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Us and Them

by William Bowles • Thursday, 29 March, 2007

We are so used to the ruling political class making decisions ‘for us’ that we forget that they exist and act only because we allow them to. We allow it because we think that once elected, our representatives will act in our best interests. And because ‘we elect’ them every so often—itself an illusion produced by the illusion that once elected, they ‘represent’ us—our involvement in the political process ends.

This relationship between ‘us and them’ is essentially a one-way-street with the ruling political class invariably telling us that whatever they do, they do in ‘our’ interests or the ‘interests of the state’, the assumption being that the state’s interests and our own are the same. They call it a social contract, or at least they used to, before Thatcher did her best to tear it up with her “There’s no such thing as society” bullshit.

Without any ‘help’ from the Left, the state and the people have parted ways; increasingly, the state now functions as a direct extension of the business class, even attempting (and failing in embarrassing and extremely costly ways) to run as a business, albeit paid for with our taxes.

Having removed the bothersome impediment of the people, the state could, it thought, get on with the business of business. This is what the Blair agenda is all about: finishing off what Thatcher initiated.

As the possibility of an even wider war being unleashed in West Asia by the mad dogs of capital, I struggle to find the right words to describe the process being unfolded (be)for us by the media/state machine.

One thing is certain, that unless we act collectively to stop them, they will continue to operate as if we don’t exist. Now whether, as the Russian intel say it, there will be an attack by the US against Iran on 6 April, or not, the fact that the central tenet of capitalist democracy, that it represents all of us, simply doesn’t exist. Even the most cursory examination of voting proves this to be the case, with the Labour government having less than 30% of the ‘popular’ vote. And with voter participation declining with each successive general election, even the ‘popular’ vote is not what it seems.

Without a popular mandate it explains why we invariably have to be pursuaded to ‘support’ our government’s actions through the only outlet we have, one that exists in the ‘Looking-glass’ world of the media itself, whereby ‘opinion polls’ of various sorts, are used to reinforce an interpretation of the world that has already been created by the ‘news’ in the first place.

But it’s not only ‘opinion’ polls, it’s the very nature of ‘news’ coverage itself. The way it works is so obvious it verges on the ludicrous, yet it works as the reams of analysis of state/corporate news coverage reveals.

The alleged nuclear threat posed by Iran is a case in point with all the news coverage starting from the position that Iran is lying or covering up something, thus the central thrust of the ‘news’ operates from the position that the Iranian government has to ‘prove’ that it isn’t developing nuclear weapons.

Firstly, virtually all news of Iran’s ‘intentions’ originates with the government or other state-sponsored structures such as the IAEA, it is not necessary to state categorically that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons, merely to repeat ad infinitum that it could be and secondly, as the accompanying propaganda continually asserts, that the Iranian government lies, then denials by the Iranians are worthless, thus it’s not necessary to prove that Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons, merely that because the Iranian government lies, everything it says is worthless.

The third component of the propaganda process is the ‘threat’ posed by the Iranians, but what is it based upon? Iran has never attacked any other country, nor threatened to do so. The only ‘evidence’ are the statements made about Israel, which by themselves mean nothing. There is no accompanying evidence that Iran is planning to attack Israel or any other country.

The fourth element is the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, uranium enrichment, which as a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty it has every right to do, just as other countries, also signatories to the NPT, also carry out.

Thus we have four central elements to the major media’s propaganda war:

  1. All major media coverage of Iran originates initially from government sources (which, because it’s the state, ‘our’ state making them, are assumed by the media to be truthful);
  2. The Iranian government lies, thus it cannot be trusted (again, this assertion originates with the state);
  3. Iran is a threat to its neighbours, or more precisely to Israel, based on the statements of a single individual;
  4. Iran refuses to halt its legal right to pursue its uranium enrichment programme, acknowledged on occasion but because it’s already been ‘proved’ that the Iranian government lies, then it’s using the cover of being a signatory to the NPT to develop nuclear weapons.

Once these processes are in play all that is necessary is to maintain a daily flow of ‘news’ stories that reinforce the four elements and how they interact. Iran is in the unenviable position of trying to prove a negative as it’s been ‘proved’ that it lies, so short of dismantling its nuclear programme, it cannot possibly do.

Thus the ‘news’ becomes a self-referential system, a closed world if you like, that creates a world view closely aligned to that of the ruling political class. And it’s the only one most of us ever see, at least on a continuous basis, 24/7.

The problem of course is that ‘our’ government is not trusted. It lied to us about Iraq, inventing reasons to justify the invasion and indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find any topic that the government is truthful about, from our National Health Service to our education system.

The role that the major media play is therefore crucial, as any trust that existed between the people and the state has all but disintegrated, so it’s up to the media to convince us that government policies are not only correct but in our interests to support.

This can only be done by excluding any views that run contrary to the prevailing interpretation of events. An interesting example of this is the arrest of the 15 British Navy personnel last week. Predictably, the British government asserted that its forces were in international waters and predictably too, the Iranian government insisted that they were arrested on Iranian territory.

Now as it’s already been established that the Iranian government lies, the British government had little or no convincing to do, it relied on the media to disseminate its position and do it without fear of contradiction.

But as the days passed, it became clear that all was not as it seems firstly because the area in question is ‘contested terrain’, with the Iranian government stating that its 12-mile territorial waters begin at the end of its land which just happens to be mud flats that are daily covered as the tide ebbs and flows. So the first question to be asked is exactly where does Iran’s 12-mile territorial limit begin?

Moreover, the area in question is not covered by any international treaty (which is not what initial media reports were stating, in fact the BBC was flatly stating that the area where the Navy personnel were detained was covered by a 1975 treaty between Iran and Iraq). Again, it was merely aping government handouts rather than doing its own independent investigation.

“Releasing the co-ordinates wouldn’t necessarily help us as there is no formally agreed boundary … It isn’t clear the incident happened off the water of Shatt al-Arab. We are talking about territorial waters beyond.… Iran and Iraq have never agreed a boundary of their territorial waters. There is no legal definition of the boundary beyond the Shatt al-Arab.” — Richard Schofield, an expert in international boundaries at King’s College London

Then we had the embarrassing statement by a high-ranking Iraqi government official that questioned the British government’s statement about the location of its personnel, forcing it to agree to make public GPS data (not that it proves anything one way or the other as Schofield states).

“The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

“But there are two colossal problems.

A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.

B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.

None of which changes the fact that the Iranians, having made their point, should have handed back the captives immediately. I pray they do so before this thing spirals out of control. But by producing a fake map of the Iran/Iraq boundary, notably unfavourable to Iran, we can only harden the Iranian position.”— ‘Fake Maritime Boundaries’, Craig Murray, March 28, 2007

Several things should make us suspicious of British government statements. Firstly, there’s the timing, just before the crucial UNSEC vote on sanctions. Second, there’s the actual location of the alleged intrusion which according to a report on BBC 2 late night news programme on the 27 March, was not one normally frequented by the British navy (perhaps precisely because the actual territorial limit was contested or not established?).

When placed in the larger context of the threats being made by the US (which now has the largest assembly of Naval forces in the Persian Gulf since just before the invasion of Iraq), it has all the hallmarks of a provocation designed to increase tensions.

Tony Blair has now upped the ante by making unspecified threats stating that unless those arrested are released now, the situation would “enter a different phase”.

“I expect [Blair] means that we shall have to step up criticism and generate additional international pressures on Iran” — Sir Richard Dalton, former ambassador to Iran

Underlying all the media coverage of the incident is the assumption that whatever the British government says is, per se, the truth. Nothing must be allowed to question this fundamental assumption, yet the overwhelming evidence available to us is that the British government lies and has done so for many decades. Thus surely the media’s role should be one of skepticism when it comes to government statements, yet it invariably accepts government media statements at face value (even when contrary information is freely available).

Built into the relationship between the state and the media—which although allowing a degree of questioning—is an unstated symbiosis that reinforces and importantly, reinterprets for public consumption, basic government policy positions. As many have pointed out, this is shown to be true, for example over the reasons given for the invasion of Iraq which some of the mainstream media finally conceded may have been a “mistake” but even here, you will not find one instance where the MSM has accused the government of lying.

Thus although conceding that invading Iraq might have been a ‘mistake’, the fundamental honesty of the government is not questioned, for to do so would open a hornet’s nest, something that is simply not permissible, for it would reveal just how fragile is the relationship between the state and the people, for it depends on the majority of us if not believing in, then at least acceding to government actions.

Were the media to actually do the job it claims to do then there could be no basis for any kind of ‘contract’ between the state and its citizens as any investigation of the government’s actions would reveal duplicity and lies on a grand scale. The mass media’s role therefore is revealed as one which props up and maintains the status quo, for although the state does not exclusively represent big business (of which the mass media is an integral part), both the state and the media ultimately defend the interests of capital especially when it is threatened.

As I have pointed out before, when USUK invaded Iraq in 2003, any attempt at linking oil to the invasion was immediately dismissed as the ravings of “conspiracists” by the MSM including the ‘liberal’ media. You have to ask yourself why such a fundamental aspect of Western foreign policy for the past one hundred years should get such short shrift? Even defenders of Western capitalism admit to its centrality albeit using a different description, calling it “energy security” or more vaguely, the “national interest”.

The reason is obvious because to admit that oil was a major determinant of the US/UK invasion of Iraq would undermine the carefully constructed story woven around not only around the invasion but UK and US foreign policies in general.

It is for these reasons I believe that complaining to the BBC or the corporate media is a fruitless endeavour, for there is no way they will admit to their real role in society, it’s simply not permissible. We need only look at the state’s reaction to the Gilligan/Kelly fiasco, a single chink in the armor of propaganda and all hell broke lose! The top managers of the BBC were fired almost instantaneously and henceforth news coverage of the invasion toed the government line, almost without exception. The transformation was startling and occurred literally overnight. New ‘news’ editors were brought in and no doubt the peons had the ‘law’ laid down to them about what they could and could not say.

The solution? Seek and ye shall find as they say. Finding out what’s really going on is an active process, it means developing one’s critical abilities. Question everything. The real story’s out there, it has been well documented and analysed up the yazoo, so we don’t need the BBC or the corporate press to tell us what’s going on in the world or why.


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