Tag Archives: The Guardian

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 October 2016

Setting out their Propaganda Model of the Mass Media in 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explained the media “serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity” – that is, large multinational corporations. They set out a number of caveats to their model, explaining the media are not a solid monolith. “Where the powerful are in disagreement, there will be a certain amount of tactical judgements on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in the media debate.” In contrast, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.”

The recent reporting by The Guardian of the on-going debate about the expansion of Heathrow airport is a perfect illustration of the continuing relevance of Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model.

Between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October five news reports appeared in the newspaper about the story. The first report sets the tone – a survey of parliamentary opinion, noting the MPs who are “plotting to undermine the anticipated government approval of the third runway at Heathrow”. The report is anchored around the findings of the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies, a former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, which backs Heathrow expansion, and whether the expansion of Gatwick airport is a viable alternative. It also explains that the Scottish Government (Scottish National Party), trade unions, business, airlines and many MPs support Heathrow expansion. In opposition are MPs representing constituencies close to Heathrow (though no reason is given for their opposition).

The subsequent reports highlight the cabinet split on the issue and the Labour Party’s support for Heathrow expansion despite the opposition of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. “Our livelihoods depend on the jobs and economic prosperity Heathrow expansion will bring”, explained a letter the Unite union delivered to Downing Street. Issues with noise pollution and local air quality are mentioned.

As the Propaganda Model predicts, driven by a huge intra-aviation industry public relations struggle, The Guardian’s reporting reflects the assumption that airport expansion is needed, and the heated debate about how best to do this – Heathrow or Gatwick? – is extensively covered. Powerful actors such as MPs, business, unions and the commission headed by the pro-business Davies, are given space to put forward their views. All this will come as no surprise to Labour MP Chris Mullin, who said of his time as aviation minister from 1999 to 2001: “I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given way to them.”

However, as Herman and Chomsky predict, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.” Thus, when it comes to airport expansion, voices concerned about climate change – a global crisis that, if taken seriously, is a direct challenge to the pro-growth, neoliberalism that dominates political thinking in the West – are marginalised.

Yes, climate change is mentioned in The Guardian reporting – in three of the five articles – but its placement and frequency is telling. As Herman and Chomsky argue, the fact awkward information appear in the media “tells us nothing about whether that fact received the attention and context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to the reader or effectively distorted or suppressed”. Climate change is not mentioned in the headlines or the introduction paragraphs – the most paragraph of any news story – of any of the five reports. For example, alongside sections on “the political issues” and “the economic issues”, chief environmental correspondent Damian Carrington is given space to talk about “the environmental issues”, though he chooses to focus on local air and noise pollution. A quote from Greenpeace’s UK Executive Director in the 18 October article saying “a third runway at Heathrow would be an air pollution and carbon timebomb” is relegated to the last sentence of the half page report. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is also quoted in the 20 October Guardian report – but in the penultimate paragraph.

So, how important is climate change to the debate on airport expansion?

With the first six months of 2016 breaking global temperate records, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research warned “we are on a crash course” with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures to under 2oC “unless we change course very, very fast.” Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, broadly concurs, telling me a few months after Paris that it is “reasonable to say 3-4oC is where we are heading, and probably the upper end of that”. Important point: previously Anderson has said a 4oC temperature increase will be “incompatible with organised global community”. More worrying still: Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, sees climate change “an existential crisis for the human species”.

Aviation is set to make up a quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Friends of the Earth. Writing in The Guardian’s comment pages, George Monbiot – opposed to all airport expansion in the UK – notes that the Climate Change Act means the UK needs to reduce carbon emissions by a steep 80 percent by 2050. If flights increase at the level Davies’s Commission expects those cuts would have to rise to 85 percent. Alice Larkin, Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy at the University of Manchester, is clear: “Policy measures aimed at increasing capacity and supporting further growth in air travel such as new runways, particularly within richer nations, are at odds with the Paris Agreement.”

What all this very obviously means is, contrary to The Guardian’s woeful news coverage of the issue, the earth’s climate should be at the centre of the debate on airport expansion in the UK.

As the Green Party’s Rupert Read tweeted recently: “In an age of rising manmade climate chaos, it is ludicrous that the debate is ‘Heathrow or Gatwick’, when what the future needs is: NEITHER.”


Here are links to the five Guardian news reports published on Heathrow between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October (NB the online version of articles are often different to the article that is published in the newspaper):

Saturday 15 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/14/anti-heathrow-mps-plan-undermine-government-third-runway-approval
Monday 17 October 2016:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/16/heathrow-airport-expansion-third-runway-labour-decision
Tuesday 18 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/17/heathrow-third-runway-close-to-getting-government-green-light
Wednesday 19 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/18/airport-expansion-vote-put-on-hold-for-more-than-a-year-by-theresa-may
Thursday 20 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/19/cameron-aide-said-government-was-exposed-on-heathrow-over-air-quality

An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality

An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality
By Ian Sinclair
13 November 2014

Announcing an increase in the tempo of the US-led military action against the Islamic State (aka ISIL) on CBS’s Facing The Nation on 9 November 2014, President Obama stated:

“What we knew was that phase one was getting an Iraqi government that was inclusive and credible, and we now have done that. And so now what we’ve done is rather than just try to halt ISIL’s momentum, we’re now in a position to start going on some offense.”

As it is being used to justify an expansion of the US-led military action in Iraq, it is worth examining Obama’s claim that the current Iraqi government is “inclusive and credible”. Here, then, are some quotes from Iraq experts and observers on the nature of the government of Haider al-Abadi, who replaced Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s president in September 2014:

Patrick Cockburn, veteran Middle East correspondent and author of ‘The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising’, 25 September 2014: “Mr [David] Cameron blames all this on the mis-government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian and kleptocratic rule has just ended. But it is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by the more personable Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties. Mr Cameron’s stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians is a pipe dream.”

Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent, Financial Times, 26 September 2014: “Despite commitments by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the [Shia] militias, they grow stronger, bolder and more politically influential.”

Erin Evers, Iraqi Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 26 September 2014: “Residents [of the Iraqi town of Latifiyya] told me that Shia militias, still operating under the control of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [now a Vice-President of Iraq], are laying siege to the town, especially the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militia. Sunni residents of other towns to the north accused that group and other militias of carrying out summary executions there after the militias took control in the wake of US air strikes against the Islamic State.”

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqi journalist, The Guardian, 9 October 2014:The problem in Iraq… is it’s not a problem of a person. It’s not Abadi versus Maliki. The whole institution, the whole system, is so rotten to the core. Every single soldier is appointed after paying a bribe. Every military officer is appointed after paying a bribe. And the bribes are still being paid.”

Sarah Margon, Washington director, Human Rights Watch, 24 October 2014: “[An] imam made clear that the Iraqi air force is still using indiscriminate ‘barrel bombs’ to ‘go after ISIS’ in Fallujah, despite instructions from Baghdad to stop using them. Other governments, including that of the United States, have condemned the use of these horrendously destructive bombs across the border in Syria but have said nothing about them in Iraq.”

Tirana Hassan, Senior Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 3 November: “While the Iraqi central government has virtually no formal authority over the militias, who act as a law unto themselves, some key politicians in Baghdad have strong alliances to individual militias. In October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban – a prominent member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group that controls one of the largest and most infamous militias – as interior minister. Despite being almost completely unaccountable to any official ministry, the Shiite militias have been tasked by the government with a key role in the war against the Islamic State.”

Fazel Hawramy and Luke Harding, The Guardian, 13 November 2014: “According to Amnesty International, Shia militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months, and enjoy total impunity for what are ‘war crimes’. It says the Iraqi government under prime minister Haider al-Abadi has supported and armed the groups, in effect fuelling a new and dangerous cycle of lawlessness and sectarian mayhem.”

So, to summarise, the new Iraqi government that Obama said is “inclusive and credible” is horribly corrupt, is continuing to conduct air strikes on Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq – sometimes with barrel bombs – and includes key figures connected to the emboldened Shia militias, which have been carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population with impunity.

The dangers of all this are made clear by Middle East researcher David Wearing: “The West is going ahead with military support for Baghdad as though replacing Maliki with al-Abadi ticks all the required boxes in itself. It doesn’t. Al-Abadi comes from the same party as Maliki – a fact that won’t be lost on many Sunni Arabs – and the danger of supporting him in advance of the required political transformation is that it disincentivises Baghdad from seriously addressing the core political issues.”

And, as Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Margon, argues: “By turning a virtual blind eye to the abuses committed by Iraqi government forces and its proxy militias, key partners [the US, UK etc.] may be helping to push reluctant Sunnis into the Islamic State camp.”