‘Absolute And Arbitrary Power’: Killing Extinction Rebellion And Julian Assange

‘Absolute And Arbitrary Power’: Killing Extinction Rebellion And Julian Assange


use and misuse of George Orwell’s truth-telling is so
widespread that we can easily miss his intended meaning. For
example, with perfect (Orwellian) irony, the BBC has a
statue of Orwell outside Broadcasting House, bearing the inscription:

liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell
people what they do not want to

Fine words, but suitably
ambiguous: the BBC might argue that it is merely exercising
its ‘liberty’ in endlessly channelling the worldview of
powerful interests – crass propaganda that many people
certainly ‘do not want to hear’.

Orwell’s real
intention is made clearer in this second

‘Journalism is printing what
someone else does not want printed: everything else is
public relations.’

In this line attributed
to him
(although there is some debate
about where it originated), Orwell was talking about power
real journalism challenges the powerful. And this
is the essential difference between the vital work of
WikiLeaks and the propaganda role performed by
state-corporate media like the BBC every day on virtually
every issue.

On September 6, the Mail on Sunday ran two
, side by side. The first was titled, ‘A
sinister, shameful attack on free speech’. It decried the
Extinction Rebellion action last Friday to blockade
three newspaper printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch’s
UK News. The second editorial, as we will see below, was a
feeble call not to send Julian Assange to the US, on the eve
of his crucial extradition hearing in

Extinction Rebellion’s protest, lasting just
a few hours, temporarily prevented the distribution of
Murdoch newspapers, such as the Sun and The Times, as well
as other titles printed by Murdoch’s presses, including
the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and the Daily

The Mail on Sunday editorial predictably
condemned the protesters’ supposed attempt at
‘censorship’, declaring it:

throwback to the very worst years of trade union militancy,
which came close to strangling a free press and which was
only defeated by the determined action of Rupert

The paper

‘The newspaper blockade was a
shameful and dangerous attempt to crush free speech, and it
should never be repeated.’

This was the
propaganda message that was repeated across much of the
‘mainstream media’, epitomised by the empty
of Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

free press is vital in holding the government and other
powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the
future of our country, including the fight against climate
change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the
public’s access to news in this way.’

comments could have been pure satire penned by Chris Morris,
Mark Steel or the late Jeremy Hardy. Closer to the grubby
truth, a different Johnson – Samuel – described
the ‘free press’ as ‘Scribbling on the backs of

As Media Lens has repeatedly
demonstrated over the past 20 years, it is the
state-corporate media, including BBC News, that has
endlessly ‘limited the public’s access to news’ by
denying the public the full truth about climate breakdown,
UK/US warmongering, including wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and
Libya, the arming of Saudi Arabia and complicity in that
brutal regime’s destruction of Yemen, UK government
support for the apartheid state of Israel even as it crushes
the Palestinian people, the insidious prising open of the
NHS to private interests, and numerous other issues of
public importance.

When has the mythical ‘free
press’ ever fully and properly held to account Boris
Johnson or any of his predecessors in 10 Downing Street? Who
can forget that Tony Blair, steeped in the blood of so many
Iraqis, is still held in esteem as an elder statesman whose
views are sought out by ‘mainstream’ news outlets,
including BBC News and the Guardian? As John Pilger said

‘Always contrast Julian
Assange with Tony Blair. One will be fighting for his life
in court on 7 Sept for the “crime” of exposing war
crimes while the other evades justice for the paramount
crime of Iraq.’

Health Secretary Matt
Hancock, who has presided over a national public health
disaster with soaring rates of mortality during the
coronavirus pandemic, had the affront to tweet
a photograph of himself with a clutch of right-wing papers
under his arm, declaring:

outrageous that Extinction Rebellion are trying to suppress
free speech by blockading newspapers. They must be dealt
with by the full force of the law.’

is Hancock himself, together with government colleagues and
advisers – not least Johnson and his protector, Dominic
Cummings – who should ‘be dealt with by the full force
of the law’. As Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet
medical journal, said
of Boris Johnson in May:

‘you dropped
the ball, Prime Minister. That was criminal. And you know

Extinction Rebellion (XR) explained
succinctly via Twitter their reason for their ‘totally
outrageous’ action:

‘Dear Newsagents,
we are sorry for disruption caused to your business this
morning. Dear Mr. Murdoch, we are absolutely not sorry for
continuing to disrupt your agenda this morning. @rupertmurdoch

on the XR website, simply titled, ‘We do not have a free
press’, said:

‘We are in an emergency
of unprecedented scale and the papers we have targeted are
not reflecting the scale and urgency of what is happening to
our planet.’

One of the XR protesters
was ‘Steve’, a former journalist for 25 years who had
worked for the Sun, Daily Mail, the Telegraph and The Times.
He was filmed on location during the protest. He explained
that he was participating, in part, because he is worried
about the lack of a future for his children. And a major
reason for how we got to this point is that journalists

‘stuck inside a toxic system where
they don’t have any choice but to tell the stories that
these newspapers want to be told.’


‘Every person who works on
News International or a Mail newspaper knows what story is
or isn’t acceptable for their bosses. And their bosses
know that because they know what’s acceptable to Murdoch
or Rothermere or the other billionaires that run 70 per cent
of our media’.

Steve said he left that
system because he ‘couldn’t bear the way it

The most recent report
by the independent Media
Reform Coalition
on UK media ownership, published in
2019, revealed the scale of the problem of extremely
concentrated media ownership. Just three companies –
Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach
(publisher of the Mirror titles) dominate 83 per cent
of the national newspaper market (up from 71 per cent in
2015). When online readers are included, just five companies
– News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph
– dominate nearly 80 per cent of the market.

As we
of XR’s worthy action:

‘Before anyone
denounces this as an attack on the “free press” –
there is no free press. There is a billionaire-owned,
profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporate press that has
knowingly suppressed the truth of climate collapse and the
need for action to protect corporate

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for
Coventry South, indicated
her support too:

‘A tiny number of
billionaires own vast swathes of our press. Their papers
relentlessly campaign for right-wing politics, promoting the
interests of the ruling class and scapegoating minorities. A
free press is vital to democracy, but too much of our press
isn’t free at all.’

By contrast,
Labour leader Keir Starmer once again demonstrated his
establishment credentials as ‘a safe pair of hands’ by
condemning XR’s protest. Craig Murray commented:

a time when the government is mooting designating Extinction
Rebellion as Serious Organised Crime, right wing bequiffed
muppet Keir Starmer was piously condemning the group,
stating: “The free press is the cornerstone of democracy
and we must do all we can to protect

Starmer had also commented:

people the chance to read what they choose is wrong and does
nothing to tackle climate change.’

denying people the chance to read what they would choose –
the corporate-unfriendly truth – on climate change is
exactly what the corporate media, misleadingly termed
‘mainstream media’, is all about.

Media activist
and lecturer Justin Schlosberg made a number of cogent
observations on ‘press freedom’ in a Twitter thread
(beginning here):

times out of 10 when people in Britain talk about protecting
press freedom what they really mean is protecting press

He pointed out the ‘giant
myth’ promulgated by corporate media, forever trying to
resist any attempt to curb their power; namely

‘Britain’s mainstream [sic]
press is a vital pillar of our democracy, covering a
diversity of perspectives and upholding professional
standards of journalism…the reality is closer to the exact
inverse of such claims. More than 10 million people voted
for a socialist party at the last election (13 million in
2017) and polls have consistently shown that majority of
British public oppose


‘The “diversity” of our
national press [… ] covers the political spectrum from
liberal/centre to hard right and has overwhelmingly backed
austerity economics for the best part of the last 4
decades… [moreover] the UK press enjoys an unrivalled
international reputation for producing a diatribe of fake,
racist and misogynistic hate speech over anything that can
be called journalism’.

He rightly

‘ironically one of the
greatest threats to democracy is a press that continues to
weave myths in support of its vested interests, and a BBC
that continues to uncritically absorb

Assange In The US

Alongside the Mail on Sunday’s
billionaire-owned, extremist right-wing attack on climate
activists highlighting a non-existent ‘free press’, the
paper had an editorial
that touched briefly on the danger to all journalists should
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange be extradited from the
UK to the US:

‘the charges against Mr
Assange, using the American Espionage Act, might be used
against legitimate journalists in this

The implication was that
Assange is not to be regarded as a ‘legitimate
journalist’. Indeed, the billionaire Rothermere-owned
viewspaper – a more accurate description than
‘newspaper’ – made clear its antipathy towards

‘Mr Assange’s revelations of
leaked material caused grave embarrassment to Washington and
are alleged to have done material damage

The term ‘embarrassment’
refers to the exposure of US criminal actions threatening
the great rogue state’s ability to commit similar crimes
in future: not embarrassing (Washington is without shame),
but potentially limiting.

The Mail on Sunday

‘Mr Assange has been a
spectacular nuisance during his time in this country,
lawlessly jumping bail and wasting police time by taking
refuge in embassy of Ecuador. The Mail on Sunday disapproves
of much of what he has done, but we must also ask if his
current treatment is fair, right or

The insinuations and subtle
smears embedded in these few lines have been repeatedly
demolished (see this extensive analysis,
for example). And there was no mention that Nils Melzer, the
Special Rapporteur on Torture
, as well as numerous doctors, health
experts and human
rights organisations
, have strongly condemned the UK’s
appalling abuse of Assange and demanded his immediate

Melzer has accused
the British government of torturing

‘the primary purpose of torture
is not necessarily interrogation, but very often torture is
used to intimidate others, as a show to the public what
happens if you don’t comply with the government. That is
the purpose of what has been done to Julian Assange. It is
not to punish or coerce him, but to silence him and to do so
in broad daylight, making visible to the entire world that
those who expose the misconduct of the powerful no longer
enjoy the protection of the law, but essentially will be
annihilated. It is a show of absolute and arbitrary

Melzer also spoke about the
price he will pay for challenging the

‘I am under no illusions that
my UN career is probably over. Having openly confronted two
P5-States (UN security council members) the way I have, I am
very unlikely to be approved by them for another high-level
position. I have been told, that my uncompromising
engagement in this case comes at a political

This is the reality of the
increasingly authoritarian world we are living in.

weak defence of Assange now being seen in even right-wing
media, such as the Mail on Sunday, indicates a real fear
that any journalist could in future be targeted by
the US government for publishing material that might anger

In an interview
this week, Barry Pollack, Julian Assange’s US lawyer,
warned of the ‘very dangerous’ precedent that could be
set in motion with Assange’s extradition to the

‘The position that the U.S. is
taking is a very dangerous one. The position the U.S. is
taking is that they have jurisdiction all over the world and
can pursue criminal charges against any journalist anywhere
on the planet, whether they’re a U.S. citizen or not. But
if they’re not a U.S. citizen, not only can the U.S.
pursue charges against them but that person has no defense
under the First Amendment.’

In stark
contrast to the weak protestations of the Mail on Sunday and
the rest of the establishment media, Noam Chomsky pointed
out the simple truth in a recent interview
on RT (note the dearth of Chomsky interviews on BBC News,
and consider why his views are not sought

‘Julian Assange committed the
crime of letting the general population know things that
they have a right to know and that powerful states don’t
want them to know.’

Likewise, John
Pilger issued
a strong warning:

‘This week, one of the
most important struggles for freedom in my lifetime nears
its end. Julian Assange who exposed the crimes of great
power faces burial alive in Trump’s America unless he wins
his extradition case. Whose side are you

Pilger recommended an excellent in-depth
by Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian/Observer
journalist, in which Cook observed:

years, journalists cheered Assange’s abuse. Now they’ve
paved his path to a US gulag.’

Oborne is a rare example of a right-leaning journalist who
has spoken out strongly in defence of Assange. Oborne wrote
last week in Press Gazette

‘Future generations of journalists
will not forgive us if we do not fight

He set out the following

‘Let’s imagine a foreign
dissident was being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison
charged with supposed espionage offences by the Chinese

‘And that his real offence was
revealing crimes committed by the Chinese Communist Party
– including publishing video footage of atrocities carried
out by Chinese troops.

‘To put it another way, that
his real offence was committing the crime of

‘Let us further suppose the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture said this dissident showed “all the
symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological
torture” and that the Chinese were putting pressure on the
UK authorities to extradite this individual where he could
face up to 175 years in prison.

‘The outrage from
the British press would be


‘There is one crucial
difference. It is the US trying to extradite the co-founder
of Wikileaks.

‘Yet there has been scarcely a word in
the mainstream British media in his

In fact, as we have
repeatedly highlighted,
Assange has been the subject of a propaganda
by the UK media, attacking
and smearing
, over and over again, often in the pages of the
‘liberal’ Guardian.

At the time of writing,
neither ITV political editor Robert Peston nor BBC
News political editor Laura
appear to have reported the Assange
extradition case. They have not even tweeted about it once,
even though they are both very active on Twitter. In fact,
the last time Peston so much as mentioned Assange on his
Twitter feed was 2017.
Kuenssberg’s record is even worse; her Twitter silence
extends all the way back to 2014.
These high-profile journalists are supposedly prime
exemplars of the very best ‘high-quality’ UK news
broadcasters, maintaining the values of a ‘free press’,
holding politicians to account and keeping the public

On September 7, John Pilger gave an address
outside the Old Bailey in London, just before Julian
Assange’s extradition hearing began there. His words were
a powerful rebuke to those so-called ‘journalists’ that
have maintained a cowardly silence, or worse. The
‘official truth-tellers’ of the media – the
stenographers who collaborate with those in power, helping
to sell their wars – are, Pilger says, ‘Vichy

He continued:

is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next
three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the
press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The
BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington

‘No, the journalists in these
organizations can breathe freely. The Judases on the
Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his
landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have
nothing to fear. They are safe because they are

‘Freedom of the press now rests with the
honorable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the
internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor
laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient,
moral journalism – those like Julian

DC &

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