Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Need for journalists to question official truths

There is no need of of direct censorship in Britain, mainstream journalists have become so self censoring that they reproduce the official truth as a matter of course.
The best example of this phenonoma at work is what have become known as the dominant narratives of the moment. Over recent times, the first of these was the war on terror. This followed the attacks on America of 11 September 2001. There was an unprecedented reaction from the American administration, strongly supported by Britain.
The rhetoric of war was quickly deployed as the terrorist threat was hyped up. A “war” followed against Afghanistan, later to be followed by another on Iraq. Both assaults were justified by the need to defeat this evil known as terrorism but nicely coinciding with US and British strategic economic interests in the regions concerned.
The hyping of this unprecedented threat led at home and abroad to the shredding of human rights. Detention without trial, whether by the US military in Guantanamo Bay or British police and intelligence services in Belmarsh Prison, became commonplace. The practice of extraordinary rendition was deployed – effectively kidknapping people and taking them to countries where torture could be used to get the information required.
There was the routine abuse of prisoners in holding centres like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Other liberties like the right to protest were also curtailed. A variety of authoritarian paraphanalia was developed, from control orders to ID cards, all legitimised on the back of the need to defeat terrorism.
During all of these post 9/11 developments, most in the media simply accepted the official version of events. The consensus that the threat posed by a group known as Al Qaeda – little of which was known prior to 9/11 – was as great as that of Nazi Germany under Hitler was taken without question.
The whole war on terror narrative was so easily sold. There should have been more questions about Al Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks and the destruction of human rights. The only winners have been the arms and oil companies.
The war on terror had a long duration as the dominant narrative, that only came to an end with the banking crisis. This crisis rocked the world and became the new narrative. This time there were references to the 1930s and the worst crisis ever. Again few questions that needed to be were asked. The media world accepted the disaster narrative and it fanned out. All economic news was bad news. It became an easy story to take some negative statistics, stand in front of a few shops that had closed down and predict gloom and doom. When there was good news, like more jobs being created by a supermarket chain, this became an add on to the main bad news story.
The narrative on this occasion was tinged by a need on the part of those who largely own and control the media for a change of government. The continually preached armageddon scenario was bad news for the Labour government which had adopted a Keynsian approach, pumping money in to stimulate demand and trying to get people spending again. Yet the news was all bad, suggesting things would get worse.
The economic crisis has now morphed into the present narrative which concerns the need for cuts in order to reduce the national debt, incurred mainly by the banking bail out. This has been sold again in apocalyptic terms. The war images have been run out yet again. The Dunkirk spirit called upon, as everyone must tighten their belts. The caveat here ofcourse is that some like the pensioners and public sector are being asked to tighten their belts that bit tighter that the bankers who created the crisis in the first place.
The media has been operating as an echo chamber for the narrative of national austerity. Few are again questioning the line. The present debt is nothing like that incurred during the post World War II period when the country was literally bankrupt. Yet at that time the NHS and the welfare state were created. Few ask why the very same institutions in the City of London who created the crisis in the first place are now effectively setting the terms as to who should be picking up the bill.
As can be seen from these examples there is no one cause that can be singled out for the basis of a narrative. It is a combination of factors including governments, business interests - particularly arms, oil and banking - and concentration of media into fewer and fewer hands. All of these factors contribute to creating narratives that are favourably generally to a rich elite and against the interests of the mass of people. The development is bad for democracy.
The question for journalists is why do we accept these narratives so easily without asking even the most basic of questions. The ease with which each of these narratives has been sold to journalists amounts to a type of self-censorship. The faculties of a questioning mind, inquisitiveness and a desire for truth seem to have been suspended indefinitely. It is not all bad news ofcourse, there are honourable exceptions to these dominant narratives. Brave work such as that conducted by journalists Stephen Grey to expose extraordinary rendition and the advocacy and writing of lawyer Clive Stafford Smith on Guantanamo Bay. But these are few and far between. The majority have gone along with the official truths, put out to keep the people down by engendering fear and to the benefit of vested interests. It is sad day for journalism and democracy when so many media operations have become not much more than covert wings of the propaganda world of public relations. Somehow journalists need to win back their independence and inquisitiveness. A healthy democracy demands more than the parroting of official truths