eveline lubbers on Fri, 18 Mar 2005 05:17:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> we all love fake (and so does the bbc) (Modified by Geert Lovink)

(a web resource up and coming, with items often related to net 
politics. /geert)

Spinwatch Spinbuster alert
March 18, 2005


By David Miller

A Spinwatch investigation has revealed that journalists working for
the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) have been
commissioned to provide news reports to the BBC. The BBC has been
using these reports as if they were genuine news. In fact, the SSVC is
entirely funded by the Ministry of Defence as a propaganda operation,
which according to its own website makes a 'considerable contribution'
to the 'morale' of the armed forces.

In the US, Washington has been rocked by the scandal of fake
journalists. The Bush administration has been paying actors to produce
news, paying journalists to write propaganda, and paying Republican
party members to pose as journalists. In the UK this has been reported
with our customary shake of the head at the bizarre nature of US
politics and media. Implicitly we are relieved that, however bad
things are here, at least we are not as bad as they are.

But Spinwatch can reveal that we have our very own fake journalists
operating in the UK. The government pays for their wages and they
provide news as if they were normal journalists rather than paid
propagandists. Normally they work in a little known outfit with the
acronym BFBS, which stands for British Forces Broadcasting Service.
BFBS exists to 'entertain and inform' British armed forces around the
world and is entirely funded by the British Ministry of Defence. BFBS
is run by the SSVC. But on this occasion no mention of Ministry of
defence funding was made. She was introduced simply as a reporter
'from the British Forces Broadcasting Service' who 'has been embedded
with the Scots Guards'. As one wag inside the BBC puts it, this
suggests a process of 'double embedding', first working for the MoD
and second embedding with a regiment. The report began:

'Route 6 is the main road North out of Basra. It runs through the
badlands of Iraq's marsh Arabs They make a living from crime -
carjackings, smuggling and murder are common place. It's also the
scene of an age old feud between two warring tribes.' (25 November

Naturally enough, we are told that the regiment in which the reporter
is 'embedded' has resolved these tribal problems by negotiating 'a
ceasefire' following which ' the two tribes had had their first nights
sleep in several months'.

The British Army view of the Iraqi people can be less than
sympathetic. The army crackdown on looting early in the occupation was
codenamed 'Operation Ali Baba' after the folk tale 'Ali Baba and the
forty thieves'. Issuing orders for Operation Ali Baba the commanding
officer gave what the Army now acknowledges was an illegal order to
'work them hard'. This led predictably to torture, only discovered
when some brave soul in a photo developing shop reported the resulting
record of abuse to the police. The view of the Iraq population as
thieves is evidently shared by both torturers and propagandists.

There were interviews with five separate British soldiers including
one with a 'master sniper' brought in to counter resistance attacks on
the Iraqi police. But there are no interviews with any Iraqis. The
report concludes with a straight forward piece of propaganda for the
occupation: 'While the Scots Guards remain the ceasefire is likely to
hold strong. There's been little trouble in the area since the peace
was brokered and the ceasefire has been extended to December the
first. But the Iraqi police and national guard still lack confidence
and credibility to keep the peace on their own and should the fighting
resume, the governor of Basra has given the go ahead for the Scots
Guards to use more force to make route 6 safe again.' Even although
the report has itself hinted that the fighting is targeting the
occupation, we are left with the extraordinary statement that the army
in illegal occupation of Iraq is actually a 'peacekeeping' force.

According to the editor of Good Morning Scotland the piece 'was a bit
a of a one-off because she happened to have been embedded with the
Royal Scots. Until a few months ago Martha was a correspondent here at
BBC Scotland (had been for several years) and is therefore a
journalist we know and trust. 'It was quite an unusual commission'.
Unusual indeed, but not unique. Further inquiries by Spinwatch have
revealed that another item from a different BFBS journalist was
broadcast on Radio Scotland on Christmas day 2004. Insiders at BBC
Scotland are livid about this, indeed several have contacted Spinwatch
to pass on their concerns. One reports that colleagues have remarked
on the 'complete lack of balance' of the piece and one described it as
'an audio press release for the Army'.*

But were the BBC right to say that the journalist concerned was one
'we know and trust'? Certainly there has been a significant wave of
journalists from the mainstream media signing up to work for the
government since the election of the Blair government. Alastair
Campbell is only the most famous. BBC journalists too have made the
transition to propagandist as in the example of Mark Laity who became
a spin doctor at NATO from whom no further work was commissioned..

The BBC editor claimed in defence that 'I should stress too that BFBS
is not controlled by the MOD. It is funded by them in much the same
way the BBC World Service is funded by the Foreign Office. Their
journalists are actually employed by the SSVC, the Services Sound and
Vision Corporation, which is a charitable organisation with editorial
independence from the MoD.' (email to the author, December 2004)

This is not quite accurate. A quick visit to the website of the
Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC) which is the parent of
the BFBS reveals that 'Our work makes a considerable contribution to
the maintenance of the efficiency and morale of the three Services.
Our activities are carried out directly for the Ministry of Defence.
Any profits are donated towards Forces' welfare.' Whatever might be
said about the World Service relationship with the Foreign Office, it
has not ever been accused of donating its profits to the welfare of
Britain's diplomats. The notion that the SSVC which is wholly funded
by the MoD serves any other purpose than propaganda is fanciful.

The BBC editor also noted: 'Nonetheless we did flag up in the cue that
she was embedded for the BFBS.' They did indeed, but very few radio
listeners are familiar with what the BFBS is. This is true of the
whole network of propaganda agencies in the UK is little known, but
anyone with an internet connection can find out about the
organisations involved. The Foreign Office runs a network of fake news
operations and has done for years. In recently times these have been
contracted out to private production companies with the helpful effect
that the government funding is further camouflaged. They have also
been extended markedly to focus more centrally on the middle east
since 2001. One such is the London Press Service which is described as
follows on the government I-uk site: 'an agency offering the latest
British headline news, news round-ups, features and pictures for use
by journalists overseas.'

This is a rather coy way to describe a government propaganda service.
Click on its website for an admission of the defining feature of this
whole network of agencies; that the news on the site 'is for free use
by journalists'. Look in vain for an indication of who really funds
this service. All you will see is a notice at the bottom of the home
page : 'The London Press Service is operated and maintained by
Intelfax Ltd.' Intelfax is in turn an independent production company
but the London Press Service is funded entirely by the Foreign Office.

Or take the example of British Satellite News (BSN) broadcast for free
over the Reuters World News Service. According to its website, BSN 'is
a free television news and features service, which provides you with
coverage of worldwide topical events and stories from a British
perspective. Our dedicated team of experienced television journalists
specialise in producing topical stories that inform and entertain a
global audience. ' Again not much in the way of a clue that this is a
fake news site. BSN is run by a company called World Television which
does work for the BBC such as the live coverage of the TUC conference
and also works for multinationals such as GSK and Nestle. The Foreign
Office helpfully tells us that BSN has 'a particular focus on the
Arab/Islamic world.' It also mentions that BSN 's fake news 'is
currently used by 35 broadcasters in the Middle East and over 440
worldwide.' The secret of all this material is that it is not only
free to use but that it is used as if it was genuine news and not
British propaganda.

The UK is awash with fake news, of which the examples here are only a
taste, it is just that we don't pay much attention to it. The American
scandals over fake news are played out against the background of some
pretty clear laws forbidding propaganda with a disguised source within
the borders of the US. There are no laws forbidding fake news in the
UK. Perhaps we needs some.

* Comments to the author from a BBC staffer, who, not unnaturally,
prefers to remain anonymous, January 2005.

To read the transcript for Good Morning Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland,
25 November 2004, please go to:


Spinwatch hopes to foster greater awareness of spin techniques and
provide support for journalists who try to resist them. Please be

Write to

Stephen Whittle Controller, Editorial Policy:
stephen.whittle@bbc.co.uk Ask if the use of propagandists as
journalists is a breach of the BBC Producers guidelines? Ask if he
will now write a more explicit prohibition of the use of propagandists
paid for by the government? Ask if he will take steps to ensure that
this does not happen again? Ask if the use of propagandists had been
referred to him and what judgement he made?

Helen Boaden, Director of BBC news: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk
Ask how many times this has happened on BBC News in the past year? Ask
if she will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again?

Ken McQuarrie, Controller BBC Scotland: Ken.McQuarrie@bbc.co.uk
Ask if he will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again?
Ask if the use of propagandists had been approved by BBC management.

Blair Jenkins Head of News & Current Affairs: BBC Scotland

Ask if the use of propagandists had been approved by him and on what
grounds? Ask how many times they have broadcast reports from BFBS in
the last year?

Ask if he will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again?
Ask about the contractual arrangements with BFBS: Were they paid? Did
the BBC get the report for free?

Judith Mackay, Editor Good Morning Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland,

Ask if she will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again?
Ask about the contractual arrangements with BFBS: Were they paid? Did
the BBC get the report for free?

Also, copy your correspondence to
Fraser Steel, Head of the BBC Programme Complaints Unit
Make sure that you specifically request a response from them.

Please also send all emails to:
Spinwatch: Email: info@spinwatch.org

Visit the Spinwatch website: http://www.spinwatch.org

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