By Daniel Margrain
“I think the days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over….I think we should celebrate much of our [imperialist] past rather than apologize for it, and we should talk, rightly so, about British values.”
The above words were uttered not by Nigel Farage, Nick Griffin or Enoch Powell, but former New Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown eleven years ago during the recording of a BBC ‘Newsnight’ film which explored Brown’s ideas about Britishness. The “values” supposedly specific to Britain that Brown was referring to were not made clear.
Four years later, in 2009, Brown as Prime Minister, became embroiled in the controversy that surrounded the appearance of the fascist Nick Griffin on the BBCs flagship political forum programme, Question Time. After much to-ing and fro-ing between the BBC hierarchy and Brown, it was the latter who finally decided that the responsibility to allow Griffin on to the programme rested with the former.
Although in principle the BBC Trust – which oversees the requirement of the organisation “to deliver duly impartial news by the Royal Charter and Agreement and to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality” – is able to intervene in cases like this, in practice the body never interferes in individual programme content prior to transmission.
The decision to allow the then leader of an openly fascist party on to the programme on the basis that not to have done so would have breached the corporations impartiality guidelines, is an illustration of the absurdity underpinning the BBC claim. The organization frequently breaches its guidelines in this area. This can be seen in terms of a) how little BBC journalists scrutinize and challenge fascists in interviews and political debating programmes (Andrew Marr’s treatment of French MEP, Marine Le Pen being an example), and b) the extent to which these journalists uncritically accept the views and pronouncements of those in political power.
Another clear example of how the corporation breaches its impartiality guidelines was in 2007. The then North America editor for the BBC, Justin Webb, whose role could be said to be closer to that of a stenographer than a journalist, rejected the charge he was a propagandist for US power. Webb said:”Nobody ever tells me what to say about America or the attitude to take about the United States. And that is the case right across the board in television as well”
Webb began a radio programme from the Middle East as follows:
“June 2005. US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice flies to Cairo and at the American University makes a speech that will go down in history”.
Reproducing Rice’s subsequent statement verbatim, Webb allowed her views to be aired without challenge or critique. Rice said, “For sixty years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither”.
The former U.S Secretary of State added:
“Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”
Webb told his listeners in all seriousness:”I believe the Bush administration genuinely wanted that speech to be a new turning point; a new start”.
Nobody had to tell Webb to say these words; he genuinely believed them.
In March, 2009, BBC reporter Reeta Chakrabarti was asked why she had claimed that Tony Blair had “passionately believed” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when all evidence suggested otherwise. Chakrabarti responded it was because he [Blair] had “consistently said so.”
When Media Lens challenged former BBC news director Helen Boaden on whether she thought these kinds of uncritical responses relating to U.S-UK intent compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, she replied that “analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many of the speeches and remarks of both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.”
Another clear illustration of how the BBC breaches its impartiality guidelines occurred in 1999. It was during this year that the corporation made the political decision to allow its own high-profile newsreader, Jill Dando, to present a DEC appeal for Kosovo at the height of NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign against Serbian “genocide” in Kosovo (the genocide claim has since been proven to have been false).
Shortly after broadcasting the appeal, the BBC reported:”Millions of pounds of donations have been flooding in to help the Kosovo refugees after a national television appeal for funds.”
In a linked article, Tony Blair was was quoted as saying:”This will be a daily pounding until he [the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms laid down by NATO”.
The Kosovo appeal contrasted with the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Gaza Charity Appeal a decade later in response to Israel’s violent 22-day attack on Gaza as part of Operation Cast Lead.
The BBC’s refusal to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, breached an agreement that dates back to 1963 and left “aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.”
The BBCs support of the Kosovo appeal was consistent with the British states political and military imperial objectives in the region. By contrast, the notion of any support given to the Palestinian’s in Gaza run counter to these objectives. Apparently, the BBC had no concerns that this clear double-standard might damage its alleged reputation for impartiality.
The state broadcaster’s claims of impartiality are further compromised in relation to both the nature of their senior management appointments which are made by the government of the day, and by acts of cronyism of which there is clear evidence. For instance, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies and his director-general, Gregg Dyke, were supporters of, and donors to, Blair’s New Labour government. Davies’s wife ran Gordon Brown’s office; his children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding. Tony Blair has stayed at Davies’s holiday home.
Consider too, the establishment links of the members of the BBC Trust whose duty, to recall, is to uphold its public obligations, including impartiality. Are the general public seriously expected to believe that the unrepresentative demographic composition of the trustees, as reflected in their relatively narrow educational and professional backgrounds, are independent of the government that appointed them and of the elite corporate and other vested interests which they are deeply embedded?
Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, was honest in his assessment of the corporation and its relationship to the establishment: “They know they can trust us not to be really impartial”, he said.
Arguably, it’s the Iraq debacle more than any other event in recent history that has exposed the BBCs flagrant beaching of its Charter. BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan lost his job after he revealed that the Blair regime had manipulated intelligence in relation to Saddam’s supposed possession of WMD.
Marr and full spectrum dominance
Probably no clearer illustration of BBC bias has existed as that which occurred outside 10 Downing Street on April 9, 2003. The BBCs political editor, Andrew Marr’s infamous piece to camera in which he described government ministers walking around Whitehall “with smiles like split watermelons” amounted to imperial hyperbole of the most obnoxious kind.
But it was his premature eulogizing of war criminal Tony Blair that will go down in history as one of the most blatant examples of pro-establishment propaganda ever witnessed. Marr, in overtones that echoed Churchill, and with a wry smirk and air of self-congratulatory righteousness, said of Blair and the coalition forces:
“He [Blair] said they [coalition forces] would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and in the end the Iraqi’s 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 a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”
With Iraq fast becoming an historical footnote, the latest Western-led imperialist wars of aggression in the middle east extended to Libya and latterly, Syria. However, unlike the former two countries, the government of president Bashar al Assad is proving to be a far stronger adversary than perhaps many U.S-UK strategists initially thought.
The BBCs propaganda offensive against Syria and its key regional Russian ally, is all-pervasive. John Pilger said, correctly, that “the first casualty of war is journalism.” What the public is witnessing, in other words, is a media propaganda war machine in ‘full spectrum dominance’ mode.
The BBCs deceptions and lies in relation to Syria – whether in terms of their uncritical stance to the role played by the White Helmets, their use of a fake BBC documentary film in an attempt to influence an important government vote in the House of Commons, or of their censorship by omission – is so entrenched as to have become systemic and normalized in virtually all aspects of mainstream reportage emanating from that country.
RT & the demonization of Russia
The lies and deceptions also involves the BBCs demonizing of Russia. One way the media manages to achieve this is by instilling fear in the UK population. For instance, on the same day the head of Britain’s M15, Andrew Parker, was interviewed in the Guardian about the Russian “threat” – subsequently reported uncritically on the BBC – the CIA-financed Henry Jackson Society unveiled their new Manual of Russophobia.
A crucial component of the BBCs ‘demonization of Russia strategy’ relates to their attempts at discrediting the broadcaster, RT (also known as Russia Today). The BBCs Andrew Neil, for example, who post-satirist, Victor Lewis-Smith points out, hosts three political programmes on the station, while acting as chairman of the company that runs the Spectator and Telegraph, oversaw, on the Daily Politics programme, arguably one of the most repugnant pieces of anti-Russian propaganda ever witnessed on British television.
Launched in October, 2014, the RT channel is accused by its critics as essentially being a Putin propaganda mouthpiece. However, writer Glenn Greenwald proffers a far more nuanced (and accurate) evaluation. Writing about an anti-RT campaign in March, 2015, Greenwald said:
“The most vocal among the anti-RT crowd – on the ground that it spreads lies and propaganda — such as Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm — were also the most aggressive peddlers of the pro-U.K.-government conspiracy theories and lies that led to the Iraq War. That people like this, with their histories of pro-government propaganda, are the ones demanding punishment of RT for ‘bias’, tells you all you need to know about what is really at play here”.
It’s also worth noting that another of the prominent liberal ‘leftist’ anti-Russia-RT brigade is David “those [Iraqi] weapons had better be there” Aaranovitch of the Times whose role for decades on the BBC appears to be to support just about every opportunity to wage war.
Journalists and broadcasters like Aaranovitch, Kamm and Cohen who are critical of RT, nevertheless tend to overstate the channel’s influence. The reality is RT’s global reach is far less than the BBCs, whose World Service is essentially funded by the organization who founded it – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Meanwhile, the U.S spends hundreds of millions annually on outfits like RFE/RL in order to spread American values to the rest of the world in much the same way the BBC does in relation to its spreading of British values to a global market.
Apparently propaganda is only ‘evil’ when the broadcaster of the official enemy engages in promoting it, even though the impact of such propaganda is far less destructive than the propaganda emanating from the BBC.
The default position of the British state broadcaster appears to be that the nature of the liberal-democratic state in which they are embedded is such it confers them with certain entitlements – one of which is an unwritten rule allowing them to be selective in terms of their reportage. Thus, ignoring ‘our’ criminality is deemed to be acceptable based on the premise that elected politicians serve the people, and that it is the task of journalism to support, not undermine democracy.
However, democracy is dependent on a fair and impartial media to keep it in check. The realization that corporate lobbying money is becoming increasingly concentrated within the executive arm of the state, results in the subversion of democracy and a lack of honest media scrutiny of its actions. This explains why the mainstream’s demonization of official enemies like Russia and Syria is a given. As Media Lens put it:
“As a rule of thumb, we can be sure that the demonization of official enemies is a key requirement of all [mainstream] journalists in [influential positions]….It is simply understood.”
This structural bias also explains why Barack Obama, for example, continues to be depicted by the BBC as an almost saintly figure, while in truth his record of bombing seven countries is indicative of a warmongering psychopath. In Britain, the notion that the BBC is a propaganda organ of the British state that promotes imperialist war, is widely regarded as being outside the boundaries of acceptable discourse.