Slips Down The Memory Hole
John Pilger, applies to current events Orwell's
description in '1984' of how the Ministry of Truth consigned
embarrassing truth to a memory hole. He highlights the
killing of a Palestinian cameraman by the Israelis as an
example of how "we" are trained to look on the rest of the
world as quite unlike ourselves: useful or expendable.
By John Pilger
" -- -- -One of
the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling for the
release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian
news cameraman, Imad Ghanem. On 5 July, he was shot by
Israeli soldiers as he filmed them invading Gaza. A Reuters
video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay on the
ground. An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked.
The Israelis described him as a "legitimate target". The
International Federation of Journalists called the shooting
"a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a
journalist". At the age of 21, he has had both legs
Dr David Halpin, a British trauma surgeon who works with
Palestinian children, emailed the BBC's Middle East editor,
Jeremy Bowen. "The BBC should report the alleged details
about the shooting," he wrote. "It should honour Alan
[Johnston] as a journalist by reporting the facts,
uncomfortable as they might be to Israel."
He received no reply.
The atrocity was reported in two sentences on the BBC
online. Along with 11 Palestinian civilians killed by the
Israelis on the same day, Alan Johnston's now legless
champion slipped into what George Orwell in Nineteen
Eighty-Four called the memory hole. (It was Winston Smith's
job at the Ministry of Truth to make disappear all facts
embarrassing to Big Brother.)
While Alan Johnston was being held, I was asked by the BBC
World Service if I would say a few words of support for him.
I readily agreed, and suggested I also mention the thousands
of Palestinians abducted and held hostage. The answer was a
polite no; and all the other hostages remained in the memory
hole. Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables: "It
never happened. Nothing ever happened... It didn't matter.
It was of no interest."
The media wailing over the BBC's royal photo-shoot fiasco
and assorted misdemeanours provide the perfect straw man.
They complement a self-serving BBC internal inquiry into
news bias, which dutifully supplied the right-wing Daily
Mail with hoary grist that the corporation is a left-wing
plot. Such shenanigans would be funny were it not for the
true story behind the facade of elite propaganda that
presents humanity as useful or expendable, worthy or
unworthy, and the Middle East as the Anglo-American crime
that never happened, didn't matter, was of no interest.
The other day, I turned on the BBC's Radio 4 and heard a
cut-glass voice announce a programme about Iraqi
interpreters working for "the British coalition forces" and
warning that "listeners might find certain descriptions of
violence disturbing". Not a word referred to those of "us"
directly and ultimately responsible for the violence. The
programme was called Face the Facts. Is satire that dead?
Not yet. The Murdoch columnist David Aaronovitch, a
warmonger, is to interview Blair in the BBC's "major
retrospective" of the sociopath's rule.
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four lexicon of opposites pervades
almost everything we see, hear and read now. The invaders
and destroyers are "the British coalition forces", surely as
benign as that British institution, St John Ambulance, who
are "bringing democracy" to Iraq. BBC television describes
Israel as having "two hostile Palestinian entities on its
borders", neatly inverting the truth that Israel is actually
inside Palestinian borders. A study by Glasgow University
says that young British viewers of TV news believe Israelis
illegally colonising Palestinian land are Palestinians: the
victims are the invaders.
"The great crimes against most of humanity", wrote the
American cultural critic James Petras, "are justified by a
corrosive debasement of language and thought... [that] have
fabricated a linguistic world of terror, of demons and
saviours, of axes of good and evil, of euphemisms" designed
to disguise a state terror that is "a gross perversion" of
democracy, liberation, reform, justice. In his
reinauguration speech, George Bush mentioned all these
words, whose meaning, for him, is the dictionary opposite.
It is 80 years since Edward Bernays, the father of public
relations, predicted a pervasive "invisible government" of
corporate spin, suppression and silence as the true ruling
power in the United States. That is true today on both sides
of the Atlantic. How else could America and Britain go on
such a spree of death and mayhem on the basis of stupendous
lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction, even a
"mushroom cloud over New York"? When the BBC radio reporter
Andrew Gilligan reported the truth, he was pilloried and
sacked along with the BBC's director general, while Blair,
the proven liar, was protected by the liberal wing of the
media and given a standing ovation in parliament.
The same is happening again over Iran, distracted, it is
hoped, by spin that the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband
is a "sceptic" about the crime in Iraq when, in fact, he has
been an accomplice, and by unctuous Kennedy-quoting Foreign
Office propaganda about Miliband's "new world order".
"What do you think of Iran's complicity in attacks on
British soldiers in Basra?" Miliband was asked by the
Miliband: "Well, I think that any evidence of Iranian
engagement there is to be deplored. I think that we need
regional players to be supporting stability, not fomenting
discord, never mind death..."
FT: "Just to be clear, there is evidence?"
Miliband: "Well no, I chose my words carefully..."
The coming war on Iran, including the possibility of a
nuclear attack, has already begun as a war by journalism.
Count the number of times "nuclear weapons programme" and
"nuclear threat" are spoken and written, yet neither exists,
says the International Atomic Energy Agency. On 21 June, the
New York Times went further and advertised an "urgent" poll,
headed: "Should we bomb Iran?" The questions beneath
referred to Iran being "a greater threat than Saddam
Hussein" and asked: "Who should undertake military action
against Iran first... ?" The choice was "US. Israel. Neither
So tick your favourite bombers.
The last British war to be fought without censorship and
"embedded" journalists was the Crimea a century and a half
ago. The bloodbath of the First World War and the Cold War
might never have happened without their unpaid (and paid)
propagandists. Today's invisible government is no less
served, especially by those who censor by omission. The
craven liberal campaign against the first real hope for the
poor of Venezuela is a striking example.
However, there are major differences. Official
disinformation now is often aimed at a critical public
intelligence, a growing awareness in spite of the media.
This "threat" from a public often held in contempt has been
met by the insidious transfer of much of journalism to
public relations. Some years ago, PR Week estimated that the
amount of "PR-generated material" in the media is "50 per
cent in a broadsheet newspaper in every section apart from
sport. In the local press and the mid-market and tabloid
nationals, the figure would undoubtedly be higher. Music and
fashion journalists and PRs work hand in hand in the
editorial process... PRs provide fodder, but the clever
high-powered ones do a lot of the journalists' thinking for
This is known today as "perception management". The most
powerful are not the Max Cliffords but huge corporations
such as Hill & Knowlton, which "sold" the slaughter known as
the first Gulf war, and the Sawyer Miller Group, which sold
hated, pro-Washington regimes in Colombia and Bolivia and
whose operatives included Mark Malloch Brown, the new
Foreign Office minister, currently being spun as
anti-Washington. Hundreds of millions of dollars go to
corporations spinning the carnage in Iraq as a sectarian war
and covering up the truth: that an atrocious invasion is
pinned down by a successful resistance while the oil is
The other major difference today is the abdication of
cultural forces that once provided dissent outside
journalism. Their silence has been devastating. "For almost
the first time in two centuries," wrote the literary and
cultural critic Terry Eagleton, "there is no eminent British
poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the
foundations of the western way of life." The lone,
honourable exception is Harold Pinter. Eagleton listed
writers and playwrights who once promised dissent and satire
and instead became rich celebrities, ending the legacy of
Shelley and Blake, Carlyle and Ruskin, Morris and Wilde,
Wells and Shaw.
He singled out Martin Amis, a writer given tombstones of
column inches in which to air his pretensions, along with
his attacks on Muslims. The following is from a recent
article by Amis:
Tony strolled over [to me] and said, "What have you been up
to today?" "I've been feeling protective of my prime
minister, since you ask." For some reason our
acquaintanceship, at least on my part, is becoming mildly
but deplorably flirtatious.
What these elite, embedded voices share is their
participation in an essentially class war, the long war of
the rich against the poor. That they play their part in a
broadcasting studio or in the clubbable pages of the review
sections and that they think of themselves as liberals or
conservatives is neither here nor there. They belong to the
same crusade, waging the same battle for their enduring
In The Serpent, Marc Karlin's dreamlike film about Rupert
Murdoch, the narrator describes how easily Murdochism came
to dominate the media and coerce the industry's liberal
elite. There are clips from a keynote address that Murdoch
gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The camera pans
across the audience of TV executives, who listen in
respectful silence as Murdoch flagellates them for
suppressing the true voice of the people. They then applaud
him. "This is the silence of the democrats," says the
voice-over, "and the Dark Prince could bath in their
This article was first published at the New Statesman
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