BBC v. Hugo Chavez

At a time of growing public disenchantment with the major media, millions now rely on alternate sources. Many online and print ones are credible. One of the world's most relied on is not - the BBC. It's an imperial tool, as corrupted as its dominant counterparts.

At a time of growing public disenchantment with the major media, millions now rely on alternate sources. Many online and print ones are credible. One of the world's most relied on is not – the BBC. It's an imperial tool, as corrupted as its dominant counterparts, been around longer than all of them, now in it for profit, and it's vital that people know who BBC represents and what it delivers.  

It was close but not quite the world's first broadcaster. Other European nations claim the distinction along with KDKA Pittsburgh as the oldest US one. BBC's web site states: "The British Broadcasting Company Ltd (its original name) was formed in October 1922….and began broadcasting on November 14….By 1925 the BBC could be heard throughout most of the UK. (Its) biggest influence….was its general manager, John Reith (who) envisioned an independent British broadcaster able to educate, inform and entertain the whole nation, free from political interference and commercial pressure."

That's what BBC says. Here's a different view from Media Lens. It's an independent "UK-based media-watch project….offer(ing) authoritative criticism" reflecting "reality" that's free from the corrupting influence of media corporations and the governments they support.  

Its creators and editors (Davids Cromwell and Edwards) ask: "Can the BBC tell the truth….when its senior managers are appointed by the government" and will be fired if they step out of line and become too critical. It notes that nothing "fundamentally changed since BBC founder Lord Reith wrote the establishment: 'They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.' " He didn't disappoint, nor have his successors like current Director-General and Chairman of the Executive Board Mark Thompson along with Michael Lyons, Chairman, BBC Trust that replaced the Board of Governors on January 1, 2007 and oversees BBC operations.

On January 1, 1927, BBC was granted a Royal Charter, made a state-owned and funded corporation, still pretends to be quasi-autonomous, and changed its name to its present one – The British Broadcasting Corporation. Its first Charter ran for 10 years, succeeding ones were renewed for equal fixed length periods, BBC is in its ninth Charter period, and is perhaps more dominant, pervasive and corrupted than ever in an age of marketplace everything and space-age technology with which to operate.

It's now the world's largest broadcaster, has about 28,000 UK employees and a vast number of worldwide correspondents and support staff nearly everywhere or close enough to get there for breaking news. It's government-funded from revenues UK residents pay monthly to operate their television receivers – currently around 22 US dollars, and it also has other growing income sources from its worldwide commercial operations supplementing its noncommercial ones at home.

Most important is how BBC functions, who it serves, and Media Lens' editors explain it best and keep at it with regular updates. They argue that the entire mass media, including BBC, function as a "propaganda system for elite interests." It's especially true for topics mattering most – war and peace, "vast corporate criminality," US-UK duplicity, and "threats to the very existence of human life." They're systematically "distorted, suppressed, marginalized or ignored" in a decades-long public trust betrayal by an organization claiming "honesty, integrity (is) what the BBC stands for (and it's) free from political influence and commercial pressure."

In fact, BBC abandoned those notions straight away, and a glaring example came during the 1926 General Strike. Its web site says it stood up against Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill who "urged the government to take over the BBC, but (general manager) Reith persuaded Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that this would be against the national interest" it was sworn to serve.  

Media Lens forthrightly corrects the record. Reith never embraced the public trust. He used BBC for propaganda, operated it as a strikebreaker, secretly wrote anti-union speeches for the Tories, and refused to give air time to worker representatives. It got BBC labeled the "British Falsehood Corporation," and proved from inception it was a reliable business and government partner. It still is, of course, more than ever.

Consider BBC's role during WW II when it became a de facto government agency, and throughout its existence job applicants have been vetted to be sure what side they're on. Noted UK journalist John Pilger explains that independent-minded ones "were refused BBC posts (and still are) because they were not considered safe."  

Only "reliable" ones reported on the 1982 Falklands war, for example, that Margaret Thatcher staged to boost her low approval rating and improve her reelection chances. Leaked information later showed BBC executives ordered news coverage focused "primarily (on) government statements of policy" and to avoid impartiality considered "an unnecessary irritation."

This has been BBC practice since inception – steadfastly pro-government and pro-business with UK residents getting no public service back for their automatic monthly billings to turn on their TVs – sort of like force-fed cable TV, whether or not they want it.

Back on BBC's web site, it recounts its history by decades from the 1920s to the new millennium but leaves out the most important parts. This critique focuses on filling in the blanks on one of them – BBC's nine year war against Hugo Chavez and Bolivarianism.

Targeting Hugo Chavez and Assailing His Democratic Credentials

BBC misreports everywhere at one time or other, depending on breaking world events and the way power elitists view them. Consider Venezuela and how BBC reported on Chavez's most dramatic two days in office and events preceding them. Its April 12, 2002 account disdained the truth and headlined "Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (was) forced to resign by the country's military. (His) three years in power (ended) after a three-day general strike….in which 11 people died….more than 80 others (were) injured," and BBC suggested Chavez loyalists killed them. It reported "snipers opened fire on a crowd of more than 150,000 (and it) triggered a rebellion by the country's military."

During anti-Chavez demonstrations, "Mr. Chavez appeared on the state-run television denouncing the protest, (then BBC falsely reported corporate TV channels it called independent ones) were taken off the air by order of the government. (High-ranking) military officers rebell(ed) against Mr. Chavez. (He) finally quit after overnight talks with a delegation of generals at the Miraflores presidential palace."

"BBC's Adam Easton, in Caracas at the time, says there are noisy celebrations on the streets, (and former army general) Guaicaipuro Lameda said Mr. Chavez's administration had been condemned because it began arming citizens' committees (and) these armed groups….fired at opposition protesters."

In another report, BBC was jubilant in quoting Venezuela's corporate press. They welcomed Chavez's ouster and called him an "autocrat," "incompetent" and a "coward." They accused him of "order(ing) his sharpshooters to open fire on innocent people (and) betray(ing his) country."  

BBC went along without a hint of dissent or a word of the truth, but where was BBC when a popular uprising and military support restored Chavez to office two days later? It quietly announced a "chastened….Chavez return(ed) to office after the collapse of the interim government….and pledged to make necessary changes." In spite of vilifying him in the coup's run-up, cheerleading it when it happened and calling it a resignation, BBC put on a brave face. It had to be painful saying: "The UK welcomed Mr. Chavez's return to power, saying that any change of government should be achieved by democratic means."  

It's hard imagining Caracas correspondents Greg Morsbach and James Ingham see it that way. Morsbach called the country a "left-wing haven" on the occasion of 100,000 people taking part in the 2006 World Social Forum in the capital. He said the city is "used to staging big events (opposing) 'neo-liberal' economic policies," then couldn't resist taking aim at Chavez. "Five hundred metres away from the (downtown) Hilton," Morsbach noted, "homeless people scavenge in dustbins for what little food they can find." He then quoted a man named Carlos "who spent the last three years sleeping rough on the streets" and felt Bolivarianism did nothing for him.

It's done plenty for Venezuelans but Morsbach won't report it. Under Chavez, social advances have been remarkable and consider two among many. According to Venezuela's National Statistics Institute (INE), the country's poverty rate (before Chavez) in 1997 was 60.94%. It dropped sharply under Bolarvarianism to a low of 45.38% in 2001, rose to 62.09% after the crippling 2002-03 oil management lockout, and then plummeted to a low of around 27% at year end 2007. In addition, unemployment dropped from 15% in 1997 to INE's reported 6.2% in December 2007.

Morsbach also omitted how Chavez is tackling homelessness. He's reducing it with programs like communal housing, drug treatment and providing modest stipends for the needy. His goal – "for there (not) to be a single child in the streets… not a single beggar in the street." It's working through Mission Negra Hipolita that guides the homeless to shelters and rehab centers. They provide medical and psychological care and pay homeless in them a modest amount in return for community service. No mention either compares Venezuela under Chavez to America under George Bush (and likely Britain under anyone) where no homeless programs exist, the problem is increasing, nothing is being done about it, and the topic is taboo in the media.

Instead in a BBC profile, Chavez is called "increasingly autocratic, revolutionary (and) combative." He's a man who's "alienated and alarmed the country's traditional political elite, as well as several foreign governments," (and he) court(s) controversy (by) making high-profile visits to Cuba and Iraq" and more. He "allegedly flirt(s) with leftist rebels in Colombia and mak(es) a huge territorial claim on Guyana."

The account then implies Chavez is to blame for "relations with Washington reach(ing) a new low (because he) accused (the Bush administration) of  fighting terror with terror" post-9/11, and in a September 2006 UN General Assembly speech called the president "the devil."

Chavez's December 2007 constitutional reform referendum was also covered. It was defeated, the profile suggested controversial elements in it, but omitted explaining its objective – to deepen and broaden Venezuelan democracy, more greatly empower the people, provide them more social services, and make government more accountable to its citizens. Instead, BBC highlighted White House spokeswoman Dana Perino saying: Venezuelans "spoke their minds, and they voted against the reforms that Hugo Chavez had recommended and I think that bodes well for the country's future and freedom and liberty."

In another piece, Inghram took aim at the country's "whirlwind of nationalizations, and threats to private companies (are) changing Venezuela's economic climate and threaten to widen a tense social divide." It's part of Chavez's "campaign to turn Venezuela into a socialist state" with suggestive innuendoes about what that implies, omitting its achievements, and reporting nothing about how business in the country is booming or that Chavez's approach is pragmatic.  

Instead, Inghram cites his critics saying "his plan is all about power" (and) bring(ing) no benefit to the nation" in lieu of letting business run it as their private fiefdom. It's how they've always done it, Venezuelans were deeply impoverished as a result, and BBC loves taking aim at a leader who wants to change things for the better and is succeeding.

It refers to his "stepp(ing) up his radical revolution since being re-elected in December 2006." Venezuela is "very divided" and its president "far too powerful (and) can rule by decree" – with no explanation of Venezuela's Enabling Law, his limited authority under it, its expiration after 18 months, and that Venezuela's (pre-Bolivarian) 1961 constitution gave comparable powers to four of the country's past presidents.

BBC further assailed Chavez's refusal to review one of RCTV's operating licenses and accused him of limiting free expression. Unreported was the broadcaster's tainted record, its lack of ethics or professional standards, and its lawless behavior. Specifically omitted was its leading role in instigating and supporting the aborted April 2002 coup and its subsequent complicity in the 2002-03 oil-management lockout and multi-billion dollar sabotage against state oil company PDVSA.  

Despite it, RCTV got a minor slap on the wrist, lost only its VHF license, and it still operates freely on Venezuelan cable and satellite. Yet, if an American broadcaster was as lawless, it would be banned from operating, and its management (under US law) could be prosecuted for sedition or treason for instigating and aiding a coup d'etat against a sitting president. BBC ignored RCTV's offense, assailed Hugo Chavez unjustifiably, and reported in its usual deferential to power way.  

It falsely stated RCTV's license wasn't renewed because "it supported opposition candidates (and said) hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Caracas….some to celebrate, others to protest."  Unexplained was that pro-government supporters way outnumbered opponents, it's the same every time, and they gather spontaneously for every public Chavez address. Also ignored is that opposition demonstrations are usually small and staged-for-media events so BBC and anti-Chavistas in the press can call them huge and a sign Chavez's support is waning. As BBC put it this time: The situation "highlight(s), once again, how deeply divided Venezuela is" under its "controversial" president – who's popular support is so considerable BBC won't report it.

A broadcaster is supposed to be neutral, fair and balanced and BBC states "Honesty and integrity (is) what (it) stands for." BBC is dedicated to "educate (and) inform, free from political interference and commercial pressure."

The US-based Society of Professional Journalists states in its Preamble that it's the "duty of the journalist (to seek) truth and provid(e) a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. (They must) strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility….Seek truth and report it….honestly, fairly, courageously."  

In serving power against the public interest for 86 years, BBC fails on all counts, including its past nine year misreporting record on Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected].

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests.