Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why did the BBC whitewash NATO massacre in Libya?

For me, the summer of 2011 started in March. On a beautiful day, I visited Portcullis House in London, a spacious building where members of parliament work. And who did I see staring at me only Tony Blair?

Not literally, I hasten to add. There were several portraits of the former prime minister hanging on the walls. In one of them, he looked tired and pensive; in another, ruthless and sinister.

Later on that long, hot day, I briefly met an inspiring young man called Jody McIntyre. Towards the end of last year, McIntyre was in the news when police pushed him out of his wheelchair at a demonstration against David Cameron’s efforts to reserve university education for the rich. When he was interviewed by the BBC, that gormless newscaster Ben Brown suggested McIntyre (who has cerebal palsy) had provoked the attack by “rolling your wheelchair towards the police”.

I have been thinking about McIntyre over the past few weeks. The BBC’s coverage of the riots that were the top story in Britain this August once again displayed how the corporation is a propaganda service for the ruling elite. In an apparent effort to put the riots in a historical context, the BBC invited the veteran broadcaster and civil rights activist Darcus Howe to comment. Yet the interviewer Fiona Armstrong had no interest in Howe’s cogent analysis of why the unrest occurred. Instead, she tried to malign him by inferring (without evidence) that he had started riots in the past.

What, you may wonder, have those haunting images of Blair to do with this? The aforementioned Ben Brown played his part in trying to dress up as facts those lies with which Blair took his country to war. Brown’s reports as an “embedded” journalist in Iraq served little purpose other than as PR promos for the British Army.

As images of looting in English cities were shown repeatedly this month, it was easy for the casual viewer to forget that Britain is still bombing foreign lands. The mainstream media paid scant attention to atrocities committed by British and other NATO forces in Libya. On the night of 8 August, NATO attacked residential areas in Zliten, a city in the district of Misrata. According to the Libyan authorities, 85 people were killed. Thirty-three of them were children; 32 them of them women, some reports indicate.

Parroting Western propaganda

Like everyone else, I have no means of verifying whether or not those reports are accurate. But why should journalists regard NATO’s version of events as the only one that could possibly be credible? In his report from the scene a few days later, the BBC’s Matthew Price sought to lend credence to NATO’s insistence that it had hit farm buildings used by pro-Gaddafi forces and had therefore struck a “legitimate target” (the words used by Roland Lavoie, a colonel tasked with selling the Libya war to the press). “The front line is not far away,” Price wrote. “From the site, plumes of white smoke can be seen rising from where the fighting is taking place. It would make sense that soldiers would need somewhere to rest in the area.”

Price gave an account of what he saw in the local morgue. Most of the corpses he saw were of men of “fighting age” (his words) but there were also two women and two children. Price’s online biography says he graduated in geography from Cambridge in 1994; it does not indicate he has ever been trained to perform an autopsy. Yet he appears to regard himself as sufficiently qualified in medical matters to insinuate that the children could not have been killed by NATO. “One child, a two year old, bore no visible scars,” he wrote. “Its skin was clean.”

BBC reporters, it should be recalled, can do well for themselves by currying favour with NATO. Oana Lungescu and Mark Laity both used to cover NATO’s activities for the BBC. Both were then hired as spindoctors for the alliance. The case of Laity’s appointment represents a particular affront to journalistic ethics as it was patently a reward for his reporting (stenography would be more accurate) of the war against Serbia in 1999. When NATO killed numerous ethnic Albanian refugees in one attack, he helped spread the myth that it had bombed a military convoy.

An elite addicted to war

This summer’s riots could tell us many things about British society. They could tell us what happens when you have a lethal cocktail of police brutality and rising inequality. Tottenham, where they started, has the highest level of unemployment in London. Is it any wonder that its young people reacted angrily when the police shot dead a black man, especially when we know that blacks are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by English and Welsh police than whites?

There is an even bigger issue here. Britain has one of world’s most violent governments, regardless of which parties comprise it. Britain is home to one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, BAE. Since 1999, Britain has bombed Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Only the US has chalked up more acts of aggression.

Britain’s greatest thugs are not the looters on its streets, they are the immaculately groomed men (and some women) who have committed the UK to endless wars. Unlike the rioters, their crimes go unpunished.
And BBC journalists with flawless diction can be relied on to whitewash these crimes.

·First published by New Europe, (www.neurope.eu), 22 August 2011.

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