One of the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling
for the release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian news cameraman,
Imad Ghanem. On 5 July, he was shot by Israeli soldiers as he filmed them invading
Gaza. A Reuters video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay on the ground.
An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked. The Israelis described him
as a "legitimate target." The International Federation of Journalists called
the shooting "a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist."
At the age of 21, he has had both legs amputated.
Dr. David Halpin, a British trauma surgeon who works with Palestinian children,
emailed the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. "The BBC should report the
alleged details about the shooting," he wrote. "It should honor Alan [Johnston]
as a journalist by reporting the facts, uncomfortable as they might be to Israel."
He received no reply.
The atrocity was reported in two sentences on the BBC online. Along with 11
Palestinian civilians killed by the Israelis on the same day, Alan Johnston's
now legless champion slipped into what George Orwell in Nineteen
Eighty-Four called the memory hole. (It was Winston Smith's job at the
Ministry of Truth to make disappear all facts embarrassing to Big Brother.)
While Alan Johnston was being held, I was asked by the BBC World Service if
I would say a few words of support for him. I readily agreed, and suggested
I also mention the thousands of Palestinians abducted and held hostage. The
answer was a polite no; and all the other hostages remained in the memory hole.
Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables: "It never happened. Nothing
ever happened... It didn't matter. It was of no interest."
The media wailing over the BBC's royal photo-shoot fiasco and assorted misdemeanors
provide the perfect straw man. They complement a self-serving BBC internal inquiry
into news bias, which dutifully supplied the right-wing Daily Mail with
hoary grist that the corporation is a left-wing plot. Such shenanigans would
be funny were it not for the true story behind the facade of elite propaganda
that presents humanity as useful or expendable, worthy or unworthy, and the
Middle East as the Anglo-American crime that never happened, didn't matter,
was of no interest.
The other day, I turned on the BBC's Radio 4 and heard a cut-glass voice announce
a program about Iraqi interpreters working for "the British coalition forces"
and warning that "listeners might find certain descriptions of violence disturbing."
Not a word referred to those of "us" directly and ultimately responsible for
the violence. The program was called Face the Facts. Is satire that dead? Not
yet. The Murdoch columnist David Aaronovitch, a warmonger, is to interview Blair
in the BBC's "major retrospective" of the sociopath's rule.
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four lexicon of opposites pervades almost everything
we see, hear and read now. The invaders and destroyers are "the British coalition
forces," surely as benign as that British institution, St. John Ambulance, who
are "bringing democracy" to Iraq. BBC television describes Israel as having
"two hostile Palestinian entities on its borders," neatly inverting the
truth that Israel is actually inside Palestinian borders. A study by Glasgow
University says that young British viewers of TV news believe Israelis illegally
colonizing Palestinian land are Palestinians: the victims are the invaders.
"The great crimes against most of humanity," wrote the American cultural critic
James Petras, "are justified by a corrosive debasement of language and thought...
[that] have fabricated a linguistic world of terror, of demons and saviors,
of axes of good and evil, of euphemisms" designed to disguise a state terror
that is "a gross perversion" of democracy, liberation, reform, justice. In his
reinauguration speech, George Bush mentioned all these words, whose meaning,
for him, is the dictionary opposite.
It is 80 years since Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, predicted
a pervasive "invisible government" of corporate spin, suppression and silence
as the true ruling power in the United States. That is true today on both sides
of the Atlantic. How else could America and Britain go on such a spree of death
and mayhem on the basis of stupendous lies about nonexistent weapons of mass
destruction, even a "mushroom cloud over New York"? When the BBC radio reporter
Andrew Gilligan reported the truth, he was pilloried and sacked along with the
BBC's director general, while Blair, the proven liar, was protected by the liberal
wing of the media and given a standing ovation in parliament.
The same is happening again over Iran, distracted, it is hoped, by spin that
the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband is a "skeptic" about the
crime in Iraq when, in fact, he has been an accomplice, and by unctuous Kennedy-quoting
Foreign Office propaganda about Miliband's "new world order."
"What do you think of Iran's complicity in attacks on British soldiers in Basra?"
Miliband was asked by the Financial Times.
Miliband: "Well, I think that any evidence of Iranian engagement there is
to be deplored. I think that we need regional players to be supporting stability,
not fomenting discord, never mind death..."
FT: "Just to be clear, there is evidence?"
Miliband: "Well no, I chose my words carefully..."
The coming war on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack, has
already begun as a war by journalism. Count the number of times "nuclear weapons
program" and "nuclear threat" are spoken and written, yet neither exists, says
the International Atomic Energy Agency. On 21 June, the New York Times
went further and advertised an "urgent" poll, headed: "Should we bomb Iran?"
The questions beneath referred to Iran being "a greater threat than Saddam Hussein"
and asked: "Who should undertake military action against Iran first... ?" The
choice was "US. Israel. Neither country."
So tick your favorite bombers.
The last British war to be fought without censorship and "embedded" journalists
was the Crimea a century and a half ago. The bloodbath of the First World War
and the Cold War might never have happened without their unpaid (and paid) propagandists.
Today's invisible government is no less served, especially by those who censor
However, there are major differences. Official disinformation now is often
aimed at a critical public intelligence, a growing awareness in spite of the
media. This "threat" from a public often held in contempt has been met by the
insidious transfer of much of journalism to public relations. Some years ago,
PR Week estimated that the amount of "PR-generated material" in the media
is "50 per cent in a broadsheet newspaper in every section apart from sport.
In the local press and the mid-market and tabloid nationals, the figure would
undoubtedly be higher. Music and fashion journalists and PRs work hand in hand
in the editorial process... PRs provide fodder, but the clever high-powered
ones do a lot of the journalists' thinking for them."
This is known today as "perception management." The most powerful are not the
Max Cliffords but huge corporations such as Hill & Knowlton, which "sold"
the slaughter known as the first Gulf war, and the Sawyer Miller Group, which
sold hated, pro-Washington regimes in Colombia and Bolivia and whose operatives
included Mark Malloch Brown, the new Foreign Office minister, currently being
spun as anti-Washington. Hundreds of millions of dollars go to corporations
spinning the carnage in Iraq as a sectarian war and covering up the truth: that
an atrocious invasion is pinned down by a successful resistance while the oil
The other major difference today is the abdication of cultural forces that
once provided dissent outside journalism. Their silence has been devastating.
"For almost the first time in two centuries," wrote the literary and cultural
critic Terry Eagleton, "there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist
prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life." The lone,
honorable exception is Harold Pinter. Eagleton listed writers and playwrights
who once promised dissent and satire and instead became rich celebrities, ending
the legacy of Shelley and Blake, Carlyle and Ruskin, Morris and Wilde, Wells
He singled out Martin Amis, a writer given tombstones of column inches in which
to air his pretensions, along with his attacks on Muslims. The following is
from a recent article by Amis:
Tony strolled over [to me] and said, "What have you been up to today?" "I've
been feeling protective of my prime minister, since you ask." For some reason
our acquaintanceship, at least on my part, is becoming mildly but deplorably
What these elite, embedded voices share is their participation in an essentially
class war, the long war of the rich against the poor. That they play their part
in a broadcasting studio or in the clubbable pages of the review sections and
that they think of themselves as liberals or conservatives is neither here nor
there. They belong to the same crusade, waging the same battle for their enduring
In The Serpent, Marc Karlin's dreamlike film about Rupert Murdoch, the
narrator describes how easily Murdochism came to dominate the media and coerce
the industry's liberal elite. There are clips from a keynote address that Murdoch
gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The camera pans across the audience
of TV executives, who listen in respectful silence as Murdoch flagellates them
for suppressing the true voice of the people. They then applaud him. "This is
the silence of the democrats," says the voice-over, "and the Dark Prince could
bathe in their silence."