In the version of democracy that we are used to, every five years or so we enter a polling booth and choose a politician from a mostly narrow choice of political parties presented to us at a general election. We then let the victor get on with ruling us until the next time the parties want our votes. In the meantime, powerful industries and business investors spend considerable amounts of money in secretive lobbying, persuading, cajoling and needling politicians to pursue polices that are, in effect, corporate welfare programmes. Corporations and banks receive huge public subsidies and bailouts, while the rest of us are largely left to the cold, biting winds of ‘market’ economics. It’s socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us.
The BBC regularly churns out a diet of pre-digested pabulum that props up power…The consequences for humanity of media propaganda have proven calamitous and, as the world slides ever further to the abyss of catastrophic climate change, could yet be terminal.
It is only be reading behind the issues – whether the Middle East, the global economy, environment destruction – so fleetingly and confusingly presented in news bulletins, press articles and conventional debate, that real understanding begins to dawn…And the distortion is systematic: it favours the elite view of Dowling Street, Whitehall, the White House, the Pentagon, big corporations, investors and bankers; not the ground-level view of marginalised communities, people struggling just to survive, the poor, or those unfortunates in the crosshairs of Western firepower.
Mark Curtis [author Unpeople etc.] estimates conservatively that Britain alone bears ‘direct responsibility’ for the deaths of 4-6 million people worldwide since 1945.
The question of just how benign are the great Western powers, with their proud notions of democracy, fair play and respect for law and order, simply does not arise. Politicians and privileged commentators relentlessly proclaim ‘our’ virtues, in defiance of the documentary record. The required Orwellian feat of doublethink is impressive.
The depiction of reality presented in this book is such a disturbing notion that many would rather reject it outright than question the patriotic propaganda we are fed daily by the media. But then George Orwell once wrote, ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right the tell people what they don’t want to hear.’
This is all part of a bigger picture of the West’s role in condoning and promoting terror around the world. Since the Second World War, as Edward Herman has noted, such a policy has been used regularly to create governments of terror that quickly opened their doors to foreign investment and keep labour markets as ‘flexible’ as the transnationals and IMF might desire.
And it is all supported by a largely uncritical media…the propaganda system works extremely well providing Big Brother-quality results under a system of ‘freedom’.
Many honourable BBC professionals, and other journalists, do their best within the constraints of a globalised political and economic system that makes honest reporting all but impossible. However, it is important to illuminate the systematic bias of compromised reporting which promotes the subordination of the people and the planet for profit…when the prevailing untruths may lead to a catastrophe because they blind people to the real dangers and possibilities.
The UK media was a central element in portraying to the British public the illusion of Blair as a benevolent figure of moral and political authority, struggling to do ‘the right thing’.
Leading British politicians are shielded from uncomfortable truths by a faithful retinue of mainstream journalists and commentators and, for the most part, by an educated elite in academia for whom any deviation from the guiding principals of basic British decency and goodwill is all too often inconceivable.
Since 1945, rather than occasionally deviating from the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and economic development in the Third World, British (and US) foreign policy has been systematically opposed to them, whether the Conservatives or Labour (or Republicans or Democrats) have been in power.
Senior BBC mangers and editors do not have to be told to support the government’s most critical items; it comes naturally to them, otherwise they never would have been filtered into their comfortable, elevated, establishment-friendly positions.
In December 2011, President Obama declared an official end to the war in Iraq at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. As Obama looked on approvingly, General Lloyd Austin, the top US commander in Iraq, declared: ‘What our troops have achieved in Iraq over the course of nearly nine years is truly remarkable. Together with our coalition partners and corps of dedicated civilians, they removed a brutal dictator and gave the Iraq people their freedom.’ As writer Joseph Kishore noted: ‘Field Marshal Goring could not have put it better in speaking of the ‘liberation’ of Poland.’
After the huge propaganda campaign founded on lies and deceptions about Iraq, media professionals have seemingly learned nothing about the responsibilities of journalists. Indeed, as Iran replaces Iraq in the crosshairs of Western firepower, it is clear that very little has changed. The media is once again on hand to channel the fear-mongering propaganda emanating from Washington and London.
Rageh Omarr reported on the war for BBC News from Baghdad, where he described the arrival of the invading troops as ‘a liberation.’ In 2010, four years after he left the BBC, he told John Pilger: “I didn’t really do my job properly. I’d hold my hand up and say that one didn’t press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough.” With admirable frankness, he described BBC news coverage as ‘a giant echo chamber’ for military propaganda.
News coverage, we are told, is balanced and fair; all important views are properly represented. The media did their job properly on Iraq, and we can all relax. That’s the message the British public was supposed to accept. In reality, news broadcasters and the press failed in their public duty to hold power to account. Worse that that, they acted as campaign managers for an illegal and immoral war; itself, merely the latest in a long list of murderous foreign interventions.
In 2009, Richard Beeston, foreign editor of The Times, wrote dismissively of attempts to unravel how and why the country was dragged into an illegal war in Iraq: ‘All this happened six years ago. Get over it.’
In the eighteenth century, Adam Smith observed that the ‘merchants and manufactures’ were ‘the principal architects’ of state policy, and made sure that their own interests ‘were most peculiarly attended to, however grievous the effects on others, whether at home or abroad.’
How can those who govern keep those who are governed away from the levers of power? In ‘free’ societies, by definition, ruling elites lack the option of ‘chains of iron’ to bound the public rabble. Instead, a devotion to mass consumerism, and an unthinking – or at least begrudging – acceptance of the inequitable distribution of power, must be inculcated and maintained by a constant stream of state-corporate propaganda.
In a remarkable study of how the huge Hollywood film industry perpetuates the myth of the US as a beacon of democracy and a force for good around the world, Mathew Alford notes that: ‘The concept of a benevolent US foreign policy emerges from the widespread historic belief in “American exceptionalism,” which describes the belief that the US in an extraordinary nation with a special role to play in human history; that is, America in not only unique but also superior among nations.’
The pattern extends solidly back through history as Noam Chomsky, for example, has repeatedly pointed out. He notes the crucial importance to state and corporate power of keeping the public confused and remote from any real influence. ‘One fundamental gaol of any well-crafted indoctrination program is to direct attention elsewhere, away from effective power, its roots, and the disguises it assumes.’
Fear of genuine democracy, at home and abroad, is a familiar theme in establishment circles everywhere. Sometimes it slips out into the open. In the year after the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair said bluntly; “We can’t end up having public inquiry into whether the war was right or wrong. That is something we have to decide. We are the politicians.”
The mantra of ‘failing to act,’ the framing of the climate debate favoured by the Royal Society and other establishment voices, is a persistent cover-up of the truth. What is fundamentally missing from the analysis of…commentators with media friendly profiles is the dangerous driving force of state-corporate greed that is accelerating the danger of societal collapse under climate chaos. What is also missing from the mainstream debate is the potential for mass grassroots action to challenge this dangerous greed and to invert current state-corporate priorities in order to benefit humanity and ecosystems.
And for anyone in a public position to speak out against the current direction in science policy, never mind government priorities generally – foreign policy, the economy, domestic and international poverty – is to be marked as a ‘troublemaker’ or worse. Far easier to go with the flow, address the priorities driven from on high and keep your mouth shut to avoid offending reigning sensibilities.
It should be clear by now that there is already intolerable pressure on the environment and on global human security as a result of the extraction of natural resources such as oil and natural gas – a major factor behind the US government’s smokescreen of the ‘war on terror’. The additional threats represented by the spectre of climate change could create unprecedented political and social upheaval.
A pressing question today is whether national governments will adopt new, even more strict, authoritarian measures to limit personal freedom…in order to protect ‘homeland security.’ Will the elite political and corporate forces that are directing economic globalisation for their own ends adopt uncompromising and awful measures to perpetuate global capitalism in the 21st century?
Janet Redman, of the Washington based Institute for Political Studies, spoke the unadorned truth that is so painful, if not impossible, for the corporate media to acknowledge: “What some see as an inaction is in fact a demonstration of the palpable failure of our current economic system to address economic, social or environmental crisis.”
No wonder then that the corporate media, including the ‘impartial’ BBC, rarely address unsustainable economic growth on a finite planet; or the links between likely climate catastrophe and the destructive practices of global corporations, financial speculators and banks.
Anyone concerned with the future of humanity has a responsibility to speak out about the crippling factors that are hindering effective action on climate. A good start to those responsibilities would be to expose the impossibility of the corporate media performing its mythical fourth-estate role of challenging powerful interests in society…
It is arguable that the success of business propaganda in persuading us, for so long, that we are free from propaganda is one of the most significant propaganda achievements of the twentieth century (Alex Carey – Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy).
Although couched in terms of ‘defence’ and ‘security,’ the projection of the West’s military might around the globe is more to do with strategic dominance and opportunities for big business. ‘The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.’
It is little wonder that John Dewey, one of America’s leading philosophers, describes politics as ‘the shadow cast on society by big business.’
Examination of the historic record reveals that it has always suited the interests of powerful institutions for the public hand to be kept well away from the helm of policy; the fear of public opinion is ever-present in the minds of the ruling classes.
The purpose of the newly burgeoning PR industry was to sell corporate interests so the public as ‘national interests,’ thus projecting the enormous power and wealth enjoyed by narrow sector of society: industrialists, investors and their political allies. Huge propaganda campaigns were designed and implemented to proclaim the alleged benefits of the capitalist system and to undermine grassroots efforts to challenge the growth of corporate power.
In the United States, the influential National Association of Manufactures (NAM) explicitly warned its members, fearful of public resistance to big business, that: ‘Public policies in our democracy are eventually a reflection of public opinion, so public opinion must be reshaped if are to avoid disaster.’
Noam Chomsky has expressed succinctly the underlying problem for genuine democracy, even in so called ‘free’ societies. ‘Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population. No wonder the shocking depth and historic extent of the systemic corruption of democracy by big business and it’s political allies remains off the agenda of the corporate media.
No wonder that our major political parties offer no real choice: they all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the venerable.
With a few ruffled feathers here and there, Western leaders and their faithful retinue in the media and academia continue to deceive the public about the global economic crisis and its root causes; because profits and power demand it. Otherwise these elites run the serious risk of a huge slump in public confidence in the current system and even in what passes as democratic politics.
Despite the huge scale of yet another financial crisis and the severe global recession that followed, the major political parties and elite media still refuse to address seriously even the possibility of fundamental weaknesses and inequality at the very heart of modern capitalism. In reality, the current system, driven by private profit far beyond environmental sanity, is incapable of meeting the needs and aspirations of humanity.