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“The Media are on Trial” – Peter Ford’s Presentation at Media on Trial Event, Leeds

Peter Ford
21st Century Wire

The Media are on trial. But what are they on trial for exactly? Not long ago the media were on trial in the form of the Leveson  enquiry, for being too tabloidish. Poking in people’s dustbins, that sort of thing.

The Leveson enquiry however was almost trivial – where the media are most criminally dangerous is over issues of war and peace.

What’s needed is a new Leveson, but with a very different and much more important charge: the aiding and abetting of warmongering.

My focus today will be on the modus operandi for this warmongering, the methods the mainstream media use to promote war, consciously or unconsciously, and to prevent people from realising what is really going on. We might call these methods weapons of mass deception.

The Iraq bamboozlement

It’s worth bearing in mind that this expression, weapons of mass deception, was popularised in the aftermath of the Iraq conflict, when it became apparent that we had all been had.

Ostensibly, if you recall, the Iraq war was about weapons of mass destruction, WMD. Except, as it turned out, there were no WMD in Iraq. Not even a damp squib. It was all an enormous fabrication – aided and abetted by a supine media which swallowed government bunkum wholesale.

A media which snapped to attention once the ‘intelligence community’ spoke, once those ubiquitous anonymous ‘sources’ let the media in on the privileged secret of what was happening, or, as it turned out, was not happening.

A media which took as gospel the ‘dodgy dossier’ which Blair used to bamboozle us into attacking a country which posed no threat to Britain, which had never lifted a finger against us.

Déjà vu all over again: Douma

The full panoply of weapons of mass deception was in evidence during the recent crisis over an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma.

Note the word ‘alleged’. It has yet to be proven that there was any incident involving chemical weapons. Any incident at all.

This may seem like an enormous thing to say – that there was no chemical use at all, in the face of all that evidence, the videos, the intelligence reports, is this presumptuous person saying he knows better than the 20 odd members of NATO? – but always remember Iraq.

Iraq weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter said that the ‘intelligence community’ was talking total horsefeathers about Iraqi WMD and were  dismissed as cranks. But as it happens they were right. The emperors of intelligence had no clothes.

The crucial point here with Douma is that the media, oblivious of past experience in Iraq, jumped immediately and uncritically to the conclusion that the incident was what the governments of Britain, France and America claimed it was, namely ‘another use of chemical weapons by Assad‘.

Watching the BBC, ITV and Sky, or reading the Times or the Guardian, it was as though all the news people thought it was their patriotic duty to sing to the government’s tune.

They closed down their critical faculties, put their responsibilities as apparently serious news reporters on pause, snapped to attention and parroted the government  talking points.

I was interviewed at one point by Naga Munchetty on BBC Breakfast. She spoke as though the alleged incident was an established fact. I reminded her that the BBC was showing over and over again a video clip which was unverified, giving it a spurious authenticity.

This as it turned out was the very nub of the matter because we bombed Syria essentially on the basis of this single endlessly repeated clip. And how did she respond? Instead of addressing the point she snorted huffily and said that ‘Assad had a track record of this sort of thing‘, so the clip was probably genuine. In other words she parroted the government line, she took it upon herself to act as though she were the government spokesperson.

Similarly with John Boulton of Sky News . In my interview with him I launched my own weapon – a sound bite. I said that over Douma there was ‘not even a dodgy dossier. Not even a dodgy dossier’. Did Boulton acknowledge that it was indeed a bit odd that the government case hadn’t been set out in black and white anywhere? Of course not. Instead, giving himself the last word, he intoned ‘well, no doubt we will be given the file a bit later’. Well actually, we weren’t.

We weren’t, because the government case was so thin that they weren’t going to risk putting anything down on paper that might later be held against them, like Blair’s dodgy dossier. All the government said was that media reports, social media chatter and witness reports of use of chemical weapons were corroborated by intelligence reports that helicopters were in the vicinity at the time and only the government side had helicopters.

Our world leading, exemplary state broadcaster, the BBC, took this fatuous claim totally at face value. Defence correspondents dutifully trotted this out as definitive proof. Not one defence correspondent bothered to examine who these witnesses were – Jihadi medical and propaganda auxiliaries, as it happens, on the UK, Saudi and US payrolls . (The White Helmets.)

Not one defence correspondent scrupled to point out that the presence of helicopters proved nothing, that no one disputed that bombing with conventional bombs was happening, that it was the nature of the payload that mattered. No, these correspondents seemed to see it as their mission to act as the government’s press agents. Which is what they actually are.


Douma now. 700m from the site of the alleged chemical attack, people have returned to a “normal” life since liberation from Saudi-financed Jaish Al Islam factions. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

A wedding, and our funeral

A parenthesis. The media will say, with some reason, that they go after the government all the time on many issues. Indeed they do. In matters which require little courage, like accusing the government of neglecting the NHS. How brave! But once the totem of ‘national security’ is invoked the media unfailingly go into cringe mode and take everything the government say at face value.

Now there is a thesis waiting to be written on why this should be so. I suspect it has something to do with our illusions of imperial grandeur – did you see the royal wedding by the way? Wasn’t Harry handsome in his military uniform? All that attention to her dress and not a single line written to query why the groom had to strike a military figure? It wasn’t mandatory for him to wear a uniform.

It seems fairly evident that our media are prone to sharing, indeed propagating, our illusions of grandeur and that they fall rapidly into line once the issue involves the military and the security state.

The secret policeman’s speech

Witness the reverence shown recently to Andrew Parker, head of MI5. He made a speech at an international conference which was carried live on national TV. Live! Even Boris Johnson doesn’t get that amount of attention. In Parker’s speech he went further than Ministers have done in excoriating Russia.

Did any of the mainstream media voice even a squeak  about the constitutional propriety of our head  secret policeman telling us what to think? Of course not. Matters are so rotten among the elite of this country that the Deep State now comes out into the open.

Parker’s words were treated with more respect than Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. Did any of the mainstream media question in the least way any of his superficial arguments, which were begging to be challenged? Of course not. We in this country know our place, when we have to tug our forelocks to the great security panjandrums.

Jingoism

Going back to Douma. Once the balloon went up we all had to endure the jingoism of the media and the glorification of war. The devastating accuracy of our boys in blue operating out of that relic of empire, our base in Cyprus.

Not one defence correspondent pointed out that the targets hit, the alleged weapons storage depots and research facilities, had been inspected by the weapons inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons just a few months earlier and given the all clear.

Let that sink in: yes, we, alongside the US and France, launched an unprovoked attack on an already battered country that represented no threat to us, and we targeted sites that had already been inspected and found clean. Is that not like Iraq and the fabled WMD? It was déjà vu all over again, and the media fell for it all over again.

The filtering out of any alternative viewpoint went on in the aftermath of bombing as well, with the argy bargy around examination of the Douma site by weapons inspectors.

Who would have guessed that it was Russia, not Britain, France or the US which had asked the OPCW to mount a mission to Douma as soon as media claims started to surface? Certainly not anyone who gets their news from the BBC. The BBC were clearly not going to let such an inconvenient fact get in the way of the narrative that the Russians and Syrians were engineering delay in order to remove evidence. Nor were the BBC going to question why the air strikes had to take place just as the inspectors were arriving in Syria to start their mission.

Compare and contrast this filtering out of awkward facts and awkward people with alternative views where Syria is concerned with what happens when Israel appears to be the transgressor. Not a BBC bulletin was complete during the recent Gaza atrocities without the Israeli Ambassador being given every chance to attempt to rebut the charges against Israel.

Nothing wrong with that, except that Syria, Russia and Iran get nothing like the same even-handed treatment. Their positions, if reported at all, get mentioned with a sneer.


Medical point in Douma, where victims of the non-chemical attack were brought on 7th April 2018. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

Etc etc

I could go on. I could talk about selective focus – how the media ignore the devastation of cities that we bombed, Raqqa and Mosul, to portray Assad as, alone, ‘heedless of civilian casualties.

I could talk about the smearing of alternative voices. I could talk about the hounding of participants in a harmless Christian delegation which had the temerity to visit Syria at the same time as Douma.

I could talk about how a Radio 4 Today programme presenter, Justin Webb, upbraided a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Cox, who led the delegation, for sitting down to tea with a ‘mass murderer’, the Grand Mufti of Syria, held responsible for signing the death warrants of thousands of Assad opponents. Except that the Mufti didn’t. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of secular Syria would know that this factoid, which found its way into a deeply flawed Amnesty International report, was untrue, that the Mufti is in no way involved with the administration of military justice. He is no more likely to be writing death warrants than I am to be writing editorials for the Daily Telegraph.

I could go on. I could talk about how disappointing it was to hear the media gushing about the Manchester Arena bombing anniversary this week as though it were a natural calamity.

You waited in vain for anybody to ask why it happened, whether it might not have had something to do with the fact that we were bombing in Syria and Iraq.

Fair enough, the government could say that we were right to bomb ISIS. Maybe we were. But then if you agree with that statement you would also have to say that Manchester Arena was a price worth paying. Was it? Nobody in the media, acting as part of the apparatus of state, was interested in asking.

Conclusion

In conclusion, let me just stress that this stuff matters. It matters because if we do not call out the mainstream media now it is highly likely that the Douma scenario will be repeated, only next time it will be much worse.

If you were an Jihadi, having seen how easy it is to jerk the West’s leash, how the media will immediately relay your fake videos if you are careful to include winsome children and screen out the Jihadi fighters, would you not be preparing the next outrage?

And because of the media portrayal of Douma, Western governments have painted themselves into a corner. Next time they will have to bomb more heavily, much more heavily. Do you think that next time Russia, Iran and Syria will continue to act like punchbags? Thought not.

Our only hope of avoiding a catastrophic outcome next time is to grab back the narrative from the mainstream media, or at least introduce into the discourse just enough doubt to give the politicians pause before they plunge us into the inferno.  For me, that’s what today is mainly about.

Thank you.

End of written presentation. Watch Peter Ford’s presentation at the Media on Trial Event, Leeds 2018 which was livestreamed around the world:

Peter Ford is a retired British Diplomat who was Ambassador to Bahrain from 1999-2003 and Syria from 2003-2006.

BAHRAIN: Former British Ambassador Resigns from Advisory Post after Foreign Minister Supports Israeli Aggression

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