George Orwell and modern media

A TV production of George Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, 29 June, 1965 (Getty Images)
A TV production of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, 29 June, 1965 (Getty Images)

Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, was born 110 years ago on Tuesday. In thisTalking Point, Dr Marcus Papadopoulos looks at the parallels between the writer’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and today’s mainstream media reporting by Dr Marcus Papadopoulos (Voice of Russia)

George Orwell – photo gallery of a literary great

“Two hundred thousand Bosnian Muslims killed”. “One hundred thousand Kosovan Albanians killed”. “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”. “Gaddafi’s forces are ready to slaughter thousands of civilians”. “Syrian forces are killing women and children”.

All of the above headlines have three things in common: firstly, they were by western mainstream media outlets; secondly, they corroborated the case of their respective governments; and thirdly, none of them had any substance.

Establishment control

Tuesday June 25 marks George Orwell’s 110th birthday.

Throughout his career as a novelist and journalist, Orwell warned of the capacity of establishments to control the minds of their public.

In his acclaimed novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell introduced the concept of ‘Doublethink’ which can be described as “the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts”.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the slogans of the English Socialist Party is: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”.

Journalists following the line

The West – principally, the United States and Britain – projects itself as the guardian of freedom in the world. However, nothing is ever as simple as that.

During lunch with a foreign diplomat in London, I was told how British mainstream journalists simply “follow the line” of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when it comes to international affairs.

Over the last 20 years, western media has been instrumental in laying the ground for the US to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries in order to achieve political and economic goals – from Bosnia to Kosovo to Iraq to Libya and, now, to Syria.

Subliminal messages, not just semantics

Let us take a look at the situation in Syria, as this provides the most contemporary example of western media bias in support of the objectives set by policy-makers in Washington and London.

The BBC, for example, refers to the armed opposition in Syria as “rebels” – a word which has a subliminal influence on the unsuspecting reader or listener as it implies ‘freedom fighters’. But in Mali, the BBC refers to Islamist fighters there as ‘militants’ which, of course, has a whole different connotation as it conjures up thoughts of extremists and violence.

The reference by the BBC to ‘rebels’ in Syria and ‘militants’ in Mali is not a case of semantics.

Rather, it is, as the foreign diplomat told me over lunch, exactly in line with how the British government sees the conflicts in Syria and Mali – in Syria, a case of freedom fighters versus a dictatorship, and in Mali, a case of al-Qaeda-linked fighters versus the legitimate government of the country.

Rebels and/or civilians

Last year, western media, when listing the casualties in Syria, did not have a category for members of the so-called Free Syrian Army; instead, it listed them under the heading ‘Civilians’, which was another way to subliminally influence people into believing that the Syrian Army is ‘slaughtering’ Syrian civilians, as is claimed by western politicians.

The biased reporting of western media began in the former Yugoslavia, where a succession of civil wars enabled the US to implement the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’, which, in reality, is a pretext for securing western geo-strategic objectives.


When Yugoslavia imploded, it heralded the start of a succession of civil wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Western politicians and western journalists demonised the Serbs and presented the conflicts as good versus evil, similar to how politicians and journalists in the US and Britain are commenting on the current fighting in Syria.

It was no coincidence that the US had taken the side of the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovan Albanians, while the Serbs were backed by their traditional ally, Russia.

The role of Western media in the former Yugoslavia was not lost on two senior UN commanders.

Army view

Lewis MacKenzie, the former commander of the Sarajevo sector, commented that: “Those of us who served as UN commanders in Bosnia realised the majority of the media reports were biased, to say the least.”

And General Sir Michael Rose, the former UN protection force commander in Bosnia, said that: “The reporting and commenting of some members of the press corps in Sarajevo became close to becoming identified to the propaganda machine of the Bosnian government.”

Geo-strategic motivation

The West’s stance on Syria, as it was on Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Libya, is motivated by geo-strategic objectives, not by democracy and freedom (if anyone seriously thinks that the West is concerned by dictatorial governments and human rights abuses, then there would be a US naval flotilla off the coast of Saudi Arabia, a country which has some of the most repugnant cases of human rights abuses anywhere in the world).

‘Humanitarian intervention’ has been used by the US and its allies over the last 20 years to achieve western political and economic hegemony in the world.

But, to have achieved that, western politicians had to have convinced their respective domestic audiences that they were taking military action against a ‘mass-murdering regime’.

Enter western media.

It is not literally 1984 today; but it is figuratively.


Dr Marcus Papadopoulos is Editor of Politics First magazine. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.