Friday, 16 July 2010

Urban's latest tour of duty

Another seriously unbalanced report from Newsnight's Mark Urban, using his penchant for militaristic diagrams and obvious empathies for British forces, to portray the UK's role in Afghanistan as principally benign.

Gavin Esler introduces the piece:
"Mohammed suffers horrific injuries and ends up losing all his limbs. As we mourn the British dead and try to repair those damaged and embattled, do we also have a responsibility to care for allied troops?"
We then have Urban's film report on the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment's mission in Sangin. Provided with small cameras by the BBC - an interesting extension to its embed practices - British soldiers, accompanied by allied Afghan army forces, are asked to film an operation targeting a significant Taliban position.

Urban sets-out the BBC's accepted context of this and other such operations:

"It's typical of dozens established to try and bring security to Sangin's district centre."

The word "security", of course, is used, here and elsewhere, as safely 'neutral' BBC coda, thus avoiding any analysis of Britain's true, dark involvement in such wars.

He continues in similar, selective mode:

"What happened that day is worth dissecting in some detail, because it tells us a lot about the course of the Afghan war in one of it's darkest corners."

Deconstructed, Urban is telling the public what he and the BBC thinks it should hear and see, again, all from the same 'security-purpose' perspective.

Urban proceeds with an extensive examination of the operation, interviewing the soldiers involved. In the course of the film, we see an IED explode, with Mohammed, the Afghan soldier, severely wounded. He's taken to Camp Bastion and, thereafter, Kabul for medical treatment by Afghan doctors.

Mohammed expresses his thanks to the British soldiers, reaffirming his desire to fight for his country. Hopeful speculation from the soldiers involved follows as to whether Mohammed might be treated in the UK.

Although a poignant moment, in which we rightly feel compassion for Mohammed, there's no comment from Urban on Britain's and the West's ultimate culpability for his suffering.

Instead, his concluding comments leave no room for doubt as to the purpose and difficulty of Britain's presence in the country:

"The fate of that mission shows just how hard it is to succeed in Afghanistan. The soldiers showed extraordinary bravery and professionalism in recovering all of those casualties."

And, for good measure, a last reminder of the main obstacles to that 'success':

"This incident was exceptional because of Mohammed's survival, but IEDs are planted by the thousands, wounding or killing people every day. That is the grisly reality of conflict in Afghanistan."

Or the selective part of the "grisly reality" we're encouraged to focus on.

It's remarkable to think that Urban's piece can be defended by the BBC as balanced reporting.

The counter-argument, no doubt, will be that the BBC have, elsewhere, showed other facets of the war, including the killing of Afghan civilians by NATO forces.

But neither these token offerings nor the genuine concern showed by the soldiers in the film for Mohammed's fate tell us anything about the colonial, aggressive nature of the UK's presence in Afghanistan. With its emphasis on military minutiae and standard acceptance of Britain's stated military objectives, the core issue of the UK's own brutal involvement is a constant omission in all of Urban's output.

This Newsnight feature is, essentially, liberal propaganda posing as compassionate concern. The following studio panel discussion to Urban's film went on to consider what might be done for Mohammed. There's even the concerned suggestion from Gavin Esler that Mohammed might just be discarded as a forgotten victim if and when the troops pull out. Which all seems a worthy exploration and statement of concern. But, the true point, purpose and effect of such reporting and discussion is to humanise Britain's illicit involvement in what remains an illegally-enforced and unwinnable war.

Urban's careful dissection of the operation and its fallout puts the viewer right behind the BBC's distorted camera, concentrated on the selectively-solicited impressions and words of the participating British soldiers. Almost naturally, we're 'with them', absorbed by their job, getting a fascinating glimpse into their 'mission objectives' and the UK's 'primary task' - the 'bringing of security', as Urban, without any balancing caveat, is so keen to tell us.

In stark violation of the BBC's own guidelines on balanced comment and neutrality, Urban's film makes not the slightest posture towards even-handed journalism, with no semblance of a counter-balancing argument as to why UK forces are in Afghanistan and whether enlisted Afghans are being cynically used to fight the West's illegally-initiated war.


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