Monthly Archives: January 2007

Understanding the media

An interview with Mark Garavan of Shell to Sea

In October 2006, we visited Mark Garavan, spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign, at his home near Castlebar in County Mayo, Ireland. For over six years Shell to Sea have been objecting to plans for a gas refinery and its associated pipeline in Bellanaboy, the town land designated as the location for the refinery.

The Shell to Sea campaign believes the refinery should be sited at sea for health and safety reasons, which is ordinary practice in many parts of the world and because of the devastating impact the refinery will have on the area if it is built. They have also pointed to the financial and economic deficits in the arrangements made between the Irish government and the exploration companies Shell (Dutch), Statoil (Norwegian) and Marathon (UK) and the anomalies they perceive in the way the project has been given approval to proceed. The processes by which permissions have been given to the exploration companies have also been a serious cause for concern amongst local people – with many questions outstanding on planning, health and safety issues in particular.

In the weeks before our visit the government had introduced a heavy police presence in Bellanaboy. Protestors had been physically removed from the gates of the site and many of them had sustained injuries as a result of what they say were unprovoked, violent assaults on their peaceful protest. On the day prior to our visit, one protestor, Maura Harrington, the Principal of a local school – had been knocked unconscious during a confrontation with gardaí, which resulted in her having to be hospitalised. [1]

On release from hospital later the same day she was invited to speak on Joe Duffy’s ‘Liveline’ radio programme on RTE, the national Irish broadcasting organisation. The Shell to Sea campaign had enjoyed the support of much of the media following the imprisonment for 94 days of five local farmers (The Rossport Five) who had objected to the plans and who were found to be in contravention of an injunction against them. Duffy’s interview was a striking example of how the media had turned on the protest in the year that had elapsed since the release of ‘The Five’.

We were interested in the dynamics of the relationship between the Shell to Sea protest and the media. In our discussion with Mark Garavan he gave some valuable insight to the realities of protesting against an alliance of multinational corporations and the political establishment operating with the support of a media that is mostly sympathetic to corporate objectives.

Continue reading Understanding the media

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Gas, Gaeilge and the Media

A Systematic ‘Trend’

“The private media are major corporations selling a product (readers and audiences) to other businesses (advertisers).” [‘Manufacturing Consent’ by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky] [1]

Ireland’s most influential news organisations are all to a large degree dependent on advertising as their principle form of revenue. And those revenues accrued are for the most part supplied by large corporations. In fact many of these news organisations are open about this dependency, RTE [Radio Telefis Eireann] state one of their guiding principles as; “[to] constantly re-evaluate our services in order to ensure that they reflect the needs of our audiences and customers in terms of content and platforms.” [2] It can reasonably be assumed that certain problems are bound to arise when the needs of RTE’s audience conflict with the needs of its customers.

The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), the representative body for Ireland’s national newspapers, explains in no uncertain terms what sort of a commodity they offer potential clients; “Newspapers give advertisers the opportunity to carefully and strategically place their message in the editorial environment that will deliver the best results.” [3] The sceptical reader may wonder if this dependency, this need to provide a profitable ‘editorial environment’, could have an implicit effect on what and how news is reported.

We have all no doubt found inaccuracies of some sort or another during our daily consumption of news, whether it be an exaggeration, a misleading headline, a sound bite that doesn’t do the subject matter justice. These can generally be excused as mistakes, personal biases, or simply a lack of professional rigour. But when these inaccuracies or distortions become so prevalent and in some cases, near uniform throughout the political spectrum; when these distortions appear to run counter to the stated goals of the system (RTE strive to “Be accurate and impartial in all News coverage”) [2] and the social responsibilities one would expect from it, the sceptic would be forgiven for wondering if this is more than just a trend.

FAIR, an American media monitoring organisation, in their 2005 annual report had this to say; “The essential conflict of commercial news media was on full display when giant advertisers BP, the oil company, and Morgan Stanley, the financial services company, both issued directives demanding that their ads be pulled from any edition of a publication that included potentially “objectionable” content. BP went so far as to demand advance notice of any stories that mention the company, a competitor of the company or the oil and energy industry in general.” [FAIR, quoting AdAge.com, 5/24/05] [4]

This ‘request’ that the ‘independent’ media adhere to self censorship, while shocking, should not come as too much of a surprise to those that are already aware of the corporate media’s penchant of pandering to elite interests. The question is, when can a trend be considered an intrinsic property of a system, not so much an explanation for every internal process or external output, but a value of the net product.

An unreasonable equilibrium

“Those who wish to exert power over other people or to seize their resources appear to use violence as either a first or a last resort.” [George Monbiot – The Age of Consent, p.g.33]

In late 2007 a corporation backed by their assistants in government escalated a localised issue, of national and global importance, through the forceful suppression of peaceful demonstration. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that the negotiating is over and ‘that is it’. [5]

In early 2001 Shell Oil and Exploration Corporation filed a planning application through An Bord Plenala (the Irish Planning Authority). The application requested permission to construct a high pressure gas pipeline connecting an off shore rig to a proposed processing terminal approximately nine kilometres inland. Objections and appeals were submitted by local residents in what has become a seven year struggle between a small Gaeltacht community in county Mayo and the world’s seventh largest company, an organisation with revenues exceeding that of over 100 of the world’s countries, including Ireland. [6] [7]

The situation has escalated of late, with confrontations between protestors and the Gardai becoming violent. Bertie Ahern stated, “the rule of law has to be implemented and the work will go on.” [8]

It should be obvious to anyone who has any confidence in democracy that the monopoly of force maintained by the state must act in the interests and under the will of the population. To cede the coercive powers of the state to corporate entities is to supplant the democratic purpose that warrants its existence. The fact that some see the confrontations between protestors and the Gardai as illegal can be expected. The media’s unfortunate failure to accurately frame this debate is a major contributing factor to its misunderstanding.

“The institutional bias of the private mass media “does not merely protect the corporate system. It robs the public of a chance to understand the real world.”” [Ben Bagdikia’s observation quoted by Herman and Chomsky] [9]

In establishing a very narrow frame the media have distorted the issue in favour of those interests which, based on the grossly lenient terms agreed by previous governments, run counter to that of the Irish public. By condensing the debate into unrepresentative terms it is clear the reader cannot be expected to grasp the reality of the situation. For the reader to fully understand the issue, and each subsequent incident within, they must first be privy to the most basic facts. Only then can they reasonably resolve either support, contempt or indifference for the campaign; or indeed, the commercial venture.

This ‘lapse’ in balance is not an infrequent tendency, the dominant media have a history of skewing coverage in favour of those interests that par with their own.

A convenient mythology

While there are several exceptions, the narrow frame assigned to the issue of the Corrib gas project has given birth to a number of now prevalent myths, yet we only need dispel a few to bring this distorted debate into much needed focus.

1. The Corrib gas project represents a massive benefit to the Irish people

In a Primetime debate in August last year, the RTE Primetime presenter Keelin Shanley stated that “you [Shell to Sea] and the other local people opposed to this pipeline are really holding the country to ransom.” [RTE Primetime 4/08/06] [10]

This myth was of course dispelled years ago, yet the present media spotlight has seen fit to re-construct it. A 2001 RTE Primetime report examined the 1992 licensing conditions, acknowledged to represent “the most generous fiscal terms in the world, with no royalties, no state participation, and companies can write off their costs 100% up front.” [11] State benefits will not be accrued until the oil companies begin to pay taxes; unsurprisingly no-one has stood up to put a figure on this potential ‘fortune’. RTE reporter, Nick Peilow, stated that people were shocked at the fiscal terms. [11] That shock appears to have worn off.

A report conducted by the Centre for Public Inquiry in 2005 [12] put the potential value of the Corrib field at approximately EUR50.4 billion. Shell and it’s partners Statoil and Marathon stand to reap in the region of EUR9-15 billion based on the estimated size of the current find and current market prices. [13] They also have a substantial stake in the potential of the entire field. Since the gas is to be sold at market value [14], the only obvious benefits appear to be security of supply at a time when Ireland has no problems sourcing gas – and perhaps 50-70 permanent jobs after the initial construction work.

2. There exists much support for the project in the local community

“Families divided, friends estranged, neighbour turned against neighbour.” [Claire Murphy, RTE Primetime 23/11/06]

While a TG4 poll conducted in September 2006 revealed that 6 out of 10 people in Mayo want the terminal located at sea, and only 15 people out of 2,500 Erris homes disagreed with Shell to Sea, [15] a more recent poll conducted by Red C (for RTE and the Irish Independent) has been hailed as contradictory by the dominant media, thus casting doubt on one of Shell to Sea’s main arguments, the idea that the local community is behind them.

In actuality the poll revealed two very different viewpoints. On the one hand those polled felt the protestors are “an intimidating presence” being manipulated by outside forces,” and on the other hand they felt they “are just doing what I would do” and “are justified in their opposition.” The first, a result of the heavily corporate and state influenced media reporting and the second, influenced by the general public’s healthy scepticism and democratic idealism. The acute variance of these views goes some way towards highlighting the media’s power in shaping opinion.

Ciaran Byrne wrote in The Irish Independent under the headline ‘The People’s Verdict’, [The Irish Independent 24/11/06] [16] “the vast majority of people (70pc) in the county want the construction of the Corrib gas pipeline to continue without the work being impeded,” strangely enough the results of the poll did not reflect this support. The first question answered by the Independent was: “should the project go ahead as planned or not?” The answer to the question was not as emphatic as the article first suggested, with only a slight majority of those polled in favour. Interestingly this was reported very differently by RTE’s Primetime, who managed to explain the full context. The complete question begins: “If it were NOT an option to change the current proposal at all, do you think the project should go ahead as planned or not go ahead at all?” [17] A completely different proposition.

The remainder of the results are not too dissimilar to those found by the TG4 poll, though there has been a small drop in support. However, one cannot underestimate the toll which time and despondency must surely have taken on the communities’ spirit.

3. The protestors are simply against development

“Is it just selfishness on the part of a few people?” [RTE presenter Miriam O’Callahan to the Shell to Sea spokesperson, Mark Garavan, on Primetime 5/10/06] [18]

In November of last year an RTE news report on a documentary, made newsworthy only by the fact it was directed by an Irishman, commented subtly that the Shell to Sea campaigners are part of the cult of ‘environmentalism’ who oppose all forms of development. It was suggested that in their Celtic Tiger affluence they have failed to realize the benefits to others and “don’t require anything as basic as jobs.” [Donagh Diamond on RTE’s Primetime 2/11/06] [19] The absurdity of this claim exposes the depths to which some will go in order to undermine the campaign. Considering the documentary was directly funded by the mining company embroiled in the controversial plan it can hardly be deemed impartial, and it is simply inaccurate to conflate those globe trotting environmental campaigners, with alleged suspect motives, and a relatively apolitical community forced into action by alien corporate infusion.

Indeed, even the name given to the campaign by protestors, ‘Shell to Sea’ is emphatic enough in it’s position. The campaign approves the development of the resource, at sea.

Debating absurdities

In a commendable move towards offering a better understanding of the issue RTE held a debate between Shell and Shell to Sea representatives in November of last year. [23/11/06 Primetime] [20] Though the programme contained many inaccuracies, it was on the whole a fair opportunity for the two parties to converse on relatively level ground. Extraordinarily, Shell’s weak position was exposed by their attempt to use what the scientific consensus considers an impending climatic disaster as a defence of their position. A company that intends to sell 1 trillion cubic feet of a country’s natural resources, with no recognisable plan to offset the emissions, used the alleged personal comments of the Shell to Sea spokesperson, his approval of the Kyoto protocol, to undermine the campaign. And without a hint of irony.

This position is in stark contrast to Shell’s new ‘environmentally aware’ image. Shell Canada, part of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, stated over a year ago, “As corporate leaders representing a broad cross-section of the Canadian economy, we believe that all governments, corporations, consumers and citizens have responsibilities under the Kyoto protocol. The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change.” [21]

Lest we underestimate the impact of the symbiotic relationship between the media, the corporation and the state, Tony O’Reilly’s boast of his securing of the state-relinquished oil and gas resources off the west coast of Ireland, with a potential EUR1.4 billion value, to Forbes magazine in September 1983, should come as blunt realisation to those who doubt it. “Since I own 35 percent of the newspapers in Ireland I have close contact with the politicians. I got the blocks he (the geologist) wanted.” [noted by Frank Connelly, The Village] [22]

The dominant media have failed to accurately frame this debate and appear intent on regurgitating the same unsubstantiated myths to the detriment of public cognition and in contradiction to their stated goals of impartiality and ‘balance’.

The Corrib gas project could be worth up to EUR50.4 billion at current market prices. The Irish state stands to gain comparatively little. As former Labour Party leader Dick Spring commented, this deal is “an act of economic treason”. [12] In light of this disparity perhaps a pertinent question to ask RTE would be, “why have you not asked a Shell representative, ‘are you effectively holding the country to ransom?'”

Suggested Action

Please write to RTE and the Irish Independent in order to ask them to redress this imbalance:

complaints@rte.ie

Irish Independent Editor, Gerald O’Regan:
independent.letters@unison.independent.ie

RTE Prime Time prime.time@rte.ie

RTE News Editor: Michael.Good@rte.ie

Miriam O’Callahan: Miriam.OCallahan@rte.ie

MediaBite supports an open and constructive debate with the media and individual journalists, please ensure all correspondence is polite. Please copy all emails to editors@mediabite.org.

1. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/
Conclusions_ManufacConsent.html
2. www.rte.ie/about/guidingprinciples2006.pdf
3. http://www.nni.ie/advertising.htm
4. http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2848
5. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1110/mayo.html
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Dutch_Shell
7. http://www.photius.com/rankings/economy/
budget_revenues_2006_0.html
8. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1110/mayo.html
9. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Herman%20/
Conclusions_ManufacConsent.html
10. http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0804/primetime.html
11. http://www.rte.ie/news/2001/0705/primetime.html
12. http://www.publicinquiry.ie/pdf/Fiosru_2_LOW_RES_Final.pdf
13. http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2006/07/30/story16038.asp
14. http://www.villagemagazine.ie/article.asp
?sid=1&sud=40&aid=2134
15. http://www.rte.ie/news/features/election2007/polls/
nuachtmayopollrossport.pdf
16. http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.
php3?ca=9&si=1730478&issue_id=14931
17. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1123/primetime.html
18. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1005/primetime.html
19. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1102/primetime.html
20. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1123/primetime.html
21. http://www.cbc.ca/money/story/2005/11/17/kyotobiz-051117.html
22. http://www.villagemagazine.ie/article.asp?sid=1&sud=2&aid=1795

A crime within a crime within a crime

“Death in Iraq. It is relentless and incessant.” [1] (Dahr Jamail, the last independent Western reporter in Iraq) [2]

In 2003 the US led invasion of Iraq underlined in no uncertain terms the limited reach of international law. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated, “[the invasion of Iraq] was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” [3]

That invasion and all the subsequent crimes within have amassed over 650,000 bodies, with one recent addition, the former leader of that country.

The Irish government has played no small part in those crimes. Shannon airport has been used for three years as a fueling point for US war planes and over 500,000 US troops have passed through it. [4] [5] This alliance with the ‘coalition of the willing’ [19 members of this illustrious group are no longer ‘willing’ to participate in ground operations] [6] was perhaps the inspiration for Minister Dermot Ahern’s ‘Third Phase’ in Irish Foreign Policy, ‘Active Neutrality’. [7]

The dominant media context

On 12 October 2006, a study of mortality developments in Iraq was published in British medical journal The Lancet. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their aim, to update the March 2003 – September 2004 study, proved truly shocking reading:

“[A]s of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2•5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.” [8]

I wrote to RTE’s News Editor, Michael Good, to ask whether RTE would be reporting on the issue. Having received no reply and witnessing no coverage, I wrote again the next day to RTE’s complaints office:

Dear Sir/Madam,

The Lancet has reported that “Since March 2003, an additional 2.5 percent of Iraq’s population have died above what would have occurred without conflict.” This translates to 655,000 dead Iraqis as a direct result of US led invasion. Ireland was used as a refueling point for the US war machine. Therefore the Irish government knowingly facilitated the illegal invasion and occupation of a foreign country.

The Chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal, Robert H Jackson stated: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, 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.”

Given the gravity of this information I was extremely surprised to witness the Irish news media’s coverage of this report. As far as I am aware RTE, the national broadcaster and to whom we pay our license fee, has not mentioned the report. Not even a peep.

Is there a specific reason for this?

Yours sincerely,

David Manning [Email, 13/10/06]

To my embarrassment I was to be informed the study had been reported ‘extensively’ a day earlier, though I could possibly be forgiven for missing it.

Dear Mr. Manning,

This story was covered extensively in yesterday morning’s “Morning Ireland”. [9]

Regards,

Michael Good [Email, 13/10/06]

I responded again that day…

Dear Mr. Good,

Thank you for responding. I was unaware of this extensive coverage as I rarely listen to the radio. I rely heavily on RTE’s website and the frequent television news slots for information on local and world news.

It appears quite an oversight to restrict coverage of this shocking report to one 4 1/2 minute slot on a 2 hour morning radio show.

I have to say I am no less surprised at RTE’s failure to cover these findings.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning [Email, 13/10/06]

The 4.5 minutes of the 2 hour radio show, Morning Ireland, devoted to those 650,000 dead Iraqis consisted of an interview with John Simpson, the Foreign Affairs Editor for the BBC. A seemingly poorly chosen candidate for discussion of mortality studies given he appeared not to understand the results. He stated, “[there is a] huge variety in the possibilities of what it might be [the actual figure for mortality in Iraq] from about 450,000 to 700,000.”

From the report:

“In the news media coverage of the 2004 survey report, much was made of the wide confidence intervals, which is a statistical technique that was frequently misunderstood. With the much larger sample of the 2006 survey, the confidence intervals are narrowed significantly. For the single most important category—the total number of deaths by violence during the war—the confidence interval ranges from 426,369 to 793,663. That means that we are 95 % certain that the correct number is between those two, and 601,027, is the statistically most probable number. The likelihood that another number is the correct number decreases very rapidly as one moves up or down from the figure of 601,027.” [25]

“An additional 53,000 deaths due to non-violent causes were estimated to have occurred above the pre-invasion mortality rate, most of them in recent months, suggesting a worsening of health status and access to health care.” [Ibid]

The remainder of Mr. Simpson’s contribution was similarly weak. He said the figure is ‘enormous, but uncheckable’ and again ‘pretty uncheckable’, leaving us in no doubt as to his position on the subject. The RTE presenter* joined the chorus, ‘[it is] impossible to go around and check’.

Les Roberts, one of the study’s lead authors, pre-empted this form of criticism that same morning in an article by Andrew Buncombe and Ben Russell in the UK Independent, “Let’s have these people tell us what we have done wrong and what the true numbers are. Our study is pretty easy to verify. If they go to a graveyard in a small village and ask how many people are being put in the ground….” [10]

Seven days later, this extensive coverage was expanded in a Prime Time [19/10/06] [21] discussion between Mark Little and James Hider of The Times:

Mark Little: “Can you give us any objective assessment of just how many civilian casualties there have been in Iraq so far?”

James Hider: “Well that’s very difficult to say. There’s vastly differing numbers coming out. One organisation Iraq Body Count has put the number at 50,000, that seems quite a realistic if conservative amount. There was a report recently in the Lancet which was more or less an estimate based on random sampling which said up to 650,000 Iraqis may have died in the last three years. Certainly we’re seeing huge numbers of people being killed.”

Even in this passing reference the dominant media’s typical approach to reporting ‘contentious’ figures is apparent. Firstly, a lower estimate is required to give the Lancet an outlandish appearance, therefore Iraq Body Count is offered as the ‘realistic’ figure for civilian casualties. Yet no clarifiers or brief description of their methodology is required; no doubt because the smaller the figure, the smaller the contention. Consequently, important details are omitted, such as the fact IBC’s figures include only violent deaths reported in the “predominantly Western” media. [22]

UK based media monitoring organisation Media Lens noted in January 2006:

“On the rare occasions when the issue of civilian casualties is discussed in the mainstream media three words are invariably mentioned: Iraq Body Count (IBC).” [23]

Yet IBC admit their figures “can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.” [24] This raises serious questions about comments such as this from Rupert Cornwell of the Independent in August 2005, nearly a full year after the first Lancet study was published, “[IBC is] regarded as the most authoritative independent source on Iraqi casualties.” [23]

RTE transmit approximately 5 hours of news broadcasting through it’s television and radio media everyday, this is also supplemented through it’s substantial web presence. It is now over three months since this updated estimate was published, and this 4.5 minute interview on a morning radio show and one fleeting glance during a Prime Time discussion represents RTE’s ‘extensive’ coverage of those 650,000 deaths**.

The contentious and the uncontentious

An RTE report on the 17 October last, ‘Change to US strategy in Iraq is recommended’, read as if the study have never taken place. It read: “tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.” I emailed the RTE Online Editor, Bree Treacy, to suggest an alternative phrase: “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.” [18] [Email to RTE’s online Editor, 17/10/06]

RTE’s Online Editor, Bree Treacy responded:

Dear David

Thanks for your mail and your interest in the site. The section you referred to is re-edited copy from Reuters. There is contention about the number of civilian casualties in Iraq but we strive to be accurate with our News coverage and ‘tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed’ is accurate.

Thanks again for your interest.

Bree Treacy [Email, 18/10/06]

I replied:

Dear Ms. Treacy,

Thank you for responding.

However, I don’t see how the fact the text was copied from a Reuters piece is relevant to the issue. Contrary to your contention, there is no reasonable or scientific refutation of the study’s findings. The ‘contention’ you referred to is, as you are no doubt aware, politically motivated and should have no bearing on RTE’s responsibility to report the facts to the best of their ability. Also contrary to your assertion, the phrase ‘tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed’ is about as accurate as writing post 9/11, “tens of Americans have been killed.” The latter would never appear in a respectable newspaper and neither should the former.

I remain hopeful that you will address this inaccuracy.

Yours sincerely, [Email, 18/10/06]

Ironically, RTE has seen fit to report other figures compiled using essentially the same methods, and conducted by the same lead author in other less ‘controversial’ war torn regions, without any mention of ‘contention’:

“Congo’s elections, the first free elections in the former Belgian colony for more than 40 years, will hopefully put an end to Africa’s bloodiest conflict, a civil war that has killed 4 million people since 1998.” [RTE 2006] [11]

“The former Zaire is struggling to recover from a wider five-year war that at one stage sucked in six neighbouring countries and, according to an international aid agency, has killed up to four million people.” [RTE 2005] [14]

“around 4 million people have died from violence and disease in the Congo over the past five years.” [RTE 2003] [12]

“It is part of a wider war held responsible for millions of deaths in Africa’s third biggest country over the past five years.” [RTE 2003] [13]

“An estimated three million people, including many civilians, have been killed.” [RTE 2003] [15]

Media Lens reported in September 2005 with regards to the first Iraq study:

“Les Roberts says, the reaction could not have been more different [to the Congo study]: “Tony Blair and Colin Powell quoted those results time and time again without any question as to the precision or validity.”” [16]

The media’s abject failure to highlight this obvious and yet extraordinary disparity signifies yet another home-run for the ‘local highschool team’.

A compromised medium

Professor Noam Chomsky gave a lecture in January of last year at University College Dublin, [Democracy Promotion: Reflections on Intellectuals and the State] I asked him:

“To what extent is the corporate media; The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Irish Independent etc complicit in Iraq’s illegal war, as a result of their inaccurate portrayal of the case for war and the resulting conflict?”

His response was:

“The US press, and I don’t think its different elsewhere. In fact the continent is often worse; German press, French press. The war in Iraq is described in the manner that some highschool newspaper would describe the local sports team. The framework of discussion is always ‘how well are we doing?’, ‘did the coach make a mistake?’, ‘should he have substituted another player?’, ‘can we do better next time?’

I have virtually never seen a departure from that framework in the Western press. It’s the way most totalitarian states describe their own atrocities. Within that framework you do get some criticism, but the framework itself is so totally distorted that you just can’t comment on it. And it’s true in case after case…The framework of discussion is so skewed, that even extremely good reporting, and it does exist, is within a framework that is imposing serious mis-impressions.” [17]

As media consumers we need not concern ourselves too much with the crimes of the ‘visiting teams’, such as despots Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong-il. The dominant media has proved itself reasonably proficient in recalling their bad deeds (at times even exaggerating them). It is the crimes of our team and those of our allies that we must concern ourselves with. We must expose these crimes if we are to challenge those that seek to usurp democracy from the democratic.

It is argued that figures on the scale posed by the Lancet study are not necessary to brand the invasion of Iraq a tragedy. [19] [20] Though we would argue that, as allies of the criminals responsible, we should be concerned with the scale of this ‘supreme international crime’, and leave pity to those who have done all they can to end complicity in mass murder.

Suggested Action

Please write to RTE to ask why they continue to neglect those deaths which compromise Ireland’s neutrality and the world’s security.

RTE complaints complaints@rte.ie

Michael Good, RTE News Editor Michael.Good@rte.ie

Bree Treacy, RTE Online News Editor Bree.Treacy@rte.ie

Prime Time prime.time@rte.ie

MediaBite supports an open and constructive debate with the media and individual journalists, please ensure all correspondence is polite. Please copy all emails to editors@mediabite.org.

* Both Richard Downes and Cathal MacCoille present Morning Ireland.

** This is based on both RTE’s response to my questions and an extensive search of RTE’s website archive. It is not a full proof way of accounting for every possible mention of these figures due to the numerable possibilities in language variation. As recently as 31/12/06 RTE has reported tens, not hundreds, of thousands of deaths. [26] Lara Marlowe of the Irish Times interviewed on Drivetime 2/1/07 about the execution of Saddam Hussein said in passing that “no one expected that … there would be tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis dead.” [27] An RTE online report 11/11/06 suggested the death toll might be between “about 50,000” and “one disputed estimate … [of] 450,000.” [28]

1. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/050306J.shtml
2. http://www.haleakalatimes.com/news/story2320.aspx
3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3661134.stm
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governments’_pre-war_positions_on_

invasion_of_Iraq#Europe_2
5. http://irishantiwar.org/images/mid_section_content/mAKE_sHANNON_A5.pdf
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multinational_force_in_Iraq#Fewer_than_100_soldiers
7. http://www.fiannafail.ie/policy_page.php4?topic=175&id=6405
8. http://www.thelancet.com/webfiles/images/journals/lancet/s0140673606694919.pdf
9. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1012/morningireland.html
10. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article1842559.ece
11. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/0930/print/congo.html
12. http://www.rte.ie/news/2003/0609/congo.html
13. http://www.rte.ie/news/2003/1007/drcongo.html
14 .http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0225/congo.html
15. http://www.rte.ie/news/2003 /0624/congo.html
16. http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/Content/2005-09/27edwards.cfm
17. http://www.ucd.ie/news/jan06/011306_chomsky.htm
18. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1017/ iraq.html
19. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/press/pr14.php
20. http://www.village.ie/world/middle_east/iraq_body_count_disputes

650,000_death_toll_estimate/
21. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1019/primetime.html
22. http://reports.iraqbodycount.org/a_dossier_of_civilian_casualties_2003-2005.pdf
23. http://www.medialens.org/alerts/06/060125_paved_with_good.php
24. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6045112.stm
25. http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/stuff_for_blog/iraq1.pdf
26. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1231/iraq.html
27. http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0102/drivetime.html
28. http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/1111/iraq.html