Skip to main content

Media The Saudi prince’s state visit was a clear example of propaganda

The adverts for Mohammed bin Salman that smeared the papers last week show how the corporate media serves as a mouthpiece for the powerful, writes BEN COWLES

LAST week showed up the Orwellian nature of Britain’s so-called free press.

The corporate newspapers ran advertisements declaring that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “empowering women” and “bringing change to Saudi Arabia.”

And while the Guardian ran stories last week entitled “The crown prince doesn’t listen to Saudis — why would he listen to Theresa May?” and “A national disgrace: fury over £100m aid deal between UK and Saudi Arabia,” its edition of Wednesday March 7 included three half-page ads in praise of the man at the front of the paper.

What change is the crown prince of a theocratic, absolutist monarchy bringing to 21st-century Saudi Arabia? Well, his regime is allowing women to drive, apparently.

Hurray. Next he’ll be empowering women by allowing them to go outside without a male chaperone, to wear whatever they chose, hang around with whomever they want whenever they want, and maybe even vote.

Oh wait, no-one gets to vote for anything in a despotic kingdom, do they?

The country’s human rights record is atrocious. Amnesty International’s summary of last year notes: “The authorities severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Many human rights defenders and critics were detained and some were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after unfair trials … Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common.

“Despite limited reforms, women faced systemic discrimination in law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. The authorities used the death penalty extensively, carrying out scores of executions. The Saudi-led coalition continued to commit serious violations of international law in Yemen.”

Oh yes, Yemen. Since 2015, the Saudis have led an international bombing campaign in the country, killing at least 10,000 people and regularly carrying out what observers say are war crimes — all with British weapons, British training and even British advisers in the Saudi war room.

Oxfam reported last year that “the number of people with cholera in Yemen is now the largest ever recorded in any country in a single year since records began.”

“The world’s major arms exporters — which include the UK and US — are making more money from arming the Saudi-led coalition force than they are spending on Yemen’s humanitarian appeal.”

Oxfam pointed out that, in 2016, Saudi Arabia spent nearly £2.1 billion on British and US weapons and, as of last July, those same governments had given just £446m towards the £1.15bn UN appeal for Yemen.

Could the reason why Theresa May, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and other neoliberal leaders don’t harp on about regime change in Saudi Arabia — as opposed to, say, Iran — be because it supports Western capitalism by dishing out its oil, buying up Western weapons and backs imperialist foreign policy in the region?

With friends like these, how can the British Establishment wag its fingers at Venezuela, Cuba or anyone for that matter? Imagine the uproar in the corporate press if the Morning Star were to carry advertisements for Raul Castro or Nicolas Maduro.

Why then did British newspapers — especially the Guardian, which presents itself as the world’s leading liberal voice — agree to smear their newspapers with Saudi propaganda during Mohammed bin Salman’s state visit to Britain? The answer of course is money.

Corporate media is dependent on advertisers to survive and the reason why the mainstream press can sell their papers below the cost of production. In effect, the readers of the Sun, Mail, Express, Independent, Metro, Guardian and so on are the product sold to corporate advertisers. The nature of this business model means profits come before truth.

In their seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, US dissident academics Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky describe how the corporations which own the media shape and control news coverage so that it is framed in a favourable way to their interests.

The authors describe how every story passes through five filters before making it into print. Articles are influenced — though largely not directly meddled with — by the owners, the advertisers, the sources used to gather and comment on the news, the flak newspapers face for stepping out of line, and a prevailing acceptance of the dominant ideology — anti-communism at the time the book was written.

Herman and Chomsky highlight the differences in news coverage between those killed by the West and its allies and those killed by the West’s enemies.

They state that “worthy victims will be featured prominently and dramatically, that they will be humanised, and that their victimisation will receive the detail and context in story construction that will generate reader interest and sympathetic emotion. In contrast, unworthy victims will merit only slight detail, minimal humanisation, and little context that will excite and enrage.”

One example they give is that of Archbishop Oscar Romero, recently confirmed as a saint by Pope Francis, who was assassinated in a El Salvador hospital chapel by a US-armed and trained death squad but whose murder was played down by the US media.

The corporate media’s role as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Establishment is the reason why the war in Yemen, Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds, and the Western-backed al-Qaida forces in Syria received such scant coverage. It’s also the reason why the blood-soaked crown prince of a medieval state has his face all over our papers.

Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s web editor. You talk about Herman and Chomsky with him on Twitter, at @Cowlesz.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 12,031
We need:£ 5,969
9 Days remaining
Donate today