Daniel Bethlehem, ‘The Propaganda Model’ and drones.

By Daniel Margrain

In their bookManufacturing Consent The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ (Pantheon, 1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky set out their “propaganda model of media control” to examine the structural factors that lead to systematic behaviour and performance patterns within the media that are largely predicated on restricted assumptions and the dependence on an uncritical use of elite information sources helpful to elite interests.

In identifying these “structural factors”, Herman and Chomsky list five news “filters” through which “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (p.2).

Herman says:

“The crucial structural factors derive from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people (or other companies); they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media are also dependent on government and major business firms as information sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and frequently overlapping interests, cause a certain degree of solidarity to prevail among the government, major media, and other corporate businesses.

“Government and large non-media business firms are also best positioned (and sufficiently wealthy) to be able to pressure the media with threats of withdrawal of advertising or TV licenses, libel suits, and other direct and indirect modes of attack. The media are also constrained by the dominant ideology, which heavily featured anticommunism before and during the Cold War era, and was mobilized often to prevent the media from criticizing attacks on small states labelled communist. 

“These factors are linked together, reflecting the multi-levelled capability of powerful business and government entities and collectives (e.g., the Business Roundtable; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; industry lobbies and front groups) to exert power over the flow of information.”

Notice that the propaganda model is not a conspiracy theory. Herman and Chomsky write:

“We do not use any kind of ‘conspiracy’ hypothesis to explain mass media performance. Our treatment is much closer to a ‘free market’ analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces.” 

The lack of any meaningful political opposition from a legal standpoint to the killing by the UK government of two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin on,August 21 by an unmanned aerial drone in Syria, highlights the relevance of the Chomsky/Herman model in terms of the establishment acceptance of the consensus around the reconfiguration of international law that serves elite interests.

No evidence has been produced that supports the government assertion that these individuals were planning terror attacks in the UK or that they had participated in previous terror attacks. So what is the supposed legal basis for the killings?

Cameron said the UK had taken action in “self-defence”, invoking the right to do so under Article 51 of the UN charter – but Article 51 specifically states that an “armed attack” must take place against a UN member state before any such response. So where did the government base its decision to execute by drone two British men in Syria?

According to former establishment ‘insider’, Craig Murray, the decision was based on “Legal Opinion” from the Attorney-General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, a politician, MP and Cabinet Minister. But, as Murray points out, Wright’s legal knowledge comes from an undistinguished first degree from Exeter and a short career as a criminal defence barrister in Birmingham. His knowledge of public international law is virtually nil.

So Jeremy Wright’s role is as a cypher. He performs a charade. Ever since Iraq, whenever the government has needed a legal opinion in order to support a military action it has done so by utilizing the legal opinions of lawyers who are sympathetic to the government position so that the legal case can, if necessary, be adjusted to the policy. When the government don’t get the kind of legal opinion they require in order to justify an action, they ignore it or, as was the case with the Iraq debacle, they dismissed the relevant chief legal adviser which was at that time, Sir Michael Wood for declaring the Iraq war to be illegal.

The consensus from Iraq on has been to appoint legal advisers not from within the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) but to use public international lawyers from outside in order to save any government of the day that happens to be in power from any potential future embarrassment. Thus, Blair and Straw turned to Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite ‘safe pair of hands’ lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.

Murray elucidates further on one of the establishments’ most trusted liars:

Daniel Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem, who was appointed by Blair as the FCO chief legal adviser, is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.

The consensus view among the world’s leading international lawyers is that the Iraq war was illegal. Daniel Bethlehem’s contrary extremist position as outlined in a memorandum where he ‘develops’ the Caroline Principle, is one in which he posits that States’ have the right to use pre-emptive self-defence, is a minority view – the equivalent of a climate scientist arguing that man made climate change is a fraud.

It’s a minority view that’s nevertheless the consensus position within the UK political establishment. A key part of the memorandum states:

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”

“It was this minority legal ‘opinion’ that formed the basis for the Iraq invasion. Similarly, it’s almost certainly the case that the same doctrine was used as the justification to murder UK citizens by drone in Syria. The notion that men travelling in a car thousands of miles away were imminently able to wreak havoc in the UK thereby necessitating the need for them to be executed on the spot without trial is obviously ludicrous.

Craig Murray reiterates how Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model works in practice within the corridors of power:

It was New Labour, the Red Tories, who appointed Daniel Bethlehem, and they appointed him precisely in order to establish this doctrine. It is therefore a stunning illustration of how the system works, that the only response of the official “opposition” to these extrajudicial executions is to demand to see the Legal Opinion, when it comes from the man they themselves appointed. The Red Tories appointed him precisely because they knew what Legal Opinion would be given on this specific subject. They can read it in Hansard.

So it is all a charade.

Jeremy Wright pretends to give a Legal Opinion, actually from FCO legal advisers based on the “Bethlehem Doctrine”. The Labour Party pretends, very unconvincingly, to be an opposition. The Guardian, apparently the leading “opposition” intellectual paper, publishes articles by its staff neo-con propagandists Joshua Rozenberg (married to Melanie Phillips) and Rafael Behr strongly supporting the government’s new powers of extrajudicial execution. In summer 2012 Joshua Rozenberg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Secret courts, drones and international law” which consisted mostly of a fawning interview with … Daniel Bethlehem. The BBC and Sky News give us wall to wall justification of the killings.

So the state, with its neo-con “opposition” and media closely in step with its neo-con government, seamlessly adopts a new power to kill its own subjects based on secret intelligence and secret legal advice, and a very weird definition of “imminent” that even its author admits to be outside current legal understanding.

2 thoughts on “Daniel Bethlehem, ‘The Propaganda Model’ and drones.

  1. An excellent article. We wait to see how Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition will carry forward our reliance upon the rule of law in the face of widespread slurmongering on the part of war criminals and supporters of war criminals both outside and inside of his ‘ own party ‘.

    Liked by 1 person

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