30 November 2004 — Media Lens
“There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can’t move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands.” (Dr. Sami al-Jumaili, main Fallujah hospital, November 9, 2004)
“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.” (Thich Nhat Than)
This Thursday, December 2, the peace group A Call For Light is organising a peaceful vigil outside the BBC, Bush House, Aldwych, London, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. (www.acallforlight.org/)
Should you take time out to participate in this protest? Is it worth the effort and inconvenience involved?
If you are in doubt, we have selected below just a few examples indicating how the BBC has facilitated the mass killing of innocents in Iraq. We would all do well to recall the judgement of Nazi media boss, Julius Streicher, at Nuremberg:
“No government in the world… could have embarked upon and put into effect a policy of mass extermination without having a people who would back them and support them… These crimes could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him.” (Conot, Robert E, Justice At Nuremberg, Carrol & Graf, 1983, NY, pp.384-385)
The BBC, of course, is not the Nazi media, but there have been real war crimes in Iraq, a real mass slaughter, and the BBC has helped make it possible. Please read the examples below and protest on December 2 out of compassion for the suffering of the men, women and children of Iraq.
They Know They Can Trust US
In their history of the British media, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton show how the BBC has a long history of defending the establishment of which it is a part. They describe “the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government”. (Curran and Seaton, Power Without Responsibility, Routledge, 1991, p.144)
David Miller of Strathclyde University wrote earlier this year:
“BBC managers have fallen over themselves to grovel to the government in the aftermath of the Hutton whitewash. When will any of the BBC journalists who reported the ‘Scud’ attacks apologise? When will their bosses apologise for conspiring to keep the anti war movement off the screens? Not any time soon.” (Miller, ‘Media Apologies?’, ZNet, June 15, 2004, www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfmSectionID=21&ItemID=5713)
A Cardiff University report found that the BBC “displayed the most ‘pro-war’ agenda of any broadcaster”. (Matt Wells, ‘Study deals a blow to claims of anti-war bias in BBC news’, The Guardian, July 4, 2003)
Over the three weeks of the initial conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC also placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties, which were mentioned in 22% of its stories about the Iraqi people, and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.
Andrew Bergin, the press officer for the Stop The War Coalition, told Media Lens:
“Representatives of the coalition have been invited to appear on every TV channel except the BBC. The BBC have taken a conscious decision to actively exclude Stop the War Coalition people from their programmes, even though everyone knows we are central to organising the massive anti-war movement…”. (Email to Media Lens, March 14, 2003)
The BBC’s own founder, Lord Reith, noted in his diary of the establishment:
“They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.” (Quoted, David Miller, ‘Is the news biased?’ staff.stir.ac.uk/david.miller/teaching/7613bias.html)
Talking Up War – Talking Down Peace
The first BBC Newsnight programme after the massive anti-war march in London on February 15, 2003, saw political correspondent, David Grossman, asking:
“The people have spoken, or have they? What about the millions who didn’t march? Was going to the DIY store or watching the football on Saturday a demonstration of support for the government?” (Newsnight, February 17, 2003)
It was the biggest protest march in British political history!
A day later, Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman asked playwright Arthur Miller:
“You live in New York City… you must vividly recall what happened on September 11. In the world in which we live now, isn’t some sort of pre-emptive strike the only defensive option available to countries like the United States?” (Newsnight, February 18, 2003)
Noam Chomsky reflects on the idea that this kind of strike might have been “the only defensive option available” in dealing with, say, the conflict in Northern Ireland:
“One choice would have been to send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances, places like Boston, or to infiltrate commandos to capture those suspected of involvement in such financing and kill them or spirit them to London to face trial.” (Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2001)
Another, sane possibility, Chomsky comments, is “to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals”.
Newsreader Fiona Bruce reported that the build-up of troops in the Gulf was “to deal with the continuing threat posed by Iraq”. (Bruce, 18:00 News, January 7, 2003)
She meant the threat +alleged+ by Bush and Blair – not quite the same thing.
On the BBC’s 6 O’Clock News, Matt Frei noted, sagely:
“There may be a case for regime change in Iran, too. But for now the Bush administration is relying on change from within.” (Frei, BBC1, 18:00 News, June 16, 2003)
Frei explained in September 2003:
“The war with terror may have moved from these shores to Iraq. But for how long?” (Frei, 22:00 News, September 10, 2003)
This at a time when even the British government had abandoned its desperate attempts to conflate the war in Iraq with “the war on terror”, in the absence of any evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
In October 2004, the BBC’s Rageh Omaar noted: “I have followed, reporting the war on terror, from Afghanistan to Iraq.” (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, October 26, 2004)
Two years earlier, Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, had said:
“We have also seen the government, quite deliberately in my view, attempting to blur the line between the activities of al-Qaeda and the seeming threat of Saddam Hussein.” (Newsnight, BBC2, November 25, 2002)
Inspectors – Were They Pulled Or Were They Pushed?
The BBC’s Jane Corbin stated on Panorama that “the inspectors were thrown out… and a divided UN Security Council let Saddam get away with it.” (Panorama, ‘The Case Against Saddam’‚ BBC1, September 23, 2002)
On the BBC’s Lunchtime News, James Robbins reported that inspectors were “asked to leave” after relations with Iraq broke down. (BBC1, 13:00 News, September 17, 2002)
The BBC’s political editor, Andrew Marr, sent this email in response to one of our readers who challenged his claim that UN inspectors had been “kicked out” of Iraq in December 1998:
“Dear [Name Deleted].
“If I am in your house, made to feel unwelcome and not allowed to wash or pee (not likely, a metaphor) and then, as a result, leave, you might be technically able to say that I had not been ‘kicked out’ – no leathered toe had been applied to my rear. But I might well use that phrase. Here as I understand it, is the sequence of events in 1998. I don’t think my phrase increases the likelihood of war and will continue to try to report fairly on a subject where – I assure you – I don’t feel or act as a mouthpiece of the Blair govt.” (Forwarded to Media Lens, January 21, 2003)
Scott Ritter, former chief Unscom weapons inspector, who was an inspector in Iraq between 1991-98, said:
“If this were argued in a court of law, the weight of evidence would go the other way. Iraq has in fact demonstrated over and over a willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors.” (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile, 2002, p.25)
Ritter claims that Iraq was “fundamentally disarmed” of 90-95% of its WMDs by December 1998. He also claims that inspections were deliberately sabotaged by US officials in 1998 precisely +because+ the Iraqis were rapidly approaching 100% compliance – so removing justification for continued sanctions and control of Iraq. In December 1998, Ritter said:
“What [head of Unscom] Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing.” (Quoted, New York Post, December 17, 1998)
Last year, Richard Sambrook, then BBC’s director of news, told us that Ritter had been interviewed just twice: on September 29th, 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on March 1, 2003 for BBC News 24. Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that Newsnight had interviewed Scott Ritter twice on the WMD issue before the war: on August 3, 2000 and August 21, 2002.
A BBC news online search for 1 January, 2002 – 31 December 2002 recorded the following mentions:
George Bush Iraq, 1,022
Tony Blair Iraq, 651
Donald Rumsfeld Iraq, 164
Dick Cheney Iraq, 102
Richard Perle Iraq, 6
George Galloway Iraq, 42
Tony Benn Iraq, 14
Noam Chomsky Iraq, 1
Denis Halliday, 0
The Fall Of Baghdad
In April 2003, the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell declared of the US drive into central Baghdad:
“It is absolutely, without a doubt, a vindication of the strategy.” (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)
The BBC’s breakfast news presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, beamed as she described how Blair “has become, again, Teflon Tony”. The BBC’s Mark Mardell agreed with her: “It +has+ been a vindication for him.” (BBC1, Breakfast News, April 10, 2003)
Retired general William Odom, former head of the US National Security Agency, sees it differently:
“Bush hasn’t found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it’s worse, he’s lost on that front. That he’s going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It’s lost. Right now, the course we’re on, we’re achieving Bin Laden’s ends.” (Quoted, Sidney Blumenthal, ‘Far graver than Vietnam’, The Guardian, September 16, 2004)
BBC journalist Rageh Omaar reported his emotions as Baghdad fell:
“In my mind’s eye, I often asked myself: what would it be like when I saw the first British or American soldiers, after six years of reporting Iraq? And nothing, nothing, came close to the actual, staggering reaction to seeing American soldiers – young men from Nevada and California – just rolling down in tanks. And they’re here with us now in the hotel, in the lifts and the lobbies. It was a moment I’d never, ever prepared myself for.” (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)
Ex-Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey was one of these same “young men from Nevada and California” in the main invasion force all the way to Baghdad. In May 2004, Massey said:
“It sickened me so that I had actually brought it up to my lieutenant, and I told him, I said, you know, sir, we’re not going to have to worry about the Iraq [people] – you know, we’re basically committing genocide over here, mass extermination of thousands of Iraqis.” (‘Ex-US Marine: I killed civilians in Iraq’, Democracy Now, May 24, 2004,
Infamously, on the day Baghdad fell, Andrew Marr declared:
“Well, I think this does one thing – it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of… well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren’t going to thank him, because they’re only human, for being right when they’ve been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics.
“I don’t think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he’s somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.” (Marr, BBC1, 22:00 News, April 9, 2003)
By contrast, on November 20, 2004, journalist Dahr Jamail quoted an Iraqi, Abu Talat. Talat, we are told, was crying and distraught as he spoke:
“I am in a very sad position. I do not see any freedom or any democracy. If this could lead into a freedom, it is a freedom with blood. It is a freedom of emotions of sadness. It is a freedom of killing. You cannot gain democracy through blood or killing. You do not find the freedom that way. People are going to pray to God and they were killed and wounded. There were 1,500 people praying to God and they went on a holiday were people go every Friday for prayers. And they were shot and killed. There were so many women and kids lying on the ground. This is not democracy, neither freedom.‚” (Jamail, ‘Terrorizing Those Who Are Praying…’‚ November 20, 2004, http://www.znet.org)
Marr said of joining the BBC:
“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.” (‘Andrew Marr, the BBC’s political editor’, The Independent, January 13, 2000)
This was fortunate indeed. Prior to joining the BBC, Marr had written articles with titles such as:
‘Brave, bold, visionary. Whatever became of Blair the ultra-cautious cynic?’ (The Observer, April 4, 1999)
‘Hail to the chief. Sorry, Bill, but this time we’re talking about Tony.’ (The Observer, May 16, 1999)
Marr declared himself in awe of Blair’s “moral courage”, writing: “I am constantly impressed, but also mildly alarmed, by his utter lack of cynicism.”
Part 2 will follow shortly…
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. We urge you to peacefully protest the BBC on December 2.
In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
You can contact any of the BBC journalists named above by following the same pattern. For example, Matt Frei‚s email address is:
Please copy all emails to us at Media Lens:
Media Lens readers may also wish to consider contacting the BBC’s programme complaints unit at:
Send your views to us
Visit the Media Lens website: www.medialens.org
This media alert will shortly be archived at: