Monday, 18 April 2005

The BBC: apologising to torturers

by John Pilger

Can you imagine the BBC and other major broadcasters apologising to a rogue regime which practises racism and ethnic cleansing; which has “effectively legalised the use of torture” (according to Amnesty International); which holds international law in contempt, having defied hundreds of UN resolutions and built an apartheid wall in defiance of the International Court of Justice; which has demolished thousands of people's homes and given its soldiers the right to assassinate; and whose leader was judged “personally responsible” for the massacre of more than 2000 people?

Can you imagine the BBC saying sorry to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or other official demons, for broadcasting an uncensored interview with a courageous dissident of that country, a man who spent 19 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement? Of course not.

Yet, last month, the BBC apologised “confidentially” to a regime with such a record, so that its correspondent would be allowed back, having promised to abide by a system of censorship that continues to gag the dissident.

The regime is President Ariel Sharon's in Israel, whose war crimes, appalling human rights record and enduring lawlessness continue to be granted a certificate of exemption not only by the US-dominated West, but by respectable journalism.

The British Labour government's collusion with the Sharon gang is reflected in the BBC's “balanced” coverage of a repression described by Nelson Mandela as “the greatest moral issue of the age”. Simon Wilson, the correspondent made to apologise for a proper, important and long overdue interview with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, will know better in future.

That is hardly new. What is new is the extent to which insidious state propaganda has penetrated sections of the media whose independence has been, until recently, accepted by much of the public.

To appreciate this, one applies the Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence. The Law of Opposites can be applied to almost any news broadcast these days. The long-awaited death of the Pope is a case in point. By reversing the river of drivel about the Pope — “the people's Pope” (almost universal), “the man who changed history” (US President George Bush) “a towering figure revered across all faiths and none” (British PM Tony Blair) — you have the truth.

This deeply reactionary man held back history and destroyed lives all over the world with his fanatical opposition to basic decencies, such as birth control. He called this “abominable”, spitting the word out, and so condemned millions, from starving infants to babies born with AIDS. In Latin America, he publicly humiliated courageous priests whose “preference for the poor” dared to cross the medieval hierarchy he upheld. The claim that he “brought down communism” is also the opposite of the truth. As I learned when I reported his papal return to his native Poland in 1979, the church in that country, whose conservatism he embodied, was a scheming bedfellow of the Stalinist regime until the wind changed.

The Law of Opposites can be applied to the current Western government/media fashion for saving Africa, known as the Year of Africa. The BBC has hosted a special conference about this, just as Blair will host the G8 summit in July with “eradicating Africa's poverty” as its theme.

Like the rest of the impoverished world, African countries qualify for the vogue enlightenment only if they agree to impose on their people the deadly strictures of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — such as the destruction of tariffs protecting sustainable economies and the privatising of natural resources such as water. At the same time, they are “encouraged” to buy weapons from British arms companies, especially if they have a civil war under way or there is a tension with a neighbour.

The Law of Silence is applied to crimes committed not by official demons — Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Serb President Slobodan Milosevic et al — but by Western governments. An Australian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent, Eric Campbell, in recently promoting a book of his adventures, described the broadcast “coverage” of the war in Iraq. “Live satellite is a travesty”, he said. “Basically, if [the reporters] are on satellite, they haven’t seen anything. The correspondent is read the stories from the wire and told that is what they have to say on air — that's in the majority of cases.”

That may help to explain why the horror of the US attack on Fallujah has yet to be reported by the other major broadcasters. By contrast, independent journalists such as Dahr Jamail have reported doctors describing the slaughter of civilians carrying white flags by US marines. This was videotaped, including the killing of most of a family of 12. One witness described how his mother was shot in the head and his father through the heart, and how a six-year-old boy standing over his dead parents, crying, was shot dead. None of this has appeared on British television. When asked, a BBC spokesperson said, “The conduct of coalition forces has been examined at length by BBC programmes”. That is demonstrably untrue.

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