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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?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.