Sunday, January 09, 2005

Say What You See...

I don't want to lapse into political cheerleading of dubious relevance, but I do think this Nick Cohen article in the Observer is important, not least because it makes a number of points that I've been trying to make to various friends over the past months and years, which tend to be met wih apathy or or a "just smile and nod and he'll shut up about it" reaction (which is fair enough - I do tend to go rather purple, intense and noisy when talking about it):

Cowards of the left

Our so-called liberal elite stands back and lets Iraq's fascists fight freedom with terror
...

Last week occured an event which was scarcely reported but which further called into question the notion of a principled liberal-left, let alone one coherent and confident enough to form an elite.

Hadi Salih, international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was tied and blindfolded and tortured by Baathist 'insurgents' loyal to Saddam Hussein before being forced to kneel, strangled by electric cord and shot.

I shouldn't be shocked that there hasn't been a squeak of protest from the anti-war movement at the killing of a brave socialist, but I am. Two years ago I believed that after the war people who opposed it for good reasons would vow to pursue Blair and Bush for what they had done to their graves, but have the intellectual honesty to accept that Saddam's regime was fascist in theory and in practice and the good nature to offer fraternal support the Iraqi socialists, democrats and liberals in their deadly struggle.

More fool me. The Stop the War Coalition, which organised one million people to march through the streets of London, told the kidnappers and torturers from the Baath Party and al-Qaeda that the anti-war movement 'recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary'. Its leading figures purport to be on the left, but have cheered on the far-right and betrayed their comrades by denouncing Iraqi trade unionists as 'Quislings' and 'collaborators'. There have been a few honourable protests: Mick Rix, the former leader of the train drivers union, walked out in disgust saying that the anti-war movement was putting the lives of Iraqi trade unionists at risk. (Its denunciations of better and braver men and women than the British pseudo-leftists could ever be were reported in Arab newspapers which circulate in Iraq.)

Rix was joined by Unison and Labour backbenchers, but that's been about it. Not only the Stop the War Coalition but the bulk of liberal-left opinion in the country and on the planet, is at best indifferent to the fight to stop the return of tyranny and at worse wants to spite the Americans by having the bombers stop elections. If you doubt how widespread this malign impulse has become, ask why it is that the BBC has never covered the story of the totalitarian nature of the leaders of the anti-war movement when it would have had kittens on air if, say, the Countryside Alliance had been a front for the British National Party. [my emphasis - AJC]


Hear, hear. I increasingly believe that this is a genuine security issue. The broadcast media have an unspoken blanket ban on representatives of the BNP [far right, racist, neo-Nazi linked political party] being given a platform and yet we are regularly treated to the sight of authoritarian Stalinists, revolutionary Trots and spokesmen for the MAB [linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Hamas, boosters of Sayid Qutb, pro-Iraq "resistance", on social matters the only distinction between them and the BNP is that the BNP is by its very nature white whereas the MAB is largely brown] laying out their stall on current affairs programmes.

Necessarily a problem? Not necessarily, but first of all it is inconsistent - the MAB is every bit as nasty as the BNP, but it is largely staffed by ethnic minorities so it gets a pass (in a recent Newsnight programme a spokesman for the MAB was wheeled on to furnish the audience with a tirade on Islamophobia in the British press and when another panellist tried to point out exactly what sorts of things the MAB are into he was told to shut up by the presenter, Martha Kearney ["we don't want to get into all that"]) and the far right is seen as entirely beyond decency whereas apologists for North Korea and the Stalinist gulag are seen as, at worst, well-intentioned eccentrics.

Second of all, we should demand context. The point is not merely that these people are unpleasant, but that the average British television viewer (or Radio 4 listener) is never given an opportunity to recognise and evaluate their unpleasantness. During the run up to the war, senior Stop the War Coalition members with decidedly unpleasant views were wheeled out on a daily basis and given a platform to sell their message to the public with not the slightest inquiry or probing over their backgrounds and personal views. How many of the million well intentioned people who marched against the war were aware of the politics and the specific policy prescriptions (eg. if the war went ahead they wanted Saddam to win) of the people who were organising the event? Very, very few. Why? Because nobody in the various mainstream news media had bothered to tell them (the Liberal Democrats also bear some of the blame for this - Charles Kennedy sharing a platform with some of the most unpleasant people on the British political scene [many of whom are niether liberal nor democratic] was one of the most unedifying sights of 2003 - needless to say, he has never been taken to task for this). As Cohen points out, if far right politics had been involved at any level, the BBC would have been mobilising brigades of investigative journalists, screaming the fact from the rooftops and doing everything possible to tear the entire structure to pieces.

I make no solid policy prescriptions here - I'm trying to play devil's advocate by pointing out that we deserve consistency and the current scene does not deliver this. It's one rule for the far right and another for the far left, when in reality they are two sides of the same coin and deserve to be treated as such. Socialist Workers Party supporters like Jeremy Hardy and Linda Smith (how many of you knew that? Not many, I'll wager. No reason why you would...) make jokes about murdering President Bush on BBC Radio 4 comedy panel shows and nobody at BBC management raises an eyebrow. Historian Eric Hobsbawm argues that millions of people murdered under Stalin would be justifiable if it led to a genuine workers' paradise and is still largely feted as a minor national treasue. John Pilger argues that when it comes to supporting those who oppose US policy, even if they do indiscriminately bomb and cut the heads off civilians, "we can't afford to be choosy" and is not only not faced with ostracisation but is hailed as a doughty human rights campaigner.

Meanwhile, Ann Robinson (of Weakest Link fame) makes a joke about the Welsh on a BBC2 light entertainment show and the police are called in.

The British public deserve better. They are not stupid, but in many cases they are ignorant and large swathes of the mainstream news media are complicit in sustaining this ignorance. I am not advocating a specific standard here in terms of free speech (eg. whether it is better off to let the BNP on telly or to keep the MAB off) but what I am saying is that it needs to be evenly applied. At the time of writing it is not being evenly applied and this is dangerous, the more so given the current security situation.




1 Comments:

Blogger J. said...

I'm unclear which side of the story you are advocating. Are you saying you tell your liberal friends that this left-wing reporting without media clarification on their backgrounds is unfair, or that this right-wing wringing of hands is somehow unusual?

I would not disagree that the media has the responsibility to educate its public through sound reporting and presentation of spokespersons with credible backgrounds. However, that certainly isn't the case over here, where the media has increasingly bent over backward to accomodate and/or ignore the cheerleading for our Great Leader here.

Watch next week, as our Great Leader attends his imperial benediction and nine victory balls. Anyone who whispers a bad word about him in the process of talking about US aid to Indonesia, the increasing casualties and lack of progress in Iraq, will be heckled, banished, and otherwise ridiculed as supporting evil-doers. To which the slight majority of our population will nod and smile or just ignore with apathy.

8:01 AM  

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