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Leveson’s Punch and Judy show masks hacking on a scale you can barely imagine

An exquisite display of irony.

In the week Lord Justice Leveson published more than a million words about his inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics” of Britain’s corporate press, two illuminating books about media and freedom were also published. Their contrast with Leveson’s Punch and Judy show is striking. For 36 years, Project Censored, based in California, has documented critically important stories unreported or suppressed by the media most Americans watch or read. This year’s report is Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution by Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth (Seven Stories Press, £12.99). They describe the omissions of “mainstream” journalism as “history in the unmaking”. Unlike Leveson, their investigation demonstrates the sham of a system claiming to be free. Among their top 25 censored stories are these:

• The emerging police and prison state
Since 2001, the US has erected a police state apparatus including a presidential order that allows the military to detain anyone indefinitely without trial. FBI agents are now responsible for the majority of terrorist plots, with a network of 15,000 spies “encouraging and assisting people to commit crimes”. Informants receive cash rewards of up to $100,000.

• War crimes, al-Qaeda and drug money
The bombing of civilian targets in Libya in 2011 was often deliberate and included the main water supply facility that provided water to 70 per cent of the population. In Afghanistan, the murder of 16 unarmed civilians, including nine children, attributed to one rogue US soldier, was committed by “multiple” soldiers and covered up. In Syria, the US, Britain and France are funding and arming the icon of terrorism, al- Qaeda. In Latin America, one US bank has laundered $378bn in drug money.

Beyond bayonets

In Britain, this world of subjugated news and information is concealed behind a similar facade of a “free” media, which promotes the extremisms of state corruption and war, consumerism and an impoverishment known as “austerity”. Leveson devoted his so-called inquiry to the preservation of this system. My favourite laugh-out-loud quote of His Lordship is: “I have seen no basis for challenging at any stage the integrity of the police.”

Those who have long tired of deconstructing the clichés and deceptions of “news” say: “At least there’s the internet now.” Yes, but for how long? Alfred W McCoy, the great US chronicler of imperialism, quotes Barack Obama in a recent election debate. “We need to be thinking about cyber security,” said Obama. “We need to be talking about space.” McCoy calls this revolutionary. “Not a single commentator seemed to have a clue when it came to the profound strategic changes encoded in the president’s sparse words,” he writes. “Yet, for the past four years, working in silence and secrecy, the Obama administration has presided over a technological revolution . . . moving the nation far beyond bayonets and battleships to cyber warfare, the weaponisation of space [and] a breakthrough in what’s called ‘information warfare’.”

This is hacking on a vast scale by the state and its intelligence and military arms and “security” corporations. It was unmentionable at the Leveson inquiry, even though the internet was within Leveson’s remit. It is the subject of Cypherpunks (OR Books, £11) by Julian Assange with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller- Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann. That the Guardian, a principal gatekeeper of liberal debate in Britain, should describe their published conversation as “dystopian musings” is unsurprising. Understanding what they have to say is to abandon the vicarious as journalism and to embrace the real thing.

“The internet was supposed to be a civilian space,” Assange writes. “[It] is our space, because we all use it to communicate with each other and with members of our family . . . Ten years ago, [mass interception] was seen to be a fantasy, something only paranoid people believed in” – but now the internet is becoming “a militarised zone”. When everyone can be intercepted en masse, spying on individuals is redundant. The Stasi penetrated 10 per cent of East German society. Today, the cost of intercepting and storing all telephone calls in Germany in a year is less than €8m. More than 175 companies now sell the surveillance of whole countries. A whistle-blower at the giant US telecommunications company AT&T has disclosed that the National Security Agency (NSA) allegedly examined every phone call, every internet connection. The NSA intercepts 1.6 billion personal communications every day.

Public enemy

To the “national security state”, “perpetual war” is a given and the public, not terrorists, are the enemy. Google, Facebook and Twitter are all based in the US. In December 2010, Twitter was ordered by the justice department to surrender its clients’ personal information relevant to the Obama administration’s pursuit of WikiLeaks, no matter where in the world people lived. Obama has pursued twice as many whistle-blowers as all US presidents combined. This is why Assange and Bradley Manning are targets – along with those rare journalists who do their job and publish in the public interest. Like Assange, they, too, are liable to be prosecuted for espionage, regardless of what the US Constitution says. A whistle-blower at the NSA, William Binney, describes this as “turn - key totalitarianism”.

The iniquity of Rupert Murdoch was not his “influence” over the Tweedledums and Tweedledees in Downing Street, nor the thuggery of his eavesdroppers but the augmented barbarism of his media empire in promoting the killing, suffering and dispossession of countless men, women and children in America’s and Britain’s illegal wars.

Murdoch has plenty of respectable accomplices. The liberal Observer was as rabid a devotee of the Iraq invasion. When Tony Blair gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, bleating about the media’s harassment of his wife, he was interrupted by a film-maker, David Lawley Wakelin, who described him as a war criminal. At that, Lord Leveson leapt to his feet, had the truth-teller thrown out and apologised to the war criminal. Such an exquisite display of irony is contemptuous of all of us.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 10 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Greece: a warning for Britain?

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.