Back in December in FACT, during a live Q & A session following the screening of John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War We Don’t See’, the journalist and filmmaker suggested we were fighting the wrong people.
In response to a question about the effectiveness of the recent national student and cuts demonstrations, the “wrong people” Pilger referred to were the Government. The right people, he proposed, were the media.
Although Pilger’s documentary focused on war and how it’s been reported historically, his film was actually asking a bigger question: How, in a Western democracy, are the ‘free press’ nothing more than a mouthpiece for the state?
With their use of embedded reporters, economically-driven content and the marginalisation of independent investigative reporters, the news we receive fits a narrative or consensus, neatly packaged and produced, without the space for an alternative view outside the framework of that narrative. It’s nothing new either, social critic and academic Noam Chomsky was asking the same question in 1988 in his book, Manufacturing Consent.
Instead of holding the state accountable for its actions, the media accepts government press releases and sources without question, from pushing dodgy dossiers to accusing the unemployed and the NHS for the current deficit, while subtly erasing the banks’ responsibility Orwell style.
While Cameron and Osbourne act like a couple of Russian oligarchs dismantling the country’s infrastructure for quick cash, the media have failed to challenge the uncomfortable truth that that deficit reduction is a cover for their own damaging ideology. Often asking where the huge cuts to public services will happen, but rarely asking why?
Why else would the government insist on paying back a debt in five years when the agreed terms are fourteen? And why is the income from the recent VAT increase being used for planned tax cuts for high earners, corporations and banks, when reducing the deficit is the supposed priority?
It also has to be asked why behemoth news organisations like the BBC report and give gravitas to what politicians and governments say, when history warns otherwise. Accepting that the UK, with its GDP the sixth highest on the planet, is on the brink of bankruptcy is as ludicrous as Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 – and just as easily debunked.
In fact the media’s main role appears to be one of relaying sound bites, which only distract from the questions that should be asked. The real stories are hidden in a political sleight of hand which, if nothing else, keeps the radio phone-ins busy, whether they’re talking about bank bonuses, council CEO’s wages or doctors’ overtime pay.
Illustrated to full effect in Pilger’s documentary is when, in 2003, the free media failed to mention that the iconic footage showing the peoples’ toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad was staged.
Liverpool brothers Barry and Saville Kushner believe it’s a question of democracy, which compelled them to challenge the BBC’s reporting of the UK’s deficit debate, after watching journalist Andrew Marr unquestioningly accept Chancellor George Osbourne’s opinion that the country is on the on the brink of bankruptcy and the cuts are necessary; when in fact the country’s debt and debt repayment levels are historically low. This one-sided coverage was compounded by Martha Kearney on the BBC’s World at One when she accused New Labour politician Hilary Benn of being a “deficit denier”.
These lapses in editorial integrity encouraged the brothers create to a powerful response to the Government’s narrative with a persuasive presentation they call Believing is Seeing, after researching the facts behind the push for cuts. This fascinating insight into the current debate will be presented next at the Kirkby Unemployed Centre, Thursday 27 January at 7pm, two days before the major fees and cuts demonstrations in Manchester and London.
Although huge cuts to vital services and major job losses are expected, the media have done very little to support or protect the right to protest; reporting only acts of violence or property damage, usually from the point of view of the police, who in many cases have been accused of inciting it. Only through the use of social media and camera phones have the police been brought to account even when the press have been there in number.
But rather than selectively reporting the abuses of power, the media should be holding the powerful to account. But when the media organisations themselves are so powerful, who holds them to account?
In a week when the press are waiting with teeth bared for the latest WikiLeaks revelations of tax evasion, it’s interesting to watch how they cosy up with the controversial website when there’s a chance to attack greedy individuals – but prefer to demonise its founder Julian Assange when the website was revealing the machinery of Government.
With what can only be described as smear campaign since the leaking of 250,000 US documents, Assange has been accused of jeopardising US military operations and costing countless American lives, even though three million US government employees already had access to this ‘sensitive’ information.
With similar hypocrisy the media were very vocal when exposing MPs’ expense abuses, but continue to say very little about the estimated £25bn lost to tax avoidance by big business each year.
Whether it’s weapons of mass destruction or linking the MMR vaccine to autism, we need to challenge the media when they continue to peddle lies or at least ignore the truth.
Unless we continue to fight the single narrative there will always be a good day to bury bad news.
Believing is Seeing, 27 Jan
Kirby Unemployed Centre