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YearZero Magazine: The Shadow Show: Media and the Afghan War | 08.11.2001 16:11

Latest piece from Yearzero about the role of the media during this war...

The Shadow Show

If you wanted to control the media,if you wanted to make sure debate was held at a minimum, what would you do? You could try the old Soviet trick of burning books, smashing down doors and taking people away. But most times people see that. They can hear the screams, smell the smoke, see the fire. Now sure you can still get away with this in both the pro and anti-coalition countiries. In antagonist and alllied states like Algeria, Iran or Indonesia they prefer the firey version of suppression. Of course it would never do for a country like ours, or the US. But not because our governments and elites desire free speech, because our governments and elites prefer a show of free speech. The two ideas are very different.
For a start play heavily with words. Call the US and the UK `democracies` when every ancient Athenian worth their salt would be turning in their graves at such an idea. Once you call `our` countries democracies then of course, by inference, other countries are not. Of course this totally dispenses with the word `oligarchy`. An oligarchy is a state, elected, voted or not, where a smallish group of people control most of the power. This is the UK, even more so in the USA.
According to the New York Times “95% of candidates who outspent their opponents” in the last election in the US won the seat. Now we are to see the trend repeated. Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg financial services and TV (strapline: “for the chosen few”) has spent $40m on his winning campaign for New York mayor. (BBC Radio 5 Live 6/11/01) Because it is his own personal money he does not have to meet any of the spending caps supposed stop the rich buying power. After all it’s `freedom` American style, freedom for the rich. Bloomberg is unsurprisingly a republican. His `poor` old Democrat opponent Mark Green has spent a measley $15m. He is capped as he hasn’t stumped up any cash of his own. (Interestingly enough the $55m budget for the two members of the US oligarchy is the same as the toal budget set aside for `humanitarian` effort in the Afghan campaign). Unhappily there would be no spending if the people who spent weren’t pretty damn sure it would work out in their advantage. There are still enough defferent people who take the powerful at face value. But that is changing.
The USA could not even contain its desire to supress free speech in other countries. The presidential elections in Nicaragua were marred by US-paid adverts comparing the Sandanista candidate Daniel Ortega with Osama Bin Laden, full page adverts taken out in the national press by Jeb Bush subtely threatening the people of Nicaragua with a resumption of the terror war of the Contras. They reminded the people that under the Sandanistas there was no, as they put it, “free market”. The facts that infant mortality fell 50% and literacy went up from 13% to 84% in five years (UN figures) is an irrelevancy when the US elite can’t buy your bitch ass. As for killing 30,000 civillians and being found guilty four times by the international court of massive abuses of power, (of course the US simply ignored the rulings) well, those are the quandries of losers. The deep misgivings about Ortega aside (it seems likely he abused his daughter and as a result he is deeply tainted and appears uncompromisingly egotistical) the US’s idea of free speech, is once again, free speech for the rich. Free speech for power.
And so we see it in the Afghan war. CNN’s head of Standards & Practices Rick Davis sent a memo to his staff ordering them “not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships in Afghanistan”. He goes on to say that CNN must not be seen to be reporting from the “vantage of the Taliban.” CNN? Reporting as if they were the Taliban? At which paranoid point did this occur to Mr Davis ?
As far as one can see the first major open massacre in Afgahnistan in the village of Chowkar Karez on 22nd October (The Times/Red Cross) has been completely unreported by CNN or the BBC. Whilst they are at pains to stress that anything coming out of Afghanistan can’t be “validated” they are not in any such problem when they report that the Taliban are using civillians as “human shields” or that missiles “struck targets”. They have also acquiesed to the State Deprtment’s request not to show Osama Bin Laden speaking. You can imagine the response if the Nicaraguan state department had ordered its newspapers not to publish Jeb Bush’s adverts, on the grounds that his father ran a brutal mercenary war of slaughter in the country and was found guilty before the highest court in the world. The response would have come in bomb form. Once again it’s free speech, free speech for power.
But of course in times of war the US elite are determined to take advantage of their ability to roll back civillian freedoms as fast as possible. It isn’t even something they try and hide, the policy is called “rollback,” coined in the 1970’s by the new legoin of fundementalist free-marketeers and party apparatchiks.
After trying to censor their own propoganda station Voice of America because a report contained the voice of Mullah Omar, (in arabic), State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended the pressure by saying the VOA should not be “broadcasting the voice of the Taliban.” 100 VOA employees sent a letter to newspapers (Sept 25th) saying their work was being censored. Have you seen that in the press ? No, oh well.
Maybe that was because when their letters were made public White House press secretary Ari Fleischer put it more bluntly “people need to watch what they say” he…er…said. From there the US widened it scope. About the least biased reporting you can find comes from Al-Jazeera ( get it translated at but on October 2nd the US embassy in Qatar complained that their broadcasts were “biased.” As opposed to CNNs of course. On October 3rd Colin Powell attempted to pressurise the owners of Al-Jazeera, on October 10th Condoleeza Rice staged a conference call with all five major TV networks in the USA to make sure they no longer broadcast `terrorist` videos and on October 10th once again Colin Powell attacked Al-Jazeera as “biased” on CBS News. All this and the blanket censorship of the public photgrapahic satellite Ikonos from the company Space Imaging and we have a government showing its real face and at the same time attempting to hide it.
As the New York Posts maniac columnist Arnold Ahlert put it “why not jam al-jazeera? It’s time to put a stop to it pure and simple. If it’s a 13th century lifestyle they want, give it to them.” He doesn’t understand how the suppression of free speech works, his government do. They are the masters of it. You can bow to them, if you choose.

Adam Porter
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