Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The hidden agenda

One of the central political issues confronting the United Kingdom at this time is our relationship with "Europe" – more specifically the European Union – the enthusiasm for which is to be tested in due course in the referendum on the EU constitution.

Given the degree of foreign policy and defence integration involved in that constitution, closer European political integration will inevitably been a more distant relationship with the United States – even the end of the “special relationship”, which has been the subject of several postings on this Blog.

How we perceive the United States viz-à-viz the European Union, therefore, is an issue of profound political significance in which context it would make absolute sense for those in favour of greater political integration with the EU to project "Europe" in a favourable light and to denigrate the United States.

Whether that is the specific intention of the Europhile media – and especially the BBC - is open to question, but it is definitely the effect of their coverage of a whole range of issues, not least the Iraqi war where sentiment has been almost uniformly hostile to the United States.

But even in the coverage of the Asian tsunami crisis, this anti-US bias has been continued and, in the BBC, is becoming so transparent as to be alarming for what is supposed to be a public service broadcaster dedicated to impartial coverage of the news. It cannot be accidental. There must be a hidden agenda.

For instance, during yesterday, I watched closely the coverage of BBC News, and in particular the digital News 24 channel, for references to US aid activity. After endless "puffs" for Oxfam, wall-to-wall coverage of the UN and other so-called aid agencies, I paid particular attention to the 10 pm bulletin, and waited in vain.

We went four stories into the bulletin before there was any mention of helicopters and then the film cut to an ancient Sri Lanka army Huey delivering supplies. There was no mention of the heroic effort being undertaken by the Sea Hawks from the carrier Abraham Lincoln, and absolutely no mention all day that the task force headed by the USS Bonhomme Richard had arrived in the Malacca Straights and was taking on relief supplies.

What we did get from the BBC's correspondent in Washington, Nick Childs, was a weasely report referring to "criticism" that the US government had been slow to react to the disaster, which then enabled Child to claim that the announcement on Monday of an increase in US aid to $350 million "looks like another public gesture to show that Washington is responding in significant ways".

However dispassionately one might try to look at this BBC coverage, there can be absolutely no doubt that this anti-US slant is deliberate. All the agencies are carrying detailed reports of US military involvement, including Reuters, AP and even Agence France Presse. Not even the BBC could be so inept and unprofessional as not to notice what is going on – all it would have to do is read the reports that are flooding into its studios.

For instance, the Reuters report, issued on Monday, 3 January 2005 at 5:13 p.m. ET, by Deborah Zabarenko, reported that some 12,600 U.S. military personnel had joined relief efforts.

Zabarenko cited an interview of Navy Capt. Rodger Welch, a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman on relief efforts, and others, who described the efforts for her, which she retailed in her report.

Listed amongst the assets being uses were the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and helicopter carrier USS Bonhomme Richard, bringing aid to the ravaged areas with some 80 aircraft. There were 21 U.S. ships involved as of Monday.

So far, U.S. military personnel had delivered 430,000 pounds of supplies to the region, fourteen cargo planes were taking food, supplies and equipment to supply hubs in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and the hospital ship USNS Mercy was being sent from San Diego to the region to provide medical assistance.

The group of U.S. ships led by the Bonhomme Richard was sailing through the Strait of Malacca and was poised to begin dropping relief supplies at Banda Aceh by helicopter before continuing on toward Sri Lanka, Strong said. The group was carrying more than 2,000 Marines who could be deployed for relief operations on shore, part of its total complement of nearly 5,300 military personnel.

Zabarenko also reported that: "A third group of six vessels, known in Pentagon-speak as a maritime prepositioning ship squadron, is bringing hundreds of gallons of clean water to the area". Each of the ships could store up to 90,000 gallons of fresh water and can produce tens of thousands of gallons of fresh water a day per ship, she reported.

Particularly newsworthy, one might have thought, was the detail that landing craft aboard some of the three amphibious ships in the Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group would be used, their “unique capabilities” being employed to "bypass the devastated infrastructure" to be able to deliver to areas where the supplies are needed.

Nothing, but nothing of this reached BBC listeners or viewers, who – if they relied on this source – would be wholly unaware of the scale of US involvement.

Neither was the Europhile Independent much better. Although one of its stories did give some coverage to "American Sea Hawk helicopters" ferrying emergency supplies to the stricken coastal communities of Aceh, this information was only allowed to frame a piece on "voices were being raised in the United States for a longer-term engagement in the area to rebuild lost political goodwill".

The involvement of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier was lumped in as part of "America's humanitarian response to the tragedy",

…which has been ratcheted up rapidly in recent days after an early impression was created of superpower stinginess, was already being described as something much more, a mission to repair relations with the region severely strained since the invasion of Iraq and demonstrate its willingness to use its military might as a force for good.
Even the USS Bonhomme Richard, described as "steaming from the China Sea to the area" was lumped in as part of the "first wave of the stepped-up American effort."

Nor was the Guardian any better, framing its story with the headline "Bush plea tries to rebuild US image", retailing that "Since being criticised last week for being slow to respond to the disaster, the White House has moved to play a leading role in the relief efforts."

Only in that context are we allowed to know that "US helicopters and planes have begun delivering emergency supplies to some of the most remote and badly-hit area, such as the west coast of Indonesia's Aceh province," with the addition: "One airlift at a time, they have begun to rebuild America's reputation particularly in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, whose people overwhelmingly opposed the invasion of Iraq."

This is effectively a slander on the United States as these assets were mobilised immediately the news of the tsunami came through, before even the scale of the disaster was known. Their presence in the area – the Bonhomme Richard after days of high speed steaming, with its crew having given up their leave - represents a magnificent gesture of unconditional generosity on the part of the United States, despatched well before any criticism was made of the US aid effort.

Altogether now, the value of US military assets in the region amount to nearly $10 billion, affording assistance which no other agency or organisation in the world could even dream of supplying. And all this has been done with the US not even mentioning the cost or including the figure in its own aid contribution.

And just by way of contrast, the French government has just announced that it is despatching two navy ships to Indonesia, to arrive on 10 January. These comprise the Jeanne d’Arc, a ship carrying six helicopters and two units of engineers, and the Georges Leygues, a frigate.

The betting is that the tardy arrival of these French ships will be given full coverage by the Europhile media but, whether they are or not, the coverage of the US effort has been disgraceful. And by far the worst has been the BBC which, in its deliberate, petty way, makes a mockery of the term "public service broadcaster", all for it to pursue its hidden agenda.

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