Tag Archives: media


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.