Friday, 15 September 2017

Questioning BBC militarist-speak: an exchange with the Executive Complaints Unit

Following prior correspondence with the BBC over its coverage of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, an exchange with the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit.

(Sent 3 September 2017)
Ref: CAS-4541173-LC5LL7

Dear ECU

Further to my recent complaint, I wish to register my dissatisfaction with two BBC response pieces, and to request that the ECU now consider the four specific points raised in my original letter.

On point 1, please provide a detailed response to my question, and specify precisely why, according to Sean Moss, this requested information is "not a service we [the BBC] provide". 

On point 2, please tell me why the BBC failed to offer any counterview to Admiral Philip Jones and other military/political/public figures in its live report pieces on HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

On point 3, please tell me why, with reference to the BBC's Charter requirements for 'impartiality' and 'due weight',  no such alternative view can be discerned either here or over the BBC's wider output.

On point 4, please show me where the BBC's coverage of HMS QE, and other similar events, have been specifically contextualised and explored in relation to Britain's aggressive militarism, arms supplies to tyrant regimes, and particular part in the bombing of Yemen. Also, given its highly approving coverage of HMS QE, please explain why the BBC offer no similar level of coverage to describe and question the scale, cost and devastating human impact of such weaponry?          

All correspondence on this matter can be read, in sequence, via these links:

Drool Britannia: complaint to BBC over naked militarist propaganda

BBC naval gazing and coverage of British militarism: a further exchange

BBC all on deck, lauding 'benign' state militarism: a further exchange

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards
John Hilley
------------------------------

Reply from ECU Complaints Director Colin Tregear:

14 September 2017

Dear Mr Hilley

Your complaint about BBC News

Thank you for your email of 3 September regarding the BBC News coverage of the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth.

As you know, the BBC Complaints Team has informed you it does not intend to respond further to your complaint. It now falls to the Executive Complaints Unit to decide whether you were given a reasonable response to your original complaint and whether the BBC Complaints Team was correct in deciding that further investigation of your complaint wasn’t justified. This is in line with the Interim BBC Complaints Framework and Procedures1 which sets out the process for handling complaints.

I understand you think the coverage amounted to “state media propaganda” and the BBC took “an obviously strong and partisan position in upholding, praising and celebrating… British state militarism”. You are, of course, entitled to your view but I think the responses you received from Emma Duff on 24 August and Sean Moss on 29 August were reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances, addressed the specific concerns you raised and explained how the requirements of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines for due impartiality were met. I therefore think the decision not to engage in further correspondence on the matter was justified.

I should clarify you can make a Freedom of Information request for the information you requested in Point 1 of your email of 3 September. Details of how to do so can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/foi/requesting-information.

There’s no provision for further appeal against this decision within the BBC. However, you can contact the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, if you believe your complaint has identified a breach of the Ofcom Code (which can be seen at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-andon-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code), though of course it would be for Ofcom itself to decide whether to consider your complaint. Information about lodging a complaint with 1

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/accountability/consultations/complaints_fram ework.pdf 2

Ofcom can be found at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/how-to-report-acomplaint. Ofcom acknowledges all complaints received, but will not normally write back to individual complainants with the outcome of its considerations.

Yours sincerely
Colin Tregear
Complaints Director

-----------------------

Dear Mr Tregear

Thanks for your reply. It is clear from your cursory and patrician-like response that no serious or detailed consideration of my original questions was ever forthcoming.

You are also, of course, entitled to your view on such matters, the substantive difference being that the ideological basis of the opinion you so openly express here duly fits with the BBC's own establishment worldview.

Or, as Noam Chomsky once reminded Andrew Marr, if you held any radically different views, you wouldn't be sitting where you are (1).  

You call the responses to my questions on such matters "reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances." How very BBC. Is it unreasonable or inappropriate to ask why the BBC are such ready exponents of expanding British militarism, yet such feeble voices on its appalling human impact?   

In routinely lauding Britain's power-projecting warships, killer planes (2) and state-of-the-art laser missiles (3), the BBC are acting as an effective public relations arm of the MoD and its corporate partners.     

As with its dutiful silence on the state-corporate villains (4) trading this past week at the DSEI arms fair (5) - and that dark organisation's hosting of Michael Fallon's monstrous sales pitch (6) - the BBC's failure to cover, question and expose Britain's relentless warmongering, wicked weapons economy and supporting culture of militarism renders it a complicit party to mass UK crimes around the world.

I trust that readers of this and my preceding correspondence with the BBC over its HMS QE coverage will, at least, have gained some further insight into the power-serving nature of British state media, the editorial framing of its militarist narratives, the lamentable absence of alternative views, and the Orwellian layers of mitigation and denial helping to keep public objections to all such propaganda safely marginalised.

Perhaps, one day, some of those same 'journalists', editors and gatekeepers may come to reflect more internally on the BBC's key part in helping to sell aggressive militarism and whitewash UK/Western war policy, all serving to increase and perpetuate vast human suffering.  

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=GjENnyQupow
(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38510344
(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-30145680/flying-the-nintendo-fighter-jet
(4) https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/arms-fairs/dsei
(5) https://www.dsei.co.uk/#/
(6) https://twitter.com/markcurtis30/status/908259508992049154

Sincerely
John Hilley  

Thursday, 31 August 2017

BBC all on deck, lauding 'benign' state militarism: a further exchange

Following an initial letter/reply and further exchange with the BBC on its reporting of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, I received this latest communication (29/8/2017) from the BBC's Sean Moss. My further response is noted below.

Dear Mr Hilley
Ref: CAS-4541173-LC5LL7
Thank you for getting in touch again about our live page reporting on the arrival of new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in its home port. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-hampshire-40937149)
To take your original points in order, at your request:
1: This isn’t a service we provide.
2:  The premise here is your belief that an unquantified but significant strand of public opinion, which you term as “anti-war,” exists and should have been included in our coverage here. However the fact that alternative views exist on a given story does not mean that we’re obliged to include them and this story, at its core, is about the completion of a new UK aircraft carrier and its journey to its home port. Your characterisation of the alternative view here is also largely based on your interpretation of the navy’s role and the words "maritime power," which you outline exclusively along military lines without referring, for example, to additional functions in humanitarian and emergency scenarios and in supporting efforts against international crime.
3: As above, there’s no obligation we reflect every view on a subject and we believe the contents of this live page adhered to our requirement for due impartiality.
4: This is essentially an entirely separate point, linked here for the purposes of your wider argument and to which we can only add that we’ve reported extensively on the Yemen Crisis, most notably including Orla Guerin’s report from the city of Aden, published last month. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-middle-east-40748158/yemen-crisis-bbc-gains-rare-access)
On September 8th last year Newsnight reported on a draft copy of a report into whether UK-made weapons are being used against civilians in Yemen, asking “Do weapons sold to Saudi Arabia by Britain break international humanitarian law with their use in Yemen, and if so, what should be our response?”
So this isn’t a topic that has gone unexplored by BBC News and we've noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC's standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply.
If you are dissatisfied about our decision not to take your complaint further, you can contact the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) who will consider whether this was an appropriate decision.
If you wish to contact the ECU please write to it within 20 working days of receiving this reply. You can email ecu@bbc.co.uk  or write to: Executive Complaints Unit, BBC, Broadcast Centre, London W12 7TQ. Please include the case reference number which you have been given.
Best wishes,
Sean Moss
BBC News website
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/ 
My response

Dear Sean Moss


Thanks for replying. As expected, your response merely confirms the BBC's capacity for uniform-speak. It's yet another illustration of state media marching in tune with state militarism.


Allow me, in turn, to address your points in the same order.   
1. This is blatant evasion. At the very least, you should provide some justification for the extent of journalistic resources expended on this story, an output, we must suspect, consistent with the wasteful expenditure on the ship itself. Readers of your dismissive reply here can judge for themselves what lies behind such a denial of basic public information.

2. Isn't it all too revealing that you choose to interpret "maritime power" in this case as somehow 'benign'? You object that I didn't note the Navy's "additional functions in humanitarian and emergency scenarios and in supporting efforts against international crime." Why didn't Admiral Sir Philip Jones specifically use that kind of terminology - something like 'major maritime support role' - rather than his very obvious assertion of boastful militarist might? That's the real profile being projected by Admiral Jones, as amplified by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon:

Today we welcome our mighty new warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth to her home for the very first time. She is Britain’s statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role.
The BBC's eager repeating of such messages demonstrates just what kind of part it plays in defining and promoting expansionist UK militarism as legitimate and benevolent. 

Here, via author and historian Mark Curtis, are some helpful links illustrating the British Navy's true, extremist agenda, and the BBC's role in approving it: 

UK Navy's openly-declared goals are to control resource-rich regions and threaten those who challenge this. 
Read what the Royal Navy is saying. Our military is managed by imperialist, militarist extremists. 
The #BBC is simply a medium for the British state, a key part of its information operations 
Again, this can’t be MSM newsworthy since it would serve no political/propaganda function 
How did the Head of UK Navy become radicalised? Was it his private madrassa? The videos he watched? Could MI5 have prevented it? 
UK disinformation system is so extreme, Head of Navy's extremism doesn't even get reported, let alone ridiculed. 
Head of Navy confirms official meaning of 'national' . I.e, 'militarist elite'. Similar to term 'national interest'. 
One of the government's embedded spokespeople at the BBC. 
'Warfighting': the UK's comparative advantage in the global division of labour, as seen by elites  
#Oman, already a crawling UK intell base, has in effect become a UK military colony.
Reminder: New 'UK' aircraft carriers will also deploy *US* combat aircraft. para 3.19 
UK's new Navy warships are appropriately named 'City-class', indicating ongoing commercial/military imperialism 
Head of Royal Navy. Actually, aircraft carriers are offensive attack systems, used in first strike. See use of term ‘deterrent’ to mislead.
Citing the UK government's "massive £178 billion military re-equipment programme", and key speeches given recently by Admiral Jones to the City of London, Curtis observes that the head of the Royal Navy:
"is seriously saying that British sea power and military force will protect and British financial and commercial interests, including those of the City of London, especially in Asia. This is a clear exposition of the return of imperial gunboat diplomacy that Britain envisages in the post-Brexit world."
As Media Lens also put it:
A major function of @BBCNews is to boost public support for 'our' armed forces #PermaWar
I wonder why Permanent War and these core motivations aren't considered by you and the BBC in your understanding of the Royal Navy and its "additional functions.''

3. Again, readers can form their own judgment on your claim here to BBC 'impartiality'. What you're really saying is that the BBC, as 'all-knowing arbiters', will not permit alternative voices to the commissioning of this £3 billion ship, and Britain's dark militarist ambitions, to be aired. As previously noted, that's a subjective editorial judgement, one that weighs decisively in support of a particular, establishment view. That's not editorial 'impartiality'. It's straight propaganda. And, as Media Lens assert, it's a service that must be dutifully maintained:

Challenge anyone @BBCNews about omissions and biases and you'll get silence or a robotic assertion of 'impartiality'
4. My linking of the warship to events in Yemen was not a 'separate issue', or some 'additional argument'. It's internal to the same question about Britain's aggressive militarism, and the BBC's own culpability in failing to convey the true scale of it. 

Also, like other key BBC pieces on Yemen's humanitarian crisis, Orla Guerin's report says precisely nothing about Britain's part in sending arms to Saudi Arabia for the mass bombing of Yemen. More generally, beyond occasional and guarded discussion, many viewers of major BBC news reports on Yemen may likely never know that the UK is deeply involved in the human suffering which Guerin describes, such is the consistent level of BBC omission. Again, given the BBC Charter's own insistence of 'due weight', where is the appropriate level of coverage across BBC news headlining Britain's criminal involvement? As Curtis comments:

Imagine reporting this and not mentioning UK arms/advice/training. Seriously, it takes real commitment. #Yemen 
More BBC pieces on #Yemen without mentioning that this is also a UK war
That complicit blind eye to aggressive UK militarism is the key context to my complaint about the BBC's celebratory coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth. I suspect that, as part of the 'BBC guard', you will continue to deny and dismiss such connections. As ever with such enquiries and exchanges, my own small purpose here is to help shed a little light on BBC uniformity and service to power.

I will forward my complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit.


Kind regards

John Hilley

Friday, 25 August 2017

BBC naval gazing and coverage of British militarism: a further exchange

A reply (24 August 2017) from the BBC concerning my complaint over its coverage of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its arrival in Portsmouth.


Dear Mr Hilley
Reference CAS-4529010-T2T6CD 
Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC News Website coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth's arrival in Portsmouth. 
I understand you feel the coverage was both excessive and biased, failing to feature the views of those who opposed the commissioning of the ship. 
While I appreciate how strongly you feel about the points you raise, we would explain that the intention in our live coverage of this event was simply to report on the ship's arrival in her home port. As part of this we spoke with members of the crowd who turned out to watch the carrier's approach, discussed its construction, and featured speeches from senior naval personnel and Theresa May. 
However we would point out that across our wider news coverage we did discuss some of the criticism the vessel has faced. In his report on BBC One's 'Breakfast' programme on 16 August Duncan Kennedy acknowledged that it was also "a controversial day" owing to the "cost of the carrier"; he explained, "critics say the carrier has cost more than £3 billion and doesn't have a clearly defined role". 
Please be assured, the BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times. Indeed, our News editors ensure that over a reasonable period of time we reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends on particular issues, but it's important to add here that our published Editorial Guidelines explain that not every issue or viewpoint necessarily has to be included in each individual report. 
Account needs to be taken of the way a subject is covered over a period of time; perfect balance is difficult to achieve on every single individual occasion, while overall it is a more achievable goal taking into account our coverage as a whole. 
The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon - our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences. 
Nonetheless, I am sorry to read you feel we are failing to meet our objectives.
Please be assured, we appreciate your feedback on this issue and I have passed your comments forward on a report which will be read by senior BBC management and the BBC News team.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. 
Kind regards
Emma Duff
BBC Complaints Team
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints
My further response to the BBC

Dear Emma Duff

Thanks for responding to my letter of complaint.

As anticipated, it's a lamentable copy-piece of BBC mitigation, evasion and denial.

Predictably, you insist that the "BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times". That's a claim no serious analysis of these propaganda-loaded reports could sustain.

You mention "how strongly" you think I feel about these matters. Let's explore that for a moment. The important point here is not the 'strength' of feeling, it's how we seek to define it. I do not write or speak in an objective way. I have an openly subjective view. All of our thoughts, feelings and expressions are subjective, in one form or another, overtly or otherwise stated.

And that includes the BBC, whose directors, editors and journalists also take subjective positions, rooted in approval of 'BBC values' and strong, supportive feelings about 'what BBC journalism stands for'. It suggests a strong endorsement of the BBC's establishment status, together with a strongly selective 'understanding' of the permissible boundaries of journalistic expression.

It is a matter of contention how able we are to make 'objective' assessments of any subjective output, particularly that specifically claiming to be 'impartial'. Here, again, our own subjective interpretations cannot be removed from any supposed 'objective' examination.

Yet, any rational reading of these reports would acknowledge that the BBC has taken an obviously strong and partisan position in upholding, praising and celebrating the HMS Queen Elizabeth and other such displays of British state militarism.

Again, that's my view. The point of concern here is not just that the BBC takes an opposite view (which it clearly does), but that - as you contend - it claims to take "no view" at all.

This kind of reportage might, at least, be deemed 'honest', were the BBC to accept that their output is, indeed, subjectively made; that they do, indeed, take a position, just like most other media. Yet you insist that, unlike my "strong" position, the BBC are still making impartial editorial decisions and reporting in a balanced, objective way.

You mention the requirements for impartiality, as set out in the BBC Charter. Again, we have to look at this document and its principal terms as both subjectively constructed by elite interests and subject to privileged interpretation by BBC directors.

At every level, from the commissioning of output to the handling of complaints, it's the subjective judgement of those same BBC figures who, in practice, determine what constitutes "due impartiality", and what's considered "due weight." You have simply reiterated those 'guiding' biases in your letter.

As with the compliance of senior editors and journalists, this suggests a level of indoctrination so deeply-rooted that those proclaiming notions of BBC 'impartiality' either can't see this filtering process, or, in daily acts of prudent self-restraint, simply avoid any career-threatening gaze.    

A determining factor here, as you note, is not just what's contained in a report, or set of reports, but "the way a subject is covered over a period of time." Thus, you point to the inclusion in a Breakfast News report of apparent 'concern' over the 'controversial cost' of this vessel. Do you consider this ample questioning of Britain's vast, wasteful and immoral military spending? Where, one may reasonably ask, are all those other 'balancing' pieces? Where is the 'due weight' of anti-war/weaponry sentiment duly represented?

As we've seen, such token and tepid mentions are dwarfed by the sheer scale and tone of reports lauding the ship and what it supposedly represents to 'the nation'. And, just like that task force, the BBC's subjectively-determined mission here is not just about 'reflecting' public feeling, but leading on, and feeding, dominant ideas and interests, ever careful to omit and circumvent that which casts British militarism in a negative light.  

In the same dutiful way, your reply completely ignores my questions on the BBC's reporting and quoting of senior military figures. Where, I repeat, are the counterpoints to Admiral Philip Jones's provocative assertions of Britain as a major maritime power? Why was he permitted to enunciate, unchallenged, such imperialist-sounding claims of military superiority? Where is the critical scrutiny, either in this set of reports, or in wider terms, of the UK state's war posturing and weapons prowess?

You also ignored, in this same, vital context, my question about the extent of Britain's dark involvement in weapons procurement and supplies to Saudi  Arabia and other regimes, with notable reference to the human catastrophe of Yemen. Why was this key context not duly mentioned in these reports, and why hasn't that state-corporate arms nexus been given due, critical attention over the longer period?

This set of reports show quite clearly that the BBC are not only openly supportive of HMS Queen Elizabeth, but are strongly promoting the entire culture of UK militarism.

Just as the BBC have failed to engage these core issues, your letter has avoided answering the specific points of my initial letter. Please be informed that I'd like them raised to the next level of the complaints procedure for serious consideration.

Kind regards
John  Hilley



Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Drool Britannia: complaint to BBC over naked militarist propaganda

I wish to complain about the display of extravagant militarism celebrated in this live feed coverage of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth:

New aircraft carrier arrives in home port

This is a level of state media propaganda the BBC typically attributes to North Korea.

1. Please specify how many BBC reporters were allocated to this 'story', and the overall costs incurred to the licence payer. How can this level of resources and live feed reportage be  justified?

2. First Sea Lord Philip Jones Admiral Sir Philip Jones (sic) has been quoted in your report as saying: "Today, a new era of British maritime power is beginning." Is it reasonable to assume that a substantive section of the public do not, in fact, wish to see any 'resurgence' of Britain as a major maritime power, with all the dark imperialist history, and current global aggressions, that involves? In a world of Western, corporate-driven war, and desire for diplomatic alternatives, do you accept that this kind of comment is deeply controversial, offensive and inflammatory to many? Why did you publish this statement without providing any anti-war-voice?

3. The BBC Charter maintains that BBC output must always be impartial and balanced. Please indicate where any opposition to the commissioning of this £3 billion ship, or objection to UK militarism at large, is included in this set of reports. While many struggle to feed their families, is it fair to suggest that considerable numbers of people find this level of expenditure deeply immoral? Where is this public concern reflected in your coverage?

4. Do you consider it moral or proportionate to be giving this fawning level of coverage and support for British militarism while that same UK state is providing massive arms and support to Saudi Arabia for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen? Please indicate where the BBC has raised this dark anomaly, or allowed space for any substantive comment on it. The live feed includes glowing pieces detailing 'HMS Queen Elizabeth in numbers' and 'Everything you need to know about HMS Queen Elizabeth'. Have the BBC produced any similar pieces specifying the numbers, scale and consequences of Britain's killing equipment to tyrant regimes?  
I look forward to your considered and detailed response.

Regards
John Hilley

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Rejecting militarism, supporting the radical hoops

Green Brigade seat suspensions, Celtic v Rosenborg. 
On the spectrum between high crimes and petty misdemeanors, UEFA's fining of Celtic, and sanctions imposed by the club on its Green Brigade supporters, is shamefully disproportionate, revealing much about the selective ways in which militarist images are viewed and reported.

Much inflated outrage has been preached by the club's directors, and peddled by an eager media, after the displaying of an "illicit" paramilitary-styled banner at a recent match against Northern Ireland side, Linfield. Other club charges against the GB include the lighting of celebratory flares at a previous match against Hearts.

I have a deep disdain for any kind of militarism, particularly the British establishment variety. From Armed Forces Day to Remembrance Day, we're fed a relentless culture of populist militarism, giving legitimacy to the vast crimes and suffering visited by the British state on others across the globe. So, it follows that I'm no great fan, either, of paramilitarist insignia, which only seems to ape that ugly regimentation.

Yet, behind the pictorial balaclavas and dark glasses lies a deeper context of resistance. Tourists visiting the mural walls of Belfast and Derry will find not only images of men with guns, but a longer story on the peaceful demand for civil rights. And it's sobering to think how the hoods and armalites may never have manifested had the British state granted those basic civil and political rights, rather than sending in its own militarist boots.

While Britain's dark interventions proceed around the world, media condemnation of a crude banner shows just how selectively such images and narratives are treated. From the Daily Record and Daily Mail, to the Scottish Sun - yes, the Hillsborough96-denying Sun - the reaction has been, predictably, shrill.

Contrast that with the almost total media silence over this country's murderous militarism and shameless gun-running, disgracefully evident in its current arming of Saudi Arabia, and complicit part in the mass slaughter of civilians in Yemen, a damning truth studiously evaded by the BBC.

As historian Mark Curtis has charted, Britain is presently involved in at least seven illicit/covert wars. It's now the world's second highest arms supplier. That's serious militarism, all whitewashed as a media-approved culture of state violence.

While pyrotechnics, however creative, are never a smart idea inside a football ground, consider the ready denunciation of that small accident-free event at Celtic Park against the explosive spectacle of British bombs falling from the skies across the Middle East, and, again, the almost total media failure to condemn such terror.

Shock and Awe over Iraq, the misery of Mosul, or the obliteration of hospitals in Yemen may all seem far and detached from what's going on at Celtic Park. But the hullabaloo over this banner provides a useful illustration of just what sort of militarism our media find beyond the pale; how even petty gestures at a football match are subjected to media outrage and collective punishment, while 'our' state and its corporate arms merchants go freely about their real, deathly business.  

The Green Brigade are now pilloried by club, media and UEFA. It's a trinity of gross hypocrisy: a board that installed Iraq war criminal John Reid as a past chairman; a Scottish media tainted by its 'succulent lamb' journalism; and a UEFA elite that can wield sanctions over a banner, yet refuse to take action against Israel over its brutal, apartheid treatment of Palestinian footballers.

Unlike all the above entities, the Green Brigade have stood firmly in support of Palestine. In a brilliant act of public awareness, they raised £176,000 for Palestinian causes, in defiance of a UEFA fine for waving Palestinian flags during a match with Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva. Conveniently, the Celtic board, initially inclined to join in condemning the Green Brigade, stood back and enjoyed the worldwide plaudits 'for the club'.

This reflects the board's ongoing dilemma over the Green Brigade: how to dampen their political voice while reaping the financial benefits and fantastic atmosphere they bring to the ground.
In a troubled relationship, the board's decision to suspend nine hundred fans from the GB section looks like another worried shot across their bow. It's unlikely to silence these politically vibrant fans.


As with their support for Palestine, the Green Brigade have been unafraid to take laudable positions over other 'difficult' issues. In 2010, they presented an anti-poppy banner, which declared:

"Your deeds would shame all the devils in hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No blood-stained poppy on our hoops"

To that list may be added, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other lands where Britain has helped shed more blood and unleash further human chaos. Yet, as the Green Brigade found out, dare to highlight and protest such crimes, and expect to be treated as a social deviant.

People who reject the poppy aren't doing so out of disrespect for those fallen in wars, but in rejection of establishment militarism and the sanitising of Britain's warmongering. That's a valid act of political conscience, as was the Green Brigade's statement. But so, too, did Celtic, as a club, partake in a clear political act by choosing to wear the poppy on their shirts. It's all political.

As the Green Brigade assert, you can't leave politics at the turnstile: "Politics is life. Politics has always been part of football and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise." 

Complementing its anti-sectarian leftism, the Green Brigade's anti-Unionism has also found common cause with the movement for Scottish radical independence - the GB "support a 32-county Irish Socialist Republic and an Independent Scottish Socialist Republic". All of which assumes new political significance following the recent ugly Tory-DUP  alignment.

In similar spirit, the Green Brigade have expressed admirable support for refugees, highlighted anti-racism issues, and organised mass food bank collections for Glasgow's poor. No corporate displays. No corporate logos. Just statements of political solidarity and social empathy. How many other sets of fans are taking those kind of bold and compassionate positions?

While commending the Green Brigade's "amazing" support, manager Brendan Rodgers insists that "the political element is not acceptable" inside Celtic Park, and that "Celtic is a football club, nothing else."

He's mistaken on both counts. It's a social and cultural institution. Those values and identities may have evolved. But Celtic's founding mission to serve the poor of Glasgow's east end, notably its destitute Irish Catholic community, lives on as a progressive narrative within the Celtic fan base.

Such values have certainly been undermined by scandalous board appointees like John Reid and Conservative peer Lord Ian Livingston, who caused a threatened walkout by fans in 2015 after backing Tory austerity cuts. 10,000 supporters signed a petition demanding his removal, a call ignored by the board after Chairman Ian Bankier defended him. In May 2017, Livingston announced that he was stepping down to concentrate on his other corporate duties.

The Green Brigade are resisting a board that's seeking to emasculate Celtic's primary political history, and shroud it in corporate branding. The club's hierarchy insist there's no place for 'irresponsible' imagery inside football grounds. Meanwhile, much more insidious corporate messages abound.

Celtic feature Dafabet on their shirt fronts. That's a direct advert for corporate gambling. What 'exemplary' message does that send out to young fans? While Brendan Rodgers has urged players to beware the pitfalls of gambling, club officials consider Dafabet 'responsible' sponsorship. Did they think for a moment of the families, predominantly poor, torn apart by gambling addiction; the breakups, suicides and despair? Did they reflect on how betting shops are taking over high streets, or how firms like Dafabet are enticing vulnerable people online? From Dafabet shirts to the William Hill Scottish Cup: when did corporate-serving directors and governors ever stop to think about these kind of social messages?

It's all part of the mass corporate invasion of sport. Grounds named after airlines, trophies and leagues prefixed by banks and shark loan companies. Flashing, seizure-inducing advertising now surrounds pitches, distracting from the actual play. It's amazing to think that almost no one even blinks at this naked corporate indoctrination.

And, of course, the same goes for alcohol sponsorship. Ironically, Celtic were also threatened with UEFA censure after substitute players wore kit featuring the Magners alcohol logo. This is the extent of UEFA's concern: the protection of corporate rights, rather than the right of protection from corporate images.

That imposition of corporate ideology is also a political act, again, one the Green Brigade have challenged in their denunciation of anti-union and sweatshop firms like Nike and Coca-Cola.
Whatever elite directors or ruling bodies demand, football grounds and other sporting venues are, indeed, appropriate places for alternative political expression.


In a field of establishment compliance and corporate conformity, it's gratifying to see the Green Brigade's left idealism, political provocations and iconoclastic displays. Other Celtic fans are entitled to their political views. Few among the Green Brigade would claim to speak for all supporters or the club. But the GB should also be free to express their own particular viewpoints, in their own unique style, without censure from a conservative board or the opprobrium of other fans.

In an age of mass social media, radical resistance to dominant propaganda - neoliberal, corporate, militarist - is taking new, and more significant, cultural forms. As a popular platform helping to highlight state villainy, resist corporate hegemony, and stand up for oppressed people, the inventive displays and political voice of the Green Brigade are to be supported.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Radiohead in Israel: why is Thom Yorke so outraged over boycott call?

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has now made a public statement rejecting calls from Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and the wider Palestinian solidarity movement to cancel the band's Tel Aviv concert. Disappointingly, it's a piece riddled with liberal evasions, barbed charges, and unfounded assumptions about those making the case for a boycott.

Here's Yorke's full comments on the issue, as reported at Rolling Stone:
I'll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting. There's an awful lot of people who don't agree with the BDS movement, including us. I don't agree with the cultural ban at all, along with J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky and a long list of others. 
There are people I admire [who have been critical of the concert] like [English film director] Ken Loach, who I would never dream of telling where to work or what to do or think. The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that's black or white. I have a problem with that. It's deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public. It's deeply disrespectful to assume that we're either being misinformed or that we're so retarded we can't make these decisions ourselves. I thought it was patronizing in the extreme. It's offensive and I just can't understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them]. 
The university thing is more of a head fuck for me. It's like, really? You can't go talk to other people who want to learn stuff in another country? Really? The one place where you need to be free to express everything you possibly can. You want to tell these people you can't do that? And you think that's gonna help? 
The person who knows most about these things is [Radiohead guitarist] Jonny [Greenwood]. He has both Palestinian and Israeli friends and a wife who's an Arab Jew. All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, "You don’t know anything about it!" Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny. And imagine how upsetting that it's been to have this out there. Just to assume that we know nothing about this. Just to throw the word "apartheid" around and think that's enough. It's fucking weird. It's such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way. 
This is the first time I've said anything about it. Part of me wants to say nothing because anything I say cooks up a fire from embers. But at the same time, if you want me to be honest, yeah, it's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years. They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that. It's extraordinary. All of this creates divisive energy. You're not bringing people together. You're not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding. Now if you're talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get fucking Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That's divisive.
Noted musician and leading Palestinian campaigner Roger Waters has responded to Yorke, again as reported at Rolling Stone:
I read Thom Yorke’s interview in Rolling Stone. It needs a reply as it doesn’t tell the whole story. 
On February 12th, hoping to start a dialogue, I sent an email expressing my concern about Radiohead crossing the BDS picket line to perform in Israel. A few hours later, Thom replied. He was angry. He had misinterpreted my attempt to start a conversation as a threat. So I tried again. 
“Hey Thom,I’m sorry. My letter wasn’t meant to be confrontational. I was reaching out to see if we could have the conversation that you talk about in your reply. Can we?Love, R.” 
I didn’t hear back. So silence prevailed for three weeks until March 4th when I sent a long heartfelt entreaty to Thom asking him again to talk. 
In Thom’s interview with Andy Greene of Rolling Stone, in referring to Ken Loach and me, he says, “It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public.” 
That is not true, Thom. I have made every effort to engage with you personally, and would still like to have the conversation. 
“Not to talk is not an option.” 
Today is the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Fifty years living under military occupation. Fifty years for a people with no civil rights. Fifty years of no recourse to the law. Fifty years of apartheid. 
The BDS picket line exists to shine a light on the predicament of the occupied people of Palestine, both in Palestine and those displaced abroad, and to promote equal civil rights for all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea no matter what their nationality, race or religion. All human life is sacred, every child is our child, exceptionalism is always our enemy. There is no Us or Them, only Us. 
Restiamo umani.  
Love,
Roger Waters
The warm and patient tone of that letter from Roger Waters stands in stark contrast to Thom Yorke's hostile lines. Waters also offers a quiet reminder to Yorke of just what Palestinians have endured over 50 years of illegal occupation, and that "the BDS picket line exists to shine a light on [their] predicament". 

Yorke is, of course, entitled to his viewpoint. But why, we might wonder, did he feel the need to respond with such invective-laden charges against BDS and its backers? Why such angry indignation?

Yorke makes a first attempt at moral cover by citing a list of those who oppose any cultural boycott, including JK Rowling and Noam Chomsky. 

While nominally correct regarding Chomsky, it's a disingenuous selection, failing to note Chomsky's more selective and nuanced endorsement of certain boycott tactics, as well as a lifetime's work exposing and resisting Israel's crimes. In that assertive spirit, Chomsky has engaged with leading BDS figure Ilan Pappe over the boycott issue, helping to promote the actual narrative of tactical resistance. 

Strikingly, although a short interview, Yorke doesn't even mention the Palestinians, their treatment, the need to resist Israel's aggressions, or how best to go about it.   

Nor does Yorke care to note JK Rowling's liberal Zionist contortions, or the criticism she faced across Palestinian civil society over her rejection of BDS and endorsement of the pro-Israel grouping Culture for Coexistence.  

Again, it seems, Yorke is seeking safe liberal cover behind major names, and evading the core issue of Palestinian suffering.              

Yorke continues in more injured voice, claiming that it's "deeply disrespectful to assume that we're either being misinformed or that we're so retarded we can't make these decisions ourselves.

Yet, why would Yorke himself make such facile assumptions about the understandings or motives of those campaigners? Does he really believe that bodies like BDS, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Artists For Palestine (including Waters and Loach), alongside groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Radiohead Fans for Palestine, or anyone else asking them not to play Israel, take Yorke and his band to be so "misinformed" or "retarded" that they're unable to take such decisions for themselves? 

Why resort to such overblown, straw-man language? Why not simply accept that these are legitimate organisations and people making an open appeal based on rational argument, and that Yorke has the same rights and opportunities to oppose that view?  
Yorke also says it's "deeply distressing that they [Loach and others] choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public." Again, that's a remarkably crass and inaccurate claim, as the context and tenor of the reply from Waters clearly illustrates. 
But there's a more particular problem with Yorke's annoyance here: why shouldn't this discussion be conducted in public, as an open and vital issue? Are we all to remain quiet and restrained about artists', like Radiohead's, part in legitimising Israel's brutal and illegal conduct, because it's too "distressing" for Yorke and his band?
Yorke also seems to think that fellow band member Jonny Greenwood has some kind of special emotional status in this regard. He's "the person who knows most about these things", claims Yorke, apparently because he has Israeli and Arab friends and an Arab Israeli wife: "All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, "You don’t know anything about it!" Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny."
Again, the inverted assumption about those flag-wavers. Why does Yorke presume to know, and dismiss, campaigners' own comprehension of the issues? More importantly, might Yorke imagine how offensive his own prioritised defence of Jonny Greenwood and his 'superior understanding' is to actual Palestinians facing the daily experience of occupation, siege and constant threat to life in the West Bank and Gaza?    
Nor is the label "apartheid" just simply thrown around by campaigners as some lazy slur. If Yorke and Greenwood really are so well-informed, they will know that the application of 'apartheid state' to Israel has been ably demonstrated through a wealth of academic studies, papers and booksUN findings and rapporteurs' reports. Devoid of any serious counter-argument, Yorke can only say that this is "fucking weird. It's such an extraordinary waste of energy."

The call for an academic boycott is similarly derided and dismissed: "It's like, really? You can't go talk to other people who want to learn stuff in another country? Really?

I have no idea whether Yorke has read the particular guidelines for academic disengagement laid out by bodies like PACBI. But it would, at least, be intellectually reasonable for him to know and reference them, rather than present the call for academic boycott as some random ploy to prevent people wanting "to learn stuff in another country." 

In particular, Yorke's anodyne wish for 'open exchange' includes no recognition of an academic system deeply inter-connected with its occupier state, providing every form of support for Israel's military aggression, weapons development and hi-tech surveillance, continued land seizures, control of water supplies and other key resources, as well as the whole vital field of cultural and ideological production helping to hide and excuse those crimes. 
Pointing these things out is, apparently, antagonistic to Yorke, who finds it "really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years. They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that. It's extraordinary. All of this creates divisive energy. You're not bringing people together. You're not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding."
Yet, without a trace of self-reflecting irony, here's Yorke effectively shouting down to those who won't any longer accept the relentlessly-peddled 'need for dialogue' and proclaimed 'peace process', as though that entire, exhausted posture hasn't been seen, exposed and dismissed by BDS for the sham that it is. 

"Not to talk is not an option," Yorke says. Again, such assured liberal conformity. While voicing his own lofty disdain for those no longer willing to participate in the deceit, there's not a single word here about how Israel and its backers have used that very 'peace' narrative as a weapon of evasion and expanded occupation for over half a century. That's exactly why BDS have asked Radiohead not to give succour to Brand Israel.  

In an impressive letter to Yorke, a list of Israeli musicians set out the same key points about Israel's branding agenda:
Every international artist who plays in Israel serves as a propaganda tool for the Israeli government. International performances in Israel serve the government’s agenda of whitewashing its war crimes against Palestinians by creating a “business as usual” atmosphere wherein the status-quo, a reality of colonization and military occupation for Palestinians, becomes normalized. Maintaining this atmosphere relies heavily on creating a facade of Israel as a hip, advanced, progressive state with a vibrant and diverse cultural scene. In 2005 the Israeli foreign ministry decided to invest in a public relations strategy to “re-brand Israel,” diverting attention away from Israeli crimes by highlighting Israeli cultural and scientific achievements. Needless to say, the government which just celebrated 50 years of brutal military rule over the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip should not be assisted, even unintentionally. The government which legislated to suppress even the commemoration of the displacement of the majority indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 should not be given the chance to claim that artists and musicians are endorsing its policies. This effect of a performance in Israel can not be undone even with the best intentions. Any statement that you might wish to make on stage would be overshadowed by the fact that you would be crossing an international picket line established by the vast majority of civil society organizations in Palestine. On the other hand, if you decided not to play, it would send a strong message to the Israeli government that their racist policies and grave violations of Palestinian human rights will not be normalized. It would also send a message to the people of Palestine that you’re with them in their struggle in a very real way.
Their letter concludes, like so many others to Yorke, with an open invitation: 
Please reconsider violating the Palestinian call for boycott. We remain at the ready to talk to you about any questions or concerns that you may have, and continue to welcome a conversation with you.
Again, note the studious argument behind that appeal, none of it intended to intimidate. It's a laudable message of solidarity, serving to connect communities in pursuit of just resolutions.

Yet, for Thom Yorke, the boycotting of Israel, an occupier, apartheid state, is, apparently, "divisive", resulting in the emergence of people like Netanyahu. That's quite an inversion of cause and effect. By such logic, not only are BDS culpable, but a mass of Palestinians who support the boycott are responsible for creating their own oppressors. 

If you create division, Yorke says, you get the likes of May and Trump. Once more, the recourse to liberal angst, rather than willingness to address the structural forces underpinning such villains. How easy to slate Netanyahu, May and Trump - what of Obama? - without identifying the very systems of power - neoliberalism, militarism, Zionism - that build and thrive on social division. How easy to wish for peace and dialogue. How noble to want an end to Palestinian suffering without doing anything seriously proactive to bring it about. 

The purpose of BDS is not about creating social division. It's about bringing people together in broad, tactical and effective opposition to the unbending, repressive power and divisive infrastructure of the Israeli state: its illegal wall, inhuman checkpoints and colonialist settlements; its ruthless imprisonment and disconnection of Gaza from the outside world; its apartheid divisions inside Israel and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
I have no idea whether or not Yorke and his band are able to see the merits of that case. But they should, at least, resist caricaturing those making it as "weird" and "patronising". Yorke's vociferous indignation looks a lot more like feigned liberal deflection of the actual issues.

It seems unlikely that Radiohead will change their minds now about performing in Israel. That's their decision, their moral choice. But Yorke should refrain from slandering a BDS movement with serious, rational and well-supported ideas about how to advance human rights and justice for Palestinians. 

There's been no 'talking-down' or 'telling' Thom Yorke and Radiohead what to do, only fair and reasoned requests for them not to cross this picket line and partake in Israel's whitewash. Accept or reject those arguments, but don't run for cover behind faux outrage.