Agam's Gecko
Friday, May 20, 2005

can't say I'm surprised. The institutionalised cultural bias of the BBC is apparently more deeply ingrained than I had previously suspected. But the British taxpayer-funded monopoly finally has a whistle-blower, and he's not just talking, but he's written a book.

Robin Aiken worked at the corporation for 25 years (now retired), and for someone who is apparently a political centrist (he never belonged to any party during his journalism career, which he felt would not have been proper), it sounds to have been a difficult balancing act. His book, tentatively titled, "Taking Sides: Bias at the BBC," is to be published soon and will be the first of its kind by an ex-BBC journalist. He recounts some of what he experienced in a recent article in the Daily Telegraph (registration required). The article may also be read in full, on the Blithering Bunny blog (no registration required).

I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: BBC ought to look again at the extreme care they took more than a half century ago, when television news was first tried out. People at the time were quite wary of the unknown power of this new medium, and BBC went to great lengths to prevent any possible hint of news delivery being tainted by "point of view" -- to the extent that news readers' faces could not even be shown. The article mentioned above is rife with examples of just how far they have strayed from that original (though probably overdone) sense of care and impartiality.

Melanie Phillips has some very pertinent thoughts on this question, and gives some indication that the BBC management may be waking up to their problem.


nother constant in much of the media-shpere, is the reduction of the ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan into cliches about "cowboys, poodles, and freedom fighters." That's one memorable phrase from a thoughtful article at Harry's Place -- yet another blog by an actual progressive of the social democratic variety. This piece, by guest writer Alan Johnson, focuses on the "Missing Social Democratic Narrative". The writer belongs to a group called Labour Friends of Iraq, which left me wondering, "Where are my NDP friends of Iraq?" I don't agree will all of what Alan writes, I think he's still too hung up on the "neo-con" thing, but it's definitely worth the read.

Christopher Hitchens takes the New York Times to task for its persistent and insistent use of the word "insurgent" to describe the mainly foreign butchers of mainly Iraqi citizens. It's to the point now that I don't pay it much attention when I read a news report, referring to mass murderers as "insurgents" or "militants", but really it's only a small step down from Michael Moore calling them "freedom fighters" and "Minutemen". Hitchens makes his case very well, but don't expect editors to make adjustments any time soon. Hamas killers have been "militants" for years, regardless of how many schoolchildren they slaughtered at a single time. Hitch makes a very good point: that insurgents are normally a subset of the people of a state, fighting their own government. Zarqawi's mob is mostly foreigners killing Iraqi civilians. To use the current media standard of "insurgent", the September 11 hijackers should have been called by that word, instead of "terrorists". And indeed, Timothy McVeigh would have had more right to the somewhat heroic connotation of "insurgent" than do the foreign thugs of Zarqawi.

And finally, the grand apologist for the most fascistic regime of the past few decades, George Galloway testified this week in Washington, before the committee investigating aspects of the Oil for Food scandal. He shed a lot of heat, apparently, but not much light with his blustery performance. I haven't seen the full tape yet (maybe this weekend on C-SPAN), so I won't comment much beyond that. Except to say that I find the guy totally repulsive.

I did mention some days ago that during my stay with my Aceh family recently, I was reading a William Shawcross book, "Deliver Us from Evil." I really like this guy a lot, and one can find many articles on his website for more elaboration. But I was pleased to come across his letter to the editor of the Guardian the other day (I'm missing a wai to somebody here, I've forgotten who the tip came from -- sorry!). It's not long, and very worth the read as he gives a thumbnail explanation of why Galloway is an ass (my parsing). However on the day of, and following Georgeous George's bloviating performance, some media did replay a portion of (one of) his famous obsequious meetings with Saddam Hussein -- just the famous line about, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability."

But there was more to it, and Shawcross quotes the full context in his letter:
In 1994 Mr Galloway stood before Saddam Hussein and said: "Your excellency, Mr President, I greet you in the name of the many thousands of people in Britain who stood against the tide and opposed the war and aggression against Iraq and continue to oppose the war by economic means, which is aimed to strangle the life out of the great people of Iraq ... I greet you too in the name of the Palestinian people ... I thought the president would appreciate to know that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam. Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem." (The Times, January 20 1994.)
Until victory. Until Jerusalem. What a jerk. Don't forget: he's talking about opposing the war and "aggression" against Iraq, but it's the one that kicked Saddam out from his aggressive attempted annexation of Kuwait.


t's all so confusing to a Star Wars non-afficionado like me. Is it all just a cinematic fantasy, an allegory on the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, a metaphor for some historical analysis of the modern world? I hadn't ever given it much serious thought, but evidently some decades back, many of the frustrated freedom-loving peoples then trapped behind the Iron Curtain, believed it was the latter choice.

Arthur Chrenkoff was in Poland then, and explains more in an open letter to George Lucas:
We simply couldn't escape the conclusion that the militaristic and freedom-crushing Empire with its legions of stormtroopers is a futuristic version of the Soviet Empire, which had conquered and enslaved hundreds of millions of people like myself. For us, of course, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and all the others fighting to restore the Republic were brave oppositionists and freedom fighters in the truest sense of the word. Like the Western movie goers, we too cheered when the Death Star was destroyed (twice), but whereas for our counterparts in the Free World this was just a great cinematic climax, for us it embodied the hope ("A New Hope", if you pardon the pun) that one day the specter of totalitarianism will vanish and we will be free again.
Why would Arthur be writing open letters to the director? Could be something to do with Mr. Lucas' recent remarks in Cannes:
"Star Wars" director George Lucas says that although he wrote the original film during the Vietnam War, his six-part saga could apply to the war in Iraq.

"In terms of evil, one of the original concepts was how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship."
Hmm, does that mean that Chimpy McSmirk is Darth Vader? But wait: wasn't Jimmy Carter the head of the empire back when Star Wars first appeared, like in 1977? Arthur becomes confused:
Yes, we were very wrong indeed - to you, the Empire was the United States of America, and if that's the case, then the brave rebels could only be all those people around the world fighting the American Empire - the Castros, Che Guevaras, Ho Chi Minhs, Pol Pots, and by extension, the Brezhnevs and the Mao Tse Tungs of this world... your rebels, both when fighting for power and when finally in power, ended up being responsible for the death of tens of millions and enslavement of hundreds of millions; the Luke Skywalkers and Han Solos of the last century gave us gulags and re-education camps, terror famines and political prisons; they institutionalized cults of personality, stifled every human freedom and impoverished whole nations.
There's more, and as they say, read the whole thing. Chrenkoff's letter has generated a lot of discussion in the blogosphere, not least a Photoshop Contest. The mind boggles: Osama as Yoda?

Well I guess the Canne-ites will have some consolation for not having a Michael Moore this year, after all. I've heard that there is a film at Cannes with a pro-liberation stance on Iraq. And it comes from, er, Iraq....

I'll be away until middle of next week, so I'm dashing this off rather fast before we leave for upcountry. As I mentioned earlier, S. is entering the monkhood tomorrow and there'll be celebrations on the homestead and Buddhist ceremonies to attend to. So I just wanted to leave you all with a few links for the time being before my chauffering duties commence.

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