EVAN JONES. Freedom of the press: to what end?

Nov 27, 2019

The Australian media have been running a campaign for freedom of the press, under the rubric yourrighttoknow.com.au. The campaign asks: ‘When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?’ A worthy cause. One needs to go further and ask: When the media keep the truth from you, what are they covering up?

Being a ‘progressive’ Sydney-sider, naturally I subscribe to the Sydney Morning Herald. Well might the SMH have some good local coverage and the occasional exposé. But the coverage beyond our shores?

The section on international affairs, labelled ‘World’, is not an attractive site. The Herald’s four overseas-based correspondents don’t delve too deeply (in particular, Nick Miller in London), reinforcing acceptable prejudices about the state of this troubled world beyond our shores.

Our prejudices? Out there in the dark world there are good guys and bad guys. We are part of the ‘good guys’ team, and it is a non-stop battle against evil.

The most ardent purveyors of this binary view of the world are not the Herald’s correspondents but the overseas media whose articles the Herald reproduces on a daily basis.

Thus do we ‘enlightened’ Aussies get our information from AP, AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg, the BBC, the UK Telegraph, etc. But, most of all, we get it from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The models of journalistic integrity, are they not? If Fairfax, now Nine Entertainment, has been short of cash and retrenches swathes of staff then why not reproduce the best of what the ‘good guys’ has to offer?

Well, no. The NYT and WaPo are establishment papers. The former’s moniker as ‘the paper of record’ is sadly misplaced. Are the paper’s senior editors not aware of the selectivity and distortions of the accounts that they import daily? Or are they conscious of such and choose deliberately to follow the herd?

The Herald’s letters page editors exercise a rigorous censorship process regarding feedback its paper’s international coverage (ditto the online comments moderator, albeit to a lesser extent). One infers that the orientation of the World section is a conscious editorial decision. It seems that Fairfax/Nine Entertainment chooses to privilege propaganda even over the prospect of selling more newspapers and subscribers and lifting its bottom line. Let them eat real estate, travel and sporting trivia.

Simply, much of the coverage in the Herald’s ‘World’ section is Fake News. Fake News is not the monopoly of social media denizens, but the bread and butter of the mainstream media – which includes our venerable ABC.

Thus, the last several years has given us a non-stop fat diet of Russiagate, the Skirpals / Dawn Sturgess and the Russian novichok killers, the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces as pure as the driven snow (add the White Helmets), Assad’s chemical warfare against his own people, William Browder’s crusade on the Magnitsky affair, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea, Russia’s obvious downing of MH17, the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, the monopolisation of violence by the forces of order in the Hong Kong riots, and the people valiantly overthrowing the imposter Morales who held onto office via a fraudulent election process. When the evidence evolves in unsatisfactory ways (Russiagate where?), the story is then obfuscated or ignored.

That the MSM lies to us as standard practice has been publicised and resisted by media activists in the construction of counter-sites. Thus FAIR was created in the US, especially to combat the NYT. Media Lens (UK) combats especially the BBC. Off-Guardian (UK) combats especially the UK Guardian, now completely rancid on political matters. Acrimed (France) combats the French MSM (the privately-owned media now the exclusive toys of billionaires and multi-millionaires, with the public media craven to power).

Sorry to say, folks, but we now get more sober coverage of global affairs from RT (the old Russia Today) than from much of the English language MSM.

The ‘engineering of consent’, as propaganda strategist Edward Bernays noted long ago, is a necessary and full-time business. It takes off when the masses are acquiring the vote during the 19th Century. Horrors. The elites suddenly saw the necessity for universal primary education. The lower orders must know their place and their role.

World War I provided many lessons regarding techniques, from which Bernays acquired his overarching vision.

But then after World War II there is constructed a new era – the Cold War. Thus is erected the propaganda war, on a grand scale befitting war-time, on a permanent basis. Most of us alive today are children of this era and its aftermath.

In a brilliant article (the UK Guardian, 15 June 1981) which had me jumping out of my seat when I read it, Noam Chomsky elucidated the character of Cold War propaganda. The title of that article captures his claim succinctly: ‘The cold war is a device by which superpowers control their own domains. That is why it will continue’. And so it has, and it shows no sign of abating.

Thus on 17 September 2019, the European Parliament (a time-serving, all-expenses-paid, powerless body of no import whatsoever) passed a motion in essence blaming the origins of World War II on the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the symbiotic evils of nazism and communism! God help us.

The MSM’s role, on our side, in promoting Cold War propaganda was fundamental. On the US front, James Aronson’s 1970 The Press and the Cold War highlights in detail that the NYT and WaPo, among other journals of the American quality press, were in the thick of the distortion-manufacture machine. Their participation in the Ellsberg 1971 Pentagon Papers disclosures was an aberration.

The MSM can’t let us know that our side is also knee-deep in evil ways. We know of the millions who died under Stalin and Mao. How many millions suffered and died under the yoke of various Western imperialisms, beatified as the metropolis exporting civilisation or freedom to the lesser breeds? Such information is available, but one first has to know what to look for and then where to look for it. In schools it’s called the History Wars and, being a process of inescapable socialisation, one has to be telling the respectable story or watch your back.

There is one subject in particular in which control of the narrative is imperative – that of Israel. Here is an ethnocracy conceived, constructed and maintained on the basis of ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population. Charming! The message necessarily has to be massaged. The last thing we want to be reading over breakfast is about Israel’s latest overnight atrocity, and to confront why we are being told that this is a good thing. That Israel is on the side of the ‘good guys’ presents a conundrum that we can’t let spoil the precious morning coffee.

The Herald is currently filling issue after issue on the essential evil which is the Chinese governing clique. When this clique finds time from brutally repressing the Uighur population (and the Tibetans), it is infiltrating the Australian body politic/economic/social and undermining our precious way of life.

I look forward to comparable coverage of the rogue state that is Israel. But it isn’t going to happen. Even if not explicitly sympatico (the NYT, the Murdoch media), MSM editorial and management are subservient before the torrent of abuse and harassment that they receive when, on occasion, appropriate reporting and analysis might have slipped through the self-censorship net.

Julian Assange, among others, sought to disclose some of ‘the truth’ regarding how the world works behind the acceptable misrepresentations that the MSM is happy to promulgate. At least four governments have conspired to destroy him for his misplaced bravado.

It’s not obvious that the Australian MSM’s crusade under yourrighttoknow.com.au has the fate of Assange high on its list of priorities.

The Herald’s masthead is ‘Independent. Always’. It’s overdue that that vaunted independence is used to clean up the World section of the paper. Add an up-front commitment to the cause of Assange, urgent while his health is holding out. Nick Miller (Herald, 20 November) still doesn’t get it. Assange is now rotting in prison, dying, because he took at face value our right to know.

Evan Jones is an Honorary in the Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney. He has degrees from Melbourne University and Michigan State University. From 1973, he lectured in Economics then Political Economy until retiring in 2006. Previous research and publications have covered post-World War II Australian economic policy, corporate predation against small business, and critiques of mainstream economics methodology. His current writing interests include the Australian banking sector, especially its proclivities to corruption, and French politics.

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