Media Lens - Current Alert News analysis and media criticism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015.html Sat, 04 Jul 2015 22:24:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb ‘Address Your Remarks To Downing Street’ –The Sunday Times Editor Deepens His Snowden Debacle http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/795-address-your-remarks-to-downing-street.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/795-address-your-remarks-to-downing-street.html

George Orwell once wrote:

'I really don't know which is more stinking, the Sunday Times or The Observer. I go from one to the other like an invalid turning from side to side in bed and getting no comfort which ever way he turns.' (George Orwell, quoted, Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, p. 233, Penguin Books, 1992)

The competition remains fierce, but the Sunday Times edged marginally ahead with a recent front-page exclusive that stank to truly celestial heights. As we noted in our previous alert, the Sunday Times dramatically claimed that Russia and China had 'cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden'. The 'exclusive story' contained precisely no evidence for its anonymous claims, no challenges to the assertions made and no journalistic balance. In a CNN interview the same day, lead reporter Tom Harper trashed his own credibility, and that of his paper, when he blurted:

'We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government.'

One of our readers, William Douglas, emailed a powerful criticism of Harper's claims direct to Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens, asking him to explain why anyone should take the article seriously. Douglas sent a blog piece by Craig Murray, the former British diplomat, who had offered five reasons for thinking the MI6 story was 'a lie'. Ivens' reply was astonishing:

'I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.'

There was no attempt to respond to the challenge, or to answer Murray's serious objections; just a preposterous and insulting suggestion to contact the British government. Clearly Ivens is unaware of legendary journalist I.F. Stone's comment:

'Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.'

Ivens' response is the reality of media contempt for their supposedly valued readers, or 'partners' as the Guardian affects to call the people it deceives. The Sunday Times states heroically:

'The Sunday Times takes complaints about editorial content seriously. We aim to resolve your complaint efficiently, promptly and effectively by direct contact with you.'

Failing that, write to the government!

One might have thought that editors and journalists elsewhere would have leapt on Ivens' contemptuous response to a serious correspondent, condemning Ivens for dragging their supposedly noble 'profession' into further disrepute. But, according to our searches of the Lexis newspaper database, the email went totally unreported.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 24 Jun 2015 11:04:47 +0000
‘We Just Publish The Position Of The British Government’ – Edward Snowden, The Sunday Times And The Death Of Journalism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/794-we-just-publish-the-position-of-the-british-government-edward-snowden-the-sunday-times-and-the-death-of-journalism.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/794-we-just-publish-the-position-of-the-british-government-edward-snowden-the-sunday-times-and-the-death-of-journalism.html

In the wake of the greatest crime of the twenty-first century, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, you might have thought that the days of passing off unattributed government and intelligence pronouncements as 'journalism' would be over. Apparently not. On June 14, the Sunday Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, published what has already become a classic of the genre (behind a paywall; full text here).

The prominent front-page story was titled: 'British spies betrayed to Russians and Chinese; Missions aborted to prevent spies being killed'. It sounded like an exciting plot for a James Bond film. And the first line was suitably dramatic:

'Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.' (our emphasis)

What followed was a series of assertions from faceless sources, backed by zero evidence and outright falsehoods.

Western intelligence agencies – famously trustworthy and free of any hidden agenda - said they had 'been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin'. Anyone seeking 'protection' from one of the world's 'Bad Guys' is, of course, immediately deemed suspect.

'Senior government sources' claimed that 'China had also cracked the encrypted documents', endangering British and American spies. One senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having 'blood on his hands', although Downing Street said there was 'no evidence of anyone being harmed'. The journalists appeared unperturbed by the discrepancy and ploughed on.

More anonymous sources popped up: 'David Cameron's aides confirmed', 'A senior Downing Street source said', 'said a senior Home Office source', 'a British intelligence source said', 'A US intelligence source said'. The only named source in the whole piece was Sir David Omand, the former director of GCHQ, the secretive agency that conducts mass surveillance for the British intelligence services.

Taking as undisputed fact that Russia and China had access to Snowden's material, Omand said that this:

'was a "huge strategic setback" that was "harming" to Britain, America and their Nato allies.'

No other views were reported by the Sunday Times. This was stenography, not journalism.

The article appeared under the bylines of Tom Harper (the paper's home affairs correspondent), Richard Kerbaj (security correspondent) and Tim Shipman (political editor). But it was clearly prepared with major input from intelligence and government sources with their own particular agendas. All of this was, no doubt, given the all-clear by the paper's editor, Martin Ivens.

BBC News echoed the Sunday Times article, with an online piece containing 'analysis' by BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera. This supposed expert commentary was based on 'my understanding from conversations over an extended period' and performed his usual function of providing a conduit for the government view. Some mild scepticism – 'a pinch of salt' - did filter through to later versions of the BBC article as it was updated. But it was shunted to the bottom of the piece, with no mention in the introduction.

In summary, the Sunday Times article contained no evidence for its anonymous claims, no challenges to the assertions made, and no journalistic balance. It was almost inevitable, then, that it would quickly fall apart under scrutiny.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 17 Jun 2015 07:21:31 +0000
Testing The Limits - Paul Krugman Of The New York Times and Gary Younge of the Guardian http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/793-testing-the-limits-paul-krugman-of-the-new-york-times-and-gary-younge-of-the-guardian.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/793-testing-the-limits-paul-krugman-of-the-new-york-times-and-gary-younge-of-the-guardian.html

 

Paul Krugman and Gary Younge are two of the most honest commentators currently writing in two of the best American and British newspapers. The extent of their truth-telling tells us much about the current state of free speech.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for The New York Times. He is regularly cited as a courageous, honest commentator challenging power. In 2008, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Gary Younge is an award-winning progressive journalist, one of the Guardian's highly-respected counterparts to Krugman.

 

'A Frank Discussion'

If we take a step back from being awed by the prestige of a world-famous newspaper publishing a Nobel laureate, we can see that a recent comment piece by Krugman on Iraq is so filtered, so compromised, that he barely achieves the rational level of a schoolchild. If this sounds insulting and preposterous, readers can judge for themselves if it is a reasonable description from what follows.

In his May 18 piece, 'Errors And Lies', Krugman wrote that the prospect of George W. Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, running for president, meant 'we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.'

This sounded wonderful – Krugman was apparently about to deliver just such a 'frank discussion'. He rightly recognised the reticence of a 'political and media elite' keen to 'move on', having agreed 'that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake'. But as Krugman noted, this is 'a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it's false. The Iraq war wasn't an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.'

Krugman described the war as a 'lie', then, rather than a 'mistake'. In his concluding sentence, he even courageously asserted that it had been a 'crime'. He also wrote:

'The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.'

This is all very vague. In fact, the 'ever-shifting arguments' were not the problem; the problem was the evidence. People in a position to know – for example, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter - did not believe Saddam Hussein possessed chemical weapons that were anything more than 'useless sludge'. Krugman's sop to the propagandists was outrageous, suggesting informed sincerity where in fact there was just cynical fabrication. There was simply no case whatever for believing that Iraqi WMD, known to have been destroyed, were any kind of threat to the US.

Krugman posed a question that is obviously key for any 'frank discussion':

'Why did they want a war? That's a harder question to answer.'

It is certainly a harder question to answer honestly:

'Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it's hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.'

Here Krugman was trying really hard to focus on any obscure corner of the living room to avoid noticing the elephant. In his book, 'Fuel on the Fire', based on declassified British Foreign Office files, Greg Muttitt explains:

'The most important strategic interest lay in expanding global energy supplies, through foreign investment, in some of the world's largest oil reserves – in particular Iraq. This meshed neatly with the secondary aim of securing contracts for their companies.'

Ironically, having himself failed to write frankly about this key issue, Krugman then speculated on the causes behind the political and media silence:

'Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn't say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.'

Again, this was a deeply irrational analysis from Krugman. Politicians and journalists were foolish, duped, intimidated, fearful of losing their careers, of course. But this hardly explains a pattern of political and corporate media subservience to corporate power over decades, with the same mendacity on virtually every issue impacting power and profit.

A rational analysis would at least glance at the structure and corporate funding of political parties; at the profit-orientation, elite ownership and advertiser-dependence of the corporate media. Why focus on poor 'judgement' and a 'climate of fear' when political and economic structures endlessly producing the same pattern of media 'failure' are staring us in the face? Why was rational analysis of this kind suddenly impossible for someone as astute as Krugman? Had he suddenly become a fool? Of course not, he was exactly repeating the self-censoring behaviour he lamented in other journalists - honest analysis of the corporate media is taboo in the corporate press.

Krugman also seriously misled his readers when he wrote:

'On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn't get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.'

In fact, corporate media are the corporate arm of the propaganda system they are supposed to be monitoring. Far from having 'a hard time coping with policy dishonesty', they have a hard time coping with the occasional journalists who attempt to expose the dishonesty. Immensely powerful economic and political forces select, shape, mould, reward and punish editors, journalists and whole organisations to ensure that they do not deliver the kind of 'frank discussion' Krugman promised but failed to supply.

Apart from the motives for war and the structural conditions behind media performance, there was one other crucial consideration missed by Krugman. What reasonable analysis would discuss a spectacular contemporary example of political mass deception without placing it in some kind of historical context? Was the great Iraq deception a one-off? Was it an outlier event? Was it a standard example, a carbon copy of similar events over years and decades? Have we seen similar events since 2003? Are they happening now? Again, one of US journalism's finest – at the extreme left of the 'mainstream' spectrum – had nothing at all to say about these key questions.

And in fact, as we and others have documented, the Iraq deception was not at all an outlier. It was a standard example of corporate political-media deception that just happened to go so catastrophically wrong that the reality could not be entirely ignored - although the propaganda system was far more effective in burying the truth than we might imagine. According to a 2013 ComRes poll, 44% of UK respondents estimated that fewer than 5,000 Iraqis had died since 2003. 59% thought fewer than 10,000 had died. Just 2% put the toll in excess of one million – the likely real toll.

Krugman did not even mention that Iraqis had died, let alone discuss the almost unimaginable scale of the bloodbath. He concluded:

'But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it.'

Crucially, Krugman was unable to recognise that history had already repeated itself, not least in the repetition of his own self-censoring analysis. The West's overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 was based on exactly the same kind of lies and media complicity, the same enthusiasm for war waged by Western powers who somehow, miraculously, were said to retain moral credibility as humanitarian agents.

In fact, this was an even more extreme example of propaganda deception than Iraq, precisely because it happened in the aftermath of that earlier deception. And, unlike Iraq, the media have not yet summoned the courage to expose even a portion of the US-UK governments' lies, or the media's complicity in them. All of this falls beyond Krugman's idea of a 'frank discussion'.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:23:49 +0000
Unfree Elections – The Corporate Media, UK General Election And Predictable Outcomes http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/792-unfree-elections-the-corporate-media-uk-general-election-and-predictable-outcomes.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/792-unfree-elections-the-corporate-media-uk-general-election-and-predictable-outcomes.html

The famous physicist Albert Einstein was fond of Gedankenexperimenten – thought experiments – which tested his understanding of physics problems and stimulated solutions to them. For example, when he was a teenager, Einstein asked himself, 'What would the world look like if I rode on a beam of light?' Pursuing this question, he eventually came up with the Special Theory of Relativity and the most famous equation in science, E=mc2.

Imagine, then, this thought experiment. Consider how a general election might turn out if the media spectrum ran the whole gamut from the right - the BBC, Guardian and Independent, for example - to the hard right (the Mail, Sun, Express and so on). Some readers might object that the BBC, Guardian and the Independent are not right-wing at all, but centre or even left-liberal. But, as we have shown in numerous books and media alerts, these media organisations are embedded in powerful networks of big business, finance and establishment elites. Naturally, these are the one per cent - or even narrower - interests that corporate media largely serve and support. Such media do not even deserve to be called 'centre', if the term is to retain any meaning.

In this case, of course, a thought experiment is not required because reality carried out the experiment for us, with the results being all too obvious last Friday. The Tories were returned to Westminster with a 12-seat majority. Notably, they only had 37% support from a turnout of 66%. That means only 24% of the eligible electorate actually voted for a Tory government. Such is the undemocratic nature of the electoral system in the UK. The establishment wins every time.

As Neil Clark observes in an article for RT, there is a long history of British press scaremongering to prevent any threat to corporate and financial interests come election time. As usual, the Murdoch press led the way, with the Sun warning on April 30:

'A week today, Britain could be plunged into the abyss. A fragile left-wing Labour minority, led by Ed Miliband and his union paymasters and supported by the wreckers of the Scottish National Party, could take power... You can stop this. But only by voting Tory.'

The ludicrous warning about 'left-wing' Labour - a pro-business, pro-austerity party that has cut its roots from working people - was repeated across much of the press. Even the ostensible 'liberal' Independent, owned by the Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, came out in support of the Tories.

After weeks of debate about the likelihood of a hung Parliament and permutations of possible coalitions, opinion pollsters and professional pundits expressed surprise at the relatively comfortable Tory win. But for investigative reporter Nafeez Ahmed, the outcome was predictable. In a piece titled 'How Big Money and Big Brother won the British Elections', published the day after the election, Ahmed noted:

'The ultimate determinant of which party won the elections was the money behind their political campaigns.'

The Tory party was the biggest recipient of donations, 'the bulk of which came from financiers associated with banks, the hedge fund industry, and big business.'

In summary:

'the most important precondition for victory in Britain's broken democracy is the party's subservience to corporate power.'

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Tue, 12 May 2015 08:36:22 +0000
Hillary Clinton - Of Glass Ceilings And Shattered Countries http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/791-hillary-clinton-of-glass-ceilings-and-shattered-countries.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/791-hillary-clinton-of-glass-ceilings-and-shattered-countries.html

We live in a time when compassionate rhetoric is used as a weapon of state-corporate control. The rhetoric focuses on ethical concerns such as racial, gender and same-sex equality, but is disconnected from any kind of coherent ethical worldview. Corporate commentators are thereby freed to laud these moral principles, even as they ignore high crimes of state-corporate power.

Thus, it was deemed 'historic', even 'epoch-making', by our corporate culture that Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. And it certainly was a triumph for racial equality. But the moral significance was hailed by a media commentariat that proceeded to gaze with blank indifference at the ethical trailblazer's bombing of seven countries, his deep involvement in four ongoing, full-scale wars, his devastation of Libya, and his abject failure to address the apocalyptic threat of climate change.

Alongside these horrors, Obama's involvement in the Honduran coup, his diplomatic and military support for Egypt's blood-soaked military junta, and his $90bn in arms sales sent (in the last four years) to a Saudi Arabian tyranny wreaking havoc in Syria and Yemen, are mere footnotes.

None of this matters: for our corporate media, Obama remains, above all, the inspirational first black president.

Similarly, in evaluating Obama's possible successor, the Guardian's editorial 'view on Hillary Clinton' focuses on the problem that she is 'hammering the glass ceiling (again)' of gender inequality:

'with four years as her nation's chief diplomat on the world stage under her belt, Mrs Clinton's personal gravitas is even harder to quibble with than it might have been in 2008'.

So, for the Guardian editors, Clinton has more 'personal gravitas' now - she actually has more dignity, should be taken more seriously. A remarkable response, as we will see. The Guardian continues:

'On foreign policy, her spell as secretary of state leaves her with a somewhat clearer record - she is associated with a rather more interventionist approach than Mr Obama. Her admirers would describe her as a happy mix of the smart and the muscular; doubters will recall her vote for the ruinous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and prefer the Obama-esque oath to first do no harm.'

The cognitive dissonance could hardly be more glaring: Obama's colour and Clinton's gender are key ethical concerns, and yet Obama's responsibility for mass killing is not only not a concern, it is not even recognised. Instead, he continues to be presented as a benevolent non-interventionist who has consistently chosen to 'do no harm'.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Thu, 16 Apr 2015 07:51:24 +0000
When Free Speech Becomes Dead Silence – The Israel Lobby And A Cowed Academia http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/790-when-free-speech-becomes-dead-silence-the-israel-lobby-and-a-cowed-academia.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/790-when-free-speech-becomes-dead-silence-the-israel-lobby-and-a-cowed-academia.html

The sudden cancellation of an academic conference on Israel, as well as the lack of outcry from 'mainstream' media, demonstrates once again the skewed limits to 'free speech' in 'advanced' Western democracies. 'Je suis Charlie' already feels like ancient history. It certainly does not apply when it comes to scrutiny of the state of Israel.

The conference, titled 'International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism', was to be held at the University of Southampton from 15-17 April 2015. Planned speakers included Richard Falk, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Gabi Piterberg, a historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, Israeli academic Ilan Pappé and Palestinian historian Nur Musalha.

The meeting was billed as the 'first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine.' The approach would be scholarly with 'multidisciplinary debate reflecting diverse perspectives, and thus genuine disagreements'. Rather than being a coven of political extremists and violent hotheads, this was to be a serious gathering of respected and authoritative academics with in-depth knowledge of Israel and Palestine.

But intense pressure from the Israel lobby about the airing of 'anti-Semitic views' has torpedoed the University of Southampton's earlier stated commitment to uphold 'freedom of speech within the law'. In a classic piece of bureaucratic hand-wringing, the university issued a corporate-style statement on 1 April that leaned heavily on the pretext of 'health and safety' to kill off the conference. This happened a mere two weeks before the conference, planned months earlier in consultation with the university, was due to begin.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews was among those Zionist groups that had been urging the university to cancel the event. Its president, Vivian Wineman, said:

'It is formulated in extremist terms, has attracted toxic speakers and is likely to result in an increase in anti-Semitism and tension on campus.'

The Telegraph reported that 'at least two major patrons of the university were considering withdrawing their financial support. One is a charitable foundation, the other a wealthy family.'

There was also fierce criticism from several politicians at Westminster. Mark Hoban, the Conservative MP for Fareham, described the conference as a 'provocative, hard-line, one-sided forum that would question and delegitimize the existence of a democratic state.' Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said the university risked bringing itself into disrepute by hosting what she described as 'an apparently one-sided event'.

A senior government minister even got involved. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities, derided the conference as a 'one-sided diatribe'. He went further:

'There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left's bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.'

This was outrageous high-level political interference in free speech. When the university confirmed that it was cancelling the conference, the decision was predictably welcomed by the Israeli embassy in London:

'This was a clear instance of an extremist political campaign masquerading as an academic exercise, and it is only right to recognise that respecting free speech does not mean tolerating intolerance.'

Michael Gove, the Government Chief Whip and former Secretary of State for Education, could barely contain his glee:

'It was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest.'

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 08 Apr 2015 06:17:31 +0000
Love For Libya: 2011-2015 http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/789-love-for-libya-2011-2015.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/789-love-for-libya-2011-2015.html

 

Islamic State's horrific mass beheading of 21 Coptic Christians last month forced a reluctant UK media system to return to Libya, scene of saturation news coverage in 2011.

Then, the media lens hovered obsessively over every Libyan government crime – indeed, over every alleged and even predicted crime - in an effort to justify a Nato 'intervention' that was supported by most media and 557 British MPs, with just 13 opposed.

'We have to do something', we were told. The results are summed up by the single fact that 'about 1.8 million Libyans - nearly a third of the country's population - have fled to Tunisia'. Civilians have been 'driven away by random shelling and shooting, as well as shortages of cash, electricity and fuel', with conditions 'only worsening', the New York Times reports.

Today, as many as 1,700 armed gangs are fighting over a country in which at least five governments have tried and failed to restore basic order. Djiby Diop, a 20-year-old from Senegal who spent three months amidst the chaos, explains:

'Everyone in Libya is armed now. Every guy of my age has a gun. If you don't work for them, they shoot you. If you don't give them all your money, they shoot you. Or they shoot you just for fun. Or they will throw you in prison and you have to pay 400 dinars (£200) to get released.'

Or in the words of Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration:

'It's complete anarchy in Libya and it has become very, very dangerous for migrants.'

One consequence is that thousands of Libyan refugees are risking their lives in rough winter seas as they try to reach Italy. The bad weather and small vessels mean the journey, frequently forced at gunpoint, is 'like a death sentence'.

According to the New York Times, the fighting has damaged Libya's oil exports so severely that 'there is now a risk that the country's currency and economy will soon collapse'. Musbah Alkari, manager of the reserves department at the Central Bank of Libya, warns:

'A currency collapse is less than two years away.'

The atrocity by Islamic State terrorists took place in Sirte, a city of 100,000 people that was reduced to a smoking ruin by Nato's terror flyers in 2011. The BBC reported in 2012 that it was 'hard to find a building undamaged by bullets or shells'. Or indeed bombs.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 18 Mar 2015 07:55:03 +0000
‘A Conspiracy Of Silence’ – HSBC, The Guardian And The Defrauded British Public http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/788-a-conspiracy-of-silence-hsbc-the-guardian-and-the-defrauded-british-public.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/788-a-conspiracy-of-silence-hsbc-the-guardian-and-the-defrauded-british-public.html

The corporate media have swiftly moved on from Peter Oborne's resignation as chief political commentator at the Telegraph and his revelations that the paper had committed 'a form of fraud' on its readers over its coverage of HSBC tax evasion.

But investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has delved deeper into the HSBC scandal, reporting the testimony of a whistleblower that reveals a 'conspiracy of silence' encompassing the media, regulators and law-enforcement agencies. Not least, Ahmed's work exposes the vanity of the Guardian's boast to be the world's 'leading liberal voice'.

Last month, the corporate media, with one notable exception, devoted extensive coverage to the news that the Swiss banking arm of HSBC had been engaged in massive fraudulent tax evasion. The exception was the Telegraph which, as Oborne revealed, was desperate to retain advertising income from HSBC.

But now Ahmed reports another 'far worse case of HSBC fraud totalling an estimated £1 billion, closer to home'. Moreover, it has gone virtually unnoticed by the corporate media, for all the usual reasons.

According to whistleblower Nicholas Wilson, HSBC was 'involved in a fraudulent scheme to illegally overcharge British shoppers in arrears for debt on store cards at leading British high-street retailers' including B&Q, Dixons, Currys, PC World and John Lewis. Up to 600,000 Britons were defrauded.

Wilson uncovered the crimes while he was head of debt recovery for Weightmans, a firm of solicitors acting on behalf of John Lewis. But when he blew the whistle, his employer sacked him. He has spent 12 years trying to expose this HSBC fraud and to help obtain justice for the victims. The battle has 'ruined his life', he said during a brief appearance on the BBC's The Big Questions, the only 'mainstream' coverage to date.

Ahmed writes that the 'most disturbing' aspect of 'HSBC's fraud against British consumers' is that it 'has been systematically ignored by the entire British press'.

He adds:

'In some cases, purportedly brave investigative journalism outfits have spent months investigating the story, preparing multiple drafts, before inexplicably spiking publication without reason.'

Examples include BBC Panorama, BBC Newsnight, BBC Moneybox, BBC Radio 5 Live, the Guardian, Private Eye and the Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times is the most recent example. A couple of weeks ago, the paper had a big exposé on the HSBC consumer credit fraud ready to go. But it was 'inexplicably dropped' at the last minute. Ahmed writes:

'HSBC happens to be the main sponsor of a series of Sunday Times league tables published for FastTrack 100 Ltd., a "networking events company." The bank is the "title sponsor" of The Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100, has been "title sponsor of The Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 for all 6 years" and was previously "title sponsor of The Sunday Times Top Track 250 for 7 years."'

Ahmed reports that the Sunday Times journalist preparing the spiked story did not respond to a query asking for an explanation.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Thu, 05 Mar 2015 02:15:00 +0000
'Corrosive, Shallow, Herd-Like And Gross' - Peter Oborne And The Corporate Media http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/787-peter-oborne.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/787-peter-oborne.html

 

Last week, Peter Oborne resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, writing:

'The Telegraph's recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers.'

And yet Oborne is no radical. He describes how, five years ago, he was invited to join the newspaper:

'It was a job I was very proud to accept. The Telegraph has long been the most important conservative-leaning newspaper in Britain, admired as much for its integrity as for its superb news coverage.'

Our perception is very different. Whenever we have researched media reaction to the West's numerous wars, bombing campaigns and other 'interventions', the Telegraph's position has been wearily predictable. We know, even before we fire up the Lexis newspaper search engine, what the Telegraph's response will be to government claims that 'we' need to 'intervene' in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq (again). See here.

Worse still, the Telegraph has the ugliest record of all UK media on arguably the most important issue of our time – the business-led suppression of the truth of imminent climate disaster. Research on climate scepticism published in the journal Environmental Communication found:

'The Express and the Telegraph accounted for over half the articles with skeptical voices within them (43 out of 79)... the Telegraph had the highest presence of skeptical voices of any newspaper at 13%.'

Oborne, by contrast, perceives 'a formidable tradition of political commentary' in a newspaper that 'is confident of its own values'. The Telegraph explains:

'Foremost among those values is a belief in free enterprise and free markets. We are proud to be the champion of British business and enterprise.'

This leaves Oborne's view far behind, taking us closer to US journalist Glenn Greenwald's description of the UK media as 'corrosive, shallow, herd-like and gross'.

Oborne began his criticism of the Telegraph by lambasting the publishing of a story, known to be false, about 'a woman with three breasts', included because it would boost 'the number of online visits'. But he went far beyond the problem of silly 'churnalism':

'It has long been axiomatic in quality British journalism that the advertising department and editorial should be kept rigorously apart. There is a great deal of evidence that, at the Telegraph, this distinction has collapsed.'

Specifically:

'It has been placing what it perceives to be the interests of a major international bank above its duty to bring the news to Telegraph readers.'

Oborne added:

'From the start of 2013 onwards stories critical of HSBC were discouraged. HSBC suspended its advertising with the Telegraph... HSBC, as one former Telegraph executive told me, is "the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend".'

And so, naturally enough:

'Winning back the HSBC advertising account became an urgent priority. It was eventually restored after approximately 12 months. Executives say that [Telegraph Media Group CEO] Murdoch MacLennan was determined not to allow any criticism of the international bank. "He would express concern about headlines even on minor stories," says one former Telegraph journalist. "Anything that mentioned money-laundering was just banned, even though the bank was on a final warning from the US authorities. This interference was happening on an industrial scale."'

Crucially, Oborne made 'a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole':

'It is not only the Telegraph that is at fault here. The past few years have seen the rise of shadowy executives who determine what truths can and what truths can't be conveyed across the mainstream media.'

As we will see, this 'second and even more important point' has been almost completely ignored by journalists commenting on Oborne's resignation.

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 25 Feb 2015 10:05:01 +0000
Conundrum – Syriza, Democracy And The Death Of A Saudi Tyrant http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/786-conundrum-syriza-democracy-and-the-death-of-a-saudi-tyrant.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/786-conundrum-syriza-democracy-and-the-death-of-a-saudi-tyrant.html

It's always a tricky moment for the corporate media when a foreign leader dies. The content and tone need to be appropriate, moulded to whether that leader fell into line with Western policies or not. Thus, when Venezuela's Hugo Chavez died in 2013, conventional coverage strongly suggested he had been a dangerous, quasi-dictatorial, loony lefty. For instance, the Guardian's Rory Carroll, the paper's lead reporter on Venezuela from 2006-2012, appeared to let slip his own personal view on Chavez when he wrote:

'To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.'

By contrast, the sociologist and independent Venezuela expert Gregory Wilpert praised Chavez's 'tremendous legacy' and 'many achievements'. These included nationalising large parts of the private oil industry to pay for new social programs to tackle inequality, much-needed land reform, and improved education and public housing.

When the genuinely dangerous, neocon ideologue and Cold War fanatic Ronald Reagan died, his appalling legacy - not least his blood-soaked support for brutal regimes in Latin America - was burnished to a high sheen, presenting the former US president as a stalwart defender of Western 'values'. For the Guardian's editors:

'Mr Reagan made America feel good about itself again. [...] He gave American conservatism a humanity and hope that it never had in the Goldwater or Nixon eras...'

Coverage of the death of Saudi Arabian dictator King Abdullah on January 23 fits the usual pattern. Given the Saudi kingdom's longstanding role as a key US client state in the Middle East, in particular the West's dependence on the country for oil and as a market for arms sales, coverage was pitched to reflect a suitably skewed version of reality. Thus, news articles and broadcasts dutifully relayed the standard rhetoric of US Secretary of State John Kerry who declared:

'This is a sad day. The United States has lost a friend ... and the world has lost a revered leader. King Abdullah was a man of wisdom and vision.'

As Keane Bhatt of the US media watchdog FAIR pointed out, Kerry's distasteful words were cover for a brutal tyrant 'whose regime routinely flogs dissenters and beheads those guilty of "sorcery"'. Amnesty reports that more than 2,000 people were executed in Saudi Arabia between 1985 and 2013:

'It is absolutely shocking to witness the Kingdom's authorities' callous disregard to fundamental human rights. The use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe.'

Writer Anas Abbas observed that when it comes to the barbarity of crime and punishment, there is little to choose between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State.

Human Rights Watch notes that despite modest Saudi reforms, women and ethnic minorities still suffer from an 'enforced subservient status' and discrimination against women remains entrenched. Human rights violations continue to take place against Saudi Arabia's nine million domestic migrant workers. 

According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest customer for weaponry, with over £5.5 billion worth of arms in the five and a half years from January 2008 to June 2012. 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...'

Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn points to Saudi Arabia's critical role in the rise of Isis, 'stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world.' He adds:

'15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, as was Bin Laden and most of the private donors who funded the operation.'

Abdullah was also an accomplice to US war crimes in the Middle East, not least the invasion of Iraq which 'relied upon secret, extensive Saudi military assistance'. Moreover, a classified cable from the US embassy in Riyadh, published by WikiLeaks, referred to 'the king's frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran', with Abdullah appealing to American officials 'to cut off the head of the snake'.

Murtaza Hussain, a journalist at The Intercept, notes that:

'in the case of almost every Arab Spring uprising, Saudi Arabia attempted to intervene forcefully in order to either shore up existing regimes or shape revolutions to conform with their own interests.'

For example:

'In Bahrain, Saudi forces intervened to crush a popular uprising which had threatened the rule of the ruling al-Khalifa monarchy...'

President Obama turned a blind eye to all of this when he praised 'King Abdullah's vision' which was dedicated 'to greater engagement with the world.'

So how did the BBC, the global paragon of 'impartial' news, respond to King Abdullah's death?

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:48:19 +0000
Feral Journalism - Rewilding Dissent http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/785-feral-journalism-rewilding-dissent.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/785-feral-journalism-rewilding-dissent.html

One of the weirdest features of contemporary culture is the way even the best corporate journalists write as though under enemy occupation.

Journalists admit, even in public, but particularly in private, that there is much they just cannot say. As Noam Chomsky has noted, the best investigative reporters 'regard the media as a sham' trying to 'play it like a violin: If they see a little opening they'll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn't make it through'.

Of course, the truth of the sham is one of the 'tunes' that doesn't get played. While not typically subject to Big Brother-style threats, journalists are keenly aware that they can be swiftly 'disappeared' by the grey, profit-oriented suits draped in hierarchical chains above them.

To his credit, George Monbiot is one of the better journalists who seriously wrestles with his conscience on these issues. The crisis apparent in his writing and in his reaction to criticism – Media Lens 'drives me bananas', he says - is characteristic of someone trying, and failing, to overcome the limits on free speech.

Writing in the Guardian, Monbiot rails against 'the rotten state of journalism' and confesses: 'I hadn't understood just how quickly standards are falling'.

It is a classic moment of semi-quixotic, Monbiotic dissent. The 'rotten state of journalism' could be a reference to the inherent contradictions of a corporate 'free press', the Guardian included. On the other hand, the article has been carefully titled, 'Our "impartial" broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite.' (Our emphasis)

And who is the target when Monbiot notes that 'those who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it'?

These criticisms could also implicate the 'quality' liberal press. But Monbiot quickly scurries down to lower moral ground by supplying specific examples from, who else?, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and everyone's favourite media punch bag, the BBC. The Beeb, of course, is sufficiently different from the Guardian to spare the latter's blushes.

As Monbiot says, the BBC 'grovels to business leaders', supplying '"a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world"'. And this, he notes archly, 'is where people turn when they don't trust the corporate press'. Again, this widens the target for a brief moment before Monbiot concludes:

'Those entrusted to challenge power are the loyalists of power. They rage against social media and people such as Russell Brand, without seeing that the popularity of alternatives is a response to their own failures'.

But he points away from his own employer:

'If even the public sector broadcasters parrot the talking points of the elite, what hope is there for informed democratic choice?'

The concluding comments are ironic indeed, for while the Guardian does host Brand's output, it has also led the ferocious liberal assault on his reputation, as we noted here. And it has performed the same role in attacking Julian Assange, Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky and many other dissidents.

On the face of it, Monbiot would appear to be rationally and ethically obliged to remind his readers that the paper hosting his condemnation of broadcast media is itself a prime example of the problem he is describing. We tweeted him:

'"Those entrusted to challenge power are the loyalists of power." Isn't that also true of Guardian/Independent journalists?'

And:

'Also true of journos who write, "Our broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite", without mentioning their own media?'

Monbiot did not respond. A fellow tweeter, however, chirruped back:

'undoubtedly true, but even GM [Monbiot] can't stop sea levels rise. Besides, no job no platform. He's an ally, even if works for Graun.'

And:

'GM written an article I am sure you agree with? Unrealistic to expect direct criticism of his employer. Be happy!'

This is pretty much what we receive every time we challenge a 'mainstream' dissident: they are doing their best within the constraints of the system; we should support rather than criticise them.

From this perspective, rational questions, even polite challenges, are viewed as a betrayal of 'solidarity'. This might be arguable if the world was making steady, positive progress rather than hurtling to hell in a climate-denying handcart. But anyway, as Glenn Greenwald writes:

'Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement.'

]]>
editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:37:10 +0000