The local elections in England earlier this month saw the right-wing UK Independence Party win over 140 council seats, gaining around 25 per cent of the vote where it stood. This led to a deluge of media headlines and stories echoing UKIP leader Nigel Farage's gleeful claim of a 'game changer' in domestic politics. The Conservatives ended up with egg on their face after veteran Tory Ken Clarke had labelled UKIP 'a collection of clowns'.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson declared of the UKIP 'surge':
fine exceptions, but the corporate media routinely ignores, ridicules or vilifies them. So much for 'our' thriving British 'democracy'.
Comedian Frankie Boyle had already put it all in perspective:line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The Royal Green Trailblazer Arrives On A Train – A Journalist Swoons
The galling lack of genuine political choice is reflected in the sorry state of today's corporate journalism. In a recent astute piece, John Hilley draws a sharp distinction between real journalism, as practiced by the rare examples of John Pilger and Glenn Greenwald, and elite public-relations puff presented to the nation by the likes of the BBC's Nicholas Witchell. Here, for example, is Witchell on the visit of 'three young royals' – William & Kate, and Harry – to the Harry Potter film-set at Warner Brothers studios, 'doing things with that unaffected style that has become their hallmark.'
a royal visit, would it look much different from that?
Hilley goes on to recall a 2010 sighting of Witchell in the flesh. The royal correspondent was standing at Glasgow Central Station as he delivered a report on Prince Charles 'as we've never quite seem him before'. How so? The man who would be king had just arrived on a private royal train, 'run on bio-diesel', on a week-long 'green' rail tour. The royal aim, we were told, was 'getting people to reduce waste and conserve energy.' Clearly, a super-wealthy and privileged individual far removed from normal life, and sitting atop the country's highly stratified class structure, is the perfect person to show the way towards sustainability.
Hilley comments on the unreality of the 'news event':
owner of Cornwall and much else, looking all eco-earnest as he was guided around by bowing lackeys, Witchell all sycophantically enthused as, on cue, he trotted-out cringing lines about "green-caring" royalty. […] The whole scene was a perfect encapsulation of establishment posturing, royal branding and issue-cloaked reporting.'
grovelling piece later, there was, predictably, no content or commentary on the real problem of corporate-driven climate catastrophe, or any suggestion of this being a "green-washed" event. The idea of having such balancing opinions from the BBC on this or the legitimising function of such royal PR was, apparently, unthinkable.'
But the degradation of journalism is, of course, not limited to vacuous propaganda that shores up the façade of benign royal interest in, and influence over, the great unwashed. In a recent edition of BBC's Newswatch, designed to give the illusion of BBC News really being held to account by the public, one viewer put it succinctly:
'Unpeople', Vintage, 2004, p. 2). Bizarrely, Stephenson shot himself in the foot when he mistakenly referred to the Bangladesh 'bombing' (rather than building collapse), a slip that went uncorrected.
Although critical viewer comments were read out, the senior BBC editor was not directly challenged by any member of the public, nor pressed particularly hard by Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed. Instead, Stephenson was let off the hook without conceding any of the public's points put to him, or promising to change a single thing about BBC News coverage. That's par for the course. And so he continues to oversee the continuous pipeline of propaganda emanating from the BBC's flagship news bulletins.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The Endless Renewal Of 'Shadows And Threats'
Another feature of corrupted journalism is the constant unchallenged repetition of messages coming out of Western state and military sources. BBC Newsnight is a serial offender. In a recent edition (May 2, 2013) devoted to UK 'defence' spending and policy, presenter Gavin Esler set the terms of debate thus:
quote by the American writer H. L. Mencken:
Britain's awful, murderous post-WW2 'defence policy' as 'trying to do too much, with too little'. Too much blood, spilled by too much machinery of death, was thereby reduced by Urban's weaponised soul to a mere logistical mismatch. Urban blight had struck the BBC news landscape once again. The underlying message from the Ministry of Truth – or BBC News, to give the institution its safe-sounding name – is, as ever:line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The Synchronised Metronomes Of The Propaganda Machine
It all fits with the observation made by John Pilger that corporate journalists are 'the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.'
Obviously this isn't how the majority of influential journalists see themselves (or at least they would never admit to it) – all those smartly-dressed correspondents, news presenters and talking heads who appear before us with their ponderous phrasing and unnatural gestures, weighted down with apparent gravitas, authority and insight. The self-image they like to project is of smart, savvy and obstreperous professionals valiantly pursuing the truth; fierce rottweilers gnawing away at government spokespeople, politicians, establishment figures, trusted insiders and informers, public relations officials, press releases, historical facts and even gut instinct, until they get to the marrow of what matters. Nobody tells them, these serious media professionals, what they can and can't say. And don't even think of insulting them by suggesting otherwise.
So much for myth. In reality, young and independently-thinking journalists are transformed into synchronised metronomes churning out propaganda and meaningless pap, driven by the heartless machine pulse of state-corporate power. In a talk almost twenty years ago, the American political writer and media critic Michael Parenti explained powerfully how journalism works in practice:
YouTube, talk on 17 October 1993)
Parenti then goes on to quote Nicholas Johnson, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, who said that there are four stages that journalists typically go through in their career:
piece for Rolling Stone after spending considerable time with General Stanley McChrystal, then the senior Nato commander in Afghanistan:
article in Press Gazette notes a 'strong undercurrent of fear' amongst BBC employees. A survey of BBC employees, commissioned in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal, has raised 'alarm bells about bullying and a culture of fear about speaking out.'
The authors of the survey report said:line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The BBC: 'Stuck In The Zionist Frame'
Meanwhile, another safe pair of hands has been found to replace Helen Boaden as head of BBC News. (Readers may recall that she famously changed her email address to avoid direct challenges from the public, boasting about it at a media industry conference). James Harding, who was the youngest ever editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times, will soon take charge of 3,000-plus BBC News journalists as they settle into their 'capacious new home, which includes a double-atrium newsroom and 11 floors, in the £1bn New Broadcasting House refurbishment in central London.'
Harding has stated that:
apologising for a Gerald Scarfe cartoon in the Sunday Times which actually dared to be critical of Israel is a case in point.
Amena Saleem of Palestine Solidarity Campaign notes that another new senior BBC appointee, James Purnell, who recently became 'Director of Strategy and Digital', is also avowedly pro-Israel. Purnell actually served as chair of the pro-Israeli parliamentary lobby group Labour Friends of Israel from 2002-2004.
Saleem also reports that last month the BBC 'gave up all claims to impartiality when it spectacularly pulled from its schedule a documentary questioning the scale of the Jewish exodus from Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago – the exodus on which Zionists base the Jewish "right to return" and to colonize what was once Palestine.' The documentary, scheduled to appear as part of the current BBC Four series on archaeology, was dropped at the eleventh hour. When questioned about this late and dramatic development, a BBC email offered the limp excuse that 'we have decided that it doesn't fit editorially and are no longer planning to show it as part of the season.'
But, adds Saleem, 'Ilan Ziv, the Israeli-born documentary maker who made the hour-long film, has said that the official reason given by the BBC for pulling the documentary contradicts the reasons given to him in private.' Ziv gives his side of the BBC's sudden dropping of the film, and the broadcaster's lack of candour in explaining its decision, summing up:
said of Harding: 'He will fit in very well at the BBC.'