Arts funding in Doncaster: the DNWeekeND

This video was filmed as part of a group project at the University of Sheffield. I produced the video, which is presented by Ellie Mumford-Mears.

We filmed the DNWeekeND, an arts festival in Doncaster. The town was listed seventh worst in the country for cultural engagement by the Arts Council (in 2009/10), so we chose to look at whether improvements have been made, and whether the large investment that goes into the arts in Doncaster is worth it.

 

WMDs or ‘regime change’ – why did the UK go to war in Iraq?

A now infamous dossier containing ‘sexed up’ allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was used to justify the UK’s participation in the Iraq War. Perhaps the most pivotal claim was that these weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes – a frightening thought – but it’s since been established that no such weapons existed.

So, did Tony Blair’s government believe Iraq had WMDs capable of harming Britain, or was the dossier deliberately ‘sexed up’ to persuade the public that conflict was necessary?

Correspondence between Blair and his associates suggests the decision to invade was based on the idea of regime change, rather than defence against WMDs.

A minute[1] from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, and Sir David Manning, his Foreign Policy Advisor, acknowledges national and international scepticism: ‘the persuasion job on this seems very tough’.

Blair then makes a moral case for deposing Saddam Hussein: ‘a political philosophy that does care about other nations – eg Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone – and is prepared to change regimes on the merits, should be gung-ho on Saddam’.

His only reference to WMDs is that they: ‘don’t seem obviously worse than 3 years ago’.

Blair’s rhetoric suggests the invasion of Iraq was about more than just WMDs, and a message from Powell to him, with Manning copied in, reinforces this[2].

Powell writes: ‘We need a road map to getting rid of Saddam’. This is contrary to the idea that the aim was only to remove WMDs, which could have been achieved without deposing Saddam.

He advises establishing a legal basis to any invasion, which: ‘Needs to be based on WMD rather than terrorism or regime change’, offering the clearest indication that public fear of WMDs was manipulated to legitimise the conflict.

If this was indeed the case, then the September Dossier can be considered a successful example of vertical government propaganda. It was published openly by the government, and so should not be considered black, or covert, propaganda. But, even if the Blair administration believed Saddam’s WMDs existed, this wasn’t the primary reason for their decision to invade Iraq – therefore, they were intentionally misleading the public.

 

[1] http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/50751/Blair-to-Powell-17March2002-minute.pdf

[2] http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/50772/Powell-to-Blair-19July2002-minute.pdf

Sheffield art gallery shows Charles Bronson’s art

The Platform gallery, in Hillsborough, opened its first exhibition in April 2014. The focus is on work by Charles Bronson, the man dubbed ‘Britain’s most violent prisoner’, who’s currently serving a life sentence for taking a prison art teacher hostage. 

I covered the story for BBC Radio Sheffield, and the following clip is my as-live report from the gallery.

Labour MEP criticises UKIP election posters

UKIP’s poster campaign for the European Parliament elections divides opinion. Linda Macavan, Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, says the posters are provocative and scaremongering. 

In this radio package I see what people in Sheffield think. 

The package was scripted and edited by me, but the interviews were sourced by Hatty Collier (Farage) and Rachael Venables (Macavan and Chris May).

 

 

Football academy for people with mental health issues in Sheffield

Football Awareness of Depression (FAD FC) is setting up a football academy in Sheffield to help people with mental health problems. They’re supported by organisations like the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, and the NHS.

I produced this package in my role as sports presenter for JUS News. As I was presenting the overall show, this report is voiced by Adam Page, however it was scripted and edited, and the interviews recorded, by me.

 

Dilawar, and the torture of US detainees

In December 2002, Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver and farmer, was declared dead at Bagram, a US detention centre. Another detainee, Habibullah, died there six days earlier.

Military spokesmen claimed the men had died from natural causes, but Dilawar’s parents received a death certificate listing homicide. The autopsy recorded: “blunt-force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease” as the cause of death.

If Carlotta Gall, a New York Times journalist, hadn’t tracked down Dilawar’s family and observed the death certificate, it’s likely his torture and murder would never have been documented.

Even after the autopsies were completed, Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill maintained that the interrogation methods used at Bagram were “in accordance with what is generally accepted”.

But after the homicide ruling came to light, and court-martials began, gruesome details of Dilawar’s injuries emerged. One coroner said tissue in his legs had been “pulpified”, and Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, who conducted the autopsy, claimed to have seen “similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus”.

While some of the soldiers responsible were eventually punished, the US military’s initial refusal to acknowledge the torture of a detainee in its care was a clear attempt to sweep the incident under the carpet. It was part of a wider propaganda strategy, positioning the US as a moral superior in the war on terror.[1]      

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/20/international/asia/20abuse.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Syria: influencing the media’s stance to justify non-intervention

In April 2011, when the Syrian army fired on crowds protesting against the Ba’ath government, Western nations pledged their support for the demonstrators. They condemned Bashar al-Assad’s regime, citing its many human rights abuses.

But this support quickly evaporated. After David Cameron lost a House of Commons vote proposing potential military action, Barack Obama’s ‘red line’ became opaque. 

The cost of inaction in Syria is still being debated – particularly now Assad has declared “a turning point in the crisis”, having retaken another batch of rebel-held towns.[1] With the prospect of Assad remaining in power for the foreseeable future, the reputation of countries like the US and UK for maintaining international order and moral standards has been called into question.

The response of these nations has been to distance themselves politically, as well as militarily, from the uprising. By highlighting abuse by the rebels, rather than the regime, they are absolved of the need to intervene.

Less than a month after the Commons voted against military intervention, IHS Jane’s – a defence consultancy firm – released a study estimating that nearly half of the rebel fighters were hardline Islamists.[2]

More recently, the EU’s Counter-terrorism Coordinator warned of the threat from Westerners who travel to Syria to fight with rebel groups and “return radicalised”.[3] 

Both articles joined an influx of anti-rebel rhetoric in national UK newspapers.

This marks a sharp contrast to the discourse when intervention was still possible, which had focused on the ordinary people brutalised by Assad’s chemical weapons, and the apparently noble cause of the Free Syrian Army.

Noam Chomsky warns of governments’ use of handpicked ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ to spread a particular message in the media. In Manufacturing Consent, he calls it ‘propagandizing the corporate viewpoint’ (24). It’s often in the best interest of experts, academics and other influential voices to support the authority’s argument because of funding, or less direct means.

In the case of IHS Jane’s, the organisation counts several ‘government clients’[4] amongst its patrons. This does not mean its data is inaccurate, but it clearly has a responsibility to support its clients.

Propaganda tools have transformed Syria from a symbol of Western impotence to a place where the rebels are as undesirable as the regime – where intervention is impossible, and the lack of it understandable.  

It’s easier for a government to turn its back on heart-eating Jihadists than burned children.[5]

 

[1] http://time.com/63077/assad-turning-point-syria/

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10311007/Syria-nearly-half-rebel-fighters-are-jihadists-or-hardline-Islamists-says-IHS-Janes-report.html

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/terror-training-in-syria-makes-attack-on-uk-inevitable-9241144.html

[4] http://www.ihs.com/products/janes/consulting.aspx

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23892594