[OPE-L:5974] Re: the media age

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 08:57:28 EDT

Rakesh makes a very important point re the CNN coverage of 'cheering'
Palestinians.  It does not matter when the images were taken - it is how
they are used to create a message that matters.

>I would hope that this list could do more than become obsessed with 
>inconsequential rumors like this. It would not matter  if the footage had
>created out of whole cloth. It was terrible judgement to replay that loop
>and over. No one was asked a question, only the dancing was shown; we don't 
>know exactly what was being celebrated or what the celebrators understood 
>about the carnage; and the majority of those who celebrated seemed to be
>13 years of age. No diversity of opinion was sought in the immediate
>of the bombing, though PLO leaders were quoted later.

There are several well documented histories by award winning journalists on
the very long and grim history of collusion between the media and
politicians in preparing nations for war (and the successful prosecution of
war through the news media).  Of these I recommend Phillip Knightly's 'The
First Casualty' (although it's a bit dated now, ending as it does with the
US propaganda war on the Sandinistas).  For a shorter and more contemporary
read, I strongly recommend John Pilger's 'Hidden Agendas' especially the
chapter on 'The Media Age', from which I take the following summary of his
discussion of the links between intelligence agencies and the news media (I
attach a Pdf copy of the whole chapter, hoping someone will read it):

……The 'largesse' came from, among others, the commissars
who ran the Information Research Department in the Foreign
Office (IRD), a secret political warfare agency, which in the
1950s and 1960s 'ran' dozens of Fleet Street journalists.21 The
IRD used 'white' (true), 'grey' (partially true) and 'black'
(false) propaganda, planting forged official documents, smear
stories and outright fabrications in the media. In the anti-colonial
struggles in Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus, IRD was so
successful that the journalism served up as a record of those
episodes was a cocktail of the distorted and false, in which the
real aims and often atrocious behaviour of the British were
suppressed. Thus the bloodshed in Malaya was and still
is misrepresented as a 'model' of counter-insurgency; the
anti-imperial uprising in Kenya was and still is distorted as a
Mau Mau terror campaign against whites; and the struggle
for basic human rights in the north of Ireland became and
remains a noble defence of order and stability against IRA
terror (see pages 514-19). The common denominator of
British political and military terror was deemed non-existent:
a brilliant illusion that brought 'disinformation' to the
The most enduring success for the IRD and its 'contacts' in
the media was in misrepresenting the Soviet Union as a threat
and the source of a global conspiracy. This gave legitimacy to
the nuclear arms race initiated by the United States, thanks
largely to the fictional 'missile gap' of the Kennedy era, a
triumph of disinformation, and to nuclear provocations such
as the siting in Western Europe of 'first strike' nuclear
weapons. Had war broken out with the Soviet Union, those
propagandist journalists absolved by The Times of any moral
equivalence with Stalinism would have shared the
In 1991, Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian disclosed
the existence of some 500 prominent Britons who were paid
by the CIA through the corrupt and now defunct Bank of
Commerce and Credit International in London. They
included ninety journalists and broadcasters, many in 'senior
positions'. Journalists who worked directly for the intelli-gence
services are not uncommon. One prominent journalist
and author has served British and American intelligence in a
parallel career shortly after graduating from Oxford.
This is surprising only because it has been so effectively
suppressed. For forty years, from an office in Bush House in
London, home of the BBC World Service, a brigadier passed
on the names of applicants for editorial jobs in the BBC to
MI5 for 'vetting'. Journalists with a reputation for indepen-dence
were refused BBC posts because they were not con-sidered
'safe'. The Observer exposed the secret process in
1985, 22 and senior management are still vetted by MI5. In any
case, it was quite unnecessary. Many senior journalists and
broadcasters are proud that they are 'safe' and willing to be
influenced, at times flattered by the state, without any
formalised intrigue or material favours. For them, it seems
perfectly natural to receive the state's 'hospitality', 'contacts'
and 'access' - and, most important, its blessing.
For example, a number of influential journalists in the BBC
and the press belong, like those Cabinet members of the Blair
Government already mentioned (see pages 95-97), to the
'Successor Generation' network. This is the British-American
Project for the Successor Generation, set up in 1985 with
money from a Philadelphia trust with a long record of
supporting right-wing causes. Although the BAP does not
publicly acknowledge it, the source of its inspiration was a
call by President Reagan during the Cold War for 'successor
generations' on both sides of the Atlantic to 'work together in
the future on defence and security matters'.
Washington was then deeply anxious about opposition to
nuclear weapons, specifically the stationing of Cruise missiles
in Britain. Today the aims of the network are broader. They
are, according to David Willetts, the former director of
studies at the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies, to 'help
reinforce Anglo-American links, especially if some members
already do, or will occupy positions of influence'.
The British Ambassador to Washington, Sir John Kerr, was
more direct. In a speech to Successor Generation members in
1997, he said the BAP's 'powerful combination of eminent
Fellows and close Atlantic links threatened to put the embassy
out of a job'. Indeed, the Successor Generation 'was clearly a
threat to the very existence of diplomats'!23 An American BAP
organiser described the BAP network as committed to
'grooming leaders' while promoting 'the leading global role
that [Britain and the US] continue to play'.24 Not surprisingly,
the BAP has had little publicity in the mainstream media.
An instrument of the 'leading global role' is, of course,
NATO. Reporting from the NATO summit in Madrid in
1997, Ian Black of the Guardian noted that, although critics
at the conference had described the organisation's expansion
into Eastern Europe as 'an error of historic proportions' that
would 'encourage a £22 billion arms race and undercut
democracy in Russia, strikingly, there has been little public
debate about this'.25
Here again it should be emphasised that there is no
suggestion of a conspiracy, rather a shared world view based
largely, though not exclusively, on class. 'The British class
system', wrote Anthony Sampson, 'has always been like an
onion, revealing yet more layers.' 26 The mutuality of class and
aspiration is assured, unspoken, and the warm embrace of
power memorable. For some, this is a noble connection
which, although having nothing to do with journalism, has
everything to do with the preservation of things. They are the
guardians of the faith.
Guardians are often candid and proud. In his auto-biography,
News from the Front, the ITN correspondent and
newscaster Sandy Gall boasted of his high government and
MI6 contacts and the work he did for them. 'I received a call
from a friend in British Intelligence,' he wrote, 'telling me that
the Foreign Secretary remained particularly concerned about
Afghanistan and was anxious to keep the war "in front of the
British public"; how could this be done? Would I talk to
someone from his office and give him, and Lord Carrington,
the benefit of my advice? Feeling flattered, I agreed . . .'
Gall made Afghanistan his speciality. In the 1980s, he went
on a number of trips with the mojahedin, the guerrillas
fighting the Soviet occupiers. On the eve of one of these
assignments, which began in Pakistan, he went to see the
Pakistani dictator, General Zia, who clearly regarded Gall as
an important ally. Both MI6 and the CIA were backing Zia
as the ruler of a 'frontline' state in this important Cold
War conflict with the Soviet Union. As they strolled through
his garden, the General, one of the world's nastiest
fundamentalist tyrants, asked Gall if there was anything he
' "Yes," [Gall] said, "would it be possible to have some
SAM 7s with us?" Zia laughed. "SAM 7s? I don't see why
not. But why?"
' "We're likely to come under attack by Mi24 gunships, I
suppose, and it would make some spectacular pictures if one
of them were to be shot down."
'Zia laughed again, seeing the point. "I'll see to it," he
promised. "You'll get your SAMs." '
Gall got his missile, which, he wrote, 'we fired', but it
malfunctioned. Back in London, he was invited to lunch by
the head of MI6. 'It was very informal,' wrote Gall, 'the cook
was off, so we had cold meat and salad, with plenty of wine.'
Britain's leading spymaster wanted information about
Afghanistan from Gall who, once again, was 'flattered, of
course, and anxious to pass on what I could in terms of first-hand
Moreover, the man from ITN determined 'not to prise any
information out of him in return', even though 'this is not
normally how a journalist's mind works'. The reason for this
journalistic reticence was that 'avuncularly charming' as the
head of MI6 might be, 'he was far too experienced to let slip
anything he did not wish to'.27
In 1992, an internal committee of the Central Intelligence
Agency reported that the CIA now had excellent links with
the media. 'We have relationships with reporters', it said,
'[that] have helped us turn some intelligence failure stories
into intelligence success stories. Some responses to the media
can be handled in a one-shot phone call. Others, such as the
BBC's six-part series, draw heavily on [CIA] sources.' 28
The BBC series in question, C I A, was written by John
Ranelagh, formerly of the Conservative Party's Research
Department and a speech writer for Margaret Thatcher. In
'drawing heavily' on the CIA's 'sources', Ranelagh's fil m s
allowed the notorious organisation to 'correct allegations'
about its role in the overthrow of numerous governments and in
the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Ranelagh wrote that '[of the] sub-jects
which US intelligence was expected to address . . . none
was more momentous than the growth of international terror-ism,
a subject of major concern to the Reagan administration'.2 9
Nowhere in his films did Ranelagh identify the CIA itself as
arguably the most powerful instrument of international
terrorism, notably under the Reagan administration. The
record on this is, of course, voluminous. In Reagan's first term
alone, wrote the CIA historian William Blum, 'CIA-led,
trained and funded Contra terrorists murdered 8,000
Nicaraguan civilians.' 30
In 1994, the United States invaded Haiti. Bill Neely of ITN
described the invaded country as 'festering in America's
backyard' and crying out to be 'saved'. The BBC reported that
the Pentagon had 'brought democracy' to Haiti. A BBC
correspondent added the rider that 'the days of America as
Mr Nice Guy are over'.31 On neither of these primary
channels of news was there reference to Mr Nice Guy's
murderous interventions in Haiti since 1849 which, as the
American historian Hans Schmidt noted, 'have consistently
suppressed local democratic institutions and denied
elementary political liberties'. Currently, Mr Nice Guy's plan
for Haiti, wrote another American historian, Amy Wilentz,
'achieves two strategic US goals - one, a restructured and
dependent agriculture that exports to US markets and is open
to American exploitation, and the other, a displaced rural
population that not only can be employed in offshore US
industries in the towns, but is more susceptible to army
British governments have generally supported American
terror in the region. Margaret Thatcher's Foreign Secretary,
Geoffrey Howe, said that Britain 'absolutely endorsed' US
objectives in Central America. According to The Times, these
objectives were to 'maintain and strengthen the forces of
democracy in an area threatened with a communist takeover'.
Examining the serious British press, Mark Curtis surveyed
500 articles that dealt with Nicaragua during the early
Reagan and Thatcher years of 1981-3. He found an almost
universal suppression of the achievements of the Sandinista
Government in favour of the falsehood of the 'threat of a
communist takeover'.
'It would take considerable intellectual acrobatics', he
wrote, 'to designate Sandinista successes in alleviating
poverty - remarkable by any standard - as unworthy of much
comment by any objective indicators. This might particularly
be the case when compared to the appalling conditions
elsewhere in the region - surely well known to every reporter
who had ever visited the area . . . The absence of significant
press comment on the Sandinista achievements was even more
remarkable in view of the sheer number of articles that
appeared on the subject of Nicaragua in these years. One
might reasonably conclude - and this is supported by the
evidence - that reporting was conditioned by a different set of
priorities, one that conformed to an ideological framework in
which the facts about real development successes were
ignored in favour of the stream of disinformation emanating
from Washington and London.' 33
While rejecting any notion of a conspiracy theory, Curtis
found in the work of leading journalists and academics a
slavish, if at times unconscious devotion to the myths that
perpetrated the old Cold War, which have extended to the
new Cold War. At times ideological support becomes parody.
Professor Lawrence Freedman of King's College, London,
who was called upon frequently by the BBC and the press as
an 'expert', wrote in a major study of the Gulf War (with
Efraim Karsh) that 'there seems little doubt that [President]
Bush was influenced most of all by the need to uphold the
principle of non-aggression'. He called Bush a 'crusader' for
'the cause of international norms of decency'.34
Soon after taking office, this crusader for non-aggression
and decency attacked Panama, killing at least 2,000 civilians,
more than the number estimated to have been killed by the
Chinese army in Tiananmen Square. He then attacked Iraq,
killing at least 200,000 people, the majority of them civilians.
He then invaded Somalia, killing, according to CIA estimates,
between 7,000 and 10,000 people. And Bush was a president
who, like Richard Nixon, was frequently lauded in the British
media for his expertise in foreign affairs.35
In the glory days following Mr Nice Guy's victory in the
1991 Gulf War, Peter Snow interviewed the chairman of the
US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, for the BBC's
Newsnight. Snow began by asking, 'Do you now regard the
United States as the world's policeman?' The General, softly
lit from behind, his ribbons marching down his chest, smiled
'Sir,' he replied, 'what we provide is a presence, a stabilising
influence. You see, we have power that people tend to trust.
 [However] I would not say we have seen the end of wars, or
the end of history.'
Snow then had some suggestions to make. What about
putting American troops into Yugoslavia to 'sort out the
situation'? And, 'Look, is it not practicable to conduct air
strikes?' After all, Margaret Thatcher had said it was.
'I'm second to no man', replied the General, 'in my respect,
indeed in my love for Margaret Thatcher. But, sir, I'm always
nervous about proposals that say all you have to do is go
bomb some folks and they will be deterred from action you
don't like.'
Snow nodded his agreement. 'Thank you so much,
General,' he said.36
In 1997, the BBC showed the last of its acclaimed People's
Century series, which expertly marshalled archive film and
interviews with witnesses to and participants in the closing
century's stirring and apocalyptic events. A recurring
technique was the merging of government propaganda film,
from Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States,
with documentary footage, all of it accompanied by a
narration. After a while, it became difficult to tell one from
the other.
The overall effect was quite unlike the propaganda of the
CIA series. This was finely honed, at times subliminal and,
above all, dependent on political airbrushing. In the pivotal
episode, Brave New World, about the origins of the Cold
War, Stalin's crimes were played against the West's post-war
heroics, as in the Berlin air-lift. This was 'balanced' by
the absurdities and cruelties of American anti-communist
paranoia in the 1950s.
However, there was barely a hint of the massive post-war
planning in the United States aimed at controlling and
exploiting millions of people and their resources: a hegemony
greater than the world had ever seen, dominating markets and
trade, from food to oil; a Pax Americana under which, as the
great American imperial planner George Kennan put it, the
United States had 'a moral right to intervene' anywhere in the
world - and did so relentlessly, subverting and destroying
governments which dared to demonstrate independence, from
Italy to Iran, Chile to Indonesia.37
In helping to bring the Indonesian tyrant Suharto to power,
American imperial power ensured the deaths of more than
half a million 'communists'. In Indo-China, the same
fundamentalism oversaw at least five million dead and
millions more dispossessed, their lands ruined and poisoned.
Then known as the 'free world', the American empire rules
today with ever-changing euphemisms. Perhaps its most
brilliant, if unsung, victory has been in the field of media
management, as the omission of its rapacity from People's
Century demonstrated.
Guardians of the faith, the clerics of the established order, are
most commonly found in the 'lobby system'. This is
periodically attacked as a 'cosy club', even 'pernicious', but it
never changes. 'Lobby correspondents' have their own rules,
'officers' and disciplinary procedures. Their 'privileges'
include access to government statements before they are made
public and to private briefings by ministerial press secretaries
or senior Civil Servants, or even ministers themselves.
At the time of writing, the BBC employs thirteen national
and nineteen regional political correspondents, all of them
based at London's Millbank, close to Parliament and the
other 'centres of power' covered by Robin Oakley and his
team. On a clear day you can see the MPs queuing up to
dispense their mostly predictable views. According to a
former BBC reporter, Steve Richards, now the political editor
of the New Statesman, some MPs go straight to Millbank in
the morning, rather than to the House of Commons, 'in the
hope that someone will interview them'.38
In an average week 'lobby' journalists churn out some 300
reports: most of them are on the same theme, adhering to the
agenda put out by the two main political parties, which are
themselves virtually the same. The truth that the British
people are now denied the semblance of a democratic choice
is not reported.
The message from the Millbank echo chamber is quite
0199 pp443-546 14/6/00 9:04 pm Page 503

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% Nicola Mostyn (Taylor) Faculty of Economics Murdoch University South Street Murdoch=20 W.A. 6150 Australia Tel. 61 8 9385 1130=20 email: n.taylor@stu.murdoch.edu.au %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%|

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Oct 02 2001 - 00:00:05 EDT