The Distorted Lens: The Media and the Middle East

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The media war has become a matter of “either or” for the West. This is quite conspicuous when one observes that reporting the Middle East has been one of the most contentious and divisive issues for journalists. Whereas once Western news organizations dominated news gatherings, Chinese, Russian, and Middle Eastern networks are challenging them now. So the Western view of the world has come under a huge threat. “The Distorted Lens” touches upon two systematically neglected issues which have been resorted to by the voracious West to quench its oil hunger in the Middle East. In the first place, we come to know that balance and impartiality are hard to define and the mainstream media of the West often presents an incomplete portrait of the region. Definitions of impartiality are not fixed but are subjective and depend on which views the journalist wants to balance; and that principle of balance, just to give a brief example, has allowed Israel and the West to shape the narrative of the Palestinian dispute. In the second place, we will find out more about the secretive world of media manipulation. We see how propaganda from intelligence agencies were a central component of the debate that led the US and UK to war in Iraq. Politicians use the intelligence services to feed misleading half truth to willing journalists. It is a subtle process involving manipulation that ends in plausible deniability. What is important in this world of lies are the power structures within which journalists work. Powerful pressure groups and security agencies play a central role in preventing true reporting from a region like the Middle East. We witness that they conceive journalists as useful idiots. At the end of the day we are left with the reality that West’s intelligence work is mostly about deception. In fact, they consider journalists as tools to assist in certain operations.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

FOX News:

Reporting the Middle East is one of the most contentious and divisive issues for journalists. Balance and impartiality are hard to define – and the mainstream media often present an incomplete portrait of the region.

Sky News

They’d entered Gaza to remove explosives before coming under fire..

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and Journalist :

One of the main things that we’re keeping off the table in the Middle East is the extent the West entered this part of the world, cut up the countries, took what we wanted arranged lines on a map and then said: ‘you people can’t rule yourself’. You can’t get along.

Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group :

What’s important is the power structures within which journalists’ work. If you looked at the coverage of Gaza. If you blinked you’d miss references that occurred to the occupation.”

Narration:

Powerful pressure groups and security agencies play a central role in preventing unfettered reporting from the region.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer :

MI6 and MI5 in the UK have really ramped-up their approach to dealing with the media and they can see them sometimes as useful idiots. They want to be able to control and spin what goes into the media.

David Rose, Author and journalist:

Intelligence work is party about deception: There is a problem when the agencies who do this actually see journalists as I think they do as tools to assist in certain operations.

Narration:

Whereas once, Western news organizations dominated global newsgathering, Chinese, Russian and Middle Eastern networks now challenge them. It is not just the market dominance of western media that is under threat – it is also its view of the world.

The Distorted Lens – The Media and the Middle East

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and the Merciful, welcome to Press TV News…

Narration:

Press TV is Iran’s state broadcaster - it has granted the producers of this film editorial independence. The channel is based in Tehran with its largest foreign bureau in London. This studio is preparing to record the weekly debate show, Agenda, presented by Yvonne Ridley.

UPSOUND:

Would a turkey vote for Christmas, obviously not…

Narration:

For some, the station is controversial because of its links to the Islamic Republic of Iran. For others it offers a voice to the voiceless - a platform for opinions on the Middle East that are excluded in the mainstream media. Among the guests is Ken O’Keefe, who is campaigning to end the siege of Gaza.

Ken O’Keefe, Free Gaza Movement :

The kind of reporting that I’ve seen is very important. It would help solve so many of our problems right now if Americans’ could see so many of the things that are being reported on Russia Today and Press TV that are not getting reported, but unfortunately they’re not seeing those things.

UPSOUND:

“It’s Israel wiping palestianian villages off the map…The ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands in 1948…Israel does not want peace and it certainly doesn’t want justice and it sonly a carry over of the same old policies…

That’s rubbish, how can we carry on…

Narration:

Geoffrey Alderman is a historian and writer for Jewish Chronicle.

Geoffrey Alderman, Historian:

We had a good rough and tumble there, it got a bit heated at times but there’s no harm in that. I managed to get my points across as I hope everyone else did. I’m always treated fairly, I’ve never been censored, I can say what I like and I think it’s much more important for a Jew and a Zionist like me to appear on that sort of channel than to talk as it were to the converted.

Channel 4 News:

UPSPUND:

Government militia opened fire on the protestors, a defining moment of the violence filmed by journalist Maziar Bahari

TIME CODE : 05:00_10:00

Narration:

However, there are others in the West who want Press TV closed down. It has been attacked in the British media. There were accusations made by a British-based Iranian journalist working for Channel 4 News.

UPSOUND:

Maziar Bahari alleges that the channel filmed a forced confession in prison and broadcast it as though it was an ordinary interview.

Narration:

Many individuals and groups have refused to take part in this film. Oliver Kamm, a writer for the Times, turned down a request because he claims the station is “dependent on an anti-Semitic and extremist regime.”

The BBC ran a story saying that the station cannot be impartial.

BBC Newsnight:

UPSOUND: The Iranian channel that has made a habit or recruiting British talk show hosts now finds it has some questions to answer..

Narration:

Staff at the London bureau feel under siege. Journalists from a Sunday newspaper stalked the families of two senior managers late at night. The men were asked whether they were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Both are established filmmakers and staunchly deny the accusations. Police questioned another employee about links to extremism. And there’s a concern that United Nations’ sanctions against Iran - are being wrongly applied against the channel.

Matthew Richardson, Legal Adviser, Press TV:

Press TV has had bank accounts closed with no reason given. Whatever company we work with some people won’t buy from us, some people won’t sell to us, some groups’ won’t work with us. We are clearly aware of whatever you want to call it ‘a campaign’, ‘a harassment’ - it’s a silencing, people want Press TV to shut up.

Narration:

Press TV also faces repeated investigations from the Office of Communications, Ofcom, the regulator of Britain’s television networks. The station is accused of breaching guidelines on impartiality. Under British law, Ofcom can prevent a channel broadcasting in the UK. Section 5 of Ofcom’s rules requires that a broadcaster complies with:

“Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy...”

Narration:

Ofcom declined to take part in this film. Some feel its role is becoming outmoded.

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and Journalist :

This idea of impartiality comes from a world where there was one controlling elite point of view and you know that was the filtered point of view that you would get whether it’s your turning on and you’re reading the, you’re turning on the BBC or you’re reading the Times or you’re reading the New York Times you know that it’s the idea that there’s the sort of central source of information and that’s not the world we live in anymore.

Narration:

I believe that ‘impartiality’, for a journalist, is an imperfect goal. In fact, it can be rather dishonest, because it implies that being ‘impartial’ is somehow above politics or opinion.

Phil Rees:

TO CAM: What matters more, is who decides what views to balance, who defines what is controversial, and most important of all, who decides which views are excluded.

Narration:

OFCOM does not regulate the BBC, but the corporation has a similar requirement that “controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in news and other output”.

BBC News:

This is a high stakes confrontation with the Taliban…

Narration:

But when Britain is at war, the UK media is not impartial. The country’s enemies are rarely given an equal voice.

UPSOUND:

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to take on this but the Taliban do and they’ve become increasingly dangerous’

Narration:

Nor is there a due weight given to those who oppose Britain’s wars – even when those wars are controversial.

UPSOUND:

‘The area has becoem a minefield…

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

The BBC does pride itself on its balance. The difficulty is where you strike the balance between which two opinions is it possible to be balanced? Now of course the BBC’s historic mission is that it wants to balance the two main currents in British politics. Now as British politics has narrowed towards a Neo Liberal, pro-market, pro-war consensus, the difficulty is that the BBC finds it even more difficult to access views, which are outside that consensus.

Narration:

I’ve come to see a former BBC Middle East Correspondent, who thinks the corporation is finding ‘impartiality’ difficult to achieve in today’s global conflict between the West and parts of the Muslim world.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Tim Llewellyn, Former BBC Middle East Correspondent :

The BBC is the voice of Britain in a way and I think a lot of what the BBC puts out now especially about the Middle East is bent. NARRATION:When Britain’s at war you think the BBC cannot be trusted?

Llewellyn: No, of course it can’t be trusted. It’s a part of the system. Look I’ve got to say this very straightforwardly now, you know it’s something that’s very simple for me. I covered the Middle East for a long time; I think the BBC is doing a bad thing in the Middle East.

Narration:

At the Glasgow Media School, a team of researchers analyses the daily output of news on British television. Their findings suggest that coverage of the Middle East is far from ‘impartial’.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group :

There’s an absolute myth of impartiality and you can see that completely in the reporting of events like the attack on the flotilla where you have an extraordinary Israeli public relations campaign which runs for nearly a week on British television.

ITN News:

UPSOUND: Israel today defended its deadly operation to stop a flotilla of aid ships reaching Gaza, claiming their attempts to board the ships were peaceful, the violence self-defence.

Narration:

Israeli commandoes attacked an aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters. It was part of a flotilla that wanted to deliver aid to Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals died during the assault. But exactly what happened that night was not immediately known – because the passengers were arrested. Film shot by journalists on board, including a Press TV correspondent, was confiscated.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group:

The Israelis’ are able to issue a highly edited version of what’s happened where they have stopped the people who are actually on board from speaking, where they literally issue film with labels on it saying how people are to understand what’s occurred. – so you have a label on the film saying ‘Israeli soldiers being hit with metal bars’ or metal poles or whatever, and those labels are then shown again and again and again on British television without the balance of what is supposed to have happened on the other side.

BBC News:

UPSOUND: Today Israel is defiant, saying it had to do what it did because its own soldiers came under attack..

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

This was a propaganda operation from first to last, which misled the viewer profoundly. From the issue of the theft of all the alternative footage, the theft of peoples’ mobile phones and cameras, the complete expropriation of the events as seen by the victims.

Panorama:

BBC 1, August 16th, 2010

Turkey accuses Israel…

Narration:

Over two months later, the BBC’s main current affairs programme aimed to explain the truth of the night’s events. But once again it told the narrative from an Israeli perspective.

Jane Corbin:

It caused a storm or international condemnation. But did Israel fall into a trap – and what was the real agenda of some of those people who called themselves ‘Peace activists’ on board the Free Gaza Flotilla’.

Narration:

The Israelis claimed they killed nine passengers in self-defence because they were shot at first. Watch how Panorama dealt with conflicting accounts of who fired the first gunshots, starting with the head of the charity that organised the flotilla, the IHH.

Panorama

BBC 1, August 16th, 2010

BBC:

“This not passive resistance, this is fighting. “You see the bars?”

BY: It had gone beyond passive resistance because the Israelis had been firing from the start. These people are defending themselves while being fired at”. JC: “The Israelis say its not possible to fire while abseiling from a helicopter”.

Narration:

Israeli commandoes were often given the last word and their account given greater authority. I was left with the impression that the killers of nine men were the victims, while the dead and injured were the aggressors.

BBC:

They were civilians? They were not. They may be civilian Turkish people but they were terrorists plain and simple. They tried to attack us. They tried to kill every single one of us. We were just defending our lives.

Narration:

The BBC says it ‘went to great lengths to give opposing sides the opportunity to air their views.’ But apart from the head of the charity, none of the other passengers who were interviewed, including Ken O’Keefe, were asked to balance the central issue, who fired first.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

BBC:

‘The question of who shot first remains disputed and unresolved.

Ken O’Keefe, Free Gaza Movement :

I saw the first dead body within the first few minutes, a man who’s a father of two, a photographer who was pointing his camera up at a helicopter and got shot right square between the eyes. So within the first few moments of the attack before any Israeli commandos actually got on that ship we had our first dead body, and scores of people were being shot at and bleeding to death so it really comes down to a matter of do you believe in self-defense?

Narration:

A later UN Report, which Israel refused to co-operate with, established from interviewing more than a hundred witnesses that Israeli commandoes used ‘live ammunition’ from a helicopter ‘onto the top deck prior to the descent of the soldiers”. The report was satisfied that the Israeli soldiers used ‘unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate’ violence. It also found from ‘forensic and firearm evidence’, that ‘at least six of the killings can be characterized as extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions.’ But few British television viewers were made aware of these findings.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group :

Now isn’t it astonishing that when a United Nations committee issues a report talking about ‘summary execution’ that that is then not reported on the main news programmes on the BBC in this country - that the lunchtime, early evening, main news just leave that out having had an entire week of giving the Israeli perspective, showing the Israeli videos, showing the labels on saying that the Israelis’ were being attacked with metal bars, with the Israeli claims that they were acting in self-defence, and then when the alternative account comes out it’s simply left out of the news.

Geoffrey Alderman, Historian:

Phil: A UN Report came out, this is the UN Human Rights Commission saying that the Israeli soldiers…

Alderman: Oh the so-called Human Rights, no one takes that seriously.

Phil: Well, well it, what you say no one, it’s a United Nations body.

Alderman: No. Big deal!

Phil: Well it said that Israel had executed some of the people, it said that Israel had fired, that Israeli soldiers, commandos, had fired from helicopters at the people on the flotilla.

Alderman: What, let’s supposed purely for the sake of argument that they did. Israel was within its rights under international law and don’t…

Phil: What, to execute people?

Alderman: …don’t, don’t, yes we executed people you know during the Second World War. This country, Great Britain, the United Kingdom executed people during the Second World War, for example there was a plan to execute Erwin Rommel.

Phil: But these were not, these…but these men had no, these people onboard the flotilla had no wish for violence.

Alderman: You’re not saying that seriously to me are you?

Phil: Well that’s what they say.

Alderman: Look at the, look at the newsreel of what happened

Narration:

So how did Press TV, a channel that isn’t part of the mainstream media, cover the attack on the Free Gaza Flotilla?

Nat sound:

Programme titles ‘Remember palestine’

Narration:

‘Remember Palestine’ dedicated that week’s programme to the incident.

Nat sound:

Israeli commandoes committed a massacre on civilians sailing aid ships to the besieged Gaza strip…. Day by day Israel proves it is state above the law. What happened yesterday is beyond our imagination; It was a very shocking event.

Narration:

While the mainstream media was mostly driven by Israeli account of events, Remember Palestine concentrated on interviews with activists - without a pro-Israel voice to provide at least an appearance of balance.

Nat sound:

The barbaric attack on the aid to Gaza ship it caused nine deaths.

NArration:

Although there was only one complaint of bias - Ofcom launched an investigation. In its ruling, it warned broadcasters that their “right to freedom of expression is not absolute". Ofcom declared that the programme did not balance claims that

  • Israel was ‘above the law’. That it was
  • responsible for a ‘massacre’ and was involved in a
  • ‘a barbarous attack on civilians’.

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

All of the above have the benefit of being true, not only true self-evidently to the observer at the time but true and vindicated by the international investigations into those events which happened afterwards.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

You can’t just balance two sides in the conflict; you also need to be able to say sometimes that this person or that person or this side or that side is lying or that this particular account of a particular set of events is not true. If journalism is not about telling you what is true or not and is only about balancing different views then there seems to me to be little point in it.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Narration:

Many of Press TV’s programmes view the world from a non-Western perspective. In the Middle East, the vast majority do not consider Israel and Palestine as equals in a two-sided conflict.

UPSOUND:

The assault was the Israeli army action….

Narration:

Nor do they believe that the perspective of those living under military control should be balanced with an account from their oppressors. But Ofcom reflects a different view of the conflict. It said Remember Palestine breached its rules because:


It did not contain any alternative views, which could be reasonably and adequately classed… as supportive of, or which sought to explain, the actions of the Israeli military

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

I mean to take that to its logical conclusion coverage of the Holocaust, the greatest crime in the twentieth century, would have to include an explanation from the Hitlerites about how awful the Jews were and how sincerely they believed they had to extirpate them from the earth.

Narration:

George Galloway’s programmes have also been the target of complaints. After Israel began its war on Gaza in 2008, OFCOM ruled that three editions of Comment breached its guidelines on due ‘impartiality’.

Galloway:

It’s day 20 of the Israeli slaughter of the Palestinians in Gaza. It is a war crime. It is a scandal of the greatest proportion.

Narration:

1400 Palestinians were killed during the attack on Gaza, while 13 Israelis died from missile strikes. George Galloway argues that the numbers of dead didn’t ‘balance’ – so why should the coverage?

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

It’s especially grotesque when across all the other hundreds of TV channels, all the other tens or radio channels, tens of newspapers the bias is entirely in the opposite direction.

Upsound:

I think what the Israelis are doing is very important. They say the air strikes are necessary to end Palestinian rocket attacks. Israel has no choice but to take military action. The Israelis are doing the only thing they can possibly do to defend their population.

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

To single out Press TV for its coverage of what has now been held to be by the United Nations itself a set of crimes against humanity, a set of war crimes, murder most foul, to demand that these events should have been covered in a quite unquote ‘balanced way’ just makes the regulator look ridiculous.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

It means you have a fundamentally distorted view of what’s happening in Israel if that kind of approach is followed and it’s very difficult to tell the truth about what’s happening there because when you find things out about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine you find out the human rights abuses of the Israeli government and military you can’t report them because to report them would be to be biased and not impartial, and of course that’s a recipe for confirming mainstream journalism in a role as more or less propagandists.

Phil: And breaching of Ofcom’s’ guidelines.

Miller: To tell the truth about Israel and Palestine in the British media would be to breach the guidelines of Ofcom.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group:

What’s important here is not the written down regulations for OFCOM or the BBC Trust or anything like that. What’s important is the power structures within which journalists’ work. - that the reality is that if you criticize Israel you are likely to get censured, to have all kinds of problems, and if you criticize Palestine or the Palestinians it’s not going to happen in the same way.

Narration:

Numerous pressure groups attempt to influence media organisations such as the BBC – particularly concerning its reporting from the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobby has powerful allies in Parliament and the British establishment, as well as active and well-organised campaigning groups.

George Galloway, Press TV Presenter :

The pro-Israel lobby in this country and in the United States still more has developed over decades a Rolls-Royce world-class operation of intimidation against journalists and against broadcasters. I know from my own experiences particularly on radio that when we are dealing with Israel/Palestine issues a full-scale operation generating thousands of written complaints is there within moments.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group:

We’ve spoken to people who had to stop other projects because they simply had to spend all their time replying to the complaints, that there were thousands sometimes of complaints that had gone in to the broadcasting authorities. I once went to a meeting inside the BBC of all the top journalists and producers and afterwards an editor of one of the major news programmes said: “we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis”, that was his phrase.

Tim Llewellyn, Former BBC Middle East Correspondent:

These guys ring up all the time and they know each extension, they know where to go, they know which Producer…

Phil: In the BBC newsroom?

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Llewellyn: Yep. They know exactly where to go and they’re heavy. It’s pressure. It’s pressure on men in suits who don’t want to have any trouble

Narration:

In part two, we explore how the great game of global politics – driven by the world’s hunger for oil - has for decades influenced coverage from the Middle East.

Bush: By seeking weapons of Mass Destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger

And we’ll examine how intelligence agencies steer journalists to provide distorted news that then justifies Western military involvement in the region.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer :

It’s very easy for the media to be manipulated into misreporting what’s going on in the Middle East and to create fake stories and fake pretexts for wars.

Narration:

In part one we saw how definitions of ‘impartiality’ are not fixed but are subjective – and depend on which views a journalist wants to balance. And that principle of ‘balance’ has allowed Israel and the West to shape the narrative of the Palestinian dispute.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group :

When for example the Israelis’ attack Gaza. When we ask people: “why is it that you think this is occurring?” or “what did you feel, what did you think when you saw these images?” people will say to me: “oh it was awful, you know I cried when I saw the pictures of the dead babies”, I mean somebody actually said that to me and then immediately said “but it didn’t make me feel sorry for the Palestinians because it’s the Palestinians who keep starting the trouble, they keep firing the rockets, they keep…if only the Palestinians would stop starting the trouble then there wouldn’t be all this going on”. So there’s a kind of control of how people understand the coverage and now how people understand the situation. And the reason this is happening is because the journalists, it’s not particularly that they are unsympathetic to the Palestinians, they can be very sympathetic, but they are under huge pressure not to go into the controversial areas - and the controversial areas are the occupation, the siege, you know the fact that very large numbers of people are living under military rule. All of those things tend to be left out but then the Israelis’ will come on and say: “well yes but we want peace and and we’re doing all of this in self defense”.

UPSOUND ISRAELI SPOKESPEOPLE:

Israel is in the front line of the free world and are being attacked because we represent the values of the free world. The purpose of the operation currently underway is to free those half a million Israelis who live in the south from out under the Hamas boot. We will respond when we want, where we want against any terrorist. No terrorist is immune.

Professor Greg Philo, Glasgow University Media Group :

People here don’t understand that this is from the Palestinian point of view a war of resistance. The key thing that is missing from BBC coverage and from television coverage in this country is the perspective which shows the Palestinians as a people who are trying to throw off an occupation. It’s a nationalist struggle in which a people have been brutalized and controlled by a military power, which they are resisting and trying to throw off.

Ken O’Keefe, Free Gaza Movement :

I think once you occupy somebody’s land, once you deny all their human rights, imprison thousands of their population including children, if you do those sorts of things you can expect that you will have a violent response; I don’t care if you did it to the Swedish people or the Palestinian people. If you did it to the Americans or the British, if we the British or the American people were subjected to the kind of occupation that Palestinians’ have been for decades blood would be running through the streets.

BBC News:

UPSOUND: Israel says that it’s to protect its citizens that it’s taking tough action in Gaza. Was the boarding legal…

Narration:

So why is Israel’s occupation and military control over another nation - portrayed so sympathetically in the West? Those who analyse media manipulation believe that Western economic interests in the Middle East play a crucial role.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

Now part of that is to do with access to oil, that’s part of the story; but it’s also to do with how the world is run and how the Western powers want to divide the world up – and in that example Israel is their ally. But propaganda is not just something which is belted out through the front pages of the Sun, it is also fed out through think tanks and institutes and organizations that are in Israel, in the UK, in the US, who cultivate the ideas amongst the elite that Israel is an asset, that we must defend Israel, that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that there are Muslim hordes waiting to get into the door of Europe and Israel is keeping them back.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

The Palestinian cultural critic, Edward Said, produced a remarkable study, describing how Western academics and journalists report on the region in a manner, which is far from ‘balanced’ or ‘impartial’. D.D. Guttenplan was a former pupil of Said’s and produced the last filmed interview, before his death.

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and journalist :

What Said was talking about in ‘Orientalism’ was the production of a body of knowledge that could be used for imperial purposes. So the idea wasn’t to go to the Middle East or the Arab world and say: “what are you, what do you care about, what’s important to you, what are you values?” and then to find a way to explain those to Westerners, it was more a way of going to this part of the world and saying “let’s produce information about these people that we can use to control them”. So that they become you know objects in your imperial plans, they don’t become people who are their own historical subjects, and secondly in order to do this without feeling too bad yourself you know you need to make them need you, you know they either need your expertise or they need your impartiality or they need your cool head because they’re hot headed Levantines you know or you need to produce some reason why you’re going there is for something other than ripping-off their oil or you know their real estate.

Narration:

‘Orientalism’ became a prism through which many journalists view the Middle East. It also allowed their reporting to be more easily influenced by another powerful force that generates propaganda concerning the region – the West’s security and intelligence agencies.

Narration:

I wanted to find out more about this secretive world of media manipulation. I met Annie Machon, a former agent in Britain’s security service, MI5. She told me how her former colleagues in the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, saw their role in the Middle East.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

If you ask most spies they tend to confuse protecting national security, which is the integrity of the UK, with protecting the national interest, which is not a legally defined term and which usually tends to coincide with the interests of the people running MI6 or running the oil companies or running the arms companies or in politics or the media.

Narration:

Annie and her former partner, David Shalyer left MI5 after they publicly accused Britain’s intelligence service of involvement in a bombing that killed civilians in Libya. Annie told me how the secret services manipulated the media and passed off lies as authoritative facts.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

Certainly since the late nineties, MI6 and MI5 in the UK and I’m sure it’s the same in other Western democracies have really ramped-up their approach to dealing with the media and they can see them sometimes as useful idiots. They want to be able to control and to spin what goes into the media. And they will invite certain journalists who they believe might be trustworthy to, not work for them or anything like that, it’s just a sort of a nod and a wink and you know “would you like the odd good story and the odd scoop if you report things the way we tell them are happening?”

Narration:

For some journalists, it was an irresistible proposition.

David Rose, Author and journalist:

The then editor of the Observer where I was Home Affairs correspondent, received a call: “well we need a chap in your office”, and he suggested me. So the next thing was I was phoned up by a very pleasant middle-aged young man who asked if I would like to have tea at The Ritz and he would be carrying a rolled-up copy of the Times that would be how I would know him. And he worked in a senior capacity in the office of C, the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service, and his job was to advise on policy and on liaison such as it was with the media. The meetings themselves didn’t take place. They were deniable and anything that might be given over in such meetings could only be ascribed to, at the very best, Whitehall security sources, and sometimes not even that.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

The key value of this from the government’s point of view is that if the information turns out to be wrong then it doesn’t matter to anybody because there’s no one who will name the source - the journalist won’t reveal the source, the minister won’t reveal the source, the government department won’t reveal the source - and it means they can get away with planting any old rubbish in the press and it will appear as if it’s authoritative.

Upsound Bush:

States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.

TIME CODE : 35:00_40:00

Narration:

Propaganda from intelligence agencies was a central component of the debate that led the United States and Britain to war in Iraq. Politicians used the intelligence services to feed misleading half-truths to willing journalists. It is a subtle process, involving manipulation, innuendo and then plausible deniability.

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

The standard technique is called ‘surfacing’ whereby if you want to get something into the press you will ring up a friendly journalist and suggest that they have a look at a foreign publication. The journalist looks at it, sees that there’s a story there but he doesn’t have confirmation of this so he goes back to his MI6 source and that MI6 Officer will either confirm it himself and say: “well we have it on good authority from special sources that this is true where we believe it to be true”, or they will suggest somebody else in perhaps defense intelligence service, military intelligence, who will also confirm it.

David Rose, Author and Journalist:

I was led into writing articles, which helped to make the case for war both about alleged links between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and about the Weapons of Mass Destruction, which he was widely believed to have.

Upsound Colin Powell:

Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high specification aluminium tubes from 11 different countries even after inspection resumed.

David Rose, Author and Journalist:

What’s clear to me now is that what was happening here was an echo chamber – that bum information from the same sources was being fed both to journalists and into the intelligence apparatus, and at that point one is extremely vulnerable unless one really does have you know a great deal of knowledge and detachment and experience, and to my great regret I failed to see that I was being fed lies.

Upsound Rumsfeld:

What I have said is a fact that there are al Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq. Cheney: Saddam has perfected the game of cheat and retreat and is skilled in the art of denial and deception.

Narration:

The link between journalism and the security services extends to the editors and directors of Britain’s news organisations who routinely agree to broadcast and print leaked stories.

David Rose, Author and Journalist:

Newspaper editors have a very close relationship with the Head of both MI5 and MI6 and I have heard newspaper editors tell me with a great gleam in their eye how they have been whisked in a limo right into that extraordinary MI6 building on the Thames past any security, all the security without any checks and then up to the boardroom for a grand lunch with C.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

So it’s very much off the record, it’s sort of: “look old chap would you mind not doing this?” or “this is the line to take on it”. And then of course once the owner or the proprietor has to take that line then it goes all the way down the chain.

Narration:

These leaks are sanctioned by strategists in propaganda divisions of the secret services. Their purpose its seems, is not just to protect the British public but also foster a culture of fear.

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

One of the roles of intelligence agencies is to create fear. They live by it. Without it, they would not exist. MI6 have always been good at creating a single kind of threat similar to what Ian Fleming did in the Bond novels.

BBC News:

Upsound BBC: An Iranian missile. The fear of the West that one-day it could be tipped with a nuclear warhead, threatening massive destruction.

Narration:

Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is regularly portrayed as unstable and a threat to the security of the world.

Fox News:

Upsound: Quite frankly sir, how could you say such an insane and nutty thing?

Narration:

But in modern times Iran has not invaded or attacked any foreign country. The media regularly present the nation as a supporter of terrorism – because it backs Hizbollah and Hamas, groups that have fought against Israeli occupation of Lebanon and Palestinian lands.

Bush:

Iran is today the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. It seeks to intimidate its neighbours with ballistic missiles and bellicose rhetoric

Narration:

The use of a distorted lens to view the Middle East is nothing new – it extends back to the discovery of oil in Iran a century ago.

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

The threat from Iran is seen as being oil basically -energy is going to be a greater concern for MI6 and the intelligence services in the coming decades, control of oil is going to be becoming increasingly important and this is just history replaying itself.

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

We were involved or actually led, carried-out the 1953 coup in Iran because of oil; we supported Iran through the dictatorship of the Shah because of oil and we’ve been going back against Iran because of oil and we will continue to do so. I think Iran has always been the bogeyman, particularly for the United States.

Narration:

A typical example of attempts to present Iran as a supporter of ‘terrorism’ was this report in 2007, which suggested Iran was about to link up with al Qa’eda.

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and journalist:

I read this story and it said ‘an American official, a US government official, an official in Washington and then an American official in Baghdad’ – the sourcing was extremely vague and it had all the hallmarks of you know a leaked story, of somebody doing a government official’s work for them by giving publicity to views that the government official wanted to see reported.

David Rose, Author and Journalist :

It was a surprising article and of course what was interesting about it is that we know that in predicting a joint Iranian – Al-Qaeda offensive in Iraq in the summer of 2007 it was simply wrong.

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and journalist:

Al-Qaeda and Iran did not join hands. So it was plain wrong. And whether it was dishonest is another question and whether a newspaper should be credulous in printing a leak from what are clearly Western intelligence sources is a third question

ITN News :

Upsound ITN: The fear is that Iran is trying to stockpile enriched uranium, not for use in power stations, but to make bombs.

Narration:

Despite no corroborating evidence, the Western media reports leaks from the intelligence services as fact.

ITN News :

Upsound ITN and BBC: Despite repeated denials that it is developing nuclear weapons, a secret Iranian plant was revealed to the world today. British spies played a key role in the discovery. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad….

BBC News;

Narration:

MI6 has repeatedly told journalists that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

BBC News:

Upsound: President Ahmadinejad. BBC News. Why are you building a secret nuclear plant?

Narration:

Yet in 2007, a report by the CIA, called a National Intelligence Estimate, concluded with high confidence that in 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme.

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

Sixteen of the American intelligence agencies pull their analysis of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iran and out of that comes the estimate based on all that material – and the estimate was that actually there was no nuclear weapon programme.

George Galloway, Broadcaster:

It’s not written by me or by Press TV or by the friends of Iran, it’s written by the Central Intelligence Agency. But because it would mean the end of the confrontation it’s an inconvenient truth that then has to be buried.

Narration:

Within weeks of the report’s publication, British Intelligence services began feeding stories to UK newspapers suggesting that the CIA had got it wrong about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

An MI6 officer tells the Telegraph that we don’t agree with this estimate, we have other sources; the Sunday Times runs a piece, what is the source, Ukrainian intelligence, apparently Ukrainians are very close to the Iranians and they’ve been told through their sources in fact the nuclear weapons programme is full ahead. And you see a gradual drip-feed of material into the press.

Narration:

In December 2009, the Times of London announced it had obtained secret documents about Iran’s nuclear programme that revealed a plan to test a trigger for a nuclear bomb. An analyst from a British think-tank – a former US State Department official – said that ‘no diplomatic solution was now possible’ to stop Iran building a nuclear weapon. The document, which the Times presented as a photocopy of an original, lacked confidentiality markings and any information identifying the issuing office.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

They issue information which looks like it’s convincing and then you looks at it and again and it looks maybe slightly less convincing, maybe this is not the real document that’s being reported as was originally suggested but it’s a digest, it’s been retyped by some unknown agency

Stephen Dorril, Security Services Analyst:

It looks very much like a plant. There are aspects of it, you look at it and you think: this is highly dubious, a copy of an original and said to be an original, it’s not clear where this comes from, they refer to an Asian intelligence service, is that Mossad, is that Israel, dubious sources for this, what’s the back-up for it? Very, very limited.

Narration:

Soon afterwards, the Times was forced to admit that the document was not the original but a retyped and edited version of a text that was supplied by an unnamed agency. A former CIA official in Washington believes it’s a fabrication –supplied to the Times by Mossad - or possibly MI6.

TIME CODE: 45:00_51:01

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

We discover that this fatal smoking gun on Iran’s intentions turns out to be not quite as convincing as it sounded at first.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer :

MI6 has this section called IOPS, Information Operation, which will plant these sort of forgeries or show journalists these sort of forgeries and get the story they require and then of course it becomes historical fact.

David Rose, Author and Journalist :

Not only do I see a similar pattern but some of the same sources who were emphasizing to me the perils of the Saddam – Al-Qaeda link back in 2002 have tried to do the same regarding Iran and its nuclear threat now. And I have heard individuals, not in this country but in the United States, emphasize to me how dangerous Iran is and how the only way eventually to deal with the threat posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon will be to try to disarm it by force.

FOX News:

Upsound:

Do you think this is even operationally possible in terms of taking out all the facilities they need to take out. BOLTON: I think it is. I think it’s a very risky, difficult mission, I wish we weren’t at this point. I think frankly the United States ought to help Israel, we’re going to get blamed for it anyway if it happens.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

What’s happening in relation to Iran is what happened in relation to Iraq. They say: “well of course we’re not going to go to war with Iran, that would be silly, no one’s suggesting such a thing, but it’s very worrying that they seem to be developing a new nuclear capability and that this really is an indication that Iran’s an outlaw state”; and they build up this pattern of stories in the press that the Iranians are defying the West, that the Iranians are developing nuclear capacity and this is promoting, this lie is promoted by leaks to the press.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

It’s very easy for the media to be manipulated into misreporting what’s going on in the Middle East and to create fake stories and fake pretexts for wars, and I just hope that we’re not stupid enough in the West to fall for another fake war in this case against Iran.

Narration:

In 2004, David Rose wrote an article that for the first time revealed the full extent of British government involvement in the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. His critical report apparently upset the security services.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

If they then start questioning or investigating spontaneously what they’re being told and not reporting what they’re told to report then they will be ejected from this charmed circle, they stop getting the briefings and they stop being able to do their job effectively.

David Rose, Author and Journalist:

They have never spoken to me since and I know the reason because I actually asked my then editor to ask the then Head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller: “why do you no longer return David Rose’s calls?” And the reply came: “we found his article about Guantanamo very unhelpful”, and the editor said “yes, but it’s true isn’t it? And she said ‘that’s not the point’.

Professor David Miller, Media Historian:

Journalists are held structurally by official sources so that it becomes much more difficult to question even although it’s the case that there are some journalists who do question, who are radical, who are investigative who want to check the information, that those journalists by necessity must be a minority because once they start to question they will be shoved to the margins.

Narration:

Since 1908, global powers have attempted to control and manipulate governments in the Middle East in order to secure the supply of energy. The West’s thirst for oil and gas has also caused some journalists to confuse their professional duty - with their country’s national interest.

George Galloway, Broadcaster:

The proper role of the journalist to the state is as the dog to the lamppost. Instead we have journalists volunteering to be the lamppost.

David Rose, Author and Journalist :

One of the things that intelligence services do is they lie, they have to tell lies for their country, intelligence work is partly about deception. There is a grave danger for the media to be drawn into the web of deception and The problem is, the agencies who do this actually see journalists as I think they do as tools to assist in certain operations rather than as a sort of independent invigilator with a kind of critical role in the constitution of a democratic state.

Phil Rees :

To Camera: The birth of new channels, such as Press TV means that Western governments and their agencies are less able to control the flow of information. A more complex worldview is taking shape, as global power moves from West to East. The traditional notion of an impartial, objective voice from the West is being challenged.

Annie Machon, Former MI5 Officer:

Any media outlet, be it the BBC or Sky or Russia Today or Press TV, there will be some some sort of leverage perhaps from the government to report certain things in certain ways, there’s always an agenda behind the media. But I think by putting different viewpoints it allows the readership or the audience to make up their own minds, to assess types of information and come to a more informed decision, so I think it has democratized the world of mainstream media.

D.D. Guttenplan, Author and Journalist :

All this business about objectivity or impartiality represents a nostalgia for a media order that is never going to come back, you know we are never going to come back to a world where you just believe everything they say and you don’t have to think critically about it. I think you, it’s your obligation now to consider who the source is, where it’s coming from, what their point of view is likely to be and who their sources are.

   

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