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Pilger: 'slow news'

John Pilger

(Scanned -- Sandeep)

Turkey, which has killed 30,000 Kurds, has now
Invaded northern Iraq. That's just  slow news in

This month, two extraordinary men came to London and spoke about a
silent holocaust, and not a word of what they said was reported. Denis
Halliday was the assistant secretary general of the United Nations who
set up the so-called oil-for-food programme in Iraq, then resigned in
protest against the devastating effects of the Amer-ican and British-led
embargo. Hans von Sponeck succeeded him as the senior UN official in
Iraq, and he, too, resigned rather than "punish millions of innocent

Thirty-four years with the UN and, like Halliday, respected in the many
countries he has served, Von Sponeck spoke to 700 people at Kensington
Town Hall, at times shaking his head in disbelief. "Half a million
children are dead," he said. "One out of five children go hungry,
needlessly. The international community allows just $252 fore very man,
woman and child to survive for one year...

In reply to the British government's charge that critics of sanctions
offer no alternative to curbing Saddam Hussein, Halliday outlined a
series of proposals that would free Iraqi society from its prison of
deprivation while implementing weap-ons and technology sanctions, along
with UN inspections, that should be acceptable in Baghdad, Washington
and London.

There has never been such dissent among the elite of the United Nations
and, by any proper profes-sional standards, their speeches ought to have
been important news, at least in the serious Sunday press. Not a word.
Iraqis are media unpeople. Their holo-caust does not exist. A few years
ago, Bishop Carlos Felipe Belo of East Timor, who was later awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize, came to London to appeal to the British government,
the biggest arms suppliers to the Suharto tyranny. "I beg you," he said,
"do not sustain any longer a conflict which without these arms sales
could never have been pursued."

Not a word was reported. It is now undisputed that President Suharto,
using British fighter-bombers and guns, was responsible for the deaths
of 200,000 East Timorese. The East Timorese then, like the Iraqis now,
were media unpeople. They were dis-covered by the pack only after Nato's
attack on Yugoslavia, a British-government-backed adven-ture and
therefore media-fashionable. Inanities about "humanitarian wars" spilled
over into East Timor, which had been virtually ignored for 23 years.
However, the flirtation was brief While the US and Britain have backed a
war crimes tribunal for the Balkans, they have shown no interest in the
same proposal for Indonesia - where their own crimes are visible. This
received only scant coverage.

With honourable exceptions, the English-language media report humanity
in terms of its usefulness to western interests. Western culpability in
crimes against humanity, such as the bleeding of Iraq and the west's
underwriting of Suharto's mass murder, is minimised, or ignored.
Censorship by obfuscation and omission is like mother's milk; no
instructions are required. With much of the "credi-bility" of news drawn
from a Whitehall agenda, the news from elsewhere - what the satirist Art
Buch-wald called slow news - can be ignored.

The other day, Turkey invaded northern Iraq. Not a word. The guardian
ofNato's southern flank, the Turkish state has dispossessed three
million Turk-ish Kurds and slaughtered more than 30,000. Last month,
demonstrators against global capitalism in Washington were described as
"extremists" by the BBC's man on the spot. His colleagues in Britain
worked hard to denigrate the May Day event in London. Tony Blair, who
shares responsibility for the deaths of Iraqi children and the
cluster-bombing of Serbs and Albanians, was allowed to denounce on the
evening news "violence" against property and statues, while standing
next to the Cenotaph, just as his professional propagandist had
This meant that the real story of May Day - the coming together of 6,000
mostly young people to condemn capitalism and celebrate the struggle for
an alternative - could be obfuscated or ignored. That many of them,
inspired by the protests in S eat-tle and Washiiigton, were on their
first demonstra-tion was not news. Nor were the extraordinary
demonstrations around the world - 600,000 in Brazil, a society raped by
global capital. Political regeneration has begun; disorientation is
ending; people are stirring; and the Blairs, their militarists and their
public relations consultants, paid and unpaid, are understandably

The Sunday after Halliday and Von Sponeck spoke in London about Iraq,
the dominant news was still Ken Livingstone ' s victory in the London
mayoral election. No headline read "Few gave a damn". The slow news, the
truth, was that rela-tively few had voted for Livingstone or anybody
else. The turnout was a third of the electorate and even less in the
local elections. Most people did not give a damn who won, because the
frontrun-ners were all posturing machine politicians. Those who backed
Livingstone must wonder why their hero immediately promised to
collaborate with new Labour and pleaded with Blair to be taken back.

The latest headlines are about IRA arms decomis-sioning. Once again, the
image of the British gov-ernment and the loyalists is that of
bystanders, peace-brokers, victims. A study by the University of Ulster,
said to be the most comprehensive to date, confirms what has long been
hidden by British propaganda on Ireland: British forces and their
loyalist allies have been responsible for the majority of civilian
deaths in the six counties. No decomissioning calls to them. No
"breakthroughs" there. No news.
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