"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Tony loves the BBC (probably)

The BBC effort to tell the war in Iraq "like it is":


a letter by a medialens reader:

Dear Mr Clifton

Thank you for referring me to your 'Iraq in Depth' page, which I found most
interesting. The idea of in-depth coverage is very good in itself. However,
while there is greater depth in places, the concerns that prompted my
original enquiry, the lack of balance, were equally troubling in relation to
this section. Some crucial facts were missing that could in my opinion be
described as glaring omissions - I would be very interested to know whether
you agree.

I refer to some of these pages from Iraq in Depth.

1) Falluja not the end of the war
The piece begins with Paul Reynolds' opening statement in bold header:

"Falluja was a necessary, but not a final operation in the plan by the
United States and the interim Iraqi government to establish control over the
whole country."

Paul Woods report on the same day, also on the in depth page:

"We have heard from the Iraqi Red Crescent that in their view, conditions
are catastrophic inside Falluja - no food, no water, no medicines, no

Given the Red Crescent fears that 6000 civilians may have died in Falluja,
and the widely-held and deep concerns of the unreported damage done, it is
very difficult to imagine what Mr Reynolds has in mind in simply saying this
was "necessary".

In general, destroying cities is a war crime and many others were committed
in Falluja, like the cutting off of water, preventing civilians from leaving
a war zone, use of indiscriminate weapons like cluster bombs, use of
disproportionate force.

Rather than simply approve of such acts, a balanced report should surely
refer to at least some of these war crimes and draw comparisons with
previous wars where perpetrators were prosecuted. Would you agree they at
least deserve a mention?

2) Voices from Iraq

The idea of reporting "Voices from Iraq" is a sound one, however it is a
little surprising that six Iraqi women are featured, most of whom say their
financial situation has improved with the occupation.

A study only a month previously by the college of economics at Baghdad
University found that "the unemployment rate in Iraq is 70%":-


The link includes picture of Iraqis demonstrating against widespread

Is it not therefore remarkable that the BBC did not find a woman whose
economic circumstances had worsened, or for that matter, who spoke about
relatives who had died in the invasion or occupation? The snapshot of
opinion appears to be misleading.

3) The Q+A page on the Iraqi elections.
In this page there is a short section entitled "What powers will the
assembly have?"

There is no mention of the fact that the power to determine Iraq's economic
future is not in fact part of the elections.

Even after the elections, the orders of Paul Bremer will remain to control
the economy and will bind future Iraqi governments. Some details are given
below, but surely BBC journalists writing on Iraq 'in depth' are aware of
these orders.

"As of June 14, Bremer had issued 97 legal orders, which are defined by the
U.S. occupation authority as "binding instructions or directives to the
Iraqi people" that will remain in force even after the transfer of political
authority...A senior U.S. official in Iraq noted recently that it would "not
be easy to reverse" the orders."

By all accounts, these orders (which are probably illegal, see below) lock
in sweeping advantages to American firms, ensuring long-term U.S. economic
advantage while guaranteeing few, if any, benefits to the Iraqi people.

"The privatisation programme passes complete ownership and control over Iraq
's economy to foreign (US) corporations. There is no requirement even to
hire Iraqis or to reinvest their money in the Iraqi economy - it can simply
be sent home.

15% caps on corporation and income tax mean that social programmes in Iraq
will be very difficult to fund. Suspension of all tariffs on goods entering
and leaving Iraq mean that cheap foreign consumer products have already
devastated local producers.

Foreign contractors will have local immunity from prosecution. If they kill
someone or cause an environmental disaster, the injured party cannot turn to
the Iraqi legal system. Rather, the charges must be brought to U.S. courts.

Bremer's package of "economic" reforms was described by the Economist as a
"capitalist's dream".

Transformation of an occupied country's laws violates the Hague regulations
of 1907 (ratified by the United States) and the U.S. Army's Law of Land
Warfare. In a leaked memo, the British attorney general, Lord Goldsmith,
warned Prime Minister Tony Blair that "major structural economic reforms
would not be authorized by international law."
(Prof Antonia Juhasz writing in the LA Times)

Discussions about Iraq's 'democracy' are surely meaningless without
acknowledgment of major restrictions on powers the elected assembly will
have, yet Bremer's binding orders are never mentioned. I accept that this
criticism could be levelled at most of the media; however I believe the BBC
has a particular duty at least to try be impartial, due to its charter and
its unique institutional role.

4) Reporting of the use of napalm and white phosphorous, both banned in
close combat under the 1980 UN convention, is not only not mentioned in the
In Depth reports, but apparently absent from BBC coverage altogether, though
both were confirmed by the US military and reported by leading British and
American newspapers, for example see
[the Independent]

Given the volume of generally uncritical coverage given to Saddam's
non-existent WMD, would you agree that this is a glaring ommission from BBC

I am increasingly concerned about the BBCs commitment to impartiality on
Iraq issues. I hope that you can alleviate or rectify some of these
concerns. In any case, thank you once again for taking the time to engage
with your troubled web-browsers, it is much appreciated.

Yours sincerely

Walter Buchanan

and mine:

Dear Mr. Clifton,

In a recent e-mail sent by a medialens reader, he refers to the lack of space given to the destruction of the city of Falluja in your Iraq in-depth section,

-Chemical Weapons used
-Targeting civilians (numerous occasions reported, one shown on on BBC)
-Iraqi Red Crescent Society was on TV news staing clearly that it has been denied entry into the city
-Civilians prevented from leaving a war scene
-This and previous attacks on Falluja featured what were undeniable disproportionate use of force, and use of indiscriminate weapons, like 2000+lb bombs
-Hospitals being attacked
-Cutting off water and electricity

"It was really distressing picking up dead bodies from destroyed homes, especially children. It is the most depressing situation I have ever been in since the war started," Dr Rafa'ah al-Iyssaue, director of the main hospital in Fallujah city, some 60 km west of Baghdad, told IRIN.

According to al-Iyssaue, the hospital emergency team has recovered more than 700 bodies from rubble where houses and shops once stood, adding that more than 550 were women and children. He said a very small number of men were found in these places and most were elderly.



"Fuad Kubaysi, one of those staying at the Red Crescent compound, said, "What has happened to Falluja is a horror beyond anything imaginable. We don't want it anymore. Let them have it. Let whomever wants it have it. We cannot ever call this city home again." "

while providing ample space to praise coalition actions during the siege.

"Certainly, the Americans fought cleverly in Falluja this time. Advance warnings might have let the rebel commanders escape. But they also allowed civilians to get out and this has lessened the adverse impact of the fighting."

"The marines also mounted initial diversionary attacks from the south, attracting the rebel fighters there, while in fact the main assault came from the north. The fighters were in the wrong place and became trapped."

"Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows." The British eventually imposed order and a king on Iraq. This time it is supposed to be different."
The only balance is provided by the word "supposed".

Considering the ethics the BBC purports to operate under,

"When civilians do get hurt
In modern warfare it's difficult to ensure that only soldiers get hurt, for despite the effectiveness of precision weapons civilians are often hurt and killed.

The "doctrine of double effect" is sometimes put forward as a defense.

For example if an army base in the middle of a city is bombed and a few civilians living nearby are killed as well, nothing unethical has been done, because the army base was a legitimate target and the death of civilians was not the intention of the bombing (even though their death could be predicted).

The doctrine of double effect can't be used to defend the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as non-precision nuclear weapons, area bombing, or chemical or biological weapons used against a population in general, since these are so indiscriminate in effect that civilian casualties can't be regarded as a secondary result."

"War Crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war, including:

* Atrocities or offences against persons or property, constituting violations of the laws or customs of war
* torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
* plunder of public or private property
* wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages
* devastation not justified by military necessity"

this seems at the very least, a significant oversight and at worst, complicity in war crimes simply by ignoring they ever happened (thereby easing the path towards future crimes). The idea that space and time were an issue or that the "depth" is simply there to chronicle the progress of the war in military movements is laughable. This piece I presume is for the purpose of representing the war in its entirety. And reads like a story with one side.

For example the first picture in the story of the war is tagged with the caption: "The skyline of Baghdad lights up under fire from US cruise missiles early in the war. The initial strikes on the 20 March were targeted at Saddam Hussein and his sons." This accurately portrays the BBC's reporting. Just as truthfully one could have written "Hundreds die as US missiles fail to find Saddam and his sons." Either the reporting or the ethics need revising.

Yours sincerely,