Geneva II and the unprecedented media onslaught against the Syrian government

Do they think we are stupid?

The question is relevant in light of the concerted anti Assad media, diplomatic, and political onslaught that has been unleashed over the past week, starting on the eve of the Geneva II peace talks over the Syrian conflict, when a dossier purporting to provide incontrovertible evidence of the mass torture and massacre of detainess by the Syrian authorities was released.

The dossier came to us courtesy of the Qataris, who allegedly obtained it from a defector – codenamed Caesar – a photographer with the Syrian military police, it has been claimed. By now, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that the role of the Qataris in supporting and funding various opposition groups fighting to bring down the Syrian government – specifically Islamist groups such as the ISIS and Nusra Front – did not feature heavily, if at all, in the intense news coverage of the dossier and its contents. As for Desmond de Silva QC, whom we witnessed doing the rounds of the TV news studios to verify the authenticity of the evidence presented, what are we make of the credibility of the man who led the year-long investigation into the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer, Pat Finucane. De Silva’s report into the murder – the Pat Finucane Review – was labelled a “sham” and a “whitewash” by the Finucane family and their supporters when it was published in December 2012?

Leading the anti-Assad media crusade has been Channel Four, whose coverage of the conflict this past week culminated in a documentary shown on 22 January following the fortunes of three girls – Children on the Front Line – living in a rebel controlled district of Aleppo. The daughters of a local rebel commander, in the documentary we are invited to sympathise with their plight and suffering as a result of the conflict. Significantly, only children of those fighting the regime are depicted and humanised in this way. No mention is made of the children of the soldiers or civilians who are supporting the regime. Presumably they are in Disneyland having the time of their lives.

In truth it wasn’t so much a documentary as a cynical exercise in anti Assad propaganda, designed to manipulate the emotions of the viewer and paint the rebels, through their children, as good guys fighting the forces of evil.

Meanwhile, on the very first day of the talks in Montreux themselves we had US Secretary of State, John Kerry, asserting in his opening remarks that there can be no peaceful solution to the conflict unless Assad and his government relinquishes power. His words were no doubt music to the ears of the majority 40 countries represented at the talks, overwhelmingly hostile to the Syrian government. To the majority of Syrians, and those who refuse to respond to the same old script with the same old Pavlovian response, they merely confirmed that Geneva II is nothing more than a sham and a stitch up, designed to fail from the outset and apportion the blame for the failure to the intransigence of the Assad regime.

All the while the suffering of the Syrian people continues in a conflict that grows ever more brutal. Atrocities have undoubtedly been committed by both sides. Given the stakes involved in the outcome, and given the chaos that has engulfed the region on the back of the proliferation of Sunni extremism – funded by the aforementioned Qataris and those other sons of liberty, the Saudis – this is no surprise. Only when such blatant and open subversion of Syria’s sovereignty, actively supported by Western governments, is ended can serious negotiations aimed at a peaceful resolution to the conflict begin.

Trade Unions and Television

This is a cross-post from the brilliant A Very Public Sociologist blog.

Cartoon about trade union membershipAt my Unite branch meeting tonight, we heard the welcome news numbers had increased by an additional 47 people on last month. That, combined with recently released figures that tentatively suggest a reversal of trade unions’ downward spiral is heartening. After all, getting greater numbers into Britain’s largest membership civil society organisations is what all labour movement people are, or should be, about. Now, as you might expect, especially over the course of a long decline, there has and continues to be extensive debates on how to get our unions relevant again. Some comrades believe that offering bold, fighting alternatives will see millions of working people march back into trade unions. Others suggest offering a fancy credit card and discount holidays is just the ticket

Whether it’s political messages or gimmicks, getting ordinary folk to pay attention is still a difficult job. You can therefore understand the trade union enthusiasm for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They offer quick, efficient and cost-free ways of putting a message across without having to rely on a middleman. But, for whatever reason, the outlets we have massively under-perform. My union’s official Twitter feed only has 19,000 followers. For a behemoth of 1.2m members, that’s not great. The TUC’s media account is in fact worse, managing just 12,000 followers. Sadly, their respective YouTube presences are equally featherweight. Unite’s channel has 439 subscribers and 277,727 views. For the TUC channel it’s only 185 subscribers and 107,057 views. Sadly, these are typical of trade union social media in general. Clearly, a lot of thinking and work needs doing around the content offered and how it should be used strategically. But that is a book, never mind a blog post, in itself.
Click to continue reading

There is nothing wrong with this cartoon


From Haaretz

…this was not anti-Semitic by any standard. Here are four reasons why.

1. It is not directed at Jews: There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. No Star of David or kippa, and though some commentators have claimed Netanyahu’s nose in the cartoon is over-sized, at most this is in line with Scarfe’s style (and that of cartoonists) of slightly exaggerating physical features. Jew-noses are prevalent in truly anti-Semitic cartoons that routinely appear in Arab newspapers – you can find them easily on the web. They are big, bulbous and hooked snouts, and look nothing like Netanyahu’s nose a-la-Scarfe. Furthermore, Netanyahu is an Israeli politician who was just elected by a quarter of Israeli voters, not a Jewish symbol or a global representative of the Jews.

2. It does not use Holocaust imagery: It has become generally accepted – justifiably I think – that comparing Israel’s leaders and policies to those of the Third Reich is borderline, if not full-on anti-Semitism. Not only because there is no comparable genocide in human history, but because choosing it to describe the actions of the Jewish state is a nasty slur identifying Israelis as the successors of the Holocaust’s victims turned into perpetrators of a second Holocaust. But there is nothing in Scarfe’s cartoon that can put the Holocaust in mind. Perhaps someone thinks that the wall should remind us of the ghetto, but don’t forget, Scarfe is the original designer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Should the Sunday Times have not published the cartoon on International Holocaust Memorial Day? Only if one believes that is a day in which Israeli politicians have immunity from being caricatured. Such a belief would certainly cheapen the memory of the Shoah. The Sunday Times, as it names indicates, appears only on Sundays and this was the end of elections week in Israel – when else did you expect them to feature a cartoon of Netanyahu?

3. There was no discrimination: If Gerald Scarfe had been a benign and gentle artist, treating the subjects of his cartoons with due respect and reverence, sharpening his pencil only on Israeli and Jewish figures, there would be grounds here for assuming he was tainted by the most ancient of hatreds. Anyone who has had even a casual glance at Scarfe’s oeuvre of over half a century knows that is not the case. Netanyahu’s depiction is grossly offensive and unfair, but that is only par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing-board. Scarfe has spent his entire career viciously lampooning the high and mighty – Netanyahu is in illustrious company.

4. This is not what a blood libel looks like: Some have claimed that the blood-red cement Netanyahu is using in the cartoon to build his wall indicates a blood libel motif. Well of course it’s blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid? The classic European blood libel, like many other classic European creations, had a strict set of images which must always contain a cherubic gentile child sacrificed by those perfidious Jews, his blood to be used for ritual purposes. It was a direct continuation of the Christ-killer myth. Scarfe’s cartoon has blood-cement but no blood libel components – it almost seems he was careful not to include any small children among his Palestinian figures (one of the eight is arguably an adolescent) so as not to have any sort of libel scenery. The blood libel was a terrible feature of Jewish life in Europe up until the beginning of the 20th century, and the myth still occasionally emerges from between the cracks in some East European backwaters to this day. To ascribe Scarfe’s cartoon with any of its features distorts another chapter of Jewish history.

Evening Standard – the Boris Johnson Free Sheet

This is an interesting article from Left Futures, which I think is worth reposting in full and adds to my comments on a previous SU article.

Evening Standard front page

Never mind the Leveson Inquiry, with its focus on the Murdoch Mafia operation which has held successive Governments and Prime Ministers in thrall, for other parts of what used to be called Fleet Street, it is business as usual.

As Londoners go to the polls, or perhaps don’t go to the polls, it is worth reflecting on the quite extraordinary lengths the London Evening Standard, under its new editor, Sarah Sands, has gone to try and ensure a victory for her old friend, Boris Johnson. In recent days the eulogies to Johnson have reached fever pitch – Sands even interviewing the object of her weird affection in a double page spread, with the unlikely headline ‘You don’t have to be a Tory to vote for Boris’.

If this nauseating snow job wasn’t enough, replete with picture of a beaming David Cameron and tousled haired Boris, the front page headline was; “Why every city needs a Boris – David Cameron”. Elsewhere, Ken Livingstone was casually written off as a has been, and with less than helpful, probably exaggerated musings from Labour peer Lord Desai, on why Livingstone was past it.

In other pages, a council official from Tower Hamlets had her words so twisted of their original meaning that legal action may soon follow. This, for those who haven’t been following the Die Sturmer style reporting of the Evening Standard under Sarah Stands, was written as part of an ongoing and incredibly irresponsible campaign to persuade the mainly white suburbs that Muslims in Tower Hamlets are engaged in massive vote fraud. Never mind that the only two cases the Standard has so far reported on were dismissed by the police last week.

The Evening Standard has been wedded to the Boris Johnson campaign for weeks now, and part of their joint strategy has been to scare white voters with claims of vote fraud and that old hoary favourite, ‘Islamic extremism’, and lump Ken Livingstone in. In this, the Evening Standard and Boris Johnson, have been most ably assisted by another Right wing hatchet, hack, Andrew Gilligan. His daily diet of poison not only feeds into the Tory Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard, but far Right internet sites.

Sarah Sands had been on the cusp of fleeing to the Mail on Sunday, after the Russian oligarchs who own the Standard passed her over as new editor of the Evening Standard. But she called her old friend, Boris Johnson, who went to see Evgeny Lebedev to plead on her behalf. Clearly this paid off, for Lebedev, solemnly declared “I am proud to announce that Sarah Sands is the new editor of the Evening Standard!

That was at the back end of March, and strangely the new editor, was immediately bundled out of the Standard’s Derry Street offices for the duration of the London Mayoral contest (although she re-appeared in the week beginning April 23). Clearly even Lebedev could see that an editor appointed at the request of Boris Johnson might have some difficulty in persuading her readers that the Evening Standard could maintain ‘balanced’ coverage of the London Mayoral campaign.

Not that this stopped Sands from regularly picking up the phone and haranguing assorted hacks over their copy – especially if it gave any credence whatsoever to anything that Livingstone was doing or saying. One seasoned hack was reportedly reduced to floods of tears after Sands demanded he changed his copy to reflect yet more bile about Livingstone. References to the deafening ‘booing’ and hissing reception afforded to Johnson at an elections hustings meeting organised by ‘Operation Black Vote’ were rapidly excised from another hack’s copy, while Sand’s personally oversaw the Evening Standard investigation into alleged vote rigging in Tower Hamlets. Hacks were duly sent to camp outside the local council offices in order to beard various local luminaries, while another ES hack was dispatched to bang on the front door of the Borough’s chief executive, Aman Dalvi, in the dead of night. Unfortunately for Sands, the local authority had earlier been given a clean bill of health by both the police and the Electoral Commission.

On another occasion an  Evening Standard  ‘exclusive’ YouGov  poll breathlessly ‘revealed’ that ‘almost eight out of ten – 78% of Londoners – believed that Boris Johnson “is fighting on behalf of the wealthy”. After ferocious complaints from ‘Team Boris’, the Standard rapidly devoured humble pie, posting a ‘correction’ the following day. Blaming itself for ‘failing to apply the correct sample weighting’, the Standard bleated:

In yesterday’s Evening Standard we said that eight in ten Londoners believed Boris Johnson was a ‘mayor for the rich’, according to a poll. In fact, the figure is 37%’. But as any fool doth know, it is hardly for the Evening Standard to determine the “correct sample weighting”; that is a job for the commissioned polling company.

If Boris Johnson wins, he will owe Sarah Sands and the Evening Standard a whole lot more than a slap up meal at the Carlton Club. For the Standard, which has an ignoble record of telling Londoners how to vote, has surpassed itself this time.  Meanwhile the scandal of the editor appointed at the request of a candidate for Mayor of London, who once in the editors chair delivers all that he asks for – and more, should be the talk of Fleet Street and Westminster. That it isn’t and hasn’t been shows just how far democracy in Britain is debased.

Rupert Murdoch Not a Fit and Proper Person

The House of Commons Culture, Media, and Sport select committee today issued its report into phone hacking. In a hard hitting report, it adjudged that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit and proper person to run an international company. Only the Tories refused to endorse the report.

Tom Watson’s statement pulls no punches. Today comes as a personal and political victory for the Labour MP for West Bromwich East. His courage in standing up to Murdoch and News International despite being on the receiving end of a concerted campaign of intimidation and character assassination has rightly earned him plaudits from across the political spectrum, excepting of course the Conservatives.

Here is Tom Watson’s statement on today’s CMS select committee report.

‘It’s been 10 years, 1 month and nine days since the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone.

Five days ago Rupert Murdoch admitted there was a cover up at News Corporation.

We found that News Corporation carried out an extensive cover-up of its rampant lawbreaking. It’s most senior executives repeatedly misled Parliament and the two men at the top, Rupert and James Murdoch – who were in charge of the company – must now answer for that.

In the view of the majority of committee members Rupert Murdoch is not fit to run and international company like BSkyB.

I’m disappointed that some members didn’t feel sufficiently convinced or confident to hold the most powerful to account. (They felt they couldn’t support sections 216-229 of the report)

Many hacking victims have still not been informed of what was done to them. And Rupert Murdoch has not said his last apology to the families of murdered children.

Let us also remember that this scandal cost many hundreds of hard working, innocent journalists their jobs. They’ve found it hard to find work. I know this because I’ve provided references for a number of them.

Parliament was misled, that we now know.

But there were four issues we couldn’t get to the bottom of because of time constraints, decisions of the committee not to proceed or because they fall outside our remit.

Former member of the Scottish Parliament Tommy Sheridan lost his liberty on a majority verdict of a jury which was not in full possession of the facts. He received a three year prison sentence. I believe the judgement is unsound.

If Rupert Murdoch really is sorry, he will order an urgent review of the information his company provided to the jury in the Sheridan case.

Now that we know that the former first minister in Scotland was also a target of hacking, I’m writing to Alex Salmond to recommend he sets up an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament into how and why MSPs were targeted.

Secondly, we asked the Murdochs about computer hacking but we didn’t get very far. I’m not certain but I have reason to believe that the Serious Organsied Crime Agency is in possession of seized hard drives that may show a list of victims who were the targets of computer hackers.

There may well be a Mulcaire 2 out there – where the authorities think it is right not to inform people who have had their privacy invaded by private investigators who have links with national newspapers.

I’m writing to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee today, to raise my concerns and to ask that his committee do what it can to establish the facts.

Thirdly, we were not able to establish the extent to which committee members were the targets of private investigators or journalists trying to collect information in order to either smear or influence.

Last week former Chief Reporter of the News of the World, Neville Thurlbeck said “it was News International, not the News of the World, which ordered us to dig into the private lives of the MPs on the committee” which was investigating us.

He went on to say that “many News International executives were in the loop” The committee did not have the time to act on these new allegations but I think they are so serious they warrant an inquiry by the Committee of Standards and Privileges for a potential contempt of Parliament.

Fourthly, though we have not had time to discuss it in committee, it is my personal view that we should embark on an investigation into the relationship between ministers, special advisers and lobbyists working for News International and BSkyB.

I repeat my call that the PM should allow the Leveson inquiry to view the private emails and texts of Treasury advisers and Mr Fredric Michel of News International and Mr Graham McWilliam of BSkyB.

The truth is that, whatever we have said in our report, and however you choose to report it tomorrow, the public have made up their minds.

Powerful people were involved in a cover up and they still haven’t accepted responsibility.

And after all of this, the story is not yet over.

It was reported at the weekend that Rebekah Brooks was prepared to release her personal texts and emails to the Leveson inquiry. I think she should. But, as David Cameron said yesterday, the contacts between Rupert Murdoch and senior ministers crossed both sides of the House.

If we really want to see how News Corp in the UK operates, then the current PM and Chancellor, all former Prime Ministers – including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and former Chancellors might want to consider revealing their texts and emails to company executives.

These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our Parliament. They lied and cheated, blackmailed and bullied. We should all be ashamed when we think how we cowered before them for so long.

But to really stop requires more than tokenistic retribution. It needs conclusive attribution. The very cornerstone of justice is that those really responsible are held to account – that the rich and the powerful are as low in the face of the law as the most humble and weak.

In the words of Bob Dylan, “that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom”.

And everybody in the world knows who is responsible for the wrongdoing of News Corp: Rupert Murdoch. More than any individual alive, he is to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. He paid the piper and he called the tune.

It is his company, his culture, his people, his business, his failures, his lies, his crimes. The price for his profits and his power.’