Tag Archives: John Humphrys

The BBC vs. Jeremy Corbyn

The BBC vs. Jeremy Corbyn
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
19 May 2017

The morning after a draft of the Labour Party manifesto had been leaked, Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s general election co-ordinator, was interviewed on the BBC Today Programme in the high profile 08:10 slot.

Ten minutes earlier, the 08:00 news bulletin had reported that the manifesto promises to “nationalise the railways as franchises expire and to abolish tuition fees in England… to return Royal Mail to public ownership, to bring in an energy price cap and introduce a levy on companies with large numbers of staff on what it calls ‘very high pay’.”

“It looks like a great big wish list… that no government could possibly push through in five years or even fifty years”, stated presenter John Humphrys, interviewing Gwynne. “It is just unrealistic, isn’t it? It’s also far too to the left, far too much to the left for the British public to stomach, don’t you think?”

Some listeners may have swallowed the subtle assumptions behind Humphrys’ question but luckily a poll released the next day inserted some reality into the debate. Far from being “far too much to the left for the British public”, the Independent’s report on the research was titled ‘British voters overwhelmingly back Labour’s manifesto policies, poll finds’.

According to the ComRes survey 52 per cent of people support the state ownership of the railways (22 per cent opposed), 49 per cent support the state ownership of the energy market (24 percent opposed) and 50 per cent of people support the renationalisation of Royal Mail (25 per cent opposed). In addition, 71 per cent said they back Labour’s proposal to ban zero-hours contracts, while 65 percent supported Labour’s plan to increase income tax for those who earn £80,000 or more.

These findings are not a one off – a November 2013 YouGov poll found 67 per cent of people thought the Royal Mail should be run as a public service, 68 per cent supported nationalising the energy companies and 66 per cent wanted to nationalise the railways.

Humphrys’ attempt to dismiss Labour’s policies fits with the broader media coverage of Jeremy Corbyn. Analysing press coverage during the two months after he was elected Labour leader, a 2016 London School of Economics study observed “an overall picture of most newspapers systematically vilifying” Corbyn, “assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics.” Other left-wing leaders have received negative press attention, though “in the case of Corbyn the degree of antagonism and hatred… has arguably reached new heights.” Another study conducted by the Media Reform Coalition “indicated how large sections of the press appeared to set out systematically to undermine Jeremy Corbyn with a barrage of overwhelmingly negative coverage.”

The supposedly neutral and objective BBC, the most trusted news source in the UK, has played a key role in this political denigration and exclusion, with Sir Michael Lyons, the chair of the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011, arguing in May last year there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”. Lyons continued: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.”

One such senior voice could well be BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, who was found to have erroneously edited a November 2015 interview with Corbyn to make it look like he didn’t support a shoot-to-kill policy during an ongoing Paris-style terrorist attack. The interview breached the BBC’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, the BBC Trust found.

More recently, the Today Programme’s Nick Robinson dismissively tweeted “No-one should be surprised that @jeremycorbyn is running v the ‘Establishment’ & is long on passion & short on details. Story of his life.”

Rather than being aberrations, this bias against Corbyn arguably reflects the BBC’s wider politics. “Its structure and culture have been profoundly shaped by the interests of powerful groups in British society”, Dr Tom Mills argues in his 2016 book ‘The BBC: Myth of a Public Service’. Unsurprisingly then, the BBC’s news output “has overwhelmingly reflected the ideas and interests of elite groups and marginalised alternative and oppositional perspectives.”

Analysing the number and type of guests invited onto the programme, research conducted by Cardiff University’s Dr Mike Berry into the BBC Today Programme’s coverage of the financial crisis, confirms Mills’s thesis. “It was clear that the people who had caused the crisis – the bankers and the politicians – were overwhelmingly the voices charged with defining the problem and putting forward solutions”, Berry told me.

With the Labour Party’s running on a transformational manifesto and Corbyn promising “a reckoning” with the unscrupulous sections of the British elite if he is elected Prime Minister, is it any wonder the establishment-friendly BBC is unable or unwilling to give the Labour leader a fair hearing?

 

 

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The BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian peacekeepers and the democracy-creating British army

Compare and contrast comments made by the BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian forces in Europe with his 2012 comments on British forces in Iraq:

“I think it might just be worth making the point though that some people will raise their eyebrows at the idea Russian armies are peacekeeping armies. The people of Romania might take a slightly different view of that… just a very quick thought about Ukraine. The idea that what Russia has been doing in Ukraine is peacekeeping is a slightly bizarre notion, isn’t it?” (Interview with Vitaly Milonov, a Russian politician and member of the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, BBC Today Programme, 10 April 2017)

Vs.

“…a lot of British lives, 179 British lives, were lost for Basra in effect… If a country [the UK] has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?” (Interview with Baroness Nicholson, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Economic Development in Iraq and the Region, BBC Today Programme, October 2012)

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq
by Ian Sinclair

8 July 2016

The United Nations con trick

This morning BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interviewed Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007, about his central role in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Asked by presenter John Humphrys about the secret 28 July 2002 memo that Blair sent to US President George Bush in which Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever”, Blair replied:

“The whole purpose of it [the memo] was to ensure that the Americans went down the United Nations route to dealing with this, which we then did. And we had a [UN] Resolution in November 2002, which had the terms of that resolution been satisfied then there wouldn’t have been a war.”

Blair is repeating the narrative – largely accepted by our media – that he persuaded a reluctant Bush Administration to work through the United Nations, in an attempt to solve the crisis peacefully. However, though Humphrys ignores it, Blair discusses exactly this issue in a later part on the 28 July 2008 memo. Under the heading ‘The UN’ Blair writes:

“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline… There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with [UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan. It would be: take it or leave it. I know there is reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. It he did say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.”

The language – “encapsulate our casus belli”, “no negotiation”, “we would just refuse to deal” – seems very far from someone sincerely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and using military action as a last resort.

Blair’s position on the role of the UN here mirrors other secret memos which have been subsequently released. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to the United States wrote to Tony’ Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning about his recent meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option”, noted Meyer. “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [security council resolutions]”.  How would this be done? A Cabinet paper from July 2002 explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community”.

The goal then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN as a tool for triggering war, not, as Blair continues to assert, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

UN Resolution 1441: 2016 Tony Blair versus 2002 Tony Blair

At his press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair repeated his claim that Iraqi non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 authorised the US and UK to take military action against Iraq:

“I persuaded a reluctant American administration to take the issue back to the UN. This resulted in the November 2002 UN Resolution 1441 giving Saddam ‘a final opportunity’ to come into ‘full and immediate compliance with UN Resolutions’ and to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. Any non-compliance was defined as a material breach…. as at the 18th of March, there was gridlock at the UN. In resolution 1441 it had been agreed to give Saddam one final opportunity to comply. It was accepted he had not done so. In that case, according to 1441, action should have followed”.

What Blair doesn’t say is Resolution 1441 was only passed by Russia, China and France on the understanding a second resolution would be required to authorise military action. Indeed,

on the day Resolution 1441 was passed by the UN Security Council Tony Blair himself said “To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the Resolution makes it clear that is not the case.”

This was confirmed by the UK Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who explained at the time:

“We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’ – the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.”

The Al Qaeda link: nothing to do with me guv

During the Q&A session of his press conference on Chilcot, Nick Watt from BBC Newsnight asked Blair the following question:

“You say ‘For us to understand what happened, we need to understand how the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.’ But you were told then, and we know now, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.”

To which Blair replied:

“On the links between AQ and Saddam – it was never our case. There were elements of the American Administration that argued that there was a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. That was never my case.”

Contrast this clear disavowal with the content of the 28 July 2002 memo Blair wrote to Bush. Under the heading ‘The Evidence’ Blair tells Bush “I have been told the US thinks this unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaeda link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”

So, to confirm, though Blair claims that he did not make a link between Al Qaeda and Hussein, the memo clearly shows Blair suggesting to Bush that “an Al Qaeda link” should be made with Saddam Hussein because “it will be hugely persuasive over here” – that is it will help persuade the population of the UK, and perhaps mainland Europe, for the need for war.

 

 

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
23 June 2016

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions”, the American novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote, “they don’t have to worry about answers.”

When it comes to the US and UK’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent occupation, the British establishment have conveniently and repeatedly asked the wrong questions. Quoting a senior, unnamed source, last month the Times newspaper reported Tony Blair, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove “will face serious ‘damage to their reputations’ from the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which has delivered an ‘absolutely brutal’ verdict on the mismanagement of the occupation.” According to the Times “the section [of the Inquiry’s report] on the occupation will be longer than that on the build-up to” the invasion, with the Times reporter blogging that the section on the occupation “is where some of the most damning verdicts are drawn.”

As they have done with every previous public utterance he has made in recent years, the Guardian happily provided Blair with a platform in June to pre-empt the Inquiry’s findings – and shift the focus to the occupation and away from the most damaging and dangerous areas for the former prime minister. According to Guardian Blair will “argue the ultimate cause of the long-term bloodshed in Iraq was the scale of external intervention in the country by Iran and al-Qaida.” (Come on, stop laughing, this is serious). He will also “accept that the planning for the aftermath of the war was inadequate” and admit “the west did not foresee the degree to which complex tribal, religious and sectarian tensions would be uncorked” by overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Let’s be clear: the US-UK military occupation of Iraq – full of massive amounts of deadly violence dished out by the US and UK armed forces, torture and destructive divide and rule tactics – was a catastrophe for the people of Iraq. And it was hugely unpopular, with a secret Ministry of Defence 2005 poll of Iraqis finding 82 per cent “strongly opposed” the presence of coalition troops, and 45 per cent saying attacks against US and UK forces were justified. However, it is a complete red herring to suggest better planning is the crux of the issue. “The problem wasn’t the way that this was implemented, the problem was that we were there at all”, argued Rory Stewart, who served as the Coalition Provisional Authority Deputy Governorate Co-Ordinator in Maysan province In Iraq, in 2013:

“All these people who think ‘If only we had done this, if only if we hadn’t de-Ba’athified, if only we hadn’t abolished the army’ misunderstand the fundamental tragedy of that encounter between the international community and Iraqis… it wasn’t the detailed, tactical decisions that were made, it was the overall fact of our presence. The problem was so deep that if we hadn’t made those mistakes we would have made other mistakes. It was a wrecked intervention from the beginning, from the very moment we arrived on the ground.”

Moreover, the assumption behind the establishment’s fretting over post-war planning is that if the occupation had gone smoothly then everything would have been OK. In reality, it would not have changed the fact that the US and UK aggressively invaded an oil rich nation in contravention of international law, based on pack deceptions. It was a “crime of aggression” – as explained by the chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office at the time – whether the occupation was successful or not. Bluntly, if I plan and execute a robbery, whether it goes ‘smoothly’ with minimal violence and resistance or is a complete mess is immaterial – it’s still a crime.

The limited, self-serving debate surrounding post-war planning in Iraq echoes the liberal media’s belief that, to quote Cambridge Professor David Runciman, the US and UK invaded Iraq “to spread the merits of democracy.” Yes, it all went wrong, but our intentions were good. This kind of thinking can lead to spectacularly convoluted and offensive conclusions, as the BBC’s John Humphrys proved in October 2012 when he asked about the British occupation of Iraq: “If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?”

British historian Mark Curtis has coined a term for this blinkered power friendly framing: ‘Britain’s basic benevolence.’ Criticism of foreign policies is possible, notes Curtis, “but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence”.

The West’s support for democracy in the Middle East is also evidence free. “It is presented as though the invasion of Iraq was motivated largely or entirely by an altruistic desire to share democracy”, notes Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House. “This is asserted despite the long history of Anglo-American great-power involvement in the Middle East, which has, for the most part, not involved an effort to democratize the region”, she explains. “Rather, the general trend has been to either support authoritarian rulers who were already in place, or to participate in the active consolidation of authoritarian rule, including strong military and intelligence cooperation, as long as these rulers have been seen as supporting Western interests more than popularly elected governments would.”

Back to Chilcot. Blair’s Government and its supporters successfully deceived – or atleast bamboozled – large sections of the press and key sections of the establishment in 2002-3 in what Curtis calls “a government propaganda campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights in the post-war world.” By steering the debate onto questions surrounding the occupation of Iraq, Blair and co., assisted by a pliant press and Chilcot, are once again shifting the narrative to their advantage. We cannot allow them to triumph over us again. Therefore it is imperative that everyone interested in uncovering the truth and seeking justice for Iraqis keep the focus on the key issue – the deceptions, lies and legal questions surrounding the run up to the initial invasion. As the judgement of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg – a key influence on the development of international law – declared, “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

 

 

John Humphrys’ search for gratitude in Iraq

John Humphrys’ search for gratitude in Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
October 2012

Writing about the recent US vice-presidential debate, journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out the moderator’s “pretense of objectivity.” Far from being neutral and objective, Greenwald argues journalists are “awash in countless highly ideological assumptions that are anything but objective.” More importantly “These assumptions are almost always unacknowledged as such and are usually unexamined, which means that often the journalists themselves are not even consciously aware that they have embraced them.”

Greenwald’s perceptive analysis was perfectly illustrated by BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme last week. The setting was the prime 8:10 am slot and John Humphrys was in the chair for a segment on the closure of the UK consulate in Basra. Two people were interviewed: Andrew Alderson, who managed Basra’s finances in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and Baroness Nicholson, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Economic Development in Iraq and the Region. The discussion was chockfull of colonial language (“Britain’s military adventures in foreign lands”) and framing. Humphrey’s lamented that “a lot of British lives, 179 British lives, were lost for Basra in effect.” Nicholson agreed: “The loss of British lives… was to make freedom for the Basra people”. Humphrys’ immediate response? “Of course.” However, all this propagandistic bullshit was positively mild compared to Humphrys’ next challenge to the two guests about the UK invasion and occupation: “If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?”

It’s worth reading that quote a second time to be clear about what exactly Humphrys is saying. Iraqis, according to Humphrys, should thank the country that illegally invaded and occupied them. Thanks for what, we might ask Humphrys? For the 655,000 Iraqis who had died by 2006 because of the invasion, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health? For the over four million Iraqi made refugees because of the war? For causing the nation’s health to deteriorate to 1950s levels, according to Joseph Chamie, former director of the U.N. Population Division?

Does Humphrys think Algerians should have shown “a bit of gratitude” to their French occupiers? Were thousands of German lives “lost for Paris” in World War Two?

That the UK had benign intentions in Iraq is one of the key ideological assumptions that permeates all BBC reporting on the topic. For example, in 2005 Media Lens challenged the BBC about its claim that US and UK “came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.” Helen Boaden, the BBC’s Director of News, replied, arguing this “analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.” I.F. Stone’s famous dictum “all governments lie” seems to have passed Boaden by. However, some Iraqis do agree with Boaden. An October 2003 Gallup poll found that fully 1% of Baghdad residents believed that establishing democracy was the main intention of the US invasion. 43% said the invasion’s principal objective was Iraq’s oil reserves.

It’s important to remember that, along with Jeremy Paxman, Humphrys is seen as the BBC’s “Rottweiler” (Daily Mail), an “impertinent and aggressive if not downright rude” interviewer (Guardian). Humphrys himself described his presenting style as “persistent… some will say aggressive”, in an interview last year.

In contrast to Humphrys’ self-serving self-image, David Miller, Professor of Sociology at University of Bath, recently explained in the Guardian that “the research evidence that we have does not suggest a liberal bias” at the BBC. “On the contrary, it suggests a routine tendency for BBC news programmes to give more time and context to, and less interrogation of, establishment and elitist views.”

The timing of Humphrys’ tax-funded stenography is additionally embarrassing for him and the Today Programme. The weekend before the Independent reported on a new study that found a “staggering rise” in birth defects among Iraqi children since 2003. Published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, the Independent noted the study discovered “high rates of miscarriages, toxic levels of lead and mercury poisoning contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs”. According to Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan, there is “compelling evidence” linking the increase in birth defects and miscarriages to US/UK military assaults.

The Independent goes on to report “Similar defects were found among children born in Basra.” Whether Humphrys believes the parents of these children should also show “a bit of gratitude” to the UK, is not clear.