“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”
For the first time I reached for my Mark Twain book of quotes while I considered the thrust of what I wanted to convey in this column. The truth is what I want to say justifies a book or two rather than a single opinion piece and many others have explained the reality of the issue I want to rage about better than me. From John Pilger to Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk to Seymour Hersh I implore those of you interested in the way the media is used and abused to manipulate, mislead and straightforwardly lie to the public to consult the many works of these great authors and investigative journalists.
Small things said in passing conversations often annoy me and inspire me to write about something. One such comment was dropped into a conversation in the course of a wonderful wedding I was invited to last weekend. A guest who had consumed rather too many beers pontificated about the unemployed ripping off the welfare system and the need to clamp down on benefit cheats. As a man of sobriety I am used to drunken rants filled with ignorance and prejudice. I could have taken this man to task for his ill-informed comments but in his drunken state and in front of a small audience which had little time for his opinions I declined to rise to the bait.
However here is the rub. Those ignorant and prejudiced opinions are parroted daily by a sizeable proportion of the population who have been fed bullshit lies and distortions for years by the mainstream media about welfare spending and the benefits system. The reason I consistently highlight the profoundly unhealthy ownership of the press and media across the UK is precisely because that minority owned billionaire press and media use their immense power to distort, deceive and misinform the public to manufacture and manipulate opinions that suit the needs and outlook of the grotesquely rich and powerful.
In order to soften up the public and make them more pliable and receptive to welfare expenditure cuts that facilitate greater tax breaks and reductions for the rich and super-rich it is necessary to demonise the benefit recipients and whip the public into a frenzy of anger and concern for benefits fraud and the existence of a supposedly widespread ‘dependency culture’ among the poor.
The narrative carefully crafted by front page ‘red top’ headlines, ‘special investigations’, constantly repeated soundbites from ‘prominent’ politicians and pompous Oxbridge educated commentators on political programmes and newspaper review shows is clear. It’s the ‘skivers’ versus the ‘strivers’; employed against the unemployed; disabled against the fit to work; Travellers against home owners; asylum seekers against ‘our own people’; young against old. The unemployed are lazy and milking the system while everyone else is ‘hard working’ and being cheated by those on benefits.
The ruling class have learned over many centuries that divide and rule is an adaptable and reliable tactic which deflects the attentions of the masses from the real robbers. They don’t wear masks and carry swag bags they wear sharp suits and carry briefcases along with shameless selfishness and a callous disregard for fairness or justice.
A Trade Union Congress (TUC) commissioned Report in 2013 illustrated the inherent power of the billionaire owned press and media to create and benefit from a false reality. Remember only 5 individual billionaires owned and controlled over 80% of the UK media up until February last year. Then Richard Desmond sold his Express newspapers, Daily and Sunday Star and three celebrity magazines, including OK! Magazine, to the Trinity Mirror Group who now controls over six UK wide titles and nearly every regional newspaper printed and published across the UK.
Desmond, Jonathan Harmsworth, Rupert Murdoch and David and Fred Barclay in 2013 were all billionaire newspaper and media proprietors who used their vast power to dominate news stories and output. They are all registered outside the UK for tax purposes thus ensuring they pay little or no corporation tax on their huge profits. They are in reality tax dodgers, rich public purse swindlers, yet they use their power and influence to deflect attention away from their cheating of the taxpayer onto weaker and less powerful victims.
The TUC commissioned a far reaching opinion poll and survey to establish the public’s opinion on welfare and benefits issues. Reflecting the jibes about ‘dependency culture’ and people on benefits for prolonged periods of time on average people thought 48% of those claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) go on to claim it for more than a year. The actual proportion who claim JSA for more than a year is almost half that figure at 27.8%.
The drip feed effect of stories about the unemployed usurping huge amounts of the welfare budget underpinned the response about the proportion of the entire welfare budget that goes to the unemployed. On average people believe 41% of the budget is spent on the unemployed. The actual percentage of the budget spent on the unemployed is only 3%.
After years of stories about ‘benefits cheats’ emblazoned across the billionaire press and media is it any wonder that the majority of the survey believed 27% of the welfare budget was claimed fraudulently. The actual amount of the welfare budget claimed fraudulently was 0.7%. The public thought 27% of the budget was fraudulently claimed but the actual figure was less than 1%. In fact three times more of the entire budget lies unclaimed than is fraudulently claimed.
That TUC Report in 2013 underlined the power of the media to promote misinformation to cause massive ignorance and unfounded prejudice. Why on earth would knowledge about the welfare budget be so ridiculously out of sync with reality if it was not manipulated to reflect such a false reality by a right wing, billionaire owned press whose interests lie in creating the political atmosphere for welfare cuts and rolling back the State’s interference in people’s lives in general?
Such a febrile atmosphere against the unemployed and vulnerable is the perfect breeding ground for the politics of hate and resentment against the poor and unemployed. Thatcher promoted just such an atmosphere for years before Blair and New Labour picked up that shoddy and shameful flag and were aided and abetted by the billionaire press barons who saw Blair as a true heir to Thatcherism and supported him accordingly.
From that one detailed survey six years ago I invite you to understand that lies, distortions and false narratives which serve the interests of the ruling elites are the daily stock and trade of the newspaper and media industry. The mainstream media does not exist to report news they exist to manipulate, distort and manage the news in the interests of the rich and powerful. That is not a conspiracy theory it is a statement of fact.
Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) narrative in relation to Iraq? We were under imminent danger of a Saddam attack in less than 45 minutes we were told. The coverage was wall to wall and united in its message. We were under threat and had no alternative but to invade Iraq, depose Saddam and neutralise their weapons of mass destruction. The qualified arms inspectors who could find no such WMD’s were either ignored or ridiculed. They were withdrawn from Iraq to allow ‘shock and awe’ to proceed in the name of freedom and human rights. It was all an enormous lie hatched by the politicians and sold by the news corporations obediently and with gusto.
Iraq was demonised, her people were devalued. The bombs that reduced cities and communities to rubble were not killing human beings and children they were killing Iraqis. For decades the two main Muslim groups, Shia and Sunni, lived side by side and respected their differences but mixed together and intermarried. There was no Al Qaida, jihadists or ISIS. Today Iraq is a basket case of religious and territorial civil war with Shia and Sunni divisions running through it like a poisoned river. It is a breeding ground for Muslim extremism and terror groups. The freedom and human rights agenda punted by Blair and Bush and packaged by the media is a sick joke.
In 2013 an opinion poll asked Brits how many people they thought died as a result of the 2003 invasion. The majority said fewer than 10,000 had been killed. Yet most reputable medical and scientific studies put the real figure at over one million men, women and children blown to smithereens for the crime of living in Iraq. The lies and misinformation of the mainstream media helped create the justification for the illegal invasion and the same criminally culpable mainstream media promoted more lies and misinformation to cover up the truly horrendous and catastrophic scale of the crime afterwards.
Now think about the media blitz that prepared the ground for the international war crime that was committed in Libya and resulted in the public execution of Colonel Qaddafi as a prerequisite for the return of freedom and human rights to that North African state with a previously high standard of living. It is now a failed state with conflict, people trafficking, extreme hunger, poverty, terrorism and a refugee crisis. Another Western invasion based on lies.
The civil war in Syria has now scarred that nation and the surrounding countries for approaching 8 years. That’s longer than the Second World War lasted. Over five million refugees have been created and hundreds of thousands have perished under bombing sorties, mortar fire and war caused injuries and illnesses. The original Western media propaganda suggested it was a civil war and not fuelled by Islamic militants. Assad was the only villain. The media was universal in its condemnation of his regime for the deployment of chemical weapons in 2013 and 2017 despite several reports from alternative independent sources on the ground which refuted those claims. Yet now it is clear to anyone with a morsel of intelligence that Islamic militants are indeed at the heart of the Syrian conflict and their declared aim is the overthrow of Assad and the creation of an Islamic state based on brutality and intolerance in equal measure. Wanting those forces defeated does not equate to being a fan of Assad.
Yet despite the incredible saturation coverage of the chemical weapon attacks in Syria in 2013 and 2017 and the uniform blaming of Assad as a sick animal for using such weapons on his own people you would be forgiven for not knowing that even the American Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, now admits there is no evidence whatsoever that Assad did use such weapons. The evidence from independent sources and experienced arms inspectors who poured scorn on the claims that Assad was responsible for these chemical weapons attacks has now proven reliable and the international media storm of evidence against the Syrian regime has been exposed as yet more manufactured lies. That was revealed on the 8th of February but I bet you have never heard it being reported.
Then there is the current propaganda bonanza of lies regarding Venezuela. You will search in vain for media reports about the devastating letter written on behalf of one hundred election observers in Venezuela to the European Union refuting categorically that Maduro’s convincing election as President last May was anything other than fair and free and demanding the EU provide proof of alleged election irregularities. It is well worth extensive quotation from that letter:
“We noted, in particular, not only the sophistication of the voting system which, in our collective view, is fraud-proof, but also that every stage, from the vote itself to the collation of returns, their verification and electronic submission, was conducted in the presence of representatives of the contending parties. As for “reporting irregularities”, we would be interested to hear of examples, since the reporting system is exceptionally rigorous and tamper-free. We doubt you have any evidence to back up the EU’s claim of “numerous reporting irregularities”.
We were unanimous in concluding that the elections were conducted fairly, that the election conditions were not biased, that genuine irregularities were exceptionally few and of a very minor nature. There was no vote buying because there is no way that a vote CAN be bought. The procedure itself precludes any possibility of anyone knowing how a voter cast her or his vote; and it is impossible — as we verified — for an individual to vote more than once or for anyone to vote on behalf of someone else.
In short, the claims in your press release are fabrications of the most disgraceful kind, based on hearsay and not on evidence and unworthy of the EU. It has not escaped notice that the EU was invited to send observers to the election and declined to do so. NONE of the criticism in your EU press release is, therefore, based on direct EU observation in the field”.
Why has this letter and those election observers not featured prominently in the media coverage of Venezuela? Because it doesn’t conform to the narrative uniformly and obediently promoted by the media to support the Trump inspired overthrow of the elected President that’s why.
And what about the humanitarian aid and blocked bridge story featured prominently over this last week? You have surely seen it across all the networks worldwide. The metal fencing and lorry containers strategically placed on the bridge leading from Colombia to Venezuela denying American sent humanitarian aid to the poor Venezuelans. Nicolas Maduro is a heartless and brutal tyrant to deny his people this aid is the uniform media narrative.
Yet that story has also now been exposed as another manufactured pack of lies parroted by the Western media intent on trying to undermine the democratically elected President of Venezuela. The bridge in all the news bulletins is the Tienditas Bridge. It was not blockaded and closed the other day to prevent humanitarian aid entering Venezuela from Colombia it was blockaded and closed 18 months ago in response to rising security tensions between Colombia and Venezuela.
And the Tienditas bridge was NOT blockaded and closed by Venezuela it was blockaded and closed by COLOMBIA…..
There are many more examples of media lies and disinformation which I hope to bring to your attention in future columns but hopefully the evidence and examples provided thus far are enough to convince you to reject the constant bias, distortions and lies pedalled by the mainstream media. Until there is greater plurality in ownership, stricter regulations to ensure accuracy and fundamental democratisation to widen access the mainstream media deserves to be treated with utter disdain and suspicion at all times.
By Tommy Sheridan
Source: Sputnik News