On Tuesday 5 March, at the age of 58, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez lost his almost two-year battle with cancer and passed away. Within seconds of the news being announced, the wheels of the global media bandwagon went into overdrive, with largely unsurprising results, in both the US and British media. At the most distasteful end of the spectrum was the headline in the New York Post, the paper with the 7th highest circulation in the US, that read ‘Off Hugo! Venezuela bully Chavez is dead’.
New York Post Cover on Chávez
Other US media followed closely behind. ‘Death of a Demagogue’ ran a headline on the website of Time, the world’s biggest selling weekly news magazine. These and other US media reaction were included in a piece by the US media watchdog Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) that also examined the distorted, often hysterical, US media coverage of Chávez during his presidency. It’s worth recalling that following the 2002 US-supported coup that briefly removed Chavez from the presidency the New York Times declared that Chavez’s “resignation” meant that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”
Following Chávez’s death, the antipathy towards a president that had so vehemently challenged the actions and interests of the United States was also evident in the British media. Rightwing outlets displayed the usual cynical disdain that had characterised their reporting of Chávez’s presidency, although Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s former vice-president, the current interim president and the government’s candidate for the April 14th presidential election, was also now in the firing line. In the UK’s biggest selling broadsheet, the rightwing Daily Telegraph, its chief foreign correspondent David Blair described Maduro’s role as foreign minister under Chavez in the following terms: “Mr Maduro was the obedient enforcer of his master’s highly personal foreign policy”. For Blair, Maduro, rather than responsibly representing his government’s foreign policy, was “a loyal purveyor of ‘Chavismo’ around the world”.
The ‘liberal’ left in Britain
Britain’s liberal-left media also offered a timely reminder of where their loyalties lay in relation to Chavez, whose democratic mandate included presiding over 15 national elections since he took office in February 1999, a greater number of elections than were held during the previous 40 years in Venezuela. In a remarkable editorial, The Independent newspaper opined:
“Mr Chavez was no run-of-the-mill dictator. His offences were far from the excesses of a Colonel Gaddafi, say. What he was, more than anything, was an illusionist – a showman who used his prodigious powers of persuasion to present a corrupt autocracy fuelled by petrodollars as a socialist utopia in the making. The show now over, he leaves a hollowed-out country crippled by poverty, violence and crime. So much for the revolution.”
This from a newspaper that in June 2009, following a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, ran an editorial that included the following:
“The ousting of the Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by the country’s military at the weekend has been condemned by many members of the international community as an affront to democracy. But despite a natural distaste for any military coup, it is possible that the army might have actually done Honduran democracy a service.”
The Independent’s competitor in the UK’s liberal-left newspaper market, The Guardian, showed a similarly hostile stance towards Chavez during his presidency. In a piece on the New Left Project website examining the critical UK media coverage of Chavez following his death, Josh Watts noted how the anti-Chavez bias of Rory Carroll, a Guardian journalist and its former Latin America correspondent, “has been extensively documented”. As Samuel Grove noted in a damming 2011 article, Carroll’s Latin America coverage “has attracted widespread criticism for its selectivity and double standards, brazen anti-left bias, and above all slavish loyalty to Western interests”. There is now surely a book’s worth of material exposing Carroll’s distorted Venezuela coverage.
Carroll has managed to take his agenda beyond the confines of The Guardian. For example, in an Al Jazeera English debate on the continued demonisation of Chavez by the Western media that took place three days after Chavez’s death, Carroll repeatedly tried to present Venezuela under Chavez as an economic failure. He repeated this line of attack in a BBC 3 radio interview in late February, where he accused the Chavez government of being responsible for “decay, ruin, waste” in relation to the economy. Contrast this with the rigorous reports on the socio-economic changes under the Chavez presidency by the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which completely undermine Carroll’s narrative of economic failure.
This fact-based approach to appraising elements of the Chavez legacy has not been lost on The Guardian’s associate editor Seumas Milne, who referenced CEPR’s latest report when he tweeted: “Media claims #Chavez ruined #Venezuela‘s economy absurd: here are the facts on growth, unemployment, poverty http://bit.ly/13Nnwno @ceprdc”
It was precisely these socio-economic gains, especially for those in the low-income neighbourhoods known as barrios that encircle Caracas and other Venezuelan cities and who formed Chávez’s support base, that lay behind his popularity and his repeated electoral victories.
Focus on denigrating the individual
Rather than try to explain Chávez’s appeal to large sectors of the Venezuelan population or understand the process of radical change underway in the country, the West’s media class preferred to focus almost entirely on the figure of Chávez. It was precisely this narrative that was so effective in discrediting the Venezuelan process through concealing the role of collective agency, silencing the people from below, and rendering them insignificant. While the mainstream media routinely ignores the voices of the government’s grassroots supporters, they have been instrumental in driving the Venezuelan process forward and should be at the centre of the story.
Thus, when we contrast Chávez’s popularity at home with the open hostility with which Western political elites viewed him, we’re left questioning the motivation behind the anti-Chávez mass media campaign that has systematically misrepresented events in Venezuela.
John Pilger is right when he writes:
“Never has a country, its people, its politics, its leader, its myths and truths been so misreported and lied about as Venezuela.”
Even though Chávez is dead, his vilification by the US and UK media is alive and kicking.
Pablo Navarrete is a LAB correspondent and a PHD student at Bradford University in the UK, researching the political economy of the Chavez presidency. He is also the director of the documentary ‘Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela’ (Alborada Films, 2009). You can watch the documentary online here.
Former top Israeli diplomat Alon Liel threw his backing behind renowned author Alice Walker’s decision to shun an Israeli publishing house, citing an international boycott against Israel for its oppression of Palestinians, the Times of Israel reported.
Liel, who served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa between 1992 and 1994 and was also the director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said he supported the international campaign against Israel, adding that he too boycotted goods from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“If nobody speaks about the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, nothing will happen. I think that such a move, boycotting products from Israeli factories in the settlements, is a kind of wake-up call,” he wrote in South Africa’s Business Day paper published on Sunday.
“I can understand the desire, by people of conscience, to reassert an agenda of justice, to remind Israelis that Palestinians exist. I can understand small but symbolic acts of protest that hold a mirror up to Israeli society,” he said
Liel went on to back Walker’s refusal to allow her best-selling novel “The Color Purple” be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publishing firm to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people.
“I think it’s needed, yes. Unfortunately, I don’t see Israeli politicians waking up from these calls. But it’s better than nothing,” he said.
The former Israeli diplomat also defended South Africa’s decision to ban “Made in Israel” labels on products from the occupied West Bank.
“I cannot condemn the move to prevent goods made in the occupied Palestinian territory from being falsely classified as ‘Made in Israel.’ I support the South African government’s insistence on this distinction between Israel and its occupation,” he wrote in his column.
Palestinian children tortured
Britain is preparing to challenge Israel over alleged malpractices by the Jewish state of Palestinian children, which could amount to torture, The Independent newspaper reported on Wednesday.
An investigation by senior British lawyers – funded by the Foreign Office – included shocking acts of cruelty against detained Palestinian children, including solitary confinement, blindfolding and being forced to wear leg irons.
The findings, based largely on testimonies by Palestinian children from the West Bank, were published in Children in Military Custody.
“We were sitting in court and saw a section of a preliminary hearing when a very young looking child, a boy, was brought in wearing a brown uniform with leg irons on. We were shocked by that. This was a situation where we had been invited into the military courts for briefings from senior judges,” Greg Davies, a human rights barrister involved in the investigation wrote.
“To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture,” the report said.
The report also found Palestinian children were often dragged from the beds in the middle of the night, and subjected to verbal and physical abuse in jail in a bid to have them sign confessions they were not permitted to read, The Independent said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it would “lobby” Israel “for further improvements” without clarifying.
“The UK government has had long-standing concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, and as a result decided to fund this independent report. While recognizing that some positive recent steps have been made by the Israeli authorities, we share many of the report’s concerns, and will continue to lobby for further improvements,” The Independent quoted the Foreign Office as saying.
Israel maintains a military occupation of the West Bank, and a siege on Gaza, subjecting the indigenous Palestinian population to extremely harsh measures that many activists have dubbed apartheid.
(Al-Akhbar, Times of Israel, The Independent)
- Samah Sabawi responds to Liberal Zionists (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The ‘option’ of a military attack on Iran by Israel, the UK and the US has been increasingly discussed in the UK media since 2011.
Government threats of military action have come in various forms, with Israel warning of potential air strikes against Iran in the next few months, and Obama and Cameron stating that ‘no options are off the table’.
This is combined with what could at best be described as ambiguous reporting on Iran’s nuclear programme, at times baselessly claiming that Iran has nuclear weapons, and, at others, relying on repetition of snippets like ‘the US and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons – a charge Iran denies.’
In the media, one fact is not (yet) up for debate (despite the attempts of the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges [below]): that any invasion of Iran would be a violation of international law – even if Iran was in the process of developing nuclear weapons. The United Nations Charter also outlaws the ‘threat of the use of force’, an act in which much of the media, in its uncritical stance towards government threats, has made itself complicit.
The solution to these awkward details, it seems, is to ignore them almost completely. Failure to reinforce the illegality of such an act of war has resulted in much coverage discussing the ‘inevitability’ of a war on Iran.
This study looks at the news, blogs and comment articles about Iran since October 2011 – around the time that aggressive official rhetoric towards Iran upped a notch – and seeks to answer a simple question:
How often do the British media inform us that a military attack on Iran would be illegal?
Four online news providers were studied – BBC News, The Guardian, The Independent, and The Telegraph*. In total, there were 4 mentions of the fact that an invasion would be illegal. The results, in summary, are as follows:
One mention of the illegality of an invasion of Iran is made on the BBC news website. In an analysis article, ‘How would Iran respond to an Israeli attack?’ (7 March 2012), Jonathan Marcus states:
For all the uncertainties as to whether Israel would attack Iran and indeed how Iran might respond, one thing is clear – in terms of international law, such a strike would be illegal.
This article was a balance to a previous analysis article that Marcus wrote, entitled ‘How Israel might strike at Iran’ (27 February 2012). Preoccupied with presenting the reader with dotted bomber flight path lines from Israel to Iran and military hardware specification sheets, this report failed to raise the issue of legality.
In contrast, the BBC News website has run 9 articles which have relayed politician’s musings (Hague, Clegg, Hammond and US officials) which insinuated violation of international law on the part of Iran.
The ‘News’ section of The Guardian did not make any mention of the illegality of an attack on Iran. The ‘Comment is Free’ section ran three articles which correctly pointed out that an invasion would violate international law.
Abbas Edalat wrote on 1 December 2011:
But Iran itself has been targeted for many years by a series of western and UK policies that are gross violations of international law. Repeatedly threatening Iran with a military attack, thinly disguised under the phrase “all options are on the table” and publicly announcing that the west must use covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme (as John Sawers, the head of MI6, demanded two years ago), are only two examples of the UK’s disrespect for the UN charter.
On 21 February 2012, Seumas Milne wrote, in an article entitled ‘An attack on Iran would be an act of criminal stupidity’:
If an attack is launched by Israel or the US, it would not just be an act of criminal aggression, but of wanton destructive stupidity. As Michael Clarke, director of the British defence establishment’s Royal United Services Institute, points out, such an attack would be entirely illegal: “There is no basis in international law for preventative, rather than pre-emptive, war.”
On 12 March 2012 in a Q&A piece, Saeed Kamali Denghan responds to a question about the threat from Iran as follows:
Well, bombing Iran is illegal under international law in the first place. Little has been said about the legality of the issue, so one might mistake it as to be justified, where as it is not.
In contrast, The Guardian website has run 14 articles which have insinuated violation of international law on the part of Iran.
No mention of the illegality of an attack on Iran was found in The Independent for this time period.
In contrast, The Independent website has run 6 articles which have insinuated violation of international law on the part of Iran.
No mention of the illegality of an attack on Iran was found in The Telegraph for this time period.
In contrast, The Telegraph website has run 2 articles which insinuated violation of international law on the part of Iran. In addition, Dan Hodges argues in his Telegraph Blog that under international law there ‘probably is a case for’ an attack on Iran:
There is then the question of pre-emptive action. Again, Prof Blix is a Juris Doctor in International Law, and I have two A-levels and a grade 2 CSE in French. But I would hazard a guess that under international law there probably is a case for taking some form of pre-emptive action against an aggressor who expresses a public desire to wipe you off the map. Sorry, there’s that unfortunate phrase again. It just keeps popping up, doesn’t it?
Apart from a few admirable exceptions, the media takes little interest in informing us that threats of war, and war itself, are illegal. This fact is only found once in a BBC analysis article, and three times in the Guardian’s Comment section. Government claims that Iran has either acted or is threatening to act outside of international law are, however, free to flourish and propagate their way through the mainstream.
Suggestions that attack on Iran would violate international law: 4
Suggestions that Iran has, could have, or might violate international law: 31
How the dataset was created:
BBC News – search results for the term ‘Iran’ from 1 Oct 2011 (534 articles)
The Guardian – articles in the ‘Iran’ category from 1 Oct 2011 (500 articles)
The Independent – search results for the term ‘Iran’ from 1 Oct 2011 (584 articles)
The Telegraph – search results for the term ‘Iran’ from 1 Oct 2011, as well as all articles from ‘Iran’ category page.
* The Telegraph website’s search engine did not pick up all articles containing the word, and the category page dated back to 9th Feb, resulting in a somewhat limited dataset (261 articles).