On January 22, BBC News at Ten carried a piece by ‘defence’ correspondent Jonathan Beale reporting a speech by General Sir Nick Carter, the British Army’s Chief of General Staff. Carter gave his speech, pleading for more resources in the face of the Russian ‘threat’, at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an establishment think-tank with close links to the military and corporate media.
Beale began his BBC News piece with a prologue of raw propaganda, delivered in an urgent and impassioned tone:
‘Russia’s building an increasingly modern and aggressive military. Already tested in battle in Syria, using weapons Britain would struggle to match – like long-range missiles. In Ukraine, they’ve been using unconventional warfare, electronic cyber and misinformation. And they’re even on manoeuvres on Europe’s doorstep, with large-scale exercises near Nato’s borders. Enough to worry the head of the British army who tonight gave this rare public warning.’
The essence of Carter’s ‘rare public warning’ was that:
‘Russia was building an increasingly aggressive expeditionary force and the potential military threats to the UK “are now on Europe’s doorstep”… the Kremlin already boasted an “eye-watering quantity of capability” – a level the UK would struggle to match… Britain “must take notice of what is going on around us” or… the ability by the UK to take action will be “massively constrained”.’
‘Rather like a chronic contagious disease, it will creep up on us, and our ability to act will be markedly constrained – and we’ll be the losers of this competition.’
The army chief’s warning had been approved by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
On News at Ten, Beale’s reporting of the speech amplified the army chief’s message – in other words, the Defence Secretary’s stance – by deploying such key phrases as:
‘Increasingly aggressive’, ‘tested in battle’, ‘Britain would struggle to match’, ‘manoeuvres on Europe’s doorstep’, ‘near Nato’s borders’.
There was, of course, no mention of US/Nato encroachment towards Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union (contravening assurances given to Gorbachev), or the US bases and military exercises close to Russia’s borders as well as globally, or the long history of US threats and major crimes around the world. Nor was there any reference to Ukraine which has routinely been reported as an example of Russian ‘aggression’. John Pilger observes that the BBC along with others, including CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian:
‘played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and dangerous cold war.
‘All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.’
Beale’s credulous reporting of the army chief’s speech was an exemplar of ‘public broadcast’ media whipping up fear to promote state interests.
Later, standing outside the Ministry of Defence, Beale said:
‘This intervention by the head of the army is as much an appeal for more money for defence as it is a warning about the threat posed by Russia.’
And yet Beale had earlier dramatically highlighted the ‘worrying’ facts, asserting they were ‘enough to worry the head of the British army’ – in other words, that the army chief really was worried; not dissembling. Beale’s subsequent comment was a token, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it acknowledgement of the reality: that Carter’s speech was aimed at propping up UK military power.
Note that Beale’s ‘neutral’ reporting was not about an ‘alleged threat posed by Russia’; simply the ‘threat posed by Russia’. This subtly insidious use of language occurs daily on ‘impartial’ BBC News.
And, as ever, such a report would be incomplete without an establishment talking head from a ‘defence and security’ think tank. Professor Michael Clarke, a senior RUSI fellow, was on hand to perform the required role. This was BBC News in standard establishment/state/military/corporate mode.
‘The only thing the MSM [mainstream media] is good for is fake news, falsification and manipulation of truth & propaganda. Ask yourself for whose benefit?’
This is a reasonable starting point for a debate about the major news media. Beale did not distinguish himself with the quality of his response:
‘What a load of tosh.’
In contrast, Beale’s ‘opinion-free’ response to the army chief’s propaganda speech was:
‘Coherent, detailed and impressive speech by @ArmyCGS @RUSI_org tonight making the case for investment in #defence. CDS [Chief of Defence Staff] in waiting?’
Imagine if the BBC man’s observations had been reversed. It is, of course, completely unthinkable that a BBC reporter would respond to a major military or political speech with:
‘What a load of tosh.’
It would be equally unthinkable for a BBC journalist to respond to a speech by, for example, Noam Chomsky with:
‘Coherent, detailed and impressive speech tonight exposing Western war propaganda.’
And likewise, a dissident expert would never be invited to respond scornfully, or even sceptically, to a speech by the likes of Sir Nick Carter on the BBC’s News At Ten.
Further examples are pumped out daily by this ‘globally respected’ broadcaster. On January 8, Fiona Bruce introduced an item about Syria on BBC News at Ten with the phrase: ‘Syrian government forces, backed by Russia’. Why does BBC News not regularly use the phrase, ‘Saudi government forces, backed by the United States and the UK’ when reporting on bombs dropped on Yemen? The answer should be obvious.
On January 29, Huw Edwards announced on BBC News at Ten:
‘We talk exclusively to the head of the CIA about the threat from Russia.’
Note the duplicitous wording once again. Not ‘alleged’ threat or ‘claimed’ threat, far less ‘hyped-up’ threat. BBC correspondent Gordon Corera‘s ‘interview’ of the CIA’s Mike Pompero was a travesty of journalism, with no meaningful challenge or context. That the US is regularly regarded by global public opinion as a major threat around the world was totally off the agenda. You will wait in vain for an exclusive interview on BBC News at Ten with a senior figure about the ‘threat from the United States’.
Ironically, just the previous day, Piers Morgan had conducted a sycophantic ITV ‘interview’ with Donald Trump. The object of the exercise was clearly to garner high viewer ratings, and thus boost advertising revenue; not to challenge the US president in any meaningful way.
‘The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard – not let them spout self-evident tosh. That’s just showbiz.’
But when it comes to a showbiz-style BBC News interview with the head of the CIA? A convenient silence.
When one of our readers, Steve Ennever, uploaded the BBC’s CIA interview to YouTube, complete with Huw Edwards’ introduction, it was swiftly removed – within an hour or so – under pretence of a ‘copyright claim’. What is the publicly-funded BBC so afraid of? The clip of the interview does appear on the BBC News YouTube channel. But why should they have a monopoly on it? Are they actually fearful of public-interest media activism that focuses on BBC News clips?
It is notable that all the brave BBC News voices go quiet at times like this. As far as we could tell, there was not a single dissenting voice about the BBC ‘exclusive’ interview plugging CIA propaganda. The conformity is remarkable and yet systemic.
The uncomfortable truth for the BBC is that the gap between showbiz and BBC ‘news’ is narrow. In fact, there is a significant overlap. Worse than that, BBC News is all too often a conduit for propaganda that promotes wars, corporate interests, ‘patriotism’, military pageantry, excessive consumerism and calamitous inaction on climate.
As we have previously noted, a persistent feature of BBC News reporting on Yemen, for instance, is that the UK’s complicity in Saudi war crimes and Yemen’s humanitarian disaster is buried. To take another example, this BBC News headline is permissible:
‘Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds’
But these are not:
‘US threatens 100% of Afghanistan, BBC finds’
‘US threatens 100% of Iraq, BBC finds’
‘Global opinion finds US a major world threat, BBC finds’
And when the BBC takes a rare look at propaganda, it only does so in order to examine the propaganda of Official Enemies. Thus, BBC News will robustly critique Russian propaganda in a way it never does with the West’s.
In summary, it does not take extensive observation to discern the general pattern of BBC News ‘journalism’ on matters of great significance:
1. Western military or political leader says something.
2. BBC News provides headline coverage.
3. Policy ‘expert’ from a right-wing or ‘centrist’ think tank is quoted in support.
4. BBC correspondent provides supportive ‘analysis’.
5. Token sceptical voice is briefly quoted.*
6. Extensive follow-up; talking points on BBC programmes such as Newsnight, Daily Politics, etc.
When Eleanor Bradford, a former BBC Scotland health correspondent, rightly drew attention to the corporation failing women over the issue of pay equality, British historian Mark Curtis added an important corollary:
‘It’s true. Why should women be paid less than men for conveying state propaganda under the guise of news? It’s only fair they should receive same salaries as all male govt employees.’
Curtis has published several books revealing the UK’s real role in world affairs, based on diligent research of previously secret government records. He is currently releasing declassified documents that reveal the reality of post-WW2 British policy towards numerous countries, as opposed to the propaganda version of events that has filled books, newspapers, magazines, television and radio programmes, and even infected academia.
Curtis explains the rationale for his project:
‘The British public has little idea what has been done, and is being done, in their names.
‘I want everyone to be able to see at least some of the documents that I have seen because they tell a much truer story of this country’s real role in the world than they will hear on the BBC or read in The Telegraph.’
Curtis is addressing some of the most ‘ignored episodes’ in British foreign policy – such as the UK’s support for the Idi Amin coup in Uganda in 1971, and for the welcoming of the Pinochet military takeover in Chile, the covert operation to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia in the late 1950s, and the covert UK war in Yemen in the 1960s.
Curtis notes that now-released internal files reveal that:
‘there is no interest in the human rights of the people that live in regions like the Middle East, Africa or Asia – British policy is all about geopolitics, promoting commercial interests and upholding Britain’s power status.’
Moreover, the files show that:
‘the British public is largely viewed as a threat and they therefore shouldn’t be allowed to know what is being done in their names…The danger is that the public might deflect elites from their policy course – this is unacceptable to Whitehall.’
Curtis rightly points to the need to challenge traditional sources of ‘news’ which keep the public ignorant of crucial facts and context. Non-mainstream sources should be encouraged and supported:
‘Social and alternative media is very encouraging – this is where people should be getting more and more of their information, bypassing mainstream sources.’
Ironically, it was a ‘renegade producer’ from the BBC who encouraged newspaper journalist John Pilger to start making documentaries. Charles Denton taught Pilger that:
‘facts and evidence told straight to the camera and to the audience could indeed be subversive.’
Pilger encourages young journalists today to ‘make a difference’ by breaking the silence surrounding the reality of Western foreign policies. He adds a warning:
‘The moment they [young journalists] accept, say, the BBC view of the world, that there are only two sides to an argument, and both those sides are on what we call the establishment side, then it’s over.’