Thursday, July 21, 2016

Two tragedies, worlds apart

I got home from work and turned on the BBC News last night, expecting to hear something, anything, about a tragedy I’d been alerted to earlier in the day.

But there was nothing, not a word.                                  

I switched over to RTE News, and it was the same. Nothing. Silence.            
Coalition forces bomb a populated area in Syria

I felt I was living in an Orwellian world, where the people in authority, the elite, the Government, the authorities, call them what you wish, wanted to control what news I heard or saw.

At 7pm, I switched to Channel 4 News, and in fairness, at last, a mainstream channel on these islands dared to report on a horrific tragedy which had happened the day before.

I had read it in the Daily Telegraph, I had seen it on Russian Television, but when I watched both the BBC and RTE I began to disbelieve what I’d seen and heard.

How could such a tragic loss of life be considered so unworthy of attention?

Just a day earlier, an estimated 85 civilians, including almost a dozen children, had lost their lives. Yet there was no condemnation from our leaders, no minute’s silence, no expressions of regret about the loss of so many innocent lives.

The dead were in Syria, killed by air strikes.

US combatants had targeted an area in northern Syria which had been held by Islamic State (IS) or Daesh fighters.

85 lives lost, a death toll which was eerily similar to the 85 lives lost when a terrorist in a truck ploughed through a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice.

All across Europe, people were, naturally, in shock at the news of another terrorist atrocity on French soil, coming so soon after the relief of seeing the European Championships football tournament conclude without any major incident.

Malcolm X: his jaundiced views of elements of the media
seem even more appropriate in 2016

France was in mourning again, yet we hardly ever hear news reports about the bombings carried out by the French in Libya or Syria.

After the latest Syrian attack, there were no commemorative walks along the Salthill Promenade or books of condolences opened up in Dublin.

Editors at the BBC and RTE did not even deem the attacks worthy of reportage.

So why is this important?

Well, the ‘terrorists’ who carried out this attack regularly stop to refuel their war planes at my local international airport. Nobody knows what they carry through Shannon, because nobody dares to find out.

On the day after the atrocity in Tokhar, the Irish Government confirmed in the Dail - the Irish parliament - that over 25,000 US troops had passed through Shannon Airport in the first six months of this year.

Gardai won’t search their war planes and those “dissidents” who dare to do so, some of them respected academics, can expect to make a visit to Ennis District Court.

When over 120 civilians are killed in just a few days in Syria and Iraq, we don’t see their faces on the TV (unless we go looking for obscure channels) and we aren’t even told that the French or the Americans killed them on our behalf.

It is believed that eight families were wiped out in the attack on Tokhar on Tuesday, in one of the deadliest bombings by coalition forces since the outbreak of war in Syria.

Two days earlier, a woman, four children, and an elderly man were also killed by coalition forces in an air strike on the Syrian city of Manjib.

The US military says it is investigating the civilian deaths, which is more than can be said for the Irish authorities who haven’t a clue who or what has been flown through Shannon (in ‘neutral’ little Ireland) over the past 13 years.

The loss of any innocent human life, whether in France or Syria, is a tragedy.

But some elements of our media don’t even bother to report some of them and, when they do, they refer to the lives lost as “collateral damage”.

How dehumanising our language has become over the 80 years since George Orwell used to write about Big Brother and the brainwashing of the totalitarian state.

Now “we” use drones to kill people thousands of kilometres away – US President Barack Obama famously sits down every Tuesday with his advisers to decide who should be slaughtered this week.

We rightly condemn the Islamic terrorists who carry out atrocities on European soil, but we ignore or are afraid to condemn the “terrorists” in uniforms who carry out atrocities on our behalf.

We don’t see their victims and the perpetrators view them from the skies, or military bases hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away, as though they were playing video games.

How much easier it is to "dehumanise" a civilian victim in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan when you kill them by pressing a button far removed from the combat zone.

So over the past week we've had at least two tragedies, which seem to be worlds apart.

We stop to mourn the deaths of innocents in Nice, and rightly so, but our "masters" decide not to even
tell us about a tragic loss of life in a Syrian town.

Why would we mourn them?

We never, or hardly ever, see their anguished relatives on our TV screens.

The monthly protest against US military
use of Shanon Airpor

And then we wonder why people in the Middle East detest the western world?

The attacks on civilians in Syria or Iraq don’t justify the appalling scenes we have seen in France and Belgium over the past couple of years, but they do at least provide some sort of context which is dangerously lacking from elements of our media.

It’s easier to understand why there is so much hatred out there when our politicians and news channels make it clear that some lives don’t really matter.

There is no doubt that ISIS are murderous terrorists, who pose a threat to the entire world.

But the people who bomb cities thousands of miles away don’t always do so with good intentions, as the Chilcot Inquiry found when it investigated Tony Blair’s rush to war in Iraq.

Sometimes the “terrorists” are on our side, too, much as we choose to ignore the uncomfortable truth about what’s really going on in the unreported parts of the world.

You can watch an Al Jazeera report of the tragedy in Syria here:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The silence is deafening

There seemed to be almost an eerie silence about a move which could have a profound impact on the Irish media landscape last week.

In the furore which surrounded Brexit, uncertainty over the Irish border, and the Chilcot Inquiry into Tony Blair’s Iraq war, few seemed to notice that global media baron Rupert Murdoch decided to significantly increase his interest in the Irish market.

His News Corporation has decided to buy Belfast’s radio-focused Wireless Group in a £220 million (€257m) deal. It has massive implications for media ownership, and control, in Ireland and should really open up a debate about who controls our mainstream media.

Wireless owns seven radio stations on the island of Ireland, six in the Republic, and runs an advertising sales house in Dublin.

Why is this significant?  
The Sun: actively campaigned for a Brexit vote
 Well, Rupert Murdoch already owns The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times, London papers with Irish editions.

Suddenly, Irish media interests are going to be concentrated in even fewer hands and Murdoch will have a greater influence on Irish society.

Rupert, of course, knows a thing or two about influence.

His Fox News channel in the US is known across the globe for its partisan support for the Republican Party. Anyone who thinks differently is ridiculed.

In the UK, according to ‘spindoctor’ Alistair Campbell, Murdoch put undue pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to go to war in Iraq in 2003. He offered Blair the full support of his newspapers if he took the deeply unpopular decision.

More recently, his papers were hugely influential in pressing for a Brexit vote in the UK. The Sun tabloid led with the front-page headline, "IT'S BORIS DAY”, on the eve of the referendum.

In the midst of a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment following the vote, The Sun printed the following: "Where the Brex was won: Streets full of Polish shops, kids not speaking English... but Union Jacks now flying high again."

Hardly the best message to convey to the readership of a tabloid at a time of heightened tension, racism, and xenophobic attacks, with many immigrants in Britain reported to be living in fear.

For decades now, Murdoch has been widely known as the “kingmaker” in British politics, so much so that his switch in support from the Conservatives to Blair was seen to be hugely significant in determining the outcome of General Elections.

It’s only a few years since his newspapers were the subject of the Levenson Inquiry, which examined allegations of phone-hacking, corrupt payments, and the perversion of the course of justice.

The allegations led to the closure of The News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper.

Murdoch was so upset by all the allegations hovering over News UK that he reinstated Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive during the phone-hacking days, to the top job in September of last year.
She resigned at the height of the controversy in 2011.

Brooks may have been cleared of all charges, but some top executives at News Corporaiton could still face corporate criminal charges, and the incidents of phone-hacking occurred under her leadership.

People were shocked to see her return to News International. Media reform campaigners Hacked Off slammed her return last September.

"This could only happen in a dynastic company where normal rules of corporate governance simply do not apply,” said Evan Harris, joint executive of Hacked Off.

One of the most hurtful front pages
in British newspaper history

As a Liverpool fan, I know all about The Sun and how the tabloid could hurt thousands of people by printing vicious lies. All across Merseyside, people still boycott The Sun as a result of an infamous front page in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

In a nasty front page piece, the tabloid tried to blame the fans for the deaths of 96 people who went to a football match and never came home.

The Sun claimed the survivors hampered the efforts of the (now disgraced) police to rescue the dead and injured, whereas the fans were the true heroes on a truly awful day.

In Ireland, we already know a lot about billionaire  moguls, who wield their power through media interests.

The country’s leading media owner, Denis O’Brien, was accused of “gagging” free speech and even parliamentary privilege when a member of the Dail attempted to raise concerns about his finances last year.

For a few days in 2015, nobody dared to report on what had been said in our national parliament, after questions were raised about his relationship with IBRC, the State-owned bank.

He even forced the deletion of an article by the nation’s favourite satirical website, Waterford Whispers News.

O’Brien is no ordinary billionaire. He’s the chief shareholder in the country’s largest newspaper group, Independent Newspapers, and owns key news stations including Newstalk and Today FM.
He applied for an injunction to restrain broadcasters from reporting about his dealings with IBRC, arguing that it breached his privacy rights.

Because of the injunction, nobody in Ireland could listen to or read about what Catherine Murphy TD said in the Dail about Mr O’Brien for days.

O’Brien, who lives in Malta for tax purposes, owns 20 national and regional newspapers, but still feels a need to silence those who dare to question his dealings.

In May of this year, it emerged that he had initiated legal proceedings against the former Fianna Fail TD for Galway East, Colm Keaveney.

He’s suing the former TD for defamation arising from a speech by Mr Keaveney which was circulated to a public relations firm.

Referring to a politician as a
"poisonous snake" ... a day's work
at Rupert Murdoch's tabloid.
Let’s not forget that financial dealings involving Mr O’Brien were investigated by the Moriarty Tribunal, which cost the State in excess of €50 million.

It found that Mr O’Brien made payments to former Minister Michael Lowry (FG) which amounted to £447,000 Sterling (€521,000 in today’s money).

As Minister for Communications, Lowry awarded the State’s second mobile phone contract to Mr O’Brien. It was the start of his global media empire.

Given Mr Murdoch’s tendency to influence politicians and Mr O’Brien’s propensity to take legal action against those who question his financial dealings – even in the national parliament – it’s important to ask whether their media empires are good for Irish society.

Yet nobody seemed to be prepared to ask those questions when Mr Murdoch decided to expand his influence in the Republic of Ireland last week.