News media

Activism&Africa&British politics&Global politics&News media&Pop culture20 Jun 2005 07:52 pm

I’m a busy, tired, cynical fox today. This is not so much a post as an attempt to convey an eye-rolling “Hmph” in three needlessly wordy paragraphs.

Fact 1:
In 1985, Bob Geldof’s Live Aid raised £40m for famine relief in Africa, half of which was spent on long term development plans. By Geldof’s own admission, Africa has become even poorer over the intervening two decades. So here comes Live 8, jumping alongside the campaign to ‘Make Poverty History’.

Question: Do you think this self-congratulatory dadrock-fest will change world leaders’ minds about their policies towards Africa, or will they use it as an excuse to applaud themselves about a few paltry figleaf changes (e.g. doubling aid) while ignoring the actual reasons why Africa is impoverished (e.g. the IMF’s demands, the World Bank, the double standards of one-sided ‘free’ trade)?

Fact 2:
Tony Blair wears a white wristband (or, as the hilariously ultra-conservative Telegraph puts it, a “bangle”). He started wearing this – complete with subtly shortened jacket sleeve – in the run-up to the election. Naturally. All in all, he is making a sustained effort to draw attention to his part in this expertly choreographed campaign.

Question: Do you think Tony Blair has any incentive to argue (or intention of arguing) for 100% of African debt to be dropped?

Fact 3:
Bono, a man so ferociously egomaniacal he is prepared to incur the financial and environmental cost of flying a hat to Italy in first class, has also lent his name to the cause.

Question: Would Blair, Bush etc be so eager to trade positive publicity opportunities with this multi-millionaire businessman if his involvement was genuinely subversive and radical?

Soundtrack to this post: Pull Up The People – M.I.A.

British politics&News media&Race05 Apr 2005 11:39 pm

This Indymedia article describes an anti-racism march taking place on Saturday in support of the rights of travellers.

At the end of the piece, the author mentions that the Press Complaints Commission have informed her/him that The Sun newspaper is currently being investigated by police for “incitement to racial hatred”.

At last.

No doubt a guilty verdict would only mean a fine, at best. But if it’s a significant amount, or has a detrimental effect on advertising revenue, it could encourage NewsCorp (and the loathsome Daily Mail/Daily Express) to curb their xenophobic bile.

“Zero Tolerance: We Love It.”

Stick that up your headline, Murdoch.

American politics&Corporate&News media&The art of blog15 Mar 2005 12:08 am

Hello all. Apologies for the cursory nature of my entries lately. Finally, I have found a moment to pop in and wave blearily. This is in direct defiance of my clock’s disapproving face, which clearly implies “Time you weren’t sitting at a computer any more, Foxy ol’ thing”. Yes, it’s actually frowning at me. Well, kinda. OK, no it’s not.

Anyway, I’ve just got time to note that bloggers are officially not journalists in the eyes of the American establishment. Which presumably means we don’t need to adhere to the pesky libel laws either? Good-o.

The BBC (see link above), as ever, are reporting this news as though it defines world legislation rather than merely that of a foreign country, so expect the legal concept to drift across the Atlantic and into our statutes soon.

And the second “Duh, really?” news story of the day award goes to Army Life Conducive To Bullying And Violence. Well, knock me down with an AK47. Who’d have thought it?

British politics&Europe&News media09 Mar 2005 01:26 am

Too tired to write a real post. Sorry. How about I give you a hastily-typed Quote of the Day – no. 3 instead? It came to mind when watching a TV news reporter comparing Labour’s/Tories’/Lib Dems’ identikit electioneering as though their disagreements are anything but superficial.

“What luck for rulers, that men do not think.”
Adolf Hitler

Nice cheery one, for bedtime… Right, I’ll be back when there is less danger of me falling asleep on my keyboard and typing a load of skdjkdjfskdjhhfrjb.

News media&Self&The art of blog02 Mar 2005 02:43 am

This evening, I happened to stumble across a couple of sentences on the Channel 4 news website which sounded vaguely familiar. Then I realised it was because they were quoting me.

If only my HTML skills were up to putting a wildly exaggerated “AS SEEN ON CHANNEL 4” banner across the top of the page. Heh.

American politics&Global politics&News media08 Dec 2004 01:35 pm

A former Wall Street Journal associate editor writes:

Who’s behind the oil-for-food scandal?, Murdoch, Conrad Black and the Neocons

“It may be there is no scandal at all. Just another trick of the neo-conservatives to blow away anyone who gets in the way of their plans for a global empire.”

American politics&British politics&Middle East&News media30 Nov 2004 01:53 pm

The US army has again been accused of using napalm in Iraq.

America is the only country which still uses the weapon. Last August, they admitted having used it in Iraq already.

As Blair stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush on Iraq, the British government must necessarily be considered complicit with any such use. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, was yesterday asked a question in Parliament about the recent Ukraine election. This question incorporated a query about the use of napalm in Iraq. Like the true politician he is, Straw answered the part about Ukraine and neither acknowledged nor responded to the other question. More on all this here.

If that’s too ‘unofficial’ a source for you, try this. The Marines’ military report on Fallujah is now online. It has a lot to say about the 60 mosques it claims were “used for military purposes”, meaning they forfeited their protection under international law. But it also admits that the number of non-Iraqi fighters in Fallujah is very low, contradicting earlier statements suggesting the city had been besieged by substantial numbers of foreign “terrorists”.

Meanwhile, some Arab news sources claim 70% of Fallujah is now controlled by the Mujahideen. In addition to 1,200 Iraqi “insurgent” deaths during this latest Fallujah campaign (the official US figure), we learn that 129 US soldiers were killed in the month of November alone. And it’s not just American soldiers who are losing their lives over this fiasco.

And the Bush PR offensive has been going just as badly as his Iraq military offensive. The International Red Cross has accused the American government of using methods “tantamount to torture” in its Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The continued detention and mistreatment of these prisoners without trial, charge or evidence has been angering Muslims (and non-Muslims) worldwide ever since the camp was created. Needless to say, this latest confirmation of the world’s fears further exacerbates an already delicate international situation.

The British Ministry of Defence has become so rattled by the number of soldiers’ families who are speaking out publicly against the war, it has issued a D-notice prohibiting the press from reporting on such protests.

Yesterday, the British Embassy in Iraq warned that security in Baghdad is now so bad that even trying to leave the country by plane is out of the question.

And now the British charity Medact have called for an inquiry into the shattered Iraqi healthcare system. Their official statement says “”The war is a continuing public health disaster that was predictable – and should have been preventable… Excess deaths and injuries and high levels of illness are the direct and indirect results of ongoing conflict.”

What else needs to happen before our government stops lapdancing for the American dollar and realises its mistake?

American politics&Human rights&Middle East&News media27 Nov 2004 03:07 pm

Oxford English Dictionary definition:


noun a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

— DERIVATIVES terrorism noun

I was reading an American blog the other day and was surprised to note that the writer had called all Iraqi people fighting back against US soldiers “terrorists”.

Poised to leave a comment highlighting this inadvertent error, a worrying thought suddenly occurred to me. Perhaps there was more to this writer’s use of language than a shaky grasp on his mother tongue. Perhaps he genuinely thought Iraq was a country comprised of terrorists, not ordinary people.

Does any 21st century westerner really hold such a shallow concept of ‘foreign’ countries, I wondered? Quotation from blogs like this sounds like satire, a classic pastiche of the “them and us” mindset of previous generations. Surely such xenophobic misconceptions about other members of the human race have been consigned to history, along with the burning of heretics?

So I decided to look around for proof, to see how widespread this blanket “terrorism” misconception was.

Blogs are a great place to start research of this kind, because that’s where ordinary people feel free to express their ideas without censorship, commercial incentives or political expediency. Blogs had to be my first stop.

Reading… and more reading

And it didn’t take long before I found more evidence of confusion. This writer is convinced that “The Marines are steadily and successfully killing terrorists and breaking things in Fallujah.” This one announces proudly “Operation Hurricane Blows Away 60 Terrorists”. I don’t doubt that both bloggers are certain of the accuracy of their descriptions.

On the other hand, one blog entry dated June 2004 (i.e. before the latest Fallujah offensive) discusses the contradictory use of language. The writer is posting from Iraq. “The subject of terrorism was breached, and Amin grew quickly frustrated. He felt the US was being hypocritical in calling Arabs who fight against them terrorists. ‘They are fighting to protect their city… why don’t the Americans call soldiers from Honduras here terrorists?’ He continued, ‘They are fighting Iraqis…but they are not called terrorists? What is the difference?'”

Back to the other view. This blogger says the massacre of Fallujah’s remaining citizens is justifiable because they are “vermin”. Those who haven’t succumbed to foreign threats or been hounded out of their homes have only themselves to blame. “At this point, it appears that the only people left in Fallujah are those who support the terrorists. Those who fled earlier are willing for the Marines and Iraqi forces to reduce the city to rubble, if necessary, to get rid of the vermin that infests it.”

In the 1930s, Third Reich propaganda and ‘news’ described the Jews in similar terms of sub-humanity and infestation, softening up the German public for genocide. Such use of language is chillingly familiar to those conversant with Holocaust history. As this messageboard poster notes, “The propaganda of Dr. Goebbels and Vichy France kept calling the French Resistance ‘terrorists.'” Presumably that comparison didn’t occur to everyone.

One blogger goes a step further and derides the entire Muslim religion in a single stroke. Despite US and UK governments stating openly that there is absolutely no link between the World Trade Center attacks and Iraq, and the fact that there have been no Iraqi nationals involved in any terrorism in America, this blogger has picked up an illogical idea and run with it. “It is evident that ‘liberals’ in the media have ‘forgotten’ that the US was attacked and that thousands of American civilians were killed by ruthless, immoral, moon-god worshiping swine.” Oh yes, moon-god worshippers. Damn those pesky amnesiac liberals.

See, it’s OK to slaughter Iraqi civilians. They’re ‘them’, the dangerous, unknown other. They’re not human, they’re “terrorists”, “swine”, “vermin”. Pass the salt.

Where does such breathtakingly arrogant ignorance come from? How does any educated adult labour under the misapprehension that all Arabs are terrorists, all resistance is terrorism and all those who do not acquiesce to foreign occupation are “vermin”? How does any semi-educated person conclude that reactively fighting against a foreign army invading your city is the same thing as proactively creating violent disturbance in an attempt to achieve political aims by intimidation?

Actually, forget education. How could anybody of sound mind possibly blur these concepts?

News available in every colour! As long as it’s red, white and blue

One look at the mainstream American media answers that. This conceptual confusion is everywhere because it’s the official American truth.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Post column:

“Since the political decision to stop short in Fallujah last April, the terrorists had bragged to the world that the city would never fall to the infidel. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his thugs turned Fallujah into a vast dungeon, complete with torture chambers and execution halls. The terrorists stockpiled weapons and ammunition, welcoming thousands of international “Jihadis” and using the city as a base to spread terror across central Iraq…

Fallujah became the new world capital of terror. And Allah’s butchers proclaimed that they’d slaughter U.S. troops in the streets, if they tried to enter the city.

Guess who’s dying now?”

The writer stops short of yelling “Three cheers for mass bloodshed!”, but only just.

Everywhere you look is the fresh footprint of new bogeyman Al-Zarqawi and his mythical “thousands of international Jihadis”. He’s been wheeled onto the media stage in the absence of Osama bin Laden. The “torture chambers” and armies of foreign “thugs” mentioned above are a propaganda fantasy denied even by soldiers currently posted in Iraq. Nobody’s seen any evidence of his presence in Fallujah and nobody really believes he’s in control of the city. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

This journalist perpetuates the myth that al-Zarqawi is running a “network” operating from Fallujah. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian whom Iraqi citizens maintain is nothing to do with their resistance against US occupation. Many believe even his presence in Iraq is a US fiction designed to justify the destruction of civilian towns. It’s impossible for us to know which version of events is true, if either, but it is indubitably not the cut-and-dried issue these media reports claim. As this blogger points out, truth is a scarce commodity in war, particularly where it concerns the infamous al-Zarqawi.

This report also frames the Fallujah conflict in terms of good and evil. It states “In Fallujah, valiant American heroes search for ammunition and find much in the terrorist-infested city… Valiant US Marines move toward the center bringing justice to terrorists. Only the MSM would try to bring portray this crushing of terrorism as a defeat.” John Wayne’s heroic silhouette is almost discernible behind the text, like a watermark.

The Washington Times overlooks the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, but shrieks “Terrorists kill dozens in Iraq attacks”. Another writer quotes US puppet “minister of provincial affairs” Wael Abdel-Latif in calling the Iraqi resistance “terrorists”. At no point does the article admit that the interim Iraqi government has been put in place by the invading country and thus hardly speaks for the ordinary citizens of Iraq.

You’re either with us or against us

Heard that the International Red Cross and Amnesty International have condemned the US/UK attacks for destroying medical supplies and killing medical personnel? Thank goodness the NY Post is here to put us straight. “U.S. and Iraqi forces are attacking on multiple axes, keeping the terrorists off balance. Key sites within the city already have been seized — including a hospital that cared more about propaganda than its patients.”

Heard the one about Al Qaeda having links with Iraq? Well yes, we know it’s a fabrication put around in rumour form because it is perceived as helpful to the US government, and the media knows this too. But it doesn’t stop some journalists from dropping the name of Al Qaeda into their Iraq news stories as though it is fact.

They may as well just call all opposition “Satan” – like Lt. Col. Brandl did in his pre-attack army peptalk – and be done with it.

Somewhere along the line, “Al Qaeda” has become shorthand for “terrorist”, and “terrorist” has become shorthand for “anyone who tries to stop us”. Distinct, unrelated concepts have been whizzed up into a single meaningless froth. News is now served as a low carb smoothie and there’s only one flavour on the menu.

OK, there are exceptions. Pockets of critical thinking do remain. Some mainstream journalists are not afraid to question the US-led war effort. Open-source news agencies such as Indymedia do report on controversial issues such as US use of chemical weapons in Fallujah. And these sources are vital, because they show us an angle we wouldn’t otherwise see. In Europe, dissent is slowly becoming more widespread even in mainstream publications. But in America, it seems those whispering misgivings about the war are frequently drowned out by those banging drums in favour of it.

It’s hardly surprising. Try to see all sides of the crisis in America and you’re immediately labelled as unpatriotic. Every day we’re reminded by American media: The USA is eternally on the side of justice, truth, compassion, selfless sacrifice for duty. We’re always fighting for oppressed people’s benefit, not our own. We’re the world’s policeman, always ready with a friendly smile and a stack of lovely, liberating bombs.

As Lynne Cheney said in a recent interview, “Well, but Matt, you’re being awfully relativistic here. I mean, the insurgents are killing Iraqis by the hundreds, Iraqis by the thousands. It’s not as though this is a matter between just ‘on the one hand on the other hand.’ We are on the side of freedom.”

So… now what?

This manipulation of words and the consequent reduction of complexities to Manichean polar opposites amounts to a war on language. How can we reinstate joined-up thinking to a defiantly simplistic debate?

Our mainstream media won’t point out their own mistakes. Our governments aren’t going to jump in to correct misconceptions which help with their propaganda efforts. Those who benefit from the butchered language of 21st century war reporting aren’t going to volunteer to defend accuracy. Hell, they’re propagating this nonsense.

Bloggers, armchair pundits and outraged citizens: I think the reality check may be down to us. Because if not us… then who?

American politics&British politics&Middle East&News media11 Nov 2004 05:08 pm

Dying to be free
“In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of the U.S. soldiers in Fallujah was to ambush the city’s main hospital. Why? Apparently because it was the source of the “rumours” about high civilian casualties the last time U.S. troops laid siege to Fallujah, sparking outrage in Iraq and across the Arab world. “It’s a centre of propaganda,” an unnamed senior American officer told The New York Times. Without doctors to count the dead, the outrage would be presumably be muted”Naomi Klein, 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

Cartoon news
“Over on ITV (November 10, 18:30), it is Cartoon Time as anchors Nick Owen and Andrea Catherwood stroll down the catwalk to bring us the latest news from Fallujah. This was explained with the help of computer animation: cartoon Humvees trundled along streets and cartoon tanks blasted snipers in cartoon buildings.

It is indeed like a cartoon – the US and UK governments keep running in mid-air, though any pretence of legal and moral justification has long since fallen away. But they do not fall because we have no democracy, no political opposition to establishment control, and no freedom of speech.

For highly-trained, highly professional journalists the issue is more complex – there are caveats, nuances. But in truth, in their minds, this is just another campaign in the West’s permanent Just War. There are different units, different campaigns, different enemies – but it’s basically always the same righteous, liberating Just War.” –
Medialens, 11 November 2004 – click to read article.

”The Butcher of Fallujah”
“Former US intelligence asset turned prime minister without a parliament Iyad Allawi – widely known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a moustache” – has got himself another title: the Butcher of Fallujah. On Sunday, before co-launching with the Pentagon the biggest urban war since the storming of Hue in 1968 Vietnam, Allawi installed de facto martial law in Iraq for 60 days. Historians and political scientists are breathlessly trying to explain to the world that no democratic election can possibly be preceded by a state of siege.

To add insult to injury, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld is saying that Allawi is responsible for all major military decisions regarding Fallujah: only the Bible Belt may be gullible enough to believe that an Iraqi civilian without an army rules over the Pentagon. So it’s the Vietnam tragedy all over again, replayed as farce – a biblical crusade in Mesopotamia. Those who learned their lessons from history know full well what happened after Hue.” Pepe Escobar, Asian Times 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

News media07 Nov 2004 02:46 am

Nasty news. There’s been a derailment of a London to Penzance train this evening. The crash has horrified my family, many of whom live minutes away from the scene of the accident. At least 6 people have died and many more are critically ill in hospital.

For everyone who lives within 100 miles of London, it’s a case of “Not again?! How many more incidents are First Great Western trains going to be involved in?”

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Nobody yet knows why it happened. The train hit a car which had stopped on an automatic level crossing. There’s no word on whether the driver was still inside the car at the time of impact, or if the barriers had failed to work. So many questions and no answers until tomorrow at the earliest. The last train crash enquiry took years to reach significant conclusions.

The Sky News channel really surpassed itself during its rolling coverage of the tragedy. At the very first ad break was a Toyota sponsorship ad. The subject of this promo? A new environmentally safe train, with shots of said train rolling across a level crossing, narrated by a jaunty voiceover. I’m not even joking.

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