Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1432, (28 February - 6 March 2019)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1432, (28 February - 6 March 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Manufacturing consent and dissent

The Western media has often been caught in the act of deliberately manufacturing news stories to mislead global public opinion, writes Azza Sedky

Manufacturing consent and dissent is unfortunately fairly common in today’s political environment, as political interests and the media often decide not only people’s views but also entire countries’ fate. 

Manufacturing consent means causing the naïve, the vulnerable or the uninformed to sympathise with or pursue a cause. Manipulating such people is not too difficult, for usually the manipulators are armed with testimony and apparent proof that attests to their views, causing others to fall victim to them.  

Manufacturing dissent is even worse because here the manipulators can convince the vulnerable and uninformed that they should express their disapproval and dissent. Both the manufacture of consent and of dissent are detrimental to various peoples and countries. 

US intellectual Noam Chomsky in his book and documentary Manufacturing Consent discusses at length the illusion of a democratic society in the West today and asks the layperson to take a closer look at how the public-relations industry (propaganda) functions, how the media operates and how the public can be marginalised, diverted and controlled. He believes that the Western media colludes with the powerful to shape the agenda and to control the kinds of opinions that can come through. 

A few examples will suffice to prove the truth of this phenomenon. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US persuaded the rest of the world that Iraq deserved retribution. It manufactured an unfounded campaign against Iraq and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, relying on then US president George W Bush’s phrase of the “axis of evil” as a label for countries that allegedly “sponsored terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction.”  

The then US secretary of state Colin Powell sat in the UN Security Council and delivered a compelling speech seeking to justify the invasion of Iraq. He backed his presentation with “solid sources,” such as audio tapes of Iraqi officials speaking against the UN weapons-inspection system in Iraq and photographs of weapons of mass destruction and ammunition facilities in the country. 

He told the UN that he had no doubt that Iraq had reconstituted its banned weapons of mass destruction programme. The world largely believed him. While in 2001, only 16 per cent of Americans believed that Iraq had had anything to do with the events of 9/11 and the attacks on New York and Washington, by 2003, after Powell’s campaign, 72 per cent of Americans supported a war against Iraq, indicating that the propaganda war had succeeded.

After Iraq had been destroyed in the US-led invasion, the weapons of mass destruction fallacy was debunked. In fact, the real reasons behind the US invasion of Iraq were to control its oil and to preserve the dollar as the de facto medium for oil-exporting nations, making them dependent on the US. Saddam Hussein had intended to change this by replacing the dollar with the euro.

Similarly, in 2017 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed that the oil-producing countries should create a currency for trading oil products and break their reliance on the dollar. A repetition of what occurred in Iraq is now occurring in Venezuela, where the immediate US support for the country’s opposition and sympathy with the Venezuelan people is only a façade to control and make profit from Venezuela’s natural resources and to gain the upper hand over the US’s adversaries. 

Many US allies have followed the American call to oust Maduro and furthered the US’s goal of generating dissent. 

The superpowers today are manipulating their media and using it to reach out to the rest of the world, making it the most powerful tool available in implementing consent or dissent. The Western media continues to wage wars against various countries, while leaving others unaccountable. It fabricates and stages stories intended to defame and discredit, omitting important information if this suits it, keeping worthwhile stories locked in drawers, and generally being bought and censored by governments. 

According to award-winning ex-CNN journalist Amber Lyon, the US TV network CNN is routinely paid by the US government to selectively report on certain events while censoring others. While US newspapers criticise China, Russia and other countries regarding censorship and limitations on freedom of speech, they await content and quotation approval from US government wardens before printing stories.

The Western media may also deliberatively stage incidents to create dissent. Footage of Charles Jaco, a CNN reporter, standing somewhere in Saudi Arabia as he anticipated the falling of an Iraqi Scud missile was seen around the world in 1990, for example, during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As sirens screeched in the background and disaster loomed, Jaco looked up to the sky apprehensively. He swiftly put on his gas mask as the camera abruptly cut off.

This dramatic footage was later found to have been faked, and it was in fact shot in a CNN TV studio in the US. The rest of the footage had Jaco exclaiming that “I love this country,” as he showed off a fake scud missile and headed out for coffee and a burger. On this occasion, CNN did indeed manipulate the world into believing that Iraq was on the verge of attacking Saudi Arabia.

Another example took place in Duma, a neighbourhood of Damascus, where in 2018 a chemical attack apparently suffocated more than 70 people. White Helmet paramedics released footage of a hospital in panic as doctors tried to save women and children who were struggling to breathe. However, according to BBC producer Riam Dalati and witnesses speaking at the Hague’s Chemical Weapons Watchdog investigation, the alleged Duma chemical attack was staged as well, something that the Syrian and Russian governments have always maintained, though their complaints fell on deaf ears. 

The phrase “Al-Assad is gassing his own people,” a reference to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, resonated around the world and prompted retaliatory measures. The US, UK and France launched 100 missiles after the alleged attack against what they deemed to be Syrian chemical-weapons facilities. 

The Western media is also intent on manufacturing antagonism and dissent in Egypt. By repeatedly alluding to ex-president Mohamed Morsi as “Egypt’s first democratically elected leader,” or “first civilian president,” or insisting on calling the 30 June Revolution “a coup,” it has been blatantly denigrating what we hold dear. The intention is clear: to encourage the rest of the world to question the veracity of the Egyptian authorities.

This tells us that the Western media can and does play a fundamental role in manipulating world views, regardless of what the truth might be. Be it in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Egypt’s 30 June Revolution, the bias is as clear as day. 

Yet, the world nevertheless seems ready to digest such information unsuspectedly, apparently assuming that neither the West nor its media errs.

 The writer is a political analyst.

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