Beeb collect manure to dump on Rumsfeld

Views on Donald Rumsfeld are doubtless strongly held, but only in certain quarters are they fully settled. The BBC presents a round up of bad news for Donald with one of those emotionalised and opportunistic items basically whining that, at the end of the day, he ‘just doesn’t care’. It is, I suppose, Christmas- so a present was in order for the Secretary, which should sink in by about Christmas day on the present schedule.

No place is found to mention this story of anti-Rummy coordination as they wax lyrical about disgruntled troops and roll out old favourite and Michael Moore cheerleader, ‘To me it’s an insult’Ivan Medina. I may be heartless but I feel that just because a man has lost his brother does not mean that I should be made to listen to his every complaint. The Beeb considers otherwise when the target is Rummy.
Meanwhile, regarding that story about the unarmoured vehicles, this from Powerline was interesting.

A Question of Timing and Moral Equivalence.

In an instant millisecond twinkle-of-an-eye kind of way the ever predictable Beeb comes through when the pot calls the kettle ‘black’. One piece of advice for Mark Gregory: listen to your own programmes before writing stuff like this.

US politicians have often accused the UN of incompetence and, perhaps, corruption in its handling of the oil-for-food programme, a scheme to alleviate Iraqi suffering under sanctions before the war. Now the boot is on the other foot. [bolding added]

Yes, and the mention of Halliburton definitely balances the scales of moral equivalence. Those eeevil ooooiiiil mongers are at it again. What a pity that the BBC was unable to discover the corruption under the Saddam regime that they now have in their investigative crosshairs.

The panel’s report says the US-led authorities also failed to deal with widespread smuggling of Iraqi oil out of the country immediately after the war. Nobody knows how much revenue for reconstruction was lost as a result. [bolding added]

It doesn’t matter that the UN Oil-for-Food scandal burgeons (prompting calls from certain quarters for a “Kofi Break“). Now that a defunct “US-led authorit[y]” is discovered to have possibly been inept, the BBC is all over it.

Value for Money from the BBC?

I advise reading Jonathan Lockhart’s entertaining post before responding to that question:

‘The show ended with a discussion of Tony Blair’s dress sense. Michael Portillo observed that Blair had never been particularly stylish and had taken to wearing light ties to match his light shirts, 1970s style. “Ouch, you bitch!” proclaimed Diane Abbott. So ended another edition of the top-flight BBC politics show.’

More Job Cuts Please

. Nicholas Vance, in a must-read post, has that suggestion for the good of the BBC. Sad to say that the only reason they’re going through the rigmarole of job cuts is to guarantee their specially favoured status as recipients of the telly-tax in the current review of the the BBC’s charter.

The empire strikes back

As various prior posts about ‘The Power Of Nightmares’ have listed its various propaganda tricks, I will say no more here than that their contempt is justified. If the producer of ‘The Power Of Nightmares’ ever wanted to learn how to make a documentary series with a somewhat better ratio of fact to slanted comment, they could do worse than look at ‘Empire Warriors’. Its producer may have the same views as their colleague, but the very fact I write it that way indicates a difference in how they make programmes. Despite the gross error I note below, this is a series from which one can learn something.

’Empire Warriors’ format is for participants (i.e. British veterans and civilians, and their enemies) to reminisce, linked by brief factual voiceover and occasional low-key dramatisations of key incidents. The first episode was about Lt. Colonel Colin Mitchell (‘mad mitch’) and the Argylls in Aden in 1967 (something I can just barely remember from my childhood). If a Robert Fisk watched it, he would summarise it as a tale of pointless imperialist brutality. However the episode did much less than a Greg Dyke would wish to prevent viewers taking quite different messages from it. There was a message about Labour politicians too cowardly to authorise desperately needed action, and then too cowardly to restrain an officer who did it anyway and proved more adept than them at handling the media. There was a message about how military action that terrifies politicians can prove easy and effective when finally done, costing fewer Arab and British lives than inaction did. There was simply the message that terrorists can be defeated. You could take other messages from the story instead, or as well, perhaps without having to be a Fisk to do so, but this episode seemed to be telling the story and letting viewers read into it what they would.

Near the end, a single sentence on Mitchell’s various careers during the rest of his life did include the word ‘mercenary’; that word suggests a character in a Frederick Forsyth novel to most viewers, but its dictionary definition would include both a Gurkha and those British soldiers who stayed in the middle east after 1967, technically paid by the Sultan of Oman or similar local rulers but with the full blessing of HMG. Just a little more (or less) on this might have been clearer. Save for this trivial point, it told the story while grinding no very obvious axe. (If you want more on what happened, here is a summary and here is an interesting page on a soldier with the Argylls in Aden who was later killed, when a civilian, in a quite separate terrorist action.)

The next episode was on Jewish terrorists in Palestine in the late forties, concentrating on the King David Hotel bomb and surrounding events. Compared with the BBC’s usual standards when the subject is Israel, the actual describing of events was quite bias-free, and the voiceover did state that Irgun and Stern Gang (who were not clearly distinguished) were ‘only supported by a small minority of the Jewish population in Palestine’. However they had no interview with anyone from Haganah, which slightly undercut the effect of this. The member of Irgun they interviewed described her induction into Irgun well, with its heavy emphasis on secrecy, but most viewers would not realise that Irgun were often hiding from the main Jewish organisation at least as much as from the Palestine CID. That the tip-offs CID received were sometimes from Haganah also did not appear. Indeed the word Haganah was never once mentioned. The episode had only an hour to tell its story, I concede it would not be easy to point at something to cut, and Haganah’s relations with Irgun were just a little complicated to summarise; still, the omission limited understanding.

However the truly ridiculous thing in this episode, disfiguring an otherwise good series, was its line about, ‘How ironic it is that it was the Jews of Irgun who invented terrorism’. That was an interviewee, but the voiceover promptly agreed, calling the King David hotel explosion ‘the first terrorist attack of the 20th century’ and generally treating the whole idea that Jews invented terrorism as indisputable fact. Counter-examples are so many and blatant that you wonder how makers of a history programme can know so little. Alas, I am much less surprised that they found no-one else in the BBC to correct them. That this idea could appear in a programme whose researchers have done a generally competent job speaks volumes about the current BBC climate of ignorance and bias on Israel and on terrorism.

The communists alone exploded the Sofia Cathedral bomb (Bulgarian communists, inter-war years), various bombs in Russia before WWI, and so on. In Western Europe and the United States, the anarchists used bomb, bullet and dagger to kill 6 heads of state and plenty of ordinary people during the twenty years before 1914 (Osama, eat your heart out). Three of these heads of state and a good few of the ordinary victims perished after 1899. And, by the way, have they never heard of a group called the IRA, or do they just imagine they were inactive before the late 1960s? Do I need to go on?

(As part of this ‘irony’, the programme also stated that Stern Gang were the inventors of the letter bomb; this may be true, for all I know. [Added Later: but in fact would appear to be false. This article describes an anarchist letter bomb of 1919. Thanks to Dave Smith for the pointer.])

This nonsense was a pity because otherwise the series captures much living history, seems more willing than some to let protagonists speak for themselves (and viewers think for themselves), provides much needed historical background to current events, and wisely does not underline the parallels but just tells the story. The third episode, on fighting the communist insurgency in Malaya, was worth watching just for the footage of a very English lady cutting flowers into a wicker basket that also held a couple of hand-grenades, just in case. The account of being ambushed by the communists was one of those stories worth hearing in their own right, not just as history. And the ‘happy warrior’ character of Churchhill’s wartime bodyguard came splendidly through as he described how he reorganised the Malaya CID to fight the communists with intelligence.

Despite my criticisms, anyone who turned off ‘Power of Nightmares’ in disgust and is now wondering how to get value from their licence fee could do worse than watch ‘Empire Warriors’. I look forward to future episodes.

[The quotes above were noted down from memory after the episode.]

Spot the Difference

: the BBC reports on Rumsfeld’s ‘grilling’ (BBC’s word, unscarequoted) in Kuwait. We are informed that Rumsfeld’s ‘voice broke as he delivered prepared comments’, and that the question asked of Rumsfeld ‘brought cheers from some 2,000 fellow soldiers’ (having seen the incident relayed on BBCWorld, cut most unflatteringly for the Secretary- which I judged from comparison with CNN-, I can say it did not at all sound like 2000 voices, but perhaps some of 2000 potential voices). Rumsfeld’s response, that actually the question of the supply of armoured vehicles was a matter of physics rather than money, is converted into a statement that ‘vehicle armour manufacturers were being exhorted to crank up production.’ , which rather misses the point of his comments.

All in all, very shoddy work- deliberately so I would say, in a general media context of misrepresentation. This fact can easily be demonstrated by taking a look at the other side of the coin.

Stop the presses! Girls like to shop!

Children’s BBC is shocked and traumatised.

Children as young as 10 are on their way to becoming addicted to shopping, according to a new report.

A thousand girls and boys were asked about their shopping habits and eight out of 10 in the 10-12 age-group said they enjoy shopping.

But the same number admitted they buy things they don’t need, in the survey by the National Consumer Council.

The horror! The horror!

Meanwhile the villanous Blithering Bunny revels in the sheer evil of it all.

“Young Emily fell into a cesspit of visiting attractively-presented stores where well-made and stylish consumer goods were available at reasonable prices. Little did she realize the lasting damage that was being done to herself and society as she tried on a wide variety of good-looking clothes, before deciding to purchase some of them. Later on unspeakable evil was done as she listened to music CDs on her new CD player while talking to friends on her new mobile phone. Despite the atrocities she had committed, she wanted to do this again. And again. She knew that she would always be drawn to these shadowy, looming edifices called… shops. Her desires could not be quelled. Nokia and Nike owned her soul and she would not resist”.

The BBC’s War with Words

Last time I remarked that Paul Reynolds was ‘wordy’ but ‘slanted’ in his journalism as he rode to the rescue of St. Koffi. There’s no doubt he’s a champion arse-coverer.

One of the notable things about the BBC’s website coverage is how individual articles are biased internally, while the general context of journalism (which few people appreciate) can be used to excuse a particular bias. For instance, Reynold’s latest offering presents Sen. Norm Coleman as simply ‘Republican’, and then places him firmly in a context of ‘neo-conservative’ criticism of St. Koffi. In another article Reynolds cleverly quotes Robert Novak (already presented as influential rightist) describing Coleman as ‘a born and bred liberal Democrat from Brooklyn before the claustrophobic liberalism of Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party compelled him to become a Republican in 1996…’.

Reynolds never personally affirms Coleman’s liberal credentials, always associates him with neo-cons, ensures (by judicious quotation) that the affinity of tone between them is noticed, yet can say that he has properly recognised Coleman’s background in reporting him. Yet if Coleman’s background is genuine, and relevant to a politically charged atmosphere, BBC journalists should have no problem affirming it themselves, and repeating as is relevant.
What we can say unequivocally though is that in both articles Reynolds champions the position of the ‘high level panel’ invested (infested?) with Koffi’s blessing and gives leading action roles to members of that panel like David Hannay. Hannay’s pathetic and awesomely insensitive suggestion that critics of Koffi represent a US’ lynch mob tradition, with the implication of a US Government appointed body in that description, is awful. Worse still is that the BBC trumpet that perspective and fail to criticise it.

[Finally, after a moment’s pause, I think I should register my disgust that, unprompted by anything resembling a democratic impulse that might, to borrow David Hannay’s words, be described as ‘due process’, the BBC has managed to some degree to elevate Koffi’s self-selected defenders to a status which gives them equality if not seniority to a body representing the world’s foremost democracy and underwriter of the UN itself- the US Congress.]

Zimbabwe and the BBC.

Due to pressure of work I have only just read this email which arrived last week from L Rogers of Zimbabwe. The BBC, to its credit, is now persona (organisatia?) non grata in Zimbabwe. It was not always so. Mr Rogers writes:

My own experience with the BBC arises from the events in Zimbabwe concerning the “so-called” Land Question. I hope you will not find it too lengthy. If you do, and you find this account worth publishing, then please edit and let me know what you have done.

In fact, although it is somewhat longer than most of our posts, I am publishing it uncut. As with all the reader’s letters we publish, it does not necessarily represent the opinion of this blog, but it struck me as a very interesting and all-too-plausible mini-history of institutional bias. – NS

After Zimbabwe’s independence, Mugabe was the darling of the BBC, the leftwing media and other leftists. The potential problem of “Land” was rarely raised by Mugabe. Indeed after independence he, and his ministers, invited white farmers to stay and farm for the benefit of the country. .

Towards the end of the 1900’s, Zimbabwe started to experience economic and other problems arising from Mugabe’s poor governance and Mugabe started to lose popularity. At this point, in order to deflect criticism and to shore up his political standing, Mugabe started to raise the question of “Land”. He used the same tactics as Hitler used. Blame a minority. Hitler blamed the Jews – Mugabe blamed the whites – in particular the white farmers. Using blatantly racist language, he proclaimed the whites to be “enemies of the state”, and claimed “the whites” owned/occupied too much of the country’s land and the “millions of suffering peasants” were discontented with this situation. Mugabe propagated as a “fact” that white farmers (commercial) farmers owned the bulk of the land in Zimbabwe. The figures varied but generally it was said that whites owned “75% ” or “80% ” of the land or “75% of the fertile land” or “80% of the best land” and so on.

The BBC gleefully jumped onto the Mugabe bandwagon, quoting these figures in support of Mugabe’s assertion that whites indeed owned too much of Zimbabwe’s land and that this inequity was causing mass discontent among the millions of “suffering peasants”. What Mugabe was doing they agreed, was to redress a basically inequitable situation – even though what he did – and is still doing – was racist and illegal. Besides, the leftists in the BBC were not about to criticise one of their own – someone they admired and had supported all those years before – a black socialist revolutionary leader.

Of course, if one uses these figures, then it does seem entirely reasonable for Mugabe to redress the situation. By holding on to the bulk of the land to the detriment of the millions of suffering peasants, the white farmers were made to look greedy and callous. Who could blame Mugabe in the circumstances?

During the years that followed, this data and Mugabe’s claims were used frequently by the BBC TV and World Service radio. Joseph Winter, the BBC World Service representative stationed in Harare at that time, often and indignantly used this data to justify the Zimbabwe government’s illegal action against white farmers. The basic argument was, “you can’t blame Mugabe for taking action against 4000 white farmers. It is wrong for so few people (whites) to occupy the bulk of the land in Zimbabwe, when millions of suffering peasants are crammed onto such a small area and with such poor land”. This was extended to include the accusation that 100 years ago, the whites stole/seized the land from the blacks who were simply taking it back.

When being interviewed on the BBC, the same dishonest “facts” are repeated by Mugabe’s agents, ambassadors and ministers and used as justification for what they are doing. Rarely is this data disputed by the interviewers.

As the only respected international broadcaster based in Zimbabwe, one can be reasonably certain that the BBC’s endorsement of Mugabe’s data gave respectability to what Mugabe was doing. After all, you can trust the BBC to tell the truth.

This theme, using the same or similar data was seized upon by others in the media, and used by the press in South Africa, by Reuters, AFP, CNN and others, whenever the problem of “land in Zimbabwe” was a news item. As a consequence, the plight of the white minority, received little sympathy in the worlds media as Mugabe, for short term political gain, illegally and violently dispossessed nearly 4000 white farmers of their lawfully acquired land and in the process created unemployment and starvation for more than half a million farm workers and their families, and long term famine for the country. Thus he created rampant unemployment and poverty in the country.

After 2000, the BBC and Joseph Winter were expelled from Zimbabwe because Mugabe did not like the way the BBC reported on Zimbabwe’s elections. Despite this Joseph Winter still managed to report on World Service on the Land question leaving listeners in no doubt that he was sympathetic with the reasons given by Mugabe in order to redress a “colonial wrong”. The data on land occupation in Zimbabwe were used by the BBC for a number of years until the full consequences of Mugabe’s policies became apparent.

But what is the truth?

1. The truth is that white farmers, under Zimbabwe’s laws, may only occupy farm land set aside by the government as “Commercial” farm land. Commercial farm land comprises 11 million hectares and amounts to about 20% of the total land area of the country. It is never mentioned that Black Commercial farmers also own a substantial share of the same “commercial” farm land. Where I live in Zimbabwe, a number of black commercial farmers own large farms unhindered by the government while their white neighbors have been dispossessed. White farmers probably occupied about one sixth the land in Zimbabwe. This may nevertheless be a large area considering that they comprised only about 4000 individuals, but a far cry from the figures being bandied about by the media and the government and is not unusual in agriculture based countries. What is never mentioned is that the largest landowner in Zimbabwe is the government itself. Almost all government owned agricultural land is undeveloped and underutilized but has never been used to meet the needs of the peasants.

That white farmers occupy “almost all of the best or most fertile” land is also a myth. Commercial farm land includes ranch land in arid areas with little water where cattle struggle to survive and suitable only for game and wild life. It includes land with poor soils and granite mountains on which nothing can be planted or grazed. Large areas of fertile land are reserved for and occupied by black subsistence farmers.

As far as the colonial “stealing” of the land is concerned, most white farmers (80%) bought their farms in Zimbabwe during the years after independence, with the encouragement of the Mugabe government.

Another myth is that Mugabe intended to redistribute the white land by giving it to black farmers. In fact Mugabe gave most of the former white land to his friends and cronies. That this was happening, and would happen in the future, was apparent to Mugabe’s critics but ignored by the BBC and others.

A further fact which was ignored by the BBC was the harm that would be inflicted on the workers employed by the white farmers. The Commercial farmers pointed out that more than half a million farm workers would lose their only means of livelihood and, after including their families, millions would be destitute. The BBC chose to ignore their plight and instead believed the government when it promised the workers they would also get their free piece of Zimbabwe land. Besides the whites did not treat their workers well, they said. In fact, Mugabe regarded the farm workers as contaminated by the opinions of their white employers and therefore as political enemies who would never support him anyway. Today millions of former workers beg in the streets of Zimbabwe’s towns or have fled the country altogether.

The clamour of the peasants for more land is also a myth. In a survey conducted by the Social Welfare department of the government itself during mid 1990 most people polled listed a job as their number one priority. The desire for a barren piece of farm land was low down on the list. Four years after the land dispossessions started, the government cannot find enough peasants to actually occupy the seized land, so much so that in many cases the government has used threats against the reluctant peasants. Of the “millions” of suffering peasants who it was claimed were clamouring for land, only a handful have actually emerged to take advantage of the free land actually offered to them.

All this information was available to the BBC at the time but was ignored in favour of supporting their man – Mugabe.

In 2002, Rageeh Omar appearing on BBC TV in Johannesburg, and repeated some of these myths, stating, among other things, that the white farmers occupied “75% of the land” in Zimbabwe. I was appalled that the BBC still repeated this false data and telephoned the BBC in Johannesburg and spoke to the producer of BBC news. The person I spoke to was, I believe, Jane Stanley, who is now based in the US. I told her that the figures used by the BBC are incorrect. She was obviously annoyed that someone should have the temerity to criticize the accuracy of a BBC report but agreed the report should have stated that white farmers “occupy 75% of the most fertile land.” When I persisted in referring to incorrect data being used by the BBC she trumped me by retorting triumphantly that the data had been given her by the Commercial Farmers Union in Harare and therefore was correct!

I was dumbstruck and ended the conversation. I could not believe I had been so wrong and immediately telephoned the offices of the Commercial Farmers Union in Harare and spoke to the CEO, Mr Dave Hasluck. After relating to him my conversation he answered that he had on many occasions communicated with the BBC in order to correct the misinformation they were broadcasting. He had frequently sent them documents with the correct information but the response of the BBC was always the same – they simply ignored the information sent to them and carried on broadcasting the same myths. They did not even bother to contact him or reply.

What the BBC did, at least until recently, was to ignore the truth and knowingly assist the Mugabe government in the propagation of myths and lies to the detriment of a minority ethnic group and ultimately to the detriment of the people of the country as a whole. They were even prepared to overlook the openly declared policies of Mugabe which were blatantly racist, dishonest, and violent. They ignored the truth even when it was pointed out to them in favour of left-wing solidarity. I believe Mugabe was emboldened by the lack of criticism and the apparent seal of approval given him by the BBC in particular and other sections of the media in general.

It is too late now, but what might have been the result if, instead, the BBC and others in the media had adopted principled policies and told the truth. Perhaps Mugabe might have been restrained and some of his worst excesses might have been avoided. Perhaps millions of people, the same ” millions of suffering peasants” and now the remaining urban people as well, some ten million black people, would not have been plunged into an endless cycle of famine, poverty, disease and suffering.

L.Rogers. Zimbabwe. November 26th 2004