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.
Press TV – December 10, 2012
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) has signed a £1.2 billion contract with the arms-producer BAE Systems to build the navy a new nuclear submarine.
The submarine dubbed HMS Audacious is the fourth of seven Astute Class vessels that the MoD has ordered for the Royal Navy.
The ministry has also allocated another £1.5 billion for the rest of the Astute-class submarines.
The Royal Navy has touted the submarines as the most advanced at their service yet recent tests have raised serious questions about their applicability.
The first of the seven submarines named HMS Astute failed its sea trials last month after it was forced to resurface due to flooding problems that let tens of liters of water in.
The submarine also faced problems with its electrical instruments while its nuclear reactor monitoring systems also raised accuracy concerns.
- Troubled Astute submarine programme to get another £2.7bn (guardian.co.uk)
British forces in Afghanistan have been accused of killing four boys in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand in October.
According to a report published by the Guardian on Tuesday, a group of lawyers recently sent a letter to British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, demanding that the UK government investigate the alleged killings.
The lawyers, acting on behalf of the relatives of two of the victims, said that during an operation in the village of Loi Bagh in the Nad Ali district of Helmand on October 18, the UK troops shot dead the Afghan boys while they were drinking tea.
The victims were identified as 18-year-old Fazel Mohammed, Naik Mohammed, 16, Mohammed Tayeb, 14, and 12-year-old Ahmed Shah.
The British troops were on a joint operation with Afghan forces.
“We submit that all of the victims were under the control and authority of the UK at the times of the deaths and ill-treatment,” the letter to Hammond read.
“The four boys killed all appear to have been deliberately targeted at close range by British forces. All were killed in a residential area, over which UK forces clearly had the requisite degree of control and authority.”
Major Adam Wojack, a spokesperson for the foreign forces in Afghanistan, has confirmed the operation. However, he has claimed that four “Taliban enemies in action” were killed.
The letter also includes a statement by the relatives of the victims, rejecting “any suggestion that any of the four teenagers killed were in any way connected” to the Taliban. “All four were innocent teenagers who posed no threat whatsoever to Afghan or British forces.”
- British forces accused of killing four teenagers in Afghan operation (guardian.co.uk)
British anti-nukes campaigners are pressuring the government to change course on replacing its Trident nuclear weapons system at an annual cost of £3 billion and rather spend the money on housing.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said £3 billion is enough to build 30,000 homes in Britain every year that would fully eliminate the country’s need to build extra homes for social housing while creating 60,000 new jobs each year.
“Around 30,000 extra homes need to be built in the UK every year to meet the need for social housing. This would cost about £3 billion annually. £3 billion is what this country is currently spending every year on nuclear weapons,” the campaign group said.
“It’s a straight swap, homes or bombs. That’s why we’re calling on the government to get rid of Trident and build homes instead,” it added.
The CND has also launched a letter-writing campaign to British Chancellor George Osborne ahead of the December 5 parliamentary announcement on the way forward for the economy to pressure him to change policy on Trident.
This comes as Britain is pushing full steam ahead with a Trident replacement plan that the CND earlier estimated to cost the country more than £100 billion.
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond has announced a multi-million pound contract worth £350 million for a new generation of nuclear missile submarines.
The £350 million contract is part of the £3 billion awarded last year to giant arms producer BAE Systems to pursue work on a new Trident fleet.
The British coalition government’s junior partners in the Liberal Democrat camp are also opposed to the Conservative-led plan for a like-for-like replacement for Trident.
Lib Dems argue that the justifications for keeping an equal to the submarine-launched Trident nukes are now lacking as the system was designed to counter the threats from the Soviet Union, which has ceased to exist for over two decades.
Trident, which is based in Clyde, Scotland, also faces another challenge from the Scottish National Party (SNP) that says it does not want the nukes on Scotland’s soil if they can secure independence in the coming years.
- UK to announce new Trident nukes contract (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Our best chance to get rid of nukes (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Nicola Sturgeon accuses UK government of ‘dumping’ WMDs on the Clyde (scotsman.com)
- Con-Dems put extra £350m into Trident (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Politics News: Protestors gather outside Senedd to voice nuclear concerns (walesonline.co.uk)
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond is to announce a multi-million pound contract for a new generation of nuclear missile submarines indicating Britain’s resolve to push ahead with its disputed Trident nuclear system replacement program.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the £350 million contract makes “clear the government’s firm commitment to maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence for future decades.”
The announcement comes as the British government’s study into a like-for-like Trident replacement is not even complete.
Those opposing the nukes replacement, including junior coalition partners in the Liberal Democrat camp, argue that a like-for-like replacement will be hugely expensive.
The Cabinet Office study, which apparently seeks to find a cheaper and scaled-down replacement for Trident, is now running under the supervision of the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and is expected to report results early next year.
The planned new fleet of Trident submarines is officially estimated to cost up to £25 billion but anti-nukes campaign group Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has put the real cost of a full replacement at more than £100 billion.
The £350 million contract is part of the £3 billion awarded last year to BAE Systems to pursue work on a new Trident fleet.
The Conservative Defense Secretary has already said that the government is committed to keeping “our continuous submarine-based deterrence.”
Lib Dems have formerly attacked the talks of a nuclear “deterrence” based on Trident or a like-for-like system saying Trident was designed to counter the threats of the Soviet Union, which has long perished.
- Is a like-for-like Trident replacement a good idea? | Poll (guardian.co.uk)
- Con-Dems put extra £350m into Trident (morningstaronline.co.uk)
The British High Court has chosen to support the government rather than justice seekers by blocking calls for an official inquiry into British troops’ carnage of 24 Malaysian plantation workers in December 1948.
Relatives of the victims who wanted to challenge the government’s decision not to conduct an investigation into the massacre at Batang Kali said the killings are a “blot on British colonization and decolonization” and blasted the court for failing to order an inquiry despite presence of adequate evidence to justify one.
Judge Sir John Thomas said he sees “no grounds” for “disturbing” the decision by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond to oppose the relatives’ demand for an inquiry.
The killings happened during the Anti-British National Liberation War led by Malayan fighters against British colonizers that killed 2,478 civilians.
“We are appealing. As long as the injustice remains, the families will be pursuing legal action,” said solicitor John Halford, who represents the victims’ relatives.
- Malaysians lose High Court battle over 1948 ‘massacre’ (morningstaronline.co.uk)