On the evening of Thursday 19 October, the ‘Media On Trial’ event organised by Frome Stop War was held on Shaftesbury Avenue in central London. This event was a largely successful attempt to transfer the format of the previous Media On Trial event, held in the Somerset town of Frome, to the capital, and was well attended.
Despite the unfortunate fact that sympathisers of the reactionary and anti-secular Syrian ‘moderate rebels’ had connived their way into the venue, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, earlier in the day under the pretence of wishing to pray, and fouled the air with a particularly acrid-smelling chemical, the audience for the most part resolutely put up with the stench in order to listen to the panel of speakers and consider their arguments.
The content of the meeting, delivered in sections with separate presentations and videos from those taking part, focused mainly on the issue of media manipulation regarding reporting of the conflict in Syria, and followed a similar format to the previous event held in in June.
A blend of academic-research based approaches and independent investigative journalism set out to give those in attendance a broad sense of how broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4 and CNN have contrived to shape the public’s understanding of events so as to form an entirely negative view of the Syrian people’s struggle to rid their country of the imperialist-backed terrorists who wish to destroy the country’s secular, multi-faith, multi-ethnic and progressive way of life.
From Robert Stuart’s investigation into the way the BBC’s Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children misled viewers into believing that a ‘reconstruction’ of a chemical attack was footage of an actual chemical attack, to Professor Tim Hayward’s demonstration of how the bourgeois press uses the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ to slander and devalue the work of academics like himself who have stepped off the carousel and started to dissect its workings, the speakers all made contributions that aimed to challenge the assumed moral high ground taken by the ‘mainstream’ media when it comes to the foreign policy of imperialist countries.
Independent journalist and stalwart supporter of Syrian sovereignty Vanessa Beeley gave a talk dealing specifically with the way such media exploit the images of children to conjure up emotive stories designed to tug at the heartstrings.
Perversely, such heart-tugging is then used to invoke support for policies and military actions that inevitably lead to the deaths of many more children – who, of course, remain unnamed and unknown in contrast to the celebrity-like status afforded to the individuals unwittingly (but sometimes with the cooperation of their families) used to purvey the narrative of ‘Assad the baby-eating monster’.
At the same time, these fictional narratives of ‘Assad’s atrocities’ are obscuring the very real atrocities inflicted on civilians by the supposed ‘moderates’ of al-Qaeda, Nusra Front and other players in the constantly shifting network of alliances that constitutes the terrorist opposition armed, trained and funded by Britain, the US, France, Turkey and the Gulf state stooges.
Of particular note was Beeley’s insights into the case of Omran Daqneesh, the young boy whose image was prominently plastered over every paper and news website in 2016.
Everyone can recall the photo of the little boy, covered in dust and bleeding from his head, sitting stunned in the back of an ambulance. Of course, at the time, it was accepted without question by many that this image was the result of Syrian Arab Army bombing of a civilian area.
Beeley, having since met with Omran and his surviving family, now living safely and happily in liberated Aleppo since the SAA drove out the forces of al-Nusra and other assorted terrorist factions last winter, relates a different story to that which was so freely reported in the bourgeois press. Her presentation can be viewed on YouTube (War to save children. Vanessa Beeley – Media on Trial, 24 October 2017)
Although the main speaker, the veteran journalist and well respected broadcaster John Pilger, was unable to attend owing to ill health, the other speakers spoke with conviction and courage, and the event was well received by those in attendance despite the disturbance caused by the bedraggled supporters of the failed and disintegrating west-backed insurgency.
Although these unhinged individuals were removed slightly too slowly for the liking of some in attendance that evening, the presentations continued undisturbed, with contributions from Professor Piers Robinson, shair of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield university, and Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria (2003-6), and the US journalist and broadcaster Patrick Henningsen, founder of the ‘alternative’ news website, 21st Century Wire.
Whilst these professional journalists and academics are undoubtedly doing very good work when it comes to challenging the narrative our ruling class strives to have us swallow, it cannot be denied that the overall analysis offered on a platform such as this would certainly benefit from a class-based perspective in order to explain why the principle of proletarian internationalism is the best and most effective way to organise resistance to the false, biased and flawed propaganda, whether it be levelled at Syria or any other country fortunate enough to have a government and people willing to stand up to the bullying of imperialist powers – Iran, Cuba, the DPRK, Venezuela and others, for example.
As well as being informed about the crimes of their governments and the lies of their media, workers also need to be supported in organising themselves to practically oppose those crimes – through a mass campaign of non-cooperation.
That being said, the sincere and friendly cooperative approach of the event organisers is greatly to be welcomed. It should be understood that the reason for Frome Stop War’s ‘non-partisan, non-party political’ approach is the same reason that the group exists separately from the national Stop the War coalition – namely, that the people who set it up were all too aware of the extreme political bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the StW leadership in its treatment of the key issues at stake. With regards to Syria, for example (as shown above); or in 2011, when this grand coalition went all out to reinforce the imperialist narrative of ‘Gaddafi’s evil regime’ that was used to pave the way for the violent destruction of Libya and the turning of that once prosperous nation into a failed state and hell on earth.
So whilst it has come to our attention that some individuals on the Troto-revisionist left feel the need to denounce Frome Stop War as ‘petty-bourgeois’ and to advocate that communists should either ‘take it over’ or stop engaging with it, on the basis that it allows people of all political stripes to voice their views on its Facebook page, we believe that we have much to gain by engaging with workers involved in an anti-war campaign that isn’t actually afraid to call imperialism what it is, and which isn’t wedded to a politically bankrupt ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ approach to global conflicts, despite its organisers not claiming to be communists or socialists.
The CPGB-ML commends the work of Frome Stop War, as it contributes to the building of a real anti-war movement unfettered by opportunism and capitulation to imperialism. While we would certainly be happy to have an opportunity to share our analysis of imperialism and war on its platform, far from wishing to ‘take it over’, we look forward to watching it grow into a strong campaigning group capable of being part of a working class-led mass movement, and able to take the place of the rotten StW in the future.