July 09, 2006

What is the Role of the Media Concerning Foreign Policy?

Recently John Pilger gave a speech about our western media and how much it fails to do its job of presenting the facts, especially when describing wars and the actions of the western powers. He's been a journalist for 40 years and he believes the journalists have become a huge piece of the war machine. Here's how he began:

During the Cold War, a group of Russian journalists toured the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by their hosts for their impressions. “I have to tell you,” said their spokesman, “that we were astonished to find, after reading all the newspapers and watching TV, that all the opinions on all the vital issues were, by and large, the same. To get that result in our country, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here, you don't have that. What's the secret? How do you do it?”

What is the secret? It's a question now urgently asked of those whose job is to keep the record straight: who in this country have extraordinary constitutional freedom. I refer to journalists, of course, a small group who hold privileged sway over the way we think, even the way we use language.

I have been a journalist for more than 40 years. Although I am based in London, I have worked all over the world, including the United States, and I have reported America's wars. My experience is that what the Russian journalists were referring to is censorship by omission, the product of a parallel world of unspoken truth and public myths and lies: in other words, censorship by journalism, which today has become war by journalism.

Relating what he saw in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Central America, and what's now happening in Iraq, he sees the same problem over and over again. Journalists are not telling what is really happening, but rather they are telling the story that those who shape conventional wisdom will allow. And this is particularly true in the way the media reports on our foreign policy.

Richard Falk at Princeton has described the process. We are indocrinated to see foreign policy, he wrote, “through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence.”

...After I had filmed in East Timor in 1993, I interviewed Philip Liechty, a former CIA officer who, at his embassy desk in Jakarta, had seen the evidence of Suharto's horrors committed with American approval and American arms. He told me that, when he retired, he had tried to alert the media to East Timor. “But there was no interest,” he said, echoing Harold Pinter. And yet the deaths in East Timor are more than six times greater than all the deaths caused by terrorist incidents throughout the world over past 25 years, according to the State Department. The “mainstream” deals with this by reporting humanity in terms of its worthy victims and unworthy victims, its good tyrants and bad tyrants. The victims of September 11, 2001, are worthy. The victims of East Timor are unworthy. Israeli victims are worthy; Palestinians are unworthy. Saddam Hussein was once a good tyrant. Now he is a bad tyrant. Saddam must be envious of Suharto, who has always been a good tyrant, an acceptable mass murderer.

...If we journalists are ever to reclaim the honour of our craft, we need to understand, at least, the historic task that great power assigns us. This is to “soften-up” the public for rapacious attack on countries that are no threat to us. We soften them up by de-humanising them, by writing about "regime change" in Iran as if that country is an abstraction, not a human society. Currently, journalists are softening up Iran, Syria, and Venezuela.

It is an incredible speech and one that is worthy of being reported widely.

(h/t to Yannone)

Posted by Mary at July 9, 2006 12:46 PM | Media | Technorati links |
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