Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

“If we have a good media environment, then we also have a peaceful environment”.

There is no better example of how true WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s comment about the role of the media in creating distress amongst the masses than the current situation in Greece. This piece looks at how that distress was created by an inconsiderate media.

Stereotypes and Narratives
During the height of the Greek protester’s clashes with riot police on the streets of Athens representatives of the media found some, or perhaps a lot, of the Greek public’s frustration directed at them.

The protester’s frustration at the state of their country and the way it is being dealt with has only being added to by their feeling that the media is stereotyping them, misrepresenting them, and that they are only voicing the concerns and opinions of the economic and financial elite rather than representing the reality of the Greek worker.

It is important to realise that the media like to create narratives and stereotypes – modes which are easy for us simple public to consume. A quick example that satisfies the media’s taste for a familiar narrative is the recent substitution of leading bad guys; Gadaffi replacing the tired old image of bin Laden, and the old favourite narrative of the US leading the way into a distant country to protect the civilians from their own leader.

It was only a few months ago that the main stereotype of the Egyptians was that they were somewhat pathetic, that they conflict with democracy, and that half of them were fundamentalist Muslims, and then suddenly they became the protagonists of the fight for democracy. This is a clear instance of the media changing the narrative when the stereotypes have collapsed.

Compared to the Greek story the Arab Spring was a much more straight-forward narrative – the images consisted of demonstrations, people demanding democracy, and more liberal rights. This is very easy for people to understand and relate to worldwide.
A situation like Greece is much more difficult to understand – it is much harder to see what they are demonstrating about, to understand why austerity is being imposed, and what is wrong with the Euro. And so covering the economic crises is more difficult for journalists than covering the Arab Spring.

Lazy Greeks
A lot of Greeks feel the mainstream western media only picked up on their story when it turned violent. To many protesters this misrepresents the initial peaceful nature of their movement. Also, the Greek’s frustration is caused by the media’s focus on what the politicians are going to do about the current problems whereas they rarely address what the Greek people themselves are thinking about all this.

According to many alternative Greek journalists there is a sense that the media are stigmatising their social demands and are trying to create a monstrous profile of the protesters.

In some countries, the media has gone as far as to suggest that the reason the Greeks are in such a financial predicament is because they are lazy and don’t work as much as other European countries.

According to the Operation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), however, that is not true.
In 2008 Greeks worked on average 690 hours more than the average German, 450 more than the average Brit, and 350 hours more than the OECD average.

According to Eurostats data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece was 61.7; higher than France, Germany, Italy and higher than the EU average.

In fact, according to a Eurostat survey published recently, it is the Irish who are lazy, averaging a full two hours under the EU norm of hours worked per week.

So to portray the Greeks as lazy is baseless and only adds to the protester’s frustration that the Western and international media are not focusing on the problems that need to be addressed. It would also lead one to ask the question why would such news outlets say such a thing?

Greek Anger
This anger directed at the media has been bubbling for a while as the protester’s found their own countries’ major news corporations to be missing the big picture.

Everytime a Greek turned on their television they saw, and still see, representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the E.U. talking about the problems in Greece and what the Greeks need to do. The media, perhaps understandably, think that the IMF knows best. Yet this is the same IMF that didn’t see the big financial crises coming.

Europe editor of the Economist John Peet makes the point that in a complex financial and economical crises the media tend to depend too much on official sources, briefings from finance ministries, the European commission and/or the IMF on information and the way of thinking and so don’t relate the feelings of the protesters as much as they become somewhat smothered by the more assured, and mostly well presented, business figures.

As a result the Greek people target the media because they see it as part of the problem and it has evolved or snowballed so that the protesters are now united by their hostility towards the media.

The Same old Story
Greece’s domestic media landscape is similar to many other countries – several outlets in the hands of a wealthy few, and many of those groups are conglomerates whose non-media companies do a lot of business with the same government their news outlets cover.

The majority of people in the media get their revenue from other sources such as shipping, construction, and banking.
The media serves as a tool to negotiate with the government and get the big jobs in big contracts from the state.

It’s obvious if you own the companies that take money from the state in order to do several constructions (such as infrastructure etc) and you also control the media, that the discourse of that media would be affected by the interests of its owners.

Another major piece of the problem is that economics still does not have alternative economists. There is no other choice or alternative to the current mode of economics.

“What happened to this country? Oh it spent too much money. What should we do so? Well, let’s give them loads more money of course. And if that doesn’t work? Give them even more!”

There is no other alternative, no other road to take. 

“There needs to be economists with a different agenda, which is not IMF, neo-liberalism, or to pursue austerity all the time. Until then it will be the Greeks are wrong, IMF are right, the EU are right, when really it should be the other way round.” Samah El-Shahat, Economist Al-Jazeera.

The Greeks believe this is a macro-economical story.

“It will not stop here- it will go to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, UK…we have an invasion, the invading forces don’t wear uniforms, they wear suits, and they don’t carry weapons, they carry laptops. And they are telegenic and talk in sound bytes; they look and sound better than the Greek chorus of discontent on the streets.” – Dimitri Galanis, Correspondent Tovima Newspaper.


Obama sin Laden – The Magic of the Media

Posted: May 5, 2011 by fonnaguschakra in Environment, Media, Politics

Julian Assange, founder and spokesperson for WikiLeaks, makes an interesting point about the state and role of media today:

“One of the hopeful things that I’ve discovered is that nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been a result of media lies. The media could’ve stopped it if they had searched deep enough; if they hadn’t reprinted government propaganda they could’ve stopped it. But what does that mean? Well, that means that basically populations don’t like wars, and populations have to be fooled into wars. Populations don’t willingly, with open eyes, go into a war. So if we have a good media environment, then we also have a peaceful environment.”

With that in mind it is interesting to look at the “bin Laden is Dead” story and how government officials have used it to create an environment of confusion, anger, patriotism, and ultimately division. This piece looks at how this environment was created.


John Brennan - Obama's counterterrorism chief

A lot of the inconsistencies, discrepancies, and confusion in the narrative has come from the mouth of one man in particular; John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser. It would be reasonable to assume this man would be debriefed thoroughly following an event in which his whole job is based around seeing as he was one of the main figures who brought this historic piece of news to the world’s attention.

A man in his situation would surely want to make sure he had all the facts checked and re-checked so that he could present the news to the world and answer any inevitable questions comprehensively. On Monday Brennan claimed that the al-Qaida leader was carrying a weapon and fired at troops before he was shot dead.

Obama and his team watch events unfold, but soon forgot all they had watched

On Tuesday we were told by US officials that bin Laden did not have a weapon at all. Instead we are told; “The bottom line is the team that entered the room was met with resistance and took appropriate action”. “I’m not aware of him having a weapon”.

Unfortunately it is impossible for me, or you, or anyone else to get the original information from the source because this info was disclosed during a background, off-camera briefing for specific reporters, most notably Politico which is run by Frederick J. Ryan Jr., former assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

(Politico is also owned by Allbritton Communications who have several media partners with who they co-report and distribute their content, including ABC, CBS and Yahoo! News).

This off-camera briefing was so because the officials had to speak on condition of anonymity since aspects of the operation remained classified.

Later on Tuesday the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held a press conference to clear things up and publicly revise the administration’s account of the raid.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

They reiterated what they had said on Monday evening about bin Laden being unarmed but directed questions about the manner in which the Al-Qaeda leader “resisted” to the Pentagon. At the Pentagon early on Monday, however, a senior defense official announced that bin Laden used a woman as a human shield so he could fire shots. “He was firing behind her”, he said.

Carney also cleared up discrepancies about two women who were allegedly killed at the compound. He noted that one was killed on the first floor of the building in “the crossfire” while on the second floor he explained that when a U.S. “assaulter” approached bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader’s “wife” rushed the assaulter. She was shot but not killed. When asked was she armed he replied “no”.

What is interesting about this whole confusion surrounding the exact details of what happened is how we are led to believe it was a highly successful mission executed to a very high degree of precision involving constant communication back to President Obama in The White House.

Yet it seems, although troops on the ground in the middle of a “firefight” could relate information through headsets, satellites, and audio to give a wealth of information to commanding officers, The White House’s Press Secretaries cannot seem to put the narrative together in a cohesive, consistent manner which they can present to the world after the events have happened.

In such a situation surely the priority would be to create an unquestionable account of a series of very serious events to avoid anxiety and doubt amongst the masses.

Implying Pakistani Involvement

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani

Almost immediately after the news broke of the death of bin Laden, American rhetoric implied that Pakistani authorities must have been aware of the Al-Qaeda leaders presence not far from their military base and even that he received assistance from Pakistani officials.

On Tuesday Brennan told NBC’s TODAY that “clearly there was some kind of support network” for bin Laden inside Pakistan.

However he did decline to blame the Pakistani government directly for helping bin Laden but said “We’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this”.

While this still implicates Pakistani government involvement heavily, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Marine, a Senate Armed Services Committee member announced “I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan is playing a double game”. She also called for Congress to put limits on funds for Pakistan if they were found to be aiding the terrorist leader.

This is surely only increasing distrust between the two countries and could be seen as unnecessary for an American lawmaker to make publicly, at such a difficult time, comments regarding the sincerity of Pakistan’s operations.

Another U.S. senator Lindsey Graham simply said; “You cannot trust them and you cannot abandon them”. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told reporters “it’s hard to imagine that the military or police did not have any ideas what was going on inside”.

All this seems to be redirecting focus and avoiding unanswered questions. While everyone is questioning the trustworthiness of Pakistan’s involvement most are forgetting other inconsistencies in the narrative and nobody is asking whether U.S. special forces violated international law when they carried out their operation.

In fact the Pakistan government is in much more of a position to be questioning the U.S. as effectively American soldiers entered their country without permission, which some may define as invasion.

The Pakistani government said in a statement that the raid “of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule”.

“The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the U.S.,” said the statement, calling such actions a “threat to international peace and security.”

What is not repeated on news stations is the fact that U.S. aircraft would have required permission from the Pakistani government to enter their airspace but instead the American forces entered illegally, making use of “blind spots” in the radar coverage caused by the hilly terrain surrounding Abbottabad.

The former chief of the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence) Hamid Gul noted “they sneaked in and carried out a raid, which is an act of war actually”.

But the rest of the world turns a blind eye to this and focuses its attention on the easy target – Pakistan.

However it is interesting to keep in mind, when reading the following excerpt from, that the ISI had been sharing information regarding the compound in Abbottabad with the CIA and other friendly intelligence services since 2009 and up to mid-April.

“Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Robert Fisk, a journalist with the Independent, a UK newspaper, who has previously interviewed bin Laden, said that people should stop talking about the ISI as if it was a single entity.

He said: “They’re [the ISI] not all one unique institution, they are differing in their views, some of them are pro-American, some of them are very anti-American, some of them are clearly sympathetic towards Islamists, extremists, whatever you like to call them.

“I called up one of the men I know last night and put it to him, ‘look, you know, this house was very big, come on, you must have had some idea.’

“What he said to me was ‘sometimes it’s better to survey people than to attack them.’

“And I think what he meant was that as long as they knew where he [bin Laden] was, it was much better to just watch rather than stage a military operation that may bring about more outrages, terrorism, whatever you like to call it.””

Although this piece of information is not too credibly sourced it does help us think about the situation in a different light, assisting us in using reasonable deductions to come to a conclusion that we have made with our own minds, not with what was fed to us through images and repetition.

Unprecedented Burial

The fake photo of bin Laden's face superimposed on some other corpse

The hasty burial of bin Laden has raised many more questions than it has laid to rest. For an operation which, we are told, was so meticulously planned and executed to such a high degree of precision the U.S. forces that killed the terrorist leader obviously hadn’t such a comprehensive plan for what to do with his body.

After shooting the unarmed bin Laden in the chest twice and head once (at such close range that his forehead smashed open revealing his brain, an image so “gruesome” that the rest of the world is deemed unfit to view it), U.S. officials decided the most reasonable way to dispose of his body would be to travel over 1,500km to the Arabian Sea and, “in accordance with Islamic tradition which involves ritual washing, shrouding and burial within 24 hours”, lower him into the ocean.

We were told by U.S. officials that burying him on land could have led to his grave becoming a shrine or a centre of contention even though the Wahhabi/Salafi tradition reject such things. “Even Saudi kings are buried in unmarked graves”, the Guardian tells us.

The Guardian also points out that the 24 hour rule has not always been applied by the U.S. in the past. It notes the bodies of Sadam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay were held for 11 days before being released for burial. And let’s not forget they were Muslim as well.

Many Muslim websites have noted that burial at sea is permitted but only in extraordinary circumstances and being buried in the earth is much more preferred.

Some have viewed the sea burial as offensive; “It is not acceptable and it is almost a crime to throw the body of a Muslim man into the sea. The body of Bin Laden should have been handed over to his family to look for a country to bury him.”

There is much more room for debate regarding the burial or non burial of an Islamic extremist terrorist but if the Al Jazeera journalist’s source is to be believed a constant close surveillance of the former Al-Qaeda leader would have created a lot less problems that the invasion of a country, the killing of an unarmed man (amongst others), and the rattling of already fraught relations between two nuclear-armed countries.

Instead, a country celebrates the death of a human being (however ‘human’ he may have been) because it’s “who we are” (in the words of Obama). I suppose that means Americans are a vengeful, hatred-filled country, hell-bent on “completely wiping out” a group of people who oppose their beliefs .

Effectively that is how they have represented themselves and so it raises another question; in what way are they really any different from Islamic extremists?

The Importance of Wikileaks

Posted: August 25, 2010 by undergroundfisherman in Media, Politics
Tags: , , , , , ,

Murdoch and Fox News have become notorious for their blatantly right-wing viewpoints

Nearly every newspaper in the English-speaking world is biased towards one cause or the other. Rupert Murdoch is often cited as the prime example of the malevolent media tyrant that is, effectively selling us news stories which lean toward a certain kind of conservative, pro-American viewpoint – with Fox News being the best example of this. So, when we live in times when our news is tainted by vested interests, plenty of stories can be swept under the carpet.

In times gone by, the US Army had often been kept in check by journalists; during the Vietnam War, for example, freelance reporter Seymour Hersh uncovered the aptly-named My Lai massacre, where an estimated 347-504 unarmed civilians were willfully murdered by US forces. These days, however, journalists are less prepared to dig deeper than the press releases they are given by military spokesmen, and as such, are not doing their jobs properly. There is no doubt that we do not know the full extent of the death toll in Iraq, but, by taking the US Army on their word, they are allowing countless more atrocities to go unnoticed by the western world.

This is where Wikileaks comes into it. Quality journalism can be used as a great way of ensuring justice in the world – if there are people were willing to report the worst of the conflicts, then Armies will not use such overwhelming force in places like Fallujah, where the entire town was wiped out in an American blitz on the city. The Italian film, Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre found serious evidence of the use of the banned white phosphorous (a napalm-like explosive) and of chemical weapons, which were used indiscriminately in the November 2004 raid. The sources for these claims are very credible, including former soldier Jeff Englehart, who is now an anti-war campaigner after witnessing at first-hand the way in which the Americans have handled the war in Iraq. This video is pretty grim, but it also gives a sense of the magnitude of the destruction that has actually gone on in Iraq, and it’s much worse than we could imagine in our mind’s eye when we hear those White House press releases.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: The anti-Murdoch

Wikileaks continues these kinds of investigations, and takes it to another level. Led by Australian Julian Assange, the group is based in Iceland, and has managed to obtain hundreds of thousands of confidential papers which paint a pretty bleak picture of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as shady business deals from around the world. Here’s a link to one such classified incident, plus a few more that are also relevant.,_5_Apr_2010

Cowen: Delighted with the new measures, but they could have unforeseen consequences

Wildcat, Snow, Smoke, Banzai, Ice, Charge, Blow, Spice, King B, Stardust, Magic… As of this week, it’s all gone, thanks to dramatic new legislation which puts all forms of “legal highs” on a similar plane as their illegal counterparts. Watching this debate play out in the media over the past few weeks, I realised that nobody seems to know the real facts, but everyone is angry. At first glance, it seems like everyone wants to ban them. While the new laws have been generally welcomed, there are other factors we must consider.

Firstly, we should remember that, much like many changes in the law such as the smoking ban, this is not a matter of public health or safety – it is a matter of politics. In a time when the government are being hit hard in the opinion polls (Fine Gael are 10 points ahead of Fíanna Fáil, according to the latest figures, it is easy to do the popular thing and ban something which is seen as a threat to our society. That’s fair enough, but anyone who wants to take drugs will find a way to do so, and if people can provide comparatively safe alternatives which have been produced in a clean, controlled factory setting, then surely that is better than a rendezvous with a shady drug-dealer on a street corner who might give you impure drugs that are even worse for your health.

It  would be far more beneficial to keep Head Shops open, regulate the standards of production, and bring in plenty of revenue for the government through taxation. Regardless of your stance on this matter, nobody wants to see illegal drug-dealers re-establish their monopoly on this market, but this is precisely what will happen now that they are the only outlet. Lots of Head Shops have been a target of vandalism lately, and much of it has come from drug dealers, whose stock has taken a nosedive since legal highs have hit the mainstream market. The same people who are willing to burn their competitors to the ground have now come out on top, thanks primarily to the government. There was, therefore, a real sense of irony about some of the quotes from the Taoiseach’s statement on the matter, as he decried; “We are determined that irresponsible people who want to profit from dangerous substances get the message that Government will not tolerate their reprehensible activities which are actually putting the lives and health of many young people at risk.”

Of course, this is a business which is far too lucrative to ever really go away. When the stimulant BZP was banned, mephedrone sweeped in and took its place. Now, with all of these substances taken off the shelves, it may be harder to find loopholes, but there will always be people willing to provide it, and make a significant profit as well. From now on though, rather than this service being run by legitimate operators, who pay tax and provide employment, the trade is put into the hands of more unscrupulous characters, whose standards and morals are much lower.

This time two years ago, nobody was talking about this subject. Now however, it has been shoved into the collective consciousness in dramatic fashion, and when it became apparent that there was a demand for these products, the government should have had the foresight to bring in legislation on tax and quality-control of the products, rather than caving in to hype and misrepresentation from tabloid newspapers. Here’s a link to some fine, level-headed journalism courtesy of the Sun.