Nice British bobby

Yassamine Mather compares Radio Farda’s reporting of Iran with its touching depiction of Britain.

Recent protests against the withdrawal of state subsidies for fuel have seen 200, maybe 300, people killed – mostly, as far as I can tell, by the security forces. This human slaughter by the Islamic Republic regime should be strongly condemned. Moreover, it is the leaders of all its factions who share responsibility for the brutal suppression.

However, this has led to some bizarre comments from some reporters, including one from Radio Farda – the Persian-language branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty external service. It broadcasts 24 hours a day from its headquarters in the Czech Republic – its parent organisation is the US Agency for Global Media, based in Prague. The station is forever condemning the actions of the Iranian security forces.

By way of contrast, last week a senior reporter from Farda tweeted a short video of a 2010 protest in London of students taking over Tory Party offices – with a comment that the police stood by and did not intervene, despite the fact that the protestors were damaging property. The implication is that in the UK the police never mistreat protestors, unlike in Iran. There are so many ways of replying to such a stupid comment that I am not sure where to start. But let me mention just a few examples of violence on the part of the British police and army, which have a long history of brutality, especially during the colonial era:

 Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside massacre, of January 30 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians during a protest march against the internment of political prisoners. Fourteen people died – many of them shot at as they were running away, or even while trying to help the wounded. A number of protestors were injured by rubber bullets or batons, and two were run down by army vehicles. All of those shot were Catholics.

 In 1997, only weeks before the Good Friday agreement, mass protests led to riots and gun battles in the nationalist districts of Northern Ireland. The protests had started when officials gave permission for an Orange Order march in Portadown, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary used brutal, aggressive methods to remove nationalist protestors who had been blocking the march.

Of course, Northern Ireland had been the scene of many examples of brutality by state forces, including:

 The 1922 Arnon Street killings in Belfast, when six Catholic civilians were killed by police, apparently in revenge for the killing of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer by the IRA.

 In 1969 during a period of sectarian rioting, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, consisting of pro-British Protestants, helped paramilitary loyalists while ignoring the plight of republicans. During the same period the Battle of the Bogside was a three-day conflict in Derry between the RUC and nationalist residents.

And what about in Britain itself?

 In 1936, during the Battle of Cable Street, police horses were used to attack anti-fascist protestors.

 In 1984-85 during the miners’ Great Strike there were many confrontations between striking miners and police. One of them was at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham on June 18 1984, in what was later called the ‘Battle of Orgreave’. Police on horseback charged miners using truncheons and many of the demonstrators sustained serious injuries . Other less well known, but also bloody, police attacks took place – for example, in Maltby, South Yorkshire.

 In 2010 the policing of the student protests included the use of a controversial technique known as kettling, when hundreds of students were contained for hours within cordons of police officers. During a march in Whitehall on November 24, mounted police on horseback launched a vicious attack on the demonstrators.

There are plenty of other examples, such as the police killing of Kevin Gately during the 1974 Red Lion Square demonstration, while in 1979 Blair Peach was killed by an officer of the Special Patrol Group during an anti-racism demonstration in London. In 2009, during protests against the G-20 London summit, a bystander, Ian Tomlinson, died shortly after being pushed to the ground by police.

I know history is not a strong point for contemporary reporters, but maybe next time the reporter should do a bit more research before tweeting.

By the way, Mike Pompeo – the former CIA director, who gave us waterboarding and ‘extraordinary rendition’ (in other words, “government-sponsored abduction and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one country to another, with the purpose of circumventing the former country’s laws on interrogation, detention and torture”1) – is, in effect, the boss of Radio Farda.

If, god forbid, I was working for that broadcaster, I would be careful about implying the unique nature of the brutal methods used by tinpot dictators such as Iran’s Ali Khamenei. As we have consistently pointed out, when the world looks away, while the upholders of ‘democracy and human rights’ themselves pursue violent, oppressive policies, they give a green light to dictators all over the world that such methods are legitimate and acceptable.

Media

In comparing policing methods in Iran and the United Kingdom, our esteemed reporter also does not seem to understand that the sophisticated, well tried system of political propaganda in advanced capitalist countries has succeeded in indoctrinating large sections of the population to accept the status quo. And it is no coincidence that the print media is owned and controlled almost entirely by major owners of capital, including in Britain.

There is Rupert Murdoch (owner of News International), Nicholas Prettejohn (MirrorDaily Star and Daily Express) Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail) and the Barclay brothers (Daily Telegraph). These capitalists account for over 70% of the newspaper market in the UK. Even many regional newspapers, previously run locally or independently, are now owned by the major media companies.

When it comes to other media outlets, such as television broadcasters, we have, for example, Sky (owned by US media conglomerate Comcast) and Channel 5 (owned by the US media group, Viacom). When it comes to the BBC, despite the fact that Labour supporters have drawn attention to the channel’s pro-Tory bias, especially during general election campaigns, a minor criticism – in the form of Andrew Neil complaining about Boris Johnson’s refusal to be interviewed by him – led the Tory leader to make the following threat: “The BBC licence fee could be scrapped under a Conservative government and replaced with a pay-to-watch subscription model.”

There is little diversity in this media – mainly it favours the right and all outlets support capitalism. Between them they have managed to convince British workers that their economic problems have nothing to do with capital’s insatiable appetite for profit, the austerity imposed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition or even the banking crisis of 2008.

The media tends to blame low-paid workers from the European Union and elsewhere for taking the jobs that few British people would ever consider, and for the long queues in the national health service (while everyone knows that the NHS would not be able to function without foreign nurses, doctors and ancillary staff). The rightwing media insists that the only hope for a better life is to leave the EU with no deal or a hard Brexit – favourite options of a rightwing Conservative Party, led by what many of them admit is a ‘congenital liar’: someone who wants to reduce taxes for the rich and is discussing selling at least part of the NHS to profit-making US companies. The media has convinced the British working class that it is in their interest to fork out millions for the queen and the entire royal family, not forgetting their entire entourage, because tourists would not come to Britain if it was not for the monarchy.

The last few weeks should have taught everyone a lesson about the British mainstream media. False accusations against the Labour Party were repeated without qualification. When rabbis and other Jewish citizens declared their support for Jeremy Corbyn, that largely went unreported – despite the fact that in one case they held a demonstration right outside the BBC headquarters. Irrespective of what one thinks of the current Labour leader, he is clearly very popular in many cities.

On social media you can see that almost everywhere he went very large crowds gathered to support him, yet very little of that made it to the mainstream media. Similarly Boris Johnson faced angry crowds, and had to cancel many scheduled and advertised campaigning visits, yet once again very little of that made it into mainstream media reports.

One of the most bizarre media stories of this election occurred on December 9, when Tory officials briefed media hacks that an advisor of health minister Matt Hancock had been “punched in the face” and pointed the finger at a Labour “thug”. Senior correspondents of BBC and ITV repeated the story, on the basis that it must have be true if it came from Conservative central office. They only withdrew their comments after a video emerged that showed the advisor walking into a protestor’s arm.

Given the success of the media in supporting the rightwing agenda, there is not much need for police brutality at present. The security forces can work in the shadows, occasionally spreading false rumours about this or that slightly left-leaning individual.

Meanwhile in Iran there is a different state of affairs. The government that was established following the 1979 revolution has failed to retain any legitimacy and it is hated by the majority of the population. Of course, the media is controlled by various factions of the government, but the continued disputes between them have meant that Iranians are at least well informed about the corruption and nepotism, leaving no room for illusions.

No doubt if you make a superficial, ahistorical comparison of the way protestors are treated in Iran and the UK, you can establish that right now the level of repression, the horrific mistreatment at the hands of the regime, etc are far more prolific in Iran. I have no intention of justifying the Islamic Republic’s treatment of protestors, but please do not try and glorify the British police, army or media.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_rendition.↩︎
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