By Jeremy Salt – Ankara
Rupert Murdoch, perhaps the greatest defender of free speech and the free flow of communications in recorded human history, or so you would think to read his speeches, and the praise heaped on him by his flatterers, pleaded at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Media Summit last week for an end to media censorship in the Middle East so that the entire region could benefit from the ‘powerful wind’ of creative energy that was blowing through it. He warned his Arab media hosts not to bury inconvenient stories because ‘in the long run this is very counterproductive’. For someone who has spent his life burying inconvenient truths this is certainly amusing.
Recently Murdoch and his son James have launched full-scale attacks on the BBC because its news web sites have made it ‘incredibly difficult’ for corporations such as theirs to charge for the news on their web sites. In his McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last August, James the son revealed that profit was the true guarantor of the free flow of information. Accordingly, people had to be charged for what they read in their newspapers or online. James quoted Orwell, very appropriately in the context of what he had to say. ‘Genuine independence is a rare thing’. (Yes, and nowhere is it rarer than in any media outlet owned by News Corporation.) Independence ‘is characterized by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency’. (Of course, because within the Murdoch organization the servants of the prince and his son know what to do without having to be supervised). People ‘value honest, fearless and above all independent news coverage that challenges the consensus’. (Which is why no-one who values these characteristics trusts the Murdoch media).
Murdoch is an interventionist proprietor. The news is tailored to suit his world view. In Australia, the land of his birth, the Murdoch press is run along the same lines as the Soviet press empire. It is a free market Pravda, free, in other words, for those who will say or write what Rupert wants. Others can look elsewhere, which is difficult in a country like Australia, where News Corporation owns close to 80 per cent of the print and electronic media. He uses his media as a tool – sometimes as a bludgeon – to discredit and destroy people and causes he does not like.
The relevance of all this to a Palestinian news and comment site is Murdoch’s hostility to Arab and Muslim causes and his support not just for Israel but for the worst political elements in Israel. He is (or was) a friend of Ariel Sharon and remains a friend of Netanyahu. He has close business and personal links with Israel’s lobbyists in the US and with Jewish businessmen who pump funds into such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League and the United Jewish Appeal. He has received numerous awards in recognition of his support of Israel.
In March last year Murdoch was awarded the AJC (American Jewish Committee) Human Relations Award. (Yes, take time off to gag). In receiving it, Murdoch talked of ‘the growing assault on both the legitimacy and security of the State of Israel’ no matter (as he put it) ‘how many concessions Israel might make. The reason for this is also clear: These are men who cannot abide the idea of freedom, tolerance and democracy. They hate Israel for the same reasons they hate us’. This is the line pumped out, of course, by Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis and sucked by the Washington neo-conservatives campaigning for war on Iraq and now campaigning again for war on Iran. It lets the ‘west’ and Israel off the hook for decades of violence against the Arab and Muslim worlds (two centuries of violence as far as the ‘west’ is concerned).
As Murdoch spoke (March 2009) ‘the flash point is Gaza. For months now Hamas has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. Like all terrorist attacks the aim is to spread fear in free societies and to paralyze its leaders. This Israel cannot afford. This Israel cannot afford. I do not need to tell anyone in this room that no sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is attacked’. Nations whose sovereignty has been denied are apparently fair game.
No mention here of Israel’s rejection of a long-term truce with Israel. No mention of who it was that broke the ceasefire – Israel. No mention of four decades of occupation or the missiles and artillery shells raining down in infinitely greater numbers on the heads of the people of Gaza. No mention of the massacre of women and children and the violations by Israel of international law over decades. No mention or murder and death squads. No, the problem is not plucky little Israel. The problem is the Palestinians.
Of course Israel could flatten Gaza if it wanted, said Rupert, ‘but the Israeli Defence Forces are accountable to a democratically chosen government’. On the other hand, ‘if you are committed to Israel’s destruction and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian – no matter how many precautions Israelis take’.
So that’s how it all happened. The Palestinians actually wanted Israel to kill them so it would be embarrassed in the eyes of the world. It is just so unfair to Israel, isn’t it, Rupert. All those Palestinian children forcing the Israelis to kill them just as all those hundreds of Lebanese children forced Israeli soldiers to kill them back in 2006. All of those terrible images unfairly creating sympathy for the Palestinians in the global media, which explains why you don’t publish them in your media and why the readers of your newspapers would never know what is really going on in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Never mind those Israelis dancing with joy near Gaza as the missiles and tank shells hit home and Tzipi Livni crowing with triumph when the ‘war’ was over. And never mind, of course, the Goldstone report on the use of phosphorus shells, on the bombing of schools, mosques and apartment buildings, on the murder of Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers lazing on the top of tanks. To Murdoch, parroting the official Israeli line, all of this is no more than ‘a free Israel defending her citizens’.
This is only a sample of Murdoch’s Middle East views. His verbal distortions of the truth are mirrored by the distortions appearing in the news columns and on the opinion pages of his papers all the time. His residential or guest columnists in the Australian, including Mark Steyn, Daniel Pipes and writers borrowed from the Weekly Standard, the Murdoch-funded mouthpiece of Washington neo-conservatives, all think the same way. The Murdoch media has thrown its weight behind every recent war launched by Israel and/or the US against Arab and Muslim states (Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon) and without a doubt will support war on Iran if and when the time comes.
Greg Sheridan of the Australian and Andrew Bolt and Alan Howe of the Herald-Sun, Murdoch’s mass circulation Melbourne newspaper, all take free trips to Israel and come back glowing with praise for the same free Israel that is defending its citizens when it launches savage attacks on Gaza or Lebanon or assassinates its enemies abroad. After Dubai Howe wrote that Muhammad Mabhouh, held down and paralyzed before being asphyxiated by an Israel murder squad in Dubai, was ‘a virtueless scrap of humanity’. Needless to say, this was the kind of view likely to be expressed about the Jews in the pages of one of Hitler’s favorite papers, Der Sturmer.
For Howe, and on the basis of his remarks, if not expressed as crudely, Murdoch as well, Israel’s enemies deserve to die. In an article on the ‘war against terror’ Howe described Iran as the terror and ‘its Gaza agents as the terrorists. We must kill them. And next on the agenda is Iran’s nuclear plant’. Following Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, Howe had this to say: ‘The people of Gaza are the first to bomb themselves back to the Stone Age. Serves them right’. Of Arab and African members of the UN he wrote: ‘There is no shortage of angry, resentful and under-achieving Arabs at the UN, nor will it run out of like-minded Africans soon’.
Murdoch’s newspapers and television stations have misreported and distorted news from the Middle East for decades. Yet here he is in Abu Dhabi being cossetted and flattered by Arab princes and businessmen, people who want to make money with or from him. They are Rupert’s kind of Arabs. Like him they have no conscience. What they have in common is money and power. Murdoch already has extensive connections with the Saudis, especially with Prince Al Walid bin Talal, who owns seven per cent of News Corporation stock (and is therefore the largest single investor outside individual members of the Murdoch family). In return Murdoch has bought a 9.9 per cent stake ($70 million) in Talal’s Rotana media group: while in Abu Dhabi he announced a further deal, between Fox International Channels and the local twofour54 company in what was called ‘a creative content initiative’.
Herein lies the fatal weakness of the Arab world. The fundamental problem is not just Israel and the ‘west’. It is certainly not the man and woman on the street. From Morocco to the gulf they support the Palestinians wholeheartedly. The central problem is the lack of will and principle in the Arab state system, and underneath this, the lack of democracy. Almost all of the ‘leaders’ who speak for the Arabs on the world stage are unrepresentative, either because they have no elections or because they debauch the electoral process. They are the guardians of ‘western’ interests, not the interests and aspirations of their own people. Proper democratic processes would result in the election of governments that would give active support to the Palestinians. There would be no wall between Egypt and Gaza and there would no negotiations or backdoor trade with Israel as long as it occupies and colonises Arab land. There would no deals with a man whose media abuses the Arabs and supports their enemy. In the real world of international diplomacy states usually use their resources to achieve diplomatic and strategic ends. Only the Arab states (especially the Gulf States) give theirs away for nothing. While the people of the West Bank and Gaza are struggling to hold their ground, while their friends and supporters around the world rally and campaign for them, they are let down at every turn by their Arab ‘brothers’ holding positions of power and influence.
– Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.