Let's Face It-The State Has Lost Its Mind: The Media Coverage of This Past Election Was a Pastiche. Our Right to Know What Our Rulers Are Doing to People the World over Is Being Lost in the New Propaganda Consensus

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), May 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Let's Face It-The State Has Lost Its Mind: The Media Coverage of This Past Election Was a Pastiche. Our Right to Know What Our Rulers Are Doing to People the World over Is Being Lost in the New Propaganda Consensus


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


In 1987, the sociologist Alex Carey, a second Orwell in his prophesies, wrote "Managing Public Opinion: the corporate offensive". He described how in the United States "great progress [had been] made towards the ideal of a propaganda-managed democracy", whose principal aim was to identify a rapacious business state "with every cherished human value". The power and meaning of true democracy, of the franchise itself, would be "transferred" to the propaganda of advertising, public relations and corporate-run news. This "model of ideological control", he predicted, would be adopted by other countries, such as Britain.

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To many who work conscientiously in the media, this will sound alarmist; it is not like that in Britain, they will say. Ask them about censorship by omission or the promotion of business ideology and war propaganda as news, a promotion both subtle and crude, and their defensive response will be that no one ever instructed them to follow any line: no one ever said not to question the Prime Minister about the horror he had helped to inflict on Iraq: his epic criminality. "Blair always enjoys his interviews with Paxo," says Roger Mosey, the head of BBC Television News, without a hint of irony.

Blair should enjoy them; he is always spared the imperious bombast that is now a pastiche and kept mostly for official demons. "Watch George Galloway clash with Jeremy Paxman," says the BBC News homepage like a circus barker. Once under the big top of Newsnight, you get the usual set-up: a nonsensical question about whether or not Galloway was "proud of having got rid of one of the few black women in parliament", followed by mockery of the very idea that his opponent, an unabashed Blairite warmonger, should account for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.

Seven years ago, when Denis Halliday, one of the United Nations' most respected humanitarian aid directors, resigned from his post in Iraq in protest at the Anglo-American-led embargo, calling it "an act of genocide", he was given the Paxo treatment. "Aren't you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?" he was mock-asked. The following year, Unicef revealed that the embargo had killed half a million Iraqi children. As for East Timor, a triumph of the British arms trade and Robin Cook's "ethical" foreign policy, the presence of British Hawk jets was "not proved", declared Paxo, parroting a Foreign Office lie. (A few months later, Cook came clean.) Today, napalm is used in Iraq, but the armed forces minister is allowed to pretend that it isn't. Israel's weapons of mass destruction are "dangerous in the extreme", says the former head of the US Strategic Command, but that is a permanent taboo.

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In the Guardian of 9 May, famous journalists and their executives were asked to reflect on the election campaign. Almost all agreed that it had been "boring" and "lacked passion" and "never really caught fire". Mosey complained that it had been "very hard to reach out to people who are disengaged". Again, irony was absent, as if the BBC's obsequiousness to the "consensus of propaganda", as Alex Carey called it, had nothing to do with people's disengagement or with the duty of journalists to engage the public, let alone tell them things they had a right to know.

It is this right-to-know that is being lost behind a wilful illusion. Since the cry "freedom of the press" was first heard roughly 500 years ago, when Wynkyn de Worde set up Caxton's old printing press in the yard of St Bride's Church, off Fleet Street, there has never been more information or media in the "mainstream", yet most of it is now repetitive and profoundly ideological, captive to the insidious system that Carey described.

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Omission is how it works. Between 1 and 15 April, the Media Tenor Institute analysed the content of television evening news. …

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