Category Archives: Media

Rebutting Tory attack lines: Antisemitism and Labour

Rebutting Tory attack lines: Antisemitism and Labour
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
23 November 2019

“Jeremy Corbyn’s anti‑semite army”, read the Times headline in April. “Labour is riddled with anti-semites”, announced the Sun last year. A Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country”, argued the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph in a joint editorial.

With the press having waged an intense campaign against Corbyn and the Labour Party since 2015 over antisemitism, it was only natural the Tories and Lib Dems were going to use it as a stick to beat the Labour leader with during the general election campaign. First up was cabinet minister Michael Gove, who earlier this month started trolling leftist figures on Twitter, including Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani and Ash Sarkar, asking them to denounce antisemitic tweets sent by a Labour Party and Momentum member (the person was neither a member of the Labour Party or Momentum).

The coming attacks will be heard by a public already softened up by media coverage “consistent with a disinformation paradigm”, according to a 2018 Media Reform Coalition report into the antisemitism controversy. It seems the media’s reporting has had a big impact on public opinion, with a March 2019 Survation poll commissioned for the new Glasgow Media Group book Bad News For Labour finding “on average people believed that a third of Labour Party members have been reported for anti-semitism”. How can I say media reporting has played a big role? The authors of Bad News For Labour – Professor Greg Philo, Dr Mike Berry, Dr Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and Dr David Miller – commissioned four focus groups, which showed “the media and the extensive coverage that the story has received feature very prominently in the reasons that were given” for higher estimates of levels of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

With attempts to weaponise antisemitism no doubt being cooked up as you read this, it is worth spending some time reminding ourselves of the facts and evidence on the topic.

However, before we do this I think it is worth emphasising that there is a problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party and on the broader Left, that this should not be minimised, and any allegations should be addressed swiftly, effectively and, most of all, fairly. It is clear Labour’s internal process were not fit for purposes, though the party claims to have reformed and streamlined their disciplinary systems. As many people have already said, as Labour identifies as a progressive, socialist and anti-racist party, just one case of antisemitism is one too many.

So how do we counter attacks on the Labour Party over antisemitism? The first task is to correct the general public’s wild estimates: in reality “the actual figure” for Labour members reported for antisemitism “was far less than one per cent”, the authors of Bad News for Labour note. The general public’s estimate is, incredibly, over three hundred times the real total, Philo notes in a recent Q&A with Jacobin.

Moreover, these figures “could have been used for a publicity campaign defending the integrity of the membership [currently just over 500,000] and the Party as a whole, saying that over 99 per cent of the members were not involved in these allegations”, the authors note.

It is also important to interrogate claims of antisemitism – that is, to consider the actual evidence. It is, after all, a very serious accusation to make about someone, with important consequences for how the public perceive Corbyn and the Labour Party. For example, Labour MP Margaret Hodge repeatedly told the media she had submitted a dossier of over 200 examples of antisemitic abuse directed at her to the Labour Party. After reviewing the evidence, Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby confirmed those complaints referred to 111 individuals, of whom only 20 were members. Still a serious issue to be dealt with but ten times less in size than Hodge was implying.

As these examples suggest, much of the relentless hounding of Corbyn and the Labour Party on antisemitism is based on a number of erroneous, evidence-light assumptions: that it is widespread in the party; that it is worse in Labour and on the Left than in other parties and on other parts of the political spectrum; and that the problem has got worse under Corbyn. We’ve already seen the facts do not support the first claim, and there is evidence to suggest the last two allegations are also inaccurate.

Analysing survey data, a September 2017 report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) found “the political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears in these surveys as a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population.” Interestingly, the IJPR went on to note “the absence of clear signs of negativity towards Jews on the political left” was “particularly curious in the current context” as there were “perceptions among some Jews of growing left-wing anti-semitism.”

The October 2016 Home Affairs Committee report on antisemitism also highlighted the mismatch between the media coverage and reality: “Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”

Citing YouGov polling data from 2015 and 2017, in March 2018 Evolve Politics website noted “anti-semitic views amongst Labour party voters have actually reduced substantially” since Corbyn was elected leader. Moreover, the report highlights the Tories and UKIP “have a far bigger problem with their voters agreeing with anti-semitic statements.”

As the authors of Bad News For Labour argue, “the arguments about the level of antisemitisim in society and the Labour Party can only be resolved by evidence.” And the evidence is on the side of those who refute that Labour is “riddled” with antisemitism. The authors recommend the Labour leadership should have followed the principles of good public relations. “The priorities should have been to establish the scale of the problem, give clear and accurate information, stop exaggerated claims and, crucially, to show that the whole organisation was committed to resolving the issue.”

This is good advice for Labour members and supporters during the election campaign too.

Further reading: Bad News For Labour: Antisemitism, The Party & Public Belief by Greg Philo et al, published by Pluto Press.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Rather than dismissing it, the Left should be intelligent consumers of the mainstream media

Rather than dismissing it the Left should be intelligent consumers of the mainstream media
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
15 November 2019

There seems to be an increasing and dismaying tendency amongst some people who self-identify as left-wing to dismiss mainstream media reporting out of hand.

Anything the Guardian or other corporate newspapers report is ridiculed and ignored. For example, I recently tweeted about a Guardian article which gave an overview of the ongoing protests around the world. I quickly received this sarcastic response: “From the newspaper that supports Assange [the Guardian has repeatedly smeared Julian Assange]… The Sun seems honest in comparison.” What part of the article did my correspondent take issue with? “I’d rather ignore that rags liberal pretensions from here on. They’re just a collection of churnalists and presstitutes” they replied.

I agree, of course, that the Guardian and the rest of the mainstream media are horribly compromised and establishment-friendly in much of their journalism and political positions.

Though most journalists do their best to ignore it, there is copious amounts of academic research which confirm this. In his new book The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis, Dr Mike Berry from Cardiff University shows how the British media played a key role in narrowing the national debate after the 2008 financial crisis in ways that suited elite interests. Similarly, the new Pluto Press book from the Glasgow Media Group, Bad News For Labour, explains how the often erroneous coverage of the antisemitism controversy by the print and broadcast media has led the general public to massively overestimate its incidence within the Labour Party.

Notwithstanding this strong evidence I would like to make the case for a more nuanced and intelligent engagement with the mainstream media by left-wing and progressive people.

Because while the left should oppose the way the corporate media inevitably sides with elite power, there is nevertheless important information to be gleaned from its reporting through careful and critical monitoring. They are, after all, the news organisations with the biggest budgets, best access to policymakers and largest staff rosters, including journalists reporting on the ground across the world.

Moreover, it is important to understand they are not monolithic structures – radical voices and useful information will often appear. Speaking to Andrew Marr in 1996 for the BBC Big Ideas programme, US dissident Noam Chomsky talked of investigative journalists in the US who “regard the media as a sham” and “consciously talk about how they try to play it like a violin. If they see a little opening, they’ll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn’t make it through.” Interviewed for the 2016 documentary All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I. F. Stone, US filmmaker Michael Moore said something similar: “He [I. F. Stone] said ‘When you pick up the paper you go to page 17 first. Don’t read the front page. Skip the front page. Go to page 17 because that’s where the truth is. And it’s going to be really small. It might be in a little two paragraph story, or it will be buried in paragraph 78. But that’s where they are putting it, and they know what they are doing.’”

Writing in his 2008 book Flat Earth News, Nick Davies provides a fascinating example of this from 2002-3. Davies records how Observer journalist Ed Vulliamy’s story looking at concerns within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) about intelligence on Iraq had been rejected five times by the newspaper, which had taken a strong pro-war position under editor Roger Alton. “At the sixth attempt… Vulliamy had finally managed to slip a small fraction of his story… into the paper – as the final two paragraphs of a 1,200-word story on page 16”, Davies relates.

If you read Chomsky’s work critiquing US foreign policy you will see his arguments are often backed up by mainstream media sources. Likewise UK media watchdog Media Lens often use arguments and information sourced from one part of the mainstream media to criticise the coverage of another part of the mainstream media. Another example is Voices in the Wilderness UK, the grassroots anti-sanctions and anti-war group which produced some of the most well-informed, critical coverage of the US-UK attack and occupation of Iraq. If you take a look at their regular newsletters it’s clear they were buying and reading the Telegraph, Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Independent every day – and sometimes tabloids too – to assist in gaining a full understanding of what was going on.

When it comes to ‘defence’ news the Telegraph is well known to be close to the armed forces, and therefore may publish information of interest to those who oppose war. During the occupation of Iraq, for example, it was the Telegraph which published the leaked 2005 internal Ministry of Defence poll which found 45 per cent of Iraqis believed attacks against the US and UK troops were justified (rising to 65 per cent in the British controlled Maysan province).

I myself have collected some of the most damning quotes I’ve heard about UK military aggression abroad from BBC programmes.

It was listening to BBC Radio 4‘s The World Tonight in February 2009 that I caught Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander of British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, saying British forces used White Phosphorus in Afghanistan and Iraq “even in areas that do have a certain amount of civilian population”. Indeed it was in the right-wing Spectator magazine in January 2009 that Daniel Yates, a former British soldier, reported the British military was using White Phosphorus in Afghanistan “almost daily”.

Amidst the colonial-style violence and pro-military propaganda, there was also a hugely telling quote from a British soldier in Our War: Return to Death Valley, the 2012 BBC3 documentary series about Afghanistan. “One of the problems, especially with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] on the route 611 is that the insurgents aren’t trying to blow up the Ancop [Afghan National Civil Order Police], or even the civilians, they are just trying to blow up us”, Lieutenant Jimmy Clark from 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment noted about an operation to secure a road in Helmand province. “So we are actually in a position where we are protecting a route which only needs protecting because we use it.”

A similar sentiment was aired about the British occupation of Iraq on The World Tonight in February 2007: “90 per cent of the attacks here, or the violence levels recorded here, are against the British.  If you took the British out of it 90 per cent would drop, and you would be left with a residual bit”, Major General Jonathan Shaw, Commander of the British Forces in Basra, explained.

Of course, we should read and support alternative, non-corporate media outlets – the Morning Star, Peace News, Media Lens, Tribune magazine and Novara Media to name a few – and we should be vocal in our criticism of the corporate media. However, we shouldn’t forget a careful and critical engagement with mainstream news can often uncover important information and arguments that can be used against elite interests.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Book review: The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis by Mike Berry

Book review: The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis by Mike Berry
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 November 2019

COMING out of the Glasgow Media Group tradition, Dr Mike Berry from the School of Journalism at Cardiff University has written a quietly devastating academic examination of the impact of the British print and broadcast media on public knowledge and understanding of the 2008 financial crisis.

Focusing on the October 2008 bank bailouts and debates about the national deficit and austerity circa 2009, Berry conducted content analysis, focus groups with the public and interviewed senior journalists producing the news.

With the public’s interest in economic and business news at unprecedented levels in 2008, he found the media “functioned to channel the very real public anger… into largely symbolic issues” while leaving the deep structural faults in Britain’s financial system “largely unexamined.” In particular he notes “City voices dominated core coverage of the [partial] bank nationalisations” on the BBC Today programme.

Similarly, he observed the media “constructed – to varying degrees – a narrative that the deficit represented a major economic threat which necessitated quick and sharp cuts to the welfare state.” Austerity was largely presented as inevitable, with his sample of BBC News at Ten’s output showing no space was given to economists, academics, unions or civil society actors “who might have advocated countercyclical or anti-austerity policies.”

Dismayingly, many of the participants in the focus groups said immigrants and asylum seekers were a primary reason for the rise in public debt caused by the recession created by the financial crisis – an outcome of decades-long misreporting of public spending, welfare and immigration by large sections of the media, Berry argues.

Contrary to the “dominant strand of thinking in both academic and lay circles that the media have relatively little influence” on public attitudes, Berry concludes the media had a “significant impact” on public opinion during the banking crisis and deficit debates. The repercussions of this manufactured ignorance have been immense, ultimately leading to a widespread acceptance of austerity that has devastated large swathes of the country, playing a key role in the 2010 and 2015 elections, the 2016 Brexit vote and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader.

Helpfully, Berry ends with a few tips for any Labour government interested in significantly increasing public spending, which will almost certainly incur the wrath of influential sections of the media: careful monitoring of public opinion combined with “a proactive and robust system of rebuttal” and utilisation of the mass membership to present the most effective arguments to the general public.

Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand post-crash Britain.

The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis is published by Palgrave Macmillan, priced £22.99.

Has anything changed since Katharine Gun’s momentous leak against the Iraq War?

Has anything changed since Katharine Gun’s momentous leak against the Iraq War?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
22 October 2019

Directed by Gavin Hood and starring Keira Knightley, new film Official Secrets tells the story of Katharine Gun’s brave actions to try to stop the illegal US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Working as a translator at the secretive intelligence organisation Government Communications Headquarters (GHCQ) in Cheltenham, on 31 January 2003 the then 28-year old Gun was copied in to an email from Frank Koza at the US National Security Agency (NSA). With the US and UK facing strong opposition at the United Nations to its aggressive stance on Iraq, Koza explained how the NSA was mounting a ‘dirty tricks‘ operation to spy on members of the UN Security Council, in an attempt to gain support for an invasion, and were looking for support from GCHQ.

Increasingly concerned about the rush to war, Gun leaked the memo to journalist Yvonne Ridley, who passed it onto the Observer‘s Martin Bright. It was published in the paper on 2 March 2003, seventeen days before the invasion. Gun was soon taken into police custody and charged under the Official Secrets Act, though the government mysteriously dropped the case the day before her trial was to start.

US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in 1971, proclaimed Gun’s actions the “most important and courageous leak I have ever seen.”

“It was the first leak that was pre-emptive. Most leaks are after the event“, Gun told me, when I interviewed her for the Morning Star in 2008.

Gun’s whistleblowing likely strengthened the case against the US and UK at the UN – the Security Council did not authorise the invasion. The collapse of her trial also triggered then International Development Secretary Clare Short to publicly note British security services spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s office in the run up to the Iraq war.

Aswell as telling Gun’s story, the film focuses on how the Observer dealt with receiving the leaked memo – a fascinating story also told by investigative journalist Nick Davies in his 2008 book Flat Earth News. With the newspaper taking a pro-war stance under Editor Roger Alton and Political Editor Kamal Ahmed, Davies shows there was a crucial delay in reporting on the memo.

One reason for this was “the ‘circle of resistance’ to anti-war stories”, he writes. Ahmed, who was very close to Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell and was “an open advocate” for the government’s position on Iraq, was “running round the office going ‘Hitler diaries, Hitler diaries’”, according to one source.

“If we had gone with it two or three weeks earlier, it might have made a difference”, one frustrated Observer journalist told Davies. “There was an ideological resistance to it. It could have stopped the war.”

There are interesting similarities between these tumultuous events and the activities of the intelligence services and the media in the successive 16 years.

The US and UK, it seems, continue to spy on the United Nations and other international organisations. Reporting on documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, in December 2013 the New York Times revealed “more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years”, including “multiple United Nations Missions in Geneva” such as UNICEF and the United National Disarmament Research. In his must-read 2014 book about Snowden’s leaks, No Place To Hide, Glenn Greenwald highlights how a document from 2010 shows the US spied on eight members of the Security Council regarding resolutions on Iran. “The espionage gave the US goverment valuable information about those countries’ voting intentions, giving Washington an edge when talking to other members of the Security Council”, Greenwald notes.

Regarding the UK, “in the mainstream, the official view is that the British government provide enduring support to the UN”, historian Mark Curtis notes in his 2004 book Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses. “The opposite is true: it is clear from the historical record that the UN has traditionally been seen as a major threat.”

Curtis continues: “For the past 50 years, the essence of British strategy has been to ensure the UN’s failure to prevent or condemn Britain’s, or its allies’, acts of aggression.”

Secret documents published by Wikileaks in 2015 show “Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC)”, according to the Guardian. The Independent in 2017 and the Guardian in 2016 also reported the UK had blocked a UN inquiry into Saudi war crimes in Yemen. In March of this year the Guardian reported the UK was set to “oppose motions criticising rights abuses [by Israel] in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s human rights council”.

And, like in 2003, the liberal media continue to be hugely comprised when it comes to reporting on the actions of the US and UK intelligence services.

As one of the main outlets for Snowden’s leaks, the Guardian – seen as the most anti-establishment national newspaper by many – came under intense pressure from the UK government, Matt Kennard and Curtis set out in their recent Daily Maverick long read.

This coercion has effectively neutralised the paper’s adversarial reporting of the ‘security state’, they argue. Their reporting is based on minutes from the Ministry of Defence-run Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee, AKA the D-Notice Committee, which defines its purpose as preventing “inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations”.

In July 2013, six weeks after the first Snowden leaks were published, GCHQ officials visited the Guardian’s offices in King’s Cross, London to oversee the destruction of laptops containing the Snowden documents. Though the action was completely symbolic (the documents were also stored outside of the UK, presumably in the Guardian’s US office) something changed.

“The Guardian had begun to seek and accept D-Notice advice not to publish certain highly sensitive details and since then the dialogue [with the committee] had been reasonable and improving”, the D-Notice Committee minutes for November 2013 noted. Incredibly the Guardian journalist who had helped to destroy the laptops – Deputy Editor Paul Johnson – took a seat on the D-Notice Committee itself, attending from 2014 to 2018.

Exclusive Guardian interviews with the heads of MI6 and MI5 followed, with veteran, often critical ‘national security’ journalists – David Leigh, Richard Norton-Taylor, Ewen MacAskill and Ian Cobain – replaced by less-experienced and knowledgeable reporters under current editor Katherine Viner. “It seems they’ve got rid of everyone who seemed to cover the security services and military in an adversarial way”, a Guardian journalist told Kennard and Curtis.

And Kamal Ahmad, whose ‘journalism’ in 2002-3 Davies argues “meant Observer readers were slowly soaked in disinformation” about Iraq? Following a stint as the BBC’s Economic Editor, he is now Editorial Director at the corporation, where he is “responsible for shaping the BBC’s future editorial strategy, focusing on storytelling and explanatory journalism”.

One important lesson to come out of Gun’s extraordinary story is the importance of inspiration. Gun, for example, has explained that in the period before she leaked the NSA memo she read two books – War Plan Iraq by Peace News Editor Milan Rai and Target Iraq by Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich – which convinced her there was no case for war. And Snowden himself has said he was inspired to leak the NSA documents after watching The Most Dangerous Man in America, the 2009 documentary about Ellsberg.

So maybe, just maybe, the next important whistleblower will be sitting next to you in the cinema when you go and see Official Secrets.

Official Secrets is in cinemas from 18 October 2019.

How the media covers-up the bloody reality of Western wars in the Middle East

How the media covers-up the bloody reality of Western wars in the Middle East
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
10 August 2019

From what I can tell a new report from monitoring group Air Wars, concerning US media coverage of the US-led military interventions in Iraq and Syria since 2014, has been ignored by the entire British media, except for the Morning Star.

“News reporting on civilian casualties from international and US actions, was found to be largely absent during key periods of the conflict”, the study concludes.

The extraordinary depth of this Western power-friendly journalism is highlighted by Airwars’s survey of more than 900 US Department of Defense transcripts of press conferences. Incredibly the research “found that [US military] officials were… the first to raise civilian harm in three-quarters of the press conferences or briefings in which the issue was broached since 2014.”

This lack of coverage was linked by US journalists themselves to a variety of factors, including “the limited presence of reporters on-the-ground”, a news cycle dominated by US domestic politics and credibly sourcing claims of civilian casualties. However, these justifications ring somewhat hollow when you consider arguably the most interesting finding of the study: “Major US media were… five times more likely to report on civilian harm from Russian and Assad regime actions at Aleppo than they were from US and allied actions at Mosul” (the report notes “civilian harm outcomes” in Aleppo and Mosul “were often similar”).

So it turns out the US media does report on civilian casualties – as long as the civilians are harmed by Russian and Syrian government forces.

US writer and media critic Adam Johnson has humorously coined The North Korea Law of Journalism, in which “editorial standards are inversely proportional to a county’s enemy status”. If journalists are considering crimes committed by the US and its allies then “rock solid, smoking gun evidence” is usually required to run a story. In contrast, journalists can “pretty much make up whatever [they] want” with little or no evidence to back up their claims if they are criticising North Korea, and nations like Iran, Russia and Syria.

Though the Air Wars study only looked at US media, there are indications the British media also acts as a defacto “propaganda system” when it comes to reporting on Western intervention in the Middle East.

Take three well-known commentators working at two respected newspapers: The Times’s David Aaronovitch and Jonathan Freedland and George Monbiot at The Guardian. Monbiot is arguably the most radical journalist working in the mainstream media. No doubt all three of these experienced journalists see themselves as critically-minded, free-thinking writers.

Their Twitter feeds suggest a different story.

Culminating in December 2016, the battle for Aleppo involved Syrian government and (from September 2015) Russian forces unleashing hell on areas held by assorted rebel groups in the northern Syrian city.

Aaronovitch has tweeted about Aleppo 13 times. “Aleppo is Stalingrad” and the “destruction of Aleppo” is “awful” were two of his outraged hot takes.

Freedland tweeted about Aleppo six times up until December 2016.

Monbiot has tweeted about Aleppo nine times, according to Interventions Watch blog. “A monstrous crime against humanity” and “a crime beyond reckoning”, the enraged Monbiot commented.

Monbiot’s “response to events in another Syrian city, however, was markedly different”, Interventions Watch explains.

From June to October 2017 the US (with British support) led an intense assault on Raqqa, targeting the city being held by Islamic State with airstrikes and artillery barrages.

An April 2019 investigation by Amnesty International estimated the US-led coalition killed over 1,600 civilians during the assault. “Never before have I seen a city so completely devastated. Not just in one district area, but almost entirely”, Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, reported after visiting the city. “Think Dresden and you’d be close.”

“The intent may have been different … but through modelling the impacts, we have determined that there was not a huge difference in terms of civilian harm between the coalition in Raqqa and Russia in East Ghouta and Aleppo,” Airwars director Chris Woods told The Times in December 2018.

Monbiot’s response to this slaughter? Tumbleweed. “Monbiot *said nothing*. Not a word of condemnation, not a single attempt to highlight the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, not even a passing mention, either as it was happening, or afterwards”, Interventions Watch note.

Likewise, Aaronovitch and Freedland have not tweeted one word about the US-UK bloodbath in Raqqa as far as I can tell.

This brief Twitter review echoes the findings of Dr Florian Zollmann, Lecturer in Journalism at Newcastle University, who analysed US, UK and German newspaper coverage of human rights abuses in Kosovo (1999), Iraq (2004), Libya (2011), Syria (2012) and Egypt (2013) for his 2017 book Media, Propaganda and the Politics of Intervention.

“If countries designated to be ‘enemy’ states of the West conduct human rights violations, the news media highlights these abuses and conveys demands for action to stop human rights abuses”, he notes. “If, on the other hand, Western states or their ‘allies’ are the perpetrators of human rights violations the news media employs significantly less investigatory zeal in its reporting and virtually no measures to stop abuses are conveyed.”

This systematic bias can only increase the worrying level of ignorance of UK foreign policy amongst the British public – a status quo the government and military will be more than happy with.

“There is a general policy by the MoD [Ministry of Defence] to keep the horror of what’s going on in Afghanistan out of the public domain, and that’s probably for political reasons”, a senior British officer told the Sunday Telegraph in 2008. “If the real truth were known it would have a huge impact on Army recruiting and the government would come under severe pressure to withdraw the troops.”

With the media providing such poor, power-friendly coverage, how is the general public supposed to gain an accurate understanding of the world? How can politicians make good decisions when it comes to future votes on war and peace? And what chance does the public have of understanding why many people in the Middle East and beyond have an unfavourable view of the UK?

Rather than being the tenacious Woodward and Bernstein-style Fourth Estate of journalists’ fantasies, it’s clear that when it comes to the Middle East the US and British media have, by and large, given their own governments and their militaries a free pass, shamefully helping to hide the bloody reality of Western military action from the American and British people.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

 

UK airport expansion and the climate catastrophe: interview with Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli

UK airport expansion and the climate catastrophe: interview with Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
30 July 2019

The debate about airport expansion in the UK and the climate crisis has been dominated by Heathrow Airport.

In a recent article for Carbon Brief, Dr Declan Finney, a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, and Dr Giulio Mattioli, a research associate at the Department of Transport Planning at TU-Dortmund in Germany and guest research fellow in the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, broadened the debate by discussing their research on airport expansion across the UK.

Ian Sinclair: What did your research discover about expansion plans for UK airports and whether these are compatible with the ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2050’ pathway set out by the Committee on Climate Change and accepted by the government?

Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli: Some UK airports already have capacity to serve many more passengers than currently, and have indicated intentions to drive demand for this capacity. For example, Manchester served 28 million passengers in 2017, but there could be 55 million passengers flying from the airport within the next few decades. Meanwhile, environmental movements such as youthstrike4climate and Extinction Rebellion have carried out protests around the approval of several airport expansions, notably Heathrow with plans to increase passenger numbers by over 70 per cent. But also smaller airports such Leeds-Bradford which has been given approval for 70 per cent increase on current numbers. On top of all that, all other airports we looked at had ambitious plans for expansion. Many of these plans are shockingly large given the already substantial contribution aviation makes to climate change, but the aim for a nine-fold increase in passenger numbers at Doncaster-Sheffield airport from 1.3 million to 11.8 million by 2050 is particularly large.

We considered these changes in line with the limited growth of 25 per cent by 2050 (relative to today) allowed by the Committee on Climate Change. Based on our conservative estimates, full use of existing capacity and approved expansions would already push us beyond that level of growth. Heathrow alone would be a 19 per cent increase. However, when ambitions of all the airports are taken into consideration the UK aviation industry appears to be aiming for a 60 per cent growth in demand on 2017 passenger numbers. It will be extremely difficult to compensate the emissions resulting from such an increase in demand with other measures, and would rely on approaches that the Committee on Climate Change considers to “have very low levels of technology readiness, very high costs, and/or significant barriers to public acceptability.”

IS: In your Carbon Brief article you make an interesting comparison between road building in the 20th century and proposed airport expansions today.

DF and GM: There are strong parallels. In the 1950s and 1960s the conventional wisdom was that a rapid increase in car ownership and use was inevitable, and that it would result in crippling congestion unless the network was expanded and roads widened. What happened though is that those roads actually encouraged more car use (and ultimately congestion), in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy which transport experts call “induced demand”. It could be said that something similar is happening now with airports. We are told that it is imperative to expand them, or we won’t be able to cope with increased demand. But the truth is that airport expansion will result in more and cheaper flights, which in turn will encourage people to fly more often. By contrast, if we choose not to expand airports, chances are that demand for air travel will not increase as much. The key point is that none of this is inevitable: expanding airports is not a neutral technical measure, it’s a political choice with important consequences. And it flies in the face of the Climate Emergency declaration passed by the House of Commons.

IS: Last month The Guardian published a report titled ‘Electric planes on the horizon as industry heeds climate warnings’. What do you make of claims that “some forms of sustainable aviation… may be coming into view”, as the report asserts?

DF and GM: It’s important to keep in mind that such claims come mainly from the aviation industry, and are amplified by over-enthusiastic media. Who doesn’t love an article about some fancy new ‘green’ technology? The reason why the industry keeps pushing these claims is that it buys them time. If new tech could clean up aviation, there would be no need to curb air travel demand and airport expansion, and the aviation industry could continue with business-as-usual. The truth though is that there is no technological fix to the aviation emission problem. There is no technology that could be scaled up quickly enough to offset the projected increases in demand. Small electric planes might substitute some short-haul flights in the course of the next decade, but they can hardly be scaled up to flights over longer distances – and these make for the bulk of emissions. So that will be nowhere near enough to achieve the CO2 reductions that we need. Which is why we need to talk about reducing (or at least not increasing) the number of flights.

IS: What policies do you think the UK government could introduce that would curb demand, and therefore emissions, in the aviation sector?

DF and GM: Given what we’ve discussed, a first measure would obviously be some sort of moratorium on airport expansion and possibly the scaling down of some existing airports. Besides that, there are lots of measures that are currently being discussed among academics and environmental activists. These include, for example, introducing a kerosene tax – few people know it, but aviation fuel is virtually untaxed. This is socially unfair, as domestic energy and road fuel, which are consumed by most of the population, are taxed. That’s compared to only about a quarter of the British population that flies more than once in a typical year. This is why some have proposed a ‘frequent flyer levy’, which would exempt one flight per person per year, but would apply to all subsequent flights. Other measures might include caps on short-haul and domestic flights, institutional changes in the travel policies of organizations, and improving alternative modes travel.

The use of trains instead of planes for certain journeys is one example of where government could encourage a shift in demand to lower emission travel. For instance, measures could be put in place to ensure comparable advertising of journey times. Whilst trains tend to go city centre to city centre and you can normally jump straight on, there is often substantial travel needed to reach airports as well as go through check-in and security. Researchers have compared actual travel times, and for a journey such as London-Amsterdam there is very little difference in actual travel time, but flights would be advertised as around two and half hours faster. From personal experience, another barrier to using trains is the difficulty in buying tickets. While with flights it’s straight-forward to buy a single ticket that takes you to your final destination (even if there are changeovers), with trains you often have to buy several parts of a journey to Europe separately. The government could work to break down unnecessary barriers such as this to make the most carbon efficient types of travel easier to use for the public.

Read the full article, Planned Growth of UK Airports Not Consistent with Net-zero Climate Goal, at Carbon Brief http://www.carbonbrief.org.

 

Knife crime: myth and reality

Knife crime: myth and reality
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
6 May 2019

Fuelled by the right-wing media, a number of myths have grown up around the topic of knife crime. With the number of knife offences (39,818) and homicides committed with a knife (285) reaching record highs in 2018, according to the Home Office, it’s worth interrogating these falsehoods, and considering interventions which might help.

Myth: Knife crime is committed “almost exclusively” by young Black men. Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in March, co-host Piers Morgan stated “statistically, it looks like in London, right now… the perpetrators and the victims appear to be almost exclusively young Black men.”

Reality: Citing Freedom of Information requests made to police forces, in July 2018 Sky News noted that in London “Almost half of murder victims – as well as suspects – were black despite the ethnic group accounting for just 13% of London’s population.” However, Sky News also explained “Numbers for the rest of the country painted a different picture, with murder victim and suspect figures more or less proportionate to the makeup of the population.” For example, in February BBC News noted the worst place for fatal stabbings in the UK, in proportion to population, was Inverclyde in Scotland. A few miles to the east the 95 per cent white Glasgow was, until recently, dubbed – by the Daily Mail – “the knife crime capital of Britain”.

“There are likely to be important socio-economic factors in homicides that cannot be examined using” the basic data, a 2019 Office for National Statistics report conceded. Indeed, according to the Serious Violence Strategy published by the government last year “the evidence on links between serious violence and ethnicity is limited. Once other factors are controlled for, it is not clear from the evidence whether ethnicity is a predictor of offending or victimisation.” Taking a “wide range of factors into account”, including ethnicity, a 2003 study by the Youth Justice Board titled Young People & Street Crime echoed this conclusion. It found “two main factors explained differences in the levels of street crime between [London] boroughs… the level of deprivation… and the extent of population change” – the number of young people as a proportion of the total population.

“Crime is prevalent in poor areas, and since black people are disproportionality poor, they are disproportionately affected – as perpetrators and victims”, The Guardian’s Gary Younge noted in 2017, after extensive investigative work into knife crime. “It’s class – not race or culture – that is the defining issue.”

Myth: Stop and search is effective in reducing knife crime. “Police in England and Wales are being given greater stop and search powers to tackle rising knife crime”, BBC News reported at the end of March. “Home Secretary Sajid Javid is making it easier for officers to search people without reasonable suspicion in places where serious violence may occur.”

Reality: “There is a misconception that just doing loads more stop and search is the solution… that is simply not the case”, explained Nick Glynn, the former College of Policing lead on stop and search, on Channel 4 News last month. The news programme compared Metropolitan Police figures on Section 60 stop and search powers – which allow the police to introduce stop and search without suspicion in a designated area at a specific time – with knife crime offences from the Mayor of London’s office. In 2016 the Met used Section 60 442 times, and there was 11,132 knife crime offences. In 2018 the Met massively increased their use of section 60 to 7,326 times. However, there was also an increase in knife crime offences in the same year – to 14,714.

“The inconsistent nature and weakness” of the association between stop and search and crime levels, “provide only limited evidence of stop and search having acted as a deterrent at a borough level”, a 2017 College of Policing study concluded after analysing data from 2000-2014.

This is not news. Citing a study conducted by Marian Fitzgerald, a Visiting Professor of Criminology at the University of Kent, in 2010 the Guardian noted “there is little connection between the use of stop and search powers by the Metropolitan police and reductions in knife crime.”

Fitzgerald analysed the use of Section 60 in London. “The boroughs which have resisted politically driven pressures to take a gung-ho approach to using Section 60 have been as successful in reducing knife crime, and often more so, than the boroughs where the police have been happy to let Section 60 searches go through the roof”, she noted.

Myth: More and tougher prison sentences will reduce knife crime. “Despite the rhetoric you hear from politicians about being tough on those who carry knives two-thirds of people who are convicted don’t face prison”, John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, noted on Good Morning Britain in March. “We have a Justice Secretary saying we need to scarp shorter sentences because the prisons are full. My argument – build more prisons.”

Reality: The evidence shows that compared to ten years ago those convicted for carrying a knife are more likely to be jailed, and if jailed they are more likely to spend longer inside. Quoting Ministry of Justice figures, in March BBC News explained that 37 per cent of offenders were jailed and a further 18 per cent given suspended prison sentences in 2018, compared to 20 per cent and 9 per cent respectively in 2008. The average prison term has increased from five months in 2008 to well over eight months in 2018, with 85 per cent serving at least three months in 2018, compared to 53 per cent in 2008.

More broadly, the UK has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe (141 prisoners per 100,000 people).

However, it is essential to understand “there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime”, as the Prison Reform Trust explained in its 2018 Bromley Briefing, directly quoting the National Audit Office. Robert Reiner, Professor of Criminology at the London School of Economics, confirmed this awkward fact in the Guardian in 2007: “A plethora of research shows that the criminal justice system can have little effect on crime overall, which flows from deeper social and cultural wellsprings”.

Tackling the real causes of knife crime

Speaking on Good Morning Britain in March Akala, a hip hop artist and author of Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, noted “the social indicators” of violent street crime have remained “consistent for 200 years: relative poverty, masculinity, exposure to domestic violence, lack of education.”

His take broadly echoes the thoughts of Patricia Gallan, who was Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime and Operations in the Metropolitan Police. “If you start looking at where crime impacts, it happens in the poorest areas of society”, she told the Guardian in June 2018. “Those that end up in the criminal justice system tend to be the people who have less money and less opportunity in society.”

The austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories (and Lib Dems until 2015) has created a perfect storm of harmful societal effects. Inequality and absolute poverty increased in 2017-18, according to Department for Work and Pensions data; over 100 youth centres have closed in London since the 2011 riots, according to figures obtained by the Green Party’s Sian Berry; the number of primary school children who have been excluded across the country has doubled since 2011, according to official government data. Most frightening is the recent warning from the Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett that the “bulk” of the effects of the government’s planned £12 billion benefit cuts will be felt over the next few years, with poverty rates likely to increase to a record high.

Poverty, inequality and deprivation – these are the factors that need to be addressed if we want to significantly reduce knife crime. However, beyond these big shifts, it seems positive change is also possible within the current political and economic system.

In Glasgow, until recently the so-called “murder capital of Europe” with acute levels of knife crime, a Violence Reduction Unit was set up in 2005. Taking an arms-length relationship with the police, the unit has adopted a holistic, public health approach to the issue, working with the health, education and social work sectors, shifting away from seeing the problem as a purely criminal issue. The result? A substantial reduction in the number of children and teenagers killed by knives.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.