October 28, 2012 Sunday
Gratitude for what, Mr Humphrys?
BYLINE: Ian Sinclair
LENGTH: 756 words
Following a recent US vice-presidential debate journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote of the moderator's "pretence of objectivity." Far from being neutral and objective, Greenwald argues that journalists are "awash in countless highly ideological assumptions that are anything but objective." This analysis was perfectly illustrated by BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on October 16. The setting was the prime 8.10 am slot and John Humphrys was in the chair for a segment on the closure of the British consulate in Basra. Two people were interviewed - former merchant banker Andrew Alderson, who managed Basra's finances in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, and all-party parliamentary group for Economic Development in Iraq and the Region chairwoman Baroness Nicholson.
The discussion was chock-full of colonial language. Humphrey's lamented that "a lot of British lives, 179 British lives, were lost for Basra in effect." Nicholson agreed. "The loss of British lives ... was to make freedom for the Basra people," she said. Humphrys's immediate response was: "Of course." However all this propagandistic rhetoric was positively mild compared to Humphrys's next challenge to the two guests about the British invasion and occupation. "If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore - create - democracy, you'd expect, well, you'd expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn't you?" Iraqis, according to Humphrys, should thank the country that illegally invaded and occupied them. Thanks for what, we might ask Humphrys. For the 655,000 Iraqis who had died by 2006 because of the invasion, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health? For the over four million Iraqi made refugees because of the war? For causing the nation's health to deteriorate to 1950s levels, according to former UN Population Division director Joseph Chamie? Does Humphrys think Algerians should have shown "a bit of gratitude" to their French occupiers? Were thousands of German lives "lost for Paris" in World War II? That Britain had benign intentions in Iraq is one of the key ideological assumptions that permeates all BBC reporting on the topic. In 2005 watchdog Media Lens challenged the BBC about its claim that US and Britain "came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights." BBC director of news Helen Boaden replied, arguing this "analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair." Pioneering US journalist IF Stone's famous dictum that "all governments lie" seems to have passed Boaden by. However, some Iraqis do agree with her. An October 2003 Gallup poll found that fully 1 per cent of Baghdad residents believed that establishing democracy was the main intention of the US invasion. Forty-three per cent said the invasion's principal objective was Iraq's oil reserves. Along with Jeremy Paxman, Humphrys is seen as the BBC's "Rottweiler" (Daily Mail), an "impertinent and aggressive if not downright rude" interviewer (Guardian). Humphrys himself described his presenting style as "persistent ... some will say aggressive" in an interview last year. In contrast to Humphrys's self-serving self-image, University of Bath sociology Professor David Miller recently explained that "the research evidence that we have does not suggest a liberal bias" at the BBC. "On the contrary, it suggests a routine tendency for BBC news programmes to give more time and context to, and less interrogation of, Establishment and elitist views." The timing of Humphrys's tax-funded stenography was additionally embarrassing for him and the Today Programme. A few days earlier a new study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children since 2003. It discovered "high rates of miscarriages, toxic levels of lead and mercury poisoning contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs," according to The Independent. According to University of Michigan environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the report's lead authors, there is "compelling evidence" linking the increase in birth defects and miscarriages to US-British military assaults. The Independent went on to report that similar defects were found among children born in Basra. It's not clear whether Humphrys believes their parents should also show "a bit of gratitude" to Britain.