Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Media Lies: Basra Fell 17 Times Says BBC Reporter

Media Lies: Basra Fell 17 Times Says BBC Reporter
Saeed Naqvi

My first encounter with Western propaganda was during the Sino-Vietnam war of February 1978.

I was in Beijing as part of the media team which had accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India’s Minister for External Affairs. Deng Xiaoping, who had warned he would teach Vietnam a lesson, carried out the threat without taking Vajpayee into confidence, although other non aligned countries like Yugoslavia were informed.

The Indian delegation, faces in the lower mould, cut short what was billed to be a historic visit, and left for home after that mandatory shopping in Hong Kong.

I applied for permission to visit the front. The Chinese promised they would try. Two days later they said a visit to the war front was not possible. I rushed to Bangkok where the ever helpful Abid Hussain (who retired as Ambassador to US) introduced me to a scion of the distinguished Bao Dai family who obtained for me the priceless visa for Hanoi in a jiffy. In Hanoi the all powerful Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Xuan Thuy, arranged for me to be driven to a vantage point on the hill with a commanding view of Lang Son where the most decisive battle of the war was fought. The celebrating, rejoicing soldiers in Lang Son confirmed Vietnam’s victory.

The Indian Express front paged the Lang Son datelined story in which it was clear that Vietnam had won. Ranjit Sethi, who was in our Beijing mission sent me an ecstatic note but Defence Secretary, Sushital Bannerjee, was more cautious. Was I sure of my facts because the western media was saying quite the opposite?

I countered: “How could the western media say anything without having covered the war from either of the fronts?” I was the only foreign correspondent in Vietnam. The Chinese had refused.

It was clear the triangular strategic balance Kissinger had sketched, Washington-Beijing-Moscow, was not going to be allowed to be wrecked by the media. The new US ally during the cold war, China, was not going to be exposed to negative publicity for being defeated by a country which had just a few years ago driven the US itself out of Vietnam.

A huge question mark was placed on my Vietnam-victory story which otherwise was a scoop. Even my editor, Sri Mulgaokar was more inclined to accept the Western version than one having been put out by his own reporter. It took years for global conventional wisdom to change: Vietnam had, indeed, won the 1978 war.

The western attitude of simply ignoring a version not to its liking was effective largely because of considerable indigenous preferential support for the foreigner’s point of view.

Birth of the global media with the CNN’s live coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1992 was gingered up by advances in techniques of media management. Many of us in Baghdad speculated war may not take place because of the American’s post Vietnam aversion to body bags on TV screens.

So, the Anglo American combine took care to hide the body bags “totally from view”. The monopoly of TV coverage was with CNN’s Peter Arnett on the terrace of Al Rashied hotel. By the time of the Intefadas, Bosnian and Serbian wars and occupation of Iraq, BBC World Service too was in full cry.

With each war, the technology for propaganda has been consistently refined, as in Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera exposed the Western media’s lies. Leaders of the free world bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, a fact Ragge Omar, the once star BBC reporter cannot ever forget. “We reported the fall of Basra 17 times, each time a lie”, says Omar.

By the time of the Libyan and Syrian action, Qatar had made up with Saudi Arabia in solidarity of monarchies. So BBC and CNN tried to minimize damage to their plummeting reputation by quoting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia distortions.

Now comes the scandalous case of the satirical programme Parazit supposedly telecast from Teheran to lampoon the regime. The programme actually beamed from LA, is totally financed by the US government. Go on your youtube and you will find Hillary Clinton being interviewed on Parazit. Indeed, CIA Chief David Petraeus says future wars will be in the Information Space.

What space for a credible media now?

Meanwhile, everyone is catching on, including the Wall Street protestors.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Such A Thin Audience For Pilger

Why Such A Thin Audience For Pilger
Saeed Naqvi

“The War You Don’t See”, a stunningly honest portrayal of the deceptions of modern warfare kept a small audience at the India Islamic Centre riveted earlier this week. The film is by one of the best known war correspondents, twice winner of Britain’s journalist of the year award, John Pilger, who introduced the documentary and answered questions. The thin attendance, therefore, was both a surprise and a pity.

Half the audience, a modest total of about 50, had received no invitations. True the Indian Express had published an interview with Pilger some days ago but had given no indication of a film show. There were no advertisements, no posters, no notice. Did the organizers have cold feet? Were they warned by the funding agencies?

One expected the precocious Indian electronic media to be in some token attendance to see a film of great relevance today. Not one showed up.

Since it was the Islamic center, one thought Muslims would be there in full force since they are being hammered everywhere in wars Pilger exposes. Yes, there was an apostate Shia in the audience, but no Muslims. Some Muslim countries have long arms but I doubt if they have the sophistication to be able to manage attendance at the India Islamic Centre. Whatever the reason for this apparent indifference to a remarkable piece of journalism, a great deal of guilt lies at the door of our profession – journalism.

Not only are we incapable of the sort of journalism which has placed Pilger at the top despite the establishment, but we even shy away from an instructive film just in case our presence is cited as evidence against us! Or, is it, that we are afraid looking into the mirror?

Pilger traces media manipulation to the first World War when “embedded” journalists first made an appearance. The great ideologue who set into motion the propaganda industry was Edward Louis Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud who moved to the US from Vienna, became a journalist and applied his uncle’s psychoanalytical concepts and extended them to crowd psychology.

Little wonder, Bernays served President Woodrow Wilson’s administration on the committee in Public Information during World War I. He was responsible for promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”.

Since the word “propaganda” acquired a negative connotation because of its use by the Germans during the war, Bernays blazed the trail of what the copycat world describes as “Public Relations”.

The most powerful idea is one which, when in control of the mind, leaves no room for curiosity about its source. It has become an organic part of the life of the mind.

Take this nugget from Bernays: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Quite incredibly, Bernays lived as long as his ideas enclosed the so called free minds. They are still in full gallop. The man died in 1995 at the age of 103! Repeat age of 103!

Sometimes there is very little difference between state control of the media and the promotion of a delusion about a free press. This delusion leaves yards of space for “engineering consent”. It might in these circumstances be fair to ask whether a cuckold is better off than a witness to infidelity?

In the case of colonized minds, the tragedy is two fold. Bernays, however perniciously, was serving the interests of the United States. But whose interest is the great Indian media serving when it allows itself to be co opted into the Bernays framework?
As we all know, the reality or the pretense, of the endgame in Afghanistan is of crucial importance to India. Already, an India-Afghan strategic partnership agreement is in place. The Afghan-US agreement is being dragged on by the Loya Jirga and the entire Afghan establishment.

Why? Because the Americans are unpopular and the Indians are not. In fact if an Indian TV team were to travel across Afghanistan, it would have friendly reception almost everywhere except some knotty junctions of conflict.

And yet Western TV crews, along with their Afghan stringers are all over the place. You might argue that Western crews have the entire NATO war machine helping them out.

Frankly, the great advantage of being an Indian journalist is the access Indians can have on all sides – occupiers and their victims.

And yet the Indian media prefers to be under the Bernays canopy, even avoiding an excellent evening that might have jogged the mind about the grand delusions we nurture about our freedoms.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Rahul Will Wait As President of Ruling Party Or of Opposition?

Rahul Will Wait As President of Ruling Party Or of Opposition?
Saeed Naqvi

Eversince Indira Gandhi centralized political power and proceeded to be distant, pundits have not been very convincing they have a grip on political information, leave alone wisdom. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the present Congress “High Command”, the situation these days is even worse. A report by Amitabh Dubey on the way the cookie might crumble within the Congress Party, has caused pundits to carry neatly folded clippings of the document and make appearances at parties with the sort of glint in their eyes which comes from knowledge.

Universal credibility was accorded to the report because he is the son of Suman Dubey, Rajiv Gandhi’s schoolmate. No surprise, then, that Amitabh knows Rahul Gandhi quite well.

As Director of London based Market Research Consultancy, Trusted Sources, Amitabh is required to keep investors, who are his clients, posted on important political events in India. Heaven knows how the story leaked to the Economic Times.

The inside page story on October 30 carried the headline: “Rahul Gandhi as PM will galvanize Congress says his analyst friend.” The repeat on November 5 had a different heading: “Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress Chief in weeks.” Then on November 6 “Rahul Gandhi now needs to rewrite campaign”. The first sentence in this story was: “Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of India’s Grand Old Party shortly……………..”

Just when the Pundits had begun to greet each other with that I-told-you-so bravado, the chairman of the Congress Media department, Janardhan Dwivedi, who occasionally knows, said something which was neither a confirmation nor denial of Amitabh Dubey’s appraisal, just a statement to keep the issue, and himself, in play.

Dubey’s report for his business clients had also hinted that Manmohan Singh may be on his way out by 2012, when the crucial UP elections are due. The implication was that a more dynamic Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister might impact more positively on the Congress outcome in UP.

Alternatively two other reliable candidates mentioned were Defence Minister A.K. Antony or Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar but the first was “too slow” in taking decisions while the second had “no administrative” experience. Names of Pranab Mukerjee and P. Chidambaram were mentioned with the rider that the open spat between them may have “hurt their chances”.

Dwivedi answered media queries in these words: “there is no suspense about it. He (Rahul) has a role, which is increasing constantly. In natural course, his role will go on increasing. This is what Congressmen want and this is what in their opinion is natural.” He then tosses the political googly: “Congress President Sonia Gandhi is here to lead the party and she will decide what to do and when.” This does not contradict earlier stories, only places the coronation cap in Sonia Gandhi’s hand.

The Congress sometimes divides itself into three coteries even though the principals, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are by themselves mostly in one huddle.

Sonia Gandhi’s unfortunate health is no longer a mystery. What is not known is her ability to cope with the workload Congress Presidentship requires, now that the election season is opening up. It makes immense sense for the family and well wishers for Rahul Gandhi to be strategically positioned to step in just in case Sonia Gandhi’s health requires him to.

This, it turns out, is Rahul’s best bet for the time being until the UP elections are out of the way in March 2012. Should the party do as well as some leaders like Digvijay Singh expect it to, Rahul’s time will have arrived to lead the party in the 2014 General Elections as Prime Ministerial candidate.

But the swollen ranks of pessimists on that score within the Congress may tend to obviate that possibility.

In which case Rahul follows his mother’s formula: Heads, I win; Tails, you lose. That is, I remain leader either of the ruling party or the one in opposition. I am only 41, I can wait and watch. And build the party.

For a party which is squeamish even about carrying out minor cabinet reshuffles, I don’t see how people are contemplating high voltage drama like looking for a Prime Ministerial change in such perilous times.

So, the Prime Minister stays on even as his detractors rub their eyes in disbelief, astonished that “The old man hath so much blood in him!”

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ask For I & B Report on Public Service Media, Justice Katju

Ask For I & B Report on Public Service Media, Justice Katju
Saeed Naqvi

In his avatar as Chairman of the Press Council, Justice Markandey Katju has raised a storm by describing the Indian media the way it is. Had he been around during UPA I, he would have received support from the Prime Minister who had set up a committee to chalk out a blue print for a Public Service Media.

While Indian newspapers have a history of over 150 years and therefore a built in mechanism for atleast minimal self correction, the electronic media came riding on Dr. Manmohan Singh’s economic reform in 1992.

The arrival of the Indian electronic media coincided more of less with the launching of the Global media by the West when Peter Arnett of the CNN reported operation Desert Storm from the terrace of the Al Rashid hotel in Baghdad. For the first time in our lives, we watched a war, live, in our drawing rooms.

The outcome, its live coverage, registered as triumph with the West, but as Muslim humiliation with the entire Muslim world. A humiliated, demoralized Muslim world became fertile ground breeding anger and revenge, raw material for militancy and terrorism. The Indian media had from the very beginning developed a poor-cousin relationship with global media: we shall cover national affairs and take footage from you on world affairs which we shall cover rarely. You shape the world; we shape the country.

When terrorism spiraled out of control on 9/11, the war on terror had to be launched. Taleban, who accorded hospitality to Osama bin Laden, were hammered out of power with logistical help from Pakistan. In the process of being hammered, some Taleban and Al Qaeda found sanctuary among cousins in Pakistan where many of them had, in any case, been trained by the ISI to fight the Soviets.

And now as NATO, the US and the Pakistan army exert themselves to eliminate militants they also kill innocent civilians. Every elimination results in a dozen militant recruitment centers opening up. The result is that moderate civil society in Pakistan is on the backfoot. The Army cannot show its preference either way for fear of agitation in its own ranks. The country is teetering on the brink, a scary scenario for the region.

Having established this background, let us revert to Markandey Katju’s critique of the Indian media.

“The media often divides the people” says Katju. “Whenever a bomb blast takes place anywhere in India, within a few hours, TV channels start saying an email or SMS has been received from Indian Mujahideen or Jaish-e-mohammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam claiming responsibility. The name will always be a Muslim name. Now an email and SMS can always be sent by a mischievous person who wants communal hatred. Why should they be shown on TV screens and next day in print? The subtle message being sent by showing this is that all Muslims are terrorists or bomb throwers.”

In its attitude to “terrorism”, the Indian media is in large measure imitative of the West. At the outset it did not even see the lack of logic in the way battlelines on the subcontinent were drawn by the West in its war on terror.

Since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the spare, high voltage Islam manufactured in Afghanistan struck in Kashmir. Some of the Afghan Arabs are now looking for work in Benghazi too. Cross border terrorism from Pakistan plagued India for decades. But after 9/11 the US enlisted the very same Pakistan as its frontline state in the global war on terror. US ambassador Robert Blackwill explained to Indians: “cross border terrorism was part of an old regional conflict; it was global terrorism that Pakistan had joined the US to fight.” Only after the December 13 attack on Parliament did New Delhi acquire equal status in the global war on terror.

Ofcourse, Katju is spot on as far as the media’s coverage of Muslim terror is concerned. He is equally right on the market driven focus on Formula 1, Lady Gaga, Mettallic group, bollywood gossip, fashion and other razzmatazz in a country where the majority are poor. And, ofcourse, a disproportionate 24X7 on Anna Hazare for ten days without a break.

Something else that needs to be brought into focus is the understanding between the Indian and global media on the coverage of foreign affairs. Is there an understanding indeed an agreement, that Indian channels will focus only on national and local issues and that foreign affairs will be covered by BBC, CNN, Reuters, AP etc? The Prime Minister, like Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee before him, is all too aware that India will never be at the global high table unless it has its own eyes and ears cover world affairs.

Is it not a shame that there is no Indian bureau in the SAARC countries, none in the countries where the so called Spring is breaking out? The mind of our decision makers on Libya for instance, is shaped by journalism which is from the countries raining bombs on Libya. Our journalism would have provided balance in such a polarized situation. During UPA I, several meetings were held in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to devise a Public Service Media insulated from the government and the market by a high powered Board of Trustees. At one such meeting an official asked a question which will remain etched on my mind as a stunner. “Supposing such a channel has a bureau in a country where there is deep American interest, will the bureau slant the story or cover it honestly?”

Justice Katju, ask for a copy of the report, that is if a report was ever prepared. I can vouch that meetings were held and I attended them.

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