“Nothing is free.”  Remember that golden nugget of advice given back when you were young?  Of course you do, it made you wary of deals that seemed just perfect and produced nothing but unicorns and butterflies and the separation of you and your money once you made the agreement with the con artist in question.  The idea that nothing is free needs to be extended further because the deception continues on a much larger trans-national scale.  Citizens of democratic counties are bombarded with messages about the “free market” and the “free press” two terms that will not lose their scare quotes until they actually start representing what the words purportedly mean.

We’ll confine analysis to the “free press’ part of the equation, as Media Lens focuses on the unseemly bias toward the dominant power structures by the media in society today.  Objectivity? Fairness and Accuracy in reporting?  You will not find it inside the mainstream media of western countries, as shocking a revelation that is for many.  It is tempting here to go down the left-wing/right-wing bias arguement black hole at the juncture, but really the left versus right debate is but a mere flickering candle compared to the supernova-like malfeasance of the courtier “free press”  fawning to whomever hold the levers of power in society.

The article we’ll be looking at appears on the Media Lens website.  Significant sections will be reviewed here, but to see the work in full: “The Golden Rule of State Violence: Terrorism is What they Do; Counterterrorism is What We do.”

“A defining feature of state power is rhetoric about a ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ role in world affairs. Errors of judgement, blunders and tactical mistakes can, and do, occur. But the motivation underlying state policy is fundamentally benign. Reporters and commentators, trained or selected for professional ‘reliability’, tend to slavishly adopt this prevailing ideology.

Thus, on the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an editorial in the Independent on Sunday gushed about ‘Bush’s desire to spread democracy as an end in itself’. It was, the paper said, ‘the germ of a noble idea’. There was  ‘an idealism’ about Blair’s support for Bush. The drawback was that the execution of the righteous vision had been ‘naive, arrogant and morally compromised by torture and the abrogation of the very values for which the US-led coalition claimed to fight’.”

Who in their right mind actually thought that we were “spreading democracy” in Iraq?  But I guess whatever it takes to sell the idea of war to enough people to make it popular.

“Note that the invasion-occupation of Iraq is described as a ‘mistake’, not the supreme international crime as judged by the standards of the post-WW2 Nuremberg Trials.”

We come to point very early in the article is really damning and says so much about the pablum we are fed by the media.  The Nuremberg Trials established rules for the world to follow after WW2 in attempt to head off another costly world catastrophe, they were to be followed not only by the losers of the war but by the victors as well.  We broke these conventions, actually we ripped them up used them as toilet paper, and an actual “free press” would brought this and kept this fact in the world’s eye for all to see.  But instead, only reputations are tarnished:

“The horrendous murder of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi civilian, by British soldiers ‘was a reminder of how much the Iraq war tarnished Britain’s reputation abroad.’ The implication is that Britain’s ‘reputation’ is fundamentally decent, only occasionally ‘tarnished’.

The paper concludes:

‘there is a hope that Britain, with a more realistic understanding of its capability, could regain some of the ethical role in the world that it lost after its mistaken response to 9/11.’

In the wake of all that has happened in the past ten years (and more), it takes a committed form of self-deception to cling to the shredded image of Britain’s ‘ethical role in the world’.”

Ah, self-deception, we all practice it to a certain extent.  When left unchecked on the level of societies and countries though, it becomes a malevolent, destructive force.

“In several powerful books, based on careful research of formerly secret UK government documents, historian Mark Curtis has laid bare the motivations and realpolitik of British foreign policy. Ethics and morality are notable in these internal state records by their absence. Curtis observes:

‘a basic principle is that humanitarian concerns do not figure at all in the rationale behind British foreign policy. In the thousands of government files I have looked through for this and other books, I have barely seen any reference to human rights at all. Where such concerns are evoked, they are only for public-relations purposes.’ (Unpeople, Vintage, 2004, p. 3)”

Realpolitik – The stuff under the hood that average Joe Citizen is not meant to understand or even know about.  The problem is that nations are supposed to act on the “will of the people” as actions undertaken by the state, in theory, represent the wishes of the people of the state.  Of course, telling people the truth about one’s imperial machinations will not garner much support, hence plan B – Lie, and lie often.

“But the myth of benevolence must be maintained, even to the extent of active deception of the British public:

 ‘in every case I have ever researched on past British foreign policy, the files show that ministers and officials have systematically misled the public. The culture of lying to and misleading the electorate is deeply embedded in British policy-making.’ (Ibid., p. 3)”

You see, the problem is systematic, and streches deep down into the hallowed halls of the democratic spirit.  You the Public are untrustworthy because, if given the chance to speak on important issues, you will not choose the option that benefits those who are in power; also you will probably bring a moral empathic calculus into play (I know I would not want to be bombed and my livelihood destroyed; I would not want to inflict that on others).  Therefore, public input and knowledge of what the state is doing must be severely curtailed and shaped into the appropriate messages – cue the obsequious media.

“In his political work, Noam Chomsky often cites a definition of terrorism from a US army manual as:

‘the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.’

By this definition, Chomsky points out, the major source of international terrorism is the West, notably the United States.

As for Britain, Curtis says:

‘The idea that Britain is a supporter of terrorism is an oxymoron in the mainstream political culture, as ridiculous as suggesting that Tony Blair should be indicted for war crimes. Yet state-sponsored terrorism is by far the most serious category of terrorism in the world today, responsible for far more deaths in many more countries than the “private” terrorism of groups like Al Qaida. Many of the worst offenders are key British allies. Indeed, by any rational consideration, Britain is one of the leading supporters of terrorism in the world today. But this simple fact is never mentioned in the mainstream political culture.’ (Web of Deceit, Vintage, 2003, p. 94)”

And herein lies the problem, how do you write a news article that goes against the institutional truths of a society.  Let me be clear, institutional truth claims do not necessarily have any basis in objective reality.  They are the touchstones of the dominant cultural narrative that cannot be challenged in the mainstream media.

It would be self-refuting to do so, if for instance the BBC decided to go after Tony Blair and come up with evidence of war-crimes on his behalf, they too would also have be brought up on similar charges because of their complicity with the  whole affair.  So how do you write the truth, when writing the truth means the system you thrive in goes away?

Quite simply you do not – we laugh at the soviet-era Pravda as a blatant state propaganda vehicle, yet we have it so much worse as our media disciplines itself to stay on the state message.  Self-censoring  is a rule based normative western media behaviour.

“One of the golden rules propping up the required self-deception of the West’s fundamental goodness is that whenever violence is inflicted by the state it is only in retaliation for violence perpetrated by our enemies. This is straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Edward Herman explains:

‘[An] important doublespeak device for rationalizing one’s own and friendly terrorism is to describe it as “retaliation” and “counter-terror.” The trick here is arbitrary word assignment: that is, any violence engaged in by ourselves or our friends is ipso facto retaliation and counter-terrorism; whatever the enemy does is terrorism, irrespective of facts.’ (Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda, South End Press, 1992, p. 44)

The notion is so pervasive in news reporting that it is virtually invisible, like the oxygen breathed by the journalist; it is simply taken for granted. Even raising the topic for discussion in mainstream circles is beyond the pale.”

So, what do you do as a citizen in a supposedly democratic country, to get a clue of what your government is doing in your name?  Start with accessing as many media outlets as possible and start seeing the dominant themes of reporting.  Compare coverage, but more importantly, find media sources that are outside of the dominant societal paradigm and see what they have to say about the issues.  Al-Jazeera for Westerners is an eye opening experience I suggest you try it.   Looking at Al-jazeera is certainly not the only solution, but merely a start as then you can see what our ‘official enemies’ are actually saying as opposed what we say they are saying.

Becoming informed and aware of the issues are the first steps will allow you to genuinely participate in the democratic process.