The War on Dissident News
The establishment media have now coined a term for news sites that regularly challenge their orthodox narrative, fake news. This is rich for news organisations that have cheerled wars in the Middle East, turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by our allies and consistently supported the suppression of viable national democratic institutions by a cabal of global corporations. For the last 30-odd years a small set of worldwide news outlets such as CNN, BBC, Sky News and Fox News have literally manufactured the news we consume. They set agendas and decide which events, staged or otherwise, deserve our attention. Some wars go almost unreported, while mercenary reporters go out of their way to discover any evidence of atrocities committed by our official enemies. However, now CNN and the BBC have serious competition as more and more people switch off their TV sets and seek alternative sources for their news online.
Last week the UK government passed the Investigatory Powers Bill that requires Internet service providers and mobile phone companies to keep logs of customers' browsing history for a year, so that government agencies can gain access to this minefield of data. In the wake of Donald Trump's surprising electoral success, we have begun to hear calls for filtering and even outright censorship of alternative news sites such as Zerohedge, Drudge Report, Breitbart and Infowars. In the UK social justice warriors have campaigned to ban allegedly rightwing newspapers such as Daily Express, the Sun and the Daily Mail (which is now the most popular British online news site) from college campuses. My twitter feed has messages urging me to sign petitions to stop major corporations from advertising in these papers. Naturally without advertising they would lose their main revenue stream. Just a couple of weeks before the US presidential election, Barrack Obama lent his support to the concept of a truthiness filter that would rank information sources by their reliability. Indeed we've seen a number of initiatives, supported by NGOs, that claim to help us check facts, so much so that the verb fact-check has now entered the Oxford Dictionary. The mainstream media resorted heavily to fact-checking during the recent EU referendum and US presidential campaign. Presumably if you are unsure about a claim you should visit a purportedly non-partisan site that will set the record straight. Fact-checking services use a technique that the public relations industry has perfected over the decades. First they rely on a foundation of indisputable facts and common misconceptions that can easily be debunked. However, their real purpose is not to disprove unfounded claims, but to discredit any verifiable facts that challenge their integrity. To do this, rather than disprove incriminating allegations outright, they present selective evidence to the contrary intermingled with a few unfounded or wild accusations that can easily be disproven. e.g. Is it true that Hillary Clinton participated in satanic rituals involving children? Whatever the evidence on this claim may be, it was never the main focus of any investigation into the operations of the Clinton Foundation or Hillary's role as US Secretary of State. Such questions are mere diversions from the real issues such as Saudi funding of both the Clinton Foundation (confirmed by Wikileaks) and Hillary Clinton's awareness that Saudi Arabia funded Daesh / ISIS. Fact-checking has turned into a massive industry whose main purpose is to sanitise news and discredit alternative news sources.
In some left-leaning circles it is now mildly trendy to lampoon anyone who lends credence to news reports from sites they inevitably dismiss as alt-right, pro-Putin, conspiracy-theorising, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, Neo-Nazi or possibly, if it suits their agenda, Islamic fundamentalist. Back in the day Western conformists would dismiss any unorthodox facts perhaps as Soviet propaganda. Most challenges to mainstream Western propaganda came not surprisingly from the left. The traditionalist right hated the Soviet Union so much they would support almost anything the US did to defeat it, including arming the Mujahideen or supporting repressive dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Chile or El Salvador.
The tide began to turn in the post-Soviet era as the US and its allies waged wars on humanitarian pretences against regimes they accused of despotism, nationalism or both. The old left-right divide on US-led wars faded as the new universalist establishment won the support of the conformist left and even some genuine radical thinkers such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who exposed the misdemeanours of Henry Kissinger and then went on to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We no longer fought wars to prop up anti-communist religious extremists and dictatorships, enforce neoliberal economic policies or defeat the USSR's allies. Rather we now intervened militarily to spread democracy, human rights and enlightened Western values against anachronistic nationalists and/or religious conservatives. As ever, the establishment media accused opponents of Western military intervention of siding with the enemy, who was no longer the Soviet superpower, but a motley crew of isolated rogue states that failed to cooperate with the new corporate world order. To counter mainstream war propaganda you have to be an expert on Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Russian history. You also need access to reliable sources of information that challenge the globalist narrative. As a result most of us with a limited budget and limited time have to rely on alternative news sites and try to read between the lines. I always have time for John Pilger and no serious scholar of turn-of-millennium politics would be complete without reading Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman's Manufacturing Consent. The latter made the important point that most of the information you need to reach logical conclusions about world events is freely available, but submerged by a deluge of manufactured news, based on selective factoids and staged media events. To hide the truth the mass media do not have to lie, merely omit inconvenient news.
Real Fake News
While the mass media has allowed some debate about the US role in the destabilisation of the Middle and Russia's recent intervention in support of the Syrian government, much of the news we have seen on our TV screens has been filtered by an allegedly humanitarian organisation, the White Helmets. If you only ever get your news from the BBC, Guardian, CNN or Sky News, you will be none the wiser. Even traditionally anti-war MPs from the SNP and the leftwing of the Labour Party have recycled the line that most deaths in the Syria can be attributed to Bashar Al Assad's regime and that the Russians have bombed civilians indiscriminately while the peace-loving White Helmets saved innocent children from an evil alliance of the Russian and Syrian barrel bombs. Journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett have exposed the web of deceit behind the Syrian conflict, especially the strong ties between the White Helmets, Blackwater and Al Nusra, a Syrian opposition militia affiliated with Al Qaeda and with a record of brutal attacks on Christians. In 2013 the BBC broadcast Saving Syria's Children. The footage is no longer available from the BBC iPlayer and copies have been removed from YouTube. It purportedly showed Napalm attacks by Syrian government forces against civilians in a rebel-held area. Robert Stuart has analysed the documentary, which appeared fake from the start, and identified a number of actors used in other propaganda pieces. It was little more than a macro-simulation, yet served as the basis for widely publicised claims that the Syrian regime had deliberated targeted civilians with chemical weapons. Why would the Assad Dynasty wait forty years until the whole world was watching to start massacring its own people?
The more I learn about the Syrian conflict from people who have witnessed the operations of Western NGOs and opposition militias firsthand, the more I distrust the mainstream narrative and clearer it becomes that the US-led alliance destabilised the region. I want the freedom to read dissident news and challenge the truth that emanates from the corporate media. We are heading down a slippery slope to the kind of state-sanctioned censorship that China has imposed on its people.
If I had lived in the Soviet Union, as a natural rebel I would have probably listened to the BBC World Service or Voice of America to find out what's really going on in my country. The more the ruling classes censor the media, the more people begin to distrust it and the harder it is to sort the wheat from the chaff.
If we start censoring tabloid newspapers because they publish stories critical of mass immigration, itself a product of globalisation, we'll end up censoring dissident sites that challenge the disinformation of our mainstream media on matters of war and peace. In the end we will be unable to hold our governments to account because any hard facts that contradict their narrative will be taboo.
You cannot favour free speech only for a narrow range of opinions you deem acceptable. You have to defend people's right to express opinions you may find offensive or interpret facts in a manner you find at odds with reality. It seems our real rulers are playing the infantile left like a fiddle. They have now joined forces with the corporate left to demand censorship of opinions and news they deem as hate speech. Our future is uncertain. We may soon have the technology not only to monitor all human interactions and track people's movements, but to read people's minds and remotely administer psychoactive drugs. If we don't make a stand now against corporate interference in news gathering and intellectual freedom, it may soon be too late.