The New Observer Media Comment The role of the media: critic of government or amplifier of official lines?

The role of the media: critic of government or amplifier of official lines?

António Guterres [UN Chief] warned that there was a serious risk of starvation and famine in Gaza, noting that half the people in northern Gaza and more than one third of displaced people in the south were “simply starving”.

UN spokespeople and many respected NGOS are saying that Israeli may be committing war crimes or crimes against humanity in Gaza a) by enforcing a siege against the civilian population and b) by massively disproportionate use of force causing widespread civilian casualties. The ICC is investigating. More contentious claims have been made that Israeli may be committing the crime of genocide.

Former British PM David Cameron was interviewed on Sky. This is the PM who authorised the botched Libyan operation in 2011, who absurdly appeared on a Libyan balcony to say “our friends in Britain and France will stand with you as you build your country and build your democracy for the future.” and who, later, once the country had descended into (predictable) chaos refused to appear before the relevant Committee in parliament to answer questions about the fiasco. He was asked briefly about the question of Israel committing war crimes in Gaza. I was struck by the banality of his answer. “We send some weapons to Israel and we therefore have to do due diligence that we are not sending arms to a party which is committing war crimes. We have done this due diligence and you can therefore read it as we consider that Israel is not committing war crimes”. So, that’s all fine then. He also made quite a big diplomatic blunder when he said that Israel should not do in Southern Gaza what they have been doing in the North; which appears, on the face of it, to be an admission that something was not right about what Israel did in the North (otherwise why say they shouldn’t do it in the South?).

There was scope here for some serious questions to be asked about both wars. But nothing. The journalist does indeed ask some ‘difficult’ questions – but only in order to allow the prepared stock answer to be produced. Once it is he moves on. There is no pressing the point. On Gaza, for example, he could have reeled off a whole list of UN statements and NGO statements about potential Israeli war crimes in Gaza and asked for a response to those. On Ukraine he could have asked how, if sending 10s of billions of arms to Ukraine has led to nothing but a stalemate (with Ukraine currently only just hanging on) will sending 10s of billions more solve anything – given that the arms are being consumed? (I.e. they are not added to an existing stock – they are being expended). He could also have asked the one question which Western media maintain strict radio silence on – wasn’t it a bit of a provocation to try to push Ukraine into NATO, especially considering that many in Ukraine as attested by Western opinion polling around the time of the Maidan crisis did not want this?

The role of the interviewer is to facilitate the production and transmission of the official lines / cover stories.

Media Studies discussion: do you agree with this analysis of the interview? If so – what does this tell us about the ‘free press’ and indeed the claim that our societies are ‘free’ precisely because we have a ‘free press’.


Some discussion of and explanation of war crimes, crimes against humanities and Genocide.:

Some explanation of the difference between war crimes, crimes against humanities and Genocide: The Rome Statute is a UN Document which established the ICC

Summary based on above.

War crimes: defined in the Geneva Convention (1949) and adopted by the ICC. (I’ve seen the claim that the siege/blockade of Gaza is a war crime rather than a crime against humanity: – possibly in the 4th Article of the Geneva Convention).

Crimes against humanity: “adopted in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nürnberg Charter), which tried surviving Nazi leaders in 1945, and was, in 1998, incorporated into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).” [Source: Britannica] Concerns treatment of civilians populations including forced transfer.

Genocide: there is a particular UN Treaty on this signed in 1948. (Some experts point to statements made by certain Israeli political or military leaders as supporting the necessary factor of it being intentional.).