19 April 2020

Use the BBC — the BS tells a story

Those who are old enough to have been young enough back in the late nineties or those who have taken the trouble to delve into the details of the relevant politics would know a lot about things like censorship, media freedom and intimidation of journalists. This is not about media freedom, though. It is about reading between the lines.

Back in the late eighties the then regime would cut left and right, literally and metaphorically. In such a situation, interestingly and paradoxically, it was the state-run or rather government-run media that was THE go-to source for anyone who wanted to know what was really happening. 

A  close enough reading of the text, so to speak, would yield a treasure trove of information. You could identify the lie and its dimensions. You could tell what the government was terrified of, what they wanted to hide and the outcomes they preferred. That’s not uncommon, but in those bloody days of charred corpses and disappearances where the Ekneligodas of the era went missing by the dozens every day, such spin was accentuated. The truth stared you in the face.

Most times, however, the spin is subtle. It comes frilled with cherry-picked facts, heavy editorializing and careful privileging or marginalization of stories. 

Not too long ago, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) made a huge song and dance about a mass grave discovered in Mannar, Sri Lanka. The BBC may have conjured the tall-tale narrative pertaining to the last days of the war on terrorism or purchased the same. Consequently, suffering from the congenital disease of propagandists or (you believe your own lies or those you are predisposed to believe/affirm). The BBC jumped on the story. Relevant rights advocates from Colombots with axes to grind to the lords and ladies in Geneva were duly quoted in ‘the story.’ Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Right, no less, offered somber opinion which was duly tossed in as garnish. It was a delicious dish that they came up with. 

The truth? Well, the carbon-dating told a very different story. The mass graves were dated back to 1499 to 1719 CE, according to tests done by the Beta Analytic Institute, Florida, USA. And the BBC opted to play ostrich. Not the first time and unlikely to be the last.

Not all ‘stories’ are clear cut lies. As mentioned above, they are cute about how they camouflage propaganda or even a story with any kind of substantiation.  A classic example is how the BBC reported the recently held elections for the three hundred seats in the National Assembly in South Korea on April 15, 2020.

This is the BBC line: ‘South Korea election: Ruling party wins amid coronavirus outbreak.’
The New York Times echoed: ‘In South Korea vote, virus delivers landslide win [to the ruling party]’. Australia’s ABC said the same thing in different words: ‘South Korea's coronavirus battle propels Moon Jae-in's ruling party to election win.’ I am not saying that these and like-minded media houses make a cabal. They are, simply, like-minded and appear to be a cabal. Maybe they are. At least the anonymous commentator who offered the following note is convinced.

‘I learn what the global rulers want us to think (and not think) about other matters too, by noting what the BBC promotes. I had no clear idea of the two parties contesting the election in South Korea yesterday. But now, after reading BBC's report on the election result, I suspect that the current ruling party must be more oriented towards serving the people in general - including the poorer segments - rather than the interests of ruling global cabal. Why do I veer that way? Because BBC downplays the result so grossly. It did give strong coverage to the election – because of how the country went ahead with an election despite Covid. 

'Then, when results were out, the report puts the spotlight on an opposition member who won a seat. (Because he was a defector from North Korea. It shows only this man's picture (arms raised in victory) but not of the winners. And the victory of the overall national election is downplayed in the headline as well as in the opening sentence: "The party of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections, with voters backing the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic." See that's why this party won! Soon, that victorious opposition MP's story, is posted as a separate story with equal billing to the national result. My prediction is that this is the only story that will remain on the main page of the BBC about that election. BBC is for me the best indicator of what the cabal wants.’

Now Moon’s Democratic Party won 163 seats while its coalition partner (‘Sister Group’ as the BBC puts it) won 17 seats. The race, the way the BBC portrayed, was between ‘the left-leaning Democratic Party’ and the conservative opposition, United Future Party.’ The latter was expected to secure 103 seats.

Laura Bicker, the ‘analyst’ and the BBC correspondent in Seoul, opines that as recently as January the prospects for Moon’s party weren’t rosy. Why not? She says, ‘The South Korean economy has slowed, talks with North Korea have stalled and news headlines were dominated by a series of political scandals.’  Bicker doesn’t mention that the United Future Party was formed in February 2020 and is a coalition of the Liberty Korea Party, the New Conservative party, Onward for Future 4.0 and a host of minor parties and political organizations. 

Nothing is said of the political scandals involving the major partner, the Liberty Korea Party.  Nothing of how crucial talks with North Korea are for the South Korean voter. As for the economy slowing down, here are the growth rates: 2.7% (2018) and 2.0% (2019). The predictions are for a dismal performance in 2020 and recovery in the following year. South Korea is ranked 19th in terms of GDP growth rate (which of course is a faulty indicator of general well-being, but we are talking of ‘truths’ accepted by the likes of the BBC) here. In Asia, South Korea is ranked No 3 behind the Philippines and Taiwan.

In other words, the ‘issues’ flagged by the BBC are non-issues. What’s the problem then? Well, our anonymous commentator might have got it right. It is all about preferred outcomes. Just like when the BBC and her ‘sisters’ in the media fraternity reports on Sri Lankan affairs.

Now there are many who believe that the BBC sets the standard for impartial and comprehensive reportage. That’s because the frills are pretty. Dig a bit deeper and the underbelly is easily uncovered. Not pretty. And what worked in the late eighties in Sri Lanka for Sri Lankans who wanted to get at the truth, works for the BBC. Then, now and well into the future. Got to read between the lines to get at the BS.  And we need to get at it because it also tells a story. An important one for those who want to know the truth.

This article was first published in the SUNDAY OBSERVER [April 19, 2020]