Tag: imperialism

The Imperial arrogance of the BBC

 

 

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.

Stenography

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.

 

English football hooliganism: the UK political establishment’s trade-off

By Daniel Margrain

A teargas grenade explodes near an England fan ahead of England's EURO 2016 match in Marseille, France
Violence erupts on the streets of Marseille CREDIT: REUTERS

Almost 18 years ago to the day, the English national football team beat Tunisia 2-0 in the opening game of their World Cup campaign in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille in the south of France. For many, the victory was overshadowed by the violence off the pitch that preceded it. For the last three days running, football hooliganism in Marseille involving England fans has once again dominated the media headlines. Reuters journalist Mitch Phillips described the influx of the first wave of 70,000 England fans on the French port city:

“….the fans wasted no time establishing a foothold in Vieux Port to start three days of drinking and singing ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2016 match against Russia. Noisy and boisterous, bare-chested and full of lager and bravado, they draped the flags around the Queen Victoria “British pub” and roared out their songs of defiance in the time-honored manner of “England Away”, just as they had in the same port-side bars 18 years ago.”

Shortly after the fans had gathered in large numbers in the bars and pubs of the city on Thursday (June 9), scenes of drunken mayhem followed that involved pitched battles, the throwing of bottles and chairs and the chanting of racist abuse. This was preceded by crude displays of jingoism that included the singing of the words “f**k off Europe, we’re all voting out” and “sit down if you hate the French”. The incitement of this kind of hatred in a foreign country is bound up with the notion that these kinds of thugs perceive themselves as superior to their hosts. This in turn forms part of a wider imperialist narrative of entitlement, ownership and control. As one sports writer put it:

“The members of this anti-social faction do not visit a foreign city: they occupy it. They erase the local culture and try to turn the place they are in into a satellite of their own English town or city.”

This view neatly encapsulates why the kind of hooliganism experienced in Marseille cannot be divorced from a wider historical context. Since the mid 20th century, Britain in general – but particularly England – has existed in a post-empire historical setting. The question is, why does hooliganism and loutish behaviour appear to be more of an English trait compared to other nationalities? It seems to me that England, more than many other European societies, finds it difficult to cast off its imperial legacy. When groups of English men gather together in a foreign country there seems to be a reluctance among a large swath of them to relinquish the notion of the concept of empire.

This mentality appears to be underscored by an entrenched nationalism as evidenced by the repeated singing of the national anthem during games, an emphasis on the notion that ‘Britannia rules the waves’ and that football hooligans carry the mantle of this imperial and colonial legacy, ostensibly on behalf of their ruling class overseers. There seems, in other words, to be something deeply embedded within the mindset of English football fans when they gather collectively that transcends the simplistic argument that their hooliganism is an expression of nothing more than drunken and pathologically-driven related violence and thuggery.

This transcendence, I would argue, corresponds to the kind of historical, social and cultural setting described that enables it. Secondly, sport doesn’t exist in a political vacuum. One can see this, for example, in the chants at both club and international level and the England-Germany rivalry which constantly mobilizes ideas about the Second World War. The third broader point is that national sports are a forum and reservoir for jingoistic sentiment in general. What happens is that banal forms of nationalism and jingoistic group-think mentality – expressed through violence and an adherence to political-inspired chanting – is cynically co-opted and reinforced by national states and governments for wider sinister political objectives.

Take the current political climate as an example. The right-wing Brexit elements within the EU debate often echo the xenophobic anti-German and anti-European sentiments of many of those who chanted the anti-French rhetoric outlined above. Football hooliganism is not just an illustration of a few ‘bad eggs’ as is so often depicted in the media, but represents a far wider problem. The reality, in other words, is that football tends to be a vehicle for deep-seated expressions and outpourings of nationalistic narcissism and patriotism.

This is dangerous in another way in as much as these linkages provide a ready pool which governments can then use in order to justify even more sinister foreign policy purposes such as foreign invasions and occupations. The question is though, are the majority of football hooligans aware of the historical and anthropological background described, or is it simply that English men these days don’t generally go to war or fight as part of an organized army but have a lot of testosterone-based pent up aggression that needs to be expelled?

I would contend that it’s not necessary for individuals to be conscious of the notion of post-empire and the loss of colonial possessions – what dissident French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan termed jouissance – in order for them to experience excess indicative of societal breakdown achieved as part of a shared group. There are certain settings or locations in which the establishment deem it unacceptable to reach jouissance – mainly within the political sphere. This sphere has increasingly become limited because of the potential threat it poses to the existing class structure that this implies. Instead, jouissance is channeled as a displacement activity at football matches, pubs, nightclubs and bars.

Paradoxically, it’s precisely these kinds of violent outpourings or expulsions of visceral energy that enables civilized society to function. If the collective outward violent expression of mainly young men were to be severely suppressed, football hooligans and others would almost certainly turn their energy inwards which would be even more dangerous as far as its impact on civilized society is concerned. This is because any suppression of ‘orgasmic’ violence would be more radically destabilizing in terms of the potential for the derailment of the functioning of wider society. In other words, any major repression of the ability of hooligans to vent their anger might instead be turned against their bosses and, perhaps more widely, the owners of the means of production itself.

This is, of course, not in any way an attempt to justify the kinds of hooliganism witnessed in Marseille, but to recognize that in a wider symbolic and societal setting, such violence is arguably necessary. Englishmen abroad with their smart phones and apps, set against a context of Cultural Marxism, is an unholy, potent and potentially perilous mix for the establishment to negotiate. Nevertheless, it’s a trade-off that the said establishment is willing, albeit reluctantly, to endure in order that the current political status-quo be maintained.

Greece: Exposing The Media Myths

April 21 is a notorious day in Greek history. It was on this day in 1967 that a US-led authoritarian military coup overthrew socialist democracy in the country. It was US support for this authoritarianism, predicated on the illusion that socialism undermined democracy, that was said to be the cause of rising anti-American sentiment in Greece during and following the junta’s rule (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903399,00.html).

April 21, 2010 is also a day now embedded in Greek history. It was on this day that a delegation from the IMF, European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) arrived in Athens to implement what they term as planned economic ‘stabilization’ measures, characterized by cuts to public services and reductions in living standards.  The Greeks hatred of this modern form of imperialism that stem from the events of April 21 1967, is manifested on the streets of Athens in the form of mass protests against the austerity measures imposed by the bankers. As one Greek activist contrasting the events of 1967 with the present put it: “We suffered from the military then. We suffer from the bankers now” (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).

As I illustrated in my last article, the debt crisis presently sweeping Greece and throughout the globe has its roots in the credit boom period in the US a decade ago, the ideological justifications of which have been legitimized as a result of the capitalist logic that underpins it. But one would be hard pressed to arrive at this conclusion by reading the mainstream media, the vast majority of whom have characterized the crisis essentially as a trajedy that is specific to Greece and where the public response to the crisis is unjustifiably deemed to be negative rather than positive. It is hardly surprising then, that Greece is presented not as a beacon for democracy, but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its alleged “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/09/greece-debt-crisis-euro-imf). 

The reason why the media are attempting to tarnish Greece in this way is because the Greek people have mobilized on mass against the bankers’ attempts to insist the people pay for the so-called “rescue” of their country by way of massive austerity programmes, without a fight. The memories of 1967 allied to the accompanying acts of popular resistance, remain a feature of the collective Greek consciousness in a way that is for example, absent in a country like Britain. Such resistance is anathema to Europe’s central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germany’s troubled reunification. In this sense, the Greece of today is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).

The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present Pasok (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by sociologist Jean Ziegler as “a machine for systematic pillaging the country’s resources” (http://socialistworker.org/2010/05/24/the-modern-class-war).

This “machine” whose functionaries included Goldman Sachs and other US hedge fund operators, are currently being investigated by the US Federal reserve Board for their alleged speculating of public asset stripping by the Greek government and the resulting haemorrhaging of capital by way of capital flight which the ECB facilitates. This has prompted some mainstream commentators to question the apparent hitherto God-given logic which insists upon cuts as a means to appease financial markets as an unaviodable feature of system where such markets, instead of being our servants, are our masters (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/02/greece-default-debt-choice).

The reason why financial markets are perceived as masters in this way is due to the structural weaknesses of monetary union. All countries have the same access to the money markets, but they do not have the same access to credit, which is obtained at a different price by each country (http://researchonmoneyandfinance.org/media/reports/eurocrisis/fullreport.pdf).

The main problem highlighted by the Greek crisis is that the EU is at most a monetary union not a fiscal union. Fiscal policy—dependent on the power to tax and spend—remains, for reasons of self-interest, firmly in the hands of the nation-states. Governments’ only means of saving the capitalist system from itself was to bail out the financial institutions from which they could then borrow as a means to enact the fiscal measures necessary to rescue the market (Callinicos, Alex, 2010, Bonfire of Illusions, Polity).

Governments’ obsession with appeasing the market means that weaker capitalist states like Greece are not given the luxury of being able to choose the timing of their austerity programmes. Greece has been targeted by the financial markets and their facilitators – the unelected and unaccountable ECB – for reasons of speculative profilagcy to the extent that the country has become threatened with bankruptcy. As a response, the financial markets didn’t just force up the interest rates on the bonds of the weaker eurozone economies, they also pushed down the euro. This made the Greek crisis a problem for the entire eurozone (http://www.allbusiness.com/economy-economic-indicators/economic-conditions-deflation/14489907-1.html).

The dominant continental states, France and Germany, were divided over how to respond: France supporting a coordinated loan to keep Greece afloat, Germany resisting. Greece threatened to humiliate the EU by going to the International Monetary Fund for help, a bluff that was called by Germany. A few weeks ago, European leaders signed up to an unprecedented 750 billion euro ($920 billion) joint rescue package for the euro which has been proven to be inadequate to stabilize it. Instead, the European single currency has continued its dramatic fall, recently hitting a four-year low against the dollar (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,697098,00.html).

The eventual agreement on the joint IMF-eurozone rescue reflected the fact that a Greek default would not be in the interest of the German banks, which have lent heavily to Greece and the other weaker eurozone economies. But the debate within Angela Merkel’s chronically weak conservative-liberal coalition in Berlin (which was accompanied by ferocious nationalist exchanges between the German and Greek media) tilted towards the hard line taken by Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36981501/ns/business/).

He proposed setting up a European Monetary Fund that could come to the rescue of eurozone members in Greece’s plight, in exchange for a tightening up of the Growth and Stability Pact, under which EU states are not supposed to run budget deficits greater than 3 percent of national income. Greece’s budget deficit is currently running at 13 per cent which is close to that of the UK and the US. But ministers want to reduce Greece’s deficit to 3 per cent within the next three years. Moreover, penalty clauses are to be inserted allowing states that broke the rules to be deprived of access to EU cohesion funds or even to have their voting rights temporarily suspended (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c36bf126-2d41-11df-9c5b-00144feabdc0.html).

The message is clear. If Greece fails to implement the required austerity programmes, it will be ditched. The so-called rescue of the country is essentially an effort to rescue the French and German banks. If Greece defaults, it would deal a blow to the banks that are already weakened by the broader crisis (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21313).

This explains the nature of the anti-Greek propaganda that is pumped out by the media. This is the same media which claims that the Greek people have artificially high standards of living that must be brought down. But research by investigative journalists expose these lies and distortions. For example, figures show that the cost of living in Greece is one of the highest in Europe with the average shopping basket of food costing 66 per cent more than in Germany. Around 1 in 5 Greeks live on or below the poverty line of 6,648 euros per year. Unemployment stands at around 11 per cent. Public expenditure is equal to 40 per cent of gross domestic product. In Britain it accounts for 45 per cent. There is no “bloated public sector” (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21241).

Despite what the media portray, the crisis in Greece is connected to the broader crisis which will lead to increasing pressures on the euro. This will worsen the problems in Portugal, Ireland and Spain – the countries that along with Greece make up the so-called PIGS. According to leading Greek activist Panos Garganos, the intervention of the IMF and EU will not calm this crisis – it will make it worse because the example of Greece shows they have failed there, so they will fail to save Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The markets know this and will move quickly (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).

What all this indicates is that the Greek people are clear that it is the system which is responsible for the crisis and are standing up to fight back against the bankers and politicians who insist that they, along with other ordinary folks in countries like the US and UK, repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred them. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents to “change the culture” and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have “structurally adjusted” (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).

As the illusionary Tweedledee and Tweedledum versions of parliamentary democracy throughout much of the world play to the fiscal tune of ruling class interests, the inspiration for the rest of us are the ordinary folk in Greece.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain