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“The island of saints and scholars and gombeens and fucking arse-lickers.” 
Christy Moore on Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ireland

 
Ireland has always had something of an affinity with the United States. Decades of mass emigration to the States created a powerful Irish-American community, so influential that presidential candidates are always keen to highlight whatever tenuous link they have with this tiny island.

The visit to Belfast by Barack Obama before the G8 Summit was, like all other presidential visits, a circus of sycophancy and flattery, revealing much about our media and political class. Politicians, dignitaries and journalists appeared infatuated as the charismatic, photogenic war criminal took to the stage at the Waterfront Hall to instruct us how to build a peaceful society. The crowd giggled and cheered when he used a common local phrase, handing an easy “news” angle to an obedient local media.

The pomp was absurd and the conduct of our politicians, who are supposed to constitute a government, was embarrassing. United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly put it well when she attacked Enda Kenny for “prostituting” the country to the Obamas “in return for a pat on the head”, for which the Taoiseach attempted to rebuke her in his characteristically dull and mumbling way.

As ever, the local media in the north was devoid of any real analysis. Irritating clichés such as “feel good factor” and “putting Belfast on the map” were brandished about by hacks who had clearly run out of things to say after violence predictably failed to materialise at the ICTU’s anti-G8 demonstration last Saturday. Obama’s apparent support for the northern peace process was hailed by many. No mention was made of the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan or the thousands of civilians murdered by CIA drones. Nor was the incarceration of Bradley Manning, who has spent over three years in solitary confinement, deemed worth discussing.  

The Obama visit exposed the insular, provincial mindset which is dominant in the north of Ireland. Despite the mutilated corpses of nearly 200 children murdered by US drones in recent years, the president was treated like a demigod, whose infinite wisdom on peace and harmony was to be bestowed upon us mere ignorant Paddies. This was in keeping with our political leaders’ peculiar fixation on seeking approval from the most violent and aggressive government on earth for the Irish peace process. SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt described Obama’s speech in the Waterfront as “inspirational”. No acknowledgement was made of the countless crimes committed by Obama’s administration. The SDLP appear to oppose political violence only when it happens on a small scale here in Ireland.

This is part of an alarming tendency which has taken hold in the west. George W Bush was rightly despised by most people around the world, unlike Barack Obama. He still enjoys a considerable degree of popularity. Yet, in many respects, Obama is worse than Bush. Not only has he continued Bush’s wars, he has escalated them with enthusiasm. At the minute, he is seeking to arm gangs of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, a prospect which promises to make the bloodbath there infinitely worse. His administration has persecuted more whistleblowers than all other previous administrations combined, most recently, Edward Snowden. And, in a disturbingly Orwellian fashion, Obama sits down every Tuesday with a team of national security advisors to draw up a list of people, no matter where they are in the world, to be summarily executed by US forces. Did he take time out of the G8 Summit last Tuesday to draw up a similar list? Did he ponder about who would be on his list this week after speaking with school children in Belfast? Questions such as these are deemed unmentionable by our obedient media.  

Obama’s charm has deceived many. It’s no accident that he was awarded ‘marketer of the year’ in 2008 by Advertising Age. As well as being a war criminal, Obama is also a brand. His supporters don’t want to accept that he has continued Bush’s wars, filled his administration with Wall Street lobbyists and spies on American and foreign citizens. All of this is brushed aside by his liberal apologists who suggest he is unable to do anything different. The fact that he is less blatant about his imperial crimes than Bush was appears to have absolved him in the eyes of trendy middle class liberals. Where is the popular indignation against Obama that we saw when his predecessor invaded sovereign nations?  Where is the outcry about the plight of hunger strikers in the Guantanamo Bay internment camp? Why do we not hear calls for his arrest for war crimes, as we did with Bush?

It’s of little shock that the gombeens and arse-lickers who packed out the Waterfront Hall – similar to the ones referred to by Christy Moore – fail to see beyond Obama’s sinister propaganda.

This article was published in the Morning Star

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Next month, the leaders of the world’s eight richest countries will convene in County Fermanagh to hammer out how meddlesome foreign policies and a destructive economic doctrine known as austerity will be implemented over the next twelve months.  The G8 summit has been accompanied by an imposing mixture of merriment, glee and propaganda, revealing much about the state of Northern Ireland’s obedient local media.

The propaganda takes both a positive and a negative form.  On one hand, “business leaders” hail the summit as an enormous boost for the local economy, the silver bullet needed to rejuvenate a rural county long forgotten by policy makers. Absurd claims of a tourism boost go largely uncontested in a buttering-up process intended to encourage the population to notice only the pleasant side of deficit hawks, war criminals and a mafia gangster.

On the other hand, a malicious smear campaign has been orchestrated, lumping entirely peaceful protesters together with dissident republicans and fictional “anarchists”, who are said to exist in their thousands. The purpose of this is obvious. People are being intimidated with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if they take part in any counter demonstrations. The ‘liberal’ local Justice Minister, David Ford, has set aside an entire wing of the maximum security Maghaberry prison for “rioters” while the PSNI have employed the use of surveillance drones, remarkable by the fact that no main party in Stormont has so far voiced any concerns.

Press releases issued by the PSNI and local government have, predictably, been regurgitated by a local press eager for an easy news story. In a bizarre front page article earlier this month, the Irish News reported that “thousands of anarchists” were intending to take over buildings in Belfast during the summit. The scaremongering is blatant. Yet, any analysis explaining why many people feel the need to protest against the G8 is glaringly absent in the vast majority of news reports. Of course, little of this is surprising.

Since the end of the conflict in the north fifteen years ago, a new “common sense” has taken hold. The public sector is said to be “bloated” and the only remedy for our weak economy is to lure foreign investment by radically slashing taxes for the rich. The politics of green and orange is overlapped by an economic consensus which contends that “the markets” know best, taxes should be minimal and the role of the state is merely to facilitate the successful operation of private business.  Dublin academic Conor McCabe, author of Sins of the Father, describes this as the “double transition” – a transition towards both peace and neo-liberalism. “Eastern Europe, South Africa and Northern Ireland,” he wrote, “are all unique in terms of the dynamics of their history and geography. What they have in common is that they found themselves as societies in transition at a time when economic thought had solidified around neo-liberal principles.” To oppose an administration which has overseen a doubling of unemployment in six years is to oppose the ‘peace process’. “Sure it’s better than the Troubles,” is the popular reaction.  

The adherence to neo-liberalism is clear to be seen in the approach of politicians and mainstream commentators. “I think this will be a brilliant advertisement for Northern Ireland,” gloated David Cameron when the announcement about the summit was first made. “I want the world to see just what a fantastic place Northern Ireland is – a great place for business, a great place for investment, a place with an incredibly educated and trained workforce ready to work for international business”. Northern Ireland is no longer a country (not that I ever accepted that it was); it’s a business and should be run as such. The economy should be, above all else, “competitive” – a euphemism for low wages and high profits. So goes the conventional narrative.

Despite this apparent negativity, the G8 summit is an opportunity to challenge this tedious narrative. On Saturday, June 15, thousands will pack the streets of Belfast to demonstrate their opposition to the policies of those attending the summit. On the following Monday, another rally will make its way from Enniskillen towards the Lough Erne Hotel where the summit is being held. The smears and intimidation shouldn’t discourage anyone from attending either protest.

As well as these demonstrations a four-day festival of political discussion, comedy and music will take place in Belfast. Organised by activists from ICTU Youth and the Belfast Trades Council, the ‘Another World is Possible Festival’ is an opportunity for discussion, debate and activism. Highlight speakers include George Galloway and Tariq Ali, as well as trade union leaders from Nipsa, UNISON and Unite. I feel honoured to have taken part in the organising of this festival, particularly since we have received solidarity greetings from John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Richard Wolf and others. The potential is there to inspire people to become involved in trade unionism and socialist politics who wouldn’t otherwise do so. The festival can begin to challenge the trite politics of Stormont, confront the dogma of “the markets” and build a movement for change. Ignore what is claimed in the media. This is not about damaging property or throwing bricks at the police. This is about the age old working-class principles of action; education, agitation and organisation.

We deserve a better kind of politics – and a better media, for that matter. If you’re angry at unemployment, cuts, bank bailouts, austerity, emigration, the divide-and-rule tactics of conservatives, racism, war, imperialism, inequality, the destruction of the environment, lousy wages, over work, immoral corporations, poverty, hunger or unrepresentative politicians, this festival is for you. No one’s political activity should be confined to sitting on an armchair screaming at the evening news. Everyone has the ability to change society. We don’t need to wait on odious sycophants such as Bono and Bob Geldof to raise the issues which affect the bulk of humanity. We have the ability to empower ourselves.

Another world is possible.

For a full listing of events, visit www.anotherworldispossiblebelfast.org or follow the festival on Twitter @AntiG8Protest

This article was published in the Morning Star

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On August 9, an article in the Belfast Telegraph warned readers that Northern Ireland faced an impending economic “meltdown”. Accountancy firm KPMG’s Eamonn Donaghy, described in the report as “a top financial expert”, argued that the region’s economy was not sustainable without reducing corporation tax to 12.5%, in line with the Republic of Ireland. Mr Donaghy is one of a long list of “experts” regularly carted out by the local media in support of the tax cut.

Unimaginatively held up as the saving grace of a battered economy, all four main parties in the Stormont Assembly have rallied behind the appeals of these “experts”, whose collective failure to foresee the worst economic crisis in 70 years should, by all rights, consign them into obscurity. The prevalent narrative of the issue is a pleasingly simple one – low taxes will attract business to the region, and this investment will create jobs.

Reporting of the issue has been extraordinarily one-sided. Representatives of banks, finance firms and other multinationals are given considerable space in the Irish News, the Newsletter and, of course, the Belfast Telegraph. In the article mentioned above, Mr Donaghy was treated as a well-informed, unbiased commentator. Nothing was said of the fact that his firm, KPMG, would stand to gain a great deal from the tax break.  “In every other country where corporation tax rates have been significantly cut,” Mr Donaghy said, “positive economic benefits and job creation has happened.” The names of these countries were not mentioned and no evidence was provided to back this up.

Pot of Gold or Fool’s Gold?, a thorough report carried out by Tax Research UK’s Richard Murphy, demolished the case for cutting corporation tax. Promises of job creation were shown to be a hopeful gamble with a large immediate cost. As a result of a previous EU court ruling, a minimum of £300 million will have to be cut from Stormont’s block grant from Westminster if the tax rate is reduced. On top of that, not a single new job can even be guaranteed. Murphy’s findings were given little attention by the local press.

Parties from both the unionist and nationalist sides, notorious for inter-communal bickering, have been remarkably united on this particular issue. The conventional wisdom states that north is “over-reliant” on a “bloated” public sector, which requires a “rebalancing” of the economy. However, the private sector-led recovery promised by David Cameron has not happened in Britain, and there is little reason to believe it will occur anywhere else anytime soon. It marks a curious juncture in Irish politics when nominally centre-left parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, adopt a distinctly Thatcherite economic platform.

The blueprint of Dublin’s notorious tax haven, the International Financial Services Centre, once dubbed “Lichtenstein on the Liffey”, looks set to be replicated north of the border. “For Northern Ireland,” Murphy wrote in the Guardian, “the problem will be that of all tax havens: fly-by-night companies that have no intention of creating real jobs, and whose sole aim is to park profits in the province before moving them on to another tax haven as quickly as possible will be those attracted by this policy.” He continued: “That policy has virtually bankrupted the Republic. Why on earth would anyone want to replicate it?”

Advocates of this corporate welfare have, on occasion, been surprisingly candid. When he addressed the Northern Ireland Affairs committee in 2011, CBI NI chair Terence Brannigan admitted: “There is no guarantee [of job creation] and it would be totally misleading of me to sit here and say that I could guarantee you. I couldn’t guarantee you anything.” Former unionist MP – and millionaire – John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, told the House of Lords that “95% of the population of Northern Ireland who are not company directors would be worse off”.

Recently described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the “cornerstone of the economy”, and deemed politically untouchable, the 12.5% corporate tax rate has long been a solid feature of southern Ireland. Claims that it “attracts jobs” are easily dismissed. Dell’s abandonment of its Limerick plant in 2009 and the current unemployment rate of 15% testify to this. The country’s reliance of foreign investment merely underlines the failure of our economy to develop in a sustainable way. Conor McCabe, in his 2011 book Sins of the Father, rightly points out: “Given such a modest effect on the Irish economy – 7% of total employment and approximately €2.8 billion in corporation tax – why is foreign direct investment constantly put forward as the prime objective of the State’s economic policies and strategies?”

Suggestions by proponents of the tax cut that the Celtic Tiger was fuelled by the 12.5% rate, too, are groundless. It was, at best, a secondary factor in causing the boom in the south of Ireland. The Irish state had an overall lower tax base with many loopholes which could be exploited by big business – something the North could never duplicate while it remains under the jurisdiction of the UK.  More important to foreign investors than a low corporation tax during the boom years was Ireland’s highly educated, English-speaking workforce, its proximity to mainland Europe and its lack of government regulation (along with widespread corruption carried out in the interests of capital).

The refusal of multinationals to pay their fair share should be challenged, not accommodated. A race to the bottom serves only the interests of the super-wealthy. Reducing what is already one of the lowest corporation tax rates in Europe is not going to stem the effects of the Great Recession, no matter what business “experts” contend. Tax cuts don’t develop economies or create employment – they create tax havens.

Neo-liberal solutions will not solve a neo-liberal problem.

– This article was published in The Morning Star

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Propaganda is not always obvious. No longer does it take the form of full-on jingoistic portrayals of the enemy, whoever it might be at any given time. The term is certain to bring up images of those hostile xenophobic posters from the First World War urging working people to sacrifice their bodies and lives for their respective ruling classes. Images, too, of dictators adorned with bouquets of flowers from adoring children will spring to mind.

Modern propaganda is a much more sophisticated beast than that of the early 20th century, but its results are no less effective. Its destructive reach extends way beyond the theatre of war and conquest, influencing heavily the decisions we all make every day as consumers. Not only are we indoctrinated into supporting rapacious wars around the globe, we are programmed on a mass scale to devote our lives to consumption, no matter what effect it has on our collective well-being. Propaganda today is presented to us along with the faces of well-known celebrities, displaying the latest crap we ought to buy. On television and in the print media, propaganda is pretentiously cloaked in airs of “objectivity” and “impartiality”.

The first BBC report on the unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003 reveals a lot. Plush words such as “precision-guided bombing”, “missile attacks” and “raids” were used to describe the actions of the US/UK invaders. Compare this with the tiresome language used to describe anyone other than western governments who use violence. The resistance movements in Iraq, Palestine, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Guatemala and all the other countries whose populations are considered by us in the west as non-people are always “terrorists”, “bombers”, “gunmen” and “murderers”. The invaders, of course, are “our boys”. Indeed, “imperialism” is a word rarely heard on the airwaves.

Reporting of the long-running occupation of Palestine is consistently ridded with propaganda, half-truths and lies. Mainstream outlets aim for “balanced” and “unbiased” reporting on this issue, as though there were a moral equivalence between occupier and occupied. Mainstream media is also intensely selective of what atrocities and injustices go reported or unreported. The suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s was news. The genocide of more than a million people carried out by General Suharto, capitalism’s dictator, was not news. His crimes remain largely unknown in the west. He was “our” dictator. He provided “stability” to a volatile region, as did Gadaffi, Mubarak, Batista, Pinochet and the endless list of other dictators propped up by the West’s “democratic” governments.

During a visit to the United States, a group of journalists from the Soviet Union, awed by the passivity of western citizens, asked their American hosts: “How do you do it? In our country, to achieve this, we throw people in prison; we tear out their fingernails. Here, there’s none of that? What’s your secret?”

Following the pointless slaughter known as the First World War, the term propaganda had a negative connotation. Something new was needed to mould the minds of the population of the “free world”. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, is often described as having been the “father of public relations”. In his book, Propaganda (Bernays was quite explicit in his admission that he was a propagandist), he wrote: “If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.” This was called “engineering consent”, the aim of public relations.

Bernays was the darling of the advertising industry, which, of course, is propaganda by another name. His insights were sought by a range of corporations seeking to boost sales and profits. Among his most famous feats was the encouragement of large numbers of women to take up smoking, which had previously been seen as a masculine pursuit. Cigarettes were referred to as “torches of freedom” and smoking was said to be a blow against gender inequality. Sales of cigarettes skyrocketed. Bernays’ legacy of manipulation and dishonesty continues today in the modern advertising and public relations industries.

Barack Obama’s election victory in 2008 was one of the greatest accomplishments of propaganda since the Second World War. The world was greeted with ‘hope’ and ‘change’, with many expecting the closing of the Bush era to represent the end of imperialist America. It was, of course, all image and no content. It succeeded in raising the hopes of millions. This was the power of ‘Brand Obama’, which earned him the accolade of Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008.

Since taking office, Obama has continued Bush’s wars and presided over the imprisonment of truth teller Bradley Manning. He has enthusiastically embraced the use of unmanned drones, which have slaughtered more than 2,000 people. According the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, at least 392 of the victims were civilians, 175 of whom were children. The people who were sold ‘hope’ and ‘change’ by Obama’s vast propaganda network have been sorely let down.

Following the crash of 2008, public and political anger across the globe was geared towards those who caused the crisis, namely, bankers and the rich. The crisis took the mainstream media by surprise, whose “impartial” economic commentators, having been thoroughly schooled in neo-liberalism, saw the boom of the 2000s as proof that capitalism had triumphed over all other systems. The agenda of the same “experts” who failed to foresee the crisis now dictates political discourse. The blame has been shifted onto low-paid public sector workers and those in receipt of welfare. “The deficit”, a term most people would not have heard discussed before the Great Recession, is now the big political issue of the day. Yet, for most of the population, it is a non-issue. Noam Chomsky correctly pointed out in his recent book, Occupy: “The issue is joblessness, not the deficit. There’s a deficit commission but there’s no joblessness commission.”

The mainstream narrative, pushed by the same gang of neo-liberal economists who failed to foresee the crisis, is tiring. The welfare state must be dismantled. Health care must be privatised. The public sector has to shrink. “There is no alternative,” we are told. Yet, if there are no alternatives, why do we bother having elections, parliaments and other supposedly democratic institutions? What’s the point of democracy if nothing can be changed, if we have to persistently bend to the will of “the markets”?

Aside from the broader political scene, our everyday behaviour, too, is heavily influenced by propaganda. We are now exposed to thousands of advertisements every hour of our lives. The aim of this wasteful industry, true to the legacy of Bernays, is to influence human behaviour on a mass scale. It plays on our most primeval desires and, among many people, seeds a constant feeling of deep dissatisfaction. It entices us to continue destroying the planet we rely on for survival for the sake of a short-term thrill, while at the same time driving us further into personal debt and diminishing our savings.

The existence of propaganda in the west is rarely acknowledged, yet its influence extends further than ever. Vast PR machines, invisible to the general public, dictate the news. Advertising invades our lives and rapacious wars destroy nations, which go misreported and, in many cases, unreported.

“The finest trick of the devil,” it was once said, “is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

– This article was published in The Morning Star

Over the past few months, the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics has dragged some of the lowest forms of human life into the public spotlight.  One of the most loathsome appeared before the inquiry earlier this week; former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie.

MacKenzie, who described the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry as “ludicrous”, was editor of the quasi-fascist-leaning Sun for more than a decade, presiding over some of the most despicable acts of gutter journalism.  The most famous occurred in April 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the overcrowded Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.  The Taylor Report, which was later set up by the British Government to establish the cause of the disaster, firmly pointed the finger of blame at the “failure of police control”. Kelvin MacKenzie apparently knew better, however.  Just days after the horrific disaster, MacKenzie conspired with elements in the police to shift the blame onto the Liverpool fans. “The Truth,” bellowed The Sun’s front page in huge black letters. Vicious, baseless smears, accusing fans of stealing from the dead and urinating on police officers, littered that particular edition of The Sun. To this day, a city-wide boycott of the paper remains in place.

Eddie Spearritt, whose 14-year-old son Adam died at Hillsborough, movingly told journalist John Pilger:

“As I lay in my hospital bed, the hospital staff kept the Sun away from me. It’s bad enough when you lose your 14-year-old son because you’re treating him to a football match. Nothing can be worse than that. But since then I’ve had to defend him against all the rubbish printed by the Sun about everyone there being a hooligan and drinking. There was no hooliganism. During 31 days of Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry, no blame was attributed because of alcohol. Adam never touched it in his life.”

The evidence given to the Leveson enquiry by broadcaster Anne Diamond, highlighted last month by Private Eye, gives a disturbing insight to the working practices of Murdoch’s “favourite editor”.  Mrs Diamond told lawyers how she “had to flee hospital while in labour with her first child to escape a [Sun] reporter posing as a doctor”. Mrs Diamond was further harassed by the Murdoch paper while MacKenzie was editor after the cot death of her 1-year-old son Sebastian. Her evidence to the enquiry is perhaps the most unsettling yet. Less than an hour after baby Sebastian’s death, Mrs Diamond said, “our front door very quickly was surrounded with hundreds of newspaper photographers and reporters literally just sitting there waiting for something to happen, constantly ringing the doorbell”.  She spoke of one female hack trying to “rush” her front door: “She rang the bell and she had a big bouquet of flowers to give us and when the door had to be taken off the chain to accept the flowers she rushed in and two grown men had to push her back out of the door.”

It doesn’t stop there, however. Speaking about her son’s funeral, Mrs Diamond said: “We were at our possibly most private moment and we were long lensed at that point.”  She and her husband had written to every major newspaper in Britain requesting they stay away from the funeral after the media “circus” that surrounded the death of Eric Clapton’s son. She said:

“They all did, except one photographer who took photos of the funeral from the road. I don’t even need to say that that’s the most private moment you could possibly go through. Within a few hours of the funeral the editor of The Sun rang my husband and said, ‘we have a picture, it’s an incredibly strong picture and we would like to use it’. And my husband said, ‘No, we’ve asked all of you to stay away. No.’ And the editor said, ‘Well, we’re going to use it anyway. We’ll use it with or without your permission.”

The next day, The Sun, in its typical tasteless fashion, published the photograph of her and her husband carrying their child’s coffin on its front page.

This is just one example of how the warped Kelvin MacKenzie works. In his journalistic masterpiece, Hidden Agendas, John Pilger wrote: “MacKenzie is exactly what Murdoch wanted: someone with the ‘knack…an incisive and intelligent mind, quick to exploit the weaknesses of others and with a hard edge of cruelty which gave no quarter’.” These traits run through all of MacKenzie’s scrawling “journalism”. Whether his target is black people, dead football fans, hungry miners or refugees fleeing famine and war, MacKenzie prided himself in cruelly attacking the most vulnerable in society.  He sanctioned and participated in acts of gutter journalism that would make the recent phone hacking scandal pale in comparison.

It’s astounding that this malicious hack continues to be treated as a reputable commentator by many in the media.