Sunday, April 17, 2005
Can you imagine?—The Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence (updated)
Pilger begins with a couple of rhetorical questions that demonstrate why the device still works—
Can you imagine the BBC and other major broadcasters apologising to a rogue regime which practises racism and ethnic cleansing; which has “effectively legalised the use of torture” (according to Amnesty International); which holds international law in contempt, having defied hundreds of UN resolutions and built an apartheid wall in defiance of the International Court of Justice; which has demolished thousands of people's homes and given its soldiers the right to assassinate; and whose leader was judged “personally responsible” for the massacre of more than 2000 people?
Can you imagine the BBC saying sorry to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or other official demons, for broadcasting an uncensored interview with a courageous dissident of that country, a man who spent 19 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement? Of course not.
And of course, that is exactly what happened. The BBC apologized for not abiding by Israeli censorship rules. They produced a documentary "Israel's Secret Weapon" which included an interview with Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu exposed the Israeli nuclear weapons program and has just recently been released from prison for that act but is not "at liberty."
According to Peter Hermann of the Baltimore Sun, Israeli officials
... reacted strongly, in effect barring official government contact with the news organization that reaches viewers in 256 million homes around the globe.
The prime minister's office is prohibiting government aides, spokesmen and Cabinet ministers from being interviewed on the BBC. The top liaison to foreign news organizations said punishment will extend beyond a boycott: The network's reporters will find it difficult to renew visas, cross Israeli borders and navigate the country's sometimes-confounding bureaucracy when it comes time to deal with permits and other matters.
"Our feeling1 is that they have a policy that is biased against Israel," said Dan Seaman, head of Israel's Government Press Office, who complained that skewed BBC reports feed anti-Semitism in Europe. "Our appearing on their show allows them to give the appearance that they are professional and objective. They have no intention of doing an honest piece of work."
Oh, and ...
Last year, Israel's primary cable company yanked the BBC from its package and replaced it with the more Israel-friendly Fox News, pointing to financial reasons. The BBC is still available here on the more expensive digital cable and via satellite.
Well, we can see that a bit of pressure was applied. But I believe the apology was a mistake. The BBC had a simple and fair way to respond. If their reporters are not allowed to interview Israeli officials for their response to a story, they may simply report the fact to the viewers—and keep reporting it, mentioning of course that this is an official policy toward the BBC for their refusal to accept rules of prior censorship. (1) This educates the public on Israeli censorship policy, (2) puts the BBC on the high ground and (3) makes the officials look as if they're "pleading the Fifth." Nor can it be in the interest of the officials over time not to assert their point of view.
The BBC, however, is more or less an organ of the Blair government now. As Pilger writes,
The British Labour government's collusion with the Sharon gang is reflected in the BBC's “balanced” coverage of a repression described by Nelson Mandela as “the greatest moral issue of the age”. Simon Wilson, the correspondent made to apologise for a proper, important and long overdue interview with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, will know better in future.
That is hardly new. What is new is the extent to which insidious state propaganda has penetrated sections of the media whose independence has been, until recently, accepted by much of the public.
Pilger then gives a lesson on reading the news, aware of two media "laws"—the Law of Opposites and the Law of Silence.
Better that he explain ...
As it happens, recent events have highlighted the contrast between the BBC and Aljazeera in their response to efforts toward censorship by a foreign government. It's a great matchup because the BBC describes itself as "the world's largest news gathering organization, and according to The Scotsman, Aljazeera "is believed to have the Arab world’s biggest market share, estimated at 35 million people."
In the case of Aljazeera here's what happened: According to the account given in the Jerusalem Post, Arabs living in the oil-rich Iranian city of Ahvaz near the Iraqi border and elsewhere in the province erupted into demonstrations. The violence
erupted after a copy of a letter allegedly signed by former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi was circulated in Ahvaz and other cities in the predominantly Arab area outlining a plan to decrease the percentage of Arabs in the region by moving in non-Arabs.
Abtahi has denied writing any such letter.
Aljazeera broadcast the demonstrations. According to The Scotsman—
Al-Jazeera ... is believed to have been the first to broadcast news of the unrest. The station’s commentators discussed the clashes on talk shows as well.
The Iranian government was pissed. The Arab populace of Iran watches Aljazeera.
Tehran today ordered the station to cease operations until the network explained the motives behind its coverage.
“If it is proved that Al-Jazeera committed a crime, it will be prosecuted,” Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght, an official at Iran’s Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, said.
“We suspended its activity in Iran to investigate the network’s role in unrest in Ahvaz,” Khoshvaght said. “We expect the network to respect Iran’s national integrity and security.”
The Persian Journal reported,
The Tehran bureau of pathetic Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, mouth-piece of pan-arabism and muslims' terrorists closed in Iran, said a senior Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry official in charge of supervising the foreign press.
"We have arrested many of those behind the scenes and it became evident that they have ties to anti-government (television) channels," he said.
Here's the Aljazeera account of their suspension—
Iran suspended nationwide operations of Aljazeera on Monday, accusing it of inflaming violent protests by Iran's Arab minority in southwestern Iran, state-run TV reported.
Reacting to the move, Aljazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the broadcaster's Tehran bureau "was advised verbally that its professional activities are temporarily suspended."
"While Aljazeera Channel regrets this unexpected and unwarranted decision, it reiterates its intention to continue to be guided in its editorial policy by its ever present professional ethos 'the opinion and the other opinion' enshrined in its Code of Professional Ethics," Ballout said in a statement.
"Aljazeera further assures its audience that it will continue to cover Iranian affairs objectively, comprehensively and in a balanced way, and calls on the relevant Iranian authorities to reconsider the decision to suspend its bureau’s activities."
Aljazeera has followed the approach I suggested for the BBC almost to the letter.
The BBC apologized to Israel in secret. It was only through an accidental post on its website that the apology became known. By contrast, Aljazeera has stood firm to its broadcasting principles in Iraq (where it was suspended in August 2004) and Iran.
Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press? (6/16/04)
The most abject of apologies—and this time I mean it (9/5/04)
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)
Another official bans communication with the press (2/25/05)
1 This feeling—that the media are biased when they reveal disagreeable facts—is increasingly common, perhaps even contagious. The Bush administration has developed the feeling, the Ehrlich administration of Maryland has the feeling, and even the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, has the feeling. The approved remedy is to cut official contact with the offending organ of the press. [back]