David Miller | Media Wrongs against Humanity: Witness Statement Including Evidence of Media Wrongs

Thursday, 23 June 2005 23:50 by: Anonymous

    Media Wrongs against Humanity: Witness Statement Including Evidence of Media Wrongs
    By David Miller

    The preeminent wrongs against the citizens of the coalition are of

  • misreporting the 'threat' from Iraq (links with 'al Qaeda', existence of WMD, the motives for the war).
  • misreporting the occupation.
  • marginalizing, ignoring and undermining dissent.
  • Contributing to the creation of a climate of fear.

    The conduct and role of the media in the case of Iraq must be understood in terms of the underlying interests and policies of both the media institutions themselves and of the US and UK governments in relation to information. It is important to understand the philosophy, administration and practice of the propaganda apparatus in order to understand how the media have performed. My evidence therefore focuses first on the philosophy of information control, then on the apparatus and administration of propaganda, before examining its effects on media performance.

    The Philosophy of Information Control

    The philosophy of information control is based on a concept called 'information dominance'. This basically means that information is a weapon of war and that it must be used as such. Information is not, in this model something which can be used to evaluate how the world works in order to make decisions. Rather it is simply an aid or obstacle to information dominance. Information therefore comes in two types friendly and unfriendly. The former is to be promoted and the latter destroyed or contained. Thus the media are not there to be manipulated or influenced but to be used or neutralized.

    This is a new concept in official thinking which collapses distinctions between the military and non military and between information and weaponry. The consequences of this for the use of media in war are profound and relate strongly to the question before the tribunal.1

    The Apparatus of Propaganda

    In keeping with information dominance the propaganda a apparatus used by the US and UK has undergone comprehensive overhaul since 9/11. The apparatus is now globally coordinated and integrated across departments internally in the US and UK. This has three consequences of note. First that the campaign to convince the world that Iraq was a threat was coordinated and planned. Second that the propaganda operation in Iraq was coordinated and planned (during the invasion and then during the occupation) and third and most importantly that the internal propaganda apparatus in the US and UK which deals with the domestic 'terrorist threat' is also coordinated and integrated. In other words we can talk about the creation and moderation of a climate of fear, rather than discussing a governmental apparatus reacting, perhaps clumsily, to genuine threats.2

    The Incorporation of the Media into the Propaganda Apparatus

    The process of incorporation is the effect of the philosophy outlined above which have two basic techniques of control. These are the carrot for 'friendly' media and the stick for 'unfriendly' media. The stick involves threats, the use of violence and intimidation and a refusal to treat journalists as a separate category of non-combatants. This meant that in certain circumstances journalists were regarded either as 'legitimate' targets or were regarded as putting themselves in harms way. This was the case with both the US and UK governments. The stick has identifiable outcomes in intimidated, beaten and dead journalists. But the more important outcome is the message that it sends to other journalists to keep away from independent or 'unfriendly' reporting. This is where the carrot comes into play. This tries to build up 'friendly' information by allowing access in exchange for control and in socializing journalists to identify with the military. This was known as 'embedding' and was spectacularly successful in securing positive (distorted) coverage. The philosophy of information control run by the US and UK reduces all information to an instrument of war and sees no effective difference between 'enemy' information systems and neutral information systems (independent media).

    The Lies

    The lies and disinformation on Iraq were extensive and continue today. There are so many lies that it is not possible to give more than a modest set of key examples of the deceptions.

    The Big lies were that Iraq posed a threat to the west; that Iraq had chemical or biological weapons or active weapons programs; that they had a nuclear program; that there was some sort of link between Al Qaeda or other Islamist groups and the Iraqi regime; that The attack on Iraq would be simple and over quickly and that the rationale for the attack was to restore democracy.

    To cultivate these lies a large number of other specific lies were told. These included presentation and documentation produced by both the US and UK governments which were riddled with falsehoods and deceptions. There is a great deal of evidence now in the public domain about these lies and the way in which they were taken up and amplified by the mainstream media.3

    The Results in Media Performance

    The mainstream news media in the US and UK were overwhelmingly complicit in promoting the credibility of official sources and intelligence 'information' on the alleged threat posed by Iraq. The deception perpetrated by the US and UK government (and to a significant extent also the Spanish, Australian and other governments) was only sporadically exposed and properly reported on. In the US alternative views almost never made the mainstream. In the UK, while there is some more room for dissent, even skeptical journalists on anti war papers were unable to openly express their skepticism. All the studies conducted on the mainstream media show similar patterns. To highlight just two. The Cardiff University study showed that 'wartime coverage was generally sympathetic to the government's case'.4 It also found that the minority viewing channels such as Channel Four were able to show more skeptical reports than were the mainstream mass channels such as the main BBC reports.'5 The study in the US by FAIR showed that ' Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of US guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of US sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with US guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1'.6

    Complicity in presenting the claims to legality of the invasion, and denouncing counter-claims.

    The evidence presented above in relation to the dominance of official sources is by itself evidence that official lines dominate news.

    Complicity in promoting (and the failure to expose) the false credibility of the sources and veracity of 'intelligence' on the claimed threat posed by Iraq.

    The overwhelming bulk of the mainstream media (including the 'liberal' and 'left' mainstream press) gave a false credibility to the notion that Iraq posed a threat to the west. Intelligence information was accepted as legitimate and truthful, often without attribution.

    It is worth concentrating on the television news as this is the main source for most people on world events.

    UK Television

    WMD: During the period of the invasion (20 march - 9 April 2003) '91 percent of the reports... examined contained references to WMD that suggested that Iraq had or could have had such weapons, while only 15 per cent contained references which raised doubts about their existence or possible use. We might remember that this was in a period where it was known that Iraq could not have had any serious WMD. As such balanced news which suggested that WMD did or did not exits in an even handed way would still have been hugely distorted.

    In the run up to the invasion, the 'legitimation phase', there was some dissent in television coverage. This was as John Theobald puts it a 'reflection' of the 'deep cracks in elite solidarity ' which were a result in part of the 'crudity of US government positions but also in part a result of the mounting popular opposition to the attack on Iraq. These factors both fed through and were reflected in mainstream media output. 'On these quite rare occasions, normally hidden information seeps out through the fissures'7 But once the invasion was underway the elite fissures closed up at least temporarily. This was most obviously notable in the unity of propaganda message that we must now back the troops now they are in battle. This new phase in the propaganda was extremely successful in swinging both the mainstream media behind the war and minimizing dissent. This was candidly recognized by the head of BBC news, Richard Sambrook. There was little journalistic cross examination during Blair press conferences after the invasion started 'partly because there is a degree of political consensus within Westminster, with the Conservatives supporting the Government policy on the war and the Liberal Democrats, whilst opposed to the war, supporting the UK forces'. Press conferences are covered not to challenge ministers, but to 'find out the latest information'. Of course as everyone else recognizes press conferences are set piece spin sessions. This indicates the poverty of the BBC approach to division in the country: If it is not happening at Westminster, it is not happening. On ITV the main alternative channel to the BBC the political editor Nick Robinson acknowledges 'it was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking... That is all someone in my sort of job can do'

    The almost complete failure to properly question the fabrications in late 2002 to March 2003 is well documented.

    This highlights the twin problems of TV news. First the tendency to take the official line at face value even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Second the seeming inability even to attribute official statement s so that they are reported not as the view of a particular official or government, but simply as facts. Such mistakes on attribution are very rarely made in relation to the 'other side'.

    The structural over accessing of official voices is acknowledged in all the academic research produced on Iraq both studies showed that official sources dominated television.8


Four UK channels % BBC ITN
UK/US government and military 46 58 66
Official Iraqi sources 30 10 9
other media 5 - -
Iraqi citizens 7 17 12
Others -eg Red Cross 12 24 22

     This picture shows overwhelming bias towards official sources. Note also the fact that anti-war voices do not even merit a separate category in either of these studies. But the bias is understated by these figures. As one study suggests: 'many claims that came from military sources were unattributed. So, for example, when we analyzed the television coverage of four stories that came from military sources - all of which turned out to be unfounded - we found that nearly half the claims made were unattributed'9

    US Television

    All the evidence of studies of the US mainstream media show that the television and elite press very largely repeated and amplified the notion of a threat from Iraq. In particular the notion that Iraq posed a threat. That they possessed WMD; that they were implicated in 9/11; and that the only way to counter this threat was military invasion.

    The coverage of Colin Powell's presentation to the UN (see Appendix 5)

    The lack of skepticism is echoed by the very narrow range of view allowed onto television in the US.

If News from Iraq Is Bad, It's Coming from US Officials: Stories Bush Missed 
Extra! January/February 2004 
By Jon Whiten

Despite criticism of the media by the Bush administration and its allies, US TV news coverage of the Iraq situation continues to be dominated by government and military officials, according to a new study by FAIR. The few critics of military operations that find themselves on the nightly news broadcasts rarely question the war as a whole. Nightly network news reports largely focus on tactics and individual battles, with more substantial and often troubling issues surrounding the war, such as civilian casualties, rarely being reported.

The study looked at 319 on-camera sources appearing in stories about Iraq on the nightly network newscasts - ABC World News Tonight , CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News--in the month of October 2003. Sources were coded by name, occupation, nationality, topic and network.

Out of 319 sources, 244 (76 percent) were current or former government or military officials. Of these, 225 were from the United States, and a further nine were from the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

    Complicity in promoting, and the failure to expose, the myth of progress on, and necessity of, the ongoing occupation.

    The vast gap between what is reported from the ground in Iraq and what appears in the mainstream media in the US and UK on the occupation and its effects is apparent from evidence cited above on the lack of reporting of credible scientific or UN reports. The coverage of the election as 'free and democratic' is merely the latest example.

    Can it be said that the media (by reference to identified media action) is culpable of actively silencing and discrediting dissenting voices, and for failing to adequately report on the full national costs and consequences of the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Ie Censorship in and by the media.

    It is clear that dissent was actively silenced by both US and UK media. The over-concentration on official sources on both sides of he Atlantic ensured the effective marginalizing of anti war voices. This was especially the case after the invasion began (as noted above). The lack of attention to dissenting voices was apparent across the mainstream and corporate media.

    Covering dissent: Halliday, Von Sponeck and Ritter.

    Scott Ritter, former chief Unscom weapons inspector, who was an inspector in Iraq between 1991-98, claims that Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" of 90-95% of its WMDs by December 1998. He also claims that inspections were deliberately sabotaged by US officials in 1998 precisely +because+ the Iraqis were rapidly approaching 100% compliance - so removing justification for continued sanctions and control of Iraq. In December 1998, Ritter said:

    "What [head of Unscom] Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing." (Quoted, New York Post, December 17, 1998)

    Last year, Richard Sambrook, then BBC's director of news, told us that Ritter had been interviewed just twice: on September 29th, 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on March 1, 2003 for BBC News 24. Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that Newsnight had interviewed Scott Ritter twice on the WMD issue before the war: on August 3, 2000 and August 21, 2002.

    A BBC news online search for 1 January, 2002 - 31 December 2002 recorded the following mentions:

George Bush Iraq, 1,022
Tony Blair Iraq, 651 
Donald Rumsfeld Iraq, 164 
Dick Cheney Iraq, 102 
Richard Perle Iraq, 6 
George Galloway Iraq, 42 
Tony Benn Iraq, 14 
Noam Chomsky Iraq, 1 
Denis Halliday, 0
    Source Media Lens

    Coverage of world Tribunal in Guardian and independent websites of World Tribunal on Iraq 2003-10 February 2005 Zero. Not a single mention

    Coverage of civilian casualties:

According to a two-month survey carried out by an Iraqi non-governmental organisation, the People's Kifah, comprising hundreds of activists and academics, more than 37,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003 and October 2003. (Ahmed Janabi, 'Iraqi group: Civilian toll now 37,000', 31 July, 2004) We searched in vain for coverage of this important survey in news reports by ITN, the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, Financial Times and others. On 30 August, 2004, we conducted an online news search, using the extensive Lexis-Nexis database, and were able to find only two mentions in the UK press: one, a brief account in the Western Mail, a Cardiff-based newspaper, on 26 August. The only other mention was a passing reference in a Guardian comment piece by activist Tariq Ali. ('The withdrawal of foreign troops is the only solution', The Guardian, 12 August, 2004)10

  • The Lancet study (100,000 deaths) (See Appendix 6).
  • UNICEF report on Iraq October 2004 (see Appendix 7).
  • Depleted Uranium (See Appendix 8).
  • Silencing dissent in the US (See Appendix 9).
  • The 'D' Notice committee: The final example considered here is the issuing of a 'd' or 'defence' notice in autumn 2004 by the Defence, Press and broadcasting committee. (See Appendix 10).

    The example of the D notice indicates the fundamental orientation of British television journalism towards the powerful. This echoes the famous statement that the first Director General of the BBC confided to his diary in the midst of the 1926 general strike. The cabinet had decided not to take over the BBC. Reith noted that the decision was really a 'negative one' because 'they know they can trust us not to be really impartial'. Since that time UK news has very rarely departed from the assumptions implicit in that judgment.

    The media 'managing' news/truth through the structures and workings of embedded reporting

    The structures of embedding are based on the principles of 'information dominance' in which 'friendly' information is integrated into the command and control structures of the military. (See Appendix 11)

    The embedding process was regarded as a great success by the US and UK government's and has already been copied elsewhere. Some critics have alleged that the embeds were no more acculturated than other journalists.11 This view is based on a mis-comparison of the embeds reporting with that of News anchors.

    Media silence on intimidation/violence against journalists as systematic practice.

    The silence on intimidation was not total. The deaths of journalists were reported. The notion that the attacks on journalists were either a systematic practice or the result of the information dominance approach to 'unfriendly' information was almost entirely absent from the mainstream media. It was certainly not reported on the television news.

    Media failure to inform the citizenry of the full implications of the domestic political consequences of the 'war on terror'.

    On the home front meanwhile, the propaganda campaign to talk up the 'terrorist threat' has continued apace. The alleged threat from 'Islamic terrorists' or 'al-Qaeda' is constantly discussed by the US and UK governments. Indeed both governments have created new government departments and new propaganda agencies to deal wit this threat. In many ways the threat has replaced the 'soviet threat' as the key organising ideology of the powers that be. This has meant new laws which curtail civil liberties and a large number of high profile arrests amid media stories of bomb plots chemical attacks and al-Qaeda cells. In neither the US nor the UK have any more than a handful of convictions been secured. Those that have been have not been for 'terrorism'. In other words the creation of a climate of fear has been a deliberate tactic based on unreliable information and straightforward disinformation. The UK government created a new apparatus to co-ordinate this effort. (See Appendix 12)

    In the US the same sorts of processes applied. Adam Curtis has shown that the neo-conservatives in the Whitehouse have a long record of using the media in their propaganda campaigns to close the gap between reality of threats and the threats predicted by their ideology and interests. 12

    Influencing Public Opinion

    The evidence on media performance is supplemented by evidence on public opinion. This shows important differences between the US and UK opinion which in part reflect differences in reporting. But they also reflect differences in the strength of the anti-war movement. For example while US and UK opinion routinely prefers spending on health and education over the military and while more people favor cutting military expenditure than raising it, there was also a clear pattern of majority support for the invasion of Iraq in the US. This was clearly built on the successful use of propaganda by the US administration. The study by PIPA showed not only that many US citizens had believed the disinformation about WMD and the link to al-Qaeda, but that the extent of misperceptions were related to support for the invasion. Furthermore the PIPA study showed that viewers of cheer leading stations like Fox were more likely to be misled than viewers of less biased stations such as NPR/PBS 13 In the UK, public opinion was hostile to war in the run up to the invasion. This appeared to change after the invasion was launched. The research evidence suggests that this change was not an acceptance of the need for war, but rather a pragmatic support for the UK forces while engaged in action.14

    But as this study concludes 'it seems likely that, in Britain at least, the coverage of the war itself played a part in persuading a majority to support it'.15 Furthermore the fact that some sections of the population apparently signed up to the notion of supporting the troops, is itself not an ideologically neutral formulation. In fact it mirrors the rapid ideological closure around the attack once it had started. This encompassed the UK government, the official opposition, the more critical Liberal democrats, and notably (as indicated above) the mainstream media, particularly television news (the main source of information on international affairs for most people in the UK.

    Enabling elite action and coherence of coalition.

    But perhaps the most significant effect of the disinformation and the way it was amplified by the media and convinced some sections of the public is the way it legitimized elite actions and buttressed the coherence of the coalition for war. This does indicate the most significant problem of the role of the media, its function as an elite sounding board and legitimator. 16

    To conclude, overall, the media are culpable for subverting the democratic rights to information and truth and for misinforming the pubic convincing some of the people, some of the time of the need for war.

    1 Information Dominance: The Philosophy Of Total Propaganda Control? David Miller, 29 December 2003.

    2 In the UK case see 'They Were All Asylum Seekers': The Propaganda Campaign To Link Iraq To Terrorism At The expense Of Refugees. David Miller, 27 March 2003; On the underlying philosophy of the threat see Adam Curtis; Andy Beckett The making of the terror myth Friday October 15, 2004 The Guardian.

    3 Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (2003) Weapons of Mass Deception, London: constable Robinson; Christopher Scheer, Robert Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, (2003) The Five Biggest Lies Bush told us about Iraq, Seven Stories Press; Glen Rangwala, "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: the assessment of the British government", 24 September 2002: Problems, contradictions, falsehoods; 16 June 2003: Glen Rangwala, "Analysis of the dossier of 30 January 2003", a paper produced at the request of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons; Glen Rangwala, Claims in Secretary of State Colin Powell's UN Presentation concerning Iraq, 5th Feb 2003 ; Glen Rangwala, 14 February 2003: "16 discrepancies between Powell's claims and the evidence of Blix and ElBaradei"; Sam Cowan, Truth from these podia.

    4 Justin Lewis and Rod Brookes (2004) 'Reporting the War on British Television', in David Miller (ed) Tell me Lies: Propaganda and media distortion in the attack on Iraq, London: Pluto.

    5 Biased broadcasting corporation A survey of the main broadcasters' coverage of the invasion of Iraq shows the claim that the BBC was anti-war is the opposite of the truth Professor Justin Lewis Friday July 4, 2003 The Guardian.

    6 Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent FAIR study finds democracy poorly served by war coverage.

    7 John Theobald, (2004) The Media and the Making of History, Aldershot:

    8 Justin Lewis and Rod Brookes (2004) 'British TV news and the case for war in Iraq', in S. Allan and B. Zelizer (eds) Reporting War: journalism in Wartime, London: Routledge; Tumber, H. and Palmer, J. (2004) Media at War: The Iraq crisis, London: Sage.

    9 Lewis and Brookes, p290

    10 Media Lens Media Alert, 02nd September 2004, No Mea Culpa from the British Media - Part 1, Media Lens Challenges Senior Editors.

    11 Justin Lewis and Rod Brookes, 2004, ibid.

    12 Andy Beckett 'The making of the terror myth' The Guardian, Friday October 15, 2004; Adam Curtis 'Fear gives politicians a reason to be' The Guardian, November 24, 2004; Adam Curtis 'Feign of Terror' Village Voice, April 19th, 2005 11:25 AM.

    13 http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/Media_10_02_03_Report.pdf

    14 Justin Lewis Changing their minds The Guardian, Tuesday September 30, 2003.

    15 Justin Lewis (2004) 'Television, public opinion and the war in Iraq: the case of Britain', International Journal of Public Opinion research, 16(3).

    16 Murray Goot 'Public Opinion and the Democratic Deficit: Australia and the War Against Iraq', Australian Humanities Review.

David Miller
As a faculty member of the Sociology and Geography Department at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, his current research interests include propaganda and the 'war on terror', corporate communications, corporate power, lobbying, the strategic use of science, corporate influences on academic work, spin and the decline of democratic governance. David Miller is editor of
Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq.

Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 15:00