Media Lens - Current Alert News analysis and media criticism Thu, 24 Apr 2014 05:36:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Neverending ‘Wakeup Call’

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

The new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that the impacts of climate change are likely to be 'severe, pervasive and irreversible'. Impacts include droughts, floods, heat waves, endangered species, crop failure, food insecurity, famine and even war.

But for more than 25 years, since the IPCC was set up in 1988, there have been numerous scientific 'wakeup calls' and nothing significant has changed. In fact, turbo-charged, fossil-fuel driven capitalism has proceeded to run amok. And, for the vested interests who are the winners in the global economy, the tiny 'one per cent' or less, it is vital that nothing stops their continued 'success'. Their cynical propaganda campaign is often dressed up as the need to be 'sensible' and to take measures that do no 'harm' to the economy.

As Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and contributor to, notes:

'Contrarians have tried to spin the conclusions of the report to incorrectly argue that it would be cheaper to try and adapt to climate change and pay the costs of climate damages. In reality the report says no such thing. The IPCC simply tells us that even if we manage to prevent the highest risk scenarios, climate change costs will still be high, and we can't even grasp how high climate damage costs will be in the highest risk scenarios.'

The BBC News website asked on its front page, 'Is climate report overly alarming?', and linked to a piece by environment correspondent, Matt McGrath. The BBC journalist had trailed his piece via Twitter:

'Dissent among scientists over key climate impacts report'

But, as several Twitter users observed, the 'dissent' among 'scientists' amounted to the objections of one individual, Richard Tol; that's one IPCC author out of 70.

Leo Hickman, chief adviser on climate change at WWF-UK, retorted:

'Hey, BBC, I've fixed the headline for you: "One go-to contrarian scientist dissents over key climate impact report"'

The noted climate scientist Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, retweeted Hickman's comment approvingly.

In fact, Tol is not even a 'go-to contrarian scientist', but rather a 'go-to contrarian economist'. He is a professor of economics at Sussex University.

The BBC's McGrath kept his head down. Twitter user Peter Webber noted:

'Days later and @mattmcgrathbbc hasn't had professionalism to rebut criticism of his "inaccurate reporting" on IPCC "scientific dissent"' 

Entirely missing from 'mainstream' coverage were salient facts about Tol's ideological stance and wretched background. For instance, Tol has worked with Bjorn 'Skeptical Environmentalist' Lomborg in downplaying the importance of tackling the climate crisis. In 2009, Tol was listed as an adviser to the Nigel Lawson-chaired Global Warming Policy Foundation, the notorious pro-business climate denialist 'thinktank'. Two years earlier, in 2007, Tol was among the US Senate Republican Party's 'list of scientists disputing man-made global warming claims'. Tol 'dismissed the idea that mankind must act now to prevent catastrophic global warming'. He outrageously scorned the Stern review on the economics of climate action, and the urgent need for concerted action, as 'preposterous', 'alarmist and incompetent.' 

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Tue, 01 Apr 2014 22:47:14 +0000
Voting At Gunpoint - The Jaw-Dropping Media Bias On Crimea

By David Edwards


Prior to the March 16 referendum, the BBC website reported:

'Crimeans will vote on whether they want their autonomous republic to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.'

The title of the news report indicated the focus:

'Is Crimea's referendum legal?'

The answer:

'Ukraine and the West have dismissed the referendum as illegal and one that will be held at gunpoint, but Russia supports it.'

Legality was not an issue in BBC coverage of the January 2005 election held in Iraq under US-UK occupation. This was accepted on the main BBC evening news as 'the first democratic election in fifty years'. (David Willis, BBC1, News at Ten, January 10, 2005)

And the Iraq election was not merely 'held at gunpoint'; it was held in the middle of a ferocious war to crush resistance to occupation. Just weeks before the vote, American and British forces had subjected Iraq's third city, Fallujah, to all-out assault leaving 70 per cent of houses and shops destroyed, and at least 800 civilians dead. ('Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival,', November 30, 2004)

The US 1st Marine Division alone fired 5,685 high-explosive 155mm shells during the battle. The US 3rd Marine Air Wing contributed 709 bombs, rockets and missiles, and 93,000 machine gun and cannon rounds. There was much else besides, of course, and not just in Fallujah.

In the same month as the election, an Iraqi doctor, Ali Fadhil, reported of the city:

'It was completely devastated, destruction everywhere. It looked like a city of ghosts. Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn't see a single building that was functioning.' (Fadhil, 'City of ghosts,' The Guardian, January 11, 2005)

The BBC made no mention of the argument that the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis as a result of the invasion over the previous two years made a nonsense of the claim that the election was free and fair.

The US had in fact rigged the rules to ensure US-friendly Kurds had 27% of the seats in the national assembly, although they made up just 15% of the population. In a rare departure from mainstream propaganda, Naomi Klein commented in the Guardian:

'Skewing matters further, the US-authored interim constitution requires that all major decisions have the support of two-thirds or, in some cases, three-quarters of the assembly - an absurdly high figure that gives the Kurds the power to block any call for foreign troop withdrawal, any attempt to roll back Bremer's economic orders, and any part of a new constitution.' (Klein, 'Brand USA is in trouble, so take a lesson from Big Mac,' The Guardian, March 14, 2005)

Washington-funded organisations with long records of machinating for US interests abroad were deeply involved in the election. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) were part of a consortium to which the US government had provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI was headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine 'We think the price is worth it' Albright, while IRI was chaired by Republican Senator John McCain. (Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick, 'Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote,', December 13, 2004)

In January 2005, our search of the Lexis media database found that there had not been a single substantive analysis of press freedom in occupied Iraq - obviously a key requirement for a free election - in any UK national newspaper in the previous six months. The issue had simply been ignored.

And yet a Guardian editorial lauded the vote as 'the country's first free election in decades', a 'landmark election' that would be 'in a way, a grand moment'. (Leader, 'Vote against violence,' The Guardian, January 7, 2005; Leader, 'On the threshold,' The Guardian, January 29, 2005)

The editors added:

'It is in the interests of all - Iraqis, the Arabs, the US and Britain - that something workable be salvaged from the wreckage as Iraq stands poised between imperfect democracy and worsening strife.' (Ibid, Leader, January 29, 2005)

By contrast, a Guardian leader commented on the referendum in Crimea:

'The legality of this vote is at best highly questionable: the region is under armed occupation, the Crimean prime minister was deposed when gunmen took over regional government buildings last week and, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the referendum is incompatible with Ukraine's constitution.'

A second leader was more direct:

'The referendum that took place in Crimea yesterday is both irrelevant and deeply significant. Irrelevant because it has no standing in the law of the country to which it applies, and because it took place while the autonomous region was under military occupation.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Thu, 27 Mar 2014 09:18:26 +0000
Scotlandshire: BBC Scotland Coverage Of The Independence Referendum

By David Cromwell

The BBC's 'Amazing Litany' Of Bias

Coverage of the Scottish independence referendum, due to be held on September 18 this year, is a compelling example of the deep establishment bias of the corporate media. Some critics have characterised the BBC's coverage, in particular, as though Scotland is merely a region or a county of the United Kingdom called 'Scotlandshire'.

The establishment, pro-Union bias of 'mainstream' coverage emerges clearly from a careful analysis by an experienced media academic, and by the BBC's reprehensible attempt to rubbish both the study and its author. The year-long study was conducted by a small team led by Professor John Robertson of the University of West Scotland. Between 17 September 2012 – 18 September 2013, the team recorded and transcribed approximately 730 hours of evening TV news output broadcast by BBC Scotland and Scottish Television (STV). The study concluded that 317 news items broadcast by the BBC favoured the 'No' campaign (i.e. no to Scottish independence) compared to just 211 favourable to the 'Yes' campaign. A similar bias in favour of the 'No' campaign was displayed by STV. Overall, there was a broadcaster bias favouring the 'No' campaign by a ratio of 3:2. In other words, there was 50 per cent more favourable coverage to the 'No' campaign.

Professor Robertson told Media Lens that 'more importantly', there was also:

'undue deference and the pretence of apolitical wisdom in [official] reports coming from London – the Office for Budget Responsibility and Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example; but, also, Treasury officials [were] presented as detached academic figures to be trusted.' (Email, March 18, 2014)

There was also a deep-rooted personalisation of Scottish independence by the broadcasters in their systematic conflating of the 'wishes' of Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, with the aims and objectives of the 'Yes' campaign. This was not the case with media coverage of the 'No' campaign. The objectives of the 'No' Campaign were not routinely portrayed as the 'wishes' of Alastair Darling, leader of the 'Better Together' group campaigning to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Professor Robertson told us that:

'the conflation of the First Minister's wishes with the YES campaign seems a classic case of undermining ideas by association with clownish portrayal of leading actors [in the campaign].'

This media performance was, he said, reminiscent of past corporate media demonisation of former miners' leader Arthur Scargill and Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot.

Finally, Professor Robertson noted that there was a strong 'tendency to begin [news] reports with bad economic news for the Yes campaign [...]. Reports leading off with bad news or warnings against voting Yes were more common than the opposite by a ratio of 22:4 on Reporting Scotland (BBC) and a ratio of 20:7 on STV.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 24 Mar 2014 09:18:04 +0000
Killing Trend - The Cruise Missile Liberals

By David Edwards


News that 2015 might turn out to be the first year since 1914 when British troops will not be fighting a war somewhere in the world appeared to come as a shock to many. But in fact, the British record of Permanent War stretches back much further. Seumas Milne commented in the Guardian that empire forces 'were involved in violent suppression of anti-colonial rebellions every year from at least the 1760s for the next 200 years, quite apart from multiple other full-scale wars'.

One might think a rational society would try to identify and counter the institutional forces responsible for hundreds of years of continuous war. Basic questions could be asked: Who actually shapes foreign policy? What are their goals? How much influence does the public really have? In our society, as we have noted, defence issues are barely mentioned at election time, while foreign policy options among the major parties are limited to pro-war choices.

If the great and good of politics, academia and media are to be believed, there is nothing to discuss, UK policy has always been guided by humanitarian values. Winston Churchill described 'the reputation of the British empire as a valiant and benignant force in the history of mankind'. (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.1)

A professor of government at the University of Manchester described Britain as 'a defender of political freedom'. (Ibid, p.2)

Shortly after Nato began pounding Afghanistan in 2001, the Guardian's editors commented on a speech by Tony Blair:

'The core of the speech - intellectual as well as moral - came when he contrasted the west's commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the terrorists' proven wish to cause as many civilian casualties as possible... Let them do their worst, we shall do our best, as Churchill put it. That is still a key difference.' (Leader, 'Blair plays it cooler - A new tone, but few new answers,' The Guardian, October 31, 2001)

Alternatively, we can turn to the official record. Released government documents indicate, for example, the thinking behind the mid-twentieth century wars in Southeast Asia. The UK, the US and France agreed that it was 'important for the economy of Western Europe that Western Europe trading and business interests in Southeast Asia should be maintained', since it was 'rich in natural resources and certain countries in the area at present produce surplus foodstuffs'. (Quoted, Ibid, p.20)

Similarly: 'The position of the rulers of the Persian Gulf might be thought of as that of independence, regulated, supervised and defined' by the British government. (US Department of State memorandum, 15 March, 1946. Quoted, Ibid, p.22)

Similar perspectives and motives for 'intervention' are revealed wherever we look and universally labelled 'defence of democracy'.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Wed, 19 Mar 2014 08:51:40 +0000
The ‘Professorial President’ And The ‘Small, Strutting Hard Man’

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

Exactly what is happening in Ukraine is not easy to disentangle from corporate news media reports. The current crisis began last November when the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, withdrew from a cooperation agreement with the European Union to forge closer ties with Russia. As Peter Oborne notes:

'Up to that point, the West had concealed any distaste for Yanukovych. Thereafter, we [sic] started to ally ourselves with the protesters against his regime.'

These included 'a group of violent and unpleasant Right-wing parties'. Three months of violent protests followed in Kiev. On February 22, Yanukovych suddenly fled Kiev and the pro-Western opposition took power. Peter Schwarz and David North write that:

'the United States and Germany instigated the crisis in Ukraine, installing a right-wing nationalist regime completely subservient to Washington and NATO, with the intention of provoking a confrontation with Russia. [...] American warplanes have been dispatched to the Baltics and US warships have entered the Black Sea.'

Within days of the coup, troops loyal to Russia took control of Crimea, the peninsula in the south of Ukraine. Later, on March 6, the Crimean parliament asked Moscow to become part of Russia, which it had been in the past (Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1954).

The motives and actions of the various factions involved, and the rapidity of developments, make 'the story' difficult to follow; certainly as presented by the 'mainstream' media. But one unchanging and reliable factor is that BBC News sticks to a propaganda framework which reflects the values and priorities of the UK government and wider Western power.

For example, there was repeated headline coverage given to the deceptive rhetoric of Foreign Secretary William Hague:

'We have to recognise the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine has been violated, and this cannot be a way to conduct international affairs.'

Or, even more galling, US Secretary of State John Kerry:

'You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.'

But when it came to purported 'analysis' by senior BBC correspondents, such as Bridget Kendall and John Simpson, nobody made any reference to the West's invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Not a single BBC journalist, as far as we know, pointed out the hypocrisy displayed by Hague and Kerry. And not even just hypocrisy; but something bordering on contempt for public memory and understanding of recent historical events.

For BBC News to be a prime mover in this sham tells us much that we need to know about the BBC's propaganda role.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 10 Mar 2014 10:52:23 +0000
The Fateful Collision - Floods, Catastrophe And Climate Denial

By David Edwards


An epic struggle is currently taking place that will determine the fate, and perhaps the survival, of our species. It is a collision between natural limits and rational awareness of the need to respect those limits, on the one hand, and the forces of blind greed, on the other.

Over the next few years, fundamental questions about who we are as a species really will be answered: Are we fundamentally sane, rational? Or are we a self-destructive failure that will end in the evolutionary dustbin?

As former Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry says, the recent UK floods 'have ended political debate about climate change impacts'. Indeed, recent global weather extremes suggest that something of 'enormous magnitude is happening'.

Even taken in isolation, the UK floods may constitute an 'absolutely devastating environment incident', a recent study by conservation scientists reports:

'Noxious hydrogen sulphide fumes and lead poisoning are among the threats from floodwater contamination – while animals at almost all stages of the food chain, from insects to small mammals and birds, are already thought to be drowning or dying from lack of food.'

And these floods are merely the latest in a very long list of extreme events, including the ongoing, record-breaking Californian drought. Of this, University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti has said: 'We are standing on a precipice here.'

In addition, we have seen the vast US 'polar vortex' and 'Frankenstorm' Sandy. Last year, Australia 'recorded its warmest year on record,' while Supertyphoon Haiyan, 'the strongest tropical cyclone on record to hit land', devastated the Philippines. India was also afflicted by massive floods. 2013 was 'the 37th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average'.

Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth, commented to us: 'The period of consequences is evidently upon us.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 24 Feb 2014 12:58:30 +0000
Bias Towards Power *Is* Corporate Media ‘Objectivity’: Journalism, Floods And Climate Silence

By David Cromwell

The key to what is precisely wrong with corporate journalism is explained in this nutshell by the US commentator Michael Parenti:

'Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for "objectivity". Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.'

Examples of bias towards the orthodoxy of Western power are legion every day of the week. On January 30 this year, David Loyn reported for BBC News at Ten from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan as US troops prepared to withdraw from a blood-strewn occupation. Standing beside a large US military plane, he intoned:

'For all of the lives lost and money spent, it could have been so much better.'

The pro-Nato perspective of that remark masquerading as impartial journalism is stark. By contrast, Patrick Cockburn summed up the reality:

'After 12 years, £390bn, and countless dead, we leave poverty, fraud – and the Taliban in Afghanistan...60 per cent of children are malnourished and only 27 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water...Elections are now so fraudulent as to rob the winners of legitimacy.'

The damning conclusion?

'Faced with these multiple disasters western leaders simply ignore Afghan reality and take refuge in spin that is not far from deliberate lying.'

BBC News has been a major component of this gross deception of the public.

The BBC's 'objective' bias in support of power also imbues the 'impartial' stance of alpha-male interviewer Jeremy Paxman, who recently disparaged 'extreme' WWI conscientious objectors as 'cranks'.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson is another safe pair of hands. He once described his 'objective' role in the run-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq (when he was ITN's political editor):

'It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking . . . That is all someone in my sort of job can do.' (Nick Robinson, ' "Remember the last time you shouted like that?" I asked the spin-doctor', The Times, July 16, 2004)

We tweeted a reminder of this remarkable admission by Robinson of his stenographic role as a channeller of state propaganda:

'The skewed way in which @bbcnickrobinson sees his role as BBC political editor can only lead to bias towards power.'

US journalist Glenn Greenwald responded pithily:

'That'd make an excellent epitaph on the tombstone of modern establishment journalism'

After we had repeatedly challenged Robinson about his bias towards power (see this recent media alert), he finally responded via email (January 27, 2014):

'We could have this debate forever I suspect.'

But in reality 'this debate' never gets an airing on the BBC. It is simply taboo.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 17 Feb 2014 09:06:31 +0000
'Not Even Close To Reality' - Filtering Sources On The Syrian War

By David Edwards


If corporate media performance on Iraq was shocking, the response to Syria is made worse precisely because the lessons from Iraq could hardly be more obvious.

We know how the Iraqi 'threat' was demonised with hyped atrocity tales, invented 'links to al Qaeda' and non-existent WMD. We know the West was all along the real threat, using 'diplomacy' to achieve, not avoid, a war for control of Iraq and its oil.

Despite this, and despite the clear need for scepticism regarding claims made about a Syrian government also being targeted by the West, the cartoonist Steve Bell – respected as a rare radical voice at the Guardian - recently produced this cartoon in response to a report commissioned by the Qatari government claiming that the Syrian government had 'systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising'.

The cartoon suggests, not only that Syrian president Assad is personally responsible for the mass torture and deaths, but that he is proud of them. This demonisation of an Official Enemy recalls the crude state propaganda of the First World War.

Consider the source of the claims depicted in Bell's cartoon. The Guardian reports that Qatar 'has played a major role arming the rebels seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad', having played 'a central role in extending support to the Libyan rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi'. Noam Chomsky notes that arms have been 'flown in [to Syria] from Qatar by the CIA'. Indeed, Qatar has close military ties to the US and UK, with forces armed and trained by the West. Qatar contains the principle overseas headquarters of the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) and was a key staging ground for the invasion of Iraq. In 2012, the US State Department reported that arms totalling $1.7 billion had been approved to Qatar in the previous fiscal year.

Qatar has long been a dictatorship, an absolute monarchy - political parties are forbidden and there is no independent legislature. Amnesty International recently described how the authorities 'maintain strict control on freedom of expression'. New cases of torture recently emerged in a country where migrant workers are 'exploited, abused and inadequately protected under the law'.

We wrote to Bell:

Hi Steve

Regarding this week's cartoon on Assad's 'selfie', are you not at all sceptical about the timing, accuracy and provenance of the recent report on Syrian government killing and torture? You'll know that the report was commissioned by the Qatari government which, according to the Financial Times, has bankrolled the 'rebels' to the tune of $3 billion in weaponry and other support.

Isn't it obvious that Qatar timed the release of the report to provide an ideal backdrop for media discussion (cartoons included) of the Geneva II peace conference? Should that not encourage a little caution and scepticism?


David Edwards (January 23, 2014)

After an emailed nudge requesting a response, Bell replied:

Dear David Edwards
I'm quite aware of the role of the Qatari government in the Syrian disaster, just as you are well aware of the record of the Assad regime's security apparatus. Timing is important, as is the need to keep our eyes open.
Best wishes
Steve Bell (January 24, 2014)

No doubt many Guardian readers would consider it Bell's job to lampoon instant acceptance of questionable propaganda, and indeed stonewalling replies of the kind he sent us in response to our questions.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, put the cartoon, and much other media performance, in perspective:

'But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today's report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.'

Murray added in a comment beneath his article:

'It is plain the intention of the commissioners of the report is not to investigate atrocities in Syria, but to push again for Western military intervention. Part of a strategy which will next involve a staged breakdown of the Geneva talks.'

The report was headline and front page news on BBC TV, radio and website, and was given massive coverage across the media. It was accepted - with rare caveats vaguely noting that Qatar 'supports' the 'rebels' - at face value.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Tue, 04 Feb 2014 09:38:04 +0000
Propaganda: ‘The Dominant Grand Narrative Of Our Time’

By David Cromwell

'Propaganda' sounds like an old-fashioned word from a bygone era. It evokes images of the Nazis in WW2, particularly Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, or Soviet leaders in the Cold War and dictators in 'Third World' countries. Propaganda is something spewed out by official enemies of the West, and surely not a vile practice indulged by 'our' politicians and business leaders. This is a convenient illusion that serves powerful Western elites very well indeed.

The Russian-born filmmaker Andre Vltchek, who has travelled the world extensively in making his documentaries, relates his experience of appearing in the media in different countries. He observes that when he speaks in China, he does so uncensored:

'I was on CCTV – their National TV – and for half an hour I was talking about very sensitive issues. And I felt much freer in Beijing than when the BBC interviews me, because the BBC doesn't even let me speak, without demanding a full account of what exactly I am intending to say.' (Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek, On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare, Pluto Press, London, 2013, p. 31)

Vltchek continued:

'people in the West are so used to thinking that we are so democratic in terms of the way our media is run and covers the stories. Even if we know it's not the case, we still, subconsciously, expect that it's still somehow better than in other places and it is actually shocking when we realize that a place like China or Turkey or Iran would run more unedited or uncensored pieces than our own mainstream media outlets. Let me put it this way: Chinese television and newspapers are much more critical of their economic and political system than our television stations or newspapers are of ours. Imagine ABC, CBS, or NBC [major US television stations] coming on air and beginning to question the basics of capitalism or the Western parliamentary system.' (Ibid., p. 32)

A vanishingly rare example of the BBC propaganda system being blasted open was the special edition of the Radio 4 Today programme edited by the English musician PJ Harvey on January 2, 2014. In her opening statement, Harvey explained that she wanted to 'do something unusual with the format and content of the programme.' She invited people whom she considers 'to be highly articulate, stimulating and extremely interesting to listen to - people who challenge us and move us to examine our deepest beliefs and feelings.'

Harvey's guests included John Pilger talking about the propaganda role of the corporate media; Denis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, on the urgent need to democratise the warmongering UN Security Council (here at around 49 mins); Ian Cobain and Phil Shiner on torture committed by UK forces (here at around 2 hrs : 34 mins); and Mark Curtis on how Britain's arms trade fuels oppression around the world. 

Harvey wanted her contributors to be unrestricted in what they could say, and she had asked the Today programme to agree to this before accepting the invitation to be a guest editor. She rightly noted that 'a great deal' of her edition of the programme was 'about censorship in one way or another.'

Predictably, reactionary voices bewailed afterwards that the BBC had broadcast 'left-wing tosh' and 'liberal drivel'. Nick Robinson, the BBC's 'impartial' political editor, took particular exception to the contribution by John Pilger, while the pro-war Murdoch employee David Aaronovitch, a Times columnist with a penchant for wagging a warning finger at Glenn Greenwald, objected to being 'lectured at in a news programme'.

By contrast, Paul Mason, a former BBC Newsnight correspondent and now the digital editor at Channel 4 News, better captured the public response:

'Brilliant @PJHarveyUK edition of @BBCr4today demonstrating difference between "truth" and "editorial policy" - amazing how weird it feels' 

The veteran Scottish journalist Joyce McMillan astutely summed up the importance of the PJ Harvey-edited Today programme and the dismissive and fearful response to it from elite quarters:

'For the 21st-century British Right, though – used to seeing their sense of what is important go largely unchallenged in day-to-day political broadcasting – the programme was an outrage. [...] Since this year's group of guest editors also included such establishment figures as Dame Eliza Manningham Buller, former head of MI5, and Anthony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays Bank, there are clearly no grounds for complaint from the Right about the overall balance of this year's holiday editions.'

McMillan continued:

'The British boss class, though, increasingly demand not so much balance as total hegemony. Where a generation ago they would have had the wisdom to welcome Harvey as an alternative voice that demonstrated Britain's commitment to diversity and freedom, now they just want her and her kind to shut up, before they put any wild ideas into the heads of the compliant masses.'

Although Harvey's contributors made points that were 'accurate, truthful and based on fact', said McMillan, such voices are marginalised in political debate because:

'they are not part of the dominant grand narrative of our time, which requires constant deference to the priorities of rich so-called "wealth creators", and a rapid refocusing of any popular anger towards other vulnerable groups, such as this New Year's imaginary tidal wave of new migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.'

McMillan warned that unless any serious challenge emerges to the 'dominant narrative' of state-corporate elites, we will be 'trapped by an account of reality so far adrift of the truth [...] that a long age of social, moral and intellectual decline seems almost inevitable.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Mon, 27 Jan 2014 08:51:52 +0000
Ariel Sharon - War Is Peace

By David Edwards


Readers will recall the famous perceptual illusion in which the brain switches between seeing a young girl and an image intended to represent an 'old crone'. The picture of course remains the same, but our minds flick between the two interpretations, unable to perceive both images at the same time.

The 'mainstream media' - that curious collection of elite-run, profit-maximising business interests sometimes known as 'the free press' - performs a similar perceptual trick. In reviewing comparable crimes by the West and its official enemies, it is able to flick between perceiving virtue in 'our' criminality where only wickedness is found in 'theirs'. Indeed, though 'our' crimes may be as bad, as cynical, or worse, 'their' crimes are consistently perceived as being far uglier.

Not that 'our' crimes are completely ignored. A Sunday Times editorial reviewed the life and career of former Israeli prime minister and general Ariel Sharon, who died on January 11:

'His Unit 101 slaughtered 69 civilians in the Jordanian town of Qibya in 1953 and as defence minister he was blamed for the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Israel's Christian Phalange allies in 1982. He was forced to resign from his post.' (Leading article, 'The old warrior who turned to peace,' Sunday Times, January 12, 2014)

The Sunday Times described these as mere 'black marks', much as 9/11 and Halabja were 'black marks' against bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, perhaps. Otherwise, Sharon was one of Israel's 'great nation-builders', 'a military hero'; 'He leaves an important legacy.'

The 'black marks' were noted with minimal information, not even a rough idea of the number of victims at Sabra and Shatila. Up to 3,500 civilians were brutally massacred on September 16-17, 1982. Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting writes:

'An official Israeli investigation known as the Kahan Commission found that Sharon had personally decided to send right-wing Christian paramilitary forces, known as the Phalangist militias, into Palestinian refugee camps immediately after Palestinians had been (falsely) accused of assassinating the Lebanese President-elect Bachir Gemayel, a Phalangist leader. The fact "that the Phalangists were liable to commit atrocities... did not concern [Sharon] in the least," the Commission found.

'After the massacre began, Israel assisted the killing by firing flares over the camp to provide illumination for the Phalangists (New York Times, 9/26/82). Recently declassified Israeli documents (New York Times, 9/17/12) show that when US officials pressed Sharon to order the militias out of the camps, he retorted, "If you don't want the Lebanese to kill them, we will kill them."'

The dead included infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly, some of whom had been raped and mutilated. As Hart indicates, the Israeli government investigation found that Sharon bore 'personal responsibility' for the atrocity.

According to Menachem Klein, a politics professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, Sharon's founding of Unit 101, a 'retribution squad' in the 1950s and 1960s, set the pattern for modern Israeli military strategy named. Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook explains:

'In Israel's early years, Unit 101 carried out reprisals against Palestinian fighters across the armistice lines, in an attempt to deter future enemy raids into Israeli territory. In practice, however, the price was paid as much by civilians as fighters.'

Cook adds:

'Today, Sharon's military philosophy is reflected in the Israeli army's Dahiya doctrine – its policy in recent confrontations to send Israel's neighbours in Gaza and Lebanon "into the dark ages" through massive destruction of their physical infrastructure.'

An example was Sharon's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, although it was not included among the Sunday Times' 'black marks', nor even mentioned. In The Nation, Max Blumenthal describes the invasion, which cost the lives of 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, most of them civilians:

'Sharon sent Israeli tanks rumbling towards Beirut without the approval of the rest of the cabinet, whom Sharon had deliberately deceived. Many of them were outraged, but it was too late to turn back.

'Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East's most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon's forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib's proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon's forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid "resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II."'

For the Sunday Telegraph, these horrors were 'controversial methods' to 'secure his country's future'. And anyway, Sharon 'ended his career with a more complex image, as a tough-minded statesman searching for peace. His example offers hope'. Apparently with a straight face, the editors concluded: 'as Ariel Sharon's career showed, peace through dialogue is possible'.

For The Times, Sharon's military record was 'marked by two shocking episodes'. Again, just the two black marks: the massacres in Qibya, and Sabra and Shatila, which were 'the harsh aspects of Sharon's career'. He was 'uncompromising and divisive', but The Times' concluded:

'Though an unlikely harbinger of peace and negotiation, that, finally, is what he was.' (Leading article, 'Warrior Statesman; Sharon's military and political record was uncompromising and divisive; yet he was finally an unlikely advocate of peace and negotiation,' January 13, 2014, The Times)

The Independent on Sunday published an article entitled, 'Ariel Sharon: A hawk who might just have liberated the Palestinians.'

Middle East peace envoy, Tony Blair, said:

'His strategic objective never wavered. The state... had to be protected for future generations. When that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he sought peace with the same iron determination.' 

Peter Hart reports numerous, similarly 'hollow' attempts to 'portray Sharon as a peacemaker' in the US media.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2014 Wed, 22 Jan 2014 07:48:01 +0000