14 January 2005
The comedian, writer and actor Terry Jones wrote a letter to the Guardian asking why there had been no move to send aid to the survivors of the USUK destruction of Iraq? The letter ends by posing the questions:
Why aren’t our TV companies and newspapers running fundraisers to help Iraqis whose lives have been wrecked by the invasion? Why aren’t they screaming with outrage at the man-made tsunami that we have created in the Middle East? It truly is baffling. – ‘Why are there no fundraisers for the Iraqi dead?’
Some of us will no doubt view Jones’ question as a rather naïve one, after all, during the twelve-year long sanctions imposed on Iraq it has been calculated that it caused a minimum of 500,000 deaths, many of them children, a man-made disaster of ‘tsunamic’ proportions that failed to see the media howling in anguish or engaging in the equivalent mind-numbing literary flights used to describe conditions in Aceh, Thailand and other points East.
Nevertheless, Jones was a lone voice amongst all the ‘celebs’ who have jumped on the aid bandwagon and his question does raise the fundamental issue, how come the media operates such an outrageous double-standard?
One of the few media outlets to raise this very question was Medialenswho had this to say on the vast gulf between coverage of the Tsunami and the destruction of Iraq:
Indeed, the admirable outpouring of media and public compassion for the victims of Asia’s natural disaster makes the near-total indifference to the suffering of Iraqi civilians under Western attack even more stunning. Who would believe, looking at the images of devastation from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, that Britain and the United States are responsible for bringing a comparable disaster to a single country, Iraq? While the US government has so far pledged $350m to the victims of the tsunami, and the UK government £50m, the US has spent $200 billion on the Iraq war and the UK £6bn. – ‘Dwarfing the Tsunami – A Warning’
Furthermore, US ‘aid’ to the victims of the Tsunami is in actuality, anything but aid. In reality the conditions attached to the ‘aid’ specify that it be spent in the US
The U.S. requires that much of its foreign aid be spent on medicines, agricultural products and manufactured goods imported from the U.S.—no matter how costly they are compared to locally produced alternatives.
Overall, reports the Asia Times newspaper, “Relief organizations have calculated that as much as 75 percent of foreign aid is directly tied to trade access or other economic and political strategies. Some comes with so many strings attached, including preferential tendering on contracts and the hiring of consultants, that only 30-40 percent of dollar value is ever realized.” – ‘Bush’s Insult to the Tsunami Victims’
And as has been reported, promising aid is one thing, actually receiving it is quite another. President Bush in a much media-hyped campaign promised $15 billion in aid to Africa to combat the AIDS pandemic but so far, only $1 billion has actually been delivered and much of it is not only tied to being spent on US-supplied goods and services, but also that it be tied to ‘abstinence-based’ approaches to AIDs prevention. Only a fraction of the aid promised to Afghanistan has actually reached those it is intended for. Aid is anything but aid and overall, pays back more to the donor country than is paid out.
The BBC, in response to a letter concerning the disparity between its coverage of the deaths due to the Tsunami and that in Iraq said:
I think the real problem is that the estimates of Iraqi civilian dead are so divergent and so open to challenge that we find it very hard to quote them in brief news items. Clearly establishing exact numbers for the tsunami is also almost impossible but there are government estimates which are being regularly updated and are not being challenged in the same way – Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
Divergent, open to challenge? Only the British government challenged the numbers, eminent scientists and statisticians, the peers of the people who conducted the analysis didn’t, but it seems the BBC bows to government numbers and nobody else’s. A government that has lied consistently to the public over the reasons for the invasion and its consequences it seems is to be believed for no other reason than the fact that it is the state speaking. The only scientific study of deaths in Iraq and published in the Lancet, produced a conservative estimate of 100,000 deaths since the invasion (excluding the two Blitzkriegs on Falluja where will probably never know the total number murdered by the USUK), a study the BBC chose to downplay and eventually dismiss.
The issue however, is not dependent solely on numbers but on their significance as an indicator of the value we assign to them. By this we can assume that the underlying logic is that those who have been murdered in Iraq are somehow guilty or complicit in their own deaths, and hence not worthy of our compassion, how else does one explain the disparity between the media’s treatment of the two? So a death is not really a death until blessed by the media.
Terry Jones asked the question why the media ignores the plight of the Iraqi people to which I can only answer, because the media and state are in collusion.
At this point you are right to ask the question, how is this sleight of hand performed? After all, the press we are told, is ‘independent’ and ‘objective’, nobody pressures the media to ‘go along’ with the government line to which I reply that pressure is unnecessary, for not only do the owners and editors of the media subscribe to the same ideology, the media has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. ‘Don’t rock the boat’ might be a straight-up way of describing the situation. For the corporate media this means maintaining an environment conducive for the advertisers and the continuation of a market (capitalist) economy and for the state-run media, it means bowing to the political class whose objective is in lock-step with those it ultimately serves, the owners of the media.
Not that that this doesn’t mean that occasionally, the state has to bang a few heads together (and lop a few off) when those who run the media start to think they actually are independent of the state as the events surrounding the death of Dr Kelly so clearly illustrated. And lest we forget, the (British) state has the euphemistically named ‘Schedule D Notice’ to fall back on when all else fails, which entails a visit (or perhaps a phone call) from a highly placed civil servant to the appropriate editor and a word in the ear that publishing such and such would ‘not be in the public interest’ or would ‘endanger our national security’ or that eternally vague understatement, ‘threaten the interests of the state’.
My colleague Edward Teague wrote me the following:
From Edward Teague
In the Guardian today (11/1/05) Terry Jones asks why we don’t raise money to support the victims of the bombing and destruction of Fallujah. I and others want to suggest to DEC [the Disasters Emergency Committee] that subscribers to the DEC funds for Tsunami relief could divert funds to roll back to Iraq.
How best could we raise awareness of this suggestion?
1. Directly to DEC
2. Directly to each Agency
3. To their public partners
Your urgent attention would oblige
Readers might want to contact DEC (and circulate this proposal as widely as possible) and suggest precisely this. DEC can be contacted at: www.dec.org.uk
You might also want to contact the DFID (Department For International Development) and suggest to Hilary Benn why some of the projected £250 million in aid for the Tsunami victims not be likewise diverted to assist the survivors of the USUK murderous and entirely unnatural disaster that is Iraq. I couldn’t find (surprise-surprise) an email address for the right honorable minister but the website is www.dfid.gov.uk/ and there’s a veritable host of flunkies who I am sure would love to hear from you:
Principal Private Secretary (to Hilary Benn, minister)
Tel:020 7023 0419 | Fax: 020 7023 0634 |
Tel:020 7023 0409|020 7023 0634
Assistant Private Secretaries
Tel:020 7023 0418 | Fax:020 7023 0634
Tel:020 7023 0410 | Fax:020 7023 0634
PA/Principal Private Secretary
Tel:020 7023 0512|Fax:020 7023 0634
Tel:020 7023 0559 | Fax:020 7023 0634
Tel:020 7023 0511 | Fax:020 7023 0634
Tel:020 7023 0134 | Fax:0207023 0134
There’s also what is known as a ‘Public Enquiry Point’ Enquiry@dfid.gov.uk that you can address a question to. Neither I nor Edward actually expect DEC or their partners (or the DFID for that matter) to respond to this proposal but at least it raises the issue and perhaps puts DEC and their partners on the spot as to why they choose to ignore the human made Disaster that is Iraq but not the natural Disaster in Asia?
Another suggestion that readers might also want to get involved in is in setting up a Website to raise funds for the victims of our respective and loathsome governments, who can, without batting an eyelid, kill with one hand whilst wringing the other in hypocritical supplication to the “forces of nature” (an act that might best be described as one hand klopping*). You know how to reach me.
Other useful addresses:
Helen Boaden, director of BBC News:
Jana Bennett, head of BBC Television
Media Lens: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Klopping is Afrikaans for hitting or bashing someone.