On January 21, we published a Rapid Response Media Alert, ‘Targeting Iran – The BBC Propaganda Begins,’ in which we noted that the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins, had reported that US relations with
Robbins also spoke of
This Media Alert produced a massive and impassioned response from readers all over the world who sent many complaints to the BBC. Emails in support of our complaints were sent by Richard Keeble of the University of
"Dear David Thanks The build up of lies about
On January 24, we received the following response from Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News:
"Dear David Cromwell and David Edwards,
I am forwarding to you the following from our diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins:-
‘I accept that it would have been better to have said "alleged nuclear threat". I am sorry that my wording was not as precise as it could have been.
I trust this addresses your concern.
With best wishes,
Helen Boaden Director, BBC News" (Email to Media Lens, January 24, 2005)
We are grateful to both Helen Boaden and James Robbins for such a gracious response.
The problem, however, is not imprecise use of language but a deep pro-establishment bias within the BBC. It is a bias that leads journalists to talk reflexively of themselves, the government and the government’s armed forces as "we". It is a bias that assumes the government and its allies are motivated by fundamentally benevolent intentions – "we" merely seek security at home and freedom and prosperity for others abroad. It is a bias that accepts that officially designated "rogue states" represent serious and current, rather than merely alleged, threats to the West.
As a result, government warnings of threats and statements of benevolent intent are taken at face value rather than subjected to the exacting scrutiny and skepticism that recent events simply demand. Always hanging over the BBC is the reality of power – the fact that senior BBC managers are directly appointed by the government of the day, and the fact that managers and journalists who cross the government can be, and recently have been, ‘disappeared’.
Consider, for example, this response from Helen Boaden:
"The Iraqi elections are the first democratic elections in
Boaden confidently declares the election "the first democratic elections in
We might wonder how Boaden arrived at this conclusion. Are we to believe that she has carefully examined the key issues that need to be evaluated in determining the legitimacy of any election: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of organization, the absence of highly developed and pervasive instruments of state-sponsored and other terror, freedom of party organization and ability to field candidates, absence of coercion and fear on the part of the general population? Frankly, we doubt it – no one else in the media has. And if she had, she could not possibly declare the elections democratic.
Has she studied the long and horrific US record of organising "demonstration elections" in Third World countries like El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam as propaganda exercises legitimizing violent interventions slaughtering tens or hundreds of thousands of people for power and profit?
Has she overcome the elementary objection posed, for example, by Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies:
"An election cannot be legitimate when it is conducted under foreign military occupation; when the country is nominally ruled by, and the election will be officially run by, a puppet government put and kept in place by the occupying army and the election will be under the ultimate control of the occupying army; when war is raging extensively enough to prevent participation by much of the population; and when the election is designed to choose a new assembly responsible for drafting a constitution and selecting a government that will continue to function under the conditions of military occupation."? (Bennis, ‘
We suspect Boaden believes the election will be democratic simply because "we" are organising it – the British and American governments (currently packed with war criminals evading justice) are fundamentally well-intentioned and can therefore be taken at their word. After all, Boaden goes on to write:
"We know that the Americans and the British want the elections to be free and fair…"
Comment should not be necessary. There could not be a better example of mainstream journalism’s unthinking subservience to power. Doubtless Boaden thinks she is being ‘reasonable’ and ‘positive’, as opposed to ‘cynical’, in thinking the best of our leaders doing a difficult job against violent insurgents. But in fact she is part of a system that makes mass violence possible by legitimizing the abominable and normalizing the unthinkable.
Probably every cultural tradition on the planet admires the willingness to believe the best of others. But every sane cultural tradition also emphasizes that this optimism must be balanced by rationality and realism – focusing on alleged ‘benevolent intentions’ is not virtuous if these are actually masks for self-aggrandizement and exploitation. Then, after all, the claimed ‘virtues’ are vices – attempts at deception.
Consider, also, this comment from Roger Mosey, head of BBC Television:
"Dear [Name Withheld]
I may be missing something here, but can you explain why you think the British and the Americans don’t want to have democratic elections in Iraq when they’ve set out a process and a timetable by which that’s achieved? I can understand a frenzy if George W Bush had said ‘no elections’ – but hasn’t he said the opposite?
Best wishes Roger" (Forwarded to Media Lens, January 22, 2005)
The level of naivety from such a senior BBC executive is almost beyond belief. Does anyone anywhere have any reason to believe anything George W. Bush says ever again?
Boaden and Mosey take the
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to James Robbins: Email: [email protected]
Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News Email: [email protected]
Write to Roger Mosey, head of BBC TV news Email: [email protected]
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