Well they would say that wouldn’t they

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WHEN Senator Hiram Johnson in 1917 said, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” he knew what he was talking about. Far more interesting than the latest desert war is the way the mainstream media such as the BBC handles it. It has been an education in propaganda.

Because establishment journalists are carefully screened it is hardly surprising that those who make it to the top are on-message.

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There are mavericks of course: John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Julian Assange being the latest in a long line of distinguished journalists and whistleblowers to irritate governments by separating fact from fiction.

A military censor at a meeting in Washington was candid: “I wouldn’t tell people anything until the war is over and then I’d tell them who won.”

Journalists are a tough breed. They have to be. So far over 400 have died in the Afghanistan conflict. Undeterred they are constantly frustrated by men with blue pencils. Britain’s Ministry of Defence recently bought and pulped an entire print run of Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen; an insiders’ account of the war in Afghanistan.

American air pioneer Charles A Lindbergh was a gifted journalist. Refusing to work with film media he said their accounts of the war were so prejudiced and confused it was impossible to get a balanced picture.

Charles Lynch, a Canadian journalist accredited to the British Army was blunt: “It is humiliating to look back at what we wrote during the war. It was crap. We were a propaganda arm of our governments.”

It is the nature of war that the public are primed. During World War 1 propaganda was so effective that dachshunds were kicked and stoned on the streets of Britain; shops with German-sounding names were trashed.

Prime Minister Lloyd George was scathing: “If the people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But, of course, they don’t know and they can’t know. The correspondents don’t write and the censorship would not pass the truth.”

A journalist’s attempt to keep one step ahead of the censor can prove amusing. During World War Two, Robert St. John, Associated Press correspondent reporting from Greece covered the evacuation of 40,000 British troops.

He correctly observed that, ‘The evacuation from Greece has not been another Dunkirk; it has been much worse.’ The censor simply put a line through the second section of the sentence leaving it to read, ‘The evacuation from Greece has not been another Dunkirk.’

Robert St. John and colleagues reckoned allied casualties to be 20,000 killed, wounded or captured. By the time it reached Fleet Street the figure had been reduced to 3,000.

Poet Robert Burns prophetically wrote: ‘Here’s freedom to him who would speak / Here’s freedom to him who would write / For there’s none ever feared that the truth should be heard / But him who the truth would indict.

There are exceptions of course.

Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this in your Euro Weekly News.

Picture Credit: Espen Moe

 

 

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