Friday, 2 April 2021

This Bill effectively bans protests, persecutes Gypsies and gives a maximum 10 year sentence for putting someone at risk of being caused “serious annoyance”

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before Parliament now, contains provisions which are inimical to democracy and should be opposed by all means possible. If it becomes law, it will effectively ban meaningful peaceful protests, target the way of life of one group, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT), and create a new offence which carries a maximum ten-year sentence, including for putting someone at risk of being caused “serious annoyance”.

The Bill has led to a number of protests already; protests for the right to protest. There are set to be nationwide protests on this Saturday of the Easter weekend.

The right to protest is a fundamental part of a democratic society. It is recognised as such by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention is separate to the EU and is incorporated into UK law. Passing this Bill would breach Article 11 and would mark the UK as an international pariah.

The GRT communities’ right to follow their traditional way of life and move from place to place is currently protected under the law, including Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

However, Clauses 61 to 63 of the Bill contains measures which are blatantly discriminatory against GRT communities. For years, councils have failed to provide enough legal sites for the GRT communities. Consequently, they have had to stop in unauthorised places. Whereas currently such trespass is a civil matter, the Bill criminalises it and gives the authorities draconian powers to imprison and to confiscate caravans, which are, of course, peoples’ homes.

Romany Gypsies have been in Britain since at least 1515. The Bill is the most serious threat to their way of life here for 500 years. 

Clauses 54 to 58 of the Bill relate to protests (of more than one person). They effectively ban protests. They do so by giving the police and the Home Secretary new powers which give them the ability to ban protests on grounds which are drafted so widely that they could apply to any meaningful protest.

The only kind of protests which are likely to be allowed to go ahead are those where the authorities support the aims of the protest.

Under the current law, the police can ban or impose conditions on a protest if they reasonably believe that the protest may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.

But under the Bill, the grounds for the police to ban or impose conditions are dramatically widened so that they include, among other things, the noise made by a protest. It would be sufficient under the Bill to ban a protest if the noise generated by the protest “may have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity” and “that impact may be significant”.

In practice, the Bill would allow the police to ban any protest which generates noise, which is to say, basically any protest.

As the Good Law Project has noted, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that an attack on the making of noise is a disguised attack on the very nature of the right to protest.”

The Bill also gives unfettered power to the Home Secretary, currently Priti Patel, to define the meaning of certain key definitions. She could do this, after the Bill becomes law, by ministerial regulation, with minimal parliamentary oversight. That in itself is highly disturbing.

Clause 59 creates a new criminal offence. Among other provisions, it provides up to ten years imprisonment for causing someone to suffer “serious annoyance” or even for putting someone at risk of suffering “serious annoyance”. One likely purpose of this oppressive provision is to scare people away from joining protests.

Clause 60 is concerned with stopping annoying one-person protests. It is rumoured that it is intended to stop one man in particular from protesting – Steve Bray, the indefatigable anti-Brexit campaigner, who is now targeting Tory corruption.

It is a dark time for our country that this Bill could be brought forward and comfortably pass its first parliamentary hurdle. It is lamentable that our mainstream media have not kept the British public properly informed as to the deeply obnoxious contents of the Bill. 

The blatant discrimination against GRT communities is sickening. Targeting minorities is a typical move by repressive regimes in hard economic times. It serves to distract and to divide and rule.

The effective ban on protests is a clear stepping-stone away from democracy to Fascism.  This is made even clearer given the context. The Johnson Government have shown contempt for the Rule of Law time and time again. Here are just three examples. They unlawfully suspended Parliament; they legislated to break the Withdrawal Agreement in contravention of international law; and they have legislated to allow Ministers and officials in quangos – with no judicial oversight - to license murder, torture or rape by people working under cover.


Sunday, 28 February 2021

How the Mainstream Media Manufactures Consent in a Democracy

Nobody can obtain first-hand all the information they need to be properly informed in a democracy. Most people obtain their information from the mainstream media: the newspapers, the broadcasters and their online presences. The role of social media – to be looked at in another piece - is also undoubtedly increasingly important.

The mainstream media can not only effectively decide what people think on certain issues (especially if they have no other source of information) but it also influences which issues people think about.

A properly functioning democracy needs a vigilant and courageous mainstream media prepared to challenge those who exercise power.

But what if there are strong forces operating on the mainstream media which mean that – despite its claims of independence and the absence of overt government control - the news it produces is almost invariably biased in favour of the rich and powerful in and out of government? 

That is the argument of a book published in 1988, by two American academics, Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky. The book is called Manufacturing Consent. 

The authors’ theory does not depend on powerful people conspiring. It is not a “conspiracy theory”. It is more like a “free market analysis”. The authors argue that there are forces, akin to economic forces, which result in an end product, namely news which is, overwhelmingly, helpful to the rich and powerful. The authors call these forces “filters” and identify five filters, outlined at the end of this piece.

According to Herman & Chomsky, there is a “guided market system” as governments, owners of large companies, media owners and executives, public relation companies and others take steps to shape the news.

Of course, the media is not a monolith. Sometimes the government and other elites will be attacked but these attacks will not go to the fundamental issues underpinning their power. So, there may be an outcry in the media about a particular billionaire’s tax-cheating but there will not be a proper campaign highlighting the systemic reasons why the very rich pay so little tax.

There are many ways bias can be present, and it is often difficult to spot. One of the most powerful means of bias is simply to omit a story completely or to omit important facts. Another way is in the framing of a story: “this is good/bad/sad/no-one’s fault”. Or by not giving any context at all. Or by the way stories are selected. Or by repetition of essentially the same story over and over. Or by choice of words – the enemy is “cowardly, untrustworthy”, our leader is “determined, brave”. Or by placement – front page or top of the bulletin or buried? Or by choice of expert or think-tank to comment. Or by emphasis, nuance and tone. Or by humanising some victims and not others. Or by giving repeated, emotional and prominent coverage to one story. Or by giving no sustained coverage and downplaying another story. Or by many other ways.

Author Michael Parenti points out, “[Sometimes the media is] dedicated to the greying of reality, blurring popular grievances and social inequities. In this muted media reality, those who raise their voices too strongly against social and class injustices can be made to sound…shrill.”

In relation to individual journalists, Herman & Chomsky argue that their bias is overwhelmingly subconscious. It is easy for journalists to convince themselves that they operate “objectively”.

Only journalists who are likely to produce what the organisation requires are employed in the first place and then they will quickly learn the information they need to get on. When a journalist says that no one tells them what to say, it is usually true. Herman & Chomsky remark that “Censorship is largely self-censorship by reporters and commentators.”

Those who do not internalise what is appropriate and act accordingly, will be regarded as “irresponsible” and are unlikely to last long. 

In 1996, Chomsky was interviewed by Andrew Marr, the current leading UK political interviewer. Marr asked how Chomsky could know that he, Marr, was self-censoring. Chomsky replied, “I am sure you are not self-censoring. I am sure you believe everything you say. I am saying that if you believed something different, you would not be sitting where you are.”

Herman & Chomsky go to great lengths to prove systemic media bias. Most of Manufacturing Consent consists of detailed accounts of notable events from the previous decade and comparing them with the coverage in the leading American mainstream media. 

It is not possible to do anything like Herman & Chomsky’s detailed analysis here. However, consider, for example, the issue of poverty in a rich country like the UK. Millions of people are living in poverty in the UK. Most of the population are not aware of the scale, reality or causes of this poverty: the poor are out of sight, out of mind. The mainstream media rarely covers the issue and never with proper prominence. There is bias by omission.

Here are Herman & Chomsky’s “five filters”. 

1. Ownership

2. Advertising

3. Reliance on information

4. Flak

5. Anti-communism (needs updating for 2021)

Ownership

Herman & Chomsky analysed media ownership in the US in 1988. The main media outlets were controlled either by wealthy corporations or by exceptionally rich individuals or families. 

The position is similar in the UK now. Rupert Murdoch was an influential media figure in the US in 1988 and is the most influential media boss in the UK in 2021.

George Orwell, writing in 1937, was typically to the point, “[Most of] the British press … is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.”

The BBC is the dominant provider of news in the UK and it is publicly owned. It is in a different category to other news outlet. However, the BBC is dependent on the government of the day for its future income and that government has power over the appointment of most people in charge of the BBC. 

If a news outlet is owned by a very rich corporation or individual, or is susceptible to pressure from a government, people working there are likely to be mindful, at the very least, to avoid or downplay certain subjects that they think would upset the owners or the government. 

Advertisers

The great majority of media outlets makes a profit not from people paying for their product but through money paid by advertisers (an exception is the BBC). This fact gives advertisers huge power over media outlets. 

A well-known British journalist in the last century, Hannen Swaffer, said “Freedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to.”

In 2015, Peter Oborne, the highly respected Chief Political Commentator at the Daily Telegraph, resigned in protest at the way that the paper’s coverage of global banking had been distorted because HSBC was a major advertiser.

Many advertisers, for example those working for oil companies, car companies, or banks funding the fossil fuel industry, do not want the media to talk about the climate crisis. It is observable that the media downplays this subject.

Reliance on information

Many journalists find it difficult – or impossible – to do their job without a good relationship with a particular powerful institution they are reporting on, be that a government department, a local council, a large corporation. They need a reliable flow of “news”, in the form of press releases and “off the record” briefings. 

It is not easy, therefore, for a media outlet, let alone an individual journalist, to call out the same institution for lying or corruption. Nor is it easy to give significant coverage to sources hostile to the institution. 

Flak

“Flak” means negative responses to media output. It comes in many forms including emails, letters, phone calls, petitions, complaints to politicians or libel threats.

Flak may be the spontaneous response of an individual. However, it can also be the result of an organised campaign.

Powerful people and organisations can produce huge amounts of flak. It can be very effective in making a media outlet change its coverage.

Anticommunism

When Herman & Chomsky were writing in 1988, it was, in their words, “a cultural milieu in which anti-Communism is the dominant religion” and people were “paralysed by the fear of being tarred with charges of infidelity to the national religion”.

In 2021, anti-Communism is no longer a potent force as a result of the end of the Cold War. 

There are a number of beliefs in 2021 which may approach a “national religion” and which support elite values, such as the belief in the superiority of “Western values”. Those who dare to oppose them are liable to be demonised as unpatriotic or worse – a highly effective way to ensure self-censorship.

…..

Herman and Chomsky wrote, “raw material passes through the five filters to produce “only cleansed residue fit to print”.”  

Printing (or broadcasting) this “cleansed residue” day after day manufactures consent for the economic, social and political dominance of elite groups and, therefore, undermines democracy.


Monday, 16 November 2020

How the Nazis used propaganda to such terrible effect

  

Adolf Hitler, the leader or “Fuhrer” of the Nazi party, held absolute power in Germany between 1933 and 1945. From the time of his entry into politics in 1919 shortly after the end of the First World War, to his suicide in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, he relentlessly pursued two central goals: a highly aggressive policy, based on racism and hyper-nationalism, to greatly increase the territory and power of Germany and a campaign of hatred against Jews, culminating in the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust. His name has become synonymous with evil.

Hitler saw propaganda as key to his success. In 1936, at the annual Nazi rally in Nuremberg he said, “Propaganda brought us to power, propaganda has since enabled us to remain in power, and propaganda will give us the means of conquering the world.”  

Propaganda needs the right conditions to be successful. After the First World War, the economic situation was dire for Germans and the country had been humiliated by its defeat and the terms imposed on it after the war. There were widespread calls in Germany for a “strong leader” to emerge as a saviour. 

Nazi propaganda was always accompanied by violence and intimidation. Before they gained power - democratically - in 1933, Nazi Stormtroopers, a paramilitary force, were frequently on the streets. Once in power, the Nazis quickly set up a murderous totalitarian dictatorship, a repressive police state, and a climate of terror. However, there was no pause in their relentless propaganda – people’s hearts and minds could not be won by terror and repression alone.

Hitler set out his views on how to use propaganda in his notorious and hate-filled book Mein Kampf which he dictated in 1923 and 1924, when he was in prison and was a nobody on the lunatic fringe of the extreme right. Within a decade he had obtained supreme power in Germany.

He believed the masses could be easily manipulated by propaganda, if used properly. By propaganda, “heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell, and vice versa, and the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise.”

“[Propaganda] is a terrible weapon in the hands of those who know how to make use of it’, said the man, who more than any other was to prove this statement true.

Hitler studied the propaganda methods of others like the Italian dictator Mussolini (who himself drew inspiration from the Roman Empire), the Russian Bolshevik revolutionaries and British propaganda in the First World War.

Soon after Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, Joseph Goebbels joined the Nazi Party and later he became the Propaganda Chief. He was influenced by the work on propaganda of the American Edward Bernays and by American commercial advertising techniques. He declared he would use, “American [propaganda] methods on an American scale.” 

Goebbels, like Hitler, believed that the people are easily manipulated by propaganda, “The people are mostly just a gramophone record playing back public opinion. Public opinion, in its turn, is created by the organs of public opinion such as the press, posters, radio, school, universities, and general education.”

Both Hitler and Goebbels regarded propaganda as work of prime importance that demanded trained specialists, “the most skilled brains that can be found”. Control was centralised and the work closely supervised. The details had to be got right.

Nazi propaganda necessarily changed over time. In the early years, the Nazi Party was a tiny party of no importance. Hitler wrote about his frustration, “We should have been very pleased if we were attacked or even ridiculed. But the most depressing fact was that nobody paid any attention to us whatsoever. This utter lack of interest in us caused me great mental pain at the time.”

The Nazis used a variety of propaganda techniques to get themselves noticed. They held public meetings; the posters, leaflets and huge banners were all emblazoned with the party’s symbol, the swastika. In Mein Kampf, Hitler specified that such meetings must be in the evening “when [people] easily succumb to the domination of a stronger will” and the meetings should have “the mysterious artificial dimness of the Catholic churches”. 

Hitler would always speak and use violent, provocative and threatening oratory. 

The “security” would be provided by the Stormtroopers, who would cause and provoke violence, which was a kind of propaganda itself. It meant the Nazis were no longer ignored. It also helped the Nazis own morale. Goebbels remarked that “blood is the best adhesive”.

Propaganda, according to Hitler and Goebbels, should be aimed at the masses, and not at intellectuals, in fact it should be aimed at the “lowest mental common denominator”. It should appeal to emotion, not reason.

Goebbels wrote in his diary,” The essence of propaganda is to keep it simple and use constant repetition.”  Simplicity and repetition of words and symbols were key.

Speeches should use simple, short, sharp words, be dogmatic, and always confident. The content was typically to set “Us” against “Them”. “Us” were those Hitler considered “racially pure” Germans and Aryans. “Them” were usually the Jews or could also be Communists, Bolsheviks, Socialists, Gypsies, homosexuals or whosoever was chosen.

Hitler – of course, not restrained by any moral scruples - sought to make people fear and hate. He would lie freely. He wrote that a big lie was more likely to persuade the masses than a small lie “since [the masses] themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large scale falsehood.” 

After 1933, the Nazis’ annual rallies held at Nuremberg grew to an enormous size. Rows upon rows of uniformed Nazis marched holding burning torches behind banners with swastikas. Hitler stood before an imperial backdrop. The lighting, the sounds, the colours, the music were all planned minutely. The timings had to be split-second. 

The rallies were modelled on Roman times when uniformed men marched behind eagles and banners emblazoned “SPQR”. They projected power – and fear.

The Press was recognised by Hitler in Mein Kampf as the most effective form of propaganda. Accordingly, the Nazis set up or bought their own newspapers. The backing of the media empire of Alfred Hugenberg, the largest in Germany, was to play a key role in the Nazis winning power.

It was the young who were the Nazis’ greatest supporters. Even before they came to power, the Nazis set up youth groups, for boys and girls aged between 10 and 18. They all swore oaths of personal allegiance to Hitler and were told “your life belongs to the Fuhrer”. After 1933, indoctrination started for all school children.

Even pre-school children might have Nazi children’s books, games and toys. This propaganda sought to shape children’s thoughts so they would grow up to be “good Nazis”.

Nazi propaganda from the beginning promoted a “Fuhrer cult”. Hitler’s deputy’s declaration at a Nuremberg rally was typical, “The Party is Hitler. But Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler!” As historian, Ian Kershaw, points out, by 1936, “ubiquitous propaganda made the drug of the ‘Fuhrer Myth’ hard to resist.” 

However, manufactured charisma is dependent on success. When the military tide turned against Germany in 1942, the Fuhrer cult weakened.

In 1933, Goebbels became Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. From now on, Nazi propaganda was almost completely uncontested, there were no dissenting voices. Listening to a foreign radio station, for example, was punishable by death.

Goebbels took control of all means of public communication, including: radio, films, newspapers, literature, music, theatre, and fine art. He had huge resources at his disposal. He intervened very actively. He would demand certain actors be hired, certain lines in films be changed. Soon after taking power, he presided over the public burning of books he considered “undesirable”.

In March 1933, Goebbels addressed the press in Berlin. He told them, “the new government no longer intends to leave people to their own devices”. The plan was, “to work on people until they accept our influence.”

Goebbels wrote in his diary, “The press is now all mine.”  He could instruct them what to say. Even when he did not, they knew what was expected of them.

No one in Germany could avoid Nazi propaganda. Symbols such as the swastika were everywhere. People on meeting others would say “Heil Hitler” and perform the Hitler salute, a straight arm lifted in front of them. Many civilians wore Nazi uniforms. Even the way that soldiers marched – the aggressive goose-step – sent a clear message. And throughout the year, the Nazis promoted festivities for the people to take part in, each with its own particular Nazi ritual.

The Nazis produced cheap radios which could receive only one wavelength, which broadcast Hitler’s speeches. It was compulsory to install radios with loudspeakers in cafes and public places. It was compulsory to listen.

Under the direction and supervision of Hitler and Goebbels, the Nazis used existing propaganda techniques on an unprecedented scale, with persistence and close attention to detail. They combined propaganda with violence and intimidation. Their propaganda was relentless, continuous and impossible to escape. It was highly effective with the most terrible consequences.