March 24, 2003
MEDIA ALERT: “ALL THE INDICATORS ARE ALREADY RED”
BBC, ITN, Independent, Guardian: Deceit In The Service Of Power
“Iraq: The Human Cost Of War
50,000 civilian deaths?
500,000 civilians injured?
2,000,000 refugees and displaced people?
10,000,000 in need of humanitarian assistance?”
(Front cover of the March/April 2003 issue of “Amnesty”, Amnesty International UK’s magazine, quoting warnings by UN humanitarian agencies)
“All the indicators are already red and we are very, very concerned.” (Veronique Taveau, spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator, ‘Food warning issued by UN’, James Drummond and Mark Turner, Financial Times, 21 March, 2003, page 7)
Deceit In The Service Of Power
In one media alert after another, we have attempted to document the relentless stream of deceptions, omissions and outright lies that have enabled Washington and London, in full view of a horrified world, to undertake a massive, illegal and immoral invasion of a stricken Third World nation.
“We have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of the American people, since the war in Vietnam,” wrote John Brady Kiesling, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service in his letter of resignation last month to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Here in the UK, leading politicians, assisted by a largely compliant media, have engaged in a similar attempt to suppress, divert and mould public opinion. In the eyes of the Media Lens editors, and many people posting messages at the Media Lens website (www.MediaLens.org), the propaganda dished up regularly by BBC and ITN news bulletins has been truly shameful. Television images of pink mushroom clouds rising above the skies of Baghdad, with palm trees in the foreground, and green ‘night-sight’ footage of reporters filing meaningless live ‘progress’ reports back to the news studios, hide the devastating reality: that Iraqi men, women and children, as well as ‘coalition’ soldiers, are being ripped apart as a direct consequence of the global ambitions of right-wing US interests, supported by an arrogant UK government, in defiance of international law and global public opinion.
Not all mainstream commentators have been content to play along with the ‘momentum of war’, or to restrict their challenges within a narrow frame of thought that hardly ruffles the feathers of power. The veteran columnist Alan Watkins, for example, shrewdly notes that “Mr Blair strikes me as possessing the capacity of the religious maniac to regurgitate, with every appearance of sincerity, any piece of garbage which may be required in the temporary service of some higher cause.” (Alan Watkins, ‘He may have the sympathy vote. But not mine’, The Independent on Sunday, 16 March, 2003, page 25). Indeed, Media Lens has traced the deceptions and lies promulgated by Blair and his government in pursuit of an invasion of Iraq; an attack not sanctioned by the fig leaf of a second UN resolution, despite London and Washington’s best efforts of ‘diplomacy’, for which read ‘bullying’, ‘bribery’ and ‘coercion’.
But now that ‘war’ is underway, all such thoughts must be put behind us. Or, as an editorial in the Independent asserts: “The debate about the rights and wrongs of this war is over.” (‘When democracies do battle with a despot, they must hold on to their moral superiority’, The Independent, 20 March, 2003, page 18). It is now time to ‘back our boys’, as the tabloid Sun would have it.
The BBC and ITN are taking a more subtle approach, with frequent bulletins from reporters ’embedded’ within British fighting forces and relentless reiteration of government propaganda. Reports from Iraqi sources of Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries already carry the usual proviso “yet to be confirmed”, a warning that does not apply so readily to statements issuing from Washington and London. Meanwhile, disturbing images of the victims of the US-led invasion are not allowed to trouble western viewers.
Steve Anderson, controller of ITV News, said: “I have seen some of the images on Al-Jazeera television. I would never put them on screen. I’m not criticising them for that. There seems to be an acceptance of images I don’t think would be acceptable here.” Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s director of news, told a BBC Radio 5 Live discussion that such images “were not suitable for a British audience.” (‘TV stations criticise the use of “images of war”‘, Ian Burrell, The Independent, 24 March 2003)
British audiences, therefore, are being spared the reality of war. We are not suggesting that shocking images of dead and wounded bombing victims should be paraded relentlessly on our screens and in our newspapers, but near-total suppression of the brutal effects of the illegal invasion of Iraq by US, UK and Australian forces is bias, pure and simple. Our main news bulletins are pitiful. Where are the interviews with Baghdad citizens waiting in fear of the next onslaught of “Shock and Awe”? Why is there so little attention given to the major humanitarian agencies that are fearful of the effects of water and power being cut off by ‘allied forces’ (deliberately or otherwise) for over 48 hours in Basra, Iraq’s second city? Where are the primetime news interviews with anti-war campaigners, or with ordinary members of the British public, who feel disgust, shame or dismay at the illegal and immoral intervention being carried out by ‘their’ own government?
How can “due impartiality” be claimed by news organisations broadcasting interviews with leading western politicians and military commanders who have planned, and are now undertaking, a massive assault that most authoritative commentators regard as a major breach of international law? A breach, moreover, that likely constitutes a crime against humanity, however much it is shrouded in the rhetoric of ‘liberation’ of the Iraqi people. The BBC, funded by the British television license payer, is failing in its supposed public duty “to report events as they develop with accuracy and impartiality; to provide the appropriate background information; and to air as wide a range of views as possible.”
But then, at ‘sensitive times’, the BBC has a long history of quietly dropping its Reithian norms of ‘impartiality’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘balance’; norms which, in any case, have only ever applied in a meaningless, rhetorical sense. During the Falklands War in 1982, journalist John Pilger notes:
“Leaked minutes of one of the BBC’s Weekly Review Board meetings showed BBC executives directing that the reporting of the war should be concerned ‘primarily with government statements of policy’ while impartiality was felt to be ‘an unnecessary irritation’. ” (John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, p. 492)
The BBC’s reporting of the 1999 Nato bombing campaign in the Balkans was another example of this august institution’s abdication of its public responsibilities; in particular, the station’s reluctance to bring home to the viewer the inconsistencies and deceit implicit in Nato’s pronouncements, as well as Nato’s terrorist actions in bombing civilian targets. Although BBC reporter John Simpson upset government spin doctors with his frank reports from Belgrade, the BBC did not inform its viewers and listeners of the terms of the Rambouillet ‘peace treaty’, nor did it query Nato’s claims about the Serbian ‘war machine’ being ‘degraded’. Nor, worst of all, did it systematically question the politicians and military planners about the many non-military targets being hit – atrocities routinely presented by Nato and the BBC (and the media as a whole) as ‘blunders’.
The BBC was not alone in acting as mouthpieces for Nato. Indeed, when the bombing was over, several journalists praised themselves for smoothing public opinion in Nato’s favour. Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thomson wrote,
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