Joker in the Press Pack

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Review of ’Tell Me Lies‘, editor David Miller, Pluto £12.99

The war in Iraq has been unlike any other for the media. On the one hand, 17 media workers went missing or were killed in the war, mostly by US forces, making it the most dangerous war for journalists ever. At the same time 600 journalists, more than ever before, were embedded with the British and US forces. While surveys have shown the BBC to be the most pro-war broadcaster, BBC staff have walked out in defence of the corporation‘s right to criticise the government on its reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq couldn‘t have come at a better time. It is a timely reminder that the media, far from being anti-war, in the main colluded with the government in its propaganda war during the invasion of Iraq.

This is a wide-ranging book covering everything from government propaganda and media ownership, through media coverage of child victims of war, to the internet. It has contributions by big names like John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, as well as lesser known experts, activists and journalists, all of which provide considerable insight into the workings of the media and propaganda machine, as well as how it influences the population at large. The book is thus very successful in its aim to counter the lies and misinformation dominating most of the mainstream media, but it goes further.

The last section of the book is entitled ’Alternatives‘, and points to ways of confronting and bypassing the propaganda put out by the mainstream media. It includes essays from the NUJ and Media Workers Against the War. In this way the book avoids leaving the reader with the common impression that the media is one big unchangeable monolith.

There isn‘t much that is not covered by this book, except the issue of class in the media. This is a fundamental issue that explains the contradictory nature of the media, and its omission is disappointing. After all, there were probably more media workers who attended anti-war demonstrations against the Iraq war than any previous conflict. Yet the anti-war argument was basically ignored on the news during the war. It is only when you look at the action of managers inside the media that things become a little clearer. The likes of Greg Dyke did not attend the anti-war demonstrations. In fact it was Greg Dyke who, having failed to stop BBC staff from attending the 15 February demonstration last year, sacked two Arab journalists only days later and informed the Foreign Office. When you also take into account that BBC managers have buckled under pressure from the government after the Hutton report, while it is BBC workers who have maintained the fight against government interference in the corporation, it becomes clear that the main division inside the media is class.

Despite this omission this book is both interesting and enlightening, and is well worth a read by all anti-war activists. It is also essential reading for media workers who wish to arm themselves with the arguments needed to challenge those with a pro-war agenda.