21 March 2011

Sun of 'GOTCHA!' ?

Britain, since last Friday, has become embroiled in yet another dispute in a distant land; this time Libya. Setting aside the wisdom or moral foundation of such an intervention in the troubles of a country whose leader, Colonel Gaddafi, we have hitherto cultivated as a 'friend', the coverage in the printed media especially stirs memories of a journalistic style prevalent in the tabloid press during the Falklands War. 

One has only to cast a cursory glance at the front pages to get a sense of the way the Government, the military, the Gaddafi supporters and the 'rebels' amongst the Libyan people will be portrayed in the ensuing acres of newsprint and page after page of online content linked to each paper. 

For example, two of the front pages of today's tabloids:  

Daily Mail
The Sun
During the Falklands War, the Editor of The Sun was Kelvin MacKenzie and as his assistant at that time, Roy Greenslade was privy to the atmosphere in the Newsroom and the slant MacKenzie was keen to engender, although not actually agreeing to it himself!

In 2002, twenty years after the war, Greenslade wrote
Most people probably think of the Falklands as Thatcher's war. For me - and I suspect, for a good many other journalists, that bizarre spasm of post-imperial imperialism was really the Sun's war. Or, to be more precise, Kelvin's war. Kelvin MacKenzie's Falklands coverage - xenophobic, bloody-minded, ruthless, often reckless, black-humoured and ultimately triumphalist - captured the zeitgeist. Here was a new Britain and a new kind of newspaper heralding the emergence of a transformed culture.
The vocabulary in many of the ensuing articles and headlines throughout the whole of that war added to and encouraged a feeling of patriotism and justified might:

And most evocative of all, with today's headline in mind:
(Meaning that Britain had captured Georgia, two airstrips and three warplanes.)

The horrors of war reduced to the level of a score-line in a football match?

Today, Kelvin MacKenzie is no longer the Sun's Editor, but many of the circumstances which led to the paper's individual stance on the Falklands war are eerily applicable today. 

Whereas in 1982 there was an apparent need to defend a British outpost and military base, there is a suspicion that it is our dependence on Libya for oil and its importance as a buffer against terrorist groups which has escalated this military action, not merely the atruistic desire to hurry to the aid of those seeking their democratic rights.

Although Margaret Thatcher's Government was wholly Conservative politically and we have a Coalition now, there is a feeling amongst many observers that a flagging popularity and waning public confidence in its policies have prompted an eagerness to embark on a military adventure in order to shore up a weakening image. 

The Sun is well known to be a supporter of this Government so far and  the prospect of this latest war seems to have driven the editorial staff to rummage through the archives and revive the old, familiar jingoistic Union flag - waving battle cries!

I am 'lucky' enough to be able to access the iPad version of the Sun Online. Today's output includes a long, very detailed round-up of events in Libya over the weekend, interspersed with excellent images and an occasonal video clip taken from Sky News

On the whole, this article written by Virginia Wheeler (Defence Editor) and David Willetts (Defence Correspondent)  is a balanced and fair representation of what occurred. 

Another shorter article written by Tony Newton-Dunn (Political Editor) and Virginia Wheeler, headed : "Where is Gaddafi?" seeks to depict the Libyan leader as someone cowed and snivelling in the face of UN Coalition bombardment of his Military bases assets.

He is variously described as 'cowardly', 'Mad Dog', 'monster' and the whole piece conjures images of a cur driven to ground with his tail between his legs.

Included in the same article, is a 'Gaddafi Crime-sheet' and a contribution headed 'Tyrant Has to Go' written by Professor Mark Almond of Balliol College Oxford and Bilkent University, Turkey, who seeks to explain why the 'rebels' need help to fight Gaddafi's forces.

Whatever one's feelings as to the character and worthiness of Gaddafi as a leader of his people, the language used in articles purporting to bring accurate facts and impartial relating of events is highly emotive here, perspective and balance missing - as was the case many a time all those years back in 1982 when the same paper brought us its version of the Falklands War....

Rosie Robertson