Friday, 31 December 2010

Prosecutions, persecutions - last thoughts

Another year closes with more political persecutions and the same high political villains still at large.

Binyamin Netanyahu and his coterie have continued to evade prosecution for outright war crimes, not least the murder this year of nine peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Meanwhile, the Israeli leftist Jonathan Pollak has been sentenced to three months in jail by a Tel Aviv court for daring to join a bike protest in support of the Palestinian cause.

Here's some of the noble words Jonathan offered to the judge in response:
"I find myself unable to express remorse in this case. 
If His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza's inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.

The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society's privileged sons."
Two years on from the carnage of Cast Lead, Gaza itself still remains imprisoned, notes Jody McIntyre, yet another peaceful 'irritant' hauled-off by the law.

The year also ends with a guilty verdict and looming imprisonment for Tommy Sheridan.

We can discuss forever-more whether Sheridan said this, did that, went to a swingers club, kept indecent company and should, more prudently, have recognised the powers of Murdoch, the police and other elite interests all-too-eager to see him broken and jailed. 

Some others purporting to be committed socialists will have to reconcile their own consciences in taking The Digger's filthy lucre and revelling in this tragic outcome.  Again, much of that will remain the stuff of bitter hindsight and sad reflection. Hubris, pride and a trail of toxic division: nothing politically useful will ever be built on hate and recrimination.

Yet, beyond the schisms, legal intrigues and this 'public interest' prosecution, here's a more sobering thought to ponder.

Whatever the grubby detail, a man who has stood up for ordinary people all his political life now faces years of painful incarceration over seeming personal indiscretions.  Meanwhile, another who has used his political career to help launch the genocidal killing of over 1 million Iraqis is still at large, feted by the establishment and made a Middle East peace envoy.  £5 million of public money spent on pursuing the victor of a libel case.  Not a penny on bringing to book the architect of this country's highest war crime. Where's the justice?

The capacity of the elite to protect their own while hounding radical others should never be underestimated.

Michael Moore rightly laughed out loud when Newsnight's Gavin Esler suggested that the 'sex charges' against Julian Assange should still be seen as unconnected to his Wikileaks activities.

But while Assange has been pursued by the US and its proxies through the international courts, a more appalling injustice goes virtually ignored by a subservient media and even human rights bodies like Amnesty International. 

Bradley Manning languishes in a US jail, contemplating an actual lifetime behind bars.  As noted:
"Manning expressed disillusionment with American foreign policy, opining that the diplomatic documents expose "almost criminal political back dealings" and expressed a wish that the release of the videos would cause large-scale scandals and lead to "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms." "
The man who risked his liberty to alert us to the West's most wicked doings in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere should be hailed around the world for his services to humanity.  Instead, while Bush's memoirs boast unsparingly of torture and killing, Manning is painted as a deviant crank, the proverbial threat to international security and deserving of the most reactionary sentence.  Again, where's the equivalent justice?

 I'd like, in my token capacity, to nominate Bradley Manning for bravery of the year award. 

Wishing everyone who has happened in on this humble blog a kind new year, and for those wrongfully and selectively imprisoned by the forces of repression, my compassionate regards.  


Monday, 27 December 2010

Media Lens challenge academic book on media's 'independent' coverage of Iraq

Media Lens have been involved in a most illuminating exchange with Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester.  In his co-authored book, Pockets of Resistance, Robinson claims to have identified significant  "variations" in the media's coverage of the Iraq war.  The ML Editors have challenged this assertion, raising related issues about academic 'objectivity' and the ways in which 'scholarly' output often comes to serve the interests of power.

The Alert, What Happened to Academia?, can be read here:
A letter to Piers Robinson on the issues:

Dear Piers

Thanks for engaging so earnestly with Media Lens over the content and claims of your book.

I suspect from the detailed defence offered that you are rather concerned about how its core message might be received by those, like the ML Editors, who closely observe and scrutinise such texts.

I haven't read the book, so can't offer an in-depth opinion. But it seems not unreasonably clear - as gleaned from the exchanges - that its central premise concerning the reporting of the Iraq war is deeply flawed.

As ML put it:
"Far from offering an "admirably wide range of coverage", the media facilitated an audacious government propaganda campaign while offering a strictly enfeebled version of dissent. Obvious facts and sources that had the power to derail the government case for war were essentially nowhere to be seen."
That lamentable truth is also repeated many times in John Pilger's film, The War You Don't See, where even key media figures were bound to acknowledge that if journalists were doing their job, the war might never have happened.

Parts of the media made the outright case for war. But there's also countless examples, archived at the ML site and elsewhere, of much more copy which offered only token and restrained 'questioning' of the invasion, occupation and US/UK war crimes - including The Guardian, Independent and Channel 4 News.

That, I presume, is what constitutes your "admirably wide range of coverage".

You note in your updated reply:
"At the same time, coverage of the war was not uniform. Understanding that there were important variations as well as establishing why that occurred is also part of developing the kind of knowledge that can lead to change. Even if CH4 and the Mirror were NOT doing enough, the fact that they were doing something different demands investigation in order to understand why, if only to explore ways of building upon that. We do this in the book."
I wonder whether the focus on these "important variations" is not just another scholarly acceptance of the prevailing narrative that there is supposedly real differentiation and plurality of thought within the corporate-run media. Where is the more fundamental assessment of the structural forces behind such media outlets and the ways in which those forces still constrain and temper these media "variations"?

You also discuss Chomsky, seeking, by inference to others' criticism of his "pejorative" "polemic," to problematise such output as "making an argument in a way which disregards the rules of scholarship".

Part of that objection seems to be saying that there's no room for 'subjective emotion' in 'scholarly' analysis. Or, where it occurs, it devalues the 'objective' impact of the analysis.

There's something about that kind of conditional 'defence' of Chomsky and reference to "the rules" of academic output which betrays, I think, the self-important claims of your study - and, perhaps, what purports to be 'social science' more generally.

The real problem here is that your book, claiming to identify significant variations in the reporting of war, will become textual truth for many of the media students who will come to read it. Of course, some may be aware of, or be made aware, of Chomsky/Herman, Pilger and Media Lens, but the tendency will be to place these as 'alternative', 'secondary' and 'subjective' 'polemics' to the kind of 'core', 'objective' 'scholarship' to be grasped in texts like your own.

Your own conditional 'recognition' of that 'polemical' output, as noted in the exchange with ML, is in itself a kind of subtle direction to the reader and prospective media student: 'yes, it's valid discourse, but only as a questionable, over-radicalised take on the issues, not one that should obstruct serious, objective enquiry.'

This is how academia encourages 'respectable scholarship' and the safe indulgence of seminar room 'dissent', a process which produces 'suitable' candidates for the 'profession' and reliably restrained views, resulting in the kind of safely-critical, self-satisfied journalism that allowed the barbaric assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Thus, as ML note: "the scholar's obsession with objectivity tends to promote the interests of power.

Perhaps those reading this ML Alert and exchange will be encouraged towards their own subjective study of how academics come to profess on behalf of power. How, they might ask, do scholars manage to commend the media's "admirably wide range of coverage" while claiming 'regard' for Chomsky, Media Lens et al? Fittingly, such prevarication mirrors the kind of journalistic war coverage under discussion.

I wonder if you can see the paradox?

Kind regards

John Hilley

 Dear John,

Thanks for this. Some of the initial exchanges reflect matters surrounding the press release and there is not a clear picture of what we actually are arguing. I've attached the conclusion to the book. Best to read and then perhaps the rest of the book before finalizing your opinion.




My thanks to Piers for passing this on.  There's not enough space here for a full dissection, but it's worth citing this central message from the concluding chapter:
"On television, the coverage provided by Channel 4 News conformed largely
to the independent model. Among newspapers, a majority of coverage in
the Guardian, Independent and Mirror could be categorised as consistent
with both the independent and oppositional models, and each of these titles
adopted an anti- war, oppositional editorial stance. Indeed, the diversity of
newspaper coverage that we were able to identify represents one of our most
remarkable findings: the 2003 invasion of Iraq was certainly not reported
in a uniform fashion by Britain’s press. Overall findings for negotiated and
oppositional coverage suggest that news media performance is, at the very
least, more nuanced and varied than is argued in the major works..."
While it was the case that certain press and TV outlets took an anti-war position, does this really indicate crucial variations in how the media reacted to the invasion and occupation?  Were many of the Guardian editorials really independent or oppositional in their criticism of Blair and his co-warmongers?  Where was the Guardian's outright call for Blair to be arraigned for war crimes? 

Contrary to the underlying message of this book, there are no media outlets in the UK that can be said to be truly "independent" or "oppositional".

We do, of course, refer to, and often rely upon, academic-based studies to help illustrate media bias and service to power - the Glasgow University Media Group work on Palestine- Israel, for example, or the Lancet study on deaths in Iraq. 'Social science' does have a key role in addressing, quantifying, collating and interpreting vital social phenomena.  The Chomsky/Herman Propaganda Model provides yet another set of qualitative-based criteria for understanding media subservience to power and how that facilitates corporate control over society.

Yet, Chomsky and other critical academics have also spent much of their scholarly lives identifying corporate-establishment constraints on academia itself, notably the ways in which it promotes, supports and cultivates conformity, including the belief that academia is an autonomous place for free investigation. 

The Pockets of Resistance thesis, in contrast, claims to identify a picture of serious media autonomy, editorial plurality and differentiated reportage.  The effect of this is to plant and encourage a basic acceptance of this liberal claim,  nullifying, in many students' and other readers' minds, the bigger context of how the corporate order still drives and informs all such media output, even that of the Trust-owned Guardian.  

The book's claims of 'greater nuance' in the reporting of Iraq also promotes the view that "the major works" are overly-polemical and monolithic.  It's offering a kind of headline statement on 'media freedom', concluding that due to certain variations in the reporting of the Iraq war, these media outlets are acting as "independent" or/and "oppositional" bodies.

The result is this social science 'tick-a-box' exercise, awarding labels to given media outlets based on what liberal media itself would regard as "independent" or "oppositional". It's similar to the ways in which the US-friendly political/electoral 'monitor' Freedom House offer ratings on whether a country can be called 'democratic', 'semi-democratic' or 'non-democratic'. 

Robinson and his co-authors may reject the conclusion that this study comprises any blatant service to power, but such close attention to scholarly 'evidence' of liberal 'media independence' in the coverage of Iraq lends itself precisely to this establishment-serving end.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Defending Assange - real and feigned

The empire is surely striking back.  Julian Assange, leading figure behind Wikileaks and the current US cable releases, has been arrested and refused bail despite reasonable surety pledges from John Pilger and notable others.

"It stinks", says Pilger.  Despite a prior decision by the head Swedish prosecutor not to proceed with sex-based allegations against Assange, fresh efforts have seemingly been initiated by another more politically-motivated prosecutor to have him extradited to Sweden.  It's likely that the US, relying on friendly Sweden, will seek his further extradition on espionage charges.   

But while mainstream journalists and editors pore over the detail and significance of the cables, where is their serious defence of Wikileaks and Assange?  Where is the outright, campaigning support for a figure and organisation ready, unlike them, to challenge Western warmongers and expose their grubby 'diplomatic' secrets?

In one of his fine interviews on the matter, Pilger not only exposes the slurs and collusion behind the Assange arrest, but gives a model tutorial to would-be journalists - including his ABC interviewer - on how serious reporters should be conducting themselves.  

As he says, if journalists are not at the centre of such hostility from the establishment, they need to think about their own roles and output:  "If you don't incur the wrath, you're not doing your job, are you?" 

There should, as Pilger describes Assange's motives, always be an "ethical dimension, a moral dimension" to journalism.

For most journalists, the 'ethical' issue has been dutifully fitted around the default question of whether Assange and Wkileaks have been "endangering national security."  Unlike Pilger, rarely do they see the releases as a moral effort to expose acts of state barbarism and the machiavellian manoevrings behind policies directed towards the mass taking of lives.  

The Guardian has readily-dispensed most of the cable information, to date.  But where, beyond the carefully-tempered words of editorial 'support', is their crusading defence of Wikileaks and Assange?
"Under technological, legal, financial, corporate and governmental attack from all sides, Assange has managed to keep his subversive website, WikiLeaks, staggering on, spilling classified secrets around the globe. Will WikiLeaks be floored by the arrest of its driving inspiration? Or will its actions, ethos and notoriety prove it to be indestructible and thereby demonstrate that there are new forces in the world which can effectively challenge established patterns of power and control of information? Is it the end or the beginning?
So coy, so middling, so Guardian.  

Editor Alan Rusbridger basks in the Wiki limelight, enjoying the 'radical' kudos - and boosting circulation - of being a designated publisher of the cables, while maintaining a safe distance from Assange and "his subversive website".   

Is this the kind of unreserved, moral journalism Pilger speaks of? 

On which related theme, here's an illuminating circular from David Peterson on the stark hypocrisy of the US when it comes to the upholding of 'press freedom':
"Friends: How can one not feel stomach-punched when one reads in yesterday's press release from the U.S. Department of State that "The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 - May 3 in Washington," and that the "theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers"?

"In its December 7 press release, the State Department added:[1]

"At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age."
Where, one wonders, is the Guardian's serious deconstruction of that shameless release?