Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Syria - more arms, more killing

The European Union's decision to drop the arms embargo on Syrian opposition forces signals a depressing new turn in that country's already tortured civil war.

And how familiar to see Britain and William Hague leading the case for gifting EU arms to the 'rebels'.

As Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson tweeted:
"How I'd love to take W Hague to Syria next time and have him explain how his arms will only get to the "right" gunmen. Assinine. [sic]"
"don't make a bloody situation bloodier".
Alongside strong warnings from Oxfam, the point is reinforced by politics lecturer Andrew Mumford, outlining the high risks of proxy interventions:
"The understanding that proxy interventions actually prematurely end an existing conflict belies evidence that on the whole they actually prolong such conflicts largely because a weak warring faction is boosted to the point of creating stalemate. A flood of weapons or surrogate forces into an existing warzone gives one or other of the parties involved further motivation and support to fight on, not collapse or seek negotiation. With Britain and France now boldly declaring their desire to ship arms to the insurgents, Syria seems destined to endure a bloody extension of its civil war."
Mumford also notes the considerable risk of 'blowback' across Europe in response to such provocation, something Hague and his French associate Laurent Fabius seem to have wilfully ignored. 

But why, 'inexplicably', did twenty five other 'resistant' EU member states apparently cave-in to the British-French lobby?

A reasonable clue might be John Kerry's offering of a 'helping hand' in the matter, 'encouraging' the EU to go along with the UK-French call.

In response, Russia has stepped-up its armed support of the Syrian government. As reported:
"The move by Moscow was criticised by the White House, which said arming the Syrian government did "not bring the country closer to the desired political transition" that it deserved."
Rich words, indeed, from America - even if Russia is also to be condemned for piling on the weaponry - yet all all too typical of Obama's slick wordplay.

There's also, of course, Israel's weapons-wielding hypocrisy, bombing provocations and now counter-threats to Russia, all making for a deepening war scenario.

With US endorsement, Hague is talking-up a 'level playing field' for Syria, evading the awkward certainty of arms reaching the al Qaeda-linked forces now leading the Syrian opposition.

Significantly, it's this aspect that's being posed by the BBC and other media as 'the key question', the liberal 'dilemma', rather than the actual increase of arms and inevitability of more killing.      

As Shamus Cooke notes on both Western and Saudi manoeuvring over Syria and the region, few of the serious questions of source, association, delivery and intention are being asked:
One question the U.S. media never thinks of asking is: Where did all these Islamic extremists come from and why? The Sunni Islamic opposition inside Syria has long been religiously moderate, implying that many of the extremists are foreigners.

The ideological source of this extremism came from Saudi Arabian religious figures and their allies, who use Islam as a political tool to target nations “unfriendly” to Saudi Arabia and the United States. The most glaring example of this in regard to Syria was the Fatwa (official interpretation/statement) issued by 107 Islamic scholars that denounced the Syrian government and encouraged Muslims to fight against it. The statement essentially encouraged jihad, though the word wasn’t mentioned explicitly.

The statement includes:
“It is a duty for all Muslims to support the revolutionaries in Syria [against the government] … so that they can successfully complete their revolution and attain their rights and their freedom.”
The hypocrisy of such a statement is almost too glaring: the many Saudi figures who signed the document that want “freedom” in Syria are not demanding freedom in Saudi Arabia, by far the country with the least amount of freedoms in the world.

With Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing guns to the Syrian rebels — with help from the CIA — the Saudi religious figures attached to the Saudi regime give religious/political support by misleading devout Muslims to flock to Syria to attack a country of Muslims, thus creating the giant sectarian divisions we now see throughout the Islamic world.
And so, as in the spiralling Sunni-Shia carnage across Iraq and Libya, Syria is also feeling the double and interconnected spectre of Western 'assistance' and sectarian killing.

While, post-Woolwich, Cameron urges a renewed battle against Islamic extremism, the dark paradox is that the West is helping to wipe-out another secular entity in the region.  

As Cooke concludes:
Obama has taken the saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” to irrational heights, and in so doing is helping to produce a new generation of Islamic extremists that will help fuel the U.S.-led never-ending “war on terror.” The real intention of the War on Terror is not to stop terrorists, but to target nation states that are opposed to U.S. foreign policy: Iraq and Libya — like Syria — were both secular countries at the time of their being invaded; Afghanistan was invaded even though the vast majority of those involved in the 9-11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. There was no terrorist problem in Iraq before the U.S. invaded, just like there was no terrorist problem in Syria before the U.S.-backed rebels came onto the scene.
Thus, we see another Western-promoted calamity, causing ever greater destabilisation and misery in the region.

Meanwhile (invoking a useful Media Lens term), "here's one we liberated earlier".

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Calling time on the corporate media

David Edwards, one editorial half of the ever-challenging Media Lens, asks today at the ML board:
Time to abandon the corporate media? 
It's something we've proposed in the past. Imagine if all our favourite dissident commentators - Chomsky, Pilger, Greenwald, Hedges, Moore, Klein, Weisbrot, Jay et al - deprived the corporate media of their support and worked under a single cooperative umbrella sending out everything completely, 100% free, as we do. How much global public interest and support do you think they'd generate? I think it would be huge.

It might persuade other corporate dissidents to 'defect'. And here's the real thing, because none of them would need to worry about upsetting corporate gatekeepers, they could all be totally honest in their analysis, notably about the media (even the best of them are not, currently, for 'strategic' reasons relating to corporate inclusion). That would make their analyses even more honest and interesting. People would love it even more, attracting even more support.

And when you look at climate inaction, it's clear that the attempt to change the world through corporate inclusion has been a spectacular failure on even the most obviously crucial issue. Does anyone really believe it's going to improve?

Between the mass distortions peddled by state media like the BBC and what passes for a 'progressive liberal-left' media, has there ever been a more pressing need to develop something truly alternative?

And bear in mind that the working foundations for it are all essentially in place with already vibrant non-corporate online media outlets like Real News, Democracy Now, ZNet and, of course, Media Lens itself.

The fact that the most substantive part of public exposure to news, information and comment is also online, rather than in print, suggests a massive new opportunity for shifting decisively now to something truly radical in its independence and outreach.

While it's good to read, for example, a Greenwald or Milne piece at the Guardian, dissident output is still carefully policed and compromised by corporate-liberal constraints.

And that process of token media inclusion and incorporation is vital in maintaining popular control and passive acceptance of the whole system.     

Consider the alternative: the same kind of writers and even less inhibited analysis coming from a 'Free Media Co-operative'. Why would that have any less of a global following and impact?

And just think of the radical publicity in itself as corporations and advertising-dependent media tried to take it down.

As the forces driving war, poverty, austerity and, most pressingly, climate change continue their rampant destruction of people and planet, the need for real citizen journalism should be seen as an emergency task. 

Alarming times. Exciting times.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Woolwich to Kabul - getting street-wise about war

In the wake of the Woolwich killing of a soldier, many, including the dead man's family, have expressed bewilderment that 'this kind of thing' could have happened on 'our streets'.

Yet, where should wars, 'our' wars, be waged? On the 'Arab Street'? On the 'High Street'? On Baghdad's streets? On London's streets? On 'their' streets? On 'our streets'? 

Have a look here at the list of horrific deaths and injuries inflicted by Nato forces on Afghan streets:

2001-2006       2007 
2008       2009       2010

2011       2012       2013
And then care to reflect on why many people appalled by Woolwich also seem so perplexed and angry.

Could a key part of the reason be that, unlike Woolwich, so many 'here' receive almost no information on such fatalities and, thus, hold little regard for what's happening 'over there'?

Is their condemnation and anger motivated only by base human concern over an awful killing or conditioned also by a gross imbalance in their view of war-assaulted 'others'?  

In stark contrast to what happens when a soldier dies, whether 'here' or 'there', Afghan deaths are ignored and anonymised: where are their names and faces, their voices and stories, the mass media coverage of their deaths and families' suffering?

That, of course, covers just some of the staggering tragedy that is Afghanistan. Just think of the many more grieving families that have cried just as painfully over lost loved ones on Iraqi streets, on Libyan streets and, for over six decades of Israeli occupation and murder, on Palestinian streets - for, in its consistent support of Israel, that's also a Western-waged war.

As we rightly think of another family's terrible personal loss on a Woolwich street, try to imagine, if that's not too difficult amid the mass propaganda, a 'global street'; one on which we all live, where, on some ravaged parts of it, many more suffer and die horrendous deaths, victims of war and aggression routinely waged against 'them', but seldom troubling 'us'.

When invasion and persecution 'there' become intolerable, others, as seen, will likely take to 'our end of the street' intent on waging savage retribution. Whether the perpetrators are raised 'here' or come with dark intent from 'there' makes no essential difference, either to the nature of their grievance or their terrible, mistaken means of 'redressing' it. 

The violence such people bring to 'our' part of the street does nothing to help those suffering at the war-broken end. Indeed, it only intensifies their suffering as such acts are further used to legitimise illegal wars and intensify the spurious 'war on terror'. Result: more violence, more blowback, more street hatred, more disturbing powers for the state to impose upon the street at large.

Contrary to Jonathan Freedland's illogical claim that left voices are using such attacks to 'make their anti-war case', and should refrain from doing so, it's not remotely hard for any rational, or street-savvy, mind to see that Western invasions and Nato killing will only increase the likelihood of such responsive atrocities.  So, why is Freedland not speaking about the massive and irrational propaganda process serving to stifle that truth rather than questioning the motives of those trying to expose it?  

Nor, for Glenn Greenwald, should we be surprised now by the art of distortion which, blatantly or mendaciously, seeks to castigate such views as 'warped' or the conclusions of 'terror apologists'.     

That, in turn, gives licence to other misguided people, like the EDL, now pledged to 'defend our streets' with their own hate-fuelled threats and  retributive violence.

Such escalation is ugly enough, most obviously for an anxious Muslim community once again compelled to demonstrate its 'peaceful intent'. Yet, how darkly ironic that while Muslims are being killed in their millions in places 'over there', it is also the very religious community 'here' that's most under attack as a 'threat to our civilization'.

Whatever the complexities of conflicting Islamic strands, or problem of jihadi fanaticism, that's a remarkable inversion, one which seems not to merit serious reflection from 'our civilizing' media now talking-up an 'inevitable clash of civilizations'. 

All that serves as a vital smokescreen for Western war policy. For Cameron, it helps divert attention from the political rather than religious issues behind Woolwich and other such attacks. 

For while we should, indeed, fear the irrationality of the religious-driven zealot, Muslim, Christian or otherwise, what greater suspicion should we have of the righteous political warmonger and their zealous adherence to corporate-driven militarism?    

And isn't it also perversely ironic that Saudi Arabia, the very state now forefronting the export and funding of violent religious jihadism in Syria, is the one most closely protected by Britain? 

While Cameron is busy selling even more weaponry to that fundamentalist entity and backing the jihadist end-users in Syria, he is calling for a 'responsible' Islamic community to 'work with us' in serving to 'root out the extremists'. If only more of 'us' were being encouraged to think about that vast deception and hypocrisy.

Instead, Boris Johnson and other war-promoting populists get to proclaim their 'Britain carries on' messages, urging more vigilant and defiant defence of 'our streets'.            

Here, beyond such jingoism and deceit, is a more inclusive piece of street thought: it's not just 'our' street that matters, it's everyone's street, one which we share a common duty to look after, with equal concern for all living on it.

Hopefully the stark imagery of a Woolwich street will not only serve as a disincentive to other brooding individuals contemplating irrational, useless violence, but also make people a little more street-wise about the much darker set of violent forces killing wilfully around the world and fuelling those very illusionary thoughts.  

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Woolwich killing - asking the hard, human questions

A man, a soldier, is brutally murdered on a Woolwich street. Politicians rush to emergency meetings. Reporters survey the scene, run 'terror warning' front pages and ask how such an atrocity 'could ever happen here'.
Yet, beyond the standard political condemnation and media 'examination', what more humanitarian thoughts and questions might be invoked over this horrific death?
The first compassionate thought should always be with the immediate victim, the person or persons killed, the life taken. That means all persons killed, all life taken, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or on 'our' streets.
The next thought, equally human, but of more compassionate purpose, should be to ask ourselves why these kind of violent attacks are happening. Is it enough, or even useful, just to feel appalled by such violence? Is it remotely helpful just to condemn? Or is it more productive and humanitarian to ask what compels or encourages it?
An ITN report on the killing noted: "A British soldier killed not in war, but at home" - war, presumably for such journalists, being something that can be visited upon others, in their countries, but not here in 'ours'.   
Yet, are we really to believe that lands can be illegally invaded, their resources stolen, their people slaughtered, and that others, 'homegrown' or otherwise, will not react, often violently, to those appalling situations?
Ex-soldier turned anti-war campaigner Joe Glenton is in no doubt:
"So at the very outset, and before the rising tide of prejudice and pseudo-patriotism fully encloses us, let us be clear: while nothing can justify the savage killing in Woolwich yesterday of a man since confirmed to have been a serving British soldier, it should not be hard to explain why the murder happened. [...] It should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home. We need to recognise that, given the continued role our government has chosen to play in the US imperial project in the Middle East, we are lucky that these attacks are so few and far between."
As we advance that line of enquiry, further humanitarian questions occur: why was this killing announced, particularly, as a "terrorist" attack? What makes an attack on a soldier or a civilian here different from a soldier attacking and killing either a combatant or a civilian in Afghanistan?
As Glenn Greenwald asks:
How can one create a definition of "terrorism" that includes Wednesday's London attack on this British soldier without including many acts of violence undertaken by the US, the UK and its allies and partners? Can that be done? [...]The reason it's so crucial to ask this question is that there are few terms - if there are any - that pack the political, cultural and emotional punch that "terrorism" provides. When it comes to the actions of western governments, it is a conversation-stopper, justifying virtually anything those governments want to do. It's a term that is used to start wars, engage in sustained military action, send people to prison for decades or life, to target suspects for due-process-free execution, shield government actions behind a wall of secrecy, and instantly shape public perceptions around the world.
In essence, is state killing not terrorism? Are people not terrorised, terrified, by helicopter gunships? Is the killing of a person in this way any more or less gruesome than the obliteration of an Afghan child with an F-16 missile? Is a 'surgical strike' any more palatable than a surgical hacking? Would the bloody outcomes of Nato strikes ever appear so graphically on front pages the way they have for the Woolwich killing?
Having dutifully repeated what official sources had briefed as a 'terrorist' attack, the BBC's  Nick Robinson later tweeted: "To those offended by my describing the attacker as of "Muslim appearance" - I was directly quoting a Whitehall source quoting the police."
Robinson later apologised for the remark. Yet, alongside the insistence on a 'terrorist' crime, here, unwittingly revealed, was a consensually-loaded interpretation from police, government and the BBC.
What, does a Muslim supposedly 'look like'? Is it conceivable that any of these institutions would ever speak of an alleged attacker as being of 'Christian appearance' or 'Jewish appearance'?
Besides the 'incriminating look', various suggestions have been made about the questionable sanity of those who carried out this attack.  Yet, why is this question confined to such assailants? 
As Arundhati Roy notes, while Obama goes about his family life, he is ordering drone strikes that terminate other families' very existence.
Noting the public appearance of leaders like Blair and Obama, Roy describes their acts of war and violence as "psychopathic", observations that invite us to think about what separates 'respectable' appearance from true and disturbing intent. 

Watching the fawning media treatment still enjoyed by Blair, the issue is not just whether his actions may be psychopathic. It's that the very suggestion of such a question is not even up for reasonable discussion, even in the liberal media.  

While the precise psychiatry of people like Obama and Blair may be open to conjecture, what's certainly evident is their willingness to execute decisions that would in any other set of circumstances, like Woolwich, be deemed criminally psychotic in their ruthless disregard for other human beings.
The killers at Woolwich had visible blood on their hands. But Blair, Obama, Cameron and others have much, much more of it on theirs, even if it's unseen.
And so, a deeper question arises: watching Obama with his wife and kids, seeing him at the ball game, visiting victims of gun crime or natural disasters, how can we find it in ourselves to castigate such 'just like us' people?
Why do we so readily condemn one act of terrible killing, but not those who perpetrate horrific multiple others? Is it simply because the latter don't actually pull the trigger, fire the missile or release the bomb? 
Besides the actual absence of balanced news and information exposing our governments' crimes, the psychology of mass propaganda plays upon a very basic emotionalism, encouraging a deep human reluctance to see those 'close' to us as murderous or clinically suspect.
Even now, ten years on from the decision that led to mass slaughter in Iraq, how readily might we really imagine, or wish to see, Blair jailed for high war crimes? Why is that possibility still beyond much of the public's comprehension? And why, with all their mass criminality, are leaders like Cameron still permitted to claim such 'moral authority', from calling for 'more benign intervention' in Syria to denouncing the Woolwich killers?   
And remember too that those Western leaders of 'benign appearance' are the very same ones ready to support and fund those of 'Muslim appearance' and jihadi intent in Syria, just as they once expediently backed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.
The public may readily rationalise all this by saying 'well, politicians have a job to do, often an unenviable one'. But the basic question remains: why are those like the Woolwich killers denounced as evil and insane, terrorist and extremist, fanatical and deranged, while powerful mass killers are treated with blanket deference and respect?
 As that most salient book title asks: Why Are We the Good Guys?
It's of considerable significance why power and a service media will always pose the easiest questions, while evading the most difficult.
The easiest question to answer here is why those men at Woolwich and others have committed such crimes. However mistaken in their response, and however personally responsible, it's because they see violence as way of expressing political grievances and just retribution against oppressor forces.  
The harder and more useful question to pose, yet the one consistently avoided, is why those like Obama and Cameron continue to kill so criminally and mercilessly around the globe.
One may assume that such figures see killing as part of their 'office duty', caught up as they are in a world of profit-driven economies, neoliberal demands and insatiable militarism. That, by any decent moral compass, all seems pathological. Yet none of their violence or the forces behind all that are up for serious political or media discussion.    
And the further key question is how people come to see one such instance of killing as evil terrorism, while the other is accepted as respectable and sane. Again, this question is rigidly avoided by a media unwilling to examine its own culpability in feeding that distortion, thus validating more Western warmongering and creating the very conditions for violent reaction.

Until those hard, humanitarian questions are not only asked but seriously addressed, the calamity of Western state violence will continue, and the kind of responsive violence we've seen in Woolwich will surely follow on.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Exchange with BBC on Iraq war fatalities

Whether you're soaraway Sun or BBC 1
Misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction
The killing in Iraq goes relentlessly on, nominally reported by the BBC as "sectarian", rather than invasion-created, violence.

No mention, contextual or otherwise, of the West's primary crime and responsibility for all of this carnage. 

And while the body count from such bombings is noted, the BBC still offer little or no detail of the wider war-led mortality figures within this deeply traumatised state.

On which note, an exchange with the BBC over its selective use of Iraq war death data:

Original letter to BBC (29 March 2013):
I'd like to request that the BBC end its selective use of Iraq Body Count (IBC) when denoting civilian war deaths in Iraq.

The issue of BBC bias towards IBC and the false impressions it serves is discussed here.

As noted, the following suggests a simplified alternative which, rather than IBC's limited and misleading count, offers a more informed and balanced range of figures:

Civilian war deaths in Iraq

Iraq Body Count (IBC)
(till Dec 2012)
110,937 - 121,227

Lancet/Johns Hopkins survey
(March 2003 - end of June 2006)

Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey
(August 12–19, 2007)

Source: Wikipedia

Please consider replacing sole reference to IBC with this fairer and more viewer-serving graphic.

The use of IBC as an 'authoritative' and singularly-mentioned figure is widespread across the BBC, which suggests that a specific executive/editorial decision has been taken in this regard.

I'd like to see any copy or/and details of that decision-making process.

As the BBC's own charter/editorial guidelines specify a requirement to be neutral and impartial, I look forward to a fairer presentation of this key information. If such an alteration is not undertaken, I intend to seek a ruling on this matter from the BBC Trust.

For the purposes of this complaint, I cite the following online report and its singular, biased use of IBC figures:

Iraq 10 years on: In numbers

I look forward to your reply.

John Hilley

From BBC (17 May 2013):

Dear Mr Hilley

Thanks for contacting us.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we’re sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

[Administrative details...]

We forwarded your concerns to the BBC News website team who respond to your concerns as follows:

"We have reported over recent years on the various attempts to catalogue the death toll in Iraq, and on the controversy surrounding the different figures.

The Iraq Body Count is the only organisation to offer an actual count covering the period since the US-led invasion. Other organisations seek to estimate the death toll at particular points in time, using statistical and sampling techniques.

In the particular graphic you cite, we attempt to show the rise and fall in deaths and casualties over the 10 years since the invasion. The Iraq Body Count is the only source that we feel we can rely on for this specific data. This graphic is not about numbers, but about the pattern over that period and other sources do not provide this information."

Please be assured that your complaint has been registered.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer
BBC Complaints

Reply to BBC (19 May 2013):

Dear Gemma McAleer

The deceit and evasion in your reply is glaringly obvious.

The first link here gives distinct prominence to IBC, with only cursory mention of Lancet/Johns Hopkins and no mention of ORB, the others providing only basic news/assessment of the Lancet study and Iraqi Family Health Survey.

However, the issue is not just about discussions of those latter studies - sparse as they are in overall BBC output - but, more specifically, fair and equal presentation of such sources/data in viewer graphics.

It's clearly evident that the BBC has selected IBC's data because it reflects UK/US war killing in its least damaging light. Your every excusing word makes the BBC complicit in disguising that crime.

Also, if, as you claim, the point of the graphic is "not about numbers", why insist on a count-based graphic at all?

And even if it's about showing "a pattern over that period", why still exclude illustration of the other studies?

I've suggested that, for balanced information, the BBC could show a (simplified) caption with all these sources and their respective data. Why is this so problematic?

I've also asked for specific information on who at the BBC made the editorial decision to 'adopt' IBC and how that decision was arrived at.

Since neither that nor a satisfactory answer to my question about using additional sources has been received, I wish to have my enquiry elevated to 'stage 2' consideration.

John Hilley

It would be deeply intriguing to have an account of the BBC's internal discussions on this matter.

Their reluctance to divulge such information is often based on a key clause in the Freedom of Information Act (2000), specifying an obligation only to disclose information "held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature".

As noted by the BBC: "This means that the Act does not apply to material held for the purposes of creating the BBC's output (TV, radio, online etc), or material which supports and is closely associated with these creative activities."

All of which, as with the suppressed war deaths figures, keeps viewers from knowing more particularly how that editiorial decision was arrived at.

A similar request made to Channel 4's editorial team has not been answered. An exchange with Jon Snow on the issue of war death figures can be seen here.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Breaking news: BBC to be axed

Here's Johnny!

Some discomforting suggestions have been received that this writer may be a little too 'Shining-like' in his eyeballing of the BBC.  

As a reader here recently commented:

"I can hear the sound of an axe grinding. BBC-bashing never goes out of favour."
A small hatchet-job of a reply, in itself. All welcome, of course, and, as with this blog's title, treated with a little 'maniacal' mischief. But still the kind of sharp retort that BBC defenders often deploy in trying to make its critics sound shrill, vexatious or even deranged.

So, it's with 'sanity-reassuring' timing that my respondent's rebuke coincides with the posting of a notable piece from Craig Murray declaring that it's now "time to abolish the BBC":
"I increasingly find myself advocating political opinions I would have found anathema five years ago. I am forced to the opinion that now it is time to abolish the licence fee and end all public funding to the BBC. We should not be blinded by nostalgia; the BBC has no claim to impartiality or “public service ethic.” Nor, for the most part, to quality. Talent shows, reality TV and endless cooking and property auction programmes are not something everybody should be obliged to pay for, on penalty of not owning a television."
And judging from most responses to Murray's call, along with other online discontent, the 'axe-grinders' and 'Beeb-bashers' may be forming a very long and 'menacing' queue at the BBC's door.

It's perhaps apposite to have Murray, an ex-Foreign Office ambassador 'gone native', declare that the axe should now finally fall on the BBC.

Many of the BBC's foreign correspondents resemble in role something not unlike the comfortable Foreign Office corps Murray once uneasily numbered, appointed to far-flung corners of the nominal Empire to survey 'troublesome indigenes' and 'bat for Britain'.

The BBC's Jerusalem bureau is a particularly homely outpost, its 'field reporters' barely ever visiting the West Bank or bothering to chart Israel's daily brutalities and Palestinian suffering.   

A small few, like Jon Donnison in Gaza, report and sometimes engage as more 'realising' journalists, prompting concerns that their views might be 'a little too native' for comfort.

No such worries with those like Mark Mardell in Washington, employing every last loyal adjective to talk-up 'cool-guy partners' Obama and Cameron, ponder the 'options' for 'just war intervention' and wax lyrical on the 'special relationship'.

There's also the swotting 'bunker analysts' like Frank Gardner, Mark Urban, Kevin Connolly and Jonathan Marcus, all absorbed with their weapons graphs, rocket capabilities and 'war on terror' scripts, seemingly indifferent to the human costs of war technology.  

Up front, we see the likes of Gavin Esler, Kirsty Wark and Jeremy Paxman playing convivial studio hosts to war criminals like Paul Wolfowitz, Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell, never apparently aware of, or inclined to examine, their own complicit disguising of such crimes.  

And when really big events like the Arab Spring unfold, revered seniors like Jeremy Bowen and John Simpson are called in to give their 'expert, weighty analysis', very little of which, bias aside, is ever very analytical or informed.

Meanwhile, the appointment of self-declared Zionist James Harding as head of news, alongside other Israel-supporting executives, illustrates the BBC's vital capacity for safe-handed continuity in all these system-supporting roles.  

Within that network-preserving and mutually-admiring bubble, BBC editors and correspondents invoke their 'world-leading reports' and 'challenging standards'. With a twinkling eye, no doubt, to fellow insiders, rather than true independent journalists like John Pilger or Jonathan Cook, BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet recently tweeted in an online Q&A: 
"My "idols" are journalists who ask hard questions, never stop searching for answers, are bold and brave."
Those familiar with Doucet's own 'journalism' might recall her cringing interview with Nato General Stanley McChrystal, cravenly evading his past record and murderous tenure in Afghanistan. 

Long-time reporters like Doucet seem genuinely enthralled about their careers and experiences in the field. But with this comes both a blanket reverence for their profession and an attuned understanding of how to self-moderate.   

As Doucet imparts her wisdom on the issues of new frontier media and 'probing journalism' to the BBC Academy, here's a useful question she and her peers will likely never ask those in power: by what moral or ethical authority does Britain or America have the right to lecture anyone, any other country, on human rights or make any case for 'just intervention'?

And, perhaps, another that reporters and schools of journalism will prudently bypass: by what right does the BBC, funded by the public purse, assume the authority to exclude and marginalise serious dissent and wide opposition to those kind of warmongering policies? 

Yet, what of all those BBC programmes - drama, science, comedy, sport and other light entertainment - made outwith BBC news and current affairs? What about upholding that BBC 'public-service ethos' free from advertising and commercial demands? Do we want an entirely Murdoch-styled and controlled media?

Valid as these concerns might be, the truth is that the BBC is already corporatised, dumbed-down in search of ratings and, as many a brushed-off enquirer to its labyrinthine complaints process will testify, oblivious to serious public scrutiny.   

On one key issue alone, the BBC has completely failed in its public service duty to 'inform and educate': where is its leading commentary and wide scientific output on the massive subject of climate change?  

Moreover, should we be expected to fund, without effective choice, an institution that has served every establishment position since its inception, from its demonisation of the 1926 General Strike to supporting the invasion of Iraq, from the shrouding of Britain's black-ops in Northern Ireland to the breaking of the miners strike, from denying a humanitarian appeal for Gaza to forever placating Israel's apartheid state?

Consider also the BBC's current, carefully-disguised efforts to undermine the case for Scottish independence, in quiet service to the establishment-preferred Union. 

As witnessed in the coverage of Thatcher's passing and service, the BBC is the ideological bedrock of militarism, royalism and, as with Question Time, every linked symbol of our 'participatory' parliamentary 'democracy'.  

While BBC correspondents denounce and deride state media in places like North Korea, British state media oversees a process of daily propaganda so entrenched and unquestioned it subverts anything Pravda might have remotely hoped for. 

And with that establishment service comes the reciprocal closure. What other institution so riddled with dark scandals, corruptions and cover-ups could be exempted and protected from top-down purging?

Craig Murray's execution call might not be a pending reality. Viewers will likely wish to maintain a BBC that can still deliver decent, sometimes brilliant, output. But gathering public awareness of the BBC's institutional bias, war-supporting record and basic journalistic amateurism may be drawing many of those same viewers and others away.

And if that's taking the disillusioned to alternative, independent news media sites, so much the better.     

In that enduring, thoughtful and patient pursuit, 'BBC-bashing' must, alas, continue.        

Here still cometh the (very gentle) 'axeman'!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Media Lens - the click-click-click of metronomic journalism

Watch 32 discordant metronomes achieve synchrony
The latest alert article from Media Lens, You Say What You Like, Because They Like What You Say, offers a  penetrating study of attuned and tempered journalism, with some fascinating imagery of synchronised metronomes helping to convey the processes of conditioned uniformity across a corporate-establishment media.
Thanks also to ML for including my 'sketch' of a notable BBC royal reporter at Glasgow Central Station.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The West's Syria 'conundrum' - BBC's problem-posing deception

How is the case for Western 'intervention' in Syria being presented and normalised by an 'impartial' BBC? 

From headline news to 'expert analysis', the BBC filters a reportage which, through routine exposure and viewer osmosis, is priming the public, once again, to think the unthinkable about 'military options' and 'bombing solutions'.

Following dutiful BBC protocol, and having to avoid open statements of support, it works, more pervasively, as a deeply-intimated language of leading words and signifiers all framed around a 'problem-posing' narrative which casts leaders like Obama and Cameron as 'well-intentioned players' trying to get their 'honest heads' around the 'limited options' of what can be done about Syria.

Here's some extracted examples of the 'conundrum' format from the BBC's North America correspondent Mark Mardell (comments italicised):
But Syria is the hard case. Both Europe and the US are slowly inching towards arming the rebels. But that commonplace phrase disguises the fact that the "arms" will be well short of anything the rebels actually want to finish this protracted business.

For Mardell, "hard case" is about the West finding ways of effecting its policies rather than exposing the West's own dark involvement or considering solutions that might benefit the Syrian people. It's also about finding ways of finalising the rebels' "protracted business" rather than ways of ending the killing.

For months now, the noises from Western capitals have vacillated between the cry "Something must be done!" and the forlorn reply "But what?"

No suggestion here that those cries could ever be mendacious or warmongering in content and tone. For Mardell, "the cry" from Western capitals is always benign, even when it's 'vacillating' or 'forlorn'.

One rather lame answer is the idea of a peace conference dangled by Russia.

And, of course, it must be "lame" if it's "dangled", like some slyly poisoned apple, by those in non-Western capitals.

But there's not much diplomatic chatter about the proposal, which seems more like a passing thought than a hard plan. I get the impression that the US and Europe will go along with what they privately regard as a bit of a charade only because they have no better ideas.

Perhaps the lack of chatter concerns a Western disinclination towards anything that doesn't ultimately involve the removal of Assad. No passing thought from Mardell on that possibility. Also, imagine Mardell using such prose to describe Israel's 'peace process' as a "bit of a charade", one that the US and Europe not only go along with "because they have no better ideas", but actively promote in order to stifle any real ideas that, in undermining Israel, would actually resolve the problem.

Which brings us back to "arming the rebels" and allied concepts like a no-fly zone.

Yes, the ever-returning possibilities of armed 'solutions', where things like 'no fly zones' assume all the benevolent overtones of "allied concepts" rather than strategic war-fuelling control. Why not 'bring us back' to ultimately-needed possible peace concepts, however difficult, of protracted talk and negotiation?

Enthusiasts insist it isn't that difficult - find the right sort of rebels and give them the weapons they need. But as one insider put it to me: "What if we give the minority we trust the good stuff and five miles down the road they run into a road block and Islamist nutters take it off them? How does that help?"

Again, the terrible 'weight of Western responsibility', the 'White Man's Burden'. Or, as Mardell intimates, the 'intractable problem' of how best to realise 'our wise and moral intervention'. The BBC doesn't actually have to endorse the "enthusiasts" or the 'wary doubters'. It's enough that their correspondents pitch the issue in this agenda-setting way.

No-one has any particularly good answers to this conundrum. We'll see today if the two leaders can come up with anything that squares the circle.

Yes, like Israel-Palestine, it's just another difficult "conundrum" for the West. As with the West's dark part in that 'endless conflict', nothing here about its cynical manoeuvrings in Syria's destruction. And, as ever, the enduring 'trust in ours': let's just watch and hope that 'our' leaders can find something in their reputable policy arsenals to square the circle.

It's not just the loaded words, the establishment-serving intimations, the service journalism, it's also the base intellectual poverty of Mardell's 'analysis'.

Here, by way of an antidote, is Patrick Cockburn's informed assessment of Western, notably British, deceptions in Syria and the region, past and present: History lesson the West refuses to learn.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Hawking's support for boycott - a 'quantum leap'

A momentous boost for Palestinians and the pro-Palestine movement in the decision of renowned professor of physics/cosmology Stephen Hawking to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel.

While actual justice for occupied and besieged Palestinians may still seem many political 'light years' away, this declaration from such a notable and respected figure represents a kind of 'quantum leap' in the popular projection of the Palestinian cause.

As confirmed by Cambridge University, Hawking has acted in specific support of the academic boycott movement:
“I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
Israel and its supporters have reacted with dark hostility, some of the criticism disgusting and vitriolic.

Besides serving to expose such virulence, Hawking's decision and reaction to it has all been to the good in stimulating the boycott and raising awareness of the actual arguments.

In a concise article, Ben White lists five key reasons for approving Hawking's action and supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) agenda at large.

In short:

5. It serves to counter 'Brand Israel', the state-cultural effort to whitewash apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
4. It helps expose the hypocrisy of those like Shimon Peres, a war criminal masquerading as a dove.
3. It shows that boycott is perfectly consistent with, not against, dialogue, serving to open up discussion of the occupation rather than engage in protective/excusing words.
2. Rather than allow impunity, it offers a tactical means of making Israel accountable for its crimes.
1. Above all, it recognises that Palestinian civil society is itself asking for BDS.

Ali Abunimah, a key advocate for BDS echoes all these points, rejecting, in particular, the spurious claim that it diminishes 'dialogue' and the 'peace process':
"One of the most deceptive aspects of the so-called peace process is the pretence that Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides, equally at fault, equally responsible – thus erasing from view the brutal reality that Palestinians are an occupied, colonised people, dispossessed at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth. For more than two decades, under the cover of this fiction, Palestinians have engaged in internationally-sponsored "peace talks" and other forms of dialogue, only to watch as Israel has continued to occupy, steal and settle their land, and to kill and maim thousands of people with impunity."
For Abunimah, Hawking's laudable decision is no less than "a turning point" in international support for a public boycott. Phyllis Bennis has described the independent evaluation of this greatest living scientist as "huge" in its significance, particularly as Hawking was asked as the keynote speaker at the Peres conference, an event of key importance in promoting and branding Israel.

And there's little doubt that Israel is deeply concerned about such a prestigious figure taking such an open position. Suddenly, someone who has been revered for his brilliance to science and human understanding is now pilloried for his rational arguments and humanitarian actions.

Faced with such notable stances and the confidence it offers others to follow - the upcoming under-21 UEFA championships in Israel providing another key test for the regime, as dissenting players join other public and cultural figures - Israel's advocates are engaged in a gathering damage limitation exercise.

Uneasy about denouncing someone of Hawking's stature, some have sought to belittle such 'signatures' and, just as deceptively, criticise the 'selectivity' of given causes.

For example, writing at the Guardian, Jewish Chronicle comment editor Jennifer Lipman argues:
"It's disingenuous, investing one signature with the weight of an entire political approach, and implying that because of a person's notoriety, their pronouncements are gospel instead of what they are – the views of someone no more or less informed. Many causes need glitter to get a hearing. The Rohingya Muslims, for example: their plight rarely makes the front page. George Clooney brought Darfur to the world's attention. You can say plenty about Gaza, but you cannot claim it is ignored by the mainstream media."
But who is claiming such 'investment' as "gospel"? What's "disingenuous" about a person, any person, giving their name to a just cause, one that they've thought conscientiously about? And precisely where are we seeing all these people like Clooney standing up for Palestine or any other issue/cause/state not approved of by the West? If they do, they're at risk of political-cultural ostracism and career decline.

Patronisingly, Lipman asserts that the issue is too complex for 'easy avoidance' of the 'facts':
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extraordinarily complex. It requires activists with a vested interest to focus on the facts, to aim for more than point-scoring, and consider the real questions – how to end the cycle of violence, for one, and how to educate people on both sides as to why two states is the answer – not which celebrity agrees with them."
Whose 'facts', one wonders? These will, no doubt, be those 'all-important' Israeli 'facts on the ground' - the settlements, the wall and all other aspects of the occupation and siege - that we're asked to recognise.

And why the 'educational imperative' that a two state solution is the only answer?  Or is Lipman afraid that even the 'average observer' is able to see the other much fairer, but more troubling, option for Israel: one state built on equal democratic rights for all citizens, all people?

Nor can Lipman avoid the familiar 'dialogue' trope:
"What the Middle East desperately needs is dialogue, which is why I believe a boycott cannot offer a constructive approach. The discussion could well benefit from meaningful interventions from intellectuals like Hawking, but these must go beyond headline-grabbing."
Thus, advocates for Palestine are merely "headline grabbing" in applauding Hawking's position. Deductively, Hawking, as another clear and willing advocate, must also be engaged in such "headline grabbing" rather than considered thought on what Lipman and others would have us believe is a 'complex' matter.

Perhaps she thinks even someone with the mind to grapple quarks and black holes is somehow unable to grasp the relatively simple equation that Israel's occupation is illegal, that its apartheid policies are indefensible and that its refusal of justice is deserving of the civil-humanitarian responses given by Hawking.

A further pro-Israel argument suggests that other injustices deserve the boycott treatment before Israel. In a fine rebuttal of Israeli academic and Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger, Israeli writer writer Noam Sheifaz rejects the claim:
"The notion according to which the horrors in Syria or Darfur make ending the occupation a less worthy cause represents the worst kind of moral relativism, especially when it’s being voiced by members of the occupying society."
Sheifaz also neatly answers anti-boycott liberals 'opposing' the occupation and the posturing appeals of 'neutral' academic institutions:
"Yet the thing that made Prof. Strenger jump is not “any action” but rather something very specific – the academic boycott. Personally, I think that his text mostly portrays a self-perception of innocence. Israel, according to Strenger, doesn’t deserve to be boycotted and the “liberal academics” – like himself – specifically, don’t deserve it because they “oppose the occupation.” At this point in time, I think it’s impossible to make such distinctions. The occupation – which will celebrate 46 years next month – is obviously an Israeli project, to which all elements of society contribute and from which almost all benefit. The high-tech industry’s connection to the military has been widely discussed, the profit Israeli companies make exploiting West Bank resources is documented and the captive market for Israeli goods in the West Bank and Gaza is known. Strenger’s own university cooperates with the army in various programs, and thus contributes its own share to the national project."
Some other 'left' opposition to Hawking's decision is based on a crude misrepresentation of the BDS movement itself, citing its 'driving one state' view and 'goal' of destroying Israel. As should be patently clear, this, as Abunimah shows, is part of the same pernicious Zionist myth:
First, the facts. The 2005 Palestinian BDS call makes absolutely no mention of one state or two. It is not a call for a political “solution.” It is a rights-based call with three clear demands of Israel:
(1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
(2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
(3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Second, any informed person would know that the vast majority of organizations represented on the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) – the movement’s steering group and collective leadership – explicitly support a two-state solution. 
Plainly, BDS is not a 'solution-based' organisation, simply an inclusive vehicle for opposing the occupation and a means of garnering broad support for it through a particular strategy.    

In all these regards, Hawking's decision to boycott is of vital worth, both in its moral integrity and in its logical reasoning. It's a sign of Israel's deepening concern that its proponents have little in response but lame, fabricated and misleading arguments.

For Hawking, BDS and anyone else concerned about realising an end to Israel's brutal occupation and oppression, the point is not just to keep talking, but to keep talking about the core issue of injustice and how we transcend the artificial call of 'dialogue'.