Edward S. Herman
has long been a strong tendency on the part of Western non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) to serve as did the Christian missionaries in the years of
colonial expansion and occupation, who followed in the wake of the empire
builders to convert the heathens to the true religion and to heal the sick and
wounded–large numbers produced by imperialism itself. Even when the NGOs have
functions that should bring them into sharp conflict with the dominant powers,
like human rights agencies, they often struggle to look at the bright side of
imperial action and inflate the evil of the indigenous resistance to
imperialism. This results from a shared imperial ideology, their dependence on
largesse from governments and elite members of the dominant powers, and from
pressures exerted by officials and agents of the powerful states.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has long specialized in compiling lists
of journalists abused and killed in various parts of the world, and it has
generally done this without compromising political discrimination. It cannot be
said, however, that its compilations have been given much publicity by the
Western media, despite the fact that murdered journalists would seem to be a
topic that should excite the media. Perhaps too many of those journalists were
killed in Western-friendly states like El Salvador and Guatemala to make this
subject highly newsworthy.
the CPJ has broken new ground in 2000: despite the fact that on April 23, 1999,
CPJ issued a statement condemning the NATO bombing of Radio and Television
Serbia (RTS) as "a threat to all journalists covering the Yugoslav
conflict," its list of 33 journalists killed worldwide in 1999, released on
January 6, excluded the 16 workers killed in that bombing attack. The Times of
India’s veteran journalist Siddarth Varadarajan queried the CPJ on this
exclusion, and got a reply from Judy Blank, the CPJ’s director of
communications. She stated that although the CPJ "has an extremely broad
definition of who is a journalist" their analysis of RTS broadcasts,
"particularly prior to the NATO bombing campaign, leads us to the
conclusion that by any definition it would not be considered journalism." (CPJ
is allegedly preparing a report on the research that led to this conclusion.)
his reply to Judy Blank, Siddharth Varadarajan noted that hers was
"precisely the logic of Mr. Jamie Shea and other apologists for Nato, who
insisted that what they bombed was a legitimate military target because RTS was
not purveying journalism but propaganda." This seems to have been the first
time that the CPJ has declined to include journalists as legitimate based on an
evaluation of their (or their organization’s) work, and it is hardly a
coincidence that this has occurred in the wake of a war in which the Western
propaganda apparatus was working at a new and higher level of efficiency in
demonization and self-righteous claims of virtue.
the CPJ has made a huge mistake: it has opened a Pandora’s box in which, if it
maintains consistency, it will now have to evaluate murdered journalists for the
genuineness of their journalism on a regular basis. The CPJ will of course not
do this, but if not it stands condemned as a servant of NATO propaganda.
Furthermore, if the CPJ examines honestly the performance of NATO- based
journalists for the independence and truthfulness of their work during the
Kosovo war, I feel quite sure that it would find that large numbers of these
journalists performed a conduit function for Nato similar to that allegedly
carried out by RTS in Belgrade.
me give a few illustrations, taken from a large universe, which point to massive
failures of Western journalists during the Kosovo crisis, journalistic work
which served the NATO powers as clearly as any rantings or misstatements of fact
on RTS. On CPJ principles, this journalistic performance makes them Nato
propagandists rather than real journalists.
Christiane Amanpour, who while covering the Kosovo crisis married the chief
public relations official of the U.S. State Department, James Rubin, stated on
October 6, 1999 that Nato’s war was for "the first time…a war fought for
human rights" and that "only a fraction of 1 percent of the [Nato]
bombs went astray." These were simple transmittals of Nato propaganda, not
credible in the case of the humanitarian aim and neither credible nor verified
by an independent source in the case of the bombing failure rate.
Journalist Robert Fisk has described how, on the day Nato killed at least 87
ethnic Albanian refugees at Korisa and injured a hundred more, the Nato
spokesmen in Brussels said that the alliance had had "another effective
day" in which operations "again went very well," and NO REPORTER
QUESTIONED THIS, causing Fisk to describe these reporters as "sheep"
(The Independent, May 15).
When Nato bombed a passenger train on April 12, killing 55 civilians, reporters
were shown a videotape by Nato that "proved" the train was going to
fast for the trajectory of the missiles to be altered. Recently it was disclosed
that Nato had played the videotape at three times its normal speed–but the
reporters who had been taken in by this trick earlier did not find this
acknowledgement of Nato disinformation newsworthy, and of course did not cause
them to reflect on the possible existence of a Nato "lie machine."
Robert Fisk recently pointed out (in The Independent, Jan. 17, 2000) that when
Nato bombed an Albanian refugee convoy, BBC reporter Mark Laity stated that
"They [Nato] are very confident that they attacked a military convoy;"
he did not say that Nato "say" they are confident, rather they
"are" confident, as would be said by a man who was already a Nato
propagandist. Fisk notes that Laity was recently offered a job as PR man for
George Kenney was given credible information from a reporter for a major news
organization, who regularly travels with the U.S. Secretary of State, that
"rafts of journalists" were present at Rambouillet when a senior State
Department official said that Nato had deliberately "raised the bar"
in the supposed "negotiations" with Yugoslavia, demanding Nato
occupation of the entire country, knowing that this was unacceptable, because
Nato wanted to bomb Serbia. This sensational news was completely suppressed by
that entire "raft of journalists," making it easier for Nato to close
things out as if Serbia was recalcitrant and poor Nato was forced to bomb (which
was the impression given by the mainstream media).
would be interesting to hear Judy Blank explain to us whether this reporting on
Rambouillet was real journalism or plain propaganda service, and whether that
"raft of journalists" would rate mention by CPJ in their list of
genuine journalists if terminated by "terrorists" or some enemy state.