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Guardian-Friendly Omissions

In his latest book, This Land: The Story of a Movement ((Penguin, ebook version, 2020.)), the Guardian’s Owen Jones charts the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jones depicts Corbyn as a ‘scruffy,’ (p. 8), ‘unkempt’ (p. 50), thoroughly shambolic backbench MP, ‘the most unlikely’ (p. 50) of contenders for the Labour leadership. In May 2015, Corbyn reluctantly dipped his toe in the water of the leadership contest, saying: ‘You better make fucking sure I don’t get elected’ (p. 54), only to be swept away on a tide of popular support.

As this suggests, Jones argues that while Corbyn was indeed relentlessly savaged by forces both inside and outside the Labour Party – including the ‘mainstream’ media, with ‘profound hostility’ from ‘the publicly funded, professedly impartial’ BBC (p. 68) – he was out of his depth, his team making constant, massive mistakes from which all progressives must learn. It is not at all inevitable, Jones says, that future leftist movements need suffer the same fate.

Much of this analysis is interesting and useful; Jones interviewed 170 insiders closest to the action, ‘people at the top of the Labour Party right down to grassroots activists’, who supply important insights on key events.

Jones portrays himself as someone who fundamentally agrees with much that motivated Corbyn, emphasising that his disagreement lies in tactics and strategy. But, once again, we note a remarkable pattern of omissions in the work of Jones, an ostensibly outspoken, unconstrained leftist, and by his serious misreading of the antisemitism furore that engulfed Corbyn.

Jones recognises that people loved Corbyn because, unusually for a UK politician, he was made of flesh rather than PR plastic; he told the truth:

‘While other contenders refused to give direct answers to questions, and were caught squirming between their principles and their political compromises, he spoke with immediacy – sometimes rambling, always authentic, always passionate.’ (p. 57)

Ironically, Jones does plenty of his own ‘squirming’ between ‘principles’ and ‘political compromises’ as he airbrushes out of existence facts, views and voices that are consistently and conspicuously Guardian-unfriendly. He writes:

‘Corbynism… was woven together from many disparate strands: from people who marched against the Iraq war in 2003’ to people hit by the ‘trebling of college tuition fees in 2010’ and ‘the millions more frightened by a looming climate emergency’. (p. 10)

Above all, of course, ‘Corbyn’s entire career had been devoted to foreign affairs’. (p. 29) Andrew Murray of the union, Unite commented: ‘Corbyn was very prominent in the anti-war movement.’ (p. 33)

Thus, deep popular outrage at the Iraq war is key in understanding Corbyn’s popularity. And yet, in discussing this central feature of the movement, Jones makes no mention at all of Julian Assange (or WikiLeaks), of Noam Chomsky, or John Pilger – the most important anti-war voices – exactly as he made no mention of them in his previous book, The Establishment, published in 2014.

Jones has not mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in the last twelve months. Indeed, his sole substantive mention came in April 2019.

Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, but Jones mentions NATO’s catastrophic, 2011 war on Libya, opposed by Corbyn, once in passing, noting merely that Labour MP Chris Williamson had ‘supported the war in Libya’. (p. 251)

Jones’ previous book, The Establishment, published three years after NATO’s assault, similarly granted ‘Libya’ a single mention, noting that UK voters were ‘Weary of being dragged by their rulers into disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya…’.1. (See our discussion.)

The fact that the US-UK assault resulted in mass death, ethnic cleansing, mass displacement for millions of Libyans and the destruction of the entire country was not mentioned in either book.

Elsewhere, Jones has been more forthright. In February 2011, with NATO ‘intervention’ clearly looming, he tweeted:

‘I hope it’s game over for Gaddafi. A savage dictator once tragically embraced by me on left + lately western governments and oil companies.’2

On 20 March 2011, one day after NATO bombing had begun, like someone writing for the ‘Soaraway Sun’, Jones commented:

‘Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive.’3

Similarly, in 2012, Jones reacted to news of the killings of Syrian ministers in a bomb explosion with:

‘Adios, Assad (I hope).’4

After all, Jones tweeted, ‘this is a popular uprising, not arriving on the back of western cruise missiles, tanks and bullets’.4

As was very obvious then and indisputable now, Jones was badly mistaken.  The West, directly and via regional allies, played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had become embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’.5

As though tweeting from the NATO playbook, the same Guardian columnist now analysing the peace movement supporting Corbyn, wrote:

‘I’m promoting the overthrow of illegitimate and brutal dictatorships by their own people to establish democracies.’4

In This Land, Jones mentions Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war in famine-stricken Yemen exactly once, again in passing:

‘…Labour MPs refused to back Corbyn’s call for a UN investigation into alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen’. (p. 81)

There is no mention of the UK’s support for these crimes since 2011, no discussion of the horrors the UK has inflicted (See our discussion). The word ‘Yemen’ was unmentioned in Jones’ previous book in 2014. To his credit, he has written several Guardian pieces on the war in Yemen, the most recent in 2018.

Gaza was mentioned once, in passing, in Jones’ previous book and three times, in passing, in This Land. Our media database search found that, since he joined the Guardian in March 2014, Jones has made three substantive mentions of Gaza, in 2014 (a philosophical piece focusing on ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, with few facts about the situation in Gaza) a brief piece here, and one in 2018 (with a single paragraph on Gaza).

This Land simply ignores the Western propaganda wars on Iran and Venezuela.

Remarkably, while recognising the role of climate fears in the rise of Corbyn and discussing the UK’s ‘Climate Camp’ in the late 2000s, Jones makes no mention of Extinction Rebellion or of Greta Thunberg, both strongly supported by Corbyn, further fuelling popular support for his cause.

There is no mention of the Guardian’s lead role in destroying Corbyn; although, ironically, Jones does celebrate the fact that, ‘I wrote the first pro-Corbyn column to appear in the mainstream media: a Guardian piece’. (p. 53)

The silence is unsurprising. In 2017, Jones tweeted:

‘I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column.’6

He wasn’t joking:

‘Guardian colleagues aren’t supposed to have these public spats…’

Of his own opposition to Corbyn, in the Guardian and elsewhere, Jones writes:

‘Although I voted for him again in 2016, I had a period of disillusionment before the [June 2017] general election – something which still riles his most ardent supporters.’ (p. 14)

In fact, the ‘period of disillusionment’ was extensive and began long before the 2017 election. In July 2016, fully one year earlier, Jones wrote:

‘As Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by cheering crowds, Labour generally, and the left specifically, are teetering on the edge of looming calamity.’

He added:

‘As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster. Many of you won’t thank me now. But what will you say when you see the exit poll at the next general election and Labour is set to be wiped out as a political force?’

Similar comments followed in February, March and April 2017. For example:

‘My passionate and sincere view is Jeremy Corbyn should stand down as soon as possible in exchange for another left-wing MP being allowed to stand on for leadership in his place: all to stop both Labour and the left imploding, which is what is currently on the cards.’7

Blaming The Victim – The Great, Fake Antisemitism Scandal

Time and again, Jones criticises the Corbyn leadership for failing to deal adequately with antisemitism claims: ‘there was no coherent strategy within the leader’s office on how to tackle claims of antisemitism’. (p. 227)

While Jones accepts that there were ‘bad-faith actors opposed to Corbyn’s policies’, his emphasis is focused elsewhere: ‘ultimately there were severe and repeated errors by the leadership, which resulted from those two characteristic failings: a lack of both strategy and emotional intelligence’. (p. 254)

Remarkably, Jones concludes that the crisis ‘need never have happened’. (p. 254)

This is nonsense. The crisis had to happen because sufficiently powerful forces within the Labour Party and Conservative Party, and across the corporate media ‘spectrum’, were determined to make it happen.

Compare Jones’ account with that of Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:

‘Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’

He added:

‘Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.’

Jones accepts that ‘the former leadership and the vast majority of Labour’s membership abhor antisemitism’, arguing that the problem lay with a ‘small minority’. (p. 254) But Jones does not cite an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found:

‘Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.’

And he does not cite a September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which found:

‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’

Instead, Jones pours scorn on leftists who ‘still were in denial, claiming that the antisemitism crisis had been entirely manufactured by a media “out to get” Corbyn…’ (p. 254)

Rational commentators have always accepted that antisemitism exists within the Labour Party. The point is that making that ugly reality a ‘crisis’ specifically for Labour, rather than for other parties and other sectors of society, and above all making it a ‘crisis’ for Corbyn – reviled as a dangerous antisemite – was entirely manufactured.

Jones cites ‘the passionately anti-Corbyn editor of the Jewish Chronicle’, Stephen Pollard, who grotesquely claimed to perceive ‘nudge, nudge’ (p. 253) antisemitism in one of Corbyn’s self-evidently anti-capitalist critiques. Such outlandish claims, Jones notes, only encouraged leftists to believe the whole furore was a smear campaign:

‘It was a vicious circle, and it turned to nobody’s benefit – least of all Corbyn’s, while causing more hurt and distress to Jewish people.’ (p. 253, our emphasis)

But this is absurd. Quite obviously, the smear campaign was to the very real benefit of the political and media forces trying to crush Corbyn’s version of socialism.

The claims targeting Corbyn were fake and they depended on ignoring as non-existent a mountain of evidence indicating that Corbyn is a passionate, committed and very active anti-racist. What is so outrageous is that this was accepted by essentially everyone before Corbyn stood for the leadership in 2015. As Jones comments:

‘Anti-racism is core to Corbyn’s sense of identity. He believes, proudly, that he has fought oppression all his life, so being labelled a racist was a cause of profound personal trauma to him.’ (p. 228)

Corbyn’s chief of staff, Karie Murphy, commented on the impact of the smear campaign:

‘This was a man who was beyond broken-hearted, that, as a proud antiracist campaigner, he was being accused of racism. So he was paralysed… It wasn’t true – no one will convince me that he has an antisemitic bone in his body…’ (p. 242)

Genuine racists are not left ‘beyond broken-hearted’ by claims that they are racist. They are not ‘paralysed’ by a sense of injustice and grief.

Jones comments on Corbyn: ‘no one close to him believes for a moment that he would ever willingly associate with a Holocaust denier’. (p. 222) And Corbyn ‘could point to an extensive record opposing antisemitism and showing pro-Jewish solidarity’ (p. 221). Jones lists some of Corbyn’s efforts in this regard: helping to organise a counter-mobilisation to a demonstration by National Front fascists in the so-called Battle of Wood Green in 1977; taking part in a campaign to save a Jewish cemetery from being sold off to property developers in 1987, calling on the British government to settle Yemeni Jewish refugees in 2010.

Before the sheer intensity of propaganda caused most commentators to find truth in lies, Corbyn’s deep-rooted opposition to racism was simply unquestioned. Chris Mullin, who did not vote for Corbyn to either become or remain leader, commented:

‘I’ve always liked him as long as I’ve known him. He’s a thoroughly decent human being, almost a saintly man.’ (p. 30)

As Jones writes of Corbyn at the time he stood for the leadership in 2015:

‘Corbyn had no personal enemies. Everyone liked him. Relentlessly cheerful, endlessly generous with his opponents, he exuded integrity.’ (pp. 50-51)

Despite this, Jones says of the antisemitism crisis:

‘The damage to Corbyn’s Labour was grievous. The crisis led to months of media coverage.’ (p. 254)

In fact, the media coverage was the crisis! It was this real crisis that was the cause of the ‘crisis’. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ was just one more fabrication by an awesomely corrupt and immoral media system willing to throw, not just the kitchen sink, but – God help us! – Nazi gas chambers at Corbyn.

The key to understanding the anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was explained by Jones himself:

‘Anybody who knows anything about the British press knows that it is almost unique in the Western world for its level of commitment to aggressively defending and furthering right-wing partisan politics… the media onslaught that greeted his [Corbyn’s] leadership win in 2015 was as predictable as it was unrelentingly hostile.’ (p. 67)

Jones lists only a few of the endlessly fabricated stories used to smear Corbyn: he supposedly planned to ‘abolish’ the army, refused to bow his head on Remembrance Day, danced happily on Remembrance Day, didn’t sing the national anthem loudly enough, and so on. The London School of Economics reported in 2016:

‘the British press systematically delegitimised Jeremy Corbyn as a political leader’ through a ‘process of vilification that went beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy’. (p. 68)

Corbyn’s great anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was a non-story, a fabricated non-event, a Soviet-style propaganda smear. Sufficient numbers of people wanted it to be true because they wanted to be rid of Corbyn. Everyone else bowed their heads to avoid being subject to the same career-destroying smears.

Jones often mentions Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite Union, in This Land. McCluskey commented in the New Statesman last week on Corbyn’s press chief Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy:

‘Having given a brilliant and detailed polemic of the history of anti-Semitism, he [Jones] veers away to lay blame at the [door of] Milne and Murphy, based on a distorted view of what it was like trying to deal with the constant daily attacks.

‘When you are in a war – and be under no illusion, from day one of his leadership, Corbyn was subjected to an internal and external war – you develop methods of defence and attack that change by necessity almost on a daily, if not hourly basis.  Being in your living room, observing with a typewriter, is a damn sight easier than being in the ditches on the front line, trying to dodge bullets flying at you from all angles, especially from your own side.’

Establishment forces were out to destroy Corbyn with antisemitism, or whatever else they could think of, no matter what he did, how he replied. And it worked. The incompetence of Corbyn’s team may have made things worse, but the truth that matters is that a form of ruthless fascism arose out of British society to crush an attempt to create a more democratic politics.

Needless to say, Jones has not one word to say about the lead role of his employer, the Guardian, in the antisemitism smear campaign.

Conclusion

Why do we focus so intensely on popular progressives like Owen Jones, George Monbiot and loveable, NATO-loving loon Paul Mason?

The reason is that they breathe life into the faded dream that progressive change can be achieved by working within and for profit-maximising corporations that are precisely the cause of so many of our crises. Even the best journalists cannot tell the truth within these undemocratic systems of top-down power. As Jones freely admits, they have to compromise, to self-censor. Guardian colleagues may not be criticised! Ultimately, they have to compromise in ways that allow the state-corporate status quo to thunder on.

Our most celebrated public radicals – almost all of them made famous by corporate media – function as dissident vaccines that inoculate the public against a pandemic of authentic dissent.

Corporate media are careful to incorporate a tiny bit of progressive poison, so that we all hang around for a whole lot of propaganda-drenched news and commentary, and a perma-tsunami of unanswered corporate advertising persuading us that status consumption, status production and paper-thin concern for the problems of our world are all there is.

Ultimately, corporate dissidents are the final nail in the corporate coffin, normalising the blind, patently doomed rush to disaster called ‘business as usual.’

  1. Owen Jones, The Establishment:  And how they get away with it, Penguin, 2014, p. 275.
  2. Jones, Twitter, 20 February 2011.
  3. Jones, ‘The case against bombing Libya’, Left Futures, March 2011.
  4. Jones, Twitter, 18 July 2012.
  5. Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, ‘Behind the sudden death of a $1 billion secret C.I.A. war in Syria’, New York Times, 2 August 2017.
  6. Jones, Twitter, 19 November 2017.
  7. Jones: ‘“I don’t enjoy protesting – I do it because the stakes are so high”’, Evening Standard, 3 February 2017.

The post Guardian-Friendly Omissions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“None Of It Reported”: How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial

One of the most imposing features of state-corporate propaganda is its incessant, repetitive nature. Over and over again, the ‘mainstream’ media have to convince the public that ‘our’ government prioritises the health, welfare and livelihoods of the general population, rather than the private interests of an elite stratum of society that owns and runs all the major institutions, banks, corporations and media.

We are constantly bombarded by government ministers and their media lackeys telling us that ‘our’ armed forces require huge resources, at public expense, to maintain the country’s ‘peace’ and ‘security’. We do not hear so much about the realpolitik of invading, bombing or otherwise ‘intervening’ in other countries with military force, diplomatic muscle, and bribes of trade and aid deals to carve up natural resources and markets for the benefit of a few.

For those old enough to remember 2002-2003, who can forget the endless repeated rhetoric of the ‘threat’ posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, of how his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ could be launched within 45 minutes of his order, and how ‘we’ simply had to remove him from power? Or how, in 2011, the US, UK and France had to launch ‘humanitarian intervention’ to stop the ‘mass slaughter’ of civilians by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. And on and on.

Moreover, the public is saturated by obsequious ‘news’ about the royal family, allowing for the odd scandal now and again, to convince us of their ‘relevance’, the ‘great work’ they do for the country, not least ‘boosting the tourism industry’, and their supposedly vital role in maintaining a ‘stable society’ steeped in tradition and rich history.

But when it comes to arguably the most important political trial in our lifetimes, there is a not-so-curious media reluctance to dwell on it or even mention it, never mind grant it the kind of blanket coverage that celebrity trials regularly generate.

Thus, media attention given to the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor, was minimal and dwarfed by the coverage devoted to the actor Johnny Depp over the summer.

We monitored BBC News at Ten, the main evening BBC news programme on BBC1, during the four weeks of the Assange hearing. As far as we could tell, there was not a single substantive item (there may have been passing mention on the first day). We observed that the last time Paul Royall, the editor of BBC News at Ten, had mentioned Assange in his daily tweets giving the running order for that evening’s News at Ten was in November 2019. We challenged Royall politely several times on Twitter, but received no response. We received the same non-response from deputy editor Lizzi Watson and her colleague Jonathan Whitaker.

We also challenged Daniel Sandford, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent whose remit, according to his Twitter bio, includes law.

We asked him:

‘Hello @BBCDanielS

‘As Home Affairs Correspondent for @BBCNews, where is your reporting of the #JulianAssange extradition hearing?’

To his credit, Sandford did at least respond, unlike the majority of his BBC colleagues in recent years. He told us:

‘The case is being covered by our World Affairs unit. I have been in a few hearings, and it is slightly repetitive at the moment. It will return as a news story.’

Those words – ‘slightly repetitive’ – look destined to become Sandford’s journalistic epitaph. Ironically, they have been endlessly repeated back to him by members of the public who were understandably incredulous, perplexed, irritated or even angry at his dismissive response to Assange’s ordeal and the huge implications of the trial.

We asked Sandford why he had never mentioned the testimony of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture:

‘Thanks for replying. The UN’s @NilsMelzer notes that “the case is a battle over press freedom, the rule of law & the future of democracy, none of which can coexist with secrecy”. Surely the requirement of impartiality means you should report this; not wait until it is too late?’

We received no further response from the BBC correspondent. However, Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, followed up our challenge and told Sandford:

‘I find this disappointing, Daniel. Repetitive or not, the public needs to know what is happening in these proceedings. And meanwhile – NGOs have been barred access. I can only get in thanks to the support of a network of grassroots activists queuing from 5 am over four weeks.’

Sandford bristled:

‘So you decided to join the pile-on too Rebecca? Thank you. I politely explained to @medialens why I personally was not covering the case and added that I had attended some hearings from personal interest, and explained why it is not news every day. But you are disappointed?’

‘Pile-on’ is the pejorative term used when a journalist receives critical replies from the public. Unfortunately, Sandford had received some abuse, but most people made polite and rational points. As we have learned over the years, most journalists hate being challenged by informed members of the public. And any instances of abuse – usually in the minority – are often leaned upon as an excuse to ignore or dismiss all challenges.

The home affairs correspondent continued:

‘I don’t have great influence over what is covered each day except on those stories I am working on, but press freedom does include the freedom for a news organisation to decide what should be included in the news each day.’

Rebecca Vincent replied again:

‘Which very often does not seem to include stories of massively egregious press freedom violations – that will in turn set a precedent affecting said news organisation. As I said, disappointing.’

Teymoor Nabili, a former news presenter on Al Jazeera, BBC and CNBC, replied to Sandford:

‘That’s a particularly bizarre reading of “press freedom”’

Indeed. In the ‘mainstream’ media – BBC News included – ‘press freedom’ amounts to publishing power-friendly ‘news’ articles, biased ‘analysis’ and commentary, and diversionary pabulum and tittle-tattle.

Journalist Mohammed Elmaazi, who had been reporting daily from the trial, also replied to Sandford:

‘This is probably the most significant case involving press freedom, the right to know and the Rule of Law, in the Western world in half a century, if not more so. Though as an individual reporter I wouldn’t hold you personally responsible for BBC’s coverage (or lack thereof).’

As John McEvoy noted in a piece on The Canary website:

‘To write about the greatest press freedom case in recent history, it has been necessary to rely almost exclusively on the work of independent journalists.’

An extensive list of these journalists can be found here.

Richard Medhurst, one of the independent journalists reporting the trial, made a powerful short speech outside the Old Bailey on one of the final days. The trial, and the lack of media coverage, was ‘an abomination’, he said. So too was the fact that the West’s war criminals were not even mentioned in court – Tony Blair, George Bush, Jack Straw, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest. In sum, the hearing was:

‘An absolute mockery of any kind of semblance of justice in this country’.

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray concurred when he too spoke outside the Old Bailey, saying of Assange:

‘His ordeal goes on and on. And all because he published the truth. There is no allegation in that court room that anything he published was a lie. Anything he published was true. And much of that truth revealed terrible crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity, and lies and corruption by government. And not one of the people who committed those war crimes is on trial anywhere. Instead we have the man who had the courage to reveal those war crimes is the one whose liberty is at stake.’

A Twitter commenter made a point about one of the independent reporters at the trial:

‘Kevin Gosztola has reported more on the Julian Assange extradition trial than the NY Times, WaPo, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC have combined.’

Gosztola, editor of Shadowproof.com website, followed up with:

‘Fact-checked this and it only took a few minutes to confirm #AssangeTrial’

And yet, bizarrely, there was a BBC reporter present throughout the Assange hearing, according to both Rebecca Vincent and James Doleman of Byline Times, who was providing daily trial updates. As Vincent noted:

‘The BBC had a reporter in court (I could see him from the public gallery) who was apparently filing twice a day. There were 18 days of proceedings. Why weren’t more pieces published?’

So, what was happening to the reports that were presumably being submitted by the BBC reporter? Nobody could tell us, including the ever-silent editors of BBC News at Ten.

Investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK have extensively studied numerous aspects of the Assange extradition hearing and published seven articles concerning legal irregularities and conflicts of interest in the case. These articles revealed:

  1. Julian Assange’s judge and her husband’s links to the British military establishment exposed by WikiLeaks
  2. The son of Julian Assange’s judge is linked to an anti-data leak company created by the UK intelligence establishment
  3. Chief magistrate in Assange case received financial benefits from secretive partner organisations of UK Foreign Office
  4. UK minister who approved Trump’s request to extradite Assange spoke at secretive US conferences with people calling for him to be “neutralized”
  5. At risk from coronavirus, Julian Assange is one of just two inmates in Belmarsh maximum-security prison held for skipping bail
  6. UK government refuses to release information about Assange judge who has 96% extradition record
  7. As British judge made rulings against Julian Assange, her husband was involved with right-wing lobby group briefing against WikiLeaks founder

BBC News and other corporate media could certainly not be accused of being at all ‘repetitive’ about such deeply damaging aspects of the extradition hearing.

Observing the court proceedings from the limited space of the public gallery day by day, Murray warned:

‘It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that [magistrate Vanessa] Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.

‘I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.’

Murray added:

‘The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.’

In a superb piece for Consortium News, political commentator Alexander Mercouris demolished the shifting and nonsensical US case for extradition. He nailed the fundamental reason that Washington is pursuing Assange:

‘Julian Assange and his organization WikiLeaks, have done those things which the U.S. government and its national security apparatus most fear, and have worked hardest to prevent, by exposing the terrible reality of much of what the U.S. government now routinely does, and is determined to conceal, and what much of the media is helping the U.S. government to conceal.’

He continued:

‘the true purpose of the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of Assange is to prevent him from exposing more of its crimes, and to punish him for exposing those of its crimes which he did expose, if only so as to deter others from doing the same thing, is perfectly obvious to any unbiased and realistic observer.’

Mercouris added:

‘Assange and WikiLeaks have exposed rampant war crimes and human rights abuses over the course of illegal wars waged by the U.S. government and its allies.  The death toll from these wars runs at the very least into the tens of thousands, and more plausibly into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.’

In conclusion:

‘In other words, it is Assange and his sources, first and foremost Chelsea Manning, who are the defenders of international law, including the Nuremberg Principles, and including in the case which is currently underway, whilst it is those who persecute them, including by bringing the current case against Assange, who are international law’s violators.

‘This is the single most important fact about this case, and it explains everything about it.’

At the end of the trial, RT’s Afshin Rattansi noted:

‘English magistrate Vanessa Baraitser declares at London’s Old Bailey that she will judge on Julian Assange’s extradition to a Virginia Court to face Espionage charges on 4 January 2021. The judgement will impact every journalist in the world.’

We highlighted that last sentence on our Twitter feed, adding:

‘As for stenographers and guardians of power in the “mainstream” media, they can just carry on as before…’

This, of course, is a central reason why state-corporate ‘journalists’ are so disinterested in the trial. The overwhelming majority simply do not – cannot – see themselves threatened by Washington’s assault on real journalism and truth-telling.

Closing Scene: A BBC Man Appears

On the penultimate day of the four-week hearing, the BBC’s avuncular veteran reporter John Simpson turned up (‘Still with BBC after 53 yrs, trying to make sense of a mad world’, says his Twitter bio): someone we had sparred with on the topic of Iraq in the early days of Media Lens.

He tweeted after his day at court:

‘I went to Julian #Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey today.  It will end tomorrow or Friday, with a decision expected in January.  Alarming witness statements today from whistleblowers about the bugging of Assange’s lawyers in Spain.’

Simpson’s comment was not entirely accurate or comprehensive. According to whistleblower testimony presented at the Old Bailey by former employees of UC Global, a Spanish security company, attempts had allegedly been made by the company to bug Assange and his lawyers inside the Ecuador embassy, under the auspices of the CIA. That fact alone should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange, given the supposedly sacrosanct confidentiality of private legal conversations between lawyers and clients. There were even proposals by UC Global to kidnap or poison the WikiLeaks publisher on behalf of the CIA. Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal has done valuable work in exposing all of this, as he detailed in an interview with Deepa Driver of the campaign group Don’t Extradite Assange, and in an extensive article for The Grayzone website.

These shocking details appear never to have surfaced in BBC coverage, such as it was. On October 2 – the day after the hearing had ended – we observed that there had been just four articles published on the website during the hearing. One was a short, bland report of the first day of the case. Two were more ‘human interest’ pieces about Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, and their two children. A fourth piece was titled, ‘Julian Assange: Campaigner or attention seeker’. Perhaps ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’ believes the latter to be the case, thus deciding to all but ignore the hearing and its serious implications for justice, journalism and democracy.

It is worth noting that Stuart Millar is the digital news editor at BBC News, so presumably has responsibility for the website. He is the former head of news at the Guardian. This ‘comical’ tweet about Assange dates from Millar’s time at the Guardian:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

Yet more proof, if any were needed, of the groupthink that prevails among even the most ‘respected’ media outlets. If you need to demonstrate that your media credentials are bona fide – that you are ‘one of us’ – making a ‘joke’ at the expense of Julian Assange is a sure-fire way to show you can be trusted.

It would never do, for example, to give headline coverage to the CIA-instigated spying of Assange in the Ecuador embassy, the torture he is enduring by his incarceration, his parlous mental and physical state, the real risk of suicide should he be extradited to the US, almost certainly being dumped into the ‘hellhole’ of a ‘supermax’ US prison. All of this is to ensure that Assange serves as a warning example to anyone – anywhere in the world – who might dare to publish information that the US government does not wish to be made public.

Such grotesquely disturbing details did not even approach becoming ‘slightly repetitive’ to consumers of BBC News. Instead, they were buried. The BBC could, for instance, have interviewed Fidel Narvaez, former Ecuadorian Consul, to speak about the spying (which took place after Narvaez had been replaced in the embassy, following the election of Ecuador president, Lenin Moreno, who has been bending over backwards to do the US’s bidding under Donald Trump).

BBC journalists, and other ‘mainstream’ reporters could have included something of Noam Chomsky’s five-page submission to the hearing in support of Assange. They could have printed just one line, namely that Assange:

‘has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy’.

Reporters routinely behave as stenographers to power – the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s political editor Robert Peston are prime examples. But to be a stenographer to cogent commentary from Noam Chomsky is, of course, unthinkable. As we pointed out on Twitter on October 2, the day after the hearing ended, Kuenssberg has mentioned Assange a grand total of four times on her Twitter account – all back in 2014. Then, she had asked blankly:

‘What do you think should happen to him?’

Her silence on the extradition hearing spoke volumes: BBC News in a nutshell.

As far as we can tell from Twitter searches, Peston last mentioned Julian Assange on January 29, 2017. When we published a media alert last month that discussed Assange, we challenged Peston and Kuenssberg about their long-term silence on the WikiLeaks founder. Needless to say, they did not reply.

Likewise, other high-profile media figures including the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Huw Edwards, Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson, and Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, kept quiet when we asked them to explain their silence on Assange.

As US comedian Jimmy Dore said:

‘We need everybody exposing war crimes and the crimes of our government… So if you see a newsperson and they’re not screaming about this, the reason why they’re not is because it helps their career.’

‘Free Julian Assange’ campaigner John Mcghee, one of those protesting outside the Old Bailey on the day John Simpson was there, wrote an account of having met the BBC world affairs editor and enjoying a warm friendly exchange:

‘We talked for a few minutes and he revealed to me his incomprehension at the glaring absence of media representatives in or indeed outside the Old Bailey. He was genuinely shocked by the fact that a mainstream media embargo has apparently been imposed on the trial of the century that could sound the death knell for freedom of speech the world over.’

Certainly, some credit is due to John Simpson for reporting on the extradition hearing on that day’s BBC Radio 4 PM Programme. But it was a short segment of just 3 mins, 28 secs near the end of the hour-long programme, and it wasn’t even trailed at the start of PM. Shocked or not, Simpson certainly made no mention of his ‘incomprehension’ at the lack of media coverage.

Moreover, although it included short quotes from Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, and Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, it was a thin piece that even repeated the debunked claim that US agents and informers had been harmed as a result of the work of WikiLeaks and Assange. It missed out so much of importance that was being diligently chronicled daily by Craig Murray. His detailed updates included copious vital facts that were glaringly absent from almost all ‘mainstream’ coverage; in particular BBC News.

Simpson reacted with short shrift (or silence) to those who complained to him on Twitter about the dearth of BBC coverage. He replied to one:

‘So how come I reported on this for the BBC yesterday? Find another conspiracy theory, is my advice.’

We are aware that the BBC did not totally blank Assange. But surely even Simpson could recognise that coverage had been pitifully inadequate given the importance and possible repercussions of the case? No ‘conspiracy theory’ is required. It is simply a fact.

Recently, when Tim Davie, the new BBC director general, tried to make his mark by declaring:

‘We are going to be publishing clear social guidelines… the enforcement policies will be very clear… we’ll be able to take people off Twitter’

he was asked by MPs ‘about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC’. But so far, none of them have asked about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC and have tweeted (or reported) nothing about a hugely significant political trial taking place in this country. It is what John Pilger rightly calls, ‘lying by omission’.

We sent an open tweet to any prospective BBC whistleblowers struggling with their consciences:

‘Most large organisations have whistleblowers who step forward when ethics, conscience and courage prevail.

‘Where are the whistleblowers inside BBC newsrooms? #JulianAssange

Nobody has responded, so far.

‘Shaming’

Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger about the Assange hearing and its ramifications on the Going Underground programme on RT (which, as Twitter is keen to tell everyone, is ‘Russia state-affiliated media’. As yet, BBC News Twitter accounts have not been labelled as ‘UK state-affiliated media’).

Rattansi asked Pilger to respond to Daniel Sandford’s excuse for not reporting on the hearing as it was ‘slightly repetitive’. Pilger said:

‘For that BBC journalist to describe [the hearing] as “repetitive” doesn’t quite leave me speechless. But it leaves me with a sense that it’s over with much of the media.’

He explained:

‘To watch this day after day. This extraordinary, important trial telling us so much about how those who govern us, those who want to control our lives, and what they do to other countries, how they lie to us – watch this day after day and see none of it reported. Or, if you do see it reported, you’ll see something like “Assange told to pipe down” by the judge on a day – he only did this two or three times, I don’t know how he kept his mouth shut – where he stood up and protested at evidence that was clearly false and offensive to him. That was the headline. That was the story of the day.’

One vital example was when Assange was wrongly accused by the prosecution lawyers of having endangered the lives of US agents and their informers in releasing WikiLeaks documents that had not been redacted of names. This endlessly repeated propaganda claim was refuted by the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who testified on behalf of Assange:

‘I have also spoken to [Assange] privately over many hours. During 2010 and 2011, at a time when some of the published material had not yet seen the light of day, I was able to observe [Julian’s] approach. It was the exact opposite of reckless publication and nor would he wilfully expose others to harm.

‘Wikileaks could have published the entirety of the material on receipt. Instead I was able to observe but also to discuss with him the unprecedented steps he initiated, of engaging with conventional media partners, [to maximise] the impact of publication [so] it might [best] affect US government policy and its alteration.’

Award-winning Australian journalist Mark Davis was an eye-witness to the preparation of the Afghan War Logs in 2010 for newspaper publication, documented in Davis’s film, ‘Inside Wikileaks’. Davis spoke at a public meeting in Sydney last year and said that he was present alongside Assange in the Guardian’s ‘bunker’ where a team from the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel worked on the publication of articles based on, as the NYT put it:

‘a six-year archive of classified military documents [that] offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.’

Davis attests that, far from being ‘cavalier’ about releasing documents that might endanger lives, it was:

‘Guardian journalists [who] neglected and appeared to care little about redacting the documents.’

Moreover:

‘They had a “graveyard humour” about people being harmed and no one, he stated emphatically, expressed concern about civilian casualties except Julian Assange.’

Assange had:

‘subsequently requested that the release of the Afghan War Logs be delayed for the purpose of redaction, but the Guardian not only insisted on the agreed date, they abandoned him to redact 10,000 documents alone.’

In fact, Assange worked through the night to do this, after the Guardian journalists had gone home.

Moreover, the claim that lives had been put at risk by WikiLeaks in publishing US cables could not even be substantiated by the US itself. As Patrick Cockburn observed in the Independent:

‘The Pentagon has admitted that it failed to find a single person covertly working for the US who had been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. This failure was not for lack of trying: The Pentagon had set up a special military task force, deploying 120 counter-intelligence officers, to find at least one death that could be blamed on Assange and his colleagues but had found nothing.’

In the same RT interview mentioned earlier, Rattansi asked about the role of the Guardian in the Assange case; something we have documented at length. Pilger summed up their ‘campaign of vilification against Assange, the way they turned on their source, as ‘a disgrace’.

In an interview for the Australian magazine Arena, Pilger expanded on this important component of the Assange story:

‘How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as “investigations editor” and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardianscoop” that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand.’

He continued:

‘Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.’

True to their role as ‘leftist’ Guardian figleaves, neither Owen Jones nor George Monbiot published an article so much as mentioning Julian Assange during the four-week hearing. Jones tweeted ‘support’ by linking back to an article he published in April 2019. Monbiot stumped up the energy to send out three token tweets. But he tweeted nothing about Nils Melzer, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky or the shocking revelations from UC Global whistleblowers about spying on Assange, along with CIA-sponsored plans to kidnap or poison him.

One Twitter user asked:

‘Why are people “spooked” by the Assange case? It’s a genuine question, the media silence is weird, even on the left, @AyoCaesar @AaronBastani @GeorgeMonbiot to name a few.

‘What’s stopping them from screaming this from the rooftops? Are they scared, threatened, what?’

Monbiot at least replied:

‘I’ve tweeted about it many times. But for me it’s one of hundreds of crucial issues, many of which are even more important. It’s terrible, but compared to, say, soil loss, it’s a long way down my list.’

Challenged further about his near-silence, he said:

‘I have nothing to add to what others have already said. I never write about an issue unless I have something new and original to say. It’s not about ticking boxes for me, it’s about expanding the field.’

We responded:

‘What a happy coincidence that @GeorgeMonbiot can find nothing “new and original” to say about Assange, who has been targeted with a ferocious smear campaign by his employer. Try citing @NilsMelzer’s arguments, George, that would be “expanding the field” for most Guardian readers.’

As the former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook noted:

‘Monbiot could have served as a counterweight to the relentless maligning of Assange in the Guardian’s pages by pointing out how these smears were unfounded. Instead he has either echoed those smears, or equivocated on them, or remained silent.’

Cook added:

‘Monbiot is not the free thinker, the fearless investigator of difficult truths, the leftwing conscience he claims to be. It is not really his fault. It is in the nature of the function he serves at the Guardian …He enjoys the freedom to speak out loudly on the dangers of environmental destruction, but that freedom comes at a price – that he closely adhere to the technocratic, liberal consensus on other issues.’

In short:

‘Monbiot, therefore, treads the finest line of all the Guardian’s columnists. His position is the most absurd, the one plagued with the biggest internal contradiction: he must sell extreme environmental concern from within a newspaper that is entirely embedded in the economic logic of the very neoliberal system that is destroying the planet.’

This is supremely relevant to the Assange case. Because if the US wins, then journalism and the public’s ability to know what is going in the world will be even more crushed than they already are. And that spells disaster for avoiding worldwide environmental breakdown in an era of rampant global capitalism.

The post "None Of It Reported": How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The “War Against Us”, The Battle of Britain, And Steve Richards On The Prime Ministers

We can report that the skies over South East England have been swarming with Spitfires and Hurricanes this month. Is there a war on? Well, yes. In 1991, the historian Howard Zinn described the two targets of Operation Desert Storm:

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. 1

The ‘war against us’ doesn’t pause between ‘interventions’. Deeply embedded state-corporate forces relentlessly strive to keep our minds ‘right’ for patriotism, militarism and war, for the idea that ‘we’ are good, civilised while ‘they’ are not.

BBC viewers have been bombarded with commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The ‘finest hour’ has been remembered for us wholesale in many, many hours of high-profile programming:

7 September: BBC 2, ‘Blitz Cities’ (Exploring the effects of the Blitz on London).

7 September. BBC 2: ‘Blitz Cities’ (Liverpool).

9 September: BBC 2, ‘Blitz Cities’ (Norwich).

10 September: BBC 2, ‘Blitz Cities’ (Cardiff and Swansea), presented by John Humphrys.

11 September: BBC 2, ‘Blitz Cities’ (Birmingham).

13 September: BBC 1, ‘Antiques Roadshow, Battle of Britain Special’, presented by Fiona Bruce.

14 September: BBC 1, ‘Bargain Hunt, Battle of Britain Special’.

14 September: BBC 1, ‘The Battle of Britain – Colin and Ewan McGregor retell the story of the conflict.’

Add, of course, the many news reports on commemorations around the country, fly-pasts, and the like.

The ‘Antique Roadshow Battle of Britain Special’ was presented by Fiona Bruce, made famous by reading the BBC News at Ten and BBC News at Six. Since January 2019, Bruce has presented the flagship political discussion programme, ‘Question Time’, on BBC 1. She is one of Britain’s most high-profile political broadcasters.

In the same week that media eyebrows were unmoved by Bruce’s presentation of an unabashedly patriotic programme celebrating Britain’s military triumph in 1940 – a story relentlessly used to promote the myth of UK military benevolence – sports presenter Gary Lineker had his dissident winglets clipped:

Gary Lineker has taken a £400,000 pay cut to remain as host of Match of the Day for the next five years, along with an agreement to be more careful in his use of Twitter to push political causes.

Lineker denied he had been told to ‘tone down’ his tweets. But as former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger once told one of us, ‘they don’t have to be told… It’s understood’.

Understood, but sometimes the understanding needs to be underlined; as was clearly the case when new BBC director general, Tim Davie, commented:

Gary knows that he has responsibilities to the BBC in terms of his use of social media.

Davie could not spell out exactly what ‘responsibilities’ Lineker ‘knows that he has’ because the hypocrisy would be breath-taking. Davie, of course, was referring to the fact that BBC journalists are supposed to be ‘neutral’, ‘objective’ and ‘impartial’. Fiona Bruce grinning broadly from the cockpit of a Spitfire celebrating Britain’s heroic military past is ‘impartial’ because the Establishment – including the military, the arms industry, right-wing political and cultural elites – love it. Ultimately, militant patriotism is ‘impartial’ because ‘might makes right’. Lineker took a public slap on the Twitter wrist from Davie because he has not been ‘impartial’ in exactly this sense.

War Crimes! What War Crimes? Steve Richards’ Book:  The Prime Ministers

Or consider the latest book by journalist Steve Richards, who has presented news programmes for BBC Parliament for many years and who regularly presents BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Week in Westminster’. Despite the title, ‘The Prime Ministers – Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May2, the book, in fact, reviews the careers of prime ministers from Harold Wilson to Boris Johnson.

Richards’ 38-page chapter, ‘David Cameron’, discusses the rise and fall of the Tory leader who inadvertently led Britain down the Brexit rabbit hole. As we’ve seen, the BBC positively carpet bombs viewers with British military heroics; to what extent does Richards discuss Cameron’s crimes in Libya?

Let’s remind ourselves of just what a massive military assault NATO’s 2011, Libyan ‘no fly zone’ ‘intervention’ was. NATO’s ‘Final Mission Stats’ reported that 260 coalition aircraft and 21 ships launched 26,500 raids destroying ‘over 5,900 military targets including over 400 artillery or rocket launchers and over 600 tanks or armored vehicles’.3

As far as we know, none of the 600 tanks were airborne when destroyed by NATO assets maintaining a ‘no fly zone’.

The apocalyptic impact of NATO’s ‘intervention’ is captured by the fact that, by 2014, ‘about 1.8 million Libyans – nearly a third of the country’s population’ had fled to Tunisia. Civilians were ‘driven away by random shelling and shooting, as well as shortages of cash, electricity and fuel’, with conditions ‘only worsening’, the New York Times reported.4

NATO’s war left 1,700 armed gangs fighting for control of the country. Djiby Diop, a 20-year-old from Senegal who spent three months amidst the chaos, explained:

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’.5

Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, described the results of Cameron’s handiwork:

It’s complete anarchy in Libya and it has become very, very dangerous for migrants.6

In 2014, a Libyan’s annual income had decreased from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820.28. The United Nations ranked Libya as the world’s 94th most advanced country in its 2015 index of human development, down from 53rd place in 2010. In 2016, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that out of a total Libyan population of 6.3 million, 2.4 million people required protection and some form of humanitarian assistance.7

One infamous consequence has been that thousands of Libyan refugees escaping the disaster have risked their lives in rough seas to reach Italy. Bad weather and small vessels mean the journey, frequently forced at gunpoint, has often been a death sentence.

Richards is clearly aware, on some level, of the disaster inflicted on Libya by Cameron and Obama. In the introduction to his book, he writes of Cameron:

In opposition he hinted at doubts about the war in Iraq, but as prime minister he authorized air strikes in Libya that led to a similar chaos that arose in post-war Iraq.8

But Richards gives no further details on this Iraq-style ‘chaos’; in fact, this is his only mention of the word ‘Libya’ in the entire book. The country is not mentioned in his chapter on Cameron’s career as prime minister.

We need to pinch ourselves to remember that we are here reviewing the work of an independent, impartial journalist discussing UK responsibility for mass death, ethnic cleansing, torture, vast displacement of populations; in fact, the destruction of an entire country. Nevertheless, by the definition cited above, it is ‘impartial’ for Richards to erase Britain’s great Libya war crime – Tim Davie will have no complaints, no wrists will be slapped.

Obama, Cameron and the other NATO leaders began blitzing Libya on 19 March 2011. Two months later, on 26 May, with the outrageous abuse of the supposed ‘no fly zone’ plain for all to see, Richards swooned at Obama’s feet in a piece titled, ‘He came, he spoke, he conquered Westminster’:

The theatre of a state visit from Mr [Obama] is unavoidably mesmerising. Even the long wait in Westminster Hall for his arrival had a compelling quality… The delay in the presidential arrival led to an even greater sense of anticipation. Abroad at least, Mr Obama still casts spells as he did before the hard grind of power took hold.9

Imagine if Lineker wrote that of an Official Enemy. Imagine if a BBC journalist had written something comparable of Saddam Hussein as he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

If British journalists appear not to give a damn about the disaster Britain inflicted on Libya, they are not alone. In her memoir, Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power, Sasha Swire supplies an insight:

Holidaying with the Camerons in Cornwall after the fall of Gaddafi, David is “pumped and happy”. Golf, body-surfing, dinner: “What more do I want? A great day on the beach, I’m with my old friends the Swires and I’ve just won a war.10

Or, as the BBC’s Nick Robinson said on the BBC News at Six in October 2011:

Downing Street ‘will see this, I’m sure, as a triumphant end. Libya was David Cameron’s first war. Colonel Gaddafi his first foe. Today, his first real taste of military victory.11

In his chapter on Tony Blair, Richards does give serious attention to the 2003 war on Iraq. He writes:

Blair knew the Bush administration would act unilaterally in Iraq, if need be. He wanted to keep them engaged with allies like the UK. 12

What does it mean to ‘keep them engaged’, if the US was set on doing whatever it liked regardless of the UK position? In fact, it is not at all certain that the US would have acted unilaterally. In 2013, when Obama was set on launching a massive strike against Syria, lack of British support stopped the US in its tracks.

On the one hand, Richards presents Blair as a savvy exponent of realpolitik seeking to tame US power. On the other hand, Richards writes of Blair after the 1999 Kosovo intervention:

Without exploring deeply what was happening in Iraq and beyond, he assumed that an Iraq liberated from Saddam would be similarly grateful.13

‘Liberated’? Even Boris Johnson wrote in 2014:

It looks to me as though the Americans were motivated by a general strategic desire to control one of the biggest oil exporters in the world. 14

Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, commented:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.15

The war was indeed about oil, and yet both Blair and Richards affect not to be aware of ‘what everyone knows’; namely, that Iraq was not to be ‘liberated’ at all, its oil was to be liberated into the hands of Western oil interests.

Richards comments:

Why did Blair not pull out of the conflict after he failed to secure a meaningful UN resolution authorizing force? There was not the remotest possibility that Blair would turn away and become the Labour prime minister who was not “strong” or “courageous” on the eve of war.16

This may have been Blair’s reasoning, but it is completely beside the point. Regardless of whether Blair felt it was politically impossible to respond differently, the fact is that his actions make a nonsense of Richards’ summation:

The later [sic] perception of Blair as a mendacious messianic murderer is… contradicted by the evidence.17

In fact, the evidence could not be clearer: Blair did not secure UN authorisation for the use of force. He therefore waged an unprovoked war of aggression against a defenceless country wrecked by sanctions, killed in excess of one million people, and the claimed ‘UN route’ to peace was a lie – a fabrication intended precisely to pave the way to war. Regardless of the pressures Blair was under, the Downing Street memo showed that he lied to the British people that peace was being sought when a war (for oil) was absolutely the goal.

Richards adds:

In some respects, the anger directed at Blair was overwrought, part of the exaggerated response he generated from the beginning.17

This, despite having himself noted a few paragraphs earlier:

What followed was an epic tragedy. Above all, the tragedy lay in the number of deaths that arose [sic] as a result of the invasion… few deny that hundreds of thousands were killed as a direct or indirect result of the war.18

If the response was ‘exaggerated’, exactly how much anger qualifies as ‘overwrought’ for a leader whose war of aggression resulted in ‘hundreds of thousands’ of deaths? In reality, the death toll stands in excess of one million.

Was the assault on the US on September 11 ‘an epic tragedy’? How about the Nazi invasion of the USSR in June 1941? How about Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990? Like every other ‘mainstream’ journalist, Richards is unable to use the right word: the US-UK war of aggression on Iraq was very obviously an epic crime.

Iraq is not mentioned in Richards’ chapter on John Major, although Major was responsible for the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent sanctions, described as ‘genocidal’ by senior UN diplomats. Indeed, the Iraq sanctions that, by 1999, had killed some 500,000 Iraqi children under five, are unmentioned in the book.

Richards has nothing to say about Gordon Brown’s role in the Iraq crime. In 2007, Richard Horton, editor of the leading medical journal, The Lancet, commented:

This Labour government, which includes Gordon Brown as much as it does Tony Blair, is party to a war crime of monstrous proportions. Yet our political consensus prevents any judicial or civil society response. Britain is paralysed by its own indifference.’19

What does Richards have to say about other crimes committed by Cameron and subsequent UK prime ministers?  Since March 2015, a ‘coalition’ of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the US, Britain and France, has been blitzing neighbouring Yemen.

In 2016, journalist Felicity Arbuthnot reported that, in just one year, 330,000 homes, 648 mosques, 630 schools and institutes and 250 health facilities had been destroyed or damaged.20

In December 2016, it was reported that more than 10,000 people had died and three million had been displaced in the conflict.21

Philip Hammond, who was UK Defence Secretary when the Saudi bombing began in 2015, said:

We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat. 22

In August 2016, Campaign Against Arms Trade reported that UK sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of the attacks on Yemen included £2.2 billion of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1 billion of missiles, bombs and grenades, and nearly half a million pounds’ worth of armoured vehicles and tanks.23

In August 2016, Oxfam reported that in excess of 21 million people in Yemen, out of a total population of around 27 million, were in need of humanitarian aid, more than in any other country. In December 2016, a new study by UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reported that at least one child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen.24

These crimes are again the responsibility of David Cameron, and also of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, but they are unmentioned in any of the relevant chapters. In fact, the word ‘Yemen’ does not appear in Richards’ book. Other major crimes have been committed by the same UK leaders in Syria but, again, the country is not mentioned.

No matter, the ‘impartiality’ of the book, in the officially approved sense, ensures that it has received limitless, positive reviews from other members of the ‘mainstream’ Media Club. Praise has been lavished on the book by – surprise, surprise! – other senior BBC journalists, including John Humphrys (‘A fascinating read’), Kirsty Wark (‘Extraordinary’), James Naughtie (‘Smart and incisive’) and Evan Davies (‘Entertaining, informative and lively’). And, of course, by Guardianistas such as Polly Toynbee (‘A pure pleasure to read’). In 2011, in a BBC interview with UK defence secretary, Philip Hammond, Humphrys asked of Libya:

What apart from a sort of moral glow – and there’s nothing wrong with that – have we got out of it?25

In March 2003, Wark commented that the declining humanitarian situation in Iraq threatened to take the shine off’ the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing campaign.26

In 2000, Toynbee wrote an Observer article titled, ‘The West really is the best’:

In our political and social culture we have a democratic way of life which we know, without any doubt at all, is far better than any other in the history of humanity. Even if we don’t like to admit it, we are all missionaries and believers that our own way is the best when it comes to the things that really matter.27

How to explain these apologetics, this power-friendly conformity? Is it all a giant conspiracy? Not at all. In 1996, Noam Chomsky tried to explain to his bewildered BBC interviewer, Andrew Marr:

I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.28

Other people, in their millions, pay the price.

  1. Howard Zinn, ‘Power, History and Warfare,’ Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, No. 8, 1991, p. 12.
  2. Atlantic Books, e-book, 2020.
  3. NATO Fact Sheet, ‘Operation Unified Protector Final Mission Stats’, 2 November 2011.
  4. Carlotta Gall, ‘Libyan refugees stream to Tunisia for care, and tell of a home that is torn apart’, New York Times, 9 September 2014.
  5. Nick Squires, ‘Migrants tell of deepening chaos in Libya: “Everyone is armed now”’, Telegraph, 22 February 2015.
  6. Ibid.
  7. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report, ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options’, 9 September 2016.
  8. p. 23.
  9. Richards, ‘He came, he spoke, he conquered Westminster,’ The Independent, 26 May 2011.
  10. Jenni Russell, ‘With a friend like this…’, Sunday Times, 20 September 2020.
  11. News at Six, October 20, 2011.
  12. p.181.
  13. pp. 181-182
  14. Johnson, ‘Blair’s Iraq invasion was a tragic error, and he’s mad to deny it,’ Telegraph, 15 June 2014.
  15. Greenspan, ‘The Age of Turbulence’, Penguin, 2007, p. 463.
  16. p. 185.
  17. p. 186.
  18. pp. 185-186.
  19. Horton, ‘A monstrous war crime,’ The Guardian, 28 March 2007.
  20. Arbuthnot, ‘The unspoken war on Yemen, Anglo-American crimes against humanity, U.N. and media silence’, Global Research, 8 September 2016.
  21. Iona Craig, ‘The U.S. could stop refueling Saudis & end devastating war in Yemen tomorrow,’ Democracy Now!, 15 December 2016.
  22. Peter Foster and Almigdad Mojalli, ‘UK “will support Saudi-led assault on Yemeni rebels – but not engaging in combat”,’ Telegraph, 27 March 2015.
  23. Emma Graham-Harrison, ‘UK in denial over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen, claims Oxfam’, Guardian, 23 August 2016.
  24. Iona Craig, Democracy Now!, 15 December 2016.
  25. Humphrys, BBC Radio 4 Today, 21 October  2011.
  26. Wark, BBC 2, Newsnight, 21 March 2003.
  27. Toynbee, The Observer, 5 March 2000.
  28. Chomsky, BBC 2, ‘The Big Idea,’ 14 February 1996.

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“Absolute And Arbitrary Power”: Killing Extinction Rebellion And Julian Assange

The use and misuse of George Orwell’s truth-telling is so widespread that we can easily miss his intended meaning. For example, with perfect (Orwellian) irony, the BBC has a statue of Orwell outside Broadcasting House, bearing the inscription:

‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’

Fine words, but suitably ambiguous: the BBC might argue that it is merely exercising its ‘liberty’ in endlessly channelling the worldview of powerful interests – crass propaganda that many people certainly ‘do not want to hear’.

Orwell’s real intention is made clearer in this second comment:

‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.’

In this line attributed to him (although there is some debate about where it originated), Orwell was talking about power – real journalism challenges the powerful. And this is the essential difference between the vital work of WikiLeaks and the propaganda role performed by state-corporate media like the BBC every day on virtually every issue.

On September 6, the Mail on Sunday ran two editorials, side by side. The first was titled, ‘A sinister, shameful attack on free speech’. It decried the Extinction Rebellion action last Friday to blockade three newspaper printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch’s UK News. The second editorial, as we will see below, was a feeble call not to send Julian Assange to the US, on the eve of his crucial extradition hearing in London.

Extinction Rebellion’s protest, lasting just a few hours, temporarily prevented the distribution of Murdoch newspapers, such as the Sun and The Times, as well as other titles printed by Murdoch’s presses, including the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph.

The Mail on Sunday editorial predictably condemned the protesters’ supposed attempt at ‘censorship’, declaring it:

‘a throwback to the very worst years of trade union militancy, which came close to strangling a free press and which was only defeated by the determined action of Rupert Murdoch.’

The paper fumed:

‘The newspaper blockade was a shameful and dangerous attempt to crush free speech, and it should never be repeated.’

This was the propaganda message that was repeated across much of the ‘mainstream media’, epitomised by the empty rhetoric of Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

‘A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.’

Johnson’s comments could have been pure satire penned by Chris Morris, Mark Steel or the late Jeremy Hardy. Closer to the grubby truth, a different Johnson – Samuel – described the ‘free press’ as ‘Scribbling on the backs of advertisements’.

As Media Lens has repeatedly demonstrated over the past 20 years, it is the state-corporate media, including BBC News, that has endlessly ‘limited the public’s access to news’ by denying the public the full truth about climate breakdown, UK/US warmongering, including wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the arming of Saudi Arabia and complicity in that brutal regime’s destruction of Yemen, UK government support for the apartheid state of Israel even as it crushes the Palestinian people, the insidious prising open of the NHS to private interests, and numerous other issues of public importance.

When has the mythical ‘free press’ ever fully and properly held to account Boris Johnson or any of his predecessors in 10 Downing Street? Who can forget that Tony Blair, steeped in the blood of so many Iraqis, is still held in esteem as an elder statesman whose views are sought out by ‘mainstream’ news outlets, including BBC News and the Guardian? As John Pilger said recently:

‘Always contrast Julian Assange with Tony Blair. One will be fighting for his life in court on 7 Sept for the “crime” of exposing war crimes while the other evades justice for the paramount crime of Iraq.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has presided over a national public health disaster with soaring rates of mortality during the coronavirus pandemic, had the affront to tweet a photograph of himself with a clutch of right-wing papers under his arm, declaring:

‘Totally outrageous that Extinction Rebellion are trying to suppress free speech by blockading newspapers. They must be dealt with by the full force of the law.’

It is Hancock himself, together with government colleagues and advisers – not least Johnson and his protector, Dominic Cummings – who should ‘be dealt with by the full force of the law’. As Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, said of Boris Johnson in May:

‘you dropped the ball, Prime Minister. That was criminal. And you know it.’

Extinction Rebellion (XR) explained succinctly via Twitter their reason for their ‘totally outrageous’ action:

‘Dear Newsagents, we are sorry for disruption caused to your business this morning. Dear Mr. Murdoch, we are absolutely not sorry for continuing to disrupt your agenda this morning.  @rupertmurdoch #FreeTheTruth #ExtinctionRebellion #TellTheTruth

An article on the XR website, simply titled, ‘We do not have a free press’, said:

‘We are in an emergency of unprecedented scale and the papers we have targeted are not reflecting the scale and urgency of what is happening to our planet.’

One of the XR protesters was ‘Steve’, a former journalist for 25 years who had worked for the Sun, Daily Mail, the Telegraph and The Times. He was filmed on location during the protest. He explained that he was participating, in part, because he is worried about the lack of a future for his children. And a major reason for how we got to this point is that journalists are:

‘stuck inside a toxic system where they don’t have any choice but to tell the stories that these newspapers want to be told.’

He continued:

‘Every person who works on News International or a Mail newspaper knows what story is or isn’t acceptable for their bosses. And their bosses know that because they know what’s acceptable to Murdoch or Rothermere or the other billionaires that run 70 per cent of our media’.

Steve said he left that system because he ‘couldn’t bear the way it worked’.

The most recent report by the independent Media Reform Coalition on UK media ownership, published in 2019, revealed the scale of the problem of extremely concentrated media ownership. Just three companies – Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach (publisher of the Mirror titles) dominate 83 per cent of the national newspaper market (up from 71 per cent in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies – News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph – dominate nearly 80 per cent of the market.

As we noted of XR’s worthy action:

‘Before anyone denounces this as an attack on the “free press” – there is no free press. There is a billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporate press that has knowingly suppressed the truth of climate collapse and the need for action to protect corporate profits.’

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, indicated her support too:

‘A tiny number of billionaires own vast swathes of our press. Their papers relentlessly campaign for right-wing politics, promoting the interests of the ruling class and scapegoating minorities. A free press is vital to democracy, but too much of our press isn’t free at all.’

By contrast, Labour leader Keir Starmer once again demonstrated his establishment credentials as ‘a safe pair of hands’ by condemning XR’s protest. Craig Murray commented:

‘At a time when the government is mooting designating Extinction Rebellion as Serious Organised Crime, right wing bequiffed muppet Keir Starmer was piously condemning the group, stating: “The free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it.”’

Starmer had also commented:

‘Denying people the chance to read what they choose is wrong and does nothing to tackle climate change.’

But denying people the chance to read what they would choose – the corporate-unfriendly truth – on climate change is exactly what the corporate media, misleadingly termed ‘mainstream media’, is all about.

Media activist and lecturer Justin Schlosberg made a number of cogent observations on ‘press freedom’ in a Twitter thread (beginning here):

‘9 times out of 10 when people in Britain talk about protecting press freedom what they really mean is protecting press power’.

He pointed out the ‘giant myth’ promulgated by corporate media, forever trying to resist any attempt to curb their power; namely that:

‘Britain’s mainstream [sic] press is a vital pillar of our democracy, covering a diversity of perspectives and upholding professional standards of journalism…the reality is closer to the exact inverse of such claims. More than 10 million people voted for a socialist party at the last election (13 million in 2017) and polls have consistently shown that majority of British public oppose austerity’.

Schlosberg continued:

‘The “diversity” of our national press [… ] covers the political spectrum from liberal/centre to hard right and has overwhelmingly backed austerity economics for the best part of the last 4 decades… [moreover] the UK press enjoys an unrivalled international reputation for producing a diatribe of fake, racist and misogynistic hate speech over anything that can be called journalism’.

He rightly concluded:

‘ironically one of the greatest threats to democracy is a press that continues to weave myths in support of its vested interests, and a BBC that continues to uncritically absorb them.’

Assange In The US Crosshairs

Alongside the Mail on Sunday’s billionaire-owned, extremist right-wing attack on climate activists highlighting a non-existent ‘free press’, the paper had an editorial that touched briefly on the danger to all journalists should WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange be extradited from the UK to the US:

‘the charges against Mr Assange, using the American Espionage Act, might be used against legitimate journalists in this country’.

The implication was that Assange is not to be regarded as a ‘legitimate journalist’. Indeed, the billionaire Rothermere-owned viewspaper – a more accurate description than ‘newspaper’ – made clear its antipathy towards him:

‘Mr Assange’s revelations of leaked material caused grave embarrassment to Washington and are alleged to have done material damage too.’

The term ‘embarrassment’ refers to the exposure of US criminal actions threatening the great rogue state’s ability to commit similar crimes in future: not embarrassing (Washington is without shame), but potentially limiting.

The Mail on Sunday continued:

‘Mr Assange has been a spectacular nuisance during his time in this country, lawlessly jumping bail and wasting police time by taking refuge in embassy of Ecuador. The Mail on Sunday disapproves of much of what he has done, but we must also ask if his current treatment is fair, right or just.’

The insinuations and subtle smears embedded in these few lines have been repeatedly demolished (see this extensive analysis, for example). And there was no mention that Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as well as numerous doctors, health experts and human rights organisations, have strongly condemned the UK’s appalling abuse of Assange and demanded his immediate release.

Melzer has accused the British government of torturing Assange:

‘the primary purpose of torture is not necessarily interrogation, but very often torture is used to intimidate others, as a show to the public what happens if you don’t comply with the government. That is the purpose of what has been done to Julian Assange. It is not to punish or coerce him, but to silence him and to do so in broad daylight, making visible to the entire world that those who expose the misconduct of the powerful no longer enjoy the protection of the law, but essentially will be annihilated. It is a show of absolute and arbitrary power’.

Melzer also spoke about the price he will pay for challenging the powerful:

‘I am under no illusions that my UN career is probably over. Having openly confronted two P5-States (UN security council members) the way I have, I am very unlikely to be approved by them for another high-level position. I have been told, that my uncompromising engagement in this case comes at a political price.’

This is the reality of the increasingly authoritarian world we are living in.

The weak defence of Assange now being seen in even right-wing media, such as the Mail on Sunday, indicates a real fear that any journalist could in future be targeted by the US government for publishing material that might anger Washington.

In an interview this week, Barry Pollack, Julian Assange’s US lawyer, warned of the ‘very dangerous’ precedent that could be set in motion with Assange’s extradition to the US:

‘The position that the U.S. is taking is a very dangerous one. The position the U.S. is taking is that they have jurisdiction all over the world and can pursue criminal charges against any journalist anywhere on the planet, whether they’re a U.S. citizen or not. But if they’re not a U.S. citizen, not only can the U.S. pursue charges against them but that person has no defense under the First Amendment.’

In stark contrast to the weak protestations of the Mail on Sunday and the rest of the establishment media, Noam Chomsky pointed out the simple truth in a recent interview on RT (note the dearth of Chomsky interviews on BBC News, and consider why his views are not sought after):

‘Julian Assange committed the crime of letting the general population know things that they have a right to know and that powerful states don’t want them to know.’

Likewise, John Pilger issued a strong warning:

‘This week, one of the most important struggles for freedom in my lifetime nears its end. Julian Assange who exposed the crimes of great power faces burial alive in Trump’s America unless he wins his extradition case. Whose side are you on?’

Pilger recommended an excellent in-depth piece by Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian/Observer journalist, in which Cook observed:

‘For years, journalists cheered Assange’s abuse. Now they’ve paved his path to a US gulag.’

Peter Oborne is a rare example of a right-leaning journalist who has spoken out strongly in defence of Assange. Oborne wrote last week in Press Gazette that:

‘Future generations of journalists will not forgive us if we do not fight extradition.’

He set out the following scenario:

‘Let’s imagine a foreign dissident was being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison charged with supposed espionage offences by the Chinese authorities.

‘And that his real offence was revealing crimes committed by the Chinese Communist Party – including publishing video footage of atrocities carried out by Chinese troops.

‘To put it another way, that his real offence was committing the crime of journalism.

‘Let us further suppose the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture said this dissident showed “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture” and that the Chinese were putting pressure on the UK authorities to extradite this individual where he could face up to 175 years in prison.

‘The outrage from the British press would be deafening.’

Oborne continued:

‘There is one crucial difference. It is the US trying to extradite the co-founder of Wikileaks.

‘Yet there has been scarcely a word in the mainstream British media in his defence.’

In fact, as we have repeatedly highlighted, Assange has been the subject of a propaganda blitz by the UK media, attacking and smearing him, over and over again, often in the pages of the ‘liberal’ Guardian.

At the time of writing, neither ITV political editor Robert Peston nor BBC News political editor Laura Kuenssberg appear to have reported the Assange extradition case. They have not even tweeted about it once, even though they are both very active on Twitter. In fact, the last time Peston so much as mentioned Assange on his Twitter feed was 2017. Kuenssberg’s record is even worse; her Twitter silence extends all the way back to 2014. These high-profile journalists are supposedly prime exemplars of the very best ‘high-quality’ UK news broadcasters, maintaining the values of a ‘free press’, holding politicians to account and keeping the public informed.

On September 7, John Pilger gave an address outside the Old Bailey in London, just before Julian Assange’s extradition hearing began there. His words were a powerful rebuke to those so-called ‘journalists’ that have maintained a cowardly silence, or worse. The ‘official truth-tellers’ of the media – the stenographers who collaborate with those in power, helping to sell their wars – are, Pilger says, ‘Vichy journalists’.

He continued:

‘It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?

‘No, the journalists in these organizations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.

‘Freedom of the press now rests with the honorable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.’

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“A Perpetual Motion Machine Of Killing”

On August 1, a rare in-depth investigative piece appeared on the BBC News website based on credible and serious allegations that UK Special Forces had executed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan. The BBC article was produced in tandem with a report, ‘”Rogue SAS Afghanistan execution squad” exposed by email trail’, published by the Sunday Times.

Special Forces are the UK’s elite specialist troops, encompassing both the SAS (Special Air Service) and the SBS (Special Boat Service). The allegation, by two senior officers, is that there was a ‘deliberate policy’ of British Special Forces illegally killing unarmed men in Afghanistan under the pretext of assassinating Taliban leaders.

The new revelations were based on documents recently released to solicitors Leigh Day as part of an ongoing case at the High Court brought by an Afghan man, Saifullah Ghareb Yar. He says that four members of his family were shot dead in rural Helmand in a ‘night raid’ in the early hours of 16 February 2011.

The UK government claims that the family members were ‘killed in self defence.’ But the newly-released documents contradict this assertion. As the BBC article noted:

‘Just hours after the elite troops had returned to base, other British soldiers were exchanging emails describing the events of that night as the “latest massacre”.’

In other words, this was not the first such case where killings of unarmed civilians by Special Forces had taken place.

Saifullah’s family were asleep at 1am when they woke suddenly to the sound of helicopter rotors, followed by shouting through megaphones. Saifullah was a teenager, caught in the middle of a Special Forces ‘kill or capture’ mission. He told the BBC what happened:

‘My whole body was shaking because of the fear. Everyone was frightened. All the women and children were crying and screaming’.

His hands were tied and he was put in a holding area with the women and children.

The BBC report continued:

‘He had not been there for long when he heard gunfire.

‘After the troops had left, the bodies of his two brothers were discovered in the fields surrounding their home. His cousin had been shot dead in a neighbouring building.

‘Going back into his house, Saifullah found his father, lying face down on the ground.

‘“His head, the forehead area, was shot with many bullets, and his leg was completely broken by the bullets’.”

The official UK Special Forces report on the killings claimed that the British soldiers had been threatened by the Afghan men brandishing weapons. In particular, the official report claimed that after initially securing the compound they went back in to search the rooms with one of the men they had detained. This man, said Special Forces, suddenly reached for a grenade behind a curtain. Their report stated:

‘He poses an immediate threat to life and is engaged with aimed shots. The assault team members take cover. The grenade malfunctions and does not detonate’.

Another of the four Afghan men was killed when told to go into another building to open the curtains, said Special Forces. He supposedly emerged with a rifle and was then shot dead.

The official account of the killings, noted the BBC, was ‘met with suspicion by some in the British military.’ The more detailed article in the Sunday Times includes the disbelieving response of a senior officer reading the Special Forces’ version of events:

‘Basically, for what must be the 10th time in the last two weeks, when they sent [an Afghan man] back into the [building], to open the curtains(??) he re-appeared [sic] with an AK [AK-47 assault rifle].’

An internal army message included a summary of the official Special Forces report and concluded by saying: “You couldn’t MAKE IT UP!”

However, it appeared as though Special Forces had made it up.

The serious allegations in the BBC and Sunday Times articles followed a Panorama programme, ‘War Crimes Scandal Exposed’, last November in the wake of the government’s announcement that investigations into alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan would be closed, before a single soldier had even been prosecuted. Panorama worked with the Sunday Times Insight team, revealing ‘evidence of a pattern of illegal killings by UK Special Forces.’

In the programme, BBC reporter Richard Bilton met UK detectives, formerly of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), who spoke for the first time about how they were prevented from prosecuting soldiers suspected of serious crimes. These detectives believe that the Ministry of Defence and senior military officers were involved in the cover-up of torture and illegal killings. This happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

IHAT was set up by the Labour government in 2010. But, as Bilton noted for Panorama:

‘Despite years of work, not a single one of the almost 3,400 allegations against British troops [in Iraq] was prosecuted.’

He continued:

‘Then, in 2017, the Conservative government shut IHAT down. The government claimed it was down to the actions of one solicitor. Phil Shiner ran Public Interest Lawyers, a legal firm that brought over a thousand cases to IHAT. He was struck off following allegations he had paid fixers to find clients in Iraq.’

In her speech to the Conservative party conference that autumn, Prime Minister Theresa May, proclaimed to great applause that:

‘we will never again in any future conflict let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave, the men and women of our Armed Forces’.

But, as one former IHAT detective told Panorama:

‘It was helpful to close IHAT down, wasn’t it? [ironic tone]. You don’t need an excuse. All you’re going to say is, “Right, everything’s now tainted. We can bin all that. Yippee.” It was a whitewash. Public Interest Lawyers and Phil Shiner – that was used as an excuse to get rid of a lot of jobs and say: “IHAT, you’re finished”.’

As Bilton observed:

‘Phil Shiner broke the rules. But that doesn’t mean all the allegations made by Iraqi civilians were untrue. The detectives we’ve spoken to say IHAT was shut down for political reasons. It was a cover-up.’

He added:

‘IHAT detectives say the government never wanted any soldiers prosecuted, no matter how strong the evidence.’

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, at the same time that the government announced IHAT would be shut down, it also decided to end an investigation, Operation Northmoor, into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Bilton:

‘Northmoor’s team of detectives had been investigating allegations of executions by British Special Forces. They had linked dozens of suspicious killings on night raids. But Northmoor was closed before they even interviewed key Afghan witnesses.’

He added:

‘Some of those killed were undoubtedly members of the Taliban. But the UN has concluded that Coalition forces killed more than 300 innocent civilians.’

This is a shocking statistic. Perhaps the most appalling case Panorama investigated was the brutal killing of four boys in the Helmand village of Loy Bagh in October 2012, shot dead while they were sitting drinking tea. Bilton reported:

‘Detectives discovered Special Forces didn’t tell the truth about the raid. The first military reports failed to disclose British involvement.’

Instead, they attempted to pin the blame on Afghan forces; a common evasive tactic.

‘Detective say UK forces were falsely attributing suspicious deaths to Afghan forces, so British troops wouldn’t be investigated.’

The British soldier who shot the four boys later claimed to UK detectives working for IHAT that he shot two of the boys because they were standing and pointing weapons at him, and he shot at the other two ‘when they appeared out of the shadows’.

But the evidence of bullet holes low down in the room was inconsistent with his account. The boys had been sitting, just as claimed by Afghan witnesses, not standing.

Such clashes with evidence and testimony from the scene of killings fit a pattern of official accounts of raids written up afterwards by UK Special Forces alleging ‘self defence’.  Former intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge told Panorama that the night raids were a ‘perpetual motion machine of killing and capturing’. Former Operation Northmoor detectives believe the case brought by Saifullah Ghareb Yar (see above) is part of a pattern of cover-ups they were investigating. They allege that the British military and the government have covered up numerous murders by closing down IHAT (in Iraq) and Operation Northmoor (in Afghanistan).

Mark Urban, Defender Of The Faith

The new BBC online investigative piece, published on August 1, together with the Panorama programme last November, are rare examples of serious public-interest BBC journalism attempting to hold the UK military and government to account. Will other BBC journalists, with responsibility for ‘defence’ and foreign affairs, pursue the latest revelations regarding the case of four members of Saifullah Ghareb Yar’s family being executed in Helmand province?

Consider, in particular, Mark Urban, diplomatic and defence editor for BBC Newsnight, who has spent years reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan, very much from within a propaganda framework aligned with UK government policies and interests. For example, in a 2015 comment piece in the Evening Standard, Urban was happy to amplify the Cold War narrative spun by former top-ranking UK military officials:

‘Speaking to Britain’s former top military leadership, you find General Shirreff, or former Chief of the General Staff Gen Sir Peter Wall, arguing that Russia is the principal worry. Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, former Director of Special Forces, or General Lord David Richards (former Chief of the Defence Staff) believe the Islamic State is the real game changer. Talk to some of the US military leaders or intelligence people and they are more worried about China.

‘Either way, the ability of countries such as the UK to do something about these emerging threats is limited by the dramatic cuts enacted after the Cold War.’

For Urban, there was no need to insert ‘emerging threats’ in inverted commas; it was simply a given that China and Russia threaten the UK. The possibility that it could be the West that is threatening China and Russia is presumably unthinkable.

As John Pilger writes in a new piece commemorating the victims of the US atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, intended as a show of strength to show the Soviet Union who was the world’s boss:

‘Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one U.S. strategist told me, “the perfect noose”.’

But, as ever for compliant Western propagandists like Urban, the Orwellian framework that ‘we’ are only ‘defending’ ourselves is deeply embedded in establishment-friendly ‘journalism’.

As we have previously noted, Urban is a former defence correspondent at the Independent. He served in the British Army, both as a regular officer for nine months as well as serving four years in the Territorials. He has hosted a series of virtual reality war games on the BBC, Time Commanders, re-enacting key battles. He is also the author of several books:

  • Soviet Land Power (1985)
  • War in Afghanistan (1987)
  • Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the secret struggle against the IRA (1992)
  • UK Eyes Alpha: Inside British Intelligence (1996)
  • The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes: The Story of George Scovell (2001)
  • Rifles: Six Years with Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters (2003)
  • Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Shaped the World (2005)
  • Fusiliers: Eight Years with the Redcoats in America (2007)
  • Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq (2010)
  • The Tank War: The British Band of Brothers – One Tank Regiment’s World War II (2014)
  • The Edge: Is The Military Dominance Of The West Coming To An End? (2015)
  • The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy (2018)

On August 3, we checked Urban’s Twitter account and noted that he had made only the most cursory reference to the allegations regarding Special Forces in Afghanistan in a reply to someone called Henry Hyde who had flagged them up to him.

‘Yes Henry. It gives a fuller version of allegations previously reported by the paper in relation to a particular squadron of 22 SAS during its tour in Afghan.’

Hyde replied:

‘Highly disturbing stuff.’

Urban did not respond further.

We asked him via Twitter on August 3:

‘Hello Mark @markurban01

You’ve reported on #Afghanistan for @BBCNewsnight over many years.

Why are you not drawing attention to these important allegations of UK Special Forces executing unarmed civilians?’

Urban did not reply. This contrasts with the early years of Media Lens when Urban – as well as other high-profile ‘mainstream’ journalists – would engage in substantive email exchanges with us. In 2007, for example, we critiqued his assertion in a BBC report that US troops were ‘here to help’ in Iraq.  This, of course, was the propaganda line that the US and its allies were desperate to sell to the public following the bloodbath of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation.

To his credit back then, Urban replied to us, although he disparaged our analysis as being:

‘put together by you sitting at home, sifting current events through a dense filter of ideology.’

The implication was, of course, that Urban – as an ‘impartial’ BBC News correspondent – was subject to no ‘filter of ideology’ at all. Long-term readers may recall Andrew Marr’s similar assertion in the Daily Telegraph back in 2001 that when he joined the BBC as political editor, his ‘Organs of Opinion were formally removed’.

Ironically for Urban, our analysis that had been ‘put together by [us] sitting at home’, was supported in 2007 by a serving British Army officer who had read the exchanges with Urban in our media alerts, and had then written to him. The anonymous officer said that the view that the war had been ‘illegal, immoral and unwinnable’ was ‘the overwhelming feeling of many of my peers’.

As a result of these exchanges involving Media Lens, the British army officer’s views were reported on Newsnight; one of the vanishingly rare occasions in which the ‘mainstream’ media have so much as mentioned us. At that time, the Newsnight editor was Peter Barron, with whom Media Lens had had several polite and respectful email exchanges.

We had a further lengthy exchange with Urban in 2009 following this extraordinary claim about anti-war protesters in his BBC ‘War and Peace’ blog that:

‘it was their hand wringing and magnification of every set back or mis-step that played a key role in undermining the political will to achieve more in southern Iraq.’

As we noted in our reply:

‘You have misunderstood the whole basis of the anti-war protest. The argument is that the invasion was illegal, in fact a classic example of the supreme war crime – the waging of a war of aggression. The Nuremberg trials were clear that it makes not a jot of difference whether such criminality has positive outcomes – the waging of aggressive war is illegal.’

This entirely rational and well-established point, rooted in international justice, was apparently incomprehensible to Urban who replied:

‘Are you comparing British soldiers to Nazis? I cannot see the comparison; either in legal or moral terms.’

This standard ‘mainstream’ resort to ‘moral equivalence’, when the crimes of the West are raised, has been demolished by Noam Chomsky who once told BBC interviewer Tim Sebastian:

‘Moral equivalence is a term of propaganda that was invented to try to prevent us from looking at the acts for which we are responsible… Minimal moral integrity requires that if we think something is wrong when they do it, it’s wrong when we do it.’

In late 2009 and early 2010, the Sunday Times published articles by its reporter Jerome Starkey detailing the killing of eight Afghan schoolboys in a night raid by US-led troops. We wrote two media alerts at the time (here and here), highlighting how a Nato spokesperson had initially denied that schoolchildren had been shot in the head – several of them after first being handcuffed – and then retracting their cover story. Western authorities later offered relatives ‘compensation’ of US$2,000 for each life taken. We noted the dearth of follow-up ‘mainstream’ interest to Starkey’s courageous reporting, including the BBC’s failure to report the allegations fully and responsibly.

Without access to all of Newsnight’s broadcasts during this period, it is not possible to categorically say whether the programme reported much of this, if anything. As the usual correspondent for reporting from Afghanistan, it would most likely have fallen to Mark Urban to cover it.

Following the latest revelations on August 1 on the killing of four of Saifullah Ghareb Yar’s relatives in Helmand (see above), an anodyne piece by Urban appeared on the BBC News website on August 3, blandly titled, ‘Defence Secretary to review SAS Afghanistan emails’. This was later on the same day that we had tweeted him. Arguably, this means he had been too busy to respond; though surely a short reply would have taken him just a few seconds. However, the focus of Urban’s piece was not the shocking execution of unarmed civilians, but on how the revelation of secret emails about Special Forces operations in Afghanistan was:

‘causing recriminations within the Ministry of Defence, with a process starting this week to re-examine how ministers were kept in ignorance of their content.’

The emphasis of his report was the ‘fresh worries’ in the Ministry of Defence about the revelations and the stressful impact on army veterans:

‘The allegations about D Squadron’s tour – each of 22 SAS’s sub-units rotated through Afghanistan in turn for 3-4 months – are not new.

‘They have already been investigated by the Royal Military Police under Operation Northmoor, a prolonged inquiry that ended without any soldiers being charged.

‘Veterans of the regiment have complained about the stress of such prolonged enquiries.’

The piece mentions allegations of ‘a deliberate policy… to engage and kill fighting aged men on target even when they did not pose a threat’, but was shorn of details of the killing of unarmed civilians. This fits a pattern of Urban’s reporting. We have been unable to find anything substantive about the impact of Special Forces’ operations on Afghan and Iraqi civilians in his Twitter timeline, his BBC blog, or anything he has published online or in any newspaper. It is almost impossible to give a definitive set of search results with 100 per cent confidence. But, as an example, if one searches the BBC News website using the search terms “Mark Urban” + “Special Forces” + “civilians” only a handful of results are returned; and nothing of substance in which the emphasis is on civilian victims.

For instance, in a 2011 BBC News website piece by Urban, titled ‘Impact on special forces of Navy Seals helicopter loss’, there was a token mention in the final paragraph of the occasions when ‘Afghans report civilians being killed’. This encapsulates Urban’s propaganda journalism as a whole: overwhelming weight is given to the priorities of the UK establishment and the military, with only passing mention of the destructive impact of UK policy and actions on the victims.

Admittedly, we have not read Urban’s books in the lengthy list above. But would it be at all likely that his reporting in book form would suddenly shift by one hundred and eighty degrees to focus, not on British armed forces, but on their victims?  In a review of Urban’s book, Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq, Observer foreign correspondent Jason Burke noted:

‘Few reporters succeed in cultivating any sources within the closed world of the British special forces; Urban has found dozens who have spoken with unprecedented candour.’

Given Mark Urban’s history of ‘cultivating’ sources within British special forces, and his privileged extensive access to UK military and intelligence agencies, how likely is it that he would not have known about the serious allegations of the execution of innocent civilians going back many years? His unwillingness to seriously explore allegations of this kind is hugely significant.

Burke notes that Urban ‘had to battle with the Ministry of Defence’ to have the book published, but then adds:

‘one wonders what reception a work more critical of British special forces’ operations might have received in Whitehall. The author’s personal admiration for the men who constitute his subject is clear. Language veers from the breathless – “Britain’s hand-picked troops”, the “SAS had got its man”– to the soldierly – firefights are “epic”, problems are “aggro”.’

Would the author’s ‘personal admiration’ for these men be so high if he had investigated and reported the many credible accounts of unarmed civilians being killed by Special Forces, followed by cynical attempts at cover-ups aided, if not directed, by senior figures within the Ministry of Defence?

Remarkably, in November 2010, almost one year after the killing of eight schoolchildren by Nato-led forces had been reported by the Sunday Times, Urban had told Newsnight viewers:

‘The biggest mistake of the coalition’s early years here was under-investment in the Afghan forces.’

It takes a particularly ‘dense filter of ideology’, to use Urban’s own words, to devote scant attention to Western crimes in the killing of schoolchildren, and other unarmed civilians, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Racism, Sexism, Classism: The Necessary Incoherence of “Mainstream” Ethical Debate

What does it mean when journalists who spent the last two decades promoting wars of aggression on brown- and black-skinned people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen take a knee?

The Observer commented:

‘There is a dreadful familiarity about the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by white police officers in Minneapolis last Monday….

‘The fact that the US has been here before, countless times, does not lessen the horror of this crime nor mitigate brutal police actions.’

There was a dreadful familiarity about the West’s toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, but the Observer didn’t notice. Instead, the editors insisted that, ‘The west can’t let Gaddafi destroy his people’, ‘this particular tyranny will not be allowed to stand’.

Not ‘allowed to stand’, that is, by the destroyers of Iraq eight years earlier; by governments with zero credibility as moral agents. The fact that the US-UK alliance had been ‘here’ before, countless times, did not lessen the horror of the crime nor mitigate brutal military actions.

When the dirty deed was done and Libyan oil was safely back in Western hands, an Observer editorial applauded, ‘An honourable intervention. A hopeful future’, as the country fell apart and black people were ethnically cleansed from towns like Tawergha without any UK journalists taking a knee or giving a damn.

When a white policeman crushes a black man’s neck with his knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, journalists see structural racism. When the West places its boot on the throats of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for decades and centuries, journalists see ‘rogue states’, an ‘axis of evil’, a ‘clear and present threat’ to the West that can be averted only by force.

Journalists see racism in the disproportionate violence habitually visited on US black people by police, but find nothing racist in the ultra-violence habitually inflicted by the US-UK alliance blitzing famine-stricken Afghanistan in 2001, in sanctions that killed 500,000 children under five in Iraq, in war that killed one million people in Iraq, in war that destroyed Libya, Syria, Yemen, and many others.

The links between domestic and international racism are hard to miss. Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909), noted that ‘the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages,’ establishing the rule of ‘the dominant world races’.1

In 1919, Winston Churchill defended the use of poison gas against ‘uncivilised tribes’ as a means of spreading ‘a lively terror’. Churchill wrote of the ‘satisfied nations’ whose power places them ‘above the rest,’ the ‘rich men dwelling at peace within their habitations’ to whom ‘the government of the world must be entrusted’.2

In 1932, at the World Disarmament Conference, David Lloyd George (British prime minister, 1916-1922), insisted that the British government would continue to inflict violence for ‘police purposes in outlying places’. He later recounted: ‘We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers.’

In 1947, renowned British Field Marshall, Bernard Montgomery, noted the ‘immense possibilities that exist in British Africa for development’ and ‘the use to which such development could be put to enable Great Britain to maintain her standard of living, and to survive’. ‘These lands contain everything we need’, said Montgomery, fresh from combatting the Nazi’s efforts to achieve ‘Lebensraum’. It was Britain’s task to ‘develop’ the continent since the African ‘is a complete savage and is quite incapable of the developing the country [sic] himself’.

In his book, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, wrote that during ‘phase V’ of the Oil-For-Food programme, from November 1998 to May 1999, each Iraqi citizen received a food allocation worth $49, or 27 cents per day. Von Sponeck noted that, ‘the UN was more humane with its dogs than with the Iraqi people’: each UN dog was allocated $160 for food over the same period.3

If the killing of George Floyd was racism, how shall we describe US- and UK-led UN policy that ‘was more humane with its dogs’? How to describe corporate media that rail against domestic racism while perennially cheerleading the infinitely more violent international version? Why are we not taking a knee for Iraqis and Libyans? Why are they not even mentioned in the context of institutionalised racism? Why is no-one toppling Orwellian monuments to a ‘free press’ supporting global oppression, like the statue of George Orwell outside BBC Broadcasting House?

The Guardian opined:

‘It is the United States’ great misfortune at such a time to be led by a president who sows division as a matter of political strategy. Bunkered down, now literally, in the White House, the president tweeted last week: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”’

In 2011, after the shooting had started, the Guardian quietly celebrated the work of an earlier president who also sowed division without the editors perceiving any great ‘misfortune’. A Guardian leader commented on Libya:

‘But it can now reasonably be said that in narrow military terms it worked, and that politically there was some retrospective justification for its advocates as the crowds poured into the streets of Tripoli to welcome the rebel convoys earlier this week.’

The same paper insists it did not support the 2003 Bush-Blair war on Iraq. The truth is that it promoted every last government ruse in pursuit of war: Saddam Hussein was a threat to the West, he was certainly hiding WMD, US-UK were focused on disarming him, were trying to find diplomatic solutions, were fighting for freedom (not oil, a possibility so far-fetched and insulting it was dismissed out of hand), and so on.

The Guardian has never seen the US-UK devastation of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen as manifestations of the same structural racism it sees so plainly in US police violence:

‘Racism is structural, and state neglect can be as deadly as state abuse. It does not always take a knee on the neck to kill someone. Poverty, overcrowding, and unequal access to healthcare can be fatal.’

True enough. So can corporate greed for profits, for control of oil. Any rational person can join the dots: corporate power subordinates human welfare at home and abroad. Bombing, sanctions, invasion are symptoms of the same profit-driven brutality that forces people to suffer poverty, overcrowding and poor healthcare.

The Times wrote nobly:

‘The challenge is to harness this moment so that it leads to positive changes.’

And:

‘Of course not all of the legitimate aspirations of those protesting can be achieved overnight. But progress can be made with determined action.’

This from the newspaper that supports every war going, aided by Perpetual War propagandists like David Aaronovitch, who wrote an article for The Times entitled: ‘Go for a no-fly zone over Libya or regret it.’ (See our book, Propaganda Blitz, pp.129-131, for numerous other examples of Aaronovitch’s warmongering.)

If, as John Dewey said, ‘politics is the shadow cast on society by big business’, then liberal media discussions of morality are a grim part of that darkness, shedding no light.

The Human Ego – ‘I’ Matter More

The corporate system gives the impression that anti-semites, white supremacists, sexists and the like are victims of a primitive mind virus reducing them to the status of moral Neanderthals. With sufficient social distancing, track-and-trace, isolation, the remnants of this historic pandemic can finally be eradicated. The focus is always on establishment ‘cancel culture’: erasing, banning, firing, censorship and criminalisation.

The BBC, for example, prefers to erase the language of racism. A recent news report was titled:

‘A gravestone honouring the Dambusters’ dog – whose name is a racial slur – has been replaced.’

The report noted that the slur was one ‘which the BBC is not naming’. The dog’s name, ‘Nigger’, appears instantly, of course, to the mind of anyone who has seen the film, or to anyone who has access to Google. Curiously, although the ‘N-word’ appears nowhere in the report, the racial slur, ‘Redskin’, appears 12 times in a BBC report that appeared just three days earlier and that was actually titled:

‘Washington Redskins to drop controversial team name following review’

‘Nigger’ and ‘Redskin’ are both colour-related racial slurs with horrendous histories – both are used to imply racial inferiority. Why can one be mentioned and the other not? Censoring the Dambuster dog’s name achieved little and is not attempted by broadcasters showing films like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, in which the slur is repeated numerous times.

Like other media casting Dewey’s corporate ‘shadow’, the BBC cannot make sense of racism and other forms of prejudice because moral coherence would risk extending the debate to the structural prejudice of the deeply classist, racist, war-fighting, state-corporate establishment.

Racists and sexists start to look a little different when we make the following observation:

Racism and sexism are manifestations of the ego’s attempt to make itself ‘higher’ by making others ‘lower’.

Viewing brown- and black-skinned people as ‘inferior’ is obviously all about white and other racists asserting their ‘superiority’. This is literally, of course, a microscopically superficial basis for ‘superiority’. Differences establishing sexist ‘superiority’ at least involve whole organs rather than a layer of cells! But despite what the necessarily incoherent corporate shadow culture would have us believe, racists and sexists who view other people as ‘inferior’ are not exotic anomalies.

The human ego does not view others as equal; it places itself and its loved ones at the centre of the universe – ‘I’ matter more, ‘my’ happiness and the happiness of those ‘I’ love come first. The happiness of everyone else is very much a peripheral concern. The ego latches on to almost any excuse to reinforce this prejudice – viewing itself as ‘special’, ‘higher’, and others as ‘ordinary’, ‘lower’ – on the basis of almost any superficial differences, many of them even more trivial and transient than racial and gender differences. (See here for further discussion on the striving to be ‘special’.)

This tendency is massively promoted by our culture from the earliest age and manifests in numerous forms other than racism and sexism. We are taught to compete with our peers, to rise to the ‘upper stream’, to come first in exams, to be ‘top of the class’, to go to the ‘best’ schools, the ‘best’ colleges, to get the ‘best’ jobs. We are taught to define ourselves as more or less ‘bright’, ‘academic’, ‘gifted’ (selected for receipt of an actual ‘God-given talent’!). As children, we do not all display the arrogance of young Winston Churchill visible in this photograph, but we are all trained to be ‘winners’ over ‘losers’.

The Art of Pronouncing ‘Hegemony’

Racism and sexism have caused immense harm, of course, but so has the classism visible in young Winston’s face. Humans feel ‘above’ others, ‘special’, when they come from wealthy, aristocratic families; when they attend a celebrated school, an elite university; when they gain a first class degree (or any degree), or a Masters, or a PhD; when they buy a ‘top of the range’ car, or luxury property in a desirable postcode; when they work in high-prestige jobs; when they achieve fame and fortune; when Howard Jacobson writes in The Independent:

‘When Russell Brand uses the word “hegemony” something dies in my soul.’

It is agony for people like Jacobson – who was educated at Stand Grammar School and Downing College, Cambridge (before lecturing at the University of Sydney and Selwyn College, Cambridge) – to hear Brand – educated at Grays School Media Arts College, Essex, a coeducational secondary school – chatting to Ricky Gervais, both of working class origin, without cringing at the way they glottal stop the ‘t’ in words like ‘civili’y’, ‘carnali’y’, ‘universi’y’ and ‘beau’iful’.

The reaction of middle and upper class people to Brand preaching philosophy and ‘poli’ics’ is exactly that described by Samuel Johnson who made himself ‘higher’ by making women ‘lower’:

‘Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

Because elite interests run the mass media, we have all been trained to perceive elite accents as cultured and authoritative, and working class accents as uncultured, uneducated. When we at Media Lens grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, BBC newsreaders and continuity announcers sounded like Etonian masters and Oxbridge dons. Even now, journalists like Fiona Bruce and Nicholas Witchell deliver the royal pronunciation of the word ‘years’ as ‘yers’.

The above may sound comical and absurd – it is! – but the fact is that, as Jacobson’s comment suggests, millions of people have been trained to perceive the accents of working class people appearing on political programmes like Question Time, Newsnight and The Marr Show as ‘lower’. When we react this way to skin colour, rather than to accent and class, we call it racism.

In an article titled, ‘Leather jackets, flat caps and tracksuits: how to dress if you’re a leftwing politician’, Hadley Freeman wrote in the Guardian in 2016:

‘Now, personally, some of us think that Corbyn could consider updating his ideas as much as his wardrobe… He must spend veritable hours cultivating that look, unless there’s a store on Holloway Road that I’ve missed called 1970s Polytechnic Lecturer 4 U. Honestly, where can you even buy tracksuits like the ones he sports?’

This wasn’t racism, but it was classism. Much of the focus on Corbyn being insufficiently ‘prime ministerial’ was establishment prejudice targeting a working class threat. Corbyn didn’t dress like the elite he was challenging – he wore ‘embarrassing’ sandals rather than ‘statesmanlike’ black leather shoes; an ’embarrassing’ jacket rather than the traditional long, black ‘presidential’ overcoat – just as Brand didn’t know the ‘correct’ way to say ‘hegemony’. Corbyn was second-rate, Polytechnic material; not first-class, Oxford material, like Freeman. The BBC’s Mark Mardell commented on Corbyn:

‘One cynic told me expectations are so low, if Corbyn turns up and doesn’t soil himself, it’s a success.’4

If this was not gross, classist prejudice, can we conceive of Mardell repeating a comparable slur about establishment politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair, Theresa May and Sir Keir Starmer shitting themselves in public?

Racism and sexism have monstrous consequences, of course, but so does classism and speciesism, so does every kind of faux-elevation of the self.

Beyond Censorship

The banning and even criminalisation of words and opinions associated with ego inflation come at a cost. The problem is that powerful interests are constantly attempting to extend censorship to words and opinions they are keen to suppress. For example, the banning of Holocaust denial prompted establishment propagandists pushing their own version of ‘cancel culture’ to damn us at Media Lens for something called ‘Srebrenica denial’. As political analyst Theodore Sayeed noted of the smearing of Noam Chomsky:

‘In the art of controversy, slapping the label “denier” on someone is meant to evoke the Holocaust. Chomsky, the furtive charge proceeds, is a kind of Nazi.’

Although we had never written about Srebrenica, repeated attempts were made to link us to Holocaust denial in this way, so that we might also be branded as virtual Nazis that no self-respecting media outlet would ever quote or mention, much less interview or publish.

In both our case and Chomsky’s, this was not the work of well-intentioned individuals, but of organised groups promoting the interests of the war-fighting state. It was actually part of a much wider attempt by state-corporate interests to ‘cancel’ opponents of US-UK wars of aggression. Terms like ‘genocide denial’ and ‘apologist’ are increasingly thrown at leftist critics of Western crimes in Rwanda, Syria, Libya and Venezuela. For example, critics of Western policy in Syria are relentlessly accused of ‘Assadist genocide denial’, which is declared ‘identical’ to Srebrenica denial and Holocaust denial.

The ongoing campaign to associate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is an effort to extend the ban on Holocaust denial to Labour Party politicians and other members promoting socialism and Palestinian rights. This establishment ‘cancel culture’ played a major role in the dismantling of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Again, the goal is to anchor the need for censorship in a fixed ethical point on which everyone can agree. On the basis that Holocaust denial is prohibited, attempts are made to extend that prohibition to other subjects that powerful interests dislike. The goal is the elimination and even criminalisation of dissident free speech.

Promotions of violence, including state violence, aside, the focus of anyone who cares about freedom of speech and democracy should not be on banning words and opinions relating to racism and sexism. Both are functions of the ego’s wide-ranging efforts to elevate itself, and these efforts cannot simply be banned. Instead, we need to understand and dissolve the delusions of ego through self-awareness.

Noam Chomsky was absolutely right to sign a letter in Harper’s magazine opposing the growing momentum of ‘swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought’, even though many other signatories were hypocrites. As Chomsky has said:

‘If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech.’

The 8th Century mystic, Shantideva, asked:

‘Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?’5

Are ‘my’ suffering and happiness more important than ‘your’ suffering and happiness simply because they’re ‘mine’? Obviously not – the idea is baseless, irrational and cruel. This awareness certainly provides the rational, intellectual foundation for treating the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’ to our own, but not the motivation.

However, Shantideva examined, with meticulous attention, his own reactions on occasions when he did and did not treat the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’, and he reached this startling conclusion:

‘The intention, ocean of great good, that seeks to place all beings in the state of bliss, and every action for the benefit of all: such is my delight and all my joy.’6

Shantideva’s point is that, if we pay close attention to our feelings, we will notice that caring for others – treating their suffering and happiness as equal to our own – is a source of tremendous and growing ‘delight’ and, in fact, ‘all my joy’. It is also an ‘ocean of great good’ for society. This is a subtle awareness that is blocked by the kind of overthinking that predominates in our culture (it requires meditation, an acute focus on feeling), but Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw the truth of the assertion with great clarity:

‘I could sometimes gladden another heart, and I owe it to my own honour to declare that whenever I could enjoy this pleasure, I found it sweeter than any other. This was a strong, pure and genuine instinct, and nothing in my heart of hearts has ever belied it.7  (our emphasis)

The fact that a loving, inclusive heart is the basis of individual and social happiness, and a hate-filled, prejudiced heart is the basis of individual and social unhappiness, is the most powerful rationale for dropping racism, sexism, classism and speciesism. It is a response rooted in the warm truth of being and lived experience, not in bloodless ideas of ‘moral obligation’ and ‘political correctness’, not in the violent suppression of free speech.

It is not our ‘duty’ or ‘moral obligation’ to be respectful and tolerant of people and animals different from us; it is in our own best interests to care for them.

Enlightened self-interest, not banning and censorship, has always been the most effective antidote to prejudice. In fact, anger, punishment, blame and guilt-making may lead us away from the truth that we are not being ‘selfish’ by denigrating others, we are harming ourselves.

  1. Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Year 501 – The Conquest Continues, Verso, 1993, p. 23.
  2. Ibid., p. 33.
  3. Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p. 38.
  4. Mardell, BBC Radio 4, ‘The World This Weekend’, 21 May 2017.
  5. Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala, 1997, p. 123.
  6. Ibid., p. 49.
  7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of A Solitary Walker, Penguin Classics, 1979, p. 94

“Six Months To Avert Climate Crisis”: Climate Breakdown And The Corporate Media

In his classic science fiction novel, Foundation, Isaac Asimov posited a future in which ‘psychohistorians’ could predict outcomes based on past history and the large-scale behaviour of human populations by combining psychology and the mathematics of probability. Using ‘psychohistory’, the protagonist Hari Seldon discovers that the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire will collapse in 500 years. He warns the galactic rulers of this likely fate, while explaining that an alternative future in which human knowledge is preserved can be attained. For his trouble, he is exiled to the remote planet of Terminus.

In today’s world, the prospects for human civilisation, never mind the existence of historians in the future, look bleak indeed.  According to many leading climate scientists and biologists, the most likely outcome for humanity is the collapse of what is called ‘civilisation’. They warn that it may already be too late to change course. These are the shocking expert conclusions, rooted in scientific evidence and careful rational arguments, which are routinely underplayed, marginalised or simply ignored by ‘mainstream’ news media.

Last November, the world’s most prestigious science journal, Nature, published a study by eminent climate scientists warning that nine major ‘tipping points’ which regulate global climate stability are dangerously close to being triggered. These include the slowing down of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, massive deforestation of the Amazon, and accelerating ice loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet.  Any one of these nine tipping points, if exceeded, could push the Earth’s climate into catastrophic runaway global warming. There could even be a ‘domino effect’ whereby one tipping point triggers another tipping point which, in turn, triggers the next one and so on, in a devastating cascade. Given the normal custom of academics to use sober language, the warning statements in the pages of Nature were stark:

‘The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel [our emphasis] political and economic action on emissions.’

The researchers are clear that:

‘We are in a climate emergency and [our study of tipping points] strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.’

In short, there is ‘an existential threat to civilization’ and ‘no amount of economic cost–benefit analysis is going to help us.’This should have dwarfed news coverage of Brexit for months. One of the study’s co-authors, Will Stefen, emeritus professor of climate and Earth System science at the Australian National University, told Voice of Action, an Australian publication, that all this raises the ultimate question:

‘Have we already lost control of the system? Is collapse now inevitable?’

In other words, there may simply not be enough time to stop tipping points being reached, as he explained with this metaphor:

‘If the Titanic realises that it’s in trouble and it has about 5km that it needs to slow and steer the ship, but it’s only 3km away from the iceberg, it’s already doomed.’

We searched the ProQuest media database for mentions of this particularly disturbing quote by Steffen, a world-renowned climate expert, in national UK newspapers. We found the grand total of one in a short article in the Daily Express. What could better sum up the pathology of the ‘mainstream’ news media than ignoring urgent authoritative warnings of the likely collapse of the climate system?

Scientists have been sounding the alarm for some time that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s long biological history. But this time the cause is not a natural calamity, such as a huge volcanism event or an asteroid strike, but human ‘civilisation’. Worse still, the careful evidence accrued by biologists in study after study indicates that the global mass loss of species is accelerating. In 2017, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that billions of populations of animals have disappeared from the Earth amidst what they called a ‘biological annihilation.’  They said the findings were worse than previously thought. Earlier this month, a new study revealed that five hundred species of land animals are likely to become extinct over the next two decades.  Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of the paper, declared:

‘We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.’

While humans continue to destroy species and natural habitats, Ceballos and his colleagues warn of a ‘cascading series of impacts’, including more frequent occurrences of new diseases and pandemics, such as Covid-19. He summarised:

‘All of us need to understand that what we do in the next five to 10 years will define the future of humanity.’

But the crucial window for action is likely much shorter than that. And it is not just the ‘usual suspects’ of Greens and wild-eyed radicals who claim so.  According to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, the world has just six months to avert climate crisis. This is the timescale required to ‘prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe’.

Samuel Alexander, a lecturer with the University of Melbourne and research fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, told Voice of Action that the looming end of organised human society would not be a single event. Instead, we are approaching a stage:

‘where we face decades of ongoing crises, as the existing mode of civilisation deteriorates, but then recovers as governments and civil society tries to respond, and fix things, and keep things going for a bit longer.’

He added:

‘Capitalism is quite good at dodging bullets and escaping temporary challenges to its legitimacy and viability. But its condition, I feel, is terminal.’

Meanwhile, Steffen believes that current mass protests, such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, are not yet a sign of collapse but one of ‘growing instability’. Alexander concurs, saying that it is a sign of ‘steam building up within a closed system’. Without large-scale grassroots action and radical shifts in government policies, we are ‘likely to see explosions of civil unrest increasingly as things continue to deteriorate’. However, he offered hope that, with sufficient public pressure, the future could still be ‘post-growth/post capitalist/post-industrial in some form.’

Graham Turner, a former senior Australian government research scientist, observed:

‘I think if we all manage to live a simpler and arguably more fulfilling life then it would be possible still with some technological advances to have a sustainable future, but it would seem that it’s more likely … that we are headed towards or perhaps on the cusp of a sort of global collapse.’

He fears that the public as a whole will only demand change once ‘they’re actually losing their jobs or losing their life or seeing their children directly suffer’.One positive practical step that people could take, he says, is to push for changes in the law governing corporations:

So that corporations don’t have more legal rights than people, and are not compelled to make a profit for shareholders.’

Meanwhile, Siberia, of all places, is undergoing a prolonged heatwave, described by one climate scientist as ‘undoubtedly alarming’, which is driving 2020 towards being the globally hottest year on record.Media ‘Failure’ Is Default Media PerformanceMany new and dramatic climate findings are, of course, reported in the science and environment sections of newspapers. But the compelling case for a radical shift in society towards sustainability are barely touched upon in corporate news media, for obvious reasons.In particular, the imminent threat of climate collapse rarely intrudes into the numerous pages devoted to ‘politics’, business and the economy. These pages feature a whole slew of correspondents, columnists and commentators who are rewarded for not questioning the status quo.Worse, no leading political editor – the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s Robert Peston spring to mind – ever seriously challenges the Prime Minister, or other senior politicians, on the huge risk of climate breakdown. The Westminster ‘village’ – surely as insular a social bubble as has ever existed in this country – is almost entirely divorced from the reality of onrushing climate chaos.As independent journalist Rebecca Fisher, formerly of Corporate Watch, noted recently:

‘UK’s current form of “democracy” cannot protect the public. The “Westminster model” was developed to promote unregulated economic growth and prevent the public from real participation in how society is run.’

And yet, unlike the power-hungry Westminster navel-gazers, the public does believe climate is an urgent issue. A new survey of 80,000 people conducted across forty countries reveals that fewer than three per cent believe climate change is not serious at all.But, as we and others have long argued, a fundamental obstacle to shifting to a saner, more democratic society is the narrow concentration of media ownership; a structural impediment in today’s world to truly free and open debate. This extreme state of affairs has been tracked in the UK by the independent Media Reform Coalition which represents several groups and individuals committed to promoting journalism and communications that work for the benefit of the public. The MRC is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.The coalition’s most recent report on UK media ownership, published in 2019, revealed that the problem is now even worse than at the time of its previous report in 2015. Just three companies – Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach (publisher of the Mirror titles) dominate 83 per cent of the national newspaper market (up from 71 per cent in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies – News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph – dominate nearly 80 per cent of the market.The report’s authors warned:

‘We believe that concentration in news and information markets in particular has reached endemic levels in the UK and that we urgently need effective remedies. Concentrated ownership creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests.’

The warning is further backed up in a forthcoming book, The Media Manifesto (Polity Books, August 2020), by Fenton and co-authors Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and Lina Dencik. They emphasise a crucial point that is a longstanding characteristic of rational media analysis: we must stop using the misleading framework of media ‘failures’. As Noam Chomsky observed many years ago in describing media performance:

‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’1

It is therefore not a ‘failure’ when newspapers and broadcasters neglect to scrutinise state-corporate power. Granting a free pass to power is virtually their raison d’être. Or, as ‘The Media Manifesto’ observes:

‘[The] inability to hold power to account shouldn’t be seen as an unprecedented “failure” of the media to perform its democratic role when, in fact, this has long been the media’s normal role under capitalism: to naturalize and legitimize existing and unequal social relations.’

The authors continue with examples:

‘It’s not about failing to hold banks to account but about the complicity of financial journalists and commentators in celebrating neoliberal economics ahead of the 2008 financial crash; it’s not about failing to be tough on racism but about the media’s historic perpetuation of racist stereotypes and promotion of anti-immigrant frames; it’s not about failing to recognize the challenges of apocalyptic climate change but about repeating tropes about “natural” disasters such as hurricanes, heatwaves and forest fires, together with routine “balanced” debates between climate change scientists and deniers. These are not examples of the media’s malfunctioning but of its default behaviour.’

But, goes up the cry from the back row, what about ‘our’ blessed BBC? It is, after all, obliged by its Royal Charter to report objectively and impartially, untrammelled by billionaire ownership or tawdry commercialisation. Right? Not so. As Des Freedman observes of the BBC:

‘[It] is a compromised version of a potentially noble ideal: far too implicated in and attached to existing elite networks of power to be able to offer an effective challenge to them’.2

As can be seen every day of the week, the BBC typically follows a similar agenda to UK newspapers in its own news coverage. Freedman adds:

‘Far from retaining its autonomy from all vested interests, and delivering a critical and robust public interest journalism, the BBC has been a key institutional mechanism for reinforcing establishment “common sense” and has represented the strategic interests of the powerful more than the disparate views of ordinary audiences.’

He continues:

‘It has reached the point where even the accomplished former World Service journalist, Owen Bennett-Jones, has condemned the BBC’s dependence on official sources and argues that “there is plenty of evidence that the BBC, in both its international and domestic manifestations, deserves the epithet ‘state broadcaster’.” Without significant reform, public service media are, in reality, just as likely to be embroiled in the reproduction of media power as their commercial counterparts and therefore just as likely to be part of the problem rather than the solution.’ (pp. 23-24)

Fenton emphasises the point later in the book:

‘despite its claims to be impartial and independent, the BBC has always sided with the elite and been in thrall to those in power.’ (p. 88)

Regular readers will be aware that, since we began publishing media alerts in 2001, we have examined in depth hundreds of examples of the BBC doing exactly this. If you include those examples that we highlight almost daily on Twitter and Facebook, they undoubtedly number in the thousands. Many of the most insidious examples of such bias, omission and distortion in BBC News have been expanded upon in several of our books. There is no shortage of evidence that BBC News functions as a propaganda outlet for state and corporate interests.

A fundamental obstacle to radical societal change to avert climate breakdown, therefore, is that ‘mainstream’ media, including BBC News, exist primarily to uphold the interests of capital and, in addition, particularly in the case of the BBC, the state:

‘Modern capitalism resides on the complex relationship between the neoliberal market and the neoliberal state. To address meaningfully the consequences of climate change, massively reduce inequality and eradicate poverty, would destabilize the power relations that underpin finance-led growth. For example, if the mainstream [sic] press industries do not attempt to maximise their profits in any way they can today, they will probably not exist tomorrow.’ (pp. 84-85)

Concluding Remarks:

In a sane world, if senior scientists who normally use understated academic language start warning of an ‘existential threat’ to human civilisation, then responsible news media would leap into action with huge headlines and in-depth coverage. There would be extensive interviews with scientists on BBC News at Ten, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, BBC Radio 4 Today, and other major programmes. They would all follow up with urgent analysis of what needs to be done immediately in the realms of politics and economics to avert the climate threat, or at least minimise the serious consequences of that threat. Instead, state-corporate media have, in effect, exiled scientists to a distant planet in a remote part of the Galaxy where they can be ignored.

Billionaire-owned media, controlled by corporate boards and dependent on corporate ad revenue, and a state broadcaster forever hobbled by bowing to corporate-beholden governments, can never provide the answers to climate breakdown.

As The Media Manifesto argues, with detailed recommendations, we need properly accountable, public-interest news media that are truly democratic, diverse and sustainable.  All the citizen movements that we see today, including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, will not succeed unless common aims are sought across diverse campaigns with a united goal; namely, dismantling the state-corporate media that are the propaganda wing for destructive state-corporate power, and replacing such media with news organisations that serve the public interest.We must be clear that the powerful need to be challenged directly; non-violently, yes, but with strength, persistence and wisdom on the basis of clear strategic aims. Meekly asking for change and accepting weak compromises will not work given the gravity of the climate crisis. Media academic Robert McChesney put it well:

‘Many liberals who wish to reform and humanize capitalism are uncomfortable with seemingly radical movements, and often work to distance themselves from them, lest respectable people in power cast a withering eye at them. “Shhh,” they say to people like me. “If we antagonize or scare those in power we will lose our seat at the table and not be able to win any reforms.” Yet these same liberal reformers often are dismayed at how they are politically ineffectual. Therein lies a great irony, because to enact significant reforms requires a mass movement (or the credible prospect of a mass movement) that does indeed threaten the powerful.’3

In short, the powerful need to have their power – originally stolen from us anyway – taken away from them in order to ensure human survival.

  1. Deterring Democracy’, Hill & Wang, 1992, p. 79.
  2. The Media Manifesto, op. cit., p. 88.
  3. Robert McChesney, Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy’, Monthly Review Press, 2014, pp. 26-27.

An Illusion Of Protection: The Pandemic, The “Criminal” Government And Public Distrust of The Media

Any notion that the UK government actually considers that its primary responsibility is to protect the health and security of the country’s population ought to have been demolished in 2020. The appalling death toll that continues to mount during the coronavirus pandemic is largely rooted, not merely in government ‘incompetence’, but in criminal dereliction of its core duties in a supposedly democratic society.

The UK has the highest death toll in Europe, and the second highest in the world (the US has the highest). On May 12, the death toll from official UK figures exceeded 40,000 for the first time, including almost 10,000 care home residents. A study by academics at the London School of Economics estimates that the actual death toll in care homes is, in fact, double the official figure: more than 22,000.

Government ministers have been scrambling to protect themselves from such damaging facts by spouting empty rhetoric. Health Secretary Matt Hancock actually declared on May 15:

‘Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. We set out our first advice in February… we’ve made sure care homes have the resources they need.’

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke, author of the bestselling book Your Life In My Hands,  rejected his deceptive claim:

‘This is categorically untrue. Care homes were left without testing. Without contract tracing. Without PPE [personal protective equipment]. Without support. You can deny it all you like, Matt Hancock, but we were witnesses – we ARE witnesses – and believe me you will be held to account.’

It is important to note that the coronavirus death toll is even higher than official figures because people are dying from heart disease, cancer, strokes and other illnesses that would otherwise have been treated had there been no ongoing pandemic. Chris Giles, the Financial Times economics editor, has been tracking the number of total excess deaths, issuing regular updates via Twitter. He noted that ‘a cautious estimate’ of excess deaths linked to coronavirus up to May 15 was an appalling 61,200. The FT has published an extensive analysis here with regular updates.

University of Edinburgh researchers have estimated that at least 2,000 lives would have been saved in Scotland – a staggering 80 per cent of the total – if the government had introduced the lockdown two weeks earlier. Rowland Kao, professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study, said there had ‘definitely’ been enough information about the coming pandemic in mid-February. If the lockdown had been imposed across the whole of the UK on March 9, rather than March 23:

‘you would expect a similar effect to the one seen in our research on Scotland.’

In other words, there would have been an 80 per cent reduction in the death toll across the whole of the UK: around 26,000 lives saved (assuming the official undercount by May 3 of 32,490 fatalities). This is a truly shocking statistic and a damning indictment of the Tory government.

Countries outside the UK have looked on aghast while the pandemic death toll here rose quickly, given the advance warnings of what was happening abroad, notably in Italy and Spain. Continental newspapers have been highly critical of the UK government’s response to the pandemic. The German newspaper Die Zeit noted that:

‘the infection has spread unchecked longer than it should have. The wave of infections also spread from the hospitals to the old people’s homes, which could also have been avoided. The government is now trying to pretend to the public that it has the situation under control.’

The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant told its readers:

‘the British were insufficiently prepared for the pandemic, despite the presence of expertise in this area. The country has been catching up in recent weeks. Much of the harm has already been done.’

In France, Le Monde said:

‘Despite Europe’s worst mortality, probably too late entry into confinement and a blatant lack of preparation, the British have so far supported Johnson.’

Here in the UK, honest and responsible journalism would have made it clear, regularly and prominently, that many deaths were avoidable and a consequence of damaging government policies including:

* the imposition of ‘austerity’ in past years

* the deliberate corporate-driven break-up of the National Health Service

* the government’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic

* the belated move to lockdown and the present rush to ‘open up the economy’ and send children back to school

If we had an actual functioning ‘mainstream’ media, it would be holding this disgraceful government to account, properly and comprehensively. BBC News, as the country’s well-funded ‘public service’ broadcaster, would be to the fore of critical and forensic journalism. In a piece published on the progressive ZNet website, Felix Dennis dissected the government-friendly propaganda campaign in the UK media, including the BBC:

‘On April 10, as UK daily deaths became higher than any recorded in Italy or Spain, media coverage led with Boris’ recovery [after being in intensive care], while BBC News’ main headline was about the “herculean effort” of the Government to provide NHS with PPE. Subsequent headlines featured nurses describing treating Johnson as “surreal”, something they’d “never forget” and that he was “like everybody else”; orchestrated artificial grassroots support to boost public opinion about Boris and his government seem likely. The notions of supporting the country and supporting its leader are being conflated.’

In a small concession to the damning truth, BBC News aired Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, who was granted a moment on the Andrew Marr Sunday programme to call the government’s daily press briefings ‘completely embarrassing’. They are ‘not trustworthy communication of statistics’ and no more than ‘number theatre’. But this was a deviation from the broadcasting norm which has regularly seen BBC correspondents, notably political editor Laura Kuenssberg, serving up meek accounts of the crisis on prime-time BBC News at Six and Ten. An article in The Economist was actually titled, ‘The BBC is having a good pandemic’, even as it quoted one unnamed senior BBC journalist who let slip that:

‘the [BBC] bosses are keen that we come out of this with the sense that we looked after the interest of the nation, not just our journalistic values.’

In effect, there should not even be the pretence of ‘impartiality’, but a shoring-up of state propaganda by the BBC on behalf of the government. In fact, this has long been the reality of BBC performance ever since BBC founder John Reith wrote in his diary during the 1926 General Strike that ‘they [the government] know that they can trust us not to be really impartial.’

One welcome exception was the Panorama programme investigating the appalling lack of preparation for the pandemic; not least the inadequate provision of PPE for NHS staff and workers in care homes. But, in yet another sign that any dissent will not be tolerated, Tory Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden then attacked the BBC for straying momentarily from the state-approved script.

‘You Dropped The Ball Prime Minister. That Was Criminal’

Piers Morgan has been a strong and sustained voice challenging government ministers about their policies in his role as a lead presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and on his Twitter account which is followed by over seven million people. In a devastating indictment of the government, Morgan wrote:

‘the virus isn’t like Brexit.

‘It’s not a political ideology that can be open to debate, or an argument that can be won with buffoonery, bluster and Churchillian soundbites.’

Morgan has been so robust in his challenges to the government that ministers, including Boris Johnson, now appear to be afraid of being interviewed by him, refusing to appear on ‘Good Morning Britain’. As journalist Peter Oborne observed:

‘It is disgraceful that the Johnson government boycotts a major national TV news show during a national emergency.’

Morgan went further:

‘Once we allow the Govt to boycott news outlets like @GMB for asking ministers tough questions, it’s a slippery slope to a totalitarian state. Other news organisations should share our disgust at this, because they could be next. Or they will soften criticism to avoid a ban…’

The latter, no doubt, as anyone who has heard of the propaganda model or read Manufacturing Consent will be well aware.

In anticipation of Boris Johnson’s much-trailed speech to the nation on Sunday, May 10, ludicrous celebratory press headlines appeared a few days in advance: ‘Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons’ (Mail), ‘Happy Monday’ (Sun) and ‘Magic Monday’ (Daily Star). This highlighted widescale press subservience to the government’s foolish and dangerous agenda of getting the country ‘back to work’ as soon as possible, putting working-class employees, those most dependent on public transport, at particular risk.

Indeed, when Johnson actually delivered his speech that Sunday evening, having been carried aloft by heaps of hype from billionaire-owned newspapers, he declared:

‘We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.’

But, as Tom London warned via Twitter:

‘People will be bullied, threatened, starved back to work when it is not safe and they are risking their lives and the lives of those they are close to. Neoliberalism has reached its pinnacle of selfish individualism sacrificing the lives of others to feed its greed’.

The muddled and deluded address to the nation was greeted with confusion, scepticism and even derision in many quarters, with the Mirror saying on its front page: ‘Lockdown Britain: It’s chaos’. The prime minister’s speech was, however, acclaimed by the usual suspects of the extremist press, including the Mail, Express and Sun, as well as by the more ‘respectable’ billionaire Murdoch-owned Times and billionaire Barclay brothers-owned Telegraph.

The Mail waxed lyrical about the prime minister setting out ‘the first steps to free Britain’, while cautioning, ‘Boris keeps handbrake on’. The Express, as though copying and pasting from the same government press release, headlined:  ‘Boris: our route to freedom… in baby steps.’  The Telegraph, also reading from the government ‘freedom’ script, went with: ‘the long road to freedom’.

Rational commentary had to be found elsewhere. Richard Horton, Lancet editor, tweeted after Johnson’s speech:

‘My interpretation of Boris Johnson this evening: the pandemic of COVID-19 in the UK is much more serious than we have been led to believe. Johnson was unusually serious, fists clenched, no jokes about squashing sombreros.’

Horton made additional critical comments in a series of tweets, then concluded:

‘Finally, you saw our Prime Minister preparing his defence for the public inquiry: “We didn’t fully understand its effects.” I’m afraid that argument won’t succeed. A PHEIC [Public Health Emergency of International Concern] was called [by the World Health Organisation] on January 30. And then you dropped the ball Prime Minister. That was criminal. And you know it.’

Recall the now infamous ‘Superman’ speech that Johnson gave in Greenwich on February 3 when he extolled the supposed virtues of competition and ‘free’ trade, even in the face of the alarming threat of the pandemic. Here is the relevant extract, available on the government’s own website:

‘we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.’

Never mind ‘bizarre autarkic rhetoric’. What is truly bizarre is that as late as February 3, when Johnson was ignoring WHO advice and wider medical calls to ‘test, test, test’ and to move into lockdown, and during a period when he missed five emergency Cobra meetings, he was proclaiming inanities about Superman. (For an excellent detailed timeline of events, see the regularly updated resource by Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read). Instead, Johnson’s focus – if he can ever be accused of possessing ‘focus’ – was on Brexit and avoiding any measure that might impinge on ‘free trade’.

Suppressing Evidence Of Public Distrust Of UK Press

Last month, as pandemic-related deaths mounted alarmingly, a Sky News poll unsurprisingly showed deep public distrust of British television and newspaper journalists. Only 24 per cent said they trust TV journalists, while 64 per cent said they do not, giving a net score of minus 40. Meanwhile, a mere 17 per cent said they trust newspaper journalists, while 72 per cent said they do not, giving an overall net score of minus 55. The figures were tucked away at the bottom of Sky’s article.

Also last month, a Press Gazette poll showed that around half of those who responded believed public trust in journalism had fallen since the outbreak of the pandemic (around one third believed it had risen, and the rest said it had remained the same). Press Gazette also reported that a new survey by PR firm Kekst CNC showed a collapse in confidence in the media in the four countries surveyed: the UK, US, Germany and Sweden. The UK and Sweden both saw the biggest fall in confidence in the media with a net loss of 21 per cent. Moreover, a special report by Edelman Trust Barometer covering ten countries, including the UK, showed that journalists are the least trusted source (43 per cent) for information about the pandemic, below ‘most-affected countries’ (46 per cent) and government officials (48 per cent).

Of course, this lack of public trust in the media is not limited to coverage of the pandemic. Given the narrow-spectrum right-wing and establishment press dominated by rich owners, and edited by compliant editors with ideologically-aligned views, and given that BBC News so often slavishly conforms to UK press reporting, it is no surprise that overall British public trust in the media is so low. In fact, a recent extensive annual Eurobarometer survey by the European Union across 33 countries reveals that the UK public’s trust in the press is once again rock bottom, even below the former Soviet Union countries of Lithuania and Latvia. As Brian Cathcart, a professor of journalism at Kingston University in London, observes, it is the ninth year out of the past ten that the UK has been last.

The survey results were met with the usual tumbleweed non-response from the British press. Our search of the ProQuest newspaper database yielded just one passing mention in the national press by Alan Rusbridger, former Guardian editor, referring to last year’s survey. (Inevitably, Rusbridger also praised the BBC for its ‘all-round and in-depth excellence’ on coronavirus coverage.)

As Cathcart said:

‘so predictable that an industry with an appalling trust problem chooses to address it by suppressing the evidence of distrust.’

But then, press ‘freedom’ is a cruel sham; only highlighted even more sharply on the recent World Press Freedom Day. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had the temerity to tweet his support:

‘a strong and independent media is more important than ever for transparency.’

Peter Oborne rightly highlighted Raab’s hypocrisy, pointing out the glaring case of Julian Assange:

‘The Wikileaks founder continues to rot in Belmarsh jail as the US demands his extradition on espionage charges. If there was an ounce of sincerity in the foreign secretary’s claim that he is a supporter of media freedom, he would be resisting the US attempt to get its hands on Assange with every bone in his body.’

Oborne also lambasted the British press:

‘British newspapers will not fight for Assange. Whether left or right, broadsheet or tabloid, British papers are agreed on one thing; they’ll fall over each other to grab the latest official hand-out about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiance Carrie Symonds’ baby. Or the new Downing Street dog.

‘They will, however, look the other way when it comes to standing up for press freedom and Julian Assange.’

He added:

‘How pathetic. What a betrayal of their trade. Client journalism. An inversion of what newspapers stand for. If the British foreign secretary is two-faced about a free press, so are British newspaper editors who say they care about press freedom. With even less excuse.’

Lancet editor Richard Horton, mentioned earlier, says that the British government’s response to the pandemic is ‘the biggest science policy failure in a generation’. As noted at the outset of this media alert, this has not been mere government incompetence, but a fundamental failure of its supposed commitment to protect the public. The truth, of course, is that the government is ‘elected’ to represent the elite interests of its principal backers: financial muscle and corporate power, backed by its propaganda wing misleadingly labelled the ‘mainstream’ media.

A longstanding feature of the state has been its reliance on secretive state and military institutions working hard to preserve the status quo. You may recall the threat of a military coup from a senior serving UK army general in 2015 should Jeremy Corbyn ever be elected Prime Minister. In December last year, investigative journalist Matt Kennard reported that UK military and intelligence establishment officials had been sources for at least 34 major national media stories, following Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015, that had cast him as a danger to British security.

As Noam Chomsky has long pointed out, supposedly democratic states regard their own populations as the state’s greatest threat, even in so-called ‘free’ societies:

‘Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population.’ 1

This is why surveillance of the public is such a priority for governments, as we have previously observed (e.g. here and here).

In a recent in-depth article as part of the exemplary Declassified UK series, Kennard and Mark Curtis note that:

‘There is money and power in identifying Russia and cyber attacks as the key security threats facing Britain — but not in addressing the more important issues of pandemics and climate change.’

Former heads of UK intelligence agencies are personally profiting from the ‘revolving door’ between government and business, report Kennard and Curtis. They cite examples:

•           Former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove has earned more than £2-million from a US oil company.

•           Another former MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers, has earned £699,000 from oil giant BP since 2015.

•           Sir Iain Lobban, former head of GCHQ, has become director or adviser to 10 private cyber or data security companies since leaving office in 2014; his own cyber consultancy is worth over £1 million.

Kennard and Curtis write:

‘Since 2000, nine out of 10 former chiefs of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ have taken jobs in the cyber security industry, a sector they promoted while in office as key to defending the UK from the “Russian threat”.’

They add:

‘The British government has been told for over a decade that the “gravest risk” to the country is an influenza pandemic, which its National Security Strategy identifies as a “tier one priority risk”. Yet the security services have largely ignored health threats, despite claiming they are guided by the UK’s security strategy.’

If successive UK governments were genuinely serious about boosting the public’s security, they would be working flat out to protect the population from pandemics and climate breakdown. But then they would be protecting the interests of the majority. And that is not why they are in power.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, 2002, p. 70.

Leaked Labour Report Shows Party’s Own Senior Staff Acted to Keep Corbyn out of Power

In the June 2017 UK general election, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn came within a whisker of power. If just 2,227 votes had gone the other way, seven Tory knife-edge constituencies would have been won by Labour, putting Corbyn in a strong position to lead a coalition government.

Labour achieved 40 per cent in the election, increasing its share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945. As we noted at the time, it was one of the most astonishing results in UK political history.

A leaked internal Labour report now reveals that senior Labour figures were actively trying to stop Labour winning the general election in order to oust Corbyn as party leader. The 860-page document, ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019’, first leaked to Sky News, was the product of an extensive internal investigation into the way Labour handled antisemitism complaints.

The report includes copious damning examples of email and WhatsApp exchanges among Labour officials expressing contempt for Jeremy Corbyn and anyone who supported him, including other Labour staff, Labour MPs and even the public.

The document includes:

  • Conversations on election night about the need to hide internal Labour disappointment that Corbyn had done better than expected and would be unlikely to resign
  • Regular sneering references to Corbyn-supporting party staff as ‘trots’
  • Conversations between senior staff in Labour general secretary Iain McNicol’s office in which they refer to former director of communications Seamus Milne as ‘dracula’, and saying he was ‘spiteful and evil and we should make sure he is never allowed in our Party if it’s last thing we do’
  • Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as ‘medusa’, a ‘crazy woman’ and a ‘bitch face cow’ that would ‘make a good dartboard’
  • A discussion in which one of the group members expresses their ‘hope’ that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, whom they acknowledge had mental health problems, ‘dies in a fire’

The investigation was completed in the last month of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. According to Tom Rayner, Sky News political correspondent, the report found:

‘“no evidence” of antisemitism complaints being treated differently to other forms of complaint, or of current or former staff being “motivated by antisemitic intent”.’

However, the report did conclude that:

‘factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to “a litany of mistakes” that hindered the effective handling of the issue [of antisemitism].’

Emilie Oldknow, a senior Labour staffer, boasted that she had orchestrated that deputy leader Tom Watson delay the expulsion of Ken Livingston. This was with the deliberate intention of embarrassing Corbyn, despite the Labour leader demanding a speedy resolution of a controversy surrounding comments made by Livingston about Hitler and Israel.

An unnamed pro-Corbyn ‘senior source’ who worked in Corbyn’s leadership office said: ‘This report completely blows open everything that went on.’

Referring to then Labour party general secretary Iain Nichol, the source added:

‘We were being sabotaged and set up left right and centre by McNicol’s team and we didn’t even know. It’s so important that the truth comes out.’

This is part of the bigger picture that we have repeatedly highlighted of the weaponisation of antisemitism to prevent Corbyn gaining power. The fact that senior figures within the Labour Party itself were actively working to prevent Corbyn’s victory is grim indeed.

The report says that:

‘The party’s resources – paid for by party members – were often utilised to further the interests of one faction and in some cases were used to undermine the party’s objectives.’

In particular, anti-Corbyn party officials conspired to divert funds to Labour candidates critical of Corbyn. Senior management agreed to ‘throw cash’ at the seat of Tom Watson, then deputy leader and a persistent Corbyn critic.

Significant resources were also channelled to a ‘secret key seats team’ in May 2017, without the knowledge of Corbyn or his office. This secret team worked to support MPs, including Watson, who were on the right wing of the party, diverting funds away from marginal seats.

Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani, who has examined the leaked report, gives examples of remarkable exchanges that took place among senior staff conspiring against Corbyn’s leadership. These include Labour managers expressing hope during the election campaign that the most pessimistic polls were correct. Greg Cook, Labour head of political strategy, said on June 4 – four days before the general election – that he hoped the ‘sheer hypocrisy’ of a Corbyn speech would make his views ‘a legitimate topic’ for attack, even referring to the Labour leader as ‘a lying little toerag’.

When a YouGov poll showed Labour’s rating going up during the campaign, Francis Grove-White, the party’s international policy officer, said: ‘I actually felt quite sick when I saw that YouGov poll last night.’

On election night, after the exit poll revealed that Labour had overturned the Conservative majority, Tracey Allen, the general secretary’s office manager, said that the result was the: ‘opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years.’

She described herself and her anti-Corybn allies as ‘silent and grey-faced’ and in need of counselling.

McNichol – recall that he was the party general secretary – reacted with dismay as the pro-Corbyn results came in: ‘It’s going to be a long night.’

The following morning, Allen bemoaned: ‘We will have to suck this up. The people have spoken. Bastards.’

Emilie Oldknow, a senior Labour staffer mentioned above, was scathing about Labour MPs expressing support for Corbyn following Labour’s surprisingly good election results, describing one MP as ‘grovelling’ and ‘embarrassing’.

As Bastani summarises, the leaked report:

‘depict[s] a disloyal, dysfunctional culture at the top of the party – one which held Labour’s twice elected leadership, party members, and any MPs they disagreed with, in contempt. Far from a few “bad apples” the messages expose systematic and sustained efforts to undermine the leadership by multiple figures in director-level positions.’

Bastani concludes:

‘These revelations should end any debate around whether Labour’s senior management team, including McNicol, were serious about a Labour government in 2017. To the contrary what this stunning cache of documents reveals is how McNicol – and a tight, unelected circle around him – made every effort to undermine and denigrate that year’s election campaign, frequently stating how they hoped it would fail while simultaneously planning to replace Jeremy Corbyn from as early as January [2017].’

Although long suspected, it is still breathtaking to see that senior Labour figures essentially conspired to prevent a Corbyn-led government, and that they would have actually preferred the re-election of an extreme-right Tory government.

Film director Ken Loach told the Morning Star that the leaked report was ‘dynamite’. He added:

‘If the evidence – all the emails and the secretive, abusive messages – is accurate, there has to be a reckoning, there must be consequences for this behaviour.’

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group said:

‘Many left-wing Jewish Labour members had criticised the Labour right wing for cynically using allegations of anti-semitism as a factional weapon. We believed that the leadership was genuine and principled in its efforts to address any such problem. Perhaps this report will validate us.’

It surely does.

Historian Louise Raw responded to the leaked report via Twitter:

‘It’s sickening to read, even though we all *knew*. Destroying Corbyn was a malicious game. The zest of the wreckers, and their hatred for those us who supported him, hits you like a punch to the gut.’

‘Mainstream’ Media Decree What The Story Should Be

But the utterly damning evidence in the leaked Labour report that Corbyn was undermined by his own party’s senior figures – that they were actually complicit in weaponising antisemitism to keep him out of Downing Street –  is not the ‘correct’ story to tell from the perspective of power. Instead, the focus for ‘mainstream’ media has been immediately twisted and deceptively presented as a desperate ‘smear campaign’ against ‘antisemitism whistleblowers’ by Corbyn allies.

Thus, for the staunchly right-wing establishment Times, the required takeaway from the Labour report is this cynical diversion:

‘Jeremy Corbyn’s allies have been accused of a last-minute bid to “smear whistleblowers” and “discredit allegations” of antisemitism in the Labour Party during his tenure.’

Under the headline, ‘Antisemitism “smear campaign” by Corbyn allies’, reporter Eleni Courea features quotes from Gideon Falter, chief executive of the lobby group Campaign Against Antisemitism which played a major role in the relentless attacks on Corbyn:

‘In the dying days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party appears to have invested in a desperate last-ditch attempt to deflect and discredit allegations of antisemitism. Rather than properly dealing with cases of antisemitism and the culture of anti-Jewish racism that prevailed [sic] during Mr Corbyn’s tenure, the party has instead busied itself trawling through 10,000 of its own officials’ emails and Whatsapp messages in an attempt to imagine a vast anti-Corbyn conspiracy and to continue its effort to smear whistleblowers.’

The Telegraph gave its reporting a similar spin, ignoring the mountain of evidence of internal Labour hostility towards Corbyn, acting to prevent a general election victory. Instead, it led with the trumped-up accusation that ‘supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’ had released ‘unredacted details of anti-Semitism whistleblowers into the public domain’. The Telegraph report, like the Times article, gave prominent space to comments from the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

Clearly singing from the same hymn sheet, the Evening Standard, edited by former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, told its readers:

‘Jeremy Corbyn’s allies have been accused of using a report to “smear whistleblowers” and “discredit allegations” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party during his tenure.’

Once again, rather than include any of the many damning quotes by senior Labour staff smearing or disparaging Corbyn, the newspaper gave space to the Campaign Against Antisemitism with its chief executive Gideon Falter once again to the fore. It is worth adding here that Joe Glasman, who heads the political investigations team at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, boasted after the 2019 UK general election that ‘the beast is slain’ and that Corbyn had been ‘slaughtered’.

Evening Standard columnist Anne McElvoy was scathing about the leaked report, denouncing it as: ‘a Stasi-like trawl of internal mails and messages in search of disloyalty.’

She continued: ‘As conspiracy theories go, this one is up there with 5G equipment spreading Covid-19.’

By contrast, the Independent took the leaked Labour report more seriously and quoted from a statement by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs:

‘We understand the disappointment and frustration that many Labour members will feel with the details revealed in this report.

‘It contains revelation of senior officials undermining the 2017 general election campaign and suggests there are cases to answer on bullying, harassment, sexism and racism.’

To its credit, the Independent later published an extensive follow-up piece with a headline that summed up the incredible revelations of the 860-page Labour report:

‘Anti-Corbyn Labour officials worked to lose general election to oust leader, leaked dossier finds’

But, true to form, BBC News struck its usual pro-establishment ‘impartial’ stance by featuring the omnipresent Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism. However, it did at least permit a tiny hint at the essential awkward truth in a brief line:

‘…some [senior Labour figures] seemed to have “taken a view that the worse things got for Labour, the happier they would be since this might expedite Jeremy Corbyn’s departure from office”.’

A later piece, clearly meant as a more extensive account but buried deep in the ‘Politics’ section of the BBC News website, had all of seven sentences of ‘analysis’ by BBC Political Correspondent Helen Catt; the crucial one being:

‘it’s the allegation that Labour staff worked against a win for Mr Corbyn in the 2017 election that is likely to be most incendiary, if proven.’ [emphasis added]

‘If proven’. Once again, copious examples of senior Labour staff working against a Corbyn win are excluded from a ‘mainstream’ media report.

And where is BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg? Has she gone into hiding? This is a major BBC figure who, month after month, channelled a one-sided account of Labour’s supposed antisemitism crisis, including an infamous BBC Panorama programme demolished as a ‘catalogue of reporting failures’ by the Media Reform Coalition.

Her silence now on the leaked Labour report is shameful and a kick in the teeth to the TV licence fee-paying public which she supposedly serves. Where are all her tweets decrying the betrayal of so many British voters, and the betrayal of democracy itself? Why is there nothing about it on her BBC blog?

And yet, Kuenssberg was happy to use her influential Twitter platform to amplify a message from Iain McNichol on April 4, less than two weeks ago:

‘Labour’s former General Sec now Labour Peer, Iain McNichol – “The sad fact that Labour has the lowest number of MPs since the WW2 tells you everything you need to know about the Corbyn experiment. I like, thousands in the Labour party, am thankful that chapter is now closed.”’

Her silence now on the revelations concerning McNichol’s despicable role in thwarting a Labour victory in 2017 is telling indeed.

Likewise, where is Robert Peston, the ITV political editor? Why does his blog have nothing on this scandal? Where are all his Twitter remarks on the shocking truth of the subversion by senior Labour figures of Corbyn’s attempt to win the 2017 general election? According to Michael Walker of Novara Media, reporting via Double Down News on 15 April, Kuenssberg and Peston, along with Paul Brand of ITV and Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun, have not tweeted at all about the report.

The harsh truth is that these journalists have been selectively filtered upwards into their highly influential positions, having demonstrated that they would be safe choices at each stage of their respective careers.  In other words, there would never be a serious risk that they would pursue real journalism that truly holds power to account.

And will BBC Newsnight’s ‘lead presenter’, Emily Maitlis, be commenting? On April 1, she retweeted a thread from someone called Dave Rich. The first tweet in the thread all but described Corbyn as a Nazi:

‘Goodbye Jeremy Corbyn. They said you don’t have an antisemitic bone in your body. That may be true, but your brain is full of it. Can we remember all the examples? Probably not but I’ll have a go /1’

This was retweeted by this senior BBC journalist to her quarter of a million followers. Maitlis has interviewed and discussed Corbyn innumerable times over the last five years. Can anyone believe, after reading this, that she was impartial, objective and neutral in so doing?

Perhaps the state-corporate media’s elitist and arrogant attitude to the leaked report can be summed up by the disdainful dismissal from Times columnist Iain Martin: ‘shut up, no-one cares right now.’

True enough: ‘no one cares’ about the subversion of the 2017 general election…if you are a beneficiary of the inequitable system of what passes for ‘democracy’.

As for the relentlessly anti-Corbyn Guardian, a lead player in the propaganda blitz to keep even a moderate socialist out of power, its report by deputy political editor Rowena Mason led with a mild headline merely suggestive of the underlying reality:

‘“Hostility to Corbyn” curbed Labour efforts to tackle antisemitism, says leaked report’

How about ‘Hostility to Corbyn curbed Labour efforts to win the 2017 general election’? That would be more of a fitting headline.

Mason gave no details of the copious examples of anti-Corbyn plotting and loathing we cited earlier in this media alert. But she did somehow find space for a tweet from Ian Austin, a former Labour MP who had left the party because of its supposed endemic antisemitism. Austin called the leaked report ‘unreliable’, adding:

‘In last days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour trawled through 10,000 emails and messages to produce a report into antisemitism that attempts to shield him and his supporters from any blame, and instead pin responsibility on whistleblowers and former members of staff.’

Unmentioned in the Guardian piece is that Austin is now the UK trade envoy to Israel, a reward for his pro-Israel services.

Compare Mason’s bland piece of ‘balanced journalism’ with the succinct summary offered by former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook:

‘The Labour party inquiry now being suppressed has a trove of emails – some cited in this article – *proving* that Labour’s top officials plotted to bring down Corbyn and sought to engineer a Tory election win. Their actions probably cost Labour the 2017 election.

‘Don’t forget that the gang of Labour officials quoted here – boasting to each other about how much they wanted Corbyn gone, even if it meant letting in the Tories – were *extremely* close to the gang at the Guardian who led the media’s efforts to sabotage his leadership.’

Adding to the shame of the Guardian’s role in stopping Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, the anthropologist and social commentator David Graeber observed via Twitter on April 12:

‘in Aug 2019 I tried repeatedly to get a piece in the Guardian suggesting anti-Corbyn saboteurs in the LP [Labour Party] were fanning the flames & doing so was itself #antisemitism. Editor told me explicitly I would NOT be allowed to criticise Corbyn’s critics motives’

Graeber shared the relevant text of what a Guardian editor had told him:

‘I understand what you’re saying but we can’t carry an article which reads like an ad hominem attack on people who most prominent Jewish people call allies. It’s too much of a leap from most people’s understanding of this issue (not to say libellous) to declare people such as Tom Watson antisemites – or, at best, manipulative.’

This ‘argument’ from a Guardian editor – whom Graber declined to name – is nonsensical. As one Twitter user said, replying to Graeber:

‘Readers’ understanding of the issue having of course been formed by the articles The Guardian did chose to print. It is a chilling admission by the paper that it is no longer prepared to print articles that dissent from its editorial line.’

Graeber agreed:

‘yes exactly – this is the circularity that’s amazing. “No one will believe this because it departs from the conventional understandings which we’ve been hammering into them for two years now so you can’t say it.”’

In fact, far from it being ‘too much of a leap from most people’s understanding’, Graeber sets out his case very clearly and compellingly in this new clip titled ‘The Weaponisation of Antisemitism’ from Double Down News (April 12, 2020). In particular, Graeber points to the insidious roles played by such Labour figures as Ian Austin, Margaret Hodge, Tom Watson, John Woodcock, Joan Ryan, Jess Phillips and Tony Blair in promoting a supposed crisis of antisemitism in Labour:

‘What actually happened [was] a group of people, most of whom were not Jewish, going to the media and screaming their heads off, trying to create hysteria, trying to terrify the Jewish population, trying to create an atmosphere of fear, of potential purges within a political party. Because then people are going to think, well maybe there is some kind of conspiracy going on. I mean, it wasn’t as it turned out largely a Jewish conspiracy going on because most of the people doing it weren’t Jewish. And most of the people who were Jewish were hardly representative of the Jewish community at large.’

Graeber has set out this theme at greater length in an article he wrote last year for openDemocracy, titled: ‘For the first time in my life, I’m frightened to be Jewish’.

Closing Remarks

The newly leaked Labour internal document reveals the fear and disgust amongst many figures in senior Labour Party management towards socialism in the UK. So many Labour figures at the top simply could not bear the prospect of the mildly progressive Jeremy Corbyn reaching Number 10 Downing Street.

Where are the media headlines, interviews and extensive analyses of how senior insiders colluded for Labour to lose a general election? What about the betrayal of all those Labour MPs, staff and volunteers who worked to overturn a destructive right-wing Tory government? What about all those millions of British people who voted for a shift to a more just and compassionate society? A society in which the NHS is truly valued, the welfare and benefits system really does act as a safety net for all, radical carbon cuts in emissions are implemented immediately, and in which foreign policy is no longer guided by outdated and discredited brutal imperialism and the supposed need for a profitable ‘defence’ industry.

Is ‘democracy’ so unimportant – or so repellent – that the UK’s most highly-rewarded and prominent news media, editors and journalists can dismiss the revelations behind the 2017 general election with such superficial reporting or, worse, a disdainful silence? Especially given the present coronavirus pandemic, and the ever-looming climate catastrophe that threatens to overwhelm us all, the implications of stifling a rational leftward shift in British society, and the wilful refusal to examine what happened, are almost too horrendous to imagine.

“Can I Keep You Safe? Your Future Is Uncertain”: Climate And The Fate Of Humanity

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the most immediate objective is to slow its spread, minimise the death toll and help people through the crisis.  But, despite government promises to support citizens who are now losing their jobs and income, the underlying establishment concern will be as it always has been: to preserve the global inequitable system of wealth and power.

Private interests, including airlines, fossil fuel industries and sinister-sounding ‘businesses crucial to national security‘, have been busy lobbying governments for taxfunder-paid bailouts. Notoriously, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic even asked its employees to take eight weeks of unpaid leave, while hundreds of thousands in the UK are struggling to access benefits after becoming unemployed.

Governments are now channelling money into the economy in amounts that have not been seen since the Second World War. However, there have been calls to ensure that public rescue packages should only be agreed if major changes are made to the economy, including significant public ownership of business. There should also be legal and financial consequences for socially irresponsible or criminal corporate behaviour. Surely this all makes sense and would have massive public approval?

So far, the omens are not good. Last week, the US approved a $2 trillion ‘financial stimulus package’ largely intended to prop up the corporate economy. Zach Carter, a senior reporter at HuffPost, warned that:

It is not an economic rescue package, but a sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics that will resonate for a generation.

It represents a transfer of wealth and power to the super rich from the rest of us, with the support of both political parties ― a damning statement about the condition of American democracy.

In particular, as we will see below, many voices are rightly urging political leaders around the world not to abuse public funds by bailing out corporations that are complicit in climate breakdown. Instead, the priority should be to stimulate the vitally-needed transition to a truly green economy.

‘An Unraveling Of Our Planet’s Entire Life Support Systems’

The previous global economic crisis and financial meltdown of 2007-2009 only led to a temporary dip in carbon emissions. Vested interests moved quickly at that time to ensure that there would be no long-term shift to a low-carbon future.  In the US alone, $700 billion in public money was given as an initial bailout in 2008 to the very banks who were responsible for the crisis. But public funds were funnelled into the financial system for years afterwards, rising to almost $5 trillion by 2015.

Kyla Tienhaara, an environment and economy researcher at Queen’s University, Ontario, notes of oil, gas and coal corporations after the 2008 crash:

The fossil fuel lobby ensured that carbon capture and storage projects sucked up a significant amount of green stimulus funds, but not a lot of carbon dioxide.

With academic understatement, she warns now that:

Bailouts to the fossil fuel industry and airlines would be monumentally counterproductive.

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley, uses stronger wording:

It would be insane to reflate the fossil economy as it was.

Basav Sen, who directs the Climate Policy Project at the US-based Institute for Policy Studies, is clear:

We’re facing down not just a pandemic and a global economic meltdown, but an unraveling of our planet’s entire life support systems.

He adds:

A healthy future for oil and gas inevitably means a bleak future for most humans and for ecosystems. At precisely the time that scientists say we should be phasing out oil and gas production, a bailout to this destructive industry is a giant step backwards.

Mary Robinson, the former Irish president who served twice as UN climate envoy, warns:

‘Money has poured into the fossil fuel industry since the Paris agreement [of 2015]. That can’t continue.

The figures involved are almost beyond comprehension. A new study by an alliance of US-based environmental groups reveals that the world’s largest investment banks have pumped more than £2.2 trillion into climate-wrecking fossil fuels. US bank JP Morgan has been the biggest offender, responsible for over £220 billion in oil, gas and coal projects.

It was economists at JP Morgan who issued a stark warning last month that the climate crisis threatens the very survival of humanity. Inevitably, there was no sign from the investment bank that it would respond with the only obvious sane move: the immediate cessation of all its fossil fuel funding. Instead, the bank was at pains to point out that the alarming study came from a team that was ‘wholly independent from the company as a whole’.

Does anything more clearly sum up the madness of a global economy fuelled by climate-wrecking industry and Big Money? Not even the imminent threat of human extinction is enough to divert the current profit-driven course towards the abyss.

Civilisation’s demise would be the ultimate crash resulting from a deeply unjust corporate-driven global system of finance and economics.  Even now, at this terminally late stage of human existence, BBC News can only tangentially hint at the grim reality, with bland headlines such as:

Climate change: The rich are to blame, international study finds.

Roger Harrabin, the grandly-titled BBC ‘environment analyst’, wrote that:

The rich are primarily to blame for the global climate crisis, a study by the University of Leeds of 86 countries claims.

Note the BBC newspeak: ‘claims’; not ‘reports’ or ‘concludes’. The BBC article continued in typically anodyne fashion:

The wealthiest tenth of people consume about 20 times more energy overall than the bottom ten, wherever they live.’The researchers warn that:

unless there’s a significant policy change, household energy consumption could double from 2011 levels by 2050.

2050? Three decades away? We simply do not have that much time. The United Nations insisted two years ago that humanity has only until 2030 to make the radical and drastic carbon cuts necessary to prevent merely the worst impacts of global warming.

For obvious reasons, there is no sustained critical reporting in ‘mainstream’ media about the destructive nature of the global system of profit maximisation and endless ‘economic growth’. As we have long observed, you simply cannot expect the corporate media to report the truth about the corporate world.

Battered By Propaganda

A core problem for society is that we have been battered by a system of propaganda that tells us repeatedly – or simply takes as a given – that capitalism, despite a few ‘failures’ or ‘flaws’, has been primarily responsible for huge progress in the human condition since the Industrial Revolution. However, as economic anthropologist Jason Hickel correctly observes, we should reject this ‘fairytale’ promulgated by big business, political leaders and state-corporate media.

In reality, it has been people at the bottom of the pile – working for centuries to extend the voting franchise, setting up trade unions, improving healthcare and education – who have been primarily responsible for advancements in living standards. These grassroots factors, says Hickel, ‘are the forces that matter’.

Even Noam Chomsky, the world’s most renowned dissident, only ever appears rarely in the ‘mainstream’ to critique the ruling inequitable economic system and the charade that passes for ‘democracy’. Ideologically correct-thinking editors and journalists in the major news media, selected by a system that rewards obedience to power, are unlikely to offend their employers by promoting ‘extreme’ views like Chomsky’s:

What our leaders are good at, and have been very good at for the last 40 years, is pouring money into the pockets of the rich and the corporate executives while everything else crashes.

Meanwhile, climate scientists continue to wave their arms frantically about climate breakdown, trying in vain to make governments and business divert from their disastrous course towards human extinction. A new study of human-caused emissions of methane from the extraction and use of fossil fuels may have been ‘severely underestimated’. Emissions are likely 25-40 per cent even higher than previously thought.

Inevitably, climate records continue to tumble. Researchers are now warning that the polar ice caps are melting six times faster than in the 1990s:

The ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica is tracking the worst-case climate warming scenario set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Is it any wonder, after decades of ignored ‘wake-up calls’, that climate scientists are venting their feelings of powerlessness and despair? Joe Duggan, a science communicator at Australian National University, has been running a six-year project collating such responses from climate researchers.

One scientist, Professor Katrin Meissner of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, told Duggan that:

I feel powerless and, to a certain extent, guilty. I feel like I have failed my duty as a citizen and as a mother because I was not able to communicate the urgency of the situation well enough to trigger meaningful action in time.

What we are doing right now is an uncontrolled, risky experiment with the planet we live on.

Dr Jennie Mallela, of Australian National University, commented:

So how do I feel? Frustrated, angry that our science is ignored by politicians, scared for my husband [a bushfire fighter] and all the others who are on the frontline fighting these fires and trying to help.

But mostly I feel devastated for my son, and his generation, who will have to heal this planet and live with the mass environmental destruction we have caused.

Environmental scientist Alexandra Jellicoe recently published a beautiful and heartfelt open letter to her young children:

Can I keep you safe? Your future is uncertain. Can I prepare you for that? […] I am brokenhearted. What is a mother if she cannot keep her child safe?

She continued:

I imagine sometimes what I would like to do to keep you safe in this terrifying world we have created. I imagine an army of compassionate people fully informed of the risks who live freely enough to disrupt the fossil fuel economy. We would hijack the media and create urgent public awareness campaigns…

The hardest work, I imagine, would be to create a world that is kinder, less competitive and more equal. Philanthropy and aid are not solutions for the world’s poorest but the symptoms of a broken global economy. My army and I would rage at the injustice of it all, driven forward in the knowledge that these things must be addressed to keep you safe.

In short:

We are at a cross-roads now. You have two futures and I am powerless to influence which finds you.

As individuals, it may sometimes feel that we are powerless. But the brighter, safer, saner future can still be attained, if we remember that together we have more power than the destructive forces driving us towards extinction.