Independent’s Churnalism on Venezuela

Chavez welcomes actor and director Sean Penn aboard the presidential planeNick Davies coined a fabulous new term in his book Flat Earth News to describe the kind of filler-fluff that very often passes for journalism in US and UK. Here is the latest example from the Independent. Some clown named Guy Adams who is apparently based in Los Angeles does a hatchet-job on Hugo Chavez and by extension Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover for their links to the popular Venezuelan leader, and he can’t find anything better to rely on than a quote from the ageing Hollywood has-been Maria Conchita Alonso with ties to the right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami. ‘In normal circumstances, Alonso’s interview might have been brushed under the carpet’, he correctly points out. But clearly not when it lands in the hands of the Independent’s celebrity gossip extraordinaire who goes on to tell ‘left-wing luvvies’ in the movie business to wake up because their hero had the temerity to describe Hollywood as ‘a medium of American “cultural imperialism”‘.

The clown then proceeds to offer this acute insight:

Penn, who since his Oscar-winning performance in Milk has become a vociferous gay rights activist, is also open to allegations of hypocrisy. The Venezuelan leader’s political hero, Fidel Castro, imprisoned and executed gay men, and once declared: “In this country [Cuba] there are no homosexuals.”

Talk about six-degrees-of separation. I bet this cat can prove that everyone who claims to abhor rape is a hypocrite since through a mere separation of 6 people everyone has ties to a rapist.

Further indictments are in order:

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The Independent’s Knee and Jerk

Hugo Chavez’s activities usually elicit a knee-jerk response from most of the British media. The title of the latest Independent’s leading article summarizes it well: “A perilous new twist in the Venezuelan revolution“.  Now consider, Venezuela conducts an open and fair referendum on the term limits on the president, and this is termed “perilous” and “… hope that, for the sake of the Venezuelan people, it does not end up dragging the country back into the mire of authoritarianism.”  Why should a referendum be construed as a peril? If anything a referendum is a bona fide democratic procedure and thus it should enhance the democratic nature of Venezuelan society.

The Independent’s editorial writers state: “The scrapping of term limits will do nothing to help build confidence in the rule of law. All free nations need firm checks on executive power. Developing nations like Venezuela need these checks just as much as richer countries.”  Why do they criticise a Venezuelan referendum meant to expand term limits while in the UK there are no term limits at all for Prime Ministers, and most other political offices?  Technically, in the UK, the same Prime Minister could cling on to power for decades, but, for some unspecified reason, it is only when Chavez seeks an extension of his term that there is a problem with it. And is the extension of president’s term really detrimental in Venezuela’s observance of “the rule of law”?  And when was the last time these same editorial writers pontificated about Hosni Mubarak’s investiture-for-life as Egypt’s decades-long president? The simple answer is: they haven’t done so. In the case of corrupt and dictatorial “presidents” who cling on to power for decades, e.g., Hosni Mubarak, or the autocratic monarchs of the Gulf States, the editorial writers are mostly silent.  It is clear that a double standard seems to apply.

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Taken in by the Hoopla?

The Israeli elections took place 24 days after a vicious Israeli attack on Gaza; it took place two days after the latest Israeli bombing of the Gaza-Egypt border. Yet, if one were watching the TV news coverage of the elections or the coverage of the mainstream press, one would not know that the dust has barely settled on Gaza. One would almost think that the elections were taking place in some far away country that wasn’t responsible for dropping the bombs and the war crimes. The reason for the exclusive “politics as a horse race” coverage is that it is part of the propaganda campaign surrounding the war. No sooner did the war end, the coverage switched to the inauguration of the US president; the economic crisis was equally competing for the headlines. And then the Israeli elections appeared full with flag-waving and blue-pom-pom shaking supporters, an image that reinforced the propaganda message of “Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East”. Never mind that several political parties representing the Palestinian citizens of Israel were banned by the right-wing’s mean-spirited ploys. Never mind the tilt towards fascism with a religious twist – that was not part of the message. Avigdor Lieberman is a more vicious fascist than Jorg Haider, yet while the election of the latter led to a boycott of the Austrian government, the “king-maker” role of Lieberman barely registers in the TV news.

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Zionism: the Zionist Victims

How could 94% of Israeli Jews have supported the massacre in Gaza? How is it that many Israeli Jews quite genuinely see themselves as the victims, even when the death count is one Israeli to a hundred Palestinians, even when their ethnically-cleansed enemy starves in refugee camps? An incredible statistic: 40 percent of Israeli Jews are unaware that at the end of the 19th century, the Arabs were an absolute majority in Palestine. Having just watched Norman Finkelstein’s thought-provoking lecture on the use of Ghandian tactics to change Israeli Jewish as well as international opinion on Palestine, I find the below article, in which the great Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar throws some light on the indoctrination of Israeli Jews, to be particularly interesting. We have to work to educate Israelis as much as anyone else.

A new study of Jewish Israelis shows that most accept the ‘official version’ of the history of the conflict with the Palestinians. Is it any wonder, then, that the same public also buys the establishment explanation of the operation in Gaza?

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Sectarian Rabble-Rousing

Al-Ahram Weekly, the English language twin of the Arabic daily, is an Egyptian state organ. The Weekly has a broader range of opinion than the tame daily, and does often contain interesting articles. The great Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara, for instance, can be found in the Weekly. Unfortunately, however, Egyptian regime nonsense concerning the Persian-Shia ‘threat’ is also fed into the mix. This article by Galal Nassar is a sad example. Below is my response to his piece:

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Jeremy Dear on the BBC and the DEC appeal

The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists Jeremy Dear has written a piece for Tribune criticising the BBC’s DEC decision.  Dear says he has received “emails from senior BBC journalists who say this decision makes the BBC look pro-Israeli and indifferent to the plight of 1.5 million Palestinian victims and those who say the BBC has breached its own rules on impartiality.”  He also makes some contentious observations on the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s assault and criticises the response from the anti-war movement:

This week, I witnessed protestors outside Broadcasting House chanting: “BBC hear us say, how many kids have you killed today?” Well, none. It is not true, as many anti-war groups have claimed, that the BBC has “capitulated to the Israeli lie machine”. There has been some excellent journalism during this conflict by BBC and other journalists, despite the Israeli ban on foreign reporters entering Gaza and the arrest and the killing of five Palestinian journalists.

And those who threaten a boycott of the BBC licence fee are mistaken. Those on the right have spent years trying to undermine BBC funding for their own political and commercial self-interest. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of destroying the BBC in the long term because of heartfelt, but short-term, anger at this decision.

The BBC refuses to broadcast Gaza charity appeal

The indispensable Media Lens has an important Rapid Response Media Alert. The BBC has already used your license fees to feed you foreign state propaganda, now it also wants you to be complicit in Israeli crimes. Don’t hesitate to register your protest.

Numerous members of the public have written to us expressing their bewilderment at the violence of Israel’s 22-day attack on Gaza killing upwards of 1,300 people and wounding 4,200. To many witnessing the onslaught on their TV screens (especially Al Jazeera) this appeared to be an act of state sadism.

Israeli forces repeatedly bombed schools (including UN schools), medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes.

On January 15, reported that Al Quds hospital had been “again the target of bombing”. Some 50 patients, 30 in wheelchairs, fled as the burning hospital was “totally destroyed”.

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Israeli Ministers to be Dispatched on Propaganda Missions Abroad

The National Information Directorate is a new Israeli spin body set up less than a year ago following the recommendations of the  Winograd inquiry into Israel’s failures in Lebanon.  According to Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office website the directorate is coordinating a new campaign of lobbying and spin across Europe, directed at politicians and the media, focussing on Israeli “security” issues.


The National Information Directorate and the Cabinet Secretariat, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, have decided to dispatch Government ministers on information missions abroad, starting in the coming days.  In the framework of the information efforts, it was decided to send ministers on diplomatic and media activity in various European countries.  Each minister will go on a short mission to one or two countries, including Belgium, Austria and Ireland.  The possibility of sending abroad residents of the south in order to give firsthand accounts of the security reality in which they have lived for years.  Israeli embassies will formulate agendas for the ministerial visits, including meetings with political officials and media interviews.

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