The Indian writer Vandana Shiva has called for an “insurrection of subjugated knowledge”. The insurrection is well under way. In trying to make sense of a dangerous world, millions of people are turning away from the traditional sources of news and information and to the world wide web, convinced that mainstream journalism is the voice of rampant power. The great scandal of Iraq has accelerated this. In the United States, several senior broadcasters have confessed that had they challenged and exposed the lies told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, instead of amplifying and justifying them, the invasion might not have happened.
Such honesty has yet to cross the Atlantic. Since it was founded in 1922, the BBC has served to protect every British establishment during war and civil unrest. “We” never traduce and never commit great crimes. So the omission of shocking events in Iraq – the destruction of cities, the slaughter of innocent people and the farce of a puppet government – is routinely applied. A study by the Cardiff School of Journalism found that 90 per cent of the BBC’s references to Saddam Hussein’s WMDs suggested he possessed them and that “spin from the British and US governments was successful in framing the coverage”. The same “spin” has ensured, until now, that the use of banned weapons by the Americans and British in Iraq has been suppressed as news.
An admission by the US State Department on 10 November that its forces had used white phosphorus in Fallujah followed “rumours on the internet”, according to the BBC’s Newsnight. There were no rumours. There was first-class investigative work that ought to shame well-paid journalists. Mark Kraft of insomnia.livejournal.com found the evidence in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine and other sources. He was supported by the work of film-maker Gabriele Zamparini, founder of the excellent site, thecatsdream.com.
Last May, David Edwards and David Cromwell of medialens.org posted a revealing correspondence with Helen Boaden, the BBC’s director of news. They had asked her why the BBC had remained silent on known atrocities committed by the Americans in Fallujah. She replied, “Our correspondent in Fallujah at the time [of the US attack], Paul Wood, did not report any of these things because he did not see any of these things.” It is a statement to savour. Wood was “embedded” with the Americans. He interviewed none of the victims of American atrocities nor un-embedded journalists. He not only missed the Americans’ use of white phosphorus, which they now admit, he reported nothing of the use of another banned weapon, napalm. Thus, BBC viewers were unaware of the fine words of Colonel James Alles, commander of the US Marine Air Group II. “We napalmed both those bridge approaches,” he said. “Unfortunately, there were people there…. you could see them in the cockpit video… It’s no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect.”
Once the unacknowledged work of Mark Kraft and Gabriele Zamparini had appeared in the Guardian and Independent and forced the Americans to come clean about white phosphorous, Wood was on Newsnight describing their admission as “a public relations disaster for the US”. This echoed Menzies Campbell of the Liberal-Democrats, perhaps the most quoted politician since Gladstone, who said, “The use of this weapon may technically have been legal, but its effects are such that it will hand a propaganda victory to the insurgency.”
The BBC and most of the British political and media establishment invariably cast such a horror as a public relations problem while minimising the crushing of a city the size of Leeds, the killing and maiming of countless men, women and children, the expulsion of thousands and the denial of medical supplies, food and water – a major war crime.
The evidence is voluminous, provided by refugees, doctors, human rights groups and a few courageous foreigners whose work appears only on the internet. In April last year, Jo Wilding, a young British law student filed a series of extraordinary eye-witness reports from inside the city. So fine are they I have included one of her pieces in an anthology of the best investigative journalism. Her film, A Letter to the Prime Minister, made inside Fallujah with Julia Guest, has not been shown on British television. In addition, Dahr Jamail, an independent Lebanese-American journalist who has produced some of the best frontline reporting I have read, described all the “things” the BBC failed to “see”. His interviews with doctors, local officials and families are on the internet, together with the work of those who have exposed the widespread use of uranium-tipped shells, another banned weapon, and cluster bombs, which Campbell would say are “technically legal”. Try these websites: dahrjamail.com, zmag.org, antiwar.com, truthout.org, indymedia.org.uk, internationalclearinghouse.info, counterpunch.org, voicesuk.org. There are many more.
“Each word,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre, “has an echo. So does each silence.”
“Tell Me No Lies: investigative journalism and its triumphs”, edited by John Pilger, is published by Vintage.