Weekly media roundup 7-9-21

Narrative problems

The narrative in the Guardian about Russia and democracy is that there isn’t any. Putin fixes the elections and it is in effect a ‘regime’ or even dictatorship.

So the journalist writing this story about election sabotage in St. Petersburg has a problem. The story is that in a bid to sabotage a liberal party (‘Apple’) candidate in municipal elections two rival candidates have registered with the same name.

The Guardian writes: “‘Double’ candidates regularly pop up during Russia’s election cycles, which can be surprisingly cut-throat despite the expectation that the ruling United Russia party will maintain a majority in the Duma”

Here the journalist is fighting against his own narrative. On the one hand if the elections are always rigged in favour of United Russia so that they are a foregone conclusion why would it be necessary to resort to such tricks and foul-play? He tries to balance the two narratives: ” surprisingly cut-throat”. His problem of course is that if they are “cut-throat” then the results can’t be a foregone conclusion. (A small point; the elections in question are municipal elections – not State Duma elections; maybe these former are more ‘cut-throat’).

On this particular story as is usual in stories about Russia written by their staff based in Moscow the journalist has not attempted to ‘balance’ the story by obtaining a quote from the authorities – something which they almost invariably do on stories critical of the UK government. Had he obtained that quote he could have noted that the Central Election Commission in Russia has said that after the elections they will try to get legislation passed to prevent this happening again. [1] One can of course take this statement with a pinch of salt. On the other hand UK officials will often make promises in the heat of the media moment which are subsequently quietly dropped. There is no real journalistic reason to not include the ‘balancing’ quote from the relevant authorities. I don’t know why Guardian journalists suspend their normal rules on how to construct articles when it comes to Russia. Possibly because they know that their job is to write regime change propaganda.


  1. https://www.rt.com/russia/534085-opposition-candidates-same-name/

The Guardian is not a newspaper

What is the difference between a newspaper and a pamplet or party newsletter?

The former is intended to inform people. The latter is consciously partisan. One expects a newsletter produced by a political party or a pamphlet produced by a lobby group to be entirely one-sided. Traditionally, a newspaper has always balanced news reporting with its editorial line. Of course; one expects a newspaper to have a particular editorial line and to promote that. But, historically, at least one has usually been able to rely on a newspaper to actually do basic reporting and give you an accurate picture of events on the ground – before it adds its editorial line and comment.

The Guardian is something different. It purports (I think) to be a newspaper – but it behaves like a party newsletter. The following two articles – one from the Guardian and one from Al-Jazeera illustrate this well. Both are on exactly the same topics – how Afghans feel waking up to a new situation in their country with the Taliban in charge.

The Guardian article interviews only people who think the Taliban takeover is a disaster. There are emotive accounts of a young woman who feels like giving up on life and a young man who wants to leave the country. The headline is “People are broken” – taken from one of the interviews.

The Al-Jazeera article has the headline “War-weary Afghans divided on Taliban rule”. Al-Jazeera, incidentally, is no fan-boy for the Taliaban and you can find plenty of articles critcising them on Al-Jazeera. This article gives the views both of those who think the Taliban takeover is a disaster and those who think it is a good thing. (For example; one interviewee talks about the corruption under the US backed regime). The article also records that some people are just glad that the war is over and are more worried about poverty than the Taliban.

Which of these two articles is more closely representing the reality in Afghanistan? Which of these two articles is doing journalism? Which allows its readers to make up their own minds and which is just pumping out a narrative line? Which is aligned with democracy and which with totalitarianism?

Propaganda in the Guardian on the Taliban

It is amazing that anyone actually reads the Guardian. On significant stories on the international arena they just print fairy-tales. I imagine that some people pick up a newspaper not to be informed but to have their fears and prejudices confirmed. If so – the Guardian is a good choice for you.

This is from an article on the exit of the US army from Afghanistan:

There was no flourishing of Afghanistan under foreign occupation. More than 47,000 Afghan civilians died in the conflict; millions have fled as refugees to other countries. Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin; the country has consistently been ranked among the world’s least peaceful and most corrupt.

Perhaps we should be grateful that the author at least admits that “there was no flourishing of Afghanistan under foreign occupation”. But this line is a major factual distortion: “Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of heroin”. The implication is that Afghanistan heroin was produced in Afghanistan (by the Taliban) before the US invasion in 2001 and that despite US efforts it “remains” a problem. This is 100% the opposite of the truth. In 2000 the Taliban banned opium production and production fell significantly. A UN report states: “In November/December 2000, reports from Afghanistan suggested vigorous implementation of the ban by the authorities”. [1] After the US invasion in 2001 production restarted – the Taliban were interested in the revenues which they could use to fund their fightback and, apparently, the US did little to stop production and the production of opium flourished under their occupation [2] (I’ve read that one reason for this was that they didn’t want to alienate local farmers). That Taliban have just declared that they will again ban opium production. [3] There are a flood of articles in the press of the occupier saying that this won’t happen. [4] We will see; but we can say that they did succeed last time, according to the UN.

Continue reading “Propaganda in the Guardian on the Taliban”

The venality of FaceBook

venality: “the state or quality of being venal (= willing to behave dishonestly in exchange for money)” (Cambridge Dictionary)

That seems to describe FaceBook pretty well.

Of course I am a late-comer to this realisation. Well, I always knew that FaceBook was unsavoury. But not quite how unsavoury.

I’ve been “triggered” it seems by “Reels” on Instagram. Is it just me or is there something odd about showing videos of teenage girls (12-14) doing “weird stuff” to grown-ups? Nothing sexual of course – I’m sure the ‘Reels’ are being monitored (and many are quite possibly actually generated by FaceBook) but “weird” things – like pulling weird faces, suggestive moving of eyebrows, intriguing hand gestures. All of this is designed (whether by users desperate for attention or by immoral revenue lords I don’t know and ultimately it doesn’t make a difference) to draw people in, stimulate their emotions, glue them to the screen. And max out the revenue. Facebook makes money from trivialising human emotions. It is fundamentally anti-human.

As an experiment I tried to file some reports. You can choose from a limited list of reasons to report. Surprisingly, given the furore in the press, there is no ‘child safety’ option. You can’t send any kind of a message. I tried the online reporting form where you can actually leave a comment. It was undergoing ‘technical difficulties’ and didn’t work. No real surprises there.

I noticed that all the ‘Reels’ being fed on my installation of the app. were of young women or girls (aged 12 – 15). They must have detected that the account belongs to a man and quite possibly that he is single. It is interesting how the age cut-off seems to be about 12. It doesn’t look to me like they are taking child protection very seriously.

The furore in the media about “child protection” and social media probably achieves one thing and one thing only – excellent publicity for them. The chances of our lost in the mire politicians actually doing anything about this (rather than shouting about it and pretending) is, I think, about zero. The function of modern political-class politicians is to make life easy for the corporations, and enrich themselves, nothing else.

Where shall we look for morality in the modern West?

This is probably why I don’t see the Taliban as a disaster. At least they have a moral code. At least they don’t live just for money.