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News Consumers Beware: You Are Being Lied To

News Consumers Beware: You Are Being Lied To
By David Miller
Stirling University

News consumers beware: You are being lied to. Throughout the build up to the war in Iraq the US and UK governments tried to show that Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction and that Hussein was a threat. Within days and sometimes hours these lies were exposed to the world, leading to unprecedented public opposition to war. Since the war started the mainstream British media have abandoned all pretence at sceptical reporting in the main news bulletins watched by millions of British citizens. The distinction between news and government propaganda has shown signs of breaking down altogether as embedded reporters and newscasters have got carried away with the thrill of war and have endlessly recycled military propaganda.

The Big lie

The big lie in this war is the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In the last year the UK and US have time and again tried to show that Hussein has nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. The UN has declared that 100% of nuclear capability was removed by 1998 and has not been restored. The UK claimed that Iraq had been attempting to buy components in the West African state of Niger.

Denounced by the UN as a 'fabrication', the documents may, according to Prizewinning US journalist Seymour Hersh, have been the result of an MI6 Information Operation or I/Op. By 1998 according to UN inspector Scott Ritter, the chemical and biological capacity was '90-95% removed'. As UK minister Robin Cook noted in his resignation speech there is little likelihood that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction. Yet still the US and UK government continue to lie about this.

The message is co-ordinated by the US in round the clock contact with Downing Street. The Whitehouse Office of Global Communications sets the days messages in early morning calls to spin doctor Alistair Campbell.

The new 'global messenger system' set up by the US is used to keep 16,000 diplomatic personnel all over the globe regularly updated on the line to take with the media. These efforts are supplemented by the massive military PR operation in the gulf including US and UK 'psychological operations' staff, whose role is to manipulate public opinion and feed in stories undermining the Iraqi will to resist as well as targeting British public opinion with crude propaganda about chemical weapons.

Scuds

As the bombing started reports came in that the Iraqis had responded by firing scuds over the border into Kuwait. Orignating from the military, the reports were parroted by the World's media. Most TV outlets neglected to attribute the story to 'army sources' or note that they were allegations. On the BBC, reporter Ben Brown managed to say 'Scud' without qualification on ten separate occasions in one short report. Firing scuds would mean that Iraq had lied and would justify the war. But a day later it was confirmed by the LA Times that the missiles were not scuds. The BBC did not apologise for misleading their viewers.

Umm Qasr

On Friday, Umm Qsar fell. This wasn't a rumour. It was announced by no less a person than US defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But on Saturday fighting still raged . It was four days before the reality caught up with the spin

Mass Iraqi surrender

In the first days of the war the military announced a major surrender of an 'entire Iraqi' division. This played well with the initial spin that the war would be over with quickly. Later it was admitted that in fact only the commanding officer had defected. This setback combined with the unexpected tenacity of Iraqi resistance led to the emergence of the fallback spin position that this might be a long war.

Chemical Weapons factory

On Sunday stories about the discovery of a chemical weapons factory were reported all over the world. For example ITN reported on Monday 24th 'American sources have confirmed they have discovered what they believe to be a huge chemical factory'. After the story had given the correct impression, the Pentagon quietly admitted that the factory contained absolutely no chemicals and had in fact been abandoned long ago by the Iraqi's.

Basra secure

Then on Tuesday all approaches to Basra were secured, or rather, they weren¹t. The best description of this came from a Royal Marine dug in outside Basra on 25 March 'So Basra is taken? Why the f*** are we still laying out here in the mud and rain then?' But such tiny details like the truth don't worry many journalists on the BBC and ITV bulletins seen by millions.

This is all very familiar for viewers who remember the Falklands and the Gulf war in 1991. In both those conflicts many journalists, criticised the military for lying, apologised for misleading the public and promised that they would never again be so duped. But during this war they are peddling propaganda as never before. Some journalists do try and retain some scepticism, usually on minority programmes. But the main bulletins quietly move from the last lie to the next rumour in a seamless propaganda show.

There are no apologies and no retractions. Most of all there is a refusal to discuss coalition propaganda in front of the audience. In war time it seems the truth about lies is too dangerous for us to hear. For the first time in history we can easily discovered on the internet and in independent news sources. Yet most British people have to rely on the deluge of misinformation on the BBC and ITV. Apologising after the war is over is not enough, they should do so now and refuse to carry any more government misinformation.

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David Miller is a member of the Stirling Media Research Institute, Stirling University, Scotland david.miller@stir.ac.uk


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