Media Lens - October 15, 2009
In our previous alert ('The Westminster Conspiracy,' October 8) we described how the media's insistence that journalists be 'balanced', that they keep their personal opinions to themselves, is used as a tool of thought control.
Journalists who criticise powerful interests can be attacked for their 'bias', for revealing their prejudices. On the other hand, as we will see in the examples below, almost no-one protests, or even notices, the lack of balance in patriotic articles reporting on the experience of British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the credibility of British and American elections, or on claims that the West is spreading democracy across the Third World. Then, notions of patriotism, loyalty, the need to support 'our boys', make 'balance' seem disloyal, disrespectful; an indication, in fact, that a journalist is 'biased.'
The media provide copious coverage of state-sponsored memorials commemorating the 50th, 60th, 65th anniversaries of D-Day, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Arnhem, the retreat from Dunkirk, the Battle of the Atlantic, the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War, and so on. Even the 200th anniversary of The Battle of Trafalgar was a major news item. Remembrance Sunday, Trooping The Colour, Beating The Retreat, the Fleet Review are all media fixtures. The military is of course happy to supply large numbers of troops and machines for these dramatic flypasts, parades and reviews.
On June 11, 2005, senior BBC news presenter, Huw Edwards, provided the commentary for Britain's Trooping The Colour military parade, describing it as "a great credit to the Irish Guards". Imagine if Edwards had added:
"While one can only be impressed by the discipline and skill on show in these parades, critics have of course warned against the promotion of patriotic militarism. The Russian novelist Tolstoy, for one, observed:
"'The ruling classes have in their hands the army, money, the schools, the churches and the press. In the schools they kindle patriotism in the children by means of histories describing their own people as the best of all peoples and always in the right. Among adults they kindle it by spectacles, jubilees, monuments, and by a lying patriotic press.'" (Tolstoy, Government is Violence - Essays on Anarchism and Pacifism, Phoenix Press, 1990, p.82)
Edwards would not have been applauded for providing this 'balance'. He would have been condemned far and wide as a crusading crackpot, and hauled before senior BBC management.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury recently offered the mildest of criticisms of the invasion of Iraq in a sermon in St Paul's Cathedral, the Sun newspaper responded: 'Archbishop of Canterbury's war rant mars troops tribute.' It added:
"The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday hijacked a service honouring the sacrifice of British troops in Iraq - to spout an anti-war rant." (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/
The Archbishop's crime was heinous indeed, as the Sun explained:
"In an astonishing breach of convention, he then accused politicians of failing to think enough about the war's human cost.
"Speaking from the pulpit of St Paul's, Dr Williams said:
"'It would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation, this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be. The conflict in Iraq will, for a long time yet, exercise the historians, the moralists, the international experts. Reflecting on the years of the Iraq campaign, we cannot say that no mistakes were ever made.'"
We would be interested to see Williams' case for arguing that invading Iraq might have been the +right+ thing to do. It could hardly be more obvious that invading was "the wrong thing to do" - it resulted in the virtual destruction of an entire country. It was also a monumental crime and not a mistake.
The Sun's article was archived under "news/campaigns/our_boys". As Tolstoy would have understood, the Sun is in fact a bitter class enemy of "our boys". It is a rich man's propaganda toy parading as a trusty pal of 'ordinary people'. We wrote to Williams on October 12:
Dear Rowan Williams
In your October 9 sermon at St Paul's Cathedral, you spoke movingly of the cost paid in Iraq by British servicemen and women, and their families:
"Justice does not come without cost. In the most obvious sense, it is the cost of life and safety. For very many here today, that will be the first thing in their minds and hearts - along with the cost in anxiety and compassion that is carried by the families of servicemen and women." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/
But you made no mention of Iraqi civilian or military suffering. According to an October 2006 report published in the Lancet medical journal, the US-UK invasion had by then caused some 655,000 excess deaths. In February 2007, Les Roberts, co-author of the report, argued that Britain and America might have triggered in Iraq "an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide", in which 800,000 people were killed. (Roberts, 'Iraq's death toll is far worse than our leaders admit,' The Independent, February 14, 2007; http://comment.independent.co.uk/-
Later that year, the BBC reported:
"More than a million Iraqis have been killed since the invasion in 2003, according to the British polling company ORB." (Newsnight, BBC2, September 14, 2007)
Why did you make no mention of these death tolls and of the truly awesome suffering of the Iraqi population?
We have received no reply.