Dear Mr Barry,
I am writing in response to your Media Watch report Monday 6/2/17 – FakeNews and Alternative Facts. In it, you quoted Charlie Beckett.
Fake news is a real problem. Not just because it gives people rubbish information but, you know, because it undermines the idea that anything is true and I think it’s a real challenge in the sense that mainstream media has been too complacent. You know, you’re looking for stuff that you could call fake news, that’s been in some so called reputable media, so there is a real challenge there for journalists to get their act together basically because I think that in a world of lies, truth is actually quite a good selling point for journalists.
— Charlie Beckett, Professor of Media, London School of Economics,26 January, 2017
Media Watch’s report on ‘fake news’ avoids a bigger issue, which is that impartiality, fearless investigative journalism and rigorous analysis are increasingly absent from mainstream media reporting and commentary.
In regard to Syria, bias towards a US-led war against multi-faith Syria seems to dominate the ABC, and that bias often makes no moral or rational sense.
For example, ABC’s foreign correspondent Sophie McNeill presents a pro-‘revolution’ bias in her reporting on Syria, yet the ideology of the Islamist ‘revolution’ she favors is not examined, nor are the foreign clerics who recruit insurgents and suicide bombers.
The impact this ‘revolution’ has on the lives of members of the general public in Syria, people from every faith background, is generally ignored by her and her fellow ABC ME correspondent Matt Brown.
The claims of ‘rebels’ and supporters are favoured, thus indirectly encouraging the ‘opposition’ to manufacture ‘fake news’, and this fake news will inevitably rely on the presentation of victims.
A further reason the bias makes no moral or logical sense is that Islamist fighters Ms McNeill favours in Syria would be barred from entering Australia, while Australians who travel to Syria to join the ‘revolution’ are likely to be deemed terrorists by Australian authorities.
In December 2012, British journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote in an article titled ‘Syria: The descent into holy war‘,
This misperception of the reality on the ground in Syria is fuelled in part by propaganda, but more especially by inaccurate and misleading reporting by the media where bias towards the rebels and against the government is unsurpassed since the height of the Cold War. Exaggerated notions are given of rebel strength and popularity. The Syrian government is partially responsible for this. By excluding all but a few foreign journalists, the regime has created a vacuum of information that is naturally filled by its enemies. In the event, a basically false and propagandistic account of events in Syria has been created by a foreign media credulous in using pro-opposition sources as if they were objective reporting.
Trust is lost not just in individual mainstream reporters, but also in media outlets and national institutions such as the ABC and, by extension, the government.
There is reason for concern that in this climate, fair-minded and well-informed Australians become disengaged and/or disempowered while the power of those who can alienate and divide communities increases.
Someone who has expressed despair about mainstream media reporting on Syria is Dr Ted Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Postol has referred to the ‘scandalous failure of due diligence by the mainstream Western press’. He and Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector, wrote a report titled, ‘Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013‘. The conclusions of the report include the following:
The Syrian Improvised Chemical Munitions that Were Used in the August 21,
Nerve Agent Attack in Damascus Have a Range of About 2 Kilometers
The UN Independent Assessment of the Range of the Chemical Munition Is in Exact Agreement with Our Findings
This Indicates That These Munitions Could Not Possibly Have Been Fired at East Ghouta from the “Heart”, or from the Eastern Edge, of the Syrian
Government Controlled Area Shown in the Intelligence Map Published by the White House on August 30, 2013.
This mistaken Intelligence Could Have Led to an Unjustified US Military Action Based on False Intelligence.
Michael Flynn who was director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency at the time of the chemical weapons attack in August 2013 and who is now President Trump’s National Security Advisor has admitted that he is not confident that the Syrian army committed the chemical attack, that it could have been a false flag. See 21 Nov 2016 CNN report.
Yet there were clearly victims seen in videos produced by rebels and their supporters. Some activists who have investigated this contend that the victims included children kidnapped by rebel groups in Latakia in early August 2013. Perhaps the most thorough analysis of the videos was carried out by retired US pharmacologist Dr Denis O’Brien. His conclusions also contradict the claims of rebels and their supporters. Unfortunately, because so many of us are time-poor, few will access Dr O’Brien’s rather lengthy report ‘Murder in the Sun Morgue‘. It may be some time before mainstream journalists investigate what is most likely one of the biggest fake news stories of the last 5 years.
I am confident you and your colleagues at the ABC will agree, a discussion on fake news is not helpful if it is not matched by a commitment to the best journalistic practice. Fake news and war are a potent mix.
100 years ago, an organisation guilty of producing fake news was the Committee on Public Information in the US set up by President Wilson to persuade a reluctant US public to support American participation in the First World War. Its propaganda depended on the recruitment of journalists, academics, actors, artists and business people.
Early in 1918, the CPI made a premature announcement that “the first American built battle planes are today en route to the front in France,” but newspapers learned that the accompanying pictures were fake, there was only one plane, and it was still being tested. At other times, though the CPI could control in large measure what newspapers printed, its exaggerations were challenged and mocked in Congressional hearings.The Committee’s overall tone also changed with time, shifting from its original belief in the power of facts to mobilization based on hate, like the slogan “Stop the Hun!” on posters showing a U.S. soldier taking hold of a German soldier in the act of terrorizing a mother and child, all in support of war bond sales.
Recently, a complaint letter was sent to ABC Managing Director Ms Michelle Guthrie in response to Australian Story’s ‘The Road From Damascus’. Among the signatories were Syrians who are in Australia on humanitarian visas. I urge you and your colleagues to give it attention.
The media is a powerful force in times of war. Those working in media outlets can best determine its impact.
In the US and the UK, some politicians are taking strong stands against their governments’ hawkish policies on Syria. (Refer to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Baroness Cox.) May our politicians in Australia be capable of in-depth, responsible discussions on the conflict in Syria. They may need assistance from you and your colleagues to reach that point.
The email was cc-ed to colleagues of Paul Barry at the ABC, including Ms Sophie McNeill based in Jerusalem, as well as several Australian politicians.