by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 4, Jumada' al-Ula', 1429)
One of the most enduring myths about the Western media is their supposed objectivity. The grossly ill-informed and gullible Americans apart, the Muslims are its biggest victims. Muslims often ask why the Western media do not give their side of the story in such trouble-spots as Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan. The primary function of the corporate media is to advance the West’s agenda, not the Muslims’. Attempts by Muslims to establish their own media outlets—Al-Jazeera, Al-Manar and several Iranian television stations, for instance—have met with limited success. Despite its image, Al-Jazeera’s primary function is to soft-peddle the West’s harsh image to Muslims. Even Iranian television stations have not developed the professionalism to be expected of the media of an Islamic state. Some have hired Western journalists who propagate Western biases while being paid from the Bait al-Maal!
How have the Western media managed to perpetrate the myth of their objectivity for so long? The short memory and attention-span of most people in the modern world are one reason, but other factors are also at work. A front-page article in the New York Times on April 20 revealed that the Pentagon had used retired military officers before the US attack on Iraq in March 2003 to present government propaganda as their own opinion. The Times further wrote that these retired officers were working for various arms-manufacturers and military contractors. Naturally, it was in their interest to project the impending war as beneficial for America. Most observers hailed the Times’ story as living up to the best traditions of investigative journalism. Before getting carried away, a few basic questions must be asked. Did the Times and other US media outlets not know that many of these retired military officers become consultants for arms manufacturers? Would it not be prudent to have asked whether these retired officers were linked with any arms manufacturers before presenting them as “experts” on air?
Behind the use of retired military officers as government propagandists lurks another bizarre story that relates to the Times itself. Judith Miller, one of its leading journalists, became a willing tool for government propaganda in August 2002. In a series of articles, Miller wrote that she had learned from “credible intelligence sources” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) because it had “purchased” yellow cake (uranium) from Niger. US officials then parroted these lies and argued that Iraq’s WMDs had to be destroyed because they posed a mortal danger to Israel and the US. Except for fringe media outlets, no mainstream media asked whether possession of WMDs was a crime or whether it justified the US’s assaulton Iraq. No questions have ever been asked about Israel’s WMDs (including nuclear weapons), yet a leading Times’ writer willingly peddled government lies in 2002. For the paper to now “expose” retired generals as government propagandists looks like an attempt to rehabilitate its image and perpetuate the myth of objectivity.
There is a long history of such lying in the West. In October 1990, before the first US assault on Iraq, a tearful young Kuwaiti girl, Nayyirah, appeared before a televised US congressional committee hearing to allege that Iraqi soldiers had thrown babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and left them to die. Groomed by a public relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, whose senior staff had worked for then US president George H. W. Bush, this “eyewitness account” was used by Bush to paint Saddam Husain as “worse than Hitler”. Later it transpired thatNayyirah had not been to Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation; nor was it revealed to the unsuspecting public during her “testimony” that she was the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the US. It was only after the war that the Canadian Broadcast Corporation exposed the lie when it quoted a professor from British Columbia who said that, during his visit to Kuwaiti hospitals, he had found that nobody there had even heard of the incubators’ incident.
Much the same sort of propaganda continues today. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran is accused of threatening to wipe Israel “off the map”; Islamic Iran is suspected of building a nuclear bomb; and the US is a benevolent power that wants to spread “democracy” in Iraq and Afghanistan. The allegation against President Ahmedinejad is repeated endlessly, despite several US academics having translated of his statement of October 2005 accurately as “the Quds-occupying regime, like the apartheid regime in South Africa, will be removed from the page of time.” Further, while Iran adheres to NPT rules, non-signatory Israel’s possession of more than 200 nuclear bombs is never mentioned. Iran wants a nuclear-free Middle East, but the West is not interested in discussing this. We are told in effect that Israel and the West can do no wrong; Muslims and Islamic Iran can do no right. The West is boss and Muslims had better accept this reality.
The point that we Muslims must understand is that the Western media are part and parcel of the West, inseparable from it, and actively promote its interests. Muslims must develop a better understanding of this and stop believing the deceivers that have misled them for so long.