Limiting photojournalistic freedom

12 02 2009

On Monday a piece of anti-terror legislation comes into force. Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 states that anyone who:

“elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is, or has been a member of Her Majesty’s forces, a member of any of the intelligence services, or a constable, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or publishes or communicates any such information” will be committing an offence carrying a maximum jail term of 10 years.

This legislation will prove a useful tool for police wanting to cover up their brutal oppression of legitimate protests and for a government wanting to starve off publicity of dissent. And if used in this way will simply equate to press censorship through the suppression of facts that are contrary to state interests.

Marc Vallée a photojournalist who specialises in protests, writes on Guardian comments:

“you could be arrested for taking and publishing a picture of a police officer if the police think it is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. Your defence if charged by the crown prosecution service would be to prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” to take the picture in the first place…Documenting political dissent in Britain is under attack and just in time for the political and industrial fall out from the recession…Section 76 will fit in nicely alongside other blunt instruments such as section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has had a huge impact on photography in a public place.”

This video titled ‘Press Freedom: Collateral Damage’ produced by the National Union of Journalists sheds some light on the kind of tactics already used by the police, without this legislation.

Vodpod videos no longer available.





Israeli war propaganda

14 01 2009

An excerpt from Medialens’s latest alert “An eye for an eyelash: The Gaza Massacre” exposes some of the distortions we are subject to in the media:

Well in advance of the invasion, Israel developed plans to counter the inevitable images of bloodied children and tiny, dismembered bodies. Avi Pazner, Israel’s former ambassador to Italy and France, drafted in to support the propaganda component of the offensive, commented:

“Whenever Israel is bombing, it is hard to explain our position to the world. But at least this time everything was ready and in place.” (Anshel Pfeffer, ‘Israel claims success in the PR war,’ Jewish Chronicle, December 31, 2008; http://www.thejc.com/articles/ israel-claims-success-pr-war)

Eight months ago, the perfectly named National Information Directorate was formed within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. This is now coordinating media operations across the various government departments. The Directorate began preparing for a Gaza offensive some six months ago. Yarden Vatikay, director of the National Information Directorate, told reporters:

“One of our lessons from the Lebanon War [2006] was that there were too many uniforms in the coverage, and that doesn’t come over very positively.”

As a result, there are now: “Fewer military officers; more women; tightly controlled messages; and ministers kept on a short leash.” (Ibid.)

A press centre was set up in the Israeli town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, so that foreign reporters would spend as much time as possible in the main civilian area affected by Hamas rockets.

Israeli ministers have also been ordered not to give unauthorised interviews to avoid a repeat of last year’s PR disaster when Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai threatened the Palestinians with a “holocaust”.

“The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” (‘Israeli minister warns of Palestinian “holocaust”,’ The Guardian, February 29, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2008/feb/29/israelandthepalestinians1)

‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.

A key deception promoted by the National Information Directorate involves the claim that the latest cycle of violence began when Hamas broke a four-month ceasefire agreed last June. In fact, Israel broke the ceasefire when it launched a raid into Gaza on November 4, killing six people. On November 5, the Guardian reported:

“A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

“Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.” (Rory McCarthy, ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen,’ The Guardian, November 5, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008 /nov/05/israelandthepalestinians)

The Guardian added:

“Until now it had appeared both Israel and Hamas, which seized full control of Gaza last summer, had an interest in maintaining the ceasefire. For Israel it has meant an end to the daily barrage of rockets landing in southern towns, particularly Sderot.”

On December 27, at the start of the latest attacks, Reuters reported that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had “blamed Hamas for breaking a cease-fire with Israel, which launched air strikes on Gaza killing more than 200 people.” Rice commented:

“The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.” (Tabassum Zakaria, ‘Rice: Hamas broke cease-fire,’ News24, December 27, 2008; http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2446278,00.html)

Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Telegraph on January 10:

“Hamas deliberately broke the ceasefire by firing rockets into southern Israel from densely populated cities, using the areas around schools and mosques as launching points.” (Dershowitz, ‘Don’t play into the hands of Hamas,’ Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2009)

The BBC’s version of events from January 9 was more subtly deceptive:

“The ceasefire, brokered by the Egyptians, was often broken in practice… Events began to come to a climax after the Israelis raided southern Gaza on 4 November 2008 to destroy smuggling tunnels.” (BBC online, January 9, 2009;
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ world/middle_east/7818022.stm)

No mention was made of the six human lives also destroyed in the attack. The same BBC article, “Q&A: Gaza conflict,” asked:

“What casualties have the Hamas rockets caused?

“Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired, more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. In the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, 90% of residents have had a missile exploding in their street or an adjacent one.” (Ibid.)

The article noted that “Palestinian medical sources say that about 700 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel’s current campaign there.” Again, curiously, despite mentioning that Hamas rockets have killed 28 Israelis since 2001, the BBC made no mention of the fact that 5,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli strikes over the same period prior to the current Israeli offensive – a figure fast approaching 6,000.





Systemic what? Silence in the media. Illusive freedom.

14 10 2008

Selection for obedience.

While we keep hearing again and again of “systemic” problems about the way people have behaved in the banks, there is a more pervasive and silenced systemic problem in the media. In his preface to Animal Farm, Literary Censorship in England, Orwell wrote:

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” (1)

After medialens.org published an article on intellectual cleansing in the media (2), in which they comment on the sacking of a journalist for comparing the tactics of a supermarket to those of the Gestapo. Jonathan Cook (3) a professional journalist responded:

“There are many stages in the early career of journalists designed to handicap and weed out those who do not conform or who question the framework within which they work … If they are to survive long, writers must quickly learn what the news desk expects of them. Newcomers are given a small amount of leeway to adopt angles that are “not suitable”. But they are also expected to learn quickly why such articles are unsuitable and not to propose similar reports again.”

“Journalists, of course, see this lengthy process of recruitment as necessary to filter for “quality” rather than to remove those who fail to conform or whose reporting threatens powerful elites. The media are supposedly applying professional standards to find those deserving enough to reach the highest ranks of journalism … the effect is that the media identify the best propagandists to promote their corporate values.”

“It is notable that there is not a single large media institution dedicated to providing a platform to those who dissent or express non-conformist views, however talented they are as journalists. Only at the very margins of what are considered to be left-wing publications such as the Guardian and the Independent can such voices very occasionally be heard, and even then only in the comment pages (see below).”

Cook mentions the work of Fisk, Monbiot and Pilger as the only examples in the mainstream press of radical journalists and even with these “their host newspapers subtly encourage a view of them as crackpots, armchair revolutionaries and whingers”

A system that selects for obedience and subordination limits the presence of dissenting views, propagandises through omission and in turn crafts a media that supports the establishment. This is a problem that is protected by the veneer of objectivity and freedom in a media system that weeds out those who express views that challenge the status quo.

In the media. On the weekend.

Mainstream papers supposedly differ ideologically, but frequently present the same stories in very similar ways. It is often the use or absence of just one word that can influence the way a reader may perceive an event or situation. Take for example the Independent last Sunday in an article titled ‘Palin: An Abuse of Office’, Rupert Cornwell when commenting on US Presidential battle writes:

“…Mrs Palin has led the personal attacks on Mr Obama, focusing on his links with the 1960s radical militant William Ayers”.

What links? And what kind of links? Has the Independent oS proved these links? In the 1960s Obama was just a child and Ayers (4) is now a Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Yes Obama does have links with Ayers, he served on the board of Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a large education-related non-profit organisation that Ayers was instrumental in starting. Crornwell’s sentence does not represent the facts and misleads the reader.

On turning four pages I reach a statement by the Independent oS, a so called liberal paper, titled “The green lining to this chaos”. Now, for me this really does highlight the effectiveness of the selection system. After referring to their “Green List”, a list of 100 people they think have contributed the most to the UK’s environmental movement (a list that sees David Cameron at number 40) they write:

“The argument here is one of balance, which is why we do not agree with the anti-capitalists who see the economic crisis as a chance to impose their utopia, whether of a socialist or eco-fundamentalist kind. Most of us in this country enjoy long and fulfilling lives thanks to liberal capitalism: we have no desire to live in a yurt under a workers’ soviet”

I’m not going to start an argument about capitalism being the disease for there isn’t the space – the alternative is highly complex and has never existed. But I will argue that the Independent oS does not understand the fundamental roots of our global environmental problem and that green capitalism will likely not be the solution.

Alternatives.

A prerequisite to democracy is a media system that is free, in which facts are reported objectively and all opinions from anti-establishment through statist to neo-liberalism are reflected in professional journalism. The only means to move away from the rigid bureaucratic institutions that constitute our mainstream press may first be to diffuse recognition of the problem, support local participatory alternatives and create a businesses model that eliminates dependency on advertising revenue (like what therealnews.com is attempting).

1) George Orwell’s ‘Literary Censorship in England’ http://ancientliberty.blogspot.com/.

2) http://www.medialens.org/alerts/08/081002_intellectual_cleansing_part1.php.

3) www.jkcook.net.

4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Ayers