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Deceit in the Service of Power (orig.: [casi] TV broadcasts)

At 09:59 23/03/03, Mark Parkinson wrote:

>I think that a key in all of this is the broadcast media, especially
>It is worth phoning, emailing, faxing or writing to them.

The relevant contact info. in the UK for doing the above is as follows:

BBC news and ITN :

Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news.

Steve Anderson, controller of ITV news:

Jonathan Munro, head of ITN newsgathering.

Editors of The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent:

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Roger Alton, Observer editor

Simon Kelner, Independent editor

Info. taken from MediaLens (
they suggest "maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone":

"BBC, ITN, Independent, Guardian: Deceit In The Service Of Power"

All The Indicators Are Already Red
BBC, ITN, Independent, Guardian: Deceit In The Service Of Power

by David Cromwell; Media Lens; March 24, 2003

Quote 1

"Iraq: The Human Cost Of War
50,000 civilian deaths?
500,000 civilians injured?
2,000,000 refugees and displaced people?
10,000,000 in need of humanitarian assistance?"
(Front cover of the March/April 2003 issue of "Amnesty", Amnesty
International UK's magazine, quoting warnings by UN humanitarian agencies)

Quote 2

"All the indicators are already red and we are very, very concerned."
(Veronique Taveau, spokeswoman for the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator,
'Food warning issued by UN', James Drummond and Mark Turner, Financial
Times, 21 March, 2003, page 7)

Deceit In The Service Of Power

In one media alert after another, we have attempted to document the
relentless stream of deceptions, omissions and outright lies that have
enabled Washington and London, in full view of a horrified world, to
undertake a massive, illegal and immoral invasion of a stricken Third World

"We have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such
systematic manipulation of the American people, since the war in Vietnam,"
wrote John Brady Kiesling, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service in
his letter of resignation last month to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Here in the UK, leading politicians, assisted by a largely compliant media,
have engaged in a similar attempt to suppress, divert and mould public
opinion. In the eyes of the Media Lens editors, and many people posting
messages at the Media Lens website (, the propaganda
dished up regularly by BBC and ITN news bulletins has been truly shameful.
Television images of pink mushroom clouds rising above the skies of
Baghdad, with palm trees in the foreground, and green 'night-sight' footage
of reporters filing meaningless live 'progress' reports back to the news
studios, hide the devastating reality: that Iraqi men, women and children,
as well as 'coalition' soldiers, are being ripped apart as a direct
consequence of the global ambitions of right-wing US interests, supported
by an arrogant UK government, in defiance of international law and global
public opinion.

Not all mainstream commentators have been content to play along with the
'momentum of war', or to restrict their challenges within a narrow frame of
thought that hardly ruffles the feathers of power. The veteran columnist
Alan Watkins, for example, shrewdly notes that "Mr Blair strikes me as
possessing the capacity of the religious maniac to regurgitate, with every
appearance of sincerity, any piece of garbage which may be required in the
temporary service of some higher cause." (Alan Watkins, 'He may have the
sympathy vote. But not mine', The Independent on Sunday, 16 March, 2003,
page 25). Indeed, Media Lens has traced the deceptions and lies promulgated
by Blair and his government in pursuit of an invasion of Iraq; an attack
not sanctioned by the fig leaf of a second UN resolution, despite London
and Washington's best efforts of 'diplomacy', for which read 'bullying',
'bribery' and 'coercion'.

But now that 'war' is underway, all such thoughts must be put behind us.
Or, as an editorial in the Independent asserts: "The debate about the
rights and wrongs of this war is over." ('When democracies do battle with a
despot, they must hold on to their moral superiority', The Independent, 20
March, 2003, page 18). It is now time to 'back our boys', as the tabloid
Sun would have it.

The BBC and ITN are taking a more subtle approach, with frequent bulletins
from reporters 'embedded' within British fighting forces and relentless
reiteration of government propaganda. Reports from Iraqi sources of Iraqi
civilian deaths and injuries already carry the usual proviso "yet to be
confirmed", a warning that does not apply so readily to statements issuing
from Washington and London. Meanwhile, disturbing images of the victims of
the US-led invasion are not allowed to trouble western viewers.

Steve Anderson, controller of ITV News, said: "I have seen some of the
images on Al-Jazeera television. I would never put them on screen. I'm not
criticising them for that. There seems to be an acceptance of images I
don't think would be acceptable here." Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director
of news, told a BBC Radio 5 Live discussion that such images "were not
suitable for a British audience." ('TV stations criticise the use of
"images of war"', Ian Burrell, The Independent, 24 March 2003)

British audiences, therefore, are being spared the reality of war. We are
not suggesting that shocking images of dead and wounded bombing victims
should be paraded relentlessly on our screens and in our newspapers, but
near-total suppression of the brutal effects of the illegal invasion of
Iraq by US, UK and Australian forces is bias, pure and simple. Our main
news bulletins are pitiful. Where are the interviews with Baghdad citizens
waiting in fear of the next onslaught of "Shock and Awe"? Why is there so
little attention given to the major humanitarian agencies that are fearful
of the effects of water and power being cut off by 'allied forces'
(deliberately or otherwise) for over 48 hours in Basra, Iraq's second city?
Where are the primetime news interviews with anti-war campaigners, or with
ordinary members of the British public, who feel disgust, shame or dismay
at the illegal and immoral intervention being carried out by 'their' own

How can "due impartiality" be claimed by news organisations broadcasting
interviews with leading western politicians and military commanders who
have planned, and are now undertaking, a massive assault that most
authoritative commentators regard as a major breach of international law? A
breach, moreover, that likely constitutes a crime against humanity, however
much it is shrouded in the rhetoric of 'liberation' of the Iraqi people.
The BBC, funded by the British television license payer, is failing in its
supposed public duty "to report events as they develop with accuracy and
impartiality; to provide the appropriate background information; and to air
as wide a range of views as possible."

But then, at 'sensitive times', the BBC has a long history of quietly
dropping its Reithian norms of 'impartiality', 'objectivity' and 'balance';
norms which, in any case, have only ever applied in a meaningless,
rhetorical sense. During the Falklands War in 1982, journalist John Pilger

"Leaked minutes of one of the BBC's Weekly Review Board meetings showed BBC
executives directing that the reporting of the war should be concerned
'primarily with government statements of policy' while impartiality was
felt to be 'an unnecessary irritation'. " (John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, p. 492)

The BBC's reporting of the 1999 Nato bombing campaign in the Balkans was
another example of this august institution's abdication of its public
responsibilities; in particular, the station's reluctance to bring home to
the viewer the inconsistencies and deceit implicit in Nato's
pronouncements, as well as Nato's terrorist actions in bombing civilian
targets. Although BBC reporter John Simpson upset government spin doctors
with his frank reports from Belgrade, the BBC did not inform its viewers
and listeners of the terms of the Rambouillet 'peace treaty', nor did it
query Nato's claims about the Serbian 'war machine' being 'degraded'. Nor,
worst of all, did it systematically question the politicians and military
planners about the many non-military targets being hit - atrocities
routinely presented by Nato and the BBC (and the media as a whole) as

The BBC was not alone in acting as mouthpieces for Nato. Indeed, when the
bombing was over, several journalists praised themselves for smoothing
public opinion in Nato's favour. Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thomson
wrote, "So, if you want to know why the public supported the war, thank a
journalist, not the present government's propagandist-in-chief [Alastair
Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary]" (Quoted by Charles Glass,
ZNet daily commentary, 1 August, 1999,

The Guardian's Maggie O'Kane, made the same point: "Campbell should
acknowledge that it was the press reporting of the Bosnian war and the
Kosovar refugee crisis that gave his boss the public support and sympathy
he needed to fight the good fight against Milosevic."(Glass, ibid). Even
the BBC's John Simpson spoke up for the media's support of Nato: "Why did
British, American, German, and French public opinion stay rock-solid for
the bombing, in spite of Nato's mistakes? Because they knew the war was
right. Who gave them the information? The media." (Glass, ibid)

In the ongoing 'Gulf War', actually a full-blown invasion of Iraq, the
media is going to have a much tougher time of keeping public opinion
'rock-solid', especially given that the attack was already launched in the
face of overwhelming public opposition: a clear sign, if any were still
needed, that our 'democracy' is a cruel sham. The American writer Edward
Herman makes the point well:

"In democracies governments are supposed to represent the people, so that
there shouldn't be a need for massive protests to get the government to do
what the public wants done. We shouldn't see 'democratic'
governments  trying furiously to drag their country into actions that
people oppose - and that many oppose passionately - even after being
subjected to intense propaganda and disinformation." (War-makers, Bribees,
And Poodles Versus Democracy, Edward Herman, February 18, 2003,

Powerful political leaders will pursue their own world-shaping agenda
unless western electorates becomes so  defiant that the political costs of
trampling public opinion become unsustainable. We are still a long way off
reaching that point: unsurprising when the majority of the public are
shielded from uncomfortable facts and critical modes of reasoning by a
servile media system.

The exceptions shine through. Robert Fisk, with his typical combination of
compassion and clarity, focuses attention on the civilian casualties of the
Bush-Blair attack on Iraq:

"Donald Rumsfeld says the American attack on Baghdad is 'as targeted an air
campaign as has ever existed' but he should not try telling that to
five-year-old Doha Suheil. She looked at me yesterday morning, drip feed
attached to her nose, a deep frown over her small face as she tried vainly
to move the left side of her body. The cruise missile that exploded close
to her home in the Radwaniyeh suburb of Baghdad blasted shrapnel into her
tiny legs  they were bound up with gauze and, far more seriously, into her
spine. Now she has lost all movement in her left leg." ('This is the
reality of war. We bomb. They suffer. Veteran war reporter Robert Fisk
tours the Baghdad hospital to see the wounded after a devastating night of
air strikes', Independent on Sunday, cover story, 23 March 2003)

Contrast the above with an online BBC news article by BBC 'defence'
correspondent Jonathan Marcus on US aims for the 'war', which barely
considered the likely humanitarian cost. Instead, he concentrated on
'coalition' technology and strategy. Virtually all he said on the human
costs was:

"There will be civilian casualties. But the aim of the US and British is to
reduce these to a minimum and to reduce damage to the civilian
infrastructure to a minimum as well."

This may be the stated aim of the US and the UK. But why would a
responsible journalist take it at face value?

Marcus then goes on to say:

"Clearly much can go wrong. But the outcome of this conflict is not in
doubt. How long it takes and the level of casualties on both sides will
depend upon the degree of Iraqi resistance."

This is astonishing. Does the likely level of Iraqi casualties really
depend more upon the "degree of Iraqi resistance" than the lethal firepower
now being inflicted upon them under the "Shock and Awe" nightmare by US forces?

How can Jonathan Marcus, as an 'impartial' BBC reporter, claim that the
level of casualties will be determined by the resistance shown by those
being bombed, rather than by the immense violence imposed upon them by
those doing the bombing? It takes a particular brand of highly trained
professional to write such words untroubled by logic or shame. ('US aims
for swift, crushing war', BBC Online, 2835661.stm, 17 March, 2003)

We have already noted elsewhere that many people are so disgusted, confused
or alienated by mainstream propaganda that they are now seeking out
'alternative' sources of news and comment on the analysis. A Media Lens
reader told us recently that when he challenged Guardian editor Alan
Rusbridger on The Guardian's omissions, deceptions and distortions on Iraqi
coverage, the response was smug or, perhaps, incredulous: "What are you
going to read instead then?" (email to Media Lens reader, 19 March, 2003).

The fact is, many people are already reading excellent material at ZNet,
Indymedia, SchNEWS and elsewhere.

This is the kind of contemptuous response that faces us wherever we look.
Similarly, Blair confronts us, in effect, with the question: 'Well, who
else are you going to vote for - the Tories?!' Modern democracy, in the
media as well as in politics, is all about choices that are denuded of
meaning. For those of us who seriously aspire to rein in state-corporate
violence and domination, the choice between The Guardian and the Times, or
between Tony Blair and Iain Duncan Smith, are not choices at all. In
attempting to escape from the labyrinthine 'nightmare of history', freedom
does not consist in choosing from different cul de sacs. What we need are
ways out!

It is crucial, now more than ever, not to give in to anger, frustration or
despair. As Noam Chomsky, repeatedly points out: "We basically have two
choices: give up, and be sure that the worst will come; try, and it may
make things better. Because a great many people make the second choice, the
world does become a better place. A good shot in the arm is to spend a
little time with people who do not share our immense privilege, but go on
to struggle, without ever asking questions, facing terrible risks and
sometimes enduring harsh punishment, even assassination. It's a humbling


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.

Write to the heads of BBC news and ITN expressing your views:

Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news.

Steve Anderson, controller of ITV news:

Jonathan Munro, head of ITN newsgathering.

Write to the editors of The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent:

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Roger Alton, Observer editor

Simon Kelner, Independent editor

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