Category: media

The bizarre world of Peter Hitchens

By Daniel Margrain

Peter Hitchens Says Tories Should 'Call Themselves the ...

Author and journalist, Peter Hitchens, is probably the most enigmatic and controversial public figure currently working in the corporate mainstream media today. Most noted for his six published books and his Mail on Sunday newspaper column, Hitchens seemed to be destined for a life of controversy at an early age, when in his youth, he was arrested for breaking into a government fall-out shelter in Cambridge.

While studying Politics and Philosophy at the University of York, Hitchens became embroiled in what is now the Socialist Workers Party. While publicly admonishing himself from what he described in later life as a Trotskyite “disease”, he nevertheless recognized the important role that the analytical rigour associated with Marxism was to play in formulating what he perceives are his critical thought processes.

Hitchens is a great example of the quote “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain,” even if a great many of conservative utterances put the second conclusion in doubt.

The media commentators journalistic career began with the Daily Express in 1977. This was also the first of six years he spent in the Labour Party. Having moved to Communist eastern Europe where he worked as a foreign affairs reporter (he became the Daily Express resident Moscow Correspondent in June 1990), he soon become disillusioned with the movement he ingratiated himself with, eventually embracing the Thatcherite critiques of the Soviet satellite bureaucracies of the Cold War period.

Hitchens left Moscow in 1992 basing himself for a brief period in London. He then reported from South Africa during the last days of apartheid, and from Somalia at the time of the US-led military intervention in the country. In September 1993 he became the Daily Express resident Washington correspondent, and during the next two years he reported from all over the United States, as well as from Canada, Haiti and Cuba.

After having completed a five year stint as commentator and columnist for the Daily Express from 1995-2000, Hitchens quit joining The Mail on Sunday, where he has a weekly column and weblog. In 1997 he joined the Conservative Party but left in 2003. Hitchens has authored and presented several documentaries for British television.

In addition, he has been a regular contributor to numerous UK TV discussion and debating programmes in which many of his controversial views – teenage pregnancy, drugs, sexuality, religion, public health and morality, education, international relations etc  –  have been aired.

Particular pet hates of the Mail on Sunday columnist include, abortionhomosexuality, birth control, feministsleftists, all pop and rock music in totality, human-induced climate changeevolutionIslam, secularism, neoliberalism and the metric system.

Among his core believes are that women who are raped should be denied anonymity; that woman’s place is in the home; that women should not have access to contraception; that women should not have premarital sex and that women should not have the right to an abortion.

He has also posited that homosexuality is something that should be kept “in the bedroom” and, in a January 2009 column, propagated the ‘just world fallacy’ by claiming that there is no objective poverty in the UK only that people suffer from “moral poverty”. According to Hitchens, the poor are being punished because there is “an almost total absence of good examples in their lives”, while the middle class are “better off because they are good.”

In addition to fanning hatred of women and gay people while helping to legitimize poverty, Hitchens also helped fan the flames of the anti-MMR vaccine hysteria. He has consistently promoted and attempted to justify his pseudo-scientific outlook by citing the disgraced former physician and medical researcher, Andrew Wakefield, who was one of the modern movements originators.

In terms of the debates around immigration, Hitchens paints himself as a defender of ‘traditional English values’ characteristic of a ‘return’ to a ‘lost’ quasi-religious idyllic past imbued with a yearning for nostalgia. The illogical inference made by Hitchens that rural England (in which only a minority of the population has lived since the great expansion of the 19th Century) is inherently more English than urban England (even though England was the world leader in mass urbanisation), has palpably racist overtones that cannot be nullified by reference to a romanticised rose-tinted view of the past that never existed.

But it’s Hitchens denial of the reality of the science underpinning man-made climate change that is the basis of arguably his most bizarre thesis. The fact-based debate on this is as one-sided as bringing an 8-inch atomic artillery piece to a knife fight. So Hitchens denial of the science inevitably involves a barrage of bad-faith misdirection tactics that do nothing to rebut the scientific consensus at issue.

Whilst it is encouraging that Hitchens opposed the war on Iraq; has challenged the media propaganda on Syria and is in favour of the re-nationalization of Britain’s railways, the vast majority of his views which the media barons are happy for him to espouse to millions of people, are not only insane, but are highly inflammatory, dangerous and misinformed.

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Masters of war: How the corporate media deceive the public

By Daniel Margrain

Mainstream <b>Media</b> <b>Lies</b> About Charleston, Guns & Racism With ...

In September, 2016, UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, effectively announced that the British government had channeled £2.3 billion in support of propaganda campaigns in Syria of which charities and NGOs like Hand in Hand, the Syria Campaign and the funding of terrorist mercenary forces, are an integral part.

It has been noted that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), working with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Home Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, formed contracts companies for the express purpose of creating ‘targeted information’.

The means by which this is achieved is through the production of videos, photos, military reports, radio broadcasts, print products and social media posts branded with the logos of fighting groups. One of the most prominent of the groups allegedly overseen by the MoD, are the White Helmets, who Johnson named, and whose members are affiliated to Islamist terrorist groups.

The corporate mainstream media are failing in their duty to reveal what the true foreign policy objectives of Johnson and his government are in Syria and the wider middle east region, nor have elite corporate journalists critically evaluated their own integration within the state apparatus.

By acting as echo chambers for Western imperial power, the role of the said journalists when reporting on foreign affairs is akin to stenography. Examples include the Telegraph’s reaction to the Houla massacre of May 25, 2012 which cast Syria into the ‘civil war’ and the widespread misrepresentation of the UN report into the Ghouta chemical attack of August 21, 2013.

Then there has been the rush to judgement by Guardian and New York Times journalists in relation to the alleged April 4, 2017 sarin attack in the Syrian town of Khan Seikhoun, and the media’s failure to follow-up on allegations made by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, that the CIA, with the support of M16, was responsible for ensuring the transportation of arms by Islamist groups from Libya to Syria.

The BBC Panorama documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, Channel 4 News, Up Close With the Rebels and the fake The Caesar Torture Photos story,  illustrate the extent to which the media has attempted to disorientate the public. These examples of ‘news’ functioning as propaganda in the service of power in relation to Syria, however, represent the tip of a huge iceberg.

Independent researcher and investigative journalist, Vanessa Beeley, has meticulously documented numerous occasions where the BBC and Channel 4 News have relied solely on unsubstantiated and biased Syrian opposition ‘rebel’ sources for its reports, and where dissenters of the official narrative have been smeared and abused by Guardian journalists simply for asking ‘difficult’ questions.

Moreover, the heavy reliance on what were clearly fake reports by al-Jazeera and CNN,  intended to sway public opinion in support of foreign intervention in Syria, adds fuel to the fire of those who accuse the elite media of being nothing more than conduits for  state power when it comes to their reporting of foreign affairs that involves the interests of the imperialist nations and their proxies.

Recent reports of protests throughout Iran, which investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed stated were fomented by the U.S State Department, are the consequence of harsh U.S economic sanctions of the sort used against Iraq and Syria. But this kind of ’cause and effect’ analysis is totally absent from mainstream news reportage. In short, the inability of elite journalists to report critically on foreign affairs which have the potential to cast the empire in a bad light, is indicative of a democratic deficit.

This is reflected in the highly concentrated nature of media ownership. Writer Tom London points out that almost 48% of the combined print and online press is owned by just two billionaires – Rothermere and Murdoch – and 75.1% is owned by just six billionaires. These media barons have shared economic interests with the military and political establishment that perpetual war helps facilitate. The securing of these narrow interests are antithetical to the notion of a fair, free and open media.

Author Ed Jones points to other factors that are symptomatic of the lack of democracy at the heart of the media system. These include its domination by privately-educated white men, the politicisation of sources and the manipulation of the press by the intelligence services.

The billionaire media barons understand the importance, not only of spending huge amounts of money on advertising and public relations, but also of employing ‘liberal-left’ journalists whose apparent principal role is to function as ‘gate-keepers’ for established power. Indeed, what John Pilger referred to as “counterfeit journalism” in which “the surface of events is not disturbed”, is central to the ability of the media barons to engineer the public’s consent.

As Jones points out, it’s the billionaires who own the press that set the news agenda. The BBC, who are among the forefront of news agenda-setting media in the UK, play a particularly pernicious role in the propaganda process by amplifying it due to their reputation for alleged impartiality.

However, the central role of the British state broadcaster is to spread ‘British values’ to a global market in much the same way the U.S government spends hundreds of millions annually on outfits like RFE/RL in order to spread ‘American values’.

In other words, the default position of the British state broadcaster is their false sense of entitlement to report selectively on international affairs in order to protect perceived “British interests”. Thus, embedded journalism that ignores ‘our’ criminality is deemed to be acceptable based on the flawed premise that elected politicians serve the people, and that it is the task of the BBC to support, not undermine, democracy.

The founder of the BBC, Lord Reith, was more honest in his assessment of the structural bias of the media, the BBCs role within it, and its relationship to the elite political-media class: “[The establishment] know they can trust us not to be really impartial”, he said.

The recent willingness by the BBC to offer an uncritical platform to the head of the CIA is an example of the corporations dual function role as purveyor of state propaganda in which both Westminster and Washington benefit. Apparently, propaganda only becomes a “problem” when Russia’s state broadcaster, Russia Today (RT), are themselves accused of actively promoting it.

As historian Mark Curtis pointed out, the simple truth is elites do not believe the public has a right to know what is being done in their name. The questioning of prevailing narratives leads critics open to smears and abuse. In relation to Syria, Louis Allday posited that to express “even a mildly dissenting opinion … has seen many people ridiculed and attacked [by liberal-left journalists] … These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views”.

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Why Tory cuts to public libraries must be resisted

By Daniel Margrain

Last month marked the beginning of Libraries Week, the annual showcase of all the creative, innovative and diverse activities UK libraries have to offer the public. The key role libraries play in terms of bringing communities together, is particularly important in a global city like London where the wealth gap between the top and bottom of society continues to widen inexorably, and where public space is at a premium.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for people with minimal incomes at their disposal to access modes of information and entertainment outside of the home. With the rise in the level of in-work poverty over the last decade due largely to the normalizing culture of zero-hours contracts and part-time work, access to the paid cultural aspects of a city like London is fast becoming the domain of the few as opposed to the right of the many.

Highly inflated costs during a sustained period in which wages have stagnated, not only means that more people are being priced out of corporate-controlled spaces, but they are also denied the socialized interaction that are analogous to them.

This is where public libraries, as alternative spaces, come into their own. Many people regard libraries as the most valued and trusted resources at the heart of communities because they foster not only learning but social, cultural and economic well-being. Indeed, there are many reasons for arguing that the library is the most important place in town.

Public libraries are one of the few spaces where people can enter a world free from the dominant modes of corporate culture. In addition to offering an alternative to the increasingly atomizing space of the home, they provide people with the opportunity to temporarily escape from a ‘brainwashing’ narrative that portrays them as “a corrupting, anti-social group that exist outside of society.” Think of shows like ‘Jeremy Kyle’ and ‘Benefits Street’ and you get the picture.

More than just books

In that sense, public libraries are more than just books. Not only do they provide a space for people to escape, they are also beneficial in terms of the health and well-being of society. They help to foment children’s literacy and encourage them to become active during term-time and holidays.

They are used by parents and nurseries. They offer access to the internet. They provide space for people to read and study in peace that is not always possible in their homes. They are places to host community events, training and education.

They provide respite for the mentally ill and a space for people with physical disabilities who perhaps feel isolated in the home, as well as offering a temporary sanctuary to the homeless. Arguably, most prescient of all is that libraries represent the very antithesis of the fast-paced rhythm of modern life. They are, in other words, the embodiment of all that is good in society.

The process of reading books is a slow-burning aesthetic pleasure that cannot be reduced to a soundbite phrase or snappy commercial. Furthermore, books are tangible things, not abstractions that exist in ‘clouds’ and can be taken away for free, a system paid for through taxation based on the concept of reciprocity. These represent values at odds with a Tory government that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Tories want to minimize the opportunity people have for accessing narratives that run counter to the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy and the promotion of greed and selfish individualism that’s concomitant to the demise of the public library. The extent of the library closure scandal throughout the UK was highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. The opposition Labour leader cited Freedom of Information (FOI) figures indicating that since 2010, 575 council-run public libraries have either been closed, transferred to community groups or outsourced, a trend that is set to continue into 2019.

Drastic cuts of this nature clearly contravene the 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act which was introduced in order to ensure council’s didn’t renege on their duty to encourage use of library services. The Act legally requires local authorities to provide comprehensive and efficient library services.

Author Michael Rosen wrote of the importance of maintaining such a service:

“It is vital for the lives of us all that [libraries] are supported, expanded, enriched and diversified. If we let them close, we are in effect consigning huge sections of the population to a world either without books, or a world with only the books that the giant corporations want us to read. This is an appalling prospect.”

So the question is, why does the Tory government want to get rid of them?

Part of their rationale appears to be that many libraries sit on prime value land. But this is not the only reason. Ideology arguably plays a more significant role in terms of the asset-stripping of this important public utility. This is illustrated by the decision of the London Borough of Barnet to approve 12 separate planning applications at a cost of more than £14m to close libraries in an attempt to save less than £2.3m (a massive 2177.5% increase in cost per user resulting from these drastic cuts).

Library closures come down hardest on children. A 2016 study by brain specialist and child development expert, Dr Aric Sigman reveals concerns about the permanent damage to health, development and achievement the prolonged and repeated reading from screens, as an alternative to reading books, has on children.

Libraries Week reminds us that libraries, as with the NHS, are too important a public service to lose. Tory plans to cut libraries to the bone are not only illegal but are detrimental to the health and well being of the public essential to the maintenance of a cohesive society. The attempts to close them must be resisted at every turn.

The Mass Media & Trump

By Daniel Margrain

In 1938, in response to the alleged arrival to America of aliens from another planet, thousands of US citizens left their suburban homes in a state of panic and departed for the hills. An unsuspecting public did this because the authoritative tones of the radio announcer who imparted this ‘news’ was able to induce the requisite amount of fear in them.

It was only later that the people concerned had realized they had been duped. What was actually being broadcast was an adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, and the announcer was the renowned actor and film director, Orson Welles. The power of radio had convinced people to behave in an irrational manner in response to this ‘fake news’.

Almost eight decades after Welles made his famous radio broadcast, the corporate media persuaded hundreds of thousands of protesters to descend on Washington DC and many other cities across America and throughout the world ostensibly against Trump’s boast that he groped the genitals of a woman. This soon morphed into mass protests against his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.

More recently, mass protests that involved attacks on statues in response to the widespread perception Trump wasn’t sufficiently unequivocal in his condemnation of right wing forces followed the killing of a protester in Charlottesville.

Censorship by omission

The criticisms of Trump in relation to the above and much else are, of course, valid. But the media coverage given to these incidents which acted as the catalyst for the demonstrations also raises further questions in terms of what the media do and do not regard as a newsworthy story. Why, for example, hadn’t the media given equal coverage to the sexual depravities of Bill Clinton?

It should be noted that Hillary not only condoned Bill’s actions but has often slandered those who would dare speak out against them. The fact that the media have not managed to inculcate into the public consciousness the alleged crimes of Bill Clinton in the way they have in relation to Trump, almost certainly explains why, during Bill’s presidency and impeachment trial 20 years ago, there was very little outcry among the public.

So fake news is as much about the ability of the media to censor by omission as it is about the actual production of deliberately false information intended to deceive. In turn, the distortions often provide the basis for ‘post truth politics’ exemplified by the appeal to emotion where a discourse of identity and personal beliefs dominate.

The media’s preoccupation with Trump’s sexist and misogynistic attitude to women and alleged racism intended to evoke an emotional response, was to be the starting point for what was to follow. The media’s anti-Trump agenda, in other words, had not long after he became elected, been cast.

Manichean logic & Red Baiting

The demonizing agenda was stepped-up a gear following the media’s relentless efforts to link Trump with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. With their application of Manichean logic, the intention of the political-media class was to deliberately conflate media dissent with the notion that the dissenters uncritically support Russia and thus to imply these dissenters are Trump, and by extension, Putin apologists.

In the eyes of the establishment, the dissenters’ ‘crime’ was to acknowledge that one of Trump’s initial stated aims to shift future US foreign policy from belligerence to cooperation with Russia, had validity. Thus, the aim of the media is to discredit any support for a US foreign policy that doesn’t involve US exceptionalism.

Trump’s subsequent toing and froing in regards to US foreign policy reflect the extent to which he appears to be guided to this end by media spin and personal ratings. It’s no coincidence that a more aggressive and unilateral foreign policy approach by Trump initiates far less media criticism of him than would otherwise be the case. Conversely, as Edward Herman contends, a declared lack of enthusiasm for foreign conflict, notably with Russia, “may help explain the intensity of media hostility to Trump”.

It’s a measure of the extent to which the mass media barely stray from their paymasters tune, that on April 7, 2017, Trump with near-unanimous journalistic support, was able to launch an illegal missile strike on the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria in retaliation to an alleged sarin gas attack by president Assad three days earlier. Moreover, it’s Trump’s bellicose rhetoric against Russian ally, North Korea, that is endearing him to vast swaths of the American public and corporate media alike.

The response of a corporate outlet like the Washington Post is to label anybody who proffers an alternative foreign policy narrative to that pumped out by the mainstream as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The writer, Chris Hedges, who is on a list of 200 alternative websites condemned by the paper, describes the Post’s report as an “updated form of Red-Baiting”.

Hedges added:

“This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”

On twitter, I was subjected to this kind of divided loyalty trope. The following tweet, for example, was in response to my factual assertion that Russia was invited by Syria to intervene in the country as a direct response to the arming, training and funding of Salafist terrorists by the US, UK, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish governments:

:4h4 hours ago

  you sound like you might be a Trotskyist. Are you in the pay of a counter revolutionary organisation?

Paradox

As far as the political-media establishment is concerned, the Trump phenomenon represents a paradox, or as Charles Krauthammer put it, an “ideological realignment”. Trump’s authentic, albeit idiosyncratic, populism is the antithesis to the prevailing liberal politico-media establishment orthodoxy that, paradoxically, nevertheless remains welded to the capitalist order.

Under Obama, the media had it relatively easy because the nature of the understanding between the economic and political elite was mutually understood. The snake oil salesman said the right things when required and kept the industrial-military complex ticking along by initiating a succession of foreign wars.

Trump, on the other hand, not only says the ‘wrong things’ in a less statesman-like way, but often contradicts himself days or even hours later. It’s this unpredictability that poses a threat to the elites ability to be able to maintain a buffer zone between themselves and the democratic forces that Trump has the potential to unleash, that the former fear the most. Trump’s unmanageable authenticity is, in other words, bad news for a politico-media elite that is used to having their snouts comfortably feeding from the gravy train trough on their own terms.

Public relations

Many of the activists who have taken to the streets in protest against Trump, but refrained from doing the same against Obama, have clearly been indoctrinated to do so as a result of the media’s displacement strategy. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Clinton gang is pushing for war with Iran while criticisms of Trump by Jack Straw and other war criminals are clearly their attempts at stealing the moral high ground.

The kind of blinkered liberalism that focuses a disproportionate amount of criticism towards Trump for his sexual misdemeanors and reflexive reactions to domestic populist warmongering, but largely overlooks the sexual abuse and war crimes of other American presidents, is encapsulated by the following tweet:

Ashamed

To claim to feel more ashamed to be a citizen of a country represented by the actions of the latest in a long line of misogynistic presidents who has followed through on a democratic mandate by, for example, introducing a seven country visa ban policy as opposed to the actions of his predecessor who bombed seven countries in six years, is indicative of the propaganda power of the mass media.

It is surely no coincidence that “feeling ashamed to be part of America for the first time in 32 years” is related to the inability of the media to devote honest coverage of US foreign policy since 1945 including the numerous wars of aggression waged both overtly and covertly by successive US presidents.

The fact that the reason why Trump’s selective and temporary travel ban (not a Muslim Ban as reported) is considered to be an acceptable part of media discourse, but the war machine championed by Obama and historically by numerous other presidents isn’t, is because critiques of the latter pose a potential threat to the underlying structure of media-state power.

Manipulating the public

It is an illustration of how corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent, largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns of the kind described that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

These techniques involve the filtering out of all unwanted information by censoring it and amplifying all ‘useful’ information. The former explains why very few people remember the time when Theresa May as UK Home Secretary illegally deported 50,000 foreign students which consequently failed to generate the publicity required for a mass demonstration.

Although the issue is different, exactly the same principle can be applied to the lack of publicity the media have given to demonstrations against the government’s welfare reforms including cuts to disability benefits, reduced social care budgets and the introduction of the bedroom tax.

Make no mistake, the decision of Trump to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries on the false premise that it’s a security issue when those countries not on the banned list were the ones whose citizens were responsible for the attacks on 9-11, is illiberal, immoral and plain wrong.

But it is also wrong for the media to have perpetuated the myth that it was Trump who set the policy in motion and that his critics are somehow perturbed that he fulfilled a pre-election democratic mandate. Perhaps it’s indicative of the ‘post-truth’ era, that many people are shocked when politicians actually follow through on their campaign promises. In that sense, at least Trump has put down a marker for elected leaders in the future to follow.

Conclusion

The media hype in relation to the reporting of Trump is disproportionate and exaggerated. Where were the reports of NATO’s flattening of the Libyan town of Sirte that killed thousands of civilians and the changing of the law enabling the deportation from the UK of any refugee child?

Why are a series of war criminals and war apologists seen fit to be interviewed about their disparaging views on Trump and are allowed to pass comment unchallenged?

Why were the public told that Western civilisation was under threat from Islamist terrorists from the same countries who the elites criticised Trump for wanting to put travel restrictions on? Could it be that Trump is unknowingly exposing the lie to their own propaganda?

The fact that these questions are never asked of the powerful and that a mass of well-meaning liberal protesters uncritically fall into line like a herd of cattle, is a testament to the hold the media has on great swaths of the population.

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New Media & Censorship

By Daniel Margrain

During the height of the anti-capitalist movement in 2002, I wrote a paper as part of my MA in which I said:

“The growth of new (physical) technologies allied with the development of the (virtual) media, is resulting in the revival and reworking of the classical ideal of an actively engaged and responsible citizenship. It is my contention that established media and virtual media will increasingly contest for spheres of influence in ‘cyberspace’. The extent to which one or the other establishes spatial dominance is likely to shape the nature of politics in the new century and therefore determine a new set of socio-political relationships.”

Global village

The development of new media corresponded to what Marxist geographer, David Harvey, referred to as “time-space compression” brought about by the growth in global communication networks which has its genesis as part of a concept of what became known as the “global village” – a term first coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1962. Having since become a cliche of global communications, it describes, in the loose sense, how citizens of the world who have communication tools at their command, can communicate and share interests across the world, just as they might across a village street.

More importantly, however, McLuhan claimed that the dominant mode of communication in the earlier part of the century had been written and printed. Even modes like the telegraph message and air letter were communication in print. This was formal communication typical of the hierarchical and procedurally bound societies of the time.

Conversely, in the global village, television, telephone and other electronic communication restored a formal oral culture in which informality and impermanence were the characteristics. This cut across the formal structures of existing political organisations.

The significance of McLuhan was that he anticipated the phenomena of virtuality and interactivity, the dissolving of traditional structures and patterns and the compression of time and space. One of the main technological manifestations that facilitate the latter is the growth of telecommunications infrastructure.

Power structure

It is the integration of global communication networks – telecommunications, computing and media technologies – that forms the basis of the internet and ISDN traffic. From its small military beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s, the former has opened up the possibility of a genuine new form of community. Over twenty years ago, John Allen and Chris Hamnett even went as far as to argue that the internet would bring about the “death of geography.”

But what McLuhan and Allen and Hamnett overestimated was the extent to which the global village would remove old hierarchies and social gradients. Correspondingly, they underestimated the ability of the new technology to reinforce existing socioeconomic patterns of inequality and structures of power.

Not only has the the new technology installed a new form of communicative apartheid as evidenced by the uneven global spread of internet hosts and web users, but the nature of this trend also gives the illusion of empowerment. In their 1997 book, The Global Media,  Edward Herman and Robert McChesney are rightly critical of the notion that the growth in internet use results in the ability of humanity to leapfrog over existing forms of corporate communication, citing the internet’s rapid commercialization which functions in sharp contrast to it.

While in theory, the development of the internet is the potential catalyst for an active, responsible and informed citizenship to grow, the reconciling of technology with a democratic utopianism presupposes that those who control communications technology are politically and ideologically impartial in a way that the British state broadcaster, for example, is not.

The notion that BBC news journalists are impartial and that their role is to bring power to account, is based on a collective delusion. In Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media, political scientist, Michael Parenti argues that these kinds of journalists:

“Rarely doubt their own objectivity even as they faithfully echo the established political vocabularies and the prevailing politico-economic orthodoxy. Since they do not cross any forbidden lines, they are not reined in. So they are likely to have no awareness they are on an ideological leash” (1986, p.25).

But surely establishment journalists are free to say what they want in a democracy?

In 1996, Noam Chomsky challenged the assertion made by the BBCs Andrew Marr that his views were not the product of a form of self-censorship. Chomsky said:

“I’m sure you believe everything you are saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you [Marr] wouldn’t be sitting where you are sitting.”

In other words, as Michael Parenti commenting on how media bias manifests, said of establishment journalists like Marr: “[Journalists] say what [they] like because they [their proprietors] like what [they] say.”

Propaganda

If the internet is to successfully leapfrog over what John Pilger describes as “the best, most sophisticated propaganda service in the world”, it must free itself from the forms of control indicative of its traditional counterparts.

Launched in February, 2004, the on-line social media site, Facebook, looked like it offered a genuine avenue for alternative forms of information to flourish freely. But recent evidence uncovered by the website Vox Political points to attempts by the corporation to suppress this free flow of information (see graphic below):

vox.png

According to another popular left-wing site, Skawkbox, statistics for its blog “show a ratio of around four or five visitors via Facebook for every one via Twitter. Over the last few days that has dropped to around one and a half Facebook referrals to every Twitter visitor.”

This is in line with additional analysis which suggests that new Google algorithm’s are restricting access to other left-wing progressive web sites.

The question of whether the cultural globalization of virtual space will result in the homogenization and neutralization of public and political discourse in similar ways that have befallen the traditional media, is likely to depend on the extent to which it is subject to the same distorted relations of economic power. For a liberal democracy like the UK that boasts about its plurality, the signs do not appear to be encouraging:

“Frank Beacham who enthused about the internet as a public sphere outside of corporate or government control in early 1995, lamented one year later that the internet was shifting ‘from being a participatory medium that serves the interests of the public to being a broadcast media where corporations deliver consumer-orientated information. Interactivity would be reduced to little more than sales transactions and e mail.” (Herman, E. & McChesney, R. (1997) ‘The Global Media’, p.135).

Commercial values

The implication is that the nature of the new, as with old, media content is implicitly and explicitly determined or influenced by advertising and commercial values. A key issue relates to whether information that is not influenced by the above factors is freely accessible in other forms. The main problem with liberal democracies is not necessarily that information is unavailable to the public, or that voting procedures, for example, are too cumbersome, rather it is the public’s lack of scepticism and desire to root out the facts (See for example, Hirschkop, K. in Capitalism and the Information Age, 2000).

The spread of the internet in such a situation, therefore, increases the access to far more information that would otherwise be the case with traditional forms of media. But access by itself is not the principal problem. Knowledge is not the base of its authority but its instrument. It is within this context that new media is unlikely to prove qualitatively different from the old. However, it is by its nature, likely to alter our perceptions of political space, relations to power and historical forms of rule.

In terms of production networks, global media output and global multinational capital both need technology in order to expand, just as much as technology needs multinationals and governments to globalize spaces of capital and new media through economic liberalization. Thus, globalization, technology, new media and the dominant relations of economic power are inter-connected. Moreover, as Robert McChesney asserts, these factors are reinforced by an uneven balance of power for the benefit of corporate-media political culture:

“A market dominated political economy tends to produce exactly such a political culture, to some extent because commercial penetration tends to undermine the autonomous social organisations that can bring meaning to public life…A capitalist society works most efficiently when the bulk of the population is demoralized and effectively depoliticised…As the Financial Times put it, ‘capitalist democracy can best succeed to the extent that it is about ‘the process of depoliticising the economy.’ The global commercial media are integral to this depoliticization process” (1997, pp.16-17).

Whether virtual space can bring about a new democratic polity based upon notions of social, economic and political justice, will depend on whether networked technologies are able to break free from the grip of the distortions that reflect the overriding interests associated with traditional forms of media proprietorship.

Ultimately, new media is shaped by the ideology of power, not democracy. In the context in which a Guardian editorial recently argued that “censoring the internet is necessary”, and a mainstream media which historian Mark Curtis contends, “keeps the public in the dark about virtually every important current and historical policy”, the stakes could hardly be higher.

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An Elite Whitewash: The Chilcot Report Revisited

By Daniel Margrain

A year ago the Chilcot report was finally released into the public domain. It is a salutary reminder to the world that the monumental war crime against the Iraqi people overseen by Blair and his New Labour government will never, and cannot ever, be forgotten. However, the report fell woefully short of offering any justice for the families of British soldiers who lost loved ones or for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed.

There are three major issues that emerged from the report. Firstly, flawed intelligence assessments were made with certainty without any acknowledgement of the limitations of the said intelligence. Second, the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council, and third, Blair failed the Cabinet about Lord Goldsmith’s rather perilous journey after the latter said the war was legal having initially argued it was illegal having mulled over it for over a year.

The public can rightfully feel short-changed over a report whose remit was extremely limited and whose cost was stratospheric. Analysis of the accounts released by the inquiry revealed two years ago this month that Sir John Chilcot, committee members and advisers shared more than £1.5 million in fees since the inquiry began in 2009. By 2015, a massive £10 million had been spent . In that year alone, £119,000 had been shared between the four committee members and its two advisers – Sir General Roger Wheeler and Dame Rosalind Higgins.

Illegal war

For many observers and commentators, it didn’t need a seven year long inquiry, 2.6 million words and at least £10 million to be told that the invasion of Iraq amounted to what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51).

Neither of these conditions applied to the US and UK. Both governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point, the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection.

Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that a legal justification for invasion would be needed: “Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the Prime Minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case”, he said.

Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation. A series of leaked documents shows that the Bush and Blair governments knew they did not possess legal justification. Chilcot repeated the lie outlined in the Butler Inquiry that the intelligence was not knowingly fixed.

Downing Street memo

The contents of the Downing Street memo is the smoking gun that puts the above lie to rest. The memo, which outlines a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The memo confirms that Blair knew the decision to attack Iraq preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression. In other words, the memo confirmed the decision to attack had already been made and that the stated legal justification didn’t apply.

The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Blair. As another leaked memo shows, the UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war:

“i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent;
ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable;
iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack. What would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.” 

A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that:

“there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1441

Apologists for Blair often claim that war could be justified through UN resolution 1441. But 1441 did not authorise the use of force since:

“there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”

In January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council” Such a determination was never forthcoming. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed that the Iraq War was illegal having breached the United Nations Charter.

Significantly, the world’s foremost experts in the field of international law concur that “…the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression.”

As well as their being no legal justification for war, it’s also worth pointing out that the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that it would cause terrorism – a point amplified by Craig Murray:

“The intelligence advice in advance of the invasion he received was unequivocal that it would increase the threat to the UK, and it directly caused the attacks of 7/7.”

Nevertheless, this determination was followed by a benevolent course of action. Chilcot made clear, the process for coming to the conclusion that Saddam had in his possession WMD as the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, was one in which his Cabinet was not consulted.

Chilcot fudged legal question

In the run up to the report being published, Chilcot said, “the circumstances in which a legal basis for action was decided were not satisfactory.” In other words, the establishment, which Chilcot and his team represent, hid behind processes as opposed to stating loudly and clearly that the British government at that point was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq irrespective of what the evidence said about WMD or anything else.

Ultimately, the question of legality was fudged by Chilcot. It’s to his eternal shame, that he didn’t explicitly say the war was illegal. Consequently, in his post-Chilcot speech, Blair was still able to dishonestly depict the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil. He was able to announce this in the knowledge that those complicit in 9-11 were the Saudi elite who, in part, have contributed to his riches.

Blair’s contrived quivering voice, long pauses between sentences and attempts at conjuring-up fake tears that inferred a new meaning to the Stanislavsky method, gave the impression he is a man who is self-aware of his accusers’ ability to be able to look deep inside his soul.

Despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and the destruction of their country out of which arose al-Qaeda and ISIS, a deluded Blair to this day remains unrepentant. He has convinced himself that he is innocent of all serious charges made against him. This is despite Chilcot’s assertion that he was not “straight with the nation.”

Commenting on the Iraq issue one year after the release of his report, Chilcot returned to obfuscation mode that typified his initial statements. For example, he was reported to have said the evidence Blair gave the inquiry was “emotionally truthful” but then claimed the warmonger “relied on beliefs rather than facts.” Chilcot subsequently appeared to contradict himself by stating he believed Blair had “not departed from the truth”. 

Blair impeached?

Putting these shenanigans to one side, those who have been directly affected by Blair’s illegal decision to go to war will not rest until justice is done. But what grounds, if any, has Chilcot laid for Blair’s possible impeachment?

Alex Salmond is one prominent public figure who believes that under plans drawn up by MPs’, Blair could be impeached and put on trial in parliament. A source close to the families who died told the Daily Telegraph the report provided legal grounds for a lawsuit against the warmonger.

Salmond’s announcement appears to be supported by the High Court who, in the wake of Chilcot, upheld an appeal decision at the behest of Michael Mansfield QC to consider bringing a private prosecution against Blair, Straw and Goldsmith for initiating crimes against humanity predicated on unlawful war.

After a half-day hearing, two judges reserved their judgment and said they would give their decision on whether to grant permission at a later date. The Attorney General intervened in the case and his legal team urged the judges to block the legal challenge on the grounds that it was “hopeless” and unarguable because the crime of aggression is not recognised in English law.

Another possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair’s lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking engagements.

No lessons learned

Whatever the eventual outcome, it’s clear, despite claims to the contrary,  no lessons from the guardians of power in the media have been learned in the year since Chilcot published his report. This can be seen, for example, in their reluctance to allow the expression of dissenting voices that extend beyond the restrictive parameters of debate they help create.

In fact, given that renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been totally shunned by the mainstream following his questioning of the official narrative in relation to an alleged chemical attack by Syria’s president Assad in Idlib on April 4, 2017, it could be argued the situation for millions of people has worsened.

In relation to Iraq, instead of Chilcot inducing any self-refection, humility or remorse on the part of those who promoted the invasion, the media have instead closed ranks. In highlighting the inherent media bias, Craig Murray astutely remarked:

“The broadcast media seem to think the Chilcot report is an occasion to give unlimited airtime to Blair and Alastair Campbell. Scores of supporters and instigators of the war have been interviewed. By contrast, almost no airtime has been given to those who campaigned against the war.”

One of the neglected is Lindsey German. The STWC UK convener pointed to the lack of balance on the BBCs ‘Today’ programme:

“It’s quite astonishing that the comments made by an authoritative figure such as General Wesley Clark who tells how the destabilization of the Middle East was planned as far back as 1991, has not been examined and debated in the mainstream media”, she said.

Perhaps just as pertinently, the media have virtually ignored the claim made by Scott Ritter who ran intelligence operations for the United Nations from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, that by the time bombing began, Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed”.

For the most part, the guardians of power continue to fall into line by acting as establishment echo-chambers rather than challenging the premises upon which various stated government positions and claims are made. In this regard, Chilcot has changed nothing.

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How They Speak to Us

Image result for pics of tory politicians and their buzz words

The 1% who run this society, the capitalist ruling class, speak to the rest of us i.e. the general public, a majority of whom are working class, mainly through the media, that is via a series of intermediaries – politicians, TV producers and presenters, news readers, newspaper editors, journalists and so on. It is true that not all ‘politicians’ are establishment lackeys and not all journalists are careerist hacks, but most are and they set the tone. What we see and hear on the media is mainly what our rulers want us to see and hear.

Some people react to this by dismissing the mainstream media as ‘all lies’. This is indeed the case at some fundamental level but, of course, it is not literally true: newspapers and TV News contain much factually accurate information and we all know this. More important than the actual ‘lies’ they tell is what media fail to report or barely report and especially the way they report things, the subtle spin they build into their reporting to ensure that events and the world are seen from the point of view of the ruling class.

What follows are a few critical reflections on the language politicians and media use for this purpose. This is based mainly on current Irish practice but some of it will apply internationally

Populism.

One of the most important functions of the media is to discredit any opposition to the system. This is more important – for them – than actually trying to persuade people that all is well with the world. So long as people can be got to believe there is no viable alternative to the present set up i.e. capitalism, most people will accept it albeit reluctantly. To this end it is important to devise pejorative labels for political opponents of capitalism. Once upon a time the favourite label was ‘anarchist’. Thus, for example, Jim Larkin used to be described, in the papers of the time, as an ‘anarchist’. [This had nothing to do with Larkin’s beliefs but was probably because some actual anarchists had been doing armed robberies and throwing bombs elsewhere in Europe.] After the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik or Bolshie became, for a short while, the label of choice. Then, especially during the Cold War, it became Communist. Today it is ‘Populist’. Why?

Our rulers are aware that internationally the political establishment, which they like to think of as ‘the centre’ is losing ground both on its right and its left flank – to Trump and to Sanders, to Le Pen and to Melenchon, and in Ireland to Solidarity and People Before Profit and some left independents. They have decided to describe this phenomenon as ‘the rise of populism’ for two main reasons. First because it suggests that the far left, us, are some how the same as the far right, including the racist, fascist and Nazi right like Le Pen and Golden Dawn, when in fact they are opposites and profound enemies. The far left, especially the revolutionary left are far more strongly opposed to the far right than are ‘the centre’ and, as history has often shown, the establishment would prefer the victory of fascism to the victory of real socialism. Second because it suggests that articulating the anger of ordinary people at austerity  is ‘irresponsible’. Responsible politics, implication is, involves inflicting pain and suffering on people ‘for their own good’. Any one who suggests there may be an alternative to cutbacks and wage restraint is irresponsibly and dangerously raising the hopes and expectations of working class people.

While on the subject it is worth mentioning that this use of ‘populism’, borrowed from academia, is of recent origin – it has only become prevalent in the last few years – but is now almost universal and it is used usually without explanation and as if it were a politically neutral statement of fact. Was this planned somewhere? I don’t know but my guess is that probably was but it also relies on the intellectual laziness of so many journalists who once they hear a new buzz word simply repeat it so as to seem ‘in the know’

Extremists and moderates.

The use of the extremists versus moderates dichotomy is much older than ‘populism’ but serves similar functions. It is VERY politically loaded. Imagine there is a conflict – an election or a war – in Mongoliaabout which you know nothing at all. Then you hear on the news that it is between the extremist Xs and the moderate Ys. You now know immediately a) who ‘the West’ [US, NATO, EU etc] supports and b) who you are supposed to support. And these messages have been transmitted with having to tell you directly which might compromise the image of media ‘impartiality’.

This is not a question of logic. Was it better to be extremely opposed to Hitler or only moderately opposed to him? But it is a question of established usage and it works pretty effectively. To this we must add the way in which ‘extremist’ has now come to signify terrorist and probably Islamist terrorist. Again this is not a question of logic. Personally I am an ‘extreme’ leftist, certainly not a ‘moderate’, but I am also ‘extremely’ opposed to the use of terrorism (planting bombs etc) as a political strategy or tactic. But logic is not the point here – that is how it is used.

Recently the left has been countering this labelling by referring to the establishment as ‘the extreme centre’.

Radical

Another example of the insidious way in which the ruling class is able to manipulate language to serve its purposes is provided by the media’s use of the word ‘radical’. A radical used to refer to someone who advocated far reaching and progressive reform or social revolution. Of course, Conservatives and right wingers viewed radicals with contempt but the left claimed the term with pride. There was a great radical tradition stretching from the Levellers and the Diggers through to modern times. Tom Paine, William Blake, Michael Davitt, Sylvia Pankhurst, James Connolly, Countess Markiewicz, Mother Jones, Paul Robeson, Che Guevara, Aneurin Bevan, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn were all ‘radicals’.  Eamonn McCann, Paul Foot and John Pilger are radical journalists. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Julio Iglesias can all be described as ‘radical’ left.

But by systematically attaching the term to Islam or Islamic and using it in the context of terror attacks politicians and the media have done their best to pervert and tarnish the term. It is now common to hear of the production of guidelines to ‘spot signs of radicalism’  and programmes to ‘counter radicalisation’. ‘Moderate’ mosques and Muslim leaders are urged to ‘do more’ to combat ‘radicalism’. Of course it would have been possible simply to urge them to combat terrorism but using the terms ‘radicalism’ and ‘radicalisation’ creates – for our rulers – a very useful ambiguity and amalgam.

Jobs

When it comes to legitimating the system as a whole and the specific actions of government and businesses there is very little to compare with the mantra of ‘Jobs!’.

Propose increasing taxes on the rich or the corporations (Apple for example) and they will immediately scream about ‘Jobs!’ Propose closing down any heinous institution (e.g Direct Provision) or ending any horrible practice ( allowing the US to use Shannon for extraordinary rendition flights or bombing missions) and you will be met with the cry that this will cost jobs.  And in a sense it is true. If Auschwitz was operating in Connemara, or there was a poison gas factory in Cork closing them down would cost jobs.

But the slogan of ‘Jobs’ functions much more widely than just as an alibi for disreputable operations. Ask any billionaire how they justify their immense wealth and the chances are they will cite the jobs they have created for people. Indeed if it were the case, as the capitalists claim, that they somehow ‘create’ jobs and that without them nothing would be made or get done at all then capitalism would indeed have found its perfect justification as an everlasting system. Of course this is an absurd claim; jobs, as in work that needs doing and that human beings do, existed for tens of thousands of years before the first capitalist was ever thought of. But most of the time most people don’t think historically or in terms of thousands of years. Therefore, the fact that, in the immediate situation and for as long as people can remember, the capitalist as a class have, by virtue of their possession of the means of production, cornered the market in ‘jobs’, makes it appear plausible that they do actually ‘create’ work for people.

Another factor in our rulers’ emphasis on jobs is that it is precisely through employing the labour of working people – and paying them less than the value of the goods and services they produce – that capitalists make their profits. Thus focusing relentlessly on ‘jobs!’ enables the bosses to pass of the very means through which they line their pockets as an act of social benevolence.

We

The way this very simple little word is used is of crucial importance. When it is used in political discourse by the 1% and their media spokespersons it usually refers to the nation and its people as a whole. ‘We’ in Ireland do this or that; we, the Irish, tend to think such and such or should do the following. ‘We’ will be hit hard by Brexit but ‘we’ feel very close to the Americans and so on.

Sometimes ‘we’ refers to the actions of the Irish government, other times it used to create the impression that there is an Irish identity or character or set of views which ‘we’ all share. This is manifestly not the case in reality but speaking as if it were helps to reinforce the currently dominant attitude or views which are often the views of the dominant class, the 1%. Moreover, it tries to subsume those of us who don’t share the dominant view or else to erase our existence.

The same practice is also adopted in relation to other countries. It is common to hear that Germany or the Germans think something or have said or the French have taken a certain view when in fact what is being talked about is simply the views or actions of the German or French Government. This is particularly misleading and ideologically loaded given that most current governments – beginning with the Irish Government – are actually elected by quite small minorities of their national population.  For example, Trump, far from being elected by the American people as a whole, was actually only voted for by about 20% of the adult population.

Above all this persistent use of ‘we’ serves to mask what is by far the deepest the division in interests and attitudes in Ireland and in every other capitalist society –the division of class.

The public – taxpayers, customers and workers.

In so far as differences among the people or the public are acknowledged at all, social class, the most significant division, is barely mentioned. Much more frequently deployed are the terms ‘taxpayer’ and ‘customer’ and the way they are used is important.

Whenever there is a proposal involving state expenditure – for example on health, education, welfare or some other public good – the ‘taxpayer’ is sure to be invoked, or often ‘the hard pressed taxpayer’. Fair enough you might say in that it is a matter of fact that public expenditure must come out of taxes. But the way in which the tax payer is invoked suggests, almost always, that there is a special category of people who are ‘taxpayers’ as opposed to others who are not and who are particularly imposed upon. Hear mention of ‘the taxpayer’ and there immediately springs to mind a comfortable middle class manager with BMW and semi in Dublin 4 who bitterly resents how much of his hard earned income goes to bail out the indolent and feckless scroungers.

This is nonsense, of course. There is no special category of taxpayers. Every single citizen in Ireland pays taxes in one form or another. Even schoolchildren pay VAT on some of the things they buy. But logic and facts count for little here – its how the term is used that matters and it is used with the political effect of expressing the resentment of the middle classes.

‘Customers’ are another group of people who are very much approved of by business, politicians and the media – at least in words. Businesses always claim to be devoted to the welfare of their customers; you would almost think they were charities. ‘The customer is always right!’ they proclaim. Except, of course, a business that really operated on that principle would not last a day since ‘customers’ would be able to determine prices, if they paid at all.   Health service and transport managers want their patients and passengers to see themselves as ‘customers’ so as to spread the ‘business model’ of life to as many aspects of society as possible. Everything – health, education, personal relations, sex, love, water – should be about cash transactions, everything should be up for sale and this attitude to life should be infiltrated into our language and our consciousness as much as possible.

‘Customers’ really come into their own whenever there is a strike.  On thing you can be sure is that when there is a strike the media will approach the dispute from the standpoint of badly affected ‘customers’. If there is a strike by bus or train drivers the media will look for stranded commuters to interview, preferably ones missing vital appointments such as job interviews. If it is a nurses strike it will be patients whose operations or appointments are postponed; if it is teachers then the first port of call will be concerned parents worried about their child’s exams or education.  In this way the strike is always seen as a ‘bad thing’ and the striking workers are always presented as a, probably selfish, minority in contrast, not to their employers but to the public or community as a whole. In this way the report will invariably serve to undermine the strike and back up the position of the employers without ever having to say this explicitly (which would compromise the media’s image of neutrality).

In contrast to taxpayers and customers (or consumers) workers are invoked relatively little. When they do get a positive mention from establishment politicians it is usually in the form of ‘hard- working people and their families’. These phrases are always loaded. It is only workers who ‘work hard’ that are wanted or deserve to be represented [NB Leo Veradkar said this week he wanted ‘to represent people who get up early in the morning’] with the implication there a lots of lazy workers out there who don’t merit representation. There has always been a  theme in capitalist ideology of trying to divide the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving poor’ (George Bernard Shaw wrote about in Pygmalian) , the ‘respectable’ and the ‘unrespectable’ working class, and to set the former against the latter. And this is always done with a high moral tone. It is never mentioned, of course, that capitalists make more profits the harder they can get workers to worker.

Politics and Politicians

Most people don’t like politics or politicians. This is perfectly understandable given the way most politicians behave and much politics is discussed. But actually the establishment are quite happy for large numbers of people to be turned off politics and to be apathetic and through the media they endorse and encourage this state of affairs. One tactic used for these purposes is to promote the idea that any really important issue should be ‘above’ or ‘outside politics’. ‘This is not about politics, this is about human rights/justice/health/ethics/ fairness/economics/ people’s lives etc.’ Sport, religion, art, music, poetry,  are all areas we are told ‘politics’ should kept out of. But if politics is not about human rights/justice/health/ethics/ fairness/economics and the things that are really important in people’s lives, then it is an entirely frivolous activity – a kind of game being played out by small and strange group of people divided into various rival teams who compete for the sake of it.

In reality all the most basic matters of life and death, all the things that have the most vital effects on the lives of the mass of people – war, peace, wealth, poverty, health, housing, education etc – are the very stuff of politics. But if this is hidden from the  mass of people and politics is presented as just a game played by politicians, of interest only to a tiny minority, then this enables that tiny minority to get on with organising how these issues of life and death are handled without interference from ‘the people’.

Consciously or unconsciously this has a big influence on the way politics is discussed in the media. It leads to a quite disproportionate focus on the personalities of individual politicians and how they are currently performing in the game  – Veradkar v Coveney, May v Corbyn – at the expense of discussion of actual issues. And if ordinary people, people who are not professional politicians, try to assert themselves politically by any more effective means than ringing Joe Duffy, this is seen as very threatening indeed – ‘mob rule’ beckons!

I’ve been very clear about this

The professional establishment politicians have evidently been trained by their media and PR consultants to proclaim their own clarity on all possible occasions, and they do so with a vengeance. ‘I’ve been clear about this from the beginning’, ‘I want to say very clearly’, and ‘I am saying very clearly’ and so on ad nauseam: the trouble is these proclamations are immediately followed by statements and exclamations that are as clear as mud and go to any length to avoid answering the question they have been asked.

This combination of self proclaimed clarity and actual lack of clarity serves their purposes very well because, in fact they are more than happy for the mass of people not to understand an issue being debated. They know that if people feel that they cant understand an issue – that its ‘over their heads’ – this will make it easier for the elites to carry on getting away with things. Consequently politicians on talk shows and the like, faced with an awkward question, follow the rule: talk as long as possible without drawing breath and try to sound clever – throw in a few statistics and terms people don’t really understand. If people don’t know what you’re talking about it doesn’t matter, indeed it’s greatly preferable to them actually sussing what you are up to.

Transparency

Along with ‘being clear’ another favourite buzzword of both politicians and businesses is ‘transparency’. Everything is always supposed to be, or more likely is going to be, ‘going forward’, transparent. We even hear that An Garda Siochana is going to be transparent. Now, taken seriously this is just ridiculous. No police force, or government department or business can possibly really be ‘transparent’; it would mean having no proper security or confidentiality at all. But then it is isn’t meant to be taken seriously because, as with An Garda Siochana, it is used in connection with organisations and processes that are the extreme opposite of transparent.

People say to me

One of the favourite sayings of politicians is ‘I’ve been going round the country talking to people and what they say to me is …’ Presumably the politicians think this makes them sound in touch with the people but what is funny is that what these people say always seems to be exactly what the politician concerned wants to hear.

I remember Joan Burton using this device at the height of the water charges campaign. People were marching on the streets of Ireland in their hundreds of thousands from Letterkenny to Waterford shouting ‘No Way, We Wont Pay!’ and ‘From the River to the Sea, Irish Water will be Free!’. But according to Burton what people were saying to her was‘We want clarity and certainty’. What’s not clear and certain, you wonder, about, ‘Enda Kenny, Not a Penny!’?  And of course when Joan did actually interact with some real people they turned out to be saying something different altogether. No doubt Theresa May is currently claiming that people are telling her they want ‘strong and stable leadership’.

In reality politicians spend very little time ‘going round the country talking to people’ other than to their own committed supporters and ordinary people don’t talk in politicians’ campaign slogans. In other words these claims are just routine  lies. Actually they along with such terms and phrases, as ‘I want to be very clear’ and ‘the customer is always right’, are  repeated because they are familiar clichés which politicians and spokespersons think sound good and will help to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

They are, at bottom, an expression of deep contempt for the mass of people who they see as backward and ignorant and in need of standing up to – they call standing up to people ‘showing leadership’ and ‘courageous’. Which brings us back to where we started with ‘populism’. Politics is about a few serious moderate centre politicians together with a few serious moderate billionaires and corporations managing society on behalf of the rest of us, because they know best after all, and everything else is just spin to keep the masses happy. And anyone who thinks differently is probably one of those dangerous ‘populists’.

The above article was written by, and reproduced from the blog of socialist author and activist, John Molyneux (originally published on June 10, 2017).

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