David Cromwell

David Cromwell

David Cromwell is a founder and editor of Media Lens

Take away their power: climate breakdown and the corporate media
Tuesday, 23 June 2020 09:37

Take away their power: climate breakdown and the corporate media

David Cromwell outlines the way the media is beholden to corporate capitalism, and calls for a radical democratisation of ownership and control of the broadcast and print media

In his classic science fiction novel, 'Foundation', Isaac Asimov posited a future in which 'psychohistorians' could predict outcomes based on past history and the large-scale behaviour of human populations by combining psychology and the mathematics of probability. Using 'psychohistory', the protagonist Hari Seldon discovers that the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire will collapse in 500 years. He warns the galactic rulers of this likely fate, while explaining that an alternative future in which human knowledge is preserved can be attained. For his trouble, he is exiled to the remote planet of Terminus.

In today's world, the prospects for human civilisation, never mind the existence of historians in the future, look bleak indeed. According to many leading climate scientists and biologists, the most likely outcome for humanity is the collapse of what is called 'civilisation'. They warn that it may already be too late to change course.

These are the shocking expert conclusions, rooted in scientific evidence and careful rational arguments, which are routinely underplayed, marginalised or simply ignored by 'mainstream' news media.

Last November, the world's most prestigious science journal, Nature, published a study by eminent climate scientists warning that nine major 'tipping points' which regulate global climate stability are dangerously close to being triggered. These include the slowing down of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, massive deforestation of the Amazon, and accelerating ice loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet. Any one of these nine tipping points, if exceeded, could push the Earth's climate into catastrophic runaway global warming. There could even be a 'domino effect' whereby one tipping point triggers another tipping point which, in turn, triggers the next one and so on, in a devastating cascade.

Given the normal custom of academics to use sober language, the warning statements in the pages of Nature were stark:

'The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel [our emphasis] political and economic action on emissions.'

The researchers are clear that:

'we are in a climate emergency and [our study of tipping points] strengthens this year's chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.'

In short, there is 'an existential threat to civilization' and 'no amount of economic cost–benefit analysis is going to help us.'

This should have dwarfed news coverage of Brexit for months. One of the study's co-authors, Will Stefen, emeritus professor of climate and Earth System science at the Australian National University, told Voice of Action, an Australian publication, that all this raises the ultimate question:

'Have we already lost control of the system? Is collapse now inevitable?'

In other words, there may simply not be enough time to stop tipping points being reached, as he explained with this metaphor:

'If the Titanic realises that it's in trouble and it has about 5km that it needs to slow and steer the ship, but it's only 3km away from the iceberg, it's already doomed.'

We searched the ProQuest media database for mentions of this particularly disturbing quote by Steffen, a world-renowned climate expert, in national UK newspapers. We found the grand total of one in a short article in the Daily Express. What could better sum up the pathology of the 'mainstream' news media than ignoring urgent authoritative warnings of the likely collapse of the climate system?

Scientists have been sounding the alarm for some time that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction in Earth's long biological history. But this time the cause is not a natural calamity, such as a huge volcanism event or an asteroid strike, but human 'civilisation'. Worse still, the careful evidence accrued by biologists in study after study indicates that the global mass loss of species is accelerating. In 2017, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that billions of populations of animals have disappeared from the Earth amidst what they called a 'biological annihilation.' They said the findings were worse than previously thought.

Earlier this month, a new study revealed that five hundred species of land animals are likely to become extinct over the next two decades. Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of the paper, declared:

'We're eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.'

While humans continue to destroy species and natural habitats, Ceballos and his colleagues warn of a 'cascading series of impacts', including more frequent occurrences of new diseases and pandemics, such as Covid-19. He summarised:

'All of us need to understand that what we do in the next five to 10 years will define the future of humanity.'

But the crucial window for action is likely much shorter than that. And it is not just the 'usual suspects' of Greens and wild-eyed radicals who claim so. According to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, the world has just six months to avert climate crisis. This is the timescale required to 'prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe'.

Samuel Alexander, a lecturer with the University of Melbourne and research fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, told Voice of Action that the looming end of organised human society would not be a single event. Instead, we are approaching a stage:

'where we face decades of ongoing crises, as the existing mode of civilisation deteriorates, but then recovers as governments and civil society tries to respond, and fix things, and keep things going for a bit longer.'

He added:

'Capitalism is quite good at dodging bullets and escaping temporary challenges to its legitimacy and viability. But its condition, I feel, is terminal.'

Meanwhile, Steffen believes that current mass protests, such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, are not yet a sign of collapse but one of 'growing instability'. Alexander concurs, saying that it is a sign of 'steam building up within a closed system'. Without large-scale grassroots action and radical shifts in government policies, we are 'likely to see explosions of civil unrest increasingly as things continue to deteriorate'. However, he offered hope that, with sufficient public pressure, the future could still be 'post-growth / post capitalist / post-industrial in some form.'

Graham Turner, a former senior Australian government research scientist, observed:

'I think if we all manage to live a simpler and arguably more fulfilling life then it would be possible still with some technological advances to have a sustainable future, but it would seem that it's more likely ... that we are headed towards or perhaps on the cusp of a sort of global collapse.'

He fears that the public as a whole will only demand change once 'they're actually losing their jobs or losing their life or seeing their children directly suffer'.

One positive practical step that people could take, he says, is to push for changes in the law governing corporations:

'so that corporations don't have more legal rights than people, and are not compelled to make a profit for shareholders.'

Meanwhile, Siberia, of all places, is undergoing a prolonged heatwave, described by one climate scientist as 'undoubtedly alarming', which is driving 2020 towards being the globally hottest year on record.

Media 'failure' is default media performance

Many new and dramatic climate findings are, of course, reported in the science and environment sections of newspapers. But the compelling case for a radical shift in society towards sustainability are barely touched upon in corporate news media, for obvious reasons.

In particular, the imminent threat of climate collapse rarely intrudes into the numerous pages devoted to 'politics', business and the economy. These pages feature a whole slew of correspondents, columnists and commentators who are rewarded for not questioning the status quo.

Worse, no leading political editor – the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg and ITV's Robert Peston spring to mind – ever seriously challenges the Prime Minister, or other senior politicians, on the huge risk of climate breakdown. The Westminster 'village' – surely as insular a social bubble as has ever existed in this country – is almost entirely divorced from the reality of onrushing climate chaos.

As independent journalist Rebecca Fisher, formerly of Corporate Watch, noted recently:

'UK's current form of "democracy" cannot protect the public. The "Westminster model" was developed to promote unregulated economic growth and prevent the public from real participation in how society is run.'

And yet, unlike the power-hungry Westminster navel-gazers, the public does believe climate is an urgent issue. A new survey of 80,000 people conducted across forty countries reveals that fewer than three per cent believe climate change is not serious at all.

But, as we and others have long argued, a fundamental obstacle to shifting to a saner, more democratic society is the narrow concentration of media ownership; a structural impediment in today's world to truly free and open debate. This extreme state of affairs has been tracked in the UK by the independent Media Reform Coalition which represents several groups and individuals committed to promoting journalism and communications that work for the benefit of the public. The MRC is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The coalition's most recent report on UK media ownership, published in 2019, revealed that the problem is now even worse than at the time of its previous report in 2015. Just three companies – Rupert Murdoch's News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach (publisher of the Mirror titles) dominate 83 per cent of the national newspaper market (up from 71 per cent in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies – News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph – dominate nearly 80 per cent of the market.

The report's authors warned:

'We believe that concentration in news and information markets in particular has reached endemic levels in the UK and that we urgently need effective remedies. Concentrated ownership creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests.'

The warning is further backed up in a forthcoming book, 'The Media Manifesto' (Polity Books, August 2020), by Fenton and co-authors Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and Lina Dencik. They emphasise a crucial point that is a longstanding characteristic of rational media analysis: we must stop using the misleading framework of media 'failures'. As Noam Chomsky observed many years ago in describing media performance:

‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.' ('Deterring Democracy’, Hill & Wang, 1992, p. 79)

It is therefore not a 'failure' when newspapers and broadcasters neglect to scrutinise state-corporate power. Granting a free pass to power is virtually their raison d'être. Or, as 'The Media Manifesto' observes:

'[The] inability to hold power to account shouldn't be seen as an unprecedented "failure" of the media to perform its democratic role when, in fact, this has long been the media's normal role under capitalism: to naturalize and legitimize existing and unequal social relations.'

The authors continue with examples:

'It's not about failing to hold banks to account but about the complicity of financial journalists and commentators in celebrating neoliberal economics ahead of the 2008 financial crash; it's not about failing to be tough on racism but about the media's historic perpetuation of racist stereotypes and promotion of anti-immigrant frames; it's not about failing to recognize the challenges of apocalyptic climate change but about repeating tropes about "natural" disasters such as hurricanes, heatwaves and forest fires, together with routine "balanced" debates between climate change scientists and deniers. These are not examples of the media's malfunctioning but of its default behaviour.'

Is the BBC any different?

But, goes up the cry from the back row, what about 'our' blessed BBC? It is, after all, obliged by its Royal Charter to report objectively and impartially, untrammelled by billionaire ownership or tawdry commercialisation. Right? Not so.

As Des Freedman observes of the BBC:

'[It] is a compromised version of a potentially noble ideal: far too implicated in and attached to existing elite networks of power to be able to offer an effective challenge to them'. ('The Media Manifesto', op. cit., p. 88)

As can be seen every day of the week, the BBC typically follows a similar agenda to UK newspapers in its own news coverage. Freedman adds:

'Far from retaining its autonomy from all vested interests, and delivering a critical and robust public interest journalism, the BBC has been a key institutional mechanism for reinforcing establishment "common sense" and has represented the strategic interests of the powerful more than the disparate views of ordinary audiences.'

He continues:

'It has reached the point where even the accomplished former World Service journalist, Owen Bennett-Jones, has condemned the BBC's dependence on official sources and argues that "there is plenty of evidence that the BBC, in both its international and domestic manifestations, deserves the epithet 'state broadcaster'." Without significant reform, public service media are, in reality, just as likely to be embroiled in the reproduction of media power as their commercial counterparts and therefore just as likely to be part of the problem rather than the solution.' (pp. 23-24)

Fenton emphasises the point later in the book:

'despite its claims to be impartial and independent, the BBC has always sided with the elite and been in thrall to those in power.' (p. 88)

Regular readers will be aware that, since we began publishing media alerts in 2001, we have examined in depth hundreds of examples of the BBC doing exactly this. If you include those examples that we highlight almost daily on Twitter and Facebook, they undoubtedly number in the thousands. Many of the most insidious examples of such bias, omission and distortion in BBC News have been expanded upon in several of our books. There is no shortage of evidence that BBC News functions as a propaganda outlet for state and corporate interests.

A fundamental obstacle to radical societal change to avert climate breakdown, therefore, is that 'mainstream' media, including BBC News, exist primarily to uphold the interests of capital and, in addition, particularly in the case of the BBC, the state:

'Modern capitalism resides on the complex relationship between the neoliberal market and the neoliberal state. To address meaningfully the consequences of climate change, massively reduce inequality and eradicate poverty, would destabilize the power relations that underpin finance-led growth. For example, if the mainstream [sic] press industries do not attempt to maximise their profits in any way they can today, they will probably not exist tomorrow.' (pp. 84-85)

Take away their power

In a sane world, if senior scientists who normally use understated academic language start warning of an 'existential threat' to human civilisation, then responsible news media would leap into action with huge headlines and in-depth coverage. There would be extensive interviews with scientists on BBC News at Ten, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, BBC Radio 4 Today, and other major programmes. They would all follow up with urgent analysis of what needs to be done immediately in the realms of politics and economics to avert the climate threat, or at least minimise the serious consequences of that threat. Instead, state-corporate media have, in effect, exiled scientists to a distant planet in a remote part of the Galaxy where they can be ignored.

Billionaire-owned media, controlled by corporate boards and dependent on corporate ad revenue, and a state broadcaster forever hobbled by bowing to corporate-beholden governments, can never provide the answers to climate breakdown. As 'The Media Manifesto' argues, with detailed recommendations, we need properly accountable, public-interest news media that are truly democratic, diverse and sustainable.

All the citizen movements that we see today, including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, will not succeed unless common aims are sought across diverse campaigns with a united goal; namely, dismantling the state-corporate media that are the propaganda wing for destructive state-corporate power, and replacing such media with news organisations that serve the public interest.

We must be clear that the powerful need to be challenged directly; non-violently, yes, but with strength, persistence and wisdom on the basis of clear strategic aims. Meekly asking for change and accepting weak compromises will not work given the gravity of the climate crisis. Media academic Robert McChesney put it well:

'Many liberals who wish to reform and humanize capitalism are uncomfortable with seemingly radical movements, and often work to distance themselves from them, lest respectable people in power cast a withering eye at them. "Shhh," they say to people like me. "If we antagonize or scare those in power we will lose our seat at the table and not be able to win any reforms." Yet these same liberal reformers often are dismayed at how they are politically ineffectual. Therein lies a great irony, because to enact significant reforms requires a mass movement (or the credible prospect of a mass movement) that does indeed threaten the powerful.' (Robert McChesney, 'Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy', Monthly Review Press, 2014, pp. 26-27)

In short, the powerful need to have their power – originally stolen from us anyway – taken away from them in order to ensure human survival.

This article is republished from Media Lens.

The Deadly Facade Of 'Democracy'
Wednesday, 19 February 2020 12:06

The Deadly Facade Of 'Democracy'

 David Cromwell analyses the way that autocratic, runaway capitalism has corrupted the mainstream media, and why there will not, and cannot, be major changes in society without genuine public ownership and control of the media. Image: Democracy Devoured, by kennardphillips

If you were mad enough to judge the state of the world by the daily outpourings of 'mainstream' media, you would have no real understanding of the perilous state of the human race. Or, if you had concerns on seeing the latest news on climate breakdown, you would not be fully informed about the powerful elites that are driving all of us towards this looming catastrophe. Nor would you be alerted to the overriding and immediate imperative for the public to exert its own huge power to avert almost unimaginable disaster, not least human extinction.

Last month, many news outlets did indeed report that the famous 'Doomsday Clock' had moved to 100 seconds to midnight, the symbolic hour of the apocalypse. This was the first time the clock had ever moved past the two-minute mark. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had taken this dramatic step to mark the growing global threats from climate breakdown and nuclear war. Ban Ki-moon, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, warned:

this needs to be a wake-up call for the world.

But the following day it was business as usual in politics, industry, financial trading and the corporate news media. That is, of course, no surprise. As the past three decades of pathetic government 'responses' to climate scientists' warnings have shown, since the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988, powerful sectors of society have ignored, even scorned, 'wake-up calls' that threaten their privileged position and huge corporate profits.

Every year, climate records are tumbling. By last month, official climate data for 2019 had been compiled. Last year was the second or third warmest year on record for surface temperature, depending on the dataset used, and the warmest year without a major El Niño event. It was the warmest year for ocean heat content. There were record lows in sea ice extent and volume in the Arctic and Antarctic for much of April-August. The minimum Arctic sea ice extent reached in September was the joint second lowest on record. Global sea levels and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations reached new highs, while the world's glaciers continued to melt.

As world leaders and CEOs met at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2020, Greenpeace rightly accused them of hypocrisy over the climate emergency. Twenty-four banks that regularly attend Davos have provided $1.4 trillion of financial support for the hydrocarbon sector since the Paris agreement set new emissions reduction goals in 2015.

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International's executive director, noted that the WEF's mission statement is to 'improve the state of the world'. But, in reality:

The banks, insurers and pension funds here at Davos are culpable for the climate emergency. Despite environmental and economic warnings, they're fuelling another global financial crisis by propping up the fossil fuel industry. These money men at Davos are nothing short of hypocrites as they say they want to save the planet but are actually killing it for short-term profit.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called for governments and financial interests to immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, to end all fossil fuel subsidies, and to completely divest from fossil fuels. She warned:

in case you haven't noticed, the world is currently on fire.

Thunberg continued:

You say children shouldn't worry. You say: "Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won't let you down." And then — nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence. Empty words and promises which give the impression that sufficient action is being taken.

These were valuable nuggets of wisdom. Predictably, however, she was then subjected to the sneering putdowns of imperial power. In effect: 'Thou shalt not question what we do.' Most notably, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin first pretended not to know who Greta Thunberg is, before telling her to go to college and study economics. That the world's climate system obeys the laws of physics, rather than capitalist economics, was clearly of no concern to him.

Runaway Capitalism

Humanity has reached the edge of the climate abyss because what passes for 'democracy' is a propaganda myth, sold endlessly to the public by politicians, Big Business and the state-corporate media. That myth acts as a thin veneer covering rampant global capitalism. We are now in the terminal stages of this destructive system.

Noam Chomsky has put the basic contradiction between genuine democracy and capitalism in these stark terms:

Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.

(Quoted in 'Chomsky on Democracy & Education', edited by C. P. Otero, RoutledgeFalmer, London, 2003, p. 335)

We can look further into what this means in practice. In 2013, the UK-based Corporate Watch, a non-profit group of researchers and publishers, released an important book titled, 'Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy and the Organisation of Consent'. The book was inevitably ignored by the 'mainstream' media, with zero reviews according to our searches.

In an online interview, Rebecca Fisher, the book’s editor, explained how supposed 'democracy' in advanced capitalist countries deviates starkly from genuine democracy:

Firstly, we only get to vote once every 4 to 5 years nationally.

Secondly, the choices put to us are severely limited – all the available political parties are pretty homogeneous – no political party is likely to get the funding or the establishment support if they presented a radically different alternative.

Thirdly, important decisions, structural decisions, are made by corporations, institutions and elites in the interests of capital, often tightly insulated from "political" interference. And since these businesses exert such power, they also tend to exert power over politicians, almost always with more success than the public can.

Fisher added one more essential feature of what passes for 'democracy':

Fourthly, the information about how the world operates, and what decisions are made, by whom and for whom, is strictly policed, via means of corporate and state manipulation and control of the media, and other knowledge producing systems. This means that certain myths and disinformations can exert remarkable power over public opinion; and opinions that run counter to the mainstream are portrayed as "illegitimate".

The result is a 'democracy' in which:

the major decisions affecting the vast majority of the world’s populations are made by a very small elite of individuals and transnational corporations, who prioritise the demands of capital accumulation above any human or environmental concerns.

In short, genuine participatory democracy and capitalism are fundamentally incompatible. As Fisher notes, a crucial mechanism for ensuring that capitalism maintains a stranglehold on real democracy is the state-corporate use of propaganda. And as Chomsky has repeatedly pointed out:

Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism. The techniques have been honed to a high art, far beyond anything that Orwell dreamt of. The device of feigned dissent, incorporating the doctrines of the state religion and eliminating rational critical discussion, is one of the more subtle means, though more crude techniques are also widely used and are highly effective in protecting us from seeing what we observe, from knowledge and understanding of the world in which we live.

(Quoted, Otero, op. cit., p. 212)

These more 'crude techniques' include the kind of intense and relentless 'propaganda blitz' that we saw with the cynical smearing of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an 'antisemite'. As we all know, this blitz was a major success in keeping Corbyn, and hopes of moderate socialism, out of 10 Downing Street.

Issues of fundamental concern to power, especially foreign policy and upholding the interests of capital, can only be achieved by heavy pressure exerted on the public by a system of indoctrination from a young age. Chomsky adds:

The liberal media provide a particularly important service. They establish the limits: thus far, and no further. These limits incorporate the basic presuppositions of the propaganda system: the U.S. is committed to peace, justice, human rights, democracy, and other noble causes, and seeks only to defend these values against their enemies. That the media adhere to these conditions generally has been documented beyond serious question.

(Quoted, ibid., p. 213)

In the US, the 'liberal media' includes the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post. In the UK, we have BBC News and the Guardian.

To investigate the extent to which elite interests shape US government policy, social scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page examined 1,800 policy decisions made by Washington between 1981 and 2002:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.... Ordinary citizens might often be observed to "win" (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.

(Quoted, Robert McChesney, 'Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy', Monthly Review Press, New York, 2014, p. 14)

As US media commentator Robert McChesney wrote:

In short, when organized wealth wants one thing and the mass of the people wants another, money wins – always. "Democracy" has been reduced to powerless people rooting for their favored billionaire or corporate lobby to advance their values and interests, and hoping such a billionaire exists and that they get lucky.

(Ibid., p. 14)

Although propaganda is a key mechanism in ostensibly democratic societies, violence can also, and will, be deployed to pursue state objectives; notably in launching attacks on foreign 'enemies'. Media analyst Gregory Shupak points to US government belief in its 'inalienable right to violence', echoed repeatedly by a compliant media:

Even when critical of US actions, media commentary on recent US bombings and assassinations in the Middle East is premised on the assumption that the US has the right to use violence (or the threat of it) to assert its will, anytime, anywhere. Conversely, corporate media coverage suggests that any countermeasure—such as resistance to the US presence in Iraq—is inherently illegitimate, criminal and/or terroristic. […] In the imperial imagination, the US has the right to violently pursue its objectives wherever it wants, and any resistance is illegitimate.

Chomsky observed in a recent interview that the US has built a 'global dystopia' by the brute force of its imperial ambitions:

This is standard imperial history. We're right in the middle of it. It's not American exceptionalism. It's American conformity to standard imperial history, along with the propaganda of innocence, exceptionalism, and so on. And interestingly, the best and the brightest are accepting the propaganda. That's what they're focusing on. Not the rational imperial planning; the implementation of it, which unfortunately is pretty successful. Many millions of people are paying for that. That's what we should be thinking about.

'Dissatisfaction' With 'Democracy'

But very little, if anything, of the above vital facts and cogent commentary about capitalism, imperialism and democracy appear in state-corporate media. When the topic is ever broached at all, it is tentatively and superficially addressed within a narrow, power-friendly framework. For example, a recent BBC News report blandly noted that:

Dissatisfaction with democracy within developed countries is at its highest level in almost 25 years, according to University of Cambridge researchers.

The global study was based on four million people in 3,500 surveys. Overall, the proportion dissatisfied had risen since 1995 from 48% to 58%. 'Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise,' report author Dr Roberto Foa said.

The UK and the United States had particularly high levels of discontent, with the UK at 61%. The BBC article made a cursory mention of possible reasons:

[The study results] could reflect political and social reverberations of the "economic shock" of the financial crash of 2008 and disquiet from the refugee crisis of 2015 and "foreign policy failures".

The weasel phrase 'foreign policy failures' is standard newspeak to cover US-led, blood-soaked wars and crimes of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

Buried at the bottom of the BBC article was this line from Dr Foa:

If confidence in democracy has been slipping, it is because democratic institutions have been seen failing to address some of the major crises of our era, from economic crashes to the threat of global warming.

And that was it. Thus, a vanishingly rare mention of fundamental dissent about what passes for 'democracy' lacked any substantive discussion and in-depth analysis of the myriad valid reasons for public distrust in governments. The truth is, state-corporate media, including BBC News, play a central role in keeping public opinion marginalised and away from the levers of power. Ignorance is strength, just as George Orwell wrote.

One has to look to 'alternative' media to obtain sustained insightful critiques of the UK government's abysmal record in both domestic and foreign policy. In a recent article for the South Africa-based website, Daily Maverick, British historian and author Mark Curtis addressed a number of UK government policies that grossly contravene domestic and international law. Curtis began by noting:

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab recently described the "rule of international law" as one of the "guiding lights" of UK foreign policy. By contrast, the government regularly chides states it opposes, such as Russia or Iran, as violators of international law. These governments are often consequently termed "rogue states" in the mainstream media, the supposed antithesis of how "we" operate.

Curtis listed 17 examples of appalling UK government policy including:

The Royal Air Force's drone war to strike targets in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
UK complicity in Israel's human rights abuses; not least Israel's collective punishment of Gaza.
Arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
The arbitrary detention and torture of Julian Assange.
Amnesty for crimes committed by UK soldiers.
GCHQ's mass surveillance of the public.
As Curtis noted, his list of 17 UK government policies was not exhaustive. But even such an abbreviated list:

suggests that the term "rogue state" is not sensationalist or misplaced when it comes to describing Britain's own foreign and "security" policies.

Inevitably, any deviation from the standard, power-friendly script is immediately pounced upon and the offender berated. Last month, BBC reporter Orla Guerin referred fleetingly on BBC News at Ten to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories in a news report linked to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. British Jewish community leaders and former BBC executives leapt on her 'unjustifiably offensive' remarks, even accusing her of antisemitism.

What was Guerin's supposed 'crime'? Over footage of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem, Guerin had said:

In Yad Vashem's Hall of Names, images of the dead. Young soldiers troop in to share in the binding tragedy of the Jewish people. The state of Israel is now a regional power. For decades, it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.

As Jonathan Cook, an Israel-based independent journalist who once worked for the Guardian/Observer, wrote:

Guerin's was a very meek – bland even – reference to the predicament of the Palestinians after Europe's sponsorship, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration onwards, of a Jewish state on their homeland. There was no mention of the Palestinians' undoubted suffering over many decades or of Israel's documented war crimes against the Palestinians. All that Guerin referred to was an indisputable occupation that followed, and one could argue was a legacy of, Israel's creation.

The glaring phenomenon of tightly managed 'mainstream' news and permissible commentary – on climate breakdown, capitalism and foreign policy – indicates one inescapable truth: there will not, and cannot, be major changes in society without genuinely public media. Human survival, quite literally, depends upon it.

This article is republished from Media Lens.