 'siege' as part of ceasefire". The BBC subsequently changed the title, but a tweet promoting the article with the original wording remains.

The BBC has also implied that 'Rockets fired from Gaza' are comparable to 'Gaza targets hit by Israel'. Readers are to understand that attempted attacks by unguided, low-tech rockets are comparable to actual bombings by state of the art bombs, missiles and shells. The BBC's source? 'Israel Defence Forces.'

On July 21, BBC News at Ten presenter Huw Edwards asked a colleague live on air:

'...the Israelis saying they'll carry on as long as necessary to stop the Hamas rocket attacks. Do you detect any signs at all that there's a hope of a coming together in the next few days or weeks, or not?'

In other words, BBC News presented Hamas rocket attacks as the stumbling block to peace, exactly conforming to Israeli state propaganda.

In a report on the same edition of News at Ten, the BBC's world affairs editor, John Fidler-Simpson CBE, asserted that 'one reason why casualties on the two sides are so out of proportion' is because 'Israel has developed the world's most effective anti-missile defence'.

This suggested a more or less equal fight with Israel simply better able to protect itself. Fidler-Simpson added:

'The Iron Dome system's ability to knock Hamas missiles out of the sky has been a remarkable achievement for Israel during this crisis. The success rate is quite phenomenal.'

Back in the real world, weapons experts Ted Postol of MIT and Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratory, argue that claims for Iron Dome are wildly exaggerated, estimating a success rate of less than 5 per cent. Peter Coy of BloombergBusinessweek comments:

'Lloyd e-mailed me a copy of a 28-page analysis that's the most detailed critique yet of the holes in the Iron Dome system - holes so big that, if he's right, would justify calling it Iron Sieve.'

BBC bias has also been typified by its downplaying, or complete blanking, of large-scale demonstrations in several UK cities protesting BBC coverage. As activist Jonathon Shafi noted of the BBC's lack of interest:

'It is misinformation of the worst, and it is an insult to journalism.'

After the four Palestinian Bakr boys, aged between 9 and 11, were killed by an Israeli shell, the New York Times headline on July 16 read:

'Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife'

This worked well to obscure the truth that the boys had been killed while playing football on a beach. Artist Amir Schiby produced a wonderful, moving tribute to the Bakr boys.

Even indisputable evidence here and here that Israel had fired on hospitals in Gaza, major war crimes, brought little outrage from politicians and media. Jonathan Whittall, Head of Humanitarian Analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), reminded the world (citing MSF General Director Christopher Stokes on the crisis in Libya in 2012):

'Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.'

Despite the unequal battle and high civilian death toll, no high-profile advocates of the West's 'responsibility to protect' ('R2P') civilians in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been calling for 'intervention'.

We asked passionate 'R2Pers' like David Aaronovitch, Jonathan Freedland and Menzies Campbell if they felt 'we must do something'. They did not reply. Freedland commented in a BBC interview that the death toll was 'very lopsided' – a polite euphemism for a massacre that, according to Unicef, has claimed 10 children per day. E-International Relations website reports:

'While the conflict has generated near blanket international media coverage it has been strangely ignored by the three most prominent and vociferous organisations established to promote the idea of "The Responsibility to Protect", namely The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) and the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APCR2P)...

'Since the operation began these groups have published myriad tweets, posts and articles – on issues ranging from the rights of women, the treatment of refugees, mass atrocity cries and the provision of medical aid... Yet, coverage of the crisis in Gaza has been negligible.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:01:58 +0000