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article imageJohn Pilger on British media and the Iraq war

By Ken Hanly     Feb 10, 2014 in World
London - Well-known journalist John Pilger writes of how the BBC worried about a program featuring guests who reveal UK actions involving kidnap and torture and participation in the Iraq war.
Pilger notes that the BBC Today program enjoys high ratings. Just one edition of the Radio 4 hosted by artist and musician PJ Harvey caused panic within the BBC even though the Mail and Telegraph in the UK regularly attack the BBC as leftwing. The problem is that the guests included people such as the historian Mark Curtis who writes about the crimes of the UK, the lawyer Phil Shiner, and a Guardian journalist Ian Cobain who revealed how the British had engaged in kidnapping and torture. Finally there were Julian Assange of Wikileads and John Pilger himself.
Pilger claims it took weeks of negotiations at Broadcasting House with staff suggesting ways of countering the guests and questioning whether the guests could speak without interruption. Pilger claims that the media have been accessories of western states such as the UK by either suppressing or minimizing the carnage they have created.
On the Harvey program Pilger cited a poll by Comres that had asked Britons in 2013 how many Iraqis they thought had been killed by the 2003 invasion led by the U.S. but with UK participating. Over half said that fewer than 10,000 had been killed. Academic estimates range from less than half a million to more than one million. John Tirman, principal research scientist at MIT Center for International Studies said that an average figure would be roughly 700,000 but that excluded deaths among millions of displaced Iraqis.
The BBC felt obliged to "counter" the Harvey program by bringing in Toby Dodge of the London School of Economic and an adviser to General Petraeus one of the architects of the war in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. As well, the program featured Mowaffak al-Rubale who was a former Iraqi "national security adviser" in the occupation government. Pilger claims these two contradicted the studies but without evidence and reduced the deaths by hundreds of thousands. The interviewer did not challenge any of the statements.
While Pilger thinks that the crimes committed by the US, the UK, and the UN in Iraq through the blockade before the "shock and awe" attack during the invasion have "burrowed into the public consciousness", the western press, he argues, suppressed much of the horror of what happened, including the BBC. Pilger was in Iraq and watched dying children not even able to receive painkillers. UNICEF estimates that half a million Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions.
Ten years after the sanctions Pilger met Carne Ross the senior British official responsible for the sanctions. In 2007 Carne said to a parliamentary committee: "The weight of evidence clearly indicates that sanctions caused massive human suffering among ordinary Iraqis, particularly children. We, the US and UK governments, were the primary engineers and offenders of sanctions and were well aware of the evidence at the time but we largely ignored it and blamed it on the Saddam government … effectively denying the entire population the means to live."
Pilger told Carne that this was a shocking admission and Carne agreed and then described how the UK Foreign Office manipulated the media: "We would control access to the foreign secretary as a form of reward to journalists. If they were critical, we would not give them the goodies of trips around the world. We would feed them factoids of sanitised intelligence, or we'd freeze them out." I have appended a video of Pilger's documentary on the effects of sanctions on children.
Pilger notes that during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a study by Cardiff University and Media Tenor showed that the BBC followed the Blair government's line and lies. Air time for those opposing the invasion was quite restricted. Pilger concludes:
The truth about the criminal bloodbath in Iraq cannot be "countered" indefinitely. Neither can the truth about our support for the medievalists in Saudi Arabia, the nuclear-armed predators in Israel, the new military fascists in Egypt and the jihadist "liberators" of Syria, whose propaganda is now BBC news.
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