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Robert Fisk and media self-censorship

Thanks everyone who replied to my question on the subject of Jordan.

I have some more questions. Here in Britain we have a General election soon. I had hoped that the subject of Iraqi sanctions would be an issue. At the moment it looks like it is going to be not a major issue but perhaps a very minor issue. You can argue why this is; voter apathy, indifference etc. My point is, however, that at the last British General election, sanctions on Iraq were not an issue at all but for a different reason – voter ignorance.

I wonder how many people could honestly answer the following question – when did they become aware that sanctions on Iraq had killed 1.5 million civilians, half of them children under five years old? I became aware of this in about June 1997. My guess is that most members of the public were ignorant about this until about January 1998 when the media began covering the issue. Until that point the mainstream media had maintained a remarkably uniform strategy of self-censorship on the subject. At the last election, I still believed all the myths I had been told about Iraq and the 1991 Gulf war i.e. firstly that the 1991 air bombardment had been carried out with "surgical accuracy" and that the Iraqi people’s suffering was now at an end. It was only later I began questioning these beliefs and recognised them for the myths they were. One of the things that led me along this thought process was several articles I read by John Pilger.

On the subject of Jordan I noticed that someone, Nadia, directed me to an article by Robert Fisk. Well, thank you, Nadia, it was a very interesting article but perhaps I might tell you all about my own experience of Robert Fisk? I wrote to him three times on the subject of sanctions and he replied everytime, the first two times by letter, the third by phone. The first two occasions were in 1997 when he, in common with virtually every other British journalist, was maintaining a complete silence on the subject of sanctions. I asked why this was so since I had been reading extensive material on this subject on Internet websites e.g. the IAC where I was able to read large segments of the book "The children are dying." He wrote back basically stating that there were no accurate statistics available on the effect of sanction on Iraq’s child mortality rate. Then, in 1998, he began writing in "The Independent" on the subject and was soon describing the sanctions as "genocidal". What new evidence, I wondered, had he uncovered that convinced him that the sanctions were causing suffering every bit as bad as my letters had made clear? I wrote to him again and he replied but his reply did not really touch on this point. I attach a letter which contains exerts from these three letters and which form part of a larger letter I sent to "Private Eye" on the subject of Robert Fisk’s coverage.

I think the moral is clear though; Iraqi sanctions were not an issue at the last general election because virtually the entire British public was unaware of them. This , in turn, was caused by media self-censorship on the subject. And if anyone thinks I am being paranoid by referring to media "self-censorship" I suggest they read "Necessary Illusions" by Noam Chomsky or watch the film "Manufacturing Consent" also about Noam Chomsky.

In fact, I think that Robert Fisk is one of the best Middle-East correspondents of our time. His book "Pity the Nation" is perhaps the definitive account of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about the conflict in the Middle-East. But in common with virtually every journalist in the West, it seems to me that he only began covering the sanctions in January 1998.

It seems that a lot of academics read these discussions so I would like to put a question to them. How, in a democracy, were the Western media able to ensure that, between August 1990 and January 1998, the issue of sanctions was basically "censored" so that the public had no knowledge of it? As Chomsky might say, it was an act of deception which would "be difficult to replicate in a totalitarian state."







Letters to Fisk.doc

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