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The Controllers: Canadian media follow lead on Afghanistan

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I receive the weekly police report and churn it into a headline or two every week. Bear with the jargon for a moment: “Crime stories are almost wholly produced from the definitions and perspectives of the institutional primary definers,” writes cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Much of the Canadian media’s reporting on Afghanistan follows the same model, and consequently, “what debate there is tends to take place almost exclusively within the terms of reference of the controllers,” in this case, NATO and the U.S.

Hall’s study, Policing the Crisis, offers profound insight into what Chomsky and Herman popularly refer to as the propaganda model. Various filters of ownership, sources, flak and propaganda campaigns all have particular relevance to Canadian coverage of Afghanistan. The results are predictable and should illicit condemnation of those who believe in a free press.

One clear example of “the controllers” setting the media’s agenda was the NATO summit in Bucharest, when “critical assessments” were entirely within the narrow parameters set out by the defeatist Liberals. Will Canada find another 1,000 troops from another NATO member to wreak further devastation in a nation turned to dust? Will Canada call off its mission altogether if it does not purchase an unmanned drone aircraft? The the Canadian media frenzy of the summit was entirely “within the terms of reference of the controllers.” Had the CBC and the Globe and Mail even attempted to have pursued an independent review of the summit, as Saskatchewan academic John W. Warnock points out, they would have found that “there is an opportunity for a new approach to the Afghanistan problem” through the inclusion of Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Only now, three months after the summit, is Russia gaining a trickle of attention in the Canadian press, and only because it is shipping arms to the region.

Recent developments are no different. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) were, until today, reported as gaining in strength and numbers. Anyone following the war for any period of time would know this was nothing but propaganda from U.S, NATO and Canada. Remaining illusions can now be dispelled as the General Accountability Office of the U.S. Congress reports that, “despite a U.S. investment of more than $10-billion since 2002, only two of 105 ANA units are capable of operating effectively.” This quote from the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson is a welcome report of the dire circumstances of Afghanistan, almost entirely void of propaganda. However, Simpson’s article cannot entirely escape from “the controllers.”

Pakistan produce young men (and women) “ready to blow themselves up,” writes Simpson, and “as long as the Pakistani government is powerless or unwilling to combat these institutions, a constant stream of recruits will cross the border into Kandahar.” True this may be, but he entirely neglects the reality that more civilians were killed by NATO-led air strikes with 2,000 lb bombs than young men and women “ready to blow themselves up.”

Simpson is not yet released by “the controllers.” He writes that there is no record of suicide bombing when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. Simpson is well within the controller’s reach in explaining this exponential rise in these attacks. “Suicide attacks have arrived courtesy of imported but now ingrained al-Qaeda ideology, the example of Iraq and the teachings of various religious communities.” Suicide attacks have indeed arrived courtesy of an imported and ingrained ideology, but it’s not of al-Qaeda, it’s of the U.S.

Robert Fisk writes that suicide bombers are “perhaps the most frightening and ghoulish legacy of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq five years ago.” This falls beyond the realm of Simpson and the controllers. Suicide bombers are the result of rampant indoctrination, and “conventional military deployments are next to useless against suicide bombings.” His article ends on this note. The common closing editorial demand is absent. All readers are left with is the “insight” that conventional military deployments won’t work. This is an ideal conclusion for the controllers, who can now insert new terms of reference for reproduction by the media. It’s important to note that debate does not have “to take place almost exclusively within the terms of reference of the controllers.” Canadians have the power to set their own terms of reference - to be their own controllers - but their course must be set outside of the doctrinaire terms of reference imposed upon them by the ruling powers and its media.

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