Pilger: "same mistakes as Gulf war"
The lessons of the Gulf War and the Nato bombing of Serbia have failed to stop journalists being used as "government lackeys" to advance its war aims, it was claimed at a meeting opposed to the US air attacks in Afghanistan.
Journalism sourced to unnamed military and diplomatic officials plays into the hands of those whose job it is to manipulate the news, said campaigning journalist and broadcaster John Pilger.
"There is already a long list of ‘intelligence’ and ‘diplomatic’ lies that emerged after the Gulf War and other conflicts," said Pilger at a meeting of Media Workers Against War.
"But we are seeing the same thing over again," he added. "It’s as if there is a traditional lobotomy that journalists seem to have to undergo every time the political leaders feel they want to go out somewhere and bomb people."
Pilger criticised an edition of Newsnight in which the programme’s diplomatic editor, Mark Urban, told Jeremy Paxman that he had been given secret information that Iraq was planning to fire a missile.
"Where was the substantiation for a statement like that, which, in my view, shows we are riding towards a wider war," said Pilger, adding that the BBC2 programme’s "interrogator" had uncharacteristically failed to ask Urban to back up his claims.
"Why didn’t he ask him what evidence he had?" asked Pilger.
Rosie Boycott, the former editor of the Daily Express, criticised the Government for its "extraordinary" levels of spin and said she had no doubt that "this is a war that will be fought through the media".
Paul Foot, who formed the MWAW pressure group with Pilger in 1991 during the Gulf War, criticised media organisations for preventing staff from signing up to the anti-war group. "Journalists may say what they like in the columns, but those with staff jobs are not allowed to align themselves with organisations like this," said Foot.
"But journalists have minds and brains, that’s what makes them journalists, and they should be allowed to think for themselves."
lA BBC spokesman said that Newsnight was satisfied that its sources were accurate. "Reporters aren’t questioned in the same way as outside guests, because they come to report and to discuss rather than put forward a particular point of view," he added.
By Julie Tomlin