The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
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Sweeney's responses, below, would be hilarious if the issue were not so serious. A suggestion: It would be good if Roger Alton (Observer Editor) received many letters asking him to offer a right of reply to Hans Von Sponeck or Denis Halliday, considering the flaws in Sweeney's piece. email@example.com Cheers, Glenn. -------------------------------------------- > > MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media > > June 28, 2002 > > > MEDIA ALERT UPDATE: John Sweeney Responds on Mass Death in Iraq > > > On June 24, 2002, Media Lens published a Media Alert: 'John Sweeney Of The > Observer And The BBC on Mass Death In Iraq'. Also on June 24, we received > this reply from John Sweeney: > > "I don't agree with torturing children. Get stuffed." (Email to Media Lens > Editors, June 24, 2002) > > Having dealt with the mainstream 'liberal' media frequently over the last > few years, this is pretty much what we have come to expect. Arrogant and > cynical though they are, mainstream politicians have a vestigial sense that > they should at least +appear+ to be accountable to the public. Not so > journalists. They work for large businesses - media companies - and their > job, as far as they are concerned, is their business and no one else's. This > is understandable enough - executives in other industries would not dream of > tolerating public interference in the production of their business plans and > marketing reports, why should corporate journalists accept our interference > in the production of their reports? Likewise, editors flatly refuse to > publish material that seriously challenges the performance of their > newspapers or industry. It might be vital for press freedom and democracy to > publish such criticism, but business is business - would cornflake > manufacturers put damaging comments on the side of their boxes? > > Many ramifications flow from the fact that our media is corporate in > nature - corporations are totalitarian structures, with rigid hierarchies > based on strict top-down control. These totalitarian structures are > responsible to no one and nothing beyond shareholders and the bottom line. > This is a silent catastrophe for democracy - silent because the messengers > are themselves the catastrophe. > > On June 25, Sweeney replied with a second letter sent to a large number of > Media Lens correspondents. He was responding to the question of why, in > seeking answers to the causes of mass death in Iraq, he had ignored so many > credible individuals and organisations: > > Thank you for your email. > I report by getting on the road and listening to people. All of the Iraqis > in our film spoke their own words. We did not script them. Northern Iraq is > the only part of Iraq where people can speak freely. They spoke about Saddam > and what his regime did. Child killing. Child torture. The absence of drugs > in the hospitals. Chemical weapons. The faking of mass baby funerals. George > Galloway and his tribute to Saddam: 'Sir, I salute you.' The tyrant's > sanctions against his own people. > > That their testimony conflicts with theoretical constructs from non-Iraqi > organisations about Iraq is no help to ordinary Iraqis. > > Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck are not Iraqi. > > On the UNICEF figures, if a government tortures children - and Saddam's > does - then is it impossible to imagine that it doesn't torture figures? The > raw data came from the Iraqi Ministry of Health. > > George Galloway made the point on the Today programme that sanctions have > blocked pipework for public health programmes. According to OPEC Iraq sold > $12 billion of oil last year. That flow of oil needs a lot of pipework. Not > enough money for drains, eh? > > But best of all, why don't you go to Iraq and see for yourself - but go to > both Baghdad and Halabja. Don't forget to count the palaces in Baghdad. > > Best > > John Sweeney (June 25, 2002) > > > MEDIA LENS RESPONDS > > We are grateful for John Sweeney's second, more measured, reply. We are > pleased that he has abandoned the slur suggesting that our critique of > mainstream reporting on Iraq indicates support for a murderous dictator. > > Sweeney writes: > > "I report by getting on the road and listening to people. All of the Iraqis > in our film spoke their own words. We did not script them. Northern Iraq is > the only part of Iraq where people can speak freely. They spoke about Saddam > and what his regime did." > > This is a remarkable version of what journalism is about. Are we to believe > that the communication of important and complex issues to the public should > be based solely on anecdotal evidence gleaned from "getting on the road" and > speaking to people? It's difficult to know what to say in response to such > an idea. Of course anecdotal evidence and reports 'from the ground' are > important, but if we relied on these alone it would be impossible to make > sense of anything that happens in the world. Understanding the world, no > matter what the discipline, means turning to sources that are recognised as > credible, well-informed and honest. However well-intentioned individuals 'in > the field' might be, journalists must offer such testimony in the context of > a body of understanding built up by human rights groups, aid agencies, the > UN, and so on. The assertion is too absurd to merit even this much > discussion. > > Sweeney writes: > > "Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck are not Iraqi." > > John Sweeney is also not Iraqi, so why should we turn to him for information > on Iraq? In his Observer article he was writing for a British paper, > moreover one that has never so much as mentioned the names of Denis Halliday > and Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq before > resigning in protest. And what right, by his own reasoning, does Sweeney > have to comment on the work of Unicef? He does not work for Unicef, the > people interviewed in his programme do not work for Unicef - by his logic, > we should only listen to someone from Unicef telling us about the views of > other Unicef workers. Should environment correspondents assess the > seriousness of climate change based on their interviews with carbon dioxide > molecules? Again, it's difficult to know how to respond to such an absurd > idea. In his letter to Sweeney, one of our Canadian correspondents expressed > our own feelings well: > > "The sanctions against Iraq are devastating. Incredibly, the 'others' whom > you casually dismiss, and even place, grammatically and thus rhetorically > with Saddam himself, are the very people who know the situation most > accurately. Why their opinions were not deemed relevant is baffling." > (Michael Belyea Fredericton, Email to Media Lens Editors, 26 June, 2002) > > Beyond Sweeney's illogic, to describe credible and rational evidence that > our government is responsible for genocide in Iraq as "theoretical > constructs" is extraordinary. How would we respond to the idea that the > figure of 6 million Jewish dead during the Holocaust is a "theoretical > construct"? How would we respond to someone dismissing that figure as > "bogus" on the basis that it was compiled by Allied war crimes > investigators, rather than by German or Jewish investigators? We recall that > the Guardian's David Leigh and James Wilson similarly described the evidence > of mass death in Iraq as a "statistical construct" and "atrocity propaganda" > (see: 'Counting Iraq's victims - Dead babies always figure heavily in > atrocity propaganda, and Osama bin Laden is merely the latest to exploit > them. But what is the truth?' The Guardian, October 10, 2001: > http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4274013,00.html) > > Sweeney writes: > > "On the UNICEF figures, if a government tortures children - and Saddam's > does - then is it impossible to imagine that it doesn't torture figures?" > > Recall, again, that we are here debating credible factual evidence that our > government is responsible for nothing less than genocide. Sweeney's response > is to ask "if it is impossible to imagine" that the Iraqi regime "doesn't > torture figures?" This is grotesque. Any reasoned attempt to refute these > deadly serious accusations must surely involve careful consideration of all > the facts, not point-blank dismissal or vague speculation about the Iraqi > regime torturing figures. It is not enough to +imply+ that the Iraqi regime > may have manipulated figures; we need to examine if that +is+ the case and > see whether Western organisations - who are obviously well aware of this > danger - have taken account of this potential for manipulation in their > figures and methodology. Sweeney gives the impression that he has not > investigated Unicef methodology. Given the subject under discussion - the > mass death of children - this is irresponsible. Hans von Sponeck has > responded again to Sweeney's claims of "bogus" Unicef figures: > > "Dear Mr. Sweeney, I have always held the 'Observer' in high regard. I am > therefore even more taken aback by the article you have written on Iraq in > which you consider the mortality figures as Iraqi propaganda. Unfortunately > it is very difficult to get any statistics on Iraq which are as rigorously > researched as would professionally be desirable. This includes the available > mortality figures. You are, however, very wrong in your assessment of the > UNICEF analysis. UNICEF, of course, cooperated with the Government but > methodology of analysis and the findings is UNICEF's. A large team of UNICEF > professionals subjected the data to rigorous review to avoid what you have > not avoided and that is a politicization of statistical material. This is > not professional and disappoints. Why did you not consult with > UNICEF/Baghdad and New York before you wrote your article? I am sure you did > not want to play into the hands of those who want to find reason to > discredit every effort that tries to portray the enormous damage that > sanctions have done to Iraq in addition to the damage the Iraqi civilian > population has experienced from within. But this is exactly what you have > done, making a difficult situation even more difficult. Regards, Hans von > Sponeck" (Email to Media Lens Editors, June 25, 2002) > > Why does Sweeney mention only Unicef in his article? Why does he not also > explicitly dismiss the work of Richard Garfield, a renowned epidemiologist > at Colombia University in New York, who concluded that "most" excess child > deaths between August 1990 and March 1998 were "primarily associated with > sanctions"? (Garfield, 'Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children from > 1990 Through 1998: Assessing the Impact of the Gulf War and Economic > Sanctions', March 1999, available on-line at > http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/casi/info/garfield/dr-garfield.html). > > Garfield notes that, in tripling since 1990, the death rate of children in > Iraq is unique, as "there is almost no documented case of rising mortality > for children under five years in the modern world". (John Mueller and Karl > Mueller, 'The Methodology of Mass Destruction: Assessing Threats in the New > World Order', The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol.23, no.1, 2000, > pp.163-87) > > Why does Sweeney not dismiss Save the Children Fund UK, who have described > the economic sanctions against Iraq as "a silent war against Iraq's > children"? (Quoted, Voices in the Wilderness UK, March 2002: > www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk) > > Why does he not dismiss The Catholic Relief Agency, CAFOD, who have > described the economic sanctions against Iraq as "humanly catastrophic [and] > morally indefensible"? (Ibid) > > Why does he not dismiss Human Rights Watch, who have said: "the continued > imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions is undermining the basic > rights of children and the civilian population generally" and "the > [Security] Council must recognise that the sanctions have contributed in a > major way to persistent life-threatening conditions in the country"? (August > 2000, ibid) > > Why does he not dismiss seventy members of the US Congress, who signed a > letter to President Clinton, appealing to him to lift the embargo and end > what they called "infanticide masquerading as policy"? (Quoted, Philadelphia > Enquirer, April 1, 1999) > > These comments, to our knowledge, are all made by non-Iraqis, who clearly > have no business commenting on the matter. > > Sweeney writes: > > "George Galloway made the point on the Today programme that sanctions have > blocked pipework for public health programmes. According to OPEC Iraq sold > $12 billion of oil last year. That flow of oil needs a lot of pipework. Not > enough money for drains, eh?" > > Again, instead of approaching the problem rationally, Sweeney resorts to > sarcasm and speculation. Consider the extraordinary scale of the damage done > by the 88,500 tons of bombs (the equivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs) > dropped on Iraq during the Gulf War. All of Iraq's eleven major electrical > power plants as well as 119 substations were destroyed - 90 percent of > electricity generation was out of service within hours, within days all > power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were > repeatedly hit and destroyed - this wrecked flood control, municipal and > industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq's > seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. Fourteen central > telephone exchanges were irreparably damaged with 400,000 of the 900,000 > telephone lines being destroyed. Twenty-eight civilian hospitals and 52 > community health centres were hit. Allied bombs damaged 676 schools, with 38 > being totally destroyed. Historic sites were not immune - 25 mosques were > damaged in Baghdad alone and 321 more around the country. Seven textile > factories sustained damage, as did five construction facilities, four car > assembly plants and three chlorine plants. A major hypodermic syringe > factory was destroyed. All major cement plants were hit along with various > clothes and cosmetic factories, and so on. > > In 1991, UN Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari reported on the effects > of the bombing, describing the "near apocalyptic" state of Iraq's basic > services. "Iraq has for some time to come been relegated to a pre-industrial > age", he wrote, "but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency > on an intensive use of energy and technology." (New York Times, June 3, > 1991) > > Beyond this, the economic effects of subsequent sanctions on public health > are undeniable. Adnan Jarra, a UN spokesperson in Iraq, recently told the > Wall Street Journal: > > "The [oil-for-food] distribution network is second to none. They [the > Iraqis] are very efficient. We have not found anything that went anywhere it > was not supposed to." (Quoted, Anthony Arnove, 'Iraq: Smart Sanctions and > the US Propaganda War', ZNet Commentary, May 21, 2002) > > Tun Myat, the administrator of the UN oil-for-food programme, said in an > interview with the New York Times. "I think the Iraqi food-distribution > system is probably second to none that you'll find anywhere in the world. It > gets to everybody whom it's supposed to get to in the country." > > But Myat stressed, "People have become so poor in some cases that they can't > even afford to eat the food that they are given free, because for many of > them the food ration represents the major part of their income." > > Denis Halliday comments: > > "As most Iraqis have no other source of income, food has become a medium of > exchange; it gets sold for other necessities, further lowering the calorie > intake. You also have to get clothes and shoes for your kids to go to > school. You've then got malnourished mothers who cannot breastfeed, and they > pick up bad water. What is needed is investment in water treatment and > distribution, electric power production for food processing, storage and > refrigeration, education and agriculture." (Quoted, John Pilger, The New > Rulers of the World, Verso, 2002, p.59) > > So-called 'smart sanctions' are powerless to revive the badly damaged Iraqi > economy. As the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (CASI) points out: > > "There will still be a prohibition on foreign investment into Iraq, > necessary to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the country.... [and] > Iraq will not be allowed to export any goods other than oil." (Arnove, op., > cit) > > Even the Security Council's own humanitarian panel reported in March 1999 > that for Iraq to recover, "the oil for food system alone would not suffice > and massive investment would be required in a number of key sectors, > including oil, energy, agriculture and sanitation". (Ibid) > > Finally, Sweeney writes: "go to Iraq and see for yourself - but go to both > Baghdad and Halabja. Don't forget to count the palaces in Baghdad." > > It is good advice. But in the integrated, globalised world in which we live, > it is not nearly enough. If John Sweeney wants to understand what is > happening in Baghdad and Halabja, we say this: go to London and Washington, > talk to the powers that be. Talk to their backers on Wall Street, and in the > oil industry, and in the arms industry. Don't forget to count the palaces. > > > SUGGESTED ACTION > > Write to Sweeney at the BBC: > > Email: firstname.lastname@example.org > > Ask John Sweeney what he means when he writes that "Denis Halliday and Hans > von Sponeck are not Iraqi". Does he really believe that only Iraqis are > qualified to comment on what is happening in Iraq? Is he aware of the > influence of the world's sole remaining superpower, the United States? Ask > him if he has discussed Unicef's methodology with Unicef personnel? If so, > why has he not reported their views? If not, why not? > > Copy your letters to the Observer's editor, Roger Alton. > > Email: email@example.com > > The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for > others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to > maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. > > Copy your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. > > Find out more about the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people and what you > can do to help, by visiting the website of Voices UK: > > http://www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk/index.html > > Feel free to respond to Media Lens alerts (email@example.com). > > Visit the Media Lens website: http://www.MediaLens.org > > > > > _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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