ICE blogs

December 12, 2017

How conflict is covered

T. J. Coles reviews Covering conflict: The making and unmaking of new militarism, by Richard Lance Keeble (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Abramis)

Richard Keeble has written a book about the anti-democratic, frequently deceptive ‘military/industrial/intelligence/media complex’ (p. 2) A second, updating edition of one of his previous books, Secret state, silent press (p. 1), the book is more a critique of the underlying structures of mass media and journalism than it is of individual journalists, many of whom do a fine job within the limits imposed upon them by the nature of the mass market and, of course, the secret state. By 1990, the UK had more than 100 laws prohibiting the disclosure of supposedly sensitive information, making it one of the most secretive states in the word (p. 23).

Keeble’s book is as much, perhaps more, about omission in mainstream media as it is about content: for instance, the lack of the coverage of underlying causes of war and of civilian casualties. This creates a framework in which power is unaccountable and government decisions are undemocratic.

In Chapter One, Keeble argues that the ‘old’ militarism was conscription-based. But, with the triumph of the Labour Party after World War Two, and, perhaps more importantly, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the UK and US, a ‘new’ militarism gradually emerged. Private media, linked in various ways to the deep state, smeared any moves from sectors of the public and the Labour Party (then under Michael Foot) towards unilateral nuclear disarmament (p. 19).

As British institutions appeared to become more democratic, the military, particularly in light of its new high-tech developments putting humans increasingly out of the loop, became more secretive. Parallel to these developments was the evolution in media of war as a spectacle. Perhaps the most important development was the manufacturing via institutional structures of faux audience participation. By this, Keeble (pp 7-8) refers to the ‘live’ nature of war coverage thanks to satellite television, as pioneered during the coverage of the Gulf War 1991. As secrecy intensified, commercial secrecy in the international arms trade, where Britain was and remains a big player, also grew (pp 18-19). Keeble argues that the state ‘was seen as vulnerable to threat from technological advances within the media. In the event, the US invasions of the 1980s culminating in the attack on Iraq, showed that the new media technologies were, in fact, highly vulnerable to manipulation by the state’ (p. 14).

Chapter Two concerns journalists and the secret state. In this chapter, Keeble, careful to emphasise that the security state is not monolithic, reviews the deep state nexus, documenting the incestuous connections of the police, military police forces, special forces, foreign intelligence agencies and the infrastructure that holds them together. Keeble then goes on to discuss those journalists who are connected in one way or the other to the intelligence services. Keeble’s subchapter on what he calls the ‘conspiracy theory conundrum’ (p. 65) argues that the entire military-industrial-media complex operates to a significant extent on conspiracy. Yet when researchers ‘highlight its significance [they are] accused of lacking academic rigour and promoting “conspiracy theory”’. Keeble concludes, cautiously, that ‘conspiratorial elements have to be acknowledged’ at times, when discussing media and war reporting.

Chapter Three concerns what Keeble calls an emergence of a new militarist consensus. There was a near-consensus against war in the US among the general public but, as Keeble notes, the public has become increasingly alienated from the workings of the state, due in part to the media. By the time of the Gulf War 1991, coverage had changed to distance audiences at home from the horror of carpet bombing (or ‘precision bombing’ in the propaganda nomenclature) abroad. In the UK, the Labour government under Jim Callaghan had prepared for an invasion of the Falklands Islands/Malvinas by Argentina (which claims the islands as its rightful, post-colonial territory) as early as 1977. The Falklands War of 1982 ‘set a hugely significant precedent’, says Keeble (p. 93), helping in the creation of a ‘permanent war economy’ (p. 95). Photographs, film and reports were deliberately delayed by the military, correspondents were embedded in heavily controlled pools with the armed forces while other journalists were blacklisted.

In Chapter Four, Keeble studies the cases of the US’s Grenada invasion of 1983 and the ‘Irangate’ scandal of 1985-1987. The idea that instant global communication allows unprecedented, uncensored access to war coverage is a myth, he suggests. In Grenada, a carefully managed media campaign succeeded in covering up the number of casualties, presenting the invasion as an instant response to alleged transgressions, exaggerating the threat of Grenada to US interests and selling the war to the American public with a 71 per cent approval rating. ‘Irangate’ or the Iran-Contra Affair, involved elements of the US military illegally selling arms, via conduits in Israel, to Iran, one of America’s official enemies, to fund its illegal activities in Nicaragua. The Pentagon-led media strategy over so-called Low Intensity Conflict ‘prioritised covert warfare’ (p. 121), making journalistic investigations very difficult. Interestingly, no significant investigation, both at the media or governmental levels, followed the revelations of the foreign editor of Hearst newspapers, John Wallach, concerning ‘Irangate’ in June 1985. It was only after a Lebanese newspaper reported on the events in November 1986 that the international media chased the story.

In Chapter Five, Keeble argues that the new militarism, being contingent on public ignorance of Third World dynamics, sought to portray Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, as a villain in a simplistic struggle between good and evil. When Saddam was an ally of the US and Great Britain during the 1980s, media coverage of his atrocities was ‘restrained’ (p. 128). Keeble gives the example of Halabja 1988, when 5,000 Kurds were slaughtered. ‘Little blame was levelled personally at Saddam Hussein in the press’ (ibid). When Saddam became the enemy, he was rapidly labelled ‘Hitler’ (p. 134).

Chapter Six highlights the lack of media questioning concerning the motives for supporting dictators and arms sales, and in waging war. Sticking with the example of the Gulf War 1991, Keeble notes that few reports of the period asked what the war was really all about. The veneer painted by the media was that of Saddam raving against Kuwait for stealing Iraq’s oil and blaming US allies for driving down oil prices. A deeper context is imperialism, particularly British, given the UK’s role in the war. Keeble goes on to note ‘secret’ wars (i.e., those ignored or marginalised in the corporate media) in the decades leading up to the Gulf War. These include Oman (1968-1977) and the inevitable collusion with the expanding US empire.

In Chapter Seven, Keeble argues that the media shaped public opinion about war in several ways. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, ‘Most of the press had no time for talk – they wanted war and right now’ (p. 165). The tabloids’ warmongering was predictable. But what were the motivations of the so-called left-leaning press? Keeble quotes the Guardian’s then-principal feature writer, Martin Woollacott, who says that his colleagues were divided over how to cover the war, referring to diplomacy versus military action. By the end of August 1990, however, the majority of Independent articles supported war. Keeble then goes on to document how newspapers sought to exclude critical voices. On the manipulation of public opinion, the supposedly more liberal media constructed polls as to avoid the option of peace negotiations and even asked the public if they would support assassinating Saddam (p. 176).

Chapter Eight concerns the modes of censorship employed by the Ministry of Defence and the media itself in (mis)reporting the war. Correspondents were ‘pooled’ in hotels and carefully managed by the US military. ‘The highest contingents in the press corps’ were American and British (p. 184). The non-pooled journalists were expected to stay in hotels. Learning their lessons of embedding in the Falklands War, direct censorship was not needed because journalists had ‘bonded’ (p. 191) with their military counterparts and were thus less likely to write critically about them.

Returning to the theme of high-tech war, as ushered in by the nuclear age, Chapter Nine traces the history of ‘nukespeak’ (Chilton quoted on p. 198) to the development of so-called high-precision weapons as used in the Gulf War 1991. Coupled with the other factors analysed in previous chapters, the media’s handling of high-tech weapons further sought to dehumanise Iraqis.

Chapter Ten argues that the casualty disparity between the allied forces and the Iraqi forces was so large that it was not really a ‘war’: more a series of massacres of a largely defenceless ‘enemy’. On the occasion that civilian atrocity stories did make it to print or television, the mantra was to blame Saddam Hussein.

Chapter Eleven moves on from the Middle East and into Somalia and Yugoslavia. As the United States launched Operation Restore Hope in 1992, supposedly to end a famine which was ending anyway, the US government ensured its business relations with US energy giants operating in the country remained secure. In Serbia in 1999, NATO launched a supposed humanitarian war to save Kosovar Albanians, some of whom (such as the Kosovo Liberation Army) were linked to al-Qaeda and trained by US and British forces. In defence of the KLA, the US-led NATO bombed Serbia, preparing the way for the independence of Kosovo nearly a decade later in 2008. Just as the US blamed Saddam for US-led atrocities in Iraq, Serbia’s President Milošević was blamed for what NATO did to his country.

In Chapter Twelve, Keeble argues that the Gulf War of 2003 was a ‘myth’ (p. 265): the threat posed by Saddam and his supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction was almost entirely a fabrication, the Iraqi armed forces collapsed quickly, and massive fire-power (‘shock and awe’) quickly destroyed the civilian infrastructure. Media management was essentially a repeat of the Gulf War 1991 and Serbia 1999: the Pentagon devised a large-scale (dis)information campaign, the secret state operated without public or media oversight and, disturbingly, the number of Western journalists killed in the war reached 15.

The concluding Chapter Thirteen is unusual in that it criticises the pretext for war in Afghanistan in 2001: something that many scholars, including those critical of the invasion of Iraq 2003, failed to do. The war script – a deadly enemy, precision weapons, etc – was rehashed, this time to more effect than in previous conflicts due to the then-recent 9/11 atrocities which convinced most Britons and Americans that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, together with their Taliban sponsors, must be destroyed. As the US-British occupation continued, the enemy used ever-deadly methods of resistance, or terrorism as Western media called it. These included suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. In 2010, Britain and France signed a defence cooperation treaty. Within a year, both countries joined the US via NATO in destroying Libya. Keeble also deals with the 2013 war, led by France, against elements operating in Mali.

In the Conclusion, Keeble summarises the grim reality of war: civilian casualties, soldier casualties, and financial expenditure, which could have been invested in more progressive programmes at home. The high-tech, highly-controlled informational nature of the so-called new militarism has morphed into ‘disaster militarism’ (p. 315).

Keeble’s book balances accessibility with scholarly rigour. It is an important contribution to the literature concerning media coverage of conflict and the growth of an increasingly out-of-control security state.

Dr T. J. Coles is a guest of the School of Art and Humanities at the University of Plymouth, UK, and the author of several books, including Britain’s secret wars and Fire and fury (both Clairview Books). His latest, Human wrongs (Iff Books), is due to be published in 2018.

September 13, 2016

US investigative journalist charged

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, politics, human rights — news_editor @ 10:42 am

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for prosecutors in the US state of North Dakota to drop all criminal charges against broadcast journalist Amy Goodman, who hosts the global news programme Democracy Now! She faces criminal trespass charges following her reporting on protests against the construction of an oil pipeline opposed by Native American tribes in the region.

Goodman filmed security guards using dogs and pepper spray to disperse protesters. Morton County Sherriff’s Department issued a statement saying protesters had entered private land after breaking down a fence while Democracy Now! reported on its website that an officer from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation acknowledged in an affidavit that Goodman was seen in the video identifying herself as a journalist and interviewing protesters. If convicted, Goodman could face a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail.

Carlos Lauría, senior programme coordinator for the Americas at CPJ, said: ‘This arrest warrant is a transparent attempt to intimidate reporters from covering protests of significant public interest.’ The complaint also cites Cody Charles Hall, an organiser of the protest, who was arrested on September 9, denied bail and jailed over the weekend, according to press reports.

Energy Transfer Partners hopes the pipeline will carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, across land close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Protesters say the project risks polluting the water supply, and would run through burial sites and other locations they hold sacred.

See https://www.cpj.org/2016/09/arrest-warrant-for-muckraking-us-journalist.php

April 28, 2016

Media’s role in challenging ‘criminal state’

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, politics, new books — news_editor @ 1:07 pm

A call for publics to use social media technologies to assert themselves against established authority is made by Dan Hind in his latest publication, The public and the mass.

Hind, author of the acclaimed The return of the public, argues: ‘The public forming platforms would need to have a very different character from, say, Facebook. Rather than monetising their consumers from panoramic surveillance they would generate defined data outputs that would be shared among those who create them. The design would enable us to learn more about what people think, to change minds and have our own minds changed. The emphasis would be on meaningful privacy, public transparency and equality in speech.’

To help inspire a new movement promoting constitutional liberties, Hind looks back to the colonies in the period leading up to the American Revolution. ‘They did so through a discussion of constitutional forms using public meetings and cheap and easily pirated pamphlets. It was a matter of forming new publics for the purpose of creating a new political order.’ Their activities were centred on the publishing industry and epitomised by Thomas Paine’s donation of his royalties from Common sense (1776) to the cause of ending royalty on the continent.
‘Is it so far-fetched to imagine that another wave of public formation, drawing on the capabilities of the software sector and intent on securing individual liberty might develop and distribute the powers needed in a new constitutional order?’

Hind begins by highlighting the distinction made by the celebrated American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) between the mass society and the public: ‘The idea of a mass society suggests the idea of an elite of power. The idea of the public, in contrast, suggests the liberal tradition of a society without any power elite, or at any rate with shifting elites of no sovereign consequence.’ Elites play down the constitutional significance of their effective control over the communications system. And they panic when ‘the nature of the relationship between elite rule and the communications system threatens to become visible’ as happened following the Chelsea Manning/WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden/Guardian revelations.

The files did not reveal isolated examples of state criminality. ‘They set out the substantial integration of the state and the corporate sector, including the major media, around a project encompassing aggressive war, torture, and the indiscriminate seizure of private information.’
But in the end, Hind is hopeful: ‘The same technologies that permit both mass surveillance and the massive infiltration of the citizen body can be used both to clarify public opinion and establish its superiority over private interests and secret bureaucracies.’

• The public and the mass, Commonwealth; see http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/the-public-and-the-mass/.

July 29, 2015

History of Chadian dictator: Missing from the media

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict — news_editor @ 11:16 am

Richard Lance Keeble

So finally, Hissene Habre, the former dictator of Chad, is being tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture during his rule from 1982-1990. A few news items focused on the scuffles which broke out at the trial last week in Dakar, Senegal - and the adjournment of the case until September. Yet the history of the attempts to bring Habré to justice has gone largely unreported in the Western corporate media.

Formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, Chad gained its independence in 1960 and since then has been gripped by civil war. In a rare instance of coverage on 21 May 1992, the London-based Guardian carried four short paragraphs reporting how 40,000 people were estimated to have died in detention or been executed during the tyranny of Habré. A justice ministry report concluded that Habré had committed genocide against the Chadian people.

First, in a case inspired by the one against Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, several human rights organisations, led by Human Rights Watch, filed a suit against Habré in Senegal (his refuge since 1990). They argued that he could be tried anywhere for crimes against humanity and that former heads of state were not immune. However, on 21 March 2001, the Senegal Court of Cassation threw out the case. And so human rights campaigners turned their attention to Belgium where one of the victims of Habré’s torture lived.

Following threats from the United States in June 2003 that Belgium risked losing its status as host to Nato’s headquarters, a historic law of 1993, which allowed victims to file complaints in Belgium for atrocities committed abroad, was repealed. A new law, adopted in August 2003, allowed for the continuation of the case against Habré – much to the delight of human rights campaigners. But then attention switched back to Senegal. Here, under pressure from the International Court of Justice and victim campaign groups, a special tribunal was set up to investigate the allegations – the Extraordinary African Chambers. Finally, in February 2015, a panel of four judges announced there was enough evidence to put the former dictator on trial after carrying out a 19-month pre-trial investigation, mainly in Chad, interviewing 2,500 witnesses and victims, analysing documents from Habré’s secret police and visiting mass graves.

While coverage of Chad has been largely missing from the Western media, so too was the massive, secret war waged by the United States and Britain from bases in Chad against Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar Gaddafi. British involvement in a 1996 plot to assassinate Gaddafi was reported as an isolated event – following revelations by David Shayler. Yet it is best seen as part of a wide-ranging and long-standing strategy of the US, French and UK secret states to remove Gaddafi which culminated in his brutal ousting during the Nato-led uprising in 2011.

Grabbing power by removing King Idris in a 1969 coup, Gaddafi (who, intriguingly, had followed a military training course in England in 1966) soon became the target of covert operations – many of them launched from Chad – by the French, Americans, Israelis and British.

Stephen Dorril, in his seminal history of M16, records how in 1971 a British plan to invade Libya, release political prisoners and restore the monarchy ended in an embarrassing flop. Nine years later, the head of the French secret service, Alain de Gaigneronde de Marolles, resigned after a French-led plan ended in disaster when a rebellion by Libyan troops in Tobruk was quickly suppressed.

Then, in 1982, away from the glare of the media, Habré, with the backing of the CIA and French troops, overthrew the Chadian government of Goukouni Wedeye. Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame), in his semi-official history of the CIA, reveals that the Chad covert operation was the first undertaken by the new CIA chief William Casey and that, throughout the decade, Libya ranked as high as the Soviet Union as the bête noir of the White House. A report from Amnesty International, Chad: The Habré Legacy, of October 2001, recorded massive military and financial support for the dictator by the US Congress. It added: “None of the documents presented to Congress and consulted by AI covering the period 1984 to 1989 make any reference to human rights violations.”

US official records indicate that funds for the Chad-based covert war against Libya also came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Iraq. The Saudis, for instance, gave $7million to an opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (also backed by French intelligence and the CIA). However, a plan to assassinate Gaddafi and seize power on 8 May 1984 was crushed. In the following year, the US asked Egypt to invade Libya and overthrow Gaddafi but President Mubarak refused. By the end of 1985, the Washington Post had exposed the plan after congressional leaders opposing it wrote in protest to President Reagan.

Frustrated in its covert attempts to topple Gaddafi, the US government’s strategy suddenly shifted. For 11 minutes in the early morning of 14 April 1986, 30 US air force and navy bombers struck Tripoli and Benghazi in a raid code-named El Dorado Canyon.

The US/UK mainstream media were ecstatic. Yet the main purpose of the raid was to kill the Libyan president – dubbed a “mad dog” by Reagan. In the event, the first bomb to drop on Tripoli hit Gaddafi’s home killing Hana, his adopted daughter aged 15 months – while his eight other children and wife Safiya were all hospitalised, some with serious injuries. The president escaped.

Reports of US military action against Libya disappeared from the media after the 1986 assault. But away from the glare of publicity, the CIA launched its most extensive effort yet to spark an anti-Gaddafi coup. A secret army was recruited from among the many Libyans captured in border battles with Chad during the 1980s. And as concerns grew in M16 that Gaddafi was aiming to develop chemical weapons, Britain funded various opposition groups in Libya.

Then in 1990, with the crisis in the Gulf developing, French troops helped oust Habré in a secret operation and install Idriss Déby as the new President of Chad. The French government had tired of Habré’s genocidal policies while George Bush senior’s administration decided not to frustrate France in exchange for co-operation in its attack on Iraq.

Yet, even under Déby, abuses of civil rights by government forces have continued. As Amnesty International’s latest report on Chad comments: “Serious human rights violations continued to take place with almost total impunity. The rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly were frequently violated. Human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists were victims of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention. People, including protesters, were killed by members of the security services during demonstrations.”

Amnesty, in fact, argues that Déby should also be on trial in Dakar. It commented: “Chad’s current president has not been indicted by the Extraordinary African Chambers, but served as Chief of Staff of the army under Habré’s administration. Research undertaken by Amnesty International suggests that troops under his command may have committed mass killings in southern Chad in 1984.”

Chad is currently a key country in US plans for covert military intervention in North Africa. Earlier this year, in March, Chadian forces, including the Special Anti-Terrorist Group (SATG) which has received extensive training and equipment from the US military, invaded northern Nigeria and seized the towns of Malam Fatouri and Damasak, according to an Associated Press report. The Déby regime plays a major role in the US-funded Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership and is helping to coordinate the African Union (AU) multi-national force of some 8,700 troops called for by the AU in January.

Chadian troops fought alongside Western forces during the 2013 French-led invasion of Mali, and the Chadian government has since approved the permanent stationing of thousands of French troops in its capital, N’Djamena.

• Richard Lance Keeble is Professor of Journalism at Lincoln University. He has written and edited 30 books including Secret State, Silent Press (John Libbey; 1997), a study of the US/UK press coverage of the 1991 Gulf conflict.

August 17, 2013

Questions go missing on mysterious death of journalist

Richard Lance Keeble highlights the Obama administration’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers - and suggests serious questions have gone missing over the mysterious death of an investigative journalist

Michael Hastings was a brilliant American investigative journalist. It is important that you know about his life and death. He was the Rolling Stones’ reporter whose 2010 feature on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal revealed the US Commander in Afghanistan and his officials mocking President Obama. Soon after publication of the exposé, Gen. McCrystal was forced to hand in his resignation.

On 18 June 2013, Hastings died in a mysterious car accident in Los Angeles. Let us consider the facts. An eyewitness at the scene, Jose, said Hastings’ car was travelling very fast and he heard a couple of explosions shortly before it crashed. The explosion was so intense that it took the LA County assistant coroner, Ed Winter, two days to identify the burned-beyond-recognition body of Hastings.

Later it emerged that Hastings had approached WikiLeaks attorney Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before his death claiming the FBI was investigating him. In his book The operators: The wild and terrifying inside story of America’s war in Afghanistan, Hastings reported that a former McChrystal staff member had made a death threat. ‘We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write,’ the unnamed staffer said. Hastings replied: ‘Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.’

Could the electronics in Hastings’ new Mercedes have been remotely tampered with? Significantly, the former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism, Richard Clarke, told the Huffington Post that a single-vehicle crash was ‘consistent with a car cyber attack. There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers — including the United States — know how to remotely seize control of a car’.

Equally worrying is the failure of the corporate media to follow-up any of these serious questions about Hastings’ death. It comes as the Obama administration continues its unprecedented assault on whistleblowers. Seven have been charged under the Espionage Act (1917) for alleged mishandling of classified information – and that’s more than under all past presidencies combined. For instance, Thomas Drake revealed to the press that the National Security Agency spent $1.2 billion on a contract for a data collection programme called Trailblazer when work could have been done in-house for $3 million. The NSA’s response? Drake’s home was raided at gunpoint and he was forced out of his job (although all 10 charges against him were dropped).

In January 2013, former CIA officer John C. Kiriakou who, in 2007, acknowledged that US agents were involved in torture, was jailed for 30 months (see http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/28/ciaw-j28.html). WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning was tortured while in custody and faced a lifetime in jail after being convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations on 30 July 2013 (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/28/bradley-manning-treatment-custody-wikileaks). And former CIA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden is being hounded by the US state for revealing secrets about mass US surveillance operations.

Yet favoured prominent US journalists (such as Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame) regularly report state secrets. Their careers are, in no way, damaged – the reverse, in fact. As Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who led the coverage of the NSA spying revelations by Edward Snowden, commented: ‘Bob Woodward has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publicising classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published’ (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/10/manning-prosecution-press-freedom-woodward).
Moreover Paul Joseph Watson reports: ‘More recently, Ibragim Todashev, friend of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnev, was shot in the head six times by the FBI, who initially claimed Todashev was armed but later had to admit this was a lie. Speculation has raged that Todashev was assassinated because he had knowledge about the Boston bombings which the Feds didn’t want to see the light of public scrutiny.’

So what can we learn from all of this? Let’s not be afraid to admit that conspiracies exist. There are certainly some very weird conspiracy theories out there but, at the same time, there are a lot of conspiracies that need exposing. As the secret state expands and the power and influence of the intelligence services extends into the depths of our private lives, more serious analysis of conspiracies will be needed – both by the academy and the media.

The final lessons: remember to consult the alternative media (such as those listed below) for important, critical perspectives – and crucial information missed by the mainstream. And always question the official view – as over the mysterious death of Michael Hastings.

Notes
See http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-09/elusive-details-michael-hastings-death
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-runaway-general-20100622?print=true
http://www.infowars.com/evidence-indicates-michael-hastings-was-assassinated/

March 20, 2013

Little confidence new system of regulation will work: CPBF

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has issued the following statement following the recent announcement of a new system for regulating the press

The legal basis for a new system of press regulation gives the national press a chance to commit themselves to a means of properly policing their own behaviour. The CPBF does not have great confidence that they will take this opportunity seriously.

The way it was introduced, by a series of surprise moves in parliament, appears to have thrown the editors into disarray. They are now trying to decide whether to co-operate or to revert to type and refuse.

The new regulator itself is being set up by the office of the Press Complaints Commission. If the bigger, right-wing papers decide to boycott it there will be utter chaos. The editors should remember that it is the conduct of the press, and the press alone, that has brought down this crisis upon their heads. And it is by their conduct and theirs alone that any new system will be judged, not by parliamentary legalities.

The CPBF is pleased that the political parties have taken the issue seriously and persuaded the government to set up the structure. But we will believe there has been a real improvement in self-regulation when we see the first front-page apology or the first million-pound fine, as trumpeted by David Cameron.

It would be even better if there were never any more false, deceitful or cruel stories that might lead to such penalties, but the CPBF has even less confidence in the likelihood of that.

May 21, 2011

Political reporting put simply

Barnie Choudhury reviews So you want to be a political journalist? edited by Sheila Gunn (published by Biteback Publishing; ISBN 978 1 84954 085 8 )

One of the joys of being in Higher Education is having access to all the books being published by people with the finest minds in the world. As someone who is getting to grips with the ‘academic world’ full time I have to admit that I am finding it challenging. You see, I have been a newsman for thirty years. The first lesson I was taught about writing was to K.I.S.S: Keep It Short and Simple. Any story can be summarised in three sentences and the cleverest people can explain their ideas to a child. And this is the debate I am having with fellow academics. For me some books are simply too dense. I guess that says a lot more about me than the author.

So what has this got to do with Sheila Gunn’s So you want to be a political journalist? Well this book is definitely not an academic tome. Rather, it is a collection of reflective essays, with some great learning points buried throughout the various sentences, from well-known political hacks. Gunn is herself a practitioner of journalism and the dark arts of spin; she was once John Major’s spin doctor. But Gunn hits the nail firmly on the head when on page one she tells of the need for aspiring journalists to go into a new village, town or city and come back with ‘a number of good ideas for stories’. This is so obvious to practising journalists but having taught in HE for more than a decade it is a lesson, I still have to drum into my students year in year out.

What Gunn does with her book is to take a student (and those already in the business, if they so wish) by the hand and navigate them through the various aspects of the democratic political processes. The brilliant Guardian commentator Michael White reminisces about his time as a lobby correspondent for the paper. He provides a readable history lesson for the uninterested and uninitiated about how politics and political reporting has changed over the decades. The sedentary lifestyle of reading committee reports, wining and dining political contacts replaced by the frenetic pace of a 24/7 continuous news cycle.

Inside this book are the thoughts of intellectual journalist giants. No, this is not an oxymoron; just spend time reading Peter Riddell’s potted biography and marvel at his achievements. When he tells you how to work with politicians, make notes, inwardly digest and practise the craft. My friend Carolyn Quinn - we were both BBC trainees together - explains how she broke into the business. Adam Holloway, the MP for Gravesham in Kent and former investigative journalist, tells us about his typical week in the Commons. But was he right to stop writing a weekly column and issuing press releases to his local paper because he was miffed by the way another MP and he were treated by the press? Andrew Hawkins’ explanation of reporting opinion polls puts in simple language what few but the best really do. No jargon, no mystery and certainly no trying to write for the academic.

I do have two criticisms of the book. I wanted to hear more from the elite of political reporting. It was as if they kept some of their secrets to themselves or perhaps this is a cunning ploy by Gunn to write a second book? The other fault is that it is aimed at a niche market. This book will not be recommended by those on politics courses or, dare I say, useful to them because it is not analytical enough. And conversely some journalism courses will also wonder about the merits of putting it on their reading lists because they will think it too detailed. But I would argue that this is a must for any wannabe reporter just starting out. Put simply: it is a collection of useful recollections from those who have been there, done it and bought the tee-shirt.

Barnie Choudhury is a former BBC News and Social Affairs Correspondent and a Senior Lecturer in journalism at the University of Lincoln

July 26, 2009

ES editorial reproduced in top US journal

The editorial in Ethical Space Vol 6, No 1 on “Deep Throat and the ethics of scandal coverage” has been reproduced in the latest issue of the prestigious, Boston-based journal Media Ethics. Joint editor Richard Lance Keeble argued that the revelation by Mark Felt, FBI deputy associate director, that he was, in fact, the “Deep Throat” whistleblower of Watergate fame exposed many of the dominant myths about investigative reporting.

In effect, the Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were exploited by a disgruntled FBI chief in his plot against the US President. “The FBI attacks on Nixon amounted to a massive news story - but the Washington Post never reported it.”

The issue of Media Ethics also carries a critique of the recent coverage of Somalia in the UK’s corporate media by Richard Keeble. Most of the reporting has focused on pirate attacks on Western shipping. Somalia currently faces one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters - yet this has been largely ignored, Keeble argues.

On the front page, Jane B. Singer calls for moderation when newspapers moderate blog comments while elsewhere Russell Frank examines the coverage of the 2008 Presidential campaign.

March 18, 2009

a newspaper and its wartime past

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict, human rights, new books — news_editor @ 9:26 pm

The German newspaper publisher, M. DuMont Schauberg, has published a history of its Nazi past. According to Deutsche Welle (via EJC media news), this is the first such historical reappraisal by a German newspaper group. The consequences of the loss of independence were clearly more severe within 1930s-40s Germany than many other places, but I wonder how many other media groups will be willing to follow its lead. History belongs to the victors, but maybe not their own history. I’ve not seen accounts from within the BBC, for example, of its promotion of colonialism, and the official Reuters history doesn’t search very deep either.

February 12, 2009

Fiji and parachute journalism

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 11:08 pm

Those in the northern hemisphere won’t have heard much about the latest coup in Fiji and the complex racialised politics involved. What you will hear most of, though, is the interim (i.e. military) government’s crackdown on journalists. This week there was a rare, good discussion of the whiteness of the lenses through which the issue is seen in the west on TVNZ. Summary and analysis of it on the Pacific Media Centre blog by Thakur Ranjit Singh.

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