6 May 2019 — Strategic Culture Foundation
British and Canadian diplomats hijacking World Press Freedom Day is a really bad joke. But that’s what happened recently in Beirut when this not so auspicious day passed, leaving some in the Middle East wondering if journalism can play any role whatsoever in improving governance, holding states to account and emboldening democracy.
The answer is that it can’t because the West has decided that it doesn’t want journalism to play any role whatsoever, accept perhaps writing up the moronic twitter moments of western diplomats who support their governments’ destruction of media in the Middle East – yet are obliged to extend an entirely disingenuous campaign of pretending that they support the institution of the fourth estate.
The rank hypocrisy of this comes when World Press Freedom Day actually itself provides western diplomats in Middle Eastern countries the opportunity to clog up media’s timeline with even more garbage than normal, with photos and speeches of western figures talking about the importance of the press “under pinning” democracy – and then in the case of the British ambassador to Lebanon going one stage further and insulting the intelligence of local media by staging a media event, which he no doubt believes is good journalism fodder for local hacks to write up.
The utter hypocrisy goes something like this. Imagine a group of western government representatives standing in the midst of an African famine, surrounded by hundreds of still bodies, many covered in flies, as mothers cling on to the corpses of their babies and dogs feed on the carcasses of loved ones dumped near by. Imagine the statements those people would make standing in the horror or such a famine, something like “…we support entirely the profession of medicine, we respect doctors, we appreciate their work and we affirm that there is no doubt that their brave and noble commitment and the medicine produced in western pharmaceutical companies is absolutely essential to preventing this happening again” while one whimpering victim in his last breath asks the group “but sir, why don’t you send us some doctors and this medicine you speak of? Why don’t you help train our own doctors better and give us money to build hospitals, make our own vaccines and give jobs to more health workers?”.
The diplomats then have an awkward moment where they just smile and look helpless.
That scene is exactly how the west considers journalism (doctors and medicine) and treats governance (as an epidemic which it refuses to treat) in the same countries whose dictators they support for regimes who keep on killing innocent people. We should not expect President Trump to chastise Sisi in Egypt for the record number of journalists in jails – some there for merely having an opinion which doesn’t chime with the authoritarian leader’s – or indeed for those in Turkish prisons.
In many respects these two countries’ record on imprisoning journalists is considered by western governments somehow to be a modest figment of human rights abuse and a small price to pay for their arms sales (Egypt) or for keeping at least a million Syrian refugees from suddenly turning up on Europe’s doorsteps (Turkey). Theresa May simply is unable to utter a statement about atrocious human rights abuse in Egypt. At least France’s Macron said something, before standing over the sales of more weaponry heading to the regime from Paris.
There is this old argument that journalism has died in these countries. But perhaps it is more accurate to argue that it has actually died in the west and that the contingent flicker of hope – a few individual, bold journalists in these Arab states – is being slowly extinguished due to the West showing these regimes that they care little for journalism as any kind of effective tool to improving human rights or governance. In fact they positively hate it.
World Press Freedom Day is a farce but it reminded us of an enshrined rule, which after years of being sued by politicians for defamation – the same politicians which champion free speech until it is used in their own back yard to expose their own graft – I have come to understand. In 90% of cases, those who bang on about free speech and the importance of journalism, usually are the very people who care little about and are part of the problem itself.
Wherever you hear politicians and diplomats talk about free speech, it’s usually bullshit.
If you take the British and Canadian ambassadors farcical and shameful histrionics in Beirut and you can stop laughing for a moment, you see there on the stage the very diplomats who are doing their best to make sure real journalism can never take root in those countries. The hypocrisy is stunning. Don’t forget that whereas in some autocratic countries like Turkey or Egypt you have high numbers of journalists in jail, which in itself shows you that the remnants of journalism still exist, in a country like Lebanon, you have a western advancement of this. Lebanon is more progressed in that it has taken the lead from London and Paris and moved forward by simply not accommodating any journalists at all.
In these advanced Arab countries, journalism was simply killed off, shut down and eliminated.
Journalism, certainly non partisan, objective, raw long hand journalism doesn’t exist in Lebanon hence no real need to imprison anyone from the fourth estate. What Chris Rambling, the British Ambassador to Lebanon and Emmanuelle Lamoureux (his Canadian colleague) are doing when they host a dinner event is disgusting and a gross insult to the intelligence of those Lebanese journalists they invited as they are celebrating the death of journalism and championing a new, cheaper, shiny model which largely involves the diplomats producing the raw content themselves (events, photos, tweets, staged media events) and handing it out via twitter. They might as well have urinated on the top names at the event like the Armenian TV host ‘Zaven’ or the investigation show presenter Joe Maalouf as these western countries completely support the Lebanese model of pseudo journalism – which is essentially that journalists are spectators – nothing more – in an arena which wheels in events and speeches for them to watch and dutifully replicate.
The reason why Rampling staged a stupid interview with an editor of an English language pro-Saudi journal in Beirut is not simply because he has a glorious contempt for media (as this is supposed to be a media event, complete with photo) but also that his own government doesn’t even allow him to talk to journalists without having the script written for him by foreign office ladies in Whitehall.
And so tweeting diplomats is the new media model in emerging democracies yet bless them for standing on the stage and spurting lies about how important the fourth estate is. For the West, countries like Egypt and Turkey are considered a little backward and slow off the mark. More advanced are Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and all other gulf states, where there is no need to imprison journalists – although Lebanon occasionally nails them on bogus defamation charges. If the West really cared about governance in these client states, they would insist on better press freedom for local journalists in these countries, tied to aid and/or arms sales. They would support institutions which enforce the freedom of media. They would send ambassadors who actually have the communication skills to actually be interviewed over the governance of these countries. Rampling not only doesn’t believe in journalism, but he loathes it. My own investigation into corruption in Lebanon is crowd funded and several people in Lebanon told me to approach him for a modest donation. But that isn’t going to happen as ambassadors like him, or his Canadian colleague actually consider journalism in its rawest form and what it is capable of doing in terms of “under pinning democracy” (his own disingenuous words) as a sort of modern day Ebola plague. They, along with their paymasters in London, believe journalism needs to be contained like a virus. Such a policy is very effective as investigative journalism is more or less dead and their repulsion of it is part of its slaying.
Rampling, who took to the stage to gush about the importance of journalism and its role in supporting democracy in Lebanon, can’t put his money where his mouth is and support investigative journalism which holds corrupt politicians to account in the same country where he works as a British ambassador, which has been a recipient of hundreds of millions of British tax payers’ money in recent years. That’s all you need to know about the West’s view of press freedom in the Middle East.
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