An Interview with Raymond Deane
Continuing our interview with Raymond Deane – former Chairperson of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
(RD – Raymond Deane, MC – Miriam Cotton, MediaBite)
MC: What do you think about the Irish media coverage of the Palestinian issue – what or who are offering either the best or the worst of it and would you see Indymedia as a good source – it’s undeniably a great phenomenon – vital for putting facts and information in the public domain which otherwise might not see the light of day?
RD: In this country it’s easy to single out the worst: Independent Newspapers. Some people say that we in the IPSC are forever targeting the Irish Times and RTE, and ignoring the real mass media, and there’s some truth in this. My rationale, perhaps self-seeking because I simply don’t want to read the Irish Independent or the Sunday Independent, is that everybody knows that these are just populist right-wing rags, everybody knows that people like Eoghan Harris and Kevin Myers and Ruth Dudley Edwards are contrarian crackpots. These papers don’t claim to be newspapers of record whereas the Irish Times does make that claim, and it is the one that is generally cited if people outside Ireland are ever bothered to cite the Irish media. From that point of view, it is important therefore to deal in a separate way and in a concentrated way with the Irish Times.
The best paper in this country as far as Palestine is concerned – and on many other issues – is actually Phoenix. Recently it was Phoenix that broke the story about the Department of Foreign Affairs’ support for India’s nuclear trading – which is completely contrary to the non-proliferation treaty. Normally Fianna Fail boasts about the fact that Frank Aiken was supposedly involved in setting up the NPT. Now Phoenix exposed the fact that Ireland had backed India’s nuclear trading under pressure from the United States. I waited for this to appear in the other papers and it didn’t. I then copied out the article from Phoenix and posted it on Indymedia without asking a by-your-leave and immediately after that, and I don’t know whether it was linked, Michael D. Higgins raised it in the Dail, and immediately after that it appeared in The Irish Times. So the original source for that story was Phoenix. It is Phoenix who again and again put out things about Palestine and about Irish poets going to read in Jerusalem and so forth – stuff that other papers won’t touch – and sometimes some of these things go into the mainstream media. Phoenix is supposed to be a satirical magazine, it’s a small circulation magazine, and hence isn’t taken very seriously – regrettably.
The only supposedly ‘alternative’ non-satirical paper is Village, and it has been disastrous for Palestine. If you even look at that map of the world that they publish, Israel is there but Palestine is not and that symbolizes their whole coverage. They like to reprint articles from the New York Times – usually covering the spectrum you would call liberal Zionist. That is no way of providing independent coverage of the Middle East.
MC: Well, certain people at Village such as Harry Browne and Chekov Feeney would be sympathetic to the Palestinian situation.
RD: Yes, but they didn’t write it as a rule. The other paper of course was Daily Ireland which didn’t have a very long life-span. That took a position – it ignored the nonsense about ‘balance’ which is the great alibi that journalists like to use. But how can you have balance in a situation where there is an imbalance between the oppressor and the oppressed, the rapist and the rape victim? I suppose Daily Ireland had a republican agenda as well and the middle classes here in the Republic don’t like that, so it went by the board.
The Sunday Business Post, to be fair, sometimes takes a relatively independent stand on the issue. Tom McGurk doesn’t let himself be dictated to. RTE, on the other hand, is a complete and unmitigated disaster. The most spectacular example of that at present is its resolute non-coverage of the ships going to Gaza [at November 2008]. The first two ships went to Gaza in August – they were flying the Irish flag alongside the Canadian and Palestinian flags, there were a couple of Irish crew members. It wasn’t reported by RTE. The next group went out in October and included Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead McGuire. Caoimhe Butterly was on it and there were a couple of Irish crew members again – and again the Irish flag qas flying – but RTE didn’t report on it. Now one of our IPSC people contacted ‘Morning Ireland’ [RTE radio programme] and got onto Shane McElhatton, who said he ‘wasn’t aware of the story’, a terrible admission if true. My colleague gave McElhatton the contact details for Mairead McGuire and Caoimhe, and he said “we will probably have some report on this in the next few days” – but they never reported on it. And the third ship, The Dignity, still hasn’t been reported on either – so what is this all about? [There has since been widespread reporting of this ship outside Ireland as a consequence of it having been rammed deliberately by Israeli boats in international waters on its way to Gaza. At the time of going to press, so far as we are awar, RTE have still not covered the story.] The Irish Times certainly reported it – Jansen reported it. This story has everything – it has adventure on the high seas, it has derring-do and it has a massive Irish connection including an Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner – and RTE ignores it. So what is going on? Is it that they think Foreign Affairs wouldn’t really like them to make much out of this because it goes against the Irish government’s position, which is that they must participate in the EU embargo on Gaza even though it is illegal under international law? Does RTE have direct instructions from the Department of Foreign Affairs, or are they just terrified of the belt of the crozier, so-to-speak, from the Israeli Embassy? Because I know they are terrified of this – every single time that the Israeli Embassy hear something that they don’t like 100% – they come down like a ton of bricks. Naturally a courageous and responsible journalist would tell them where to get off.
A few years ago, in 2005, Pat Kenny had a fellow on the Late Late Show called Walid Shoebat – a supposed reformed Palestinian terrorist who has become a US Christian Zionist and who tours around the world saying that the Palestinians are a lot of murderers and Islam is basically a religion of murderers. Shoebat is a very sinister customer. On a previous visit to Ireland he was on Gerry Ryan’s RTE radio programme. The interview ended up on Shoebat’s website which comes with an endorsement from Frank Gaffney – an Irish-American who was one of the original neocons and whose politics are so right-wing they’re outside the spectrum. And there was Gerry Ryan giving this guy a complete free run about anything he liked. And then Shoebat turns up on the Late Late Show and comes out with a stream of appallingly Islamophobic stuff. At one point he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say next and Kenny prompted him by saying ‘ Isn’t it true that one and a half billion Muslims want to destroy western civilization?’ to which Shoebat replied ‘Yes, for sure, for sure – and you know when they go to heaven they are told they are allowed 300,000 virgins a day.’ And Kenny says ‘That’s an awful lot of virgins, ha ha ha’. When I tried to get some Muslims I know to protest about this guff, they said ‘we can’t do this’ because they are so cowed they keep their heads down and don’t open their mouths. So I and several other people complained to the Broadcasting Commission – they were all turned down on the most spurious grounds. Indeed I get the impression – and this is a whole new issue – that the Broadcasting Complaints Commission is merely an institution for whitewashing RTE. Apparently Kenny’s role is not to argue with his guests, but to allow them to say what they want to say and essentially to give them the space to say it. But my point was that Kenny had actually put words into this guy’s mouth and was seen to be agreeing with the things that he was saying which were appalling and were presented on this programme without any counter position. If it was a Palestinian sitting up there saying things like “Jews are all just murderers and they like to drink the blood of Christian children”, can you imagine the outcry? It just couldn’t happen in the first place.
Then you have people like Richard Crowley who is always touted as this great expert, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. OK, he was over there at a time when terrible things were happening, but again he was very, very careful to be ‘balanced’ and always to talk of ‘the suffering of both sides’, the standard rhetoric of those who put oppressor and oppressed on the same level. The same with the book that he published then (‘No Man’s Land: Dispatches from the Middle East”) about the occupation. Again there were some good things in it depending on who he was talking to, but it was milk and water in relation to the presentation of the context – it was very, very cautious. Here you had somebody who was obviously very concerned about his future career and about not compromising his future progress and therefore seemed to regard it as impossible to take a strong position – which is actually the truthful position. That’s why the truth simply won’t come out. It just can’t come out. For a journalist to express a strong pro-Palestinian opinion, or even to tell the full truth about what is happening in Palestine, would be professional suicide. This wasn’t the case in relation to South Africa, or East Timor, or Nicaragua, or wherever.
When did you ever see a programme about the Middle East broadcast on RTE – did you ever see John Pilger’s programme ‘Palestine is still the issue’ – did RTE take that? Not at all. RTE is as much a state-controlled TV station as are its equivalents in Egypt or North Korea.
MC: Pilger is more or less marginalized in the UK media now – the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent won’t really touch him anymore but he wouldn’t stand a chance of being included in Irish mainstream media, I think. [An interview with John Pilger was subsequently broadcast on RTE Radio One on New Years Day, 2009. It was Pilger’s first appearance in Irish mainstream media for a long time and, notably, courtesy of Tom McGurk, himself a relatively outspoken journalist. We still contend that Pilger, one of the world’s most experienced journalists – and one who is particularly well informed on the Palestinian issue – is unlikely to be interviewed by the Irish Times, RTE News, The Irish Independent or The Irish Examiner].
RD: Robert Fisk is held in some respect here.
MC: Yes but he only goes so far? He has some blind spots.
RD: He has a blind spot in relation to Lebanon where he lives, so he knows more about it than I do, but to me his near worship of the former Prime Minister Hariri completely blinds him to a lot of the reality of what is going on around there. The way he goes along with the view that Syria is behind everything terrible that happens is disappointing. He is also obsessed with “balance” so that if he has to say something terrible about Israel he will always also say something terrible about the Palestinians. I remember he wrote things about Arafat that I found quite extraordinary. I remember one article which was mainly about what an ugly-looking man he was and what a horrible beard he had. And then he wrote an article about Edward Said saying ‘why does Edward Said stick a ‘W’ in the middle of his name – he is just being pretentious and trying to be like these other American professors who call themselves R.P. Blackmur’ or whatever. The fact of the matter is that that is the Arab custom. The ‘W’ in Said’s name is the initial of his father’s first name – that’s the way Palestinian males write their name. What was this about? It was as if Fisk was saying ‘Look, I can be gratuitously nasty about Palestinians too, so you’ve got to believe me when I’m being nasty about Israelis.’
Newstalk 106 – which I haven’t listened to in years – I think it probably takes the issue more seriously than any other station in the country. Today FM I was on a couple of times. I was invited on Matt Cooper’s programme to debate with an Israeli Brigadier General who was talking on the phone from the United States. If the item was five minutes long, I reckon I was allowed to speak for about one minute and the Brigadier General was given four minutes.
So where does this all leave us? Are there any independent media at all in this country? We are really dependent on the internet. I’m very wary of Indymedia, although it’s probably essential, but there is Electronic Intifada, and there’s Countercurrents which is well worth looking at, as well as the better-known Counterpunch. I think Countercurrents comes from India. There is Al Ahram Weekly which has an English edition with some very good articles, even though it’s based in Egypt where censorship is rife. And of course there is Ha’aretz, the paper of liberal Zionism, which has to be read with great care.
So it’s pretty sad really, all in all, where the Irish media are concerned. The main things are this phoney concept of balance and the fact that the language used presents, in effect, an Israeli perspective – and the fact that there is so little coverage anyway, and that what there is, is completely devoid of historical and political context. These problems aren’t unique to Ireland, however. Even the Guardian – the only Anglophone paper I buy – is really going downhill – it has very little to say about Palestine – even during the US elections it was full of all this triumphalism about Obama – even Jonathan Steele who is usually quite good had an article saying that the three main dossiers Obama would have to deal with would be Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Sorry, is there not something missing there?
MC: This interview originally took place before the recent assault in Gaza. In the light of what is now happening, is there anything you would add to what we have discussed already?
RD: It’s interesting that, suddenly, Palestine is all over the media, although a couple of weeks ago you couldn’t get newspapers or television to touch it with a barge-pole. Clearly when something spectacular happens, when many, many people are being killed, the whole thing becomes ‘newsworthy’, a concept that seems more horrible the more you analyse it. This lurid, lustful sudden interest renders all the more obscene the usual lack of interest. Of course none of the observations above are invalidated by this coverage, because there is still no context provided worth speaking of, Israeli interpretations are still being presented without warning or precaution, and the kinds of horrific images that are being seen every hour of every day throughout the rest of the world – i.e., the ‘non-West’ – are still being withheld from us, as long as they are images of the Palestinian dead and maimed and not Israeli. Islamic opinion is not being sought, although we hear again and again that Hamas are ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and hence – with varying degrees of explicitness – beyond the pale. Furthermore, Israel, for all its pretensions to liberalism, is strictly barring journalists from the scene of the crime; we are seeing and reading report after report from journalists in Jerusalem, who all too rarely comment on the fact that they are being prevented – perhaps to their own relief – from doing their job properly. Robert Fisk has pointed out that at least this means that for once the Palestinian narrative is omnipresent, given that Palestinian journalists are the only ones on the ground in Gaza. However, he rather dubiously comments that this means there are no westerners on hand to question Hamas’s twisted version of events – surely the fact that Israel’s twisted version continues to dominate is equally relevant.
The Guardian appears to have come out fairly strongly against Israel, but the Irish Times is still hedging its bets and RTE is being RTE – on Saturday 3d December, one week after the slaughter started, RTE Radio 1’s World Report programme still managed not to feature a single item on Gaza. As I write, the Israeli Ambassador is peddling his falsehoods on ‘Morning Ireland’. So it’s business as usual, and no doubt when this atrocity has receded into the past, it’ll be silence as usual in all the media.
Deane’s last observation echoes another of John Pilger’s in the article referred to in the introduction to this interview:
“”When the truth is replaced by silence,” the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “the silence is a lie.” It may appear that the silence on Gaza is broken. The small cocoons of murdered children, wrapped in green, together with boxes containing their dismembered parents, and the cries of grief and rage of everyone in that death camp by the sea can be witnessed on al-Jazeera and YouTube, even glimpsed on the BBC. But Russia’s incorrigible poet was not referring to the ephemera we call news; he was asking why those who knew the why never spoke it, and so denied it. Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia, this is especially striking. It is they who hold the keys to the great storehouses of knowledge: the historiographies and archives that lead us to the why.”
1. Raymond Deane, biography: http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/authors.php?auid=925
2. John Pilger, article in New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east/2009/01/pilger-israel-gaza-palestine
3. Electronic Intifada http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9409.shtml
4. David Horovitz, former Irish Times Israel correspondent http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Horovitz
5. Gilad Atzmon http://www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/thewanderingwho.html
6. Professor Noam Chomsky http://www.chomsky.info/
7. Ahad Ha’m http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahad_Ha’am
8. Tom McGurk/RTE interview with John Pilger http://www.rte.ie/radio1/mcgurkandcompany/1248678.html
9. Richard Crowley No Man’s Land: Dispatches from the Middle East