Free Speech: Myth vs Reality

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently acknowledged the practice of hiring journalists vetted by MI5, the UK intelligence agency, to keep out the "subversives".

The CIA is believed to have driven American investigative reporter Gary Webb to suicide after he exposed the agency's use of drug deals to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

American researcher Joseph Overton has described a spectrum from "more free" to "less free", known as the Overton Window, with regard to the US government intervention in the media.

Here's how American philosopher Noam Chomsky has explained the US establishment's media management strategy:  “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

It seems that "free speech" in the West is really not so free.


Courtesy David Icke
MI5 Vetting of BBC Staff:

The BBC recently acknowledged its long relationship with the British security establishment that started in 1933. When questions were asked about it, the BBC policy was to "keep head down and stonewall all questions".

Vetting by the MI5 applied to  all new BBC staff except "personnel such as charwomen". Since the start of the policy, journalists were always subject to vetting, but a "review in 1983 resulted in about 2,000 posts being removed from the list - including some junior editorial jobs - bringing the total number down to 3,705".

When asked whether any staff are vetted these days, a BBC spokesperson responded:"We do not comment on security issue".

CIA and Media:

In the course of investigating US CIA's support of Contra rebels in Nicaragua,  American journalist Gary Webb discovered a drug connection. He found that the CIA was trafficking drugs sold in poor African American neighborhoods to fund Contra rebels war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government in 1980s. Webb published his findings in a 3-part report "The Dark Alliance" carried by his employer San Jose Mercury News.

Webb's report provoked outrage among African Americans for the harm it did by promoting drug addiction in their poor neighborhoods. It became a public relations nightmare for the CIA.

The CIA responded to the crisis by using what Nicholas Dujmovic, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence staffer described as “a ground base of already productive relations with journalists.”  The CIA top brass was overjoyed to see the nation's largest newspapers destroy the reputation of Gary Webb that eventually led to his suicide.

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, famous for his reporting on Watergate along with Bob Woodward, investigated CIA's use of the American media and wrote a piece describing "How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up". Here's what he said:

"Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier‑Journal, and James Copley of the Copley News Service. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Associated Press (AP),  United Press International (UPI), Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps‑Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald‑Tribune".

Overton Window:

American researcher Joseph P. Overton said that ideas may range a spectrum from "more free" to "less free" with regard to government intervention.  The mainstream media, particularly commercial media, tend to limit the public discourse within the range they define as permissible at any given time. This is done by designing editorial policies.

The Overton window is not static. It is guided by what is seen as vital national interest by the US national security establishment as we saw during the Cold War and subsequently in the "war on terror".

Social Media:

Social media have created new media management challenges for the western security establishment as we saw with Brexit and Trump victory in 2016. It's created an outrage that is likely to result in new social media regulations unless the likes of Facebook and Twitter agree to self-censorship.

There's so much pressure on major social media platforms that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was forced to acknowledge regulation as "inevitable".

"The internet is growing in importance around the world in people's lives and I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation," said Zuckerberg to a US Congress committee at a recent hearing.

The western security establishment will now make sure that the new social media platforms are tamed to stay within the "Overton Window" just like the legacy electronic and print media.

Summary:

Recent BBC acknowledgement of its staff vetting by British secret service and revelations of CIA's role in American media management have confirmed what American academic Noam Chomsky has been saying for a while:  “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."  There are now moves afoot to tame the new social media platform to stay within the "spectrum of acceptable opinion".

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Is Money Free Speech?

Social Media Promote Tribalism

Social Media: Blessing or Curse For Pakistan?

Planted Stories in Media

Indian BJP Troll Farm

Kulbhushan Jadhav Caught in Balochistan

The Story of Pakistan's M8 Motorway

Pakistan-China-Russia vs India-Japan-US

Riaz Haq's Youtube Channel

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
BBC News - The story barely reported by #Indian #media. Deeply engrained bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (#BJP) within many of #India's leading media groups

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44280188#

It is a potential scandal that claims to strike at a key pillar of Indian democracy - the freedom of the press - yet it is barely being reported in the Indian media.

There's a simple reason for that: this alleged scandal involves many of the most powerful media institutions in the country.

A sting operation by a news organisation called Cobrapost claims to have revealed a deeply engrained bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within many of India's leading media groups, as well as a willingness among some of the country's most senior media executives and journalists to take money in return for pushing a political agenda.

Cobrapost, a small but controversial outlet known for undercover stings, describes itself as a non-profit news organisation that believes too much journalism in India has been "trivialised". It has dubbed its story "Operation 136" - the figure is a reference to India's ranking in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Their website says its recordings show that some of the country's leading news organisations are willing to "not only cause communal disharmony among citizens, but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party"- and all in return for cash.

Undercover stings of this kind are notoriously unreliable. The footage can easily be taken out of context or edited to change the meaning of a conversation or misrepresent its real nature.

An undercover reporter from Cobrapost, Pushp Sharma, says he approached more than 25 of India's leading media organisations, offering them all a similar deal.

He claimed to represent a wealthy ashram - a Hindu monastery - which, he said, was willing to pay large amounts of money in the run up to next year's general election in an attempt to ensure the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, remains in power.

Mr Sharma says he outlined a three-stage strategy his paymasters wanted to bankroll.

First, he proposed the media organisations promote what he describes as "soft Hindutva" - the idea that Hindu faith and values are the defining ideology of India. He suggested this could involve promoting the sayings of Lord Krishna or retelling stories from the Bhagvad Gita, the epic poem that is one of the most holy texts of Hinduism.

The next stage would involve attacks on the BJP's political rivals, particularly Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress Party.

Finally, the plan was to move on to promoting incendiary speeches from some of hard-line proponents of Hindutva, including some divisive radical Hindu figures.

The idea of this stage of the operation, Mr Sharma explained to some of the executives, was to polarise voters in the hope that the BJP would benefit at the ballot box.

'Viral videos and jingles'
Amongst the media groups Cobrapost says it approached were giants like Bennett Coleman, the media empire that owns The Times of India - the largest selling English language newspaper not just in India, but in the world.

It also targeted the The New Indian Express, another large English language newspaper, and the India Today Group, which owns one of the country's most popular television news channels.

Hindi language newspapers and regional media groups were also approached.
Riaz Haq said…
Foreign Media Calls Out Indian Media’s Silence on Cobrapost Sting

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/foreign-media-on-cobrapost-sting

The ignominy of Indian mainstream media’s deafening silence around the Cobrapost sting ‘Operation 136’ , which sought to expose the alleged underbelly of India’s biggest media outlets, has caught the eye of many international media houses.

Though the operation and its claims have been refuted by the media firms who have allegedly been exposed, what has raised eyebrows is the Indian media’s coverage, or lack thereof, surrounding the sting operation.

The sting operation that targets 27 media outlets, including some of the country’s biggest, reveals the supposed willingness of these media outlets to run political and religious propaganda in favour of the ruling government in return for hefty financial gains.

Apart from The Indian Express, that reported the story in a hard hitting piece titled ‘Where Anything Goes’ , most of the mainstream media turned a blind eye towards the story.

This led to a number of international media outlets calling out the Indian media for having failed to highlight the failures within the fraternity.

Indian Press Seems Willing to Peddle Political Propaganda: Foreign Policy
Pamposh Raina’s report in Foreign Policy talks about the fact that if proven, the media of the world’s largest democracy, would be willing to be used as propaganda mouthpieces by religious and political parties to spread their agenda.

“Despite sting journalism’s controversial reputation, the expos√©, if accurate, reveals the ease with which the Indian press seems willing to peddle a political agenda. And, if true, the videos are all the more troubling given that India’s history has repeatedly shown mixing religion and politics can lead to violent sectarian clashes,” Foreign Policy wrote.
Troubling Doubts over the Independence of Media in India: BBC
Meanwhile the BBC highlighted the troubling issues that plague the Indian media, especially the fact that press freedom rankings of the country is a matter of shame and that if these allegations are proven true, it only further solidifies the concerns of Indian media’s follies.

There is no question that the Cobrapost allegations need to be treated with healthy skepticism. But there is also no question that they raise potentially troubling doubts over the independence of the media in India, particularly when it is a year away from a general election.
BBC
Also Read: Cobrapost Sting: ‘Explain Your Position,’ Editors Guild Asks Media

Problematic Time for Indian Journalism: Al Jazeera
A report in the Al Jazeera underlined that it is a troubling time for Indian journalism. In their weekly programme ‘The Listening Post’ that examines and dissects the world media, Richard Gizbert talks about the conspicuous absence of the Cobrapost sting operation in the Indian media coverage.


The suspicion that Indian media outlets can be bought is not new. So for many, the Cobrapost sting simply confirmed what they had long suspected and did so at an already problematic time for Indian journalism. In the four years of the Narendra Modi government, polarisation across the media has grown more extreme; the voices more shrill.
Al Jazeera
If at all these allegations were to be proven true, it would be a damning moment for the Indian media, and would only further intensify the skepticism that one goes through while reading and watching news in the mainstream media.

(With inputs from Al Jazeera, BBC and Foreign Policy)
Riaz Haq said…
Insulting Prophet #Muhammad (PBUH) not '#FreeSpeech', Europe's Court of Human Rights rules. Defaming the Prophet Muhammad exceeds the permissible limits of freedom of expression, ruled the #ECtHR, upholding an #Austrian court’s decision. #Blasphemy #Islam http://sabahdai.ly/OyLmdP

The decision by a seven-judge panel came as an Austrian national identified as E.S. by the court, had held seminars on Islam in 2008 and 2009 for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) where she discussed the prophet's marriage to his wife Aisha, a child at the time, and implied that he was a pedophile.

An Austrian court convicted her of disparaging religious doctrines in 2011 and fined her 480 euros (548 dollars), a judgment that was upheld on two appeals.

Stating that the court had found that "the applicant's statements had been likely to arouse justified indignation in Muslims" and "amounted to a generalization without factual basis", the Strasbourg-based ECtHR said that the woman's comments could not be covered by the freedom of expression.

The court said it "found in particular that the domestic courts comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant's statements and carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria."

The statement also added that there had been no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, covering freedom of expression. "Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), E.S. complained that the domestic courts failed to address the substance of the impugned statements in the light of her right to freedom of expression."

ES' statements "were not phrased in a neutral manner aimed at being an objective contribution to a public debate concerning child marriages," the ECtHR held, adding that the moderate fine imposed on her could not be considered disproportionate.

The Austrian courts had drawn a distinction between pedophilia and child marriage, which was also a common practice historically in European ruling families.

The ECtHR also underlined that it classified the 'impugned' statements as "an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, which was capable of stirring up prejudice and putting at risk religious peace."

It noted that the Austrian courts had held that ES was making value judgments partly based on untrue facts and without regard to the historical context.

Religious beliefs must be subject to criticism and denial, the ECHR observed, but when statements about religions went beyond critical denial and were likely to incite religious intolerance, states could take proportionate restrictive measures, the court said.

Austria, a country of 8.8 million people, has roughly 600,000 Muslim inhabitants. Lately, it has emerged as the leader of Islamophobia among European countries. The coalition government, an alliance of conservatives and the far right, came to power soon after Europe's migration crisis on promises to prevent another influx and restrict benefits for new immigrants and refugees. In April, Austria's far-right Chancellor Sebastian Kurz threatened to close one of the biggest mosques in Vienna and urged municipal authorities to be stricter regarding state subsidies for Muslim organizations in the city.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan challenges credibility of BBC report
Government demands apology, removal of story alleging rights abuses by army
Islamuddin Sajid |
19.06.2019

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-challenges-credibility-of-bbc-report/1508352

akistan filed formal complaints Tuesday over a report published this month by U.K. state broadcaster BBC documenting alleged human rights abuses in the country’s tribal areas.

The Ministry of Information filed complaint letters with the British communications regulator and BBC raising questions over the authenticity of the story regarding Pakistan’s military.

On June 2, the BBC published a report on its website titled "Uncovering Pakistan's secret human rights abuses" which said tens of thousands of people have been killed during Pakistan’s long battle with militants as part of the post -9/11 war on terror and that many of them were tortured and murdered by soldiers and insurgents in Waziristan, a tribal district in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

"The story not only presented a fabricated theme but also violated journalistic ethos. The story also violates BBC's editorial policy by not incorporating the point of view of all stakeholders/citing credible sources/quoting authentic evidence etc.," the ministry said in its letter addressed to the BBC

It amounted to “indicting the State of Pakistan for so-called ‘secret human rights abuses’ without any cogent evidence”.

"The detailed analysis of its content reflects bias, spinning and angling of the facts. There are judgmental expressions in the story which are a clear violation of journalistic norms of impartiality and objectivity," said the ministry’s letter.

The government of Pakistan expects the matter to be looked into for appropriate action against the author and editorial board linked to the report.

Pakistan also demanded that the BBC remove the “defamatory and malicious” story and issue a clear-cut apology.

"We also expect the BBC authorities to ensure that in future, such fake stories specifically targeting Pakistan will not be disseminated," said the letter.

However, Pakistan also warned the BBC that Islamabad reserves the right to pursue all legal measures within the country and the United Kingdom if the BBC fails to retract the story and take action against its author.

A dossier accompanying the letter contained further analysis of the government’s complaints.

On June 4, Pakistan’s military also reacted to the BBC story.

"The story carries conjecturing implicating Pakistan’s Army without any proof,” Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of Pakistan’s army, said in a statement.

"The story is a pack of lies and in violation of journalistic ethos," it added.

North Waziristan has been a battleground between the army and the Taliban since June 2014 following a full-scale military onslaught that has killed over 5,000 suspected militants, according to the military.

Over 700 soldiers have also lost their lives in landmine blasts and clashes with the Taliban during the period.

On March 28, the BBC apologized and agreed to pay damages to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko over an incorrect report claiming a payment was made to extend a meeting between Poroshenko and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Riaz Haq said…
The New York Times casually acknowledged that it sends major scoops to the US government before publication, to make sure “national security officials” have “no concerns.”
By Ben Norton

https://thegrayzone.com/2019/06/24/new-york-times-media-us-government-approval/

Indeed, the Times report on the escalating American cyber attacks against Russia is attributed to “current and former [US] government officials.” The scoop in fact came from these apparatchiks, not from a leak or the dogged investigation of an intrepid reporter.

‘Real’ journalists get approval from ‘national security’ officials
The neoliberal self-declared “Resistance” jumped on Trump’s reckless accusation of treason (the Democratic Coalition, which boasts, “We help run #TheResistance,” responded by calling Trump “Putin’s puppet”). The rest of the corporate media went wild.

But what was entirely overlooked was the most revealing thing in the New York Times’ statement: The newspaper of record was essentially admitting that it has a symbiotic relationship with the US government.

In fact, some prominent American pundits have gone so far as to insist that this symbiotic relationship is precisely what makes someone a journalist.

In May, neoconservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen — a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — declared that WikiLeaks publisher and political prisoner Julian Assange is “not a journalist”; rather, he is a “spy” who “deserves prison.” (Thiessen also once called Assange “the devil.”)

What was the Post columnist’s rationale for revoking Assange’s journalistic credentials?

Unlike “reputable news organizations, Assange did not give the U.S. government an opportunity to review the classified information WikiLeaks was planning to release so they could raise national security objections,” Thiessen wrote. “So responsible journalists have nothing to fear.”

In other words, this former US government speechwriter turned corporate media pundit insists that collaborating with the government, and censoring your reporting to protect so-called “national security,” is definitionally what makes you a journalist.

This is the express ideology of the American commentariat.

NY Times editors ‘quite willing to cooperate with the government’
The symbiotic relationship between the US corporate media and the government has been known for some time. American intelligence agencies play the press like a musical instrument, using it it to selectively leak information at opportune moments to push US soft power and advance Washington’s interests.

But rarely is this symbiotic relationship so casually and publicly acknowledged.

In 2018, former New York Times reporter James Risen published a 15,000-word article in The Intercept providing further insight into how this unspoken alliance operates.

----------

Risen detailed how his editors had been “quite willing to cooperate with the government.” In fact, a top CIA official even told Risen that his rule of thumb for approving a covert operation was, “How will this look on the front page of the New York Times?”

There is an “informal arrangement” between the state and the press, Risen explained, where US government officials “regularly engaged in quiet negotiations with the press to try to stop the publication of sensitive national security stories.”

“At the time, I usually went along with these negotiations,” the former New York Times reported said. He recalled an example of a story he was writing on Afghanistan just prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Then-CIA Director George Tenet called Risen personally and asked him to kill the story.

Riaz Haq said…
British PM Margaret Thatcher banned "Spycatcher" book by a retired MI5 officer talking about how British intelligence manipulated elections and domestic politics in UK

https://www.csmonitor.com/1987/0807/bspy.html

Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, by Peter Wright. New York: Viking Penguin. 392 pp. $19.95. CAN the Western democracies, committed to open governance and the citizen's right to know, learn to rein in their intelligence services, whose watchwords are secrecy, aggressiveness, and unaccountability?

The answer thus far is no. Consider the revelations about the abuses of power that have characterized the frequent CIA scandals, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Iran-contra operation.

Consider also the uproar in Britain caused by the Thatcher government's injunction against Peter Wright's ``Spycatcher.'' The book contains a three-page bombshell: the accusation that fully 30 of his fellow MI5 (domestic counterintelligence) officers were plotting in 1974 to topple Harold Wilson's Labour government by leaking allegations to the Conservatives regarding Mr. Wilson's - purported - pro-communist sympathies and associates.

This charge against MI5 is not new: Wilson, having resigned, made it openly in 1977. Nor is intelligence manipulation of elections entirely new: The Conservative landslide in 1924 owed much to a Red-baiting intelligence leak to the press of the so-called ``Zinoviev letter'' from Moscow. Wright, however, is attacking from the inside and the far right, while offering leads regarding ``the Gang of Thirty'' that British journalists are now pursuing. Mrs. Thatcher blocked press publication of excerpts from ``Spycatcher'' until she won the general election: A dozen lawsuits and countersuits were filed. While the book is being peddled in London unofficially, the House of Lords moved last week against the British Court of Appeal, which had lifted the injunction, and major newspapers are still forbidden to report on the book in any detail.

By asserting that an MI5 cabal intended to subvert the political process, Wright is mocking at ``fair play'' and ``the gentlemanly consensus'' of British life. Forget the myths, he insists: Hardball is MI5's favorite sport. Witness the important details he adds to our scanty knowledge of British plots to assassinate Nasser during the 1956 Suez crisis. And witness MI5's readiness in early 1959 to hunt down and kill Colonel Grivas, the greek Cypriot guerrilla leader. Though Wright suggests that MI5 quit the assassination business after 1960, the charges against it in Northern Ireland now cannot be ignored.

Abuse of power, that supremely American theme that excites attention and sales, is marginal, however, to ``Spycatcher.'' Wright's heart is in the Great Mole Hunt. The search for Soviet spies in British intelligence has boiled and simmered since Burgess and Maclean - forewarned - fled to Moscow in 1951.

The defection of Kim Philby in 1963, the uncovering of Anthony Blunt in 1964, various intelligence failures of that decade, all shocked many MI5 officers, Peter Wright very much included. There was jeering from the CIA and the FBI, which the British for so long had patronized. Wright and his dissident friends began their hunt, questioning hundreds of people over the years, and concluding that Roger Hollis, the director of MI5 from 1956 to 1965, was a Soviet spy, the much-celebrated ``fifth man,'' who had helped bring British intelligence - perhaps Britain itself - to its sorry state.
Riaz Haq said…
From Spycatcher to prime minister: the Malcolm Turnbull I knew
This article is more than 3 years old
Richard Norton-Taylor reported for the Guardian on the UK government’s 1987 attempt to ban a former MI5 officer’s memoirs in Australia. Here he recalls a young lawyer in the case

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/14/malcolm-turnbull-spycatcher-lawyer-prime-minister

We knew Malcolm Turnbull as the cocky pom basher. Or rather, the bright young lawyer who humiliated the British establishment.

For the best part of six weeks in a Sydney courtroom 30 years ago, he ran rings around witnesses struggling, at Margaret Thatcher’s behest, to ban the publication of Spycatcher, the memoirs of the former MI5 officer Peter Wright.

Encouraged by the trial judge, Philip Powell, Turnbull played to the gallery, giving him the taste of an appreciative audience and certainly the confidence to pursue a career in public life.

In an exchange that will remain in the annals of Westminster as much as the Australian courts, Turnbull asked Sir Robert (now Lord) Armstrong, Thatcher’s cabinet secretary, why he had written to the publishers Sidgwick & Jackson saying Thatcher wanted a copy of a book by Chapman Pincher (which covered much of the same ground as Wright’s memoirs) when he was already in possession of the manuscript.

The letter “contains a lie”, Turnbull suggested. Armstrong replied: “It was a misleading impression, it does not contain a lie. I don’t think.”

Turnbull: “What is the difference between a misleading impression and a lie?

Armstrong: “A lie is a straight untruth.”

Turnbull: “What’s a misleading impression, a kind of bent untruth?”

Armstrong: “As one person said, it is perhaps being economical with the truth.”

Armstrong quickly pointed out that the phrase was not his own – it was first used by the political philosopher Edmund Burke, he told the court. But it was too late.

In 2009, the former Australian prime minister Paul Keating told the then incumbent, Kevin Rudd, that there were three things he should know about Turnbull: he was brilliant, utterly fearless, but he had no judgment.

At one point in the Spycatcher trial, Armstrong turned to Turnbull and said: “Don’t worry about me, Mr Turnbull, I am just a fall guy.”

He may have been the first fall guy, but he was not the last to confront the man who is now Australia’s prime minister.

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