Thursday, 31 August 2017

BBC all on deck, lauding 'benign' state militarism: a further exchange

Following an initial letter/reply and further exchange with the BBC on its reporting of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, I received this latest communication (29/8/2017) from the BBC's Sean Moss. My further response is noted below.

Dear Mr Hilley
Ref: CAS-4541173-LC5LL7
Thank you for getting in touch again about our live page reporting on the arrival of new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in its home port. (
To take your original points in order, at your request:
1: This isn’t a service we provide.
2:  The premise here is your belief that an unquantified but significant strand of public opinion, which you term as “anti-war,” exists and should have been included in our coverage here. However the fact that alternative views exist on a given story does not mean that we’re obliged to include them and this story, at its core, is about the completion of a new UK aircraft carrier and its journey to its home port. Your characterisation of the alternative view here is also largely based on your interpretation of the navy’s role and the words "maritime power," which you outline exclusively along military lines without referring, for example, to additional functions in humanitarian and emergency scenarios and in supporting efforts against international crime.
3: As above, there’s no obligation we reflect every view on a subject and we believe the contents of this live page adhered to our requirement for due impartiality.
4: This is essentially an entirely separate point, linked here for the purposes of your wider argument and to which we can only add that we’ve reported extensively on the Yemen Crisis, most notably including Orla Guerin’s report from the city of Aden, published last month. (
On September 8th last year Newsnight reported on a draft copy of a report into whether UK-made weapons are being used against civilians in Yemen, asking “Do weapons sold to Saudi Arabia by Britain break international humanitarian law with their use in Yemen, and if so, what should be our response?”
So this isn’t a topic that has gone unexplored by BBC News and we've noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC's standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply.
If you are dissatisfied about our decision not to take your complaint further, you can contact the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) who will consider whether this was an appropriate decision.
If you wish to contact the ECU please write to it within 20 working days of receiving this reply. You can email  or write to: Executive Complaints Unit, BBC, Broadcast Centre, London W12 7TQ. Please include the case reference number which you have been given.
Best wishes,
Sean Moss
BBC News website 
My response

Dear Sean Moss

Thanks for replying. As expected, your response merely confirms the BBC's capacity for uniform-speak. It's yet another illustration of state media marching in tune with state militarism.

Allow me, in turn, to address your points in the same order.   
1. This is blatant evasion. At the very least, you should provide some justification for the extent of journalistic resources expended on this story, an output, we must suspect, consistent with the wasteful expenditure on the ship itself. Readers of your dismissive reply here can judge for themselves what lies behind such a denial of basic public information.

2. Isn't it all too revealing that you choose to interpret "maritime power" in this case as somehow 'benign'? You object that I didn't note the Navy's "additional functions in humanitarian and emergency scenarios and in supporting efforts against international crime." Why didn't Admiral Sir Philip Jones specifically use that kind of terminology - something like 'major maritime support role' - rather than his very obvious assertion of boastful militarist might? That's the real profile being projected by Admiral Jones, as amplified by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon:

Today we welcome our mighty new warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth to her home for the very first time. She is Britain’s statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role.
The BBC's eager repeating of such messages demonstrates just what kind of part it plays in defining and promoting expansionist UK militarism as legitimate and benevolent. 

Here, via author and historian Mark Curtis, are some helpful links illustrating the British Navy's true, extremist agenda, and the BBC's role in approving it: 

UK Navy's openly-declared goals are to control resource-rich regions and threaten those who challenge this. 
Read what the Royal Navy is saying. Our military is managed by imperialist, militarist extremists. 
The #BBC is simply a medium for the British state, a key part of its information operations 
Again, this can’t be MSM newsworthy since it would serve no political/propaganda function 
How did the Head of UK Navy become radicalised? Was it his private madrassa? The videos he watched? Could MI5 have prevented it? 
UK disinformation system is so extreme, Head of Navy's extremism doesn't even get reported, let alone ridiculed. 
Head of Navy confirms official meaning of 'national' . I.e, 'militarist elite'. Similar to term 'national interest'. 
One of the government's embedded spokespeople at the BBC. 
'Warfighting': the UK's comparative advantage in the global division of labour, as seen by elites  
#Oman, already a crawling UK intell base, has in effect become a UK military colony.
Reminder: New 'UK' aircraft carriers will also deploy *US* combat aircraft. para 3.19 
UK's new Navy warships are appropriately named 'City-class', indicating ongoing commercial/military imperialism 
Head of Royal Navy. Actually, aircraft carriers are offensive attack systems, used in first strike. See use of term ‘deterrent’ to mislead.
Citing the UK government's "massive £178 billion military re-equipment programme", and key speeches given recently by Admiral Jones to the City of London, Curtis observes that the head of the Royal Navy:
"is seriously saying that British sea power and military force will protect and British financial and commercial interests, including those of the City of London, especially in Asia. This is a clear exposition of the return of imperial gunboat diplomacy that Britain envisages in the post-Brexit world."
As Media Lens also put it:
A major function of @BBCNews is to boost public support for 'our' armed forces #PermaWar
I wonder why Permanent War and these core motivations aren't considered by you and the BBC in your understanding of the Royal Navy and its "additional functions.''

3. Again, readers can form their own judgment on your claim here to BBC 'impartiality'. What you're really saying is that the BBC, as 'all-knowing arbiters', will not permit alternative voices to the commissioning of this £3 billion ship, and Britain's dark militarist ambitions, to be aired. As previously noted, that's a subjective editorial judgement, one that weighs decisively in support of a particular, establishment view. That's not editorial 'impartiality'. It's straight propaganda. And, as Media Lens assert, it's a service that must be dutifully maintained:

Challenge anyone @BBCNews about omissions and biases and you'll get silence or a robotic assertion of 'impartiality'
4. My linking of the warship to events in Yemen was not a 'separate issue', or some 'additional argument'. It's internal to the same question about Britain's aggressive militarism, and the BBC's own culpability in failing to convey the true scale of it. 

Also, like other key BBC pieces on Yemen's humanitarian crisis, Orla Guerin's report says precisely nothing about Britain's part in sending arms to Saudi Arabia for the mass bombing of Yemen. More generally, beyond occasional and guarded discussion, many viewers of major BBC news reports on Yemen may likely never know that the UK is deeply involved in the human suffering which Guerin describes, such is the consistent level of BBC omission. Again, given the BBC Charter's own insistence of 'due weight', where is the appropriate level of coverage across BBC news headlining Britain's criminal involvement? As Curtis comments:

Imagine reporting this and not mentioning UK arms/advice/training. Seriously, it takes real commitment. #Yemen 
More BBC pieces on #Yemen without mentioning that this is also a UK war
That complicit blind eye to aggressive UK militarism is the key context to my complaint about the BBC's celebratory coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth. I suspect that, as part of the 'BBC guard', you will continue to deny and dismiss such connections. As ever with such enquiries and exchanges, my own small purpose here is to help shed a little light on BBC uniformity and service to power.

I will forward my complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit.

Kind regards

John Hilley

Friday, 25 August 2017

BBC naval gazing and coverage of British militarism: a further exchange

A reply (24 August 2017) from the BBC concerning my complaint over its coverage of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its arrival in Portsmouth.

Dear Mr Hilley
Reference CAS-4529010-T2T6CD 
Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC News Website coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth's arrival in Portsmouth. 
I understand you feel the coverage was both excessive and biased, failing to feature the views of those who opposed the commissioning of the ship. 
While I appreciate how strongly you feel about the points you raise, we would explain that the intention in our live coverage of this event was simply to report on the ship's arrival in her home port. As part of this we spoke with members of the crowd who turned out to watch the carrier's approach, discussed its construction, and featured speeches from senior naval personnel and Theresa May. 
However we would point out that across our wider news coverage we did discuss some of the criticism the vessel has faced. In his report on BBC One's 'Breakfast' programme on 16 August Duncan Kennedy acknowledged that it was also "a controversial day" owing to the "cost of the carrier"; he explained, "critics say the carrier has cost more than £3 billion and doesn't have a clearly defined role". 
Please be assured, the BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times. Indeed, our News editors ensure that over a reasonable period of time we reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends on particular issues, but it's important to add here that our published Editorial Guidelines explain that not every issue or viewpoint necessarily has to be included in each individual report. 
Account needs to be taken of the way a subject is covered over a period of time; perfect balance is difficult to achieve on every single individual occasion, while overall it is a more achievable goal taking into account our coverage as a whole. 
The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon - our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences. 
Nonetheless, I am sorry to read you feel we are failing to meet our objectives.
Please be assured, we appreciate your feedback on this issue and I have passed your comments forward on a report which will be read by senior BBC management and the BBC News team.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. 
Kind regards
Emma Duff
BBC Complaints Team
My further response to the BBC

Dear Emma Duff

Thanks for responding to my letter of complaint.

As anticipated, it's a lamentable copy-piece of BBC mitigation, evasion and denial.

Predictably, you insist that the "BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times". That's a claim no serious analysis of these propaganda-loaded reports could sustain.

You mention "how strongly" you think I feel about these matters. Let's explore that for a moment. The important point here is not the 'strength' of feeling, it's how we seek to define it. I do not write or speak in an objective way. I have an openly subjective view. All of our thoughts, feelings and expressions are subjective, in one form or another, overtly or otherwise stated.

And that includes the BBC, whose directors, editors and journalists also take subjective positions, rooted in approval of 'BBC values' and strong, supportive feelings about 'what BBC journalism stands for'. It suggests a strong endorsement of the BBC's establishment status, together with a strongly selective 'understanding' of the permissible boundaries of journalistic expression.

It is a matter of contention how able we are to make 'objective' assessments of any subjective output, particularly that specifically claiming to be 'impartial'. Here, again, our own subjective interpretations cannot be removed from any supposed 'objective' examination.

Yet, any rational reading of these reports would acknowledge that the BBC has taken an obviously strong and partisan position in upholding, praising and celebrating the HMS Queen Elizabeth and other such displays of British state militarism.

Again, that's my view. The point of concern here is not just that the BBC takes an opposite view (which it clearly does), but that - as you contend - it claims to take "no view" at all.

This kind of reportage might, at least, be deemed 'honest', were the BBC to accept that their output is, indeed, subjectively made; that they do, indeed, take a position, just like most other media. Yet you insist that, unlike my "strong" position, the BBC are still making impartial editorial decisions and reporting in a balanced, objective way.

You mention the requirements for impartiality, as set out in the BBC Charter. Again, we have to look at this document and its principal terms as both subjectively constructed by elite interests and subject to privileged interpretation by BBC directors.

At every level, from the commissioning of output to the handling of complaints, it's the subjective judgement of those same BBC figures who, in practice, determine what constitutes "due impartiality", and what's considered "due weight." You have simply reiterated those 'guiding' biases in your letter.

As with the compliance of senior editors and journalists, this suggests a level of indoctrination so deeply-rooted that those proclaiming notions of BBC 'impartiality' either can't see this filtering process, or, in daily acts of prudent self-restraint, simply avoid any career-threatening gaze.    

A determining factor here, as you note, is not just what's contained in a report, or set of reports, but "the way a subject is covered over a period of time." Thus, you point to the inclusion in a Breakfast News report of apparent 'concern' over the 'controversial cost' of this vessel. Do you consider this ample questioning of Britain's vast, wasteful and immoral military spending? Where, one may reasonably ask, are all those other 'balancing' pieces? Where is the 'due weight' of anti-war/weaponry sentiment duly represented?

As we've seen, such token and tepid mentions are dwarfed by the sheer scale and tone of reports lauding the ship and what it supposedly represents to 'the nation'. And, just like that task force, the BBC's subjectively-determined mission here is not just about 'reflecting' public feeling, but leading on, and feeding, dominant ideas and interests, ever careful to omit and circumvent that which casts British militarism in a negative light.  

In the same dutiful way, your reply completely ignores my questions on the BBC's reporting and quoting of senior military figures. Where, I repeat, are the counterpoints to Admiral Philip Jones's provocative assertions of Britain as a major maritime power? Why was he permitted to enunciate, unchallenged, such imperialist-sounding claims of military superiority? Where is the critical scrutiny, either in this set of reports, or in wider terms, of the UK state's war posturing and weapons prowess?

You also ignored, in this same, vital context, my question about the extent of Britain's dark involvement in weapons procurement and supplies to Saudi  Arabia and other regimes, with notable reference to the human catastrophe of Yemen. Why was this key context not duly mentioned in these reports, and why hasn't that state-corporate arms nexus been given due, critical attention over the longer period?

This set of reports show quite clearly that the BBC are not only openly supportive of HMS Queen Elizabeth, but are strongly promoting the entire culture of UK militarism.

Just as the BBC have failed to engage these core issues, your letter has avoided answering the specific points of my initial letter. Please be informed that I'd like them raised to the next level of the complaints procedure for serious consideration.

Kind regards
John  Hilley

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Drool Britannia: complaint to BBC over naked militarist propaganda

I wish to complain about the display of extravagant militarism celebrated in this live feed coverage of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth:

New aircraft carrier arrives in home port

This is a level of state media propaganda the BBC typically attributes to North Korea.

1. Please specify how many BBC reporters were allocated to this 'story', and the overall costs incurred to the licence payer. How can this level of resources and live feed reportage be  justified?

2. First Sea Lord Philip Jones Admiral Sir Philip Jones (sic) has been quoted in your report as saying: "Today, a new era of British maritime power is beginning." Is it reasonable to assume that a substantive section of the public do not, in fact, wish to see any 'resurgence' of Britain as a major maritime power, with all the dark imperialist history, and current global aggressions, that involves? In a world of Western, corporate-driven war, and desire for diplomatic alternatives, do you accept that this kind of comment is deeply controversial, offensive and inflammatory to many? Why did you publish this statement without providing any anti-war-voice?

3. The BBC Charter maintains that BBC output must always be impartial and balanced. Please indicate where any opposition to the commissioning of this £3 billion ship, or objection to UK militarism at large, is included in this set of reports. While many struggle to feed their families, is it fair to suggest that considerable numbers of people find this level of expenditure deeply immoral? Where is this public concern reflected in your coverage?

4. Do you consider it moral or proportionate to be giving this fawning level of coverage and support for British militarism while that same UK state is providing massive arms and support to Saudi Arabia for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen? Please indicate where the BBC has raised this dark anomaly, or allowed space for any substantive comment on it. The live feed includes glowing pieces detailing 'HMS Queen Elizabeth in numbers' and 'Everything you need to know about HMS Queen Elizabeth'. Have the BBC produced any similar pieces specifying the numbers, scale and consequences of Britain's killing equipment to tyrant regimes?  
I look forward to your considered and detailed response.

John Hilley