News media organizations in NATO member countries have no qualms about repeating unfounded, reckless claims of an imminent invasion of Europe by the Russian military, even threatening to ignite World War Three.
Yet when it comes to Russian media presenting valid alternative perspectives on a range of international issues, the Western alliance chokes up with accusations of Russian “fake news.”
“NATO says it sees a sharp rise in fake Russian news since the seizure of Crimea,” reported Reuters recently, ignorant of the fact that its own headline was itself purveying fake news.
Such ignorance is rampant among Western media and symptomatic of massive group-think demonizing Russia.
For a start, Russia did not seize Crimea, as is routinely stated in Western media as if fact. The people of the Crimean Peninsula voted in a legally constituted referendum in March 2014 to join Russia’s jurisdiction. But Reuters in the above headline uses the words “seizure of Crimea” without any qualification as if the historic referendum to join Russia was airbrushed out of history.
This is just one example of the daily distortion about Russian relations that is perpetrated in the Western media. If any side is guilty of peddling fake news, it is the Western news media of the NATO military alliance. And on an industrial scale.
For instance, earlier this month, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour conducted an interview with Marine Le Pen, the French leader of the Front National. Amanpour was aghast when Le Pen expressed the view that Russia did not annex Crimea and that the Maidan protests in Kiev in February 2014 were a coup d’état against an elected government. Amanpour’s shocked demeanor was understandable because she has on countless occasions asserted the opposite, as well as claiming Russia has “invaded Ukraine.” In each case, it can be argued the CNN celebrity journalist is wrong in her assertions about Russia-Ukraine relations, which means that she and her cable news employer are guilty of habitually churning out fake news.
Another instance of casual fake news presented as professional journalism was the BBC program GMT presented by Stephen Sackur on 3 February. Sackur, like Amanpour, is another celebrity journalist with preening self-importance. His program was reporting on the surge in violence in eastern Ukraine. Specifically, the report aired by the BBC implicated pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk region for shelling the town of Avdeevka. The insinuation was that Russia was stoking the violence. But only days before, the BBC broadcast video footage showing tanks belonging to the Kiev regime’s military taking up positions near homes in Avdeevka – in violation of the Minsk ceasefire.
Furthermore, the BBC’s Sackur then ran an interview with Kiev’s former prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in which he was permitted to spout claims purporting as facts without ever being challenged. Those claims included: “Russian aggression in Ukraine” and “Russia shot down the Malaysian MH17 civilian airliner in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine.”
Again, the point here is just how casually, and routinely Western mainstream media commit acts of fake news, which are presented as if fact by their “star journalists.”
Whatever Russian news media are accused of regarding fake news it is incomparable to the massive, systematic scale of fabrications and distortions churned out by the news media in NATO member countries.
NATO claims that it has listed over 30 “myths” the Russian news media have published. Unhelpfully, the NATO list does not provide links to original Russian news articles where the alleged myths are said to have been published. But a cursory reading of the list quickly shows that the so-called myths are nothing more “offensive” than Russian counter-arguments or what may be deemed as counter-perspective. Is NATO saying that to have a different point of view is somehow illegitimate?
For example, NATO counts Russian “fake news” to include claims that:
NATO tried to “drag” Ukraine into its membership;
NATO provoked the Maidan protests;
NATO is trying to encircle Russia;
NATO’s operation in Afghanistan was a failure;
NATO’s operation in Libya was illegitimate;
These points and more besides are not falsifications or baseless propaganda. They are serious contentions that can be substantiated with documented facts and legal argument as well as maps of proliferating NATO military bases on Russia’s borders.
Indeed, such perspectives completely confound the stereotype views that are promulgated on a daily basis by the Western media. But that in no way qualifies the contrarian Russian view as “fake.” Moreover, one can say that such views presented by Russian media are vital to proper public interest and understanding.
It is an astounding reflection of Western hubris and indoctrination that NATO members’ news media have published the following news stories which are patently false or turn reality on its head.
For instance, Russian and Syrian forces were allegedly committing wholesale slaughter of civilians in the city of Aleppo. For weeks the Western news media were screaming about the alleged massacre, only for the Syrian city to be eventually liberated from Western-backed illegally armed militants, including proscribed terrorist groups. No such civilian massacre occurred, and Western media have not bothered since to visit Aleppo to report on the return to normal civilian life thanks to the liberation by Russian and Syrian forces.
Another instance of rampant fake news carried in Western media is that Russian hackers subverted the US presidential election to get Donald Trump into the White House. No proof of these tendentious claims has ever been presented.
Yet the same claims are now being aired over alleged Russian interference in European elections – even though German state intelligence recently reported there was no evidence of interference.
Let’s put the issue into perspective. Over the past year, British news media have published story after story claiming Russia was about to invade Europe and start World War III.
The Daily Express ran three such stories in June, July, and September.
It wasn’t just throw away tabloids that indulged in such reckless scaremongering. The supposedly more serious Independent ran at least two stories in May and September citing top military officials claiming that nuclear war could break out in 48 hours with Russia because of the latter’s “secret” invasion plans.
In November, the Guardian and other British news outlets, including the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, BBC, and Sky, echoed the view of MI5 chief Sir Ian Parker that “Russia is a growing threat to the UK.”
If British media reports were to be believed, then Europe and the whole northern hemisphere should have gone up in nuclear smoke several months ago.
Dealing in false news by NATO members’ media, as exemplified above, is not just wildly erroneous and unethical. It is illustrative of an orchestrated propaganda campaign to demonize Russia and recklessly create an atmosphere for global war.
In this context, to accuse Russian news media of “fake news” is a flagrant inversion of reality.
That NATO chiefs, Western governments, and the dutiful news media can get away with making such accusations is a disturbing sign of collective indoctrination. The irony of Western self-declared “free and independent” politicians and media behaving like an army of robots marching to war while accusing Russia of fake news is too much for words.
From the horse’s mouth: For fear of upsetting readers, the paper silenced any commentary in the first days after the Paris attacks that might have suggested there was a causal relationship between western foreign policy in the Middle East and those events.
Instead, writes the Guardian reader’s editor Chris Elliott, the paper waited several days before giving some limited space to that viewpoint:
On the Opinion pages, one factor taken into consideration was timing – judging when readers would be willing to engage with an idea that in the first 24 hours after the attacks may have jarred. The idea that these horrific attacks have causes and that one of those causes may be the west’s policies is something that in the immediate aftermath might inspire anger. Three days later, it’s a point of view that should be heard.
In other words, the liberal Guardian held off offering a counter-narrative about the attacks, and a deeply plausible one at that, until popular opinion had hardened into a consensus manipulated by the rightwing media: “the terrorists hate us for our freedoms”, “we need to bomb them even harder”, “Islam is a religion of hatred” etc.
Excluding legitimate analyses of profoundly important events like those in Paris when they are most needed is not responsible, careful journalism. It is dangerous cowardice. It is most definitely not a politically neutral position. It provides room for hatred and bigotry to take root, and allows political elites to exploit those debased emotions to justify and advance their own, invariably destructive foreign policy agendas.
In the paragraph above, Elliott happily concedes that this is the default position of mainstream liberal media like the Guardian.
On the day after the Vienna talks, and the announcement of a tentative agreement between the US and Russia over the Syrian crisis, this was the front page of the Guardian…
And this was the World page of the Guardian…
And this was the Middle East page of the Guardian
In fact, to cut a long story short we haven’t been able to find a single news item on the Graun about the Vienna talks at all.
We find this strange.
Other corporate outlets at least managed to squeeze in a mention. Bloomberg, for example, and even the WSJ. The Independent mentioned it, but apparently thinks it’s not as important as a Mexican theatre troupe lampooning Donald Trump, and their headline is pure fiction:
Yes, 129 people died in Paris, and yes this is tragic. We understand that the corporate media is required to promote these western European deaths as being much more relevant and terrible than the thousands upon thousands of non-European people dying in unimportant places such as Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. We also understand that endless, prurient lip-smacking stories about “blood”, “grief” and “horror” are now considered appropriate rather than disrespectful, and there are only so many column inches to spare.
But surely the Graun could at least have mentioned the Vienna thing? Surely the media in general could have accorded it a slightly more prominent place?
Does anyone get the impression it doesn’t fit the current approved narrative? After all it basically consists of the US conceding to Russia, on paper at least. This is not cool for the Empire of Exceptionalism, and the lunatic faction in Washington no doubt wants no part of it.
Convenient for them that the Paris attacks happened just when they did isn’t it. Kerry has been effectively sidelined for the moment and the agreement he and Lavrov signed is now likely to be ripped up before the ink is dry, and without most readers of corporate news even knowing it happened.
Martin Chulov needs a little help getting the narrative straight on Syria. Here are the portions of his article in today’s Guardian we think most in need of work:
A large convoy of Russian vehicles was reportedly on the move through central Syria on Wednesday, sparking new claims that renewed Russian support for the ailing Assad regime could lead to Moscow effectively running the war.
Separately, the citizen journalism project Bellingcat said on Wednesday that photographs of a Russian communications-jamming vehicle in Latakia region proved that a military buildup was under way.
“Newly published images showing a Russian R-166-0.5 (ultra) high-frequency signals (HF/VHF) vehicle driving through Syria’s coastal region now leaves little to no doubt on Russia’s intentions in Syria,” the report said. “The R-166-0.5 provides jam-resistant voice and data communications over a long range, enabling Russian troops to communicate with their bases in the coastal strongholds of Tartus and Latakia while operating far inland.”
“The whole package is being presented by Putin as part of a global and regional endeavour to stop IS,” said Middle East analyst and associate fellow at Chatham House, David Butter. “And, as such, it should provide the basis for cooperation between Russia, the US, the Europeans and the Arabs.
“They are doing more than supplementing the Syrians,” said a senior western official in London. “They are taking over the air war for them. The Syrians are not good at attacking ground forces.”
The Russian intervention comes at an especially complicated time in Syria’s civil war. Battle lines between the regime and a largely homegrown opposition have remained mostly static around Damascus and Aleppo, but have been fluid elsewhere.
However, senior Russian officials have repeatedly told counterparts in the Arab world that their stance stems largely from the US-led intervention in Libya in 2011, which Moscow saw as a trick and a threat to its influence.
“They are very much disrespectful of the regime as a partner and an ally,” said Harling. “But they completely share its view of the war’s cause and structure. They are anti-Islamist, anti-west and anti-democratic.
“They have been fighting a Cold War on their own, which naturally they have been winning in different ways. It plays well at home, where people have nothing but nostalgia to cling on to. They position themselves as standing up to western designs, as exemplified by Syria, and are saying to the region itself that [they] are a power to be contended with.”
Here’s how we think this should read, if we remove the spin (our modifications in italics):
“A large convoy of Russian-built vehicles was reportedly on the move through central Syria on Wednesday. Although Russian-built vehicles have formed a significant part of Syria’s military hardware for many years, some commenters are claiming these particular vehicles imply an increased level of Russian support, though they do not say why.”
Separately, the self-styled one-man “citizen journalism project” Bellingcat, whose “research” has been rejected by many professional analysts and attracted widespread ridicule, said on Wednesday that photographs of a Russian communications-jamming vehicle in Latakia region proved that a military buildup was under way, and used as evidence a photograph of some Russian-made hardware, claiming it “[enabled] Russian troops to communicate with their bases in the coastal strongholds of Tartus and Latakia while operating far inland.”
However, he appears to have forgotten that a Russian-made vehicle doesn’t necessarily have “Russian troops” inside it, and has made an idiotic leap of inference that overlooks the crucial fact Syria is full to bursting with Russian-built military hardware, all being used by Syrians.
“The whole package is […] part of a global and regional endeavour to stop IS,” said Middle East analyst and associate fellow at Chatham House, David Butter. “And, as such, it should provide the basis for cooperation between Russia, the US, the Europeans and the Arabs.”
“They are doing more than supplementing the Syrians,” said a senior western official in London. “They are taking over the air war against ISIS for them. The Syrians are not good at attacking ground forces.”
The Russian intervention comes at an especially complicated time in Syria’s civil war. Battle lines between the regime and a largely western-trained and supplied opposition, consisting almost entirely of radical jihadists have remained mostly static around Damascus and Aleppo, but have been fluid elsewhere.
However, senior Russian officials have repeatedly told counterparts in the Arab world that their stance stems largely from the US-led intervention in Libya in 2011, when the US used a UN mandated no-fly zone as a cover to launch an unsanctioned attack on the Libyan government, which Moscow saw as a trick and a violation of international law.
“They are very much disrespectful of the [Syrian] regime as a partner and an ally,” said Harling. “But they completely share its view of the war’s cause and structure. They are anti-US hegemony and anti-ISIS.
There Mr C, fixed it for you.
In a brazen move, designed to ensure that Russia is ruled by Russians, the Duma has passed laws limiting the powers of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to operate inside Russia. The first target being the National Endowment for Democracy. This is a terrible blow for freedom around the world, according to The Guardian, because the NED is simply an oasis of decency in Putin’s Empire of Evil:
The National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit funded largely by the US Congress, has become the first group to be banned in Russia under a law against “undesirable” international nongovernmental organisations.
According to its website, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and has funded local non-governmental organisations in more than 90 countries. But in a statement on Tuesday, the prosecutor general’s office said it “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government”. [our emphasis]
Really? Really Guardian ? In order to inform us about what the NED is you just went to their own website and did copy/paste? Even the HuffPo, which is no one’s idea of hard-hitting investigative journalism can do better than that. Here’s an article it published by Mark Taliano about the NED:
Democracy is usually the first victim of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S. agency that promotes the U.S Empire’s foreign policy beneath the false guise of “promoting democracy”.
Considered a “soft” tool of Empire, NED and its subsidiaries work to transform societal fissures in target countries into gaping holes, through which covert agendas can metastize before exploding into illegal regime changes.
Funding flows from the congressional budget of USAID, to NED and its subsidiaries, and finally to factions within target countries whose political economies do not align with globalized economic models of monopoly capitalism.
Beneath NED’s democratic veneer is a Board of Directors replete with members who also represent Fortune 500 companies. Additionally, board members include signatories to the pro-war, pro-corporatocracy think tank Project For A New American Century: Francis Fukuyama, Zalmay Khalizad, Will Marshall, and Vin Weber.
You’ll notice they don’t say whose freedom.
Which makes the Russian Duma’s decision to boot these guys out a tad more understandable, no?
Since the Graun apparently doesn’t do its own research any more, maybe it could at least copy/paste the Huff’s article in place of the contents from NED’s own About page? Or will that conflict with their GCHQ brief?
A senior United Nations official responsible for freedom of expression has warned that the UK government’s response to revelations of mass surveillance by Edward Snowden is damaging Britain’s reputation for press freedom and investigative journalism.
The UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, has said he is alarmed at the reaction from some British politicians following the Guardian’s revelations about the extent of the secret surveillance programs run by the UK’s eavesdropping center GCHQ and its US counterpart the NSA (National Security Agency), it was reported in the Guardian.
“I have been absolutely shocked about the way the Guardian has been treated, from the idea of prosecution to the fact that some members of parliament even called it treason. I think that is unacceptable in a democratic society,” said La Rue.
Speaking to the Guardian La Rue said that national security cannot be used as an argument against newspapers for publishing information that is in the public interest even if doing so is embarrassing for those who are in office.
The Guardian as well as other major world media organizations including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel began disclosing details about the US and UK’s mass surveillance programs in June, after receiving leaked documents from former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.
The publications have sparked a huge global debate on whether such surveillance powers are justified, but in Britain there have been calls for the Guardian to be prosecuted and the editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been called to give evidence to the home affairs select committee.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has even warned that unless the newspaper begins to demonstrate some social responsibility, then he would take “tougher measures” including the issuing of D notices, which ban a newspaper or broadcaster from touching certain material.
While on Friday the New York Times wrote an editorial entitled “British press freedom under threat”. It said, “Britain has a long tradition of a free inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal coalition government of Prime Minster David Cameron.”
The op-ed added that Britain, unlike the US has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom.
“Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute the Guardian newspaper,” the leader read.
Frank La Rue’s intervention comes just days after a delegation of some of the world’s leading editors and publishers announced they were coming to Britain on a “press freedom mission”.
The trip is being organized by the Paris based, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and will arrive on UK soil in January. WAN-IFRA says it will include key newspaper figures from up to five continents and that this is the first mission of this kind to the UK ever.
The delegation is expected to meet government leaders and the opposition, as well as press industry figures and civil society and freedom of speech organizations. Their discussions are expected to focus on the political pressure brought to bear on the Guardian.
“We are concerned that these actions not only seriously damage the United Kingdom’s historic international reputation as a staunch defender of press freedom, but provide encouragement to non-democratic regimes to justify their own repressive actions,” Vincent Peyregne, the Chief of the WAN-IFRA, told the Guardian.
newspaper posed a threat to the UK national security.
Also in October, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on The Guardian and other newspapers to show “social responsibility” in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D-notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.
La Rue’s remarks come as an international delegation is set to visit Britain over growing concerns about press freedom in the country and a government crackdown on media reporting leaks and scandals.
Organized by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the delegation, which includes publishers and editors from five continents, will arrive in January.
The team will reportedly meet with government, opposition figures and media representatives.
If there is any comfort in how the Guardian has been reporting the Middle East, especially Libya and Syria, it is that many of its readers, judging from their remarks in ‘Comment is Free’, do not appear to believe or trust it.
The Guardian sells itself as the global beacon of liberal opinion. It is liberal on social issues and alongside the chatterers, it has some excellent political correspondents and commentators, notably Gary Younge and Seamas Milne. As liberals themselves, its readers around the world must think they are on safe ground when quoting from the Guardian but if so, where the Middle East is concerned, they are deluding themselves.
Throughout the crisis in Syria the Guardian has been not so much reporting the conflict as running a propaganda campaign against the government in Damascus, to the benefit of the armed Islamist groups and the outside governments sponsoring them. The wellsprings of its ‘reporting’ have been the unsubstantiated claims of ‘activists’ no matter how wild and improbable. Without any evidence it is now accusing the Syrian government of being responsible for the alleged nerve gas/chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta district around Damascus. The far greater likelihood that the armed groups were responsible for this atrocity scarcely rates a mention. Building on the unsubstantiated claim that it was the Syrian military, Martin Chulov argues in favor of another one, that it was Bashir’s brother Maher who was personally responsible (the same accusation is being made by the Israeli intelligence propaganda outlet Debkafile, from which Chulov may well have taken his lead). This is how propaganda works. Once set in motion it just needs a push to keep it rolling.
Buttressing its editorial and reports, Fawaz Gerges is given space to claim that it is up to the Syrian government to prove that it was not responsible for this atrocity. This is nonsense: if the Syrian government was not responsible for this atrocity, how can it prove what it did not do, especially when anything it says will be dismissed out of hand by the mainstream media and the governments arming, financing and training the ‘rebels’? The onus of proof lies on those making the accusations, and so far neither the Guardian nor the anti-Assad campaigning Kim Sengupta of the Independent (where Robert Fisk has provided balance with some reports giving the perspective of the Syrian government) nor William Hague nor anyone else making this accusation has produced a scrap of evidence that this attack was carried out by the Syrian military.
Probability points in the direction of the armed groups. The ‘rebels’ are known to have acquired stocks of sarin. They used a chemical weapons compound in their home-made missile attack on a military outpost at Khan al Assal in March that killed dozens of soldiers and civilians. (1) In May this year Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said investigators had evidence that the ‘rebels’ had used sarin gas. (2) In May also Turkish police seized sarin gas along with hand guns, grenades, ammunition and unspecified ‘documents’ from apartments where Jabhat al Nusra members were living in Adana and Mersin. (3) Early in June the Syrian military seized two barrels of sarin gas from a ‘rebel’ hideout in Hama. (4)
On top of all this the armed groups have filmed themselves experimenting with chemical weapons on rabbits. As they have slaughtered thousands of civilians in the most barbaric fashion there is no argument that moral considerations would prevent them from taking this further atrocious step – and it is they who have every reason to take it. They are being ground down across the country and at this stage only direct military intervention is going to save them and save the project to destroy the Syrian government. It is a measure of the desperation of their outside sponsors that Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, was recently in Moscow with an offer from his government to buy $15 billion worth of Russian arms if Russia would just allow the passage of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a military attack on Syria. Putin said no, and what a coincidence it is that a short time later there is a mass atrocity that gives the western-led collective the pretext it wants to attack Syria without a UNSC resolution behind them.
Clearing positions held by the armed groups a few days after the apparent nerve gas/chemical weapons attack, Syrian soldiers found stocks of chemicals, gas masks, syringes and anti-neurotoxin drugs in tunnels at Jobar, one of the three districts on the outskirts of Damascus, along with Ain Tarma and Zamalka, targeted in the attack. Several soldiers were taken to hospital in critical condition. The official Syrian news agency English-language news site, SANA ran photos of cylinders of chemicals and other material, including syringes, produced by the ‘Qatar-German Company for Pharmaceutical Industries’. There is no company of this name but there is a company called Qatar-German Medical Devices whose QG logo can be seen on a box found in the tunnel marked ‘Flow I.V. Cannula’. The army also found a basement stocked with quantities of chemical agents manufactured in Saudi Arabia and a number of European countries. The material included equipment for making chemical weapons and anti-neurotoxins in case the armed men poisoned themselves.
The discovery of this material was followed by the Medecins Sans Frontieres statement that three of the hospitals it supports in the Damascus governorate had received 3,600 patients displaying neuro-toxic symptoms in three hours on the morning of August 21, of which number 355 had died. While MSF cannot say who was responsible for this atrocity, its statement highlights the complete improbability of the Syrian government carrying out a mass chemical weapons/nerve gas attack on civilians in suburbs only a few kilometers from the center of Damascus, shortly after the arrival of UN chemical weapons inspectors and indeed only several kilometers from where they were staying, killing or wounding thousands and filling its own hospitals with the victims. At face value the accusation is ludicrous, yet such is the propaganda whipped up against the Syrian government over the past three years that some people will believe it to be capable of anything.
Not only do the armed groups, their backers and the media salesmen of their pitch, including the Guardian, want the world to believe that the Syrian government was responsible for this atrocity, they want the world to believe that Bashar is stupid, indeed so stupid that he would have ordered this attack within three days of the arrival of the UN chemical weapons inspectors. This canard is reminiscent of the accusation that the Syrian government arranged the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. The killing was a master stroke used as a lever to get the remaining Syrian troops out of Lebanon, and to blacken Syria’s name internationally. By the time all the four suspects had been freed and Syria cleared by the UN tribunal of any responsibility the media had moved on. It is a long time since it has shown any interest in who killed Hariri. Like the Hariri killing the first question to be asked in the wake of this latest atrocity is ‘who benefits?’ In both cases the answers are clear: in the first, Israel, the US and their proxies in Lebanon; in the second, the armed groups and the outside governments supporting them, including, of course, Israel, which is now leading the charge for a direct military attack on Syria.
By disseminating the deceit and lies put out by Libyan and then Syrian ‘rebels’ and ‘activists’, Al Jazeera ruined its reputation. The Guardian has run the same line as this mouthpiece of the government of Qatar yet remains protected by its mystique as a beacon of liberal opinion. Many of its readers are clearly confused when all they have to do is see that the emperor has no clothes: far from being the guardian of liberal opinion, this newspaper is the guardian of western, gulf and Israeli interests in the Middle East against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Its correspondents are still writing seriously and positively about a Palestinian ‘peace process’ that is a grotesque sham. Israel is playing with the Palestinians, as a cat plays with a mouse. It has Abbas in its pocket and by abandoning Syria and embracing Muhammad Morsi and the deposed ruler of Qatar, Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Misha’al have found themselves without any backers. Not since its foundation has Israel enjoyed such a good run. If only the governments in Tehran and Damascus could be destroyed and Hezbollah extinguished life would be perfect.
The Guardian has never even attempted to provide balanced coverage of what is going on in Syria. There has been no counterweight – no antidote – to the anti-Assad and pro-rebel reporting and comment of Ian Black and Martin Chulov. The techniques will be familiar to all but the most inert readers. The paper runs headlines which are not justified in the text. The claims of ‘activists’ are given prominence and the claims of the Syrian government minimized, without there ever being any doubt about what the Guardian wants its readers to believe. It has downplayed or ignored the evidence of terrible atrocities by the armed groups (such as the massacres this August of hundreds of villagers in the Lattakia governorate (5) , of more than 100 people in Khan al Assal (6) and the massacre by Jabhat al Nusra of an estimated 450 Kurdish women and children around the Syrian-Turkish border town of Tal Abyad). (7) It has printed the wildest claims without any attempt to substantiate them, such as the allegation by a London-based ‘activist’ that the Syrian government was packing detainees into shipping containers and dumping them at sea. It has allowed ‘activists’ to shift the blame for car and suicide bombings on to the government even when it is government institutions that have been bombed and government employees who have been the victims. It has expected its readers to believe that the Syrian government is exploding bombs in densely populated residential areas in the middle of its own cities. It relies on the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights when it must know that it is a completely tainted source. The only explanation for this can be that this one-man band is saying what the Guardian wants to hear and what it wants its readers to believe.
The strategy of the armed groups has been to destroy infrastructure and terrorize the civilian population. This they have largely succeeded in doing. Syrians are pouring out of the country to get away from them. In the name of a twisted pseudo-revolution these armed men are supported by a collective of foreign governments. The line of the moment following the alleged chemical weapon/nerve gas attack is that ‘all red lines have been crossed’ when these governments crossed all red lines in international law long ago by financing and arming groups such as the brigades of the Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al Nusra. International law prohibits armed intervention in other countries and the use of mercenaries. International law forbids the application of economic sanctions against member states of the UN yet in all these categories the collective bent on the destruction of the Syrian government has shown complete contempt for international law. Of course this is merely standard procedure. International law is for other people, not the ‘international community’ as represented by the UK, France and the US [or Israel] and nowhere have they treated international law with more contempt than in the Middle East.
These governments are making the most strenuous effort in the history of the modern Middle East to destroy an Arab government. The reason has been clear from the beginning: Syria is Iran’s strongest regional ally and is being targeted as a second best option to targeting Iran itself. The takfiris inside Syria, demeaning Islam with their shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’ every time they cut a throat, are doing the work of governments that have done nothing but damage to the Middle East for the past century. The prime losers are the Syrian people. About 100,000 have been killed in this conflict and much of their country’s infrastructure has been deliberately torn to shreds. The chief regional beneficiaries are Israel and Saudi Arabia, holding hands under the table. The destruction of the Syrian government would be an unparalleled strategic triumph for Israel and the ‘west’, which is why Russia and China have not budged in their position that it is the Syrian people who must decide their own future and not outside governments and armed gangs and why Russia in particular will be planning its riposte should Barack Obama be talked into launching a Cruise missile strike.
The Guardian’s propaganda cover for the Syrian ‘rebels’ follows its support for the Libyan ‘rebels’ against another dictator. The protest movement in Benghazi was seized upon by Britain, France and the US as the opportunity to intervene and destroy the government in Tripoli. There was no countrywide movement against Muammar al Qadhafi and the ‘rebels’ could not have advanced a yard beyond the city limits of Benghazi without the cover of NATO missiles. Qadhafi was brought down after a seven month blitz by the air forces of three of the most powerful militaries in the world and eventually murdered after several previous attempts to murder him by missile strike had failed, while killing members of his family. Thousands of innocent Libyans were killed during this prolonged aerial assault. This neo-imperialist adventure was fully underwritten by the mainstream media. None of the war crimes committed by NATO forces or ‘rebels’ on the ground had the same impact on editorials and ‘reporting’ as the claims that the Libyan leader was bombing his own people from the air, using black mercenaries and distributing Viagra to his troops. These sensational allegations were later shown to be lies, but by this time they had served their purpose in setting up Qadhafi as someone who deserved to be killed (rather than put on trial, embarrassing in the process Blair, Sarkozy and others who benefitted from Libyan money and oil concessions). With Libya out of the way the same western governments and the same mainstream media flapped on like vultures to Syria and another supposed dictator, leaving the Libyans to clean up the mess they had created as best as they could.
Having shed the shackles of balanced journalism in Libya and Syria, the Guardian is now defending media ethics and responsibility in the Edward Snowden- Glenn Greenwald affair. Greenwald has been revealing secrets from Snowden’s store of official documents. David Miranda, his partner, was detained for nine hours by British intelligence while in transit through London. If the purpose was to shut Greenwald up by putting pressure on his relationship, his scarcely repressed fury is an indication that it will not work. Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, had been having private conversations with British intelligence and only decided to take action, by destroying material the Guardian had on hard drives, when threatened with legal action. This was a significant exercise of the power of the surveillance state which had to be challenged, but how much more significant is media support for mass death and destruction delivered to Syria by groups of men financed, armed and trained by outside governments?
The Guardian does not actually call for war. It leaves that to other people. It merely sets the stage. It runs an editorial based on the assumption that this chemical weapons attack was the work of the Syrian government. The possibility that the armed groups might have done it is not even taken into account. It observes that ‘choosing between bad options is even more complex [supporting armed groups responsible for one atrocity after another is obviously not considered a bad option] … this paper has resisted the calls for military intervention in Syria [as if there is not already military intervention in Syria] … but we do appear to be coming ever closer to a tipping point with difficult judgments ahead.’ Without calling for war itself, this beacon of liberal opinion then quotes with approval the arch conservative William Hague, who talks of civilized values while pushing for a war that would bury them in further great mounds of bodies.
Behind the mask of asinine geniality Hague is a warmonger. He has wanted ‘intervention’ in Syria – a war kicked off with the declaration of a no-fly zone and now possibly a Cruise missile strike – for years and now sees it in his grasp. The Guardian should have been on to his smiling duplicity and double-speak like a terrier on to a rat. Instead it is joining the chorus line for war. That is the reality behind its own double-speak. The Syrian government agreed to allow UN inspectors into the districts targeted in this apparent nerve gas/chemical weapons attack but as soon they approached these districts, they were shot at by snipers. If it can be proven that it is the armed groups that carried out this attack it is a safe bet that we will hear no more talk of red lines being crossed. Obama said he would not take a decision until he had proof but now we are being told by an unnamed US official that the on the spot inquiry is too little and, not even a week after the event, too late. The British media is talking of a military attack being launched within days.
The US media is much more reserved: after all, their country is being pushed into the front line by governments that would never have the guts to attack by themselves but will only run in from behind once the US takes the lead. Obama is still holding back and has the intelligence and sense not to fall for this if, unfortunately, not necessarily the strength of character to resist the pressure being applied to him. Britain, France and Israel want to strike now, while the propaganda is running hot and strong and before the UN inspectors ruin their rush to war by concluding that this attack around Damascus either was or might have been the work of the armed groups.
This will not be Libya. This never was Libya. This will not begin and end with a few Cruise missiles fired at Syria from warships in the eastern Mediterranean. This may well spark a major war involving Turkey, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah and Russia for which those pushing for war must be held responsible right now and not just afterwards. If the decision is taken the Guardian will wring its hands about the horrors of war but it will still justify it on humanitarian grounds and the ‘responsibility to protect’. Amidst the smoke and carnage, the question of who fired the chemical weapons around Damascus will soon be forgotten.
– Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
1. See ‘Russia’s UN envoy says Syria rebels used chemical weapons’, Los Angeles Times,July 9,2013, reporting the statement by Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin that armed groups had used sarin gas in the attack at Khan Assal on March 15, killing 26 people, including 16 military personnel, and wounding 86.
2. See ‘UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syrian rebels ‘used sarin’. BBC News Middle East, May 6, 2013.
3. See ‘Adana’da El Kaide operasonyu:12 gozalti ( Al Qaida operation at Adana: 12 arrested), Zaman, May 28, 2013.
4. ‘Syrian army seized sarin cylinders from militants in Hama’, Press TV, June 2, 2013.
5. See ‘Massacre in Latakia, August 2013. A documentary report on Al Nusra massacre in Lattakia’, Sham Times, August 8, 2013. Translated by Australians for Reconciliation in Syria.
6. See ‘UN rights chief calls for investigation into Syrian massacre’, Reuters.com., reporting on the ‘apparent’ massacre ‘carried out by Syrian opposition forces in the town’.
7. See ‘Defend the Kurds in Syria from massacre and ethnic cleansing’, Kurdistan Times, August 8,2013, reporting the massacre of 120 children and 330 women by Jabhat al Nusra at Tal Abyad on August 5. While the numbers have not been independently verified, the massacre triggered off an exodus of tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds into northern Iraq. Syrian Kurds have given details of massacres of Kurds carried out by Jabhat al Nusra across northern Syria.
The UK government created a “lawless bit of Britain” under the terror act which suspends all checks and balances, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said in an interview, adding that the paper is financing David Miranda’s lawsuit against the Home Office.
Rusbridger called ports and airport transit lounges a “stateless bit of Britain,” where a government can use the word “terror” to “suspend all the normal rules.”
The comment was made in reference to UK authorities detaining and questioning David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours in London’s Heathrow airport on Sunday under Schedule 7 of the UK’s anti-terrorism law.
Miranda told the BBC in an interview that he felt threatened during his 9-hour detention and as if “he were naked in front of a crowd.”
Greewald’s partner said that he was “forced to give passwords” to email and social media accounts to his interrogators. Authorities allegedly threatened him with prison if he did not comply.
Inside Britain, journalists and anyone else carrying material have more opportunities to stand their ground. “You can go before a judge, you can argue about public interest and the public interest of that work,” Rusbridger said.
“The disturbing thing about the way they treated Miranda was the use of this terror act, and there is a little noticed section there, Schedule 7, which effectively suspends all the normal checks and balances that you would have if you were arrested in the Heathrow car park,” he added.
Rusbridger believes there are “confusions in law” when it comes to where you are when you’re in a transit lounge and “whose laws you apply to.”
The UK created this “lawless bit of Britain” over a decade ago, according to the editor. It is a place “where anybody can be questioned for up to nine hours without access to a solicitor and where all your belongings can be confiscated and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.
Financing Miranda’s lawsuit
Rusbridger revealed that the Guardian is funding Miranda’s legal actions as he seeks a judicial review of the legal basis for his detention and assurances that the property seized from him by police will not be examined.
“The Guardian is supporting that action and we are supporting that in terms of financing it, because David Miranda was acting on behalf of Glenn Greenwald at the time that he was detained. I think it’s a good thing to challenge that law and see exactly why terror and journalism are being aligned in this disturbing way.”
“Miranda wasn’t really on assignment, he is Glenn Greenwald’s partner and Glenn Greenwald is a very busy man and he assists Glenn in his journalistic work. And he was acting as a messenger or intermediary in a way that is difficult for Glenn at the moment because he’s got a lot of work to be doing in Brazil and I think he’s also a bit nervous about traveling at the moment.”
‘The best choice was to destroy hard drives’
Rusbridger also explained that he chose to destroy the Guardian’s hard drives instead of complying with the government because he wanted to avoid a legal dead-end, where the paper would be prevented from publishing Snowden’s leaked documents.
“We were faced effectively with an ultimatum from the British government that if we didn’t hand back the material or destroy it then they would move to law,” he said. “That would mean prior restraint, a concept that is anathema in America and other parts of the world, in which the state can effectively prevent a publisher from publishing, and I didn’t want to get into that position.”
Rusbridger revealed in an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday that intelligence officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) told him that he would either have to hand over all the classified documents or have the newspaper’s hard drives destroyed.
Rusbridger told security officials that the Guardian had other copies in America and Brazil, “so they wouldn’t be achieving anything.”
“But once it was obvious that they would be going to law, I would rather destroy the copy than hand it back to them or allow the courts to freeze our reporting.”
“I don’t think we had Snowden’s consent to hand it back and I didn’t want to help the UK authorities know what he had given us. So to me I was not going to hand it back to the government and I was happy to destroy it because it was not going to inhibit our reporting, we would simply do it from America and not from London.”
Rusbridger described the UK as being “genuinely torn” during negotiations.
“To begin with they were reasonable conversations, it was a reasonable dialogue and all I can say is that at some point something changed and that switched into a threat of legal action. I don’t know what changed or why they changed, I imagine there were different conversations going on within the security apparatus within Whitehall and within Downing Street and at some point a message came to me that we had had our fun and that the time had come to return the documents.”
Revealing the destruction of hard drives
Rusbridger told The Huffington Post that the Guardian could not reveal the destruction of the hard drives earlier because of “operational reasons.”
“Having been through this and not written about it on the day for operational reasons, I was sort of waiting for a moment when the government’s attitude to journalism – when there was an issue that made this relevant,” Rusbridger said.
The editor believed that moment was Miranda’s detention.
“The fact that David Miranda had been detained under this slightly obscure schedule of the terrorism act seemed a useful moment to write about the background to the government’s attitude to this in general,” he said.
When asked why the Guardian did not devote a front-page article to the issue, Rusbridger said “it was a personal take really.”
“I felt this was a piece of background that readers ought to know about it, but I wanted to write about it in my voice instead of putting in a news story.”
“It wasn’t immediate news…it felt more natural to write about it in a more discursive way,” he added.
‘On a road to total surveillance’
The Guardian editor highlighted that in this age of “mass collection of millions of emails, details of phone calls, texts…the business of reporting securely and having confidential sources is becoming difficult.”
“Journalists should be aware of the difficulties they are going to face in the future because everybody in 2013 leaves a very big digital trail, which is very easily accessed.”
Snowden risked his own freedom to draw attention to the “degree to which we are on a road to total surveillance, we are not there yet, but in these documents there is the stated ambition to scoop up everything and save it all and to master the internet.”
Rusbridger argued that the UK faces the danger of being “complacent about what is being revealed.”
Mainstream Media in America and Britain Repeat the Same Mistakes in Covering Iran That They Made on Iraq
In an excellent report released last month, the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) offered a thoroughly documented—and devastating—critique of mainstream media coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue. Authored by Jonas Siegel and Saranaz Barforoush, Media Coverage of Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Analysis of U.S. and U.K. Coverage, 2009-2012, see here, reviews coverage of Iran’s nuclear activities and the international controversy surrounding those activities in six major English-language newspapers: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.
To quote from the report’s executive summary (with emphasis added), the authors found that
“–Newspaper coverage focused on the ‘he said/she said’ aspects of the policy debate, without adequately explaining the fundamental issues that should have been informing assessments—such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, the influence of U.S., European, Iranian, and Israeli security strategies, and the impact of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
–When newspaper coverage did address Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, it did so in a manner that lacked precision, was inconsistent over time, and failed to provide adequate sourcing and context for claims. This led to an inaccurate picture of the choices facing policy makers.
–Government officials, particularly U.S. government officials, were the most frequently quoted or relied-on sources in coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. This tendency focused attention on a narrow set of policy options and deemphasized other potential approaches to the dispute.
–Newspaper coverage generally adopted the tendency of U.S., European, and Israeli officials to place on Iran the burden to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, failing to acknowledge the roles of these other countries in the dispute…
–Coverage of Iran’s nuclear program reflected and reinforced the negative sentiments about Iran that are broadly shared by U.S., European, and Israeli publics. This contributed to misunderstandings about the interests involved and narrowed the range of acceptable outcomes.
In general, these characteristics led newspapers to frame their coverage of Iran’s nuclear program in a manner that emphasized official narratives of the dispute and a relatively narrow range of policy choices available to officials. By not consistently describing the complex web of international relationships, security concerns, and intervening political factors in sufficient detail, newspaper coverage further privileged official narratives and policy preferences. This makes it likely that the policies enacted and under consideration by policy makers—coercive diplomacy and war—remain the most likely outcome of the dispute. In this way, news coverage of Iran’s nuclear program is reminiscent of news coverage of the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. News coverage has the potential to play a significant, constructive role in finding a lasting resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, but journalists and editors first need to address the tendencies present in their current coverage of the topic.”
We encourage all to read and ponder, hard, this important new report.
Saeed Kamali Dehghan, writing for the Guardian, attempts to explain Iran’s presidential elections by promoting some standard nonsense propaganda, for example by claiming that the so called Green Movement was a “pro-democracy” movement when in fact they were attempting to violently undo an election whose results have since been vindicated as truly representative of Iranian public opinion by multiple independent polls.
Furthermore, on the topic of Iran’s nuclear program, he simply and matter-of-factly asserts that the sanctions are “over suspicions that the programme has military ambitions” and that Iran has “failed to abide by its international obligations” when in fact by now anyone who has followed the nuclear dispute is unquestionably aware that the sanctions have nothing to do with the nuclear program and instead, that the dispute over the nuclear program is merely a pretext pushed by the US as a cover for a policy of imposing regime-change in Iran. Furthermore, Iran has not violated any such non-existent “international obligation” (as Dehghan claims matter-of-factly) to give up her sovereign right to enrich uranium — if anything it is the US and EU who violated their international obligations under the NPT, with respect to not just Iran, by forcibly attempting to deprive countries of their rights as recognized by the NPT (and also not disarming their own nuclear weapons as the NPT requires them to do, never mind murdering civilian scientists and making illegal threats of attacking Iran on a daily basis etc etc.)
So here we go again with the Western media and complicit journalists promoting bullshit under the guise of analysis. just watch how this Dehghan character has repeated some of the standard talking points of the US about iran’s nuclear program without even a hint of objectivity. You can of course expect more of this. Note that there is no option to post comments regarding this piece by Dehghan on the Guardian site; you’re just supposed to accept it.
News Unspun | May 8, 2013
The Syrian conflict has been accompanied by a distinct media narrative. Within this narrative – which poses a binary division between the forces engaged in the conflict, identifying the players as good (the rebels, who must receive ‘our’ support) and bad (the government) – the role the West must play is that of potential saviour, whose aim is to cautiously observe the conflict so that it may intervene to ‘fix’ the situation, as The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall put it:
So what can Obama do? As Vladimir Putin was expected to make plain to John Kerry in Moscow on Tuesday, he cannot count on Russian (or, therefore, Chinese or UN security council) support to fix Syria.
This sentiment, that the West can put right the Syrian situation, is inherent to most reporting of the conflict. The BBC recently reported that ‘the pressure to act has intensified in recent days after emerging evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons such as the nerve gas sarin’. This statement presents the existence of a ‘pressure to act’ as a given, though the source of such pressure is unidentified. From where is this pressure emerging? As a BBC report points out, public opinion in France, the UK, the US, and Germany is by majority opposed to the possibility of intervention in the conflict through sending arms and military supplies to the Syrian opposition. The BBC is not then speaking on behalf of the public majority. Pressure towards military intervention, to some extent considered a desirable option by the UK government (if it can ‘achieve the result [they] want’, as Cameron put it in an interview with Nick Robinson), is, however, increasingly mounting within the media itself.
Chemical Weapons ‘Evidence’
It is also important to note that the ’emerging evidence’ referred to above is not conclusive despite the wording of this report. The BBC reported again on Monday 6 May that ‘Western powers have said their own investigations have found evidence that government forces have used chemical weapons’. Again, this is simply not the case. ‘Western powers’, regardless of their true intentions, have in fact been very cautious in public about how precisely they present their claims, underscoring the lack of conclusive evidence they have found and that there exists the possibility that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian government. This misrepresentation by the BBC emerges in a context in which the use of chemical weapons has been signified by the UK and US as the point at which they may become militarily involved in the Syrian conflict. As such these details, so easily misrepresented by the BBC, are of high consequence.
(There are other examples of BBC reports dangerously getting important facts wrong about such issues: just over a year ago, for example, a BBC news report stated that the ‘International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report with new evidence showing Iran was secretly working towards obtaining a nuclear weapon’ – in this case the report said no such thing.)
Journalists Pushing for Intervention
In recent reports, certain BBC journalists have appeared more hawkish than government officials themselves. Take for example a question put to Cameron by the BBC’s Nick Robinson:
Do you ever fear that a terrible thing is happening in our world and that Western leaders cannot or will not act because of a fear of another Iraq?
Cameron responded with ‘I do worry about that’, before clarifying that what he has concluded from the ‘Iraq lesson’ is that the UK should only enter into conflicts it can win, that ‘the ability is there’. This is at a far remove from the implication of Robinson’s question that past ‘mistakes’ might prevent the West from playing a righteous humanitarian role. Yet Robinson’s leading question provides the basis for the seemingly unambiguous headline: ‘Cameron fears Iraq effect holding West back in Syria’.
There is a prevailing trend of journalists taking up the position of presenting the case for military intervention in Syria and proactively pushing government representatives to commit to intentions for military action. On the Andrew Marr show on 5 May Jeremy Vine asked Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond a number of questions which demonstrated this pressure by the media for the UK to become involved in the Syrian conflict. When Hammond appeared cautious regarding the prospect of military intervention, stating that the UK would need to engage in discussion with the UK’s ‘allies and partners’, Vine admonished, ‘you’re talking about having a series of meetings’. Another brief exchange emphasises Vine’s apparent desire to see the UK intervene:
Phillip Hammond: ‘Frankly that [the potential use of chemical weapons] is not what’s delivering the tally of 70,000 that have been killed… the majority of these people have been killed by conventional weapons’.
Jeremy Vine: ‘More reason to do something then…’
These comments reflect the consistency of BBC reporting which seems aimed towards creating a case for war. When Carla Del Ponte, of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told reporters that there were ‘strong, concrete suspicions’ that the rebels – perhaps not as virtuous as would be convenient for States considering providing military support – may have used chemical weapons, the tone of BBC reporting did not suggest that the pressure for military action should be alleviated.
Analysis of Attacks on Syria: Real and Imagined
Taking the case a step further, Jonathan Marcus, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, discussed the various ways in which the US could attack Syria. His assessment reads more like a military strategy report than an analysis of events for a news provider. Surgical airstrikes, Marcus said, ‘could be carried out by cruise missiles launched from aircraft well outside Syrian airspace or from warships or submarines in the Mediterranean’, while a wider air campaign, ‘might have to be preceded by a significant effort to destroy missiles, associated radars and command systems and might well involve losses’. Why it is in the public interest that such analysis is brought to us by journalists is unclear. Through Marcus’s piece, which is nothing more than speculation of military strategy on an as yet non-existent, illegal military intervention, the idea of an attack on Syria from outside is normalised further.
The reporting on the air strikes that Israel has carried out on Syria also reveals how normalised warfare has become in BBC reporting, with very little discussion of casualties or of the chaos inflicted on the people who were bombed. What was important, in this story, it seems, is that Israel was protecting itself from weapons that were supposedly being transported. This is summed up in the BBC’s Q&A page on the Israeli airstrikes: in answer to the question ‘Why would Israel attack?’ we are told that ‘the statements from unnamed officials suggest Israel’s actions are defensive.’ If the Syrian government had, for example, attacked the Israeli air force within Israel, to prevent airstrikes on its own territory, it is extremely unlikely that this would be overwhelmingly reported as an act of defence. Yet when Israel bombs another country, BBC journalists and editors happily report such actions as ‘defensive’ measures.
Jonathan Marcus writes that Israel’s airstrikes are ‘designed to send a powerful signal’ (the headline: ‘Israeli air strikes: A warning to Syria’s Assad’). It is worth at this point noting that following the last Israel attack on Syria, in early 2013, Marcus also wrote that this was ‘in one sense pre-emptive, but also a warning’. It was also portrayed as a ‘signal’. That such attacks are continuously reported as warnings and signals, as seemingly rational, and therefore it seems permissible, actions, goes further to normalise them. We might wonder how many attacks Israel would have to inflict on another country before Jonathan Marcus stops referring to the attacks as ‘signals’ and ‘warnings’?
In their seeming urgency to present a case for war, BBC reporters have neglected factual accuracy of reported events. Scepticism towards the unsupported claims of Western governments, insistence upon proof, is also lacking. We are presented with a simplified narrative, of ‘good versus evil’, in which the possibility of misconduct on both sides of the conflict is considered improbable. This style of reporting very much takes its lead from the positions of Western governments. Whitehouse spokesman Jay Carney outlined the position of the US: ‘We are highly sceptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons. We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime, and that remains our position’. The supposed instincts of the US or UK government, despite the inconclusive nature of the evidence, as to the righteousness of the Syrian rebels is not proof of the reality and should not be considered by journalists as such.
On the occasion of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death last week, much of the international media responded in typical fashion, by painting the Chavez administration much as they painted it when Chavez was alive—as an autocratic regime led by a foolish tyrant who mismanaged the country and squandered its oil wealth.
They showed little mercy for the larger-than-life leader, so beloved by the majority in his country, and by millions around the world, giving the impression that Hugo Chavez got almost everything wrong, and did virtually nothing right.
Many of the criticisms have an element of truth to them, as many problems persist in Venezuela. And the press made sure to highlight these problems as evidence of Chavez’s failure, making it sound as if any sensible leader or government in Chavez’s position could have resolved them. But what showed through more than anything in these anti-Chavez tirades was a very revealing, almost embarrassing, misunderstanding of Venezuela’s principal economic and social issues.
“It’s a pity no one took 20 minutes to explain macroeconomics to him,” writes Rory Carroll in an op-ed in the New York Times that claims Chavez was “an awful manager” who destroyed Venezuela. Carroll slams Chavez for everything from failing to fix up the presidential palace, to spending too much on education and health, to not investing enough in infrastructure.
As The Guardian’s correspondent in Venezuela since 2006, Carroll apparently had seen enough to conclude that Chavez had “left Venezuela a ruin”. Yet one wonders if he ever managed to talk to the millions of Venezuelans—those who packed the streets to mourn the president’s death last week—who feel the country has been forever transformed.
For literally days on end, non-stop, all day and all night, people filed through the building where Chavez’s body was displayed to pay their final respects. A line stretched for miles outside, as people waited several days, eating and sleeping in the line, just to see their president one last time. This immense outpouring of emotion is very hard to square with the image Carroll gives us.
It might be an exaggeration to say Chavez transformed the country—though many things were deeply changed—but one doesn’t have to be an expert to know that Venezuela’s problems are more complicated than one man and his personality quirks.
The Economist tells us that Chavez was a “narcissist” who was “reckless” with his country’s economy and who “squandered an extraordinary opportunity”. We are told Chavez could have used the country’s oil wealth to “equip [Venezuela] with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy”. But due to mismanagement, “the economy became ever more dependent on oil”. Carroll echoes this, blaming Chavez for a “withering” private sector, and decaying infrastructure.
But apparently these self-proclaimed experts have never taken even the most cursory look at Venezuelan history. Had they done so, they would know that since Venezuela’s oil wealth was first discovered nearly a century ago, no government has ever been able to do what they claim should have been accomplished by the Chavez government.
Past governments have invested the country’s oil wealth in infrastructure, industry, and development projects—though never as much as Chavez—yet not one of them managed to break dependence on oil, diversify the economy, create a flourishing private sector, or build adequate health and education services. Was it because they were all reckless narcissists? Or do these problems perhaps have an explanation that goes deeper than the president’s personal style?
Of course, the truth is much more complex than what the Chavez haters would like to admit. It is true that Chavez did not provide solutions to many of Venezuela’s problems, and that some problems even got worse, but contrary to the media claims, he probably did better than any previous government in Venezuelan history.
One gets the opposite impression from much of the international media. Take a look at the following paragraph from last week’s article in the The Economist:
Behind the propaganda, the Bolivarian revolution was a corrupt, mismanaged affair. The economy became ever more dependent on oil and imports. State takeovers of farms cut agricultural output. Controls of prices and foreign exchange could not prevent persistent inflation and engendered shortages of staple goods. Infrastructure crumbled: most of the country has suffered frequent power cuts for years. Hospitals rotted: even many of the missions languished. Crime soared: Caracas is one of the world’s most violent capitals. Venezuela has become a conduit for the drug trade, with the involvement of segments of the security forces.
Amazingly, almost every sentence in the paragraph is false. Agricultural output did not drop, but rather grew by 2 to 3 percent per year, and grain production, which was the government’s major focus, grew by 140 percent. Inflation was considerably lower under Chavez than the previous two governments. Food shortages and power cuts were caused by the explosion in consumption among the poor, not a fall in production.
Both electricity production and food production have increased to all time highs. Thousands of new health clinics have been built around the country. However, it is true that many hospitals remain inadequate, that crime has soared, and that Venezuela is still a conduit for the drug trade, as it shares a large border with Colombia.
The claims of increased oil dependence are also not borne out by the facts. It is true that oil as a percentage of total exports has increased, but this is largely due to the fact that oil prices have increased nearly ten-fold since Chavez came to power, making it inevitable that their value in relation to total exports would also increase.
The critics say Chavez squandered the country’s oil wealth, which he could have used to transform it into a modern state. Indeed, the oil boom left Venezuela awash in oil money, a situation that Chavez’s policies had a hand in creating, as he united OPEC and increased royalties and taxes on the oil sector, giving the state vastly more funds to work with. If only this “awful manager” knew how to administer the funds, critics say, Venezuela could have been well on its way to becoming a modern, developed nation.
But this is shortsighted. Nations do not develop on the basis of resource wealth or commodity booms. A country cannot spend its way into the first world. Rather, economic development is about systematic growth in productivity, innovation, and technical change, activities that typically fall on the shoulders of the private sector. In the developed world, it is largely the private sector that invests surpluses into new technologies and improvements in the productive process, something that does not occur in Venezuela in a systematic fashion.
Of course, critics and opponents of Chavez argue that this is also the fault of the government, that it is Chavez’s fault for not creating the right environment for private investment, and that with the “right” policies the private sector would decide to invest in the country and would produce the kind of economic development that will benefit all sectors of society. Apparently no Venezuelan government in history has been able to figure out what those “right” policies are.
But this ideology defeats itself with its own logic, for private investors in market economies don’t invest in productivity because they feel like it, or because the conditions are just as they like. They do so because they have to in order to match the competition, to survive in the market, and to avoid going out of business. In modern market economies, producers invest in improving productivity because they are compelled to do so by the market, not because they decide they want to.
The fact that much of the private sector in Venezuela has seldom been compelled to do the same only demonstrates that this economy does not function like the model market economy that these theories are based on.
Huge swaths of the nation’s agricultural land have long been dominated by large estates—the infamous latifundios—that feel very little pressure to improve productivity, and graze cattle on the nation’s best land. The commercial and industrial sectors have long been dominated by highly diversified conglomerates—the so-called grupos económicos—that control key sectors of the economy, and are rarely threatened by competition.
In other words, it goes against these critics’ whole line of reasoning to point out that what really determines whether a country is rich or poor is not commodity booms or resource wealth, but rather has to do with productivity growth—something that has seldom been a priority for much of Venezuela’s private sector.
It’s a pity that no one took 20 minutes to explain this to Rory Carroll, The Economist and others who blame all of Venezuela’s problems on Hugo Chavez, for he did more than any president in history to try to change the unproductive logic of the private sector.
More than 3.6 million hectares of unproductive land were expropriated and redistributed to over 170,000 small producers—far more than the entire 40 years of pre-Chavez land reform. Major sectors of the economy were nationalized, and state companies expanded, in an attempt to improve production, raise investment, and remove bottlenecks. Massive investments were made in agriculture and industry—far more than under previous governments—in an attempt to spur their growth.
Many of these attempts were failures. The growing state sector often allowed for inefficiency and corruption. Chavez’s solutions to the country’s economic and social issues were not always the correct ones.
But the point is that Venezuela’s problems are quite complex and defy easy answers. Previous governments with previous oil booms also failed to resolve the country’s major problems, and did much less to help the poor, something that does not seem to interest those who want to blame everything on Chavez.
Instead of seeking to gain a better understanding of the country’s problems—to understand why they have been so intractable throughout the country’s history—the major media have preferred to vilify and condemn one man; a man who, right or wrong, spent his life trying to solve the problems that plague his country, and was undeniably dedicated to helping the poor; a man who constantly reminded his country’s poor majority that they mattered, that they were not inferior to anyone, and that they should feel proud of their national heritage. That doesn’t sound like a narcissist to me.