Fake News and Failures of our Media


M2 Hospital, Aleppo, last stop in ‘I SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH’ at IWM London

Creative collective, Anagram, have devised an experimental ‘experience’ for visitors to IWM London to explore how and why we believe what we do, in the context of the Syria conflict. Through instructional audio, participatory exercises and displays, the visitor can take a journey, lasting 1 hour, around the museum whilst being challenged to question what they believe. The piece includes lighthearted exercises but culminates in entering a ‘news chamber’ of cacophonous news sources covering the 2016 siege of Aleppo and, finally, a model of a M2 hospital in Aleppo that was bombed several times by pro-government forces in 2016. ‘I SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH’ is a ‘scratch’ visitor experience running until 17 September 2017 at IWM London.

‘Fake news,’‘alternative facts’ or ‘fog of war’ are hurdles to understanding conflict but there are journalistic principles available to the media to establish truthful facts and narratives. The real crisis in the mainstream media is not so much fake news, in the sense of wild mistruths, as a lack of will to scrutinise claims and report important and available facts that challenge power.

In the ‘news chamber’ at IWM London, various news footage loops of the 2016 siege of Aleppo are simultaneously shown on three walls of a small cabin. The broadcasts include online segments from shows on CNN, BBC, Russia Today (RT) and Al Jazeera. The effect is a shrill cacophony.

It is common practice to attack other nations’ media as being emotive and agenda-driven. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-backed media organisation had its offices bombed by US forces in both Afghanistan, in 2001, and in Iraq, 2003, with an Iraqi journalist dying. Whilst the US claimed that the broadcaster’s offices were not targeted, a leaked memo revealed that, in April 2004, George Bush raised with Tony Blair the possibility of bombing Al Jazeera’s head office in Doha, Qatar.

Whether the proposal was serious or not, Al Jazeera had angered the US by its coverage of Iraqi civilian deaths during the US-led invasion, particularly, the attack on Fallujah when 1,000 civilians are thought to have died. For reporting on the effects of strikes on civilians, the network was accused of working with terrorists by former US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld: “over and over again we’ve seen that Middle Eastern television channel Aljazeera that seems to have a wonderful way of being Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste.”

Al Jazeera’s crime was to examine the Iraq War critically, in contrast to the media sources that are often considered sober and serious. Whilst British government officials complained that the BBC was not pro-war enough, research has established that the BBC was one of the least critical channels and least vigorous in examining other perspectives during the Iraq War. In a study of the coverage in five countries, the Frankfurter Allgemeine found that the BBC devoted only 2 percent of its airtime to opponents of the war. This was the least out of all broadcasters, with ABC next at 7 percent.

The BBC was also less likely to quote independent sources, such as the Red Cross, during its coverage of the Iraq War compared to Channel 4, Sky or ITV, according to a study by Cardiff University. The BBC was found to have delivered the least reports on civilian casualties too. The study found that only Channel 4 could be relied upon to examine critically the claims of government sources, compared to the BBC, Sky and ITV that were much more accepting of official claims from the US and British.

A research study from the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds found that the Blair government’s claims on weapons of mass destruction was accepted in 54 percent of UK television coverage and 61 percent of press reporting. During the conflict, at least 80 percent of media reports quoted coalition officials.

Dr Piers Robinson, who led the study, told the Guardian, “Given the controversy surrounding the war, there was probably an initial case to be made that the media would be more aggressive,” he said. “But in the end most media outlets tended to fall into line once things got under way.”

Whilst broadcasters such as RT and Al Jazeera are condemned for having agendas – and, even bombed for it or have their journalists put in Guantanamo, our mainstream media mostly escape criticism for their great failures in journalistic standards that contributed to the drum-beat for war in Iraq on false pretences and the devastation that has followed.

Anagram’s ‘scratch’ visitor experience challenges us to question sources and highlights the complexity of the Syria conflict and navigating the coverage. Critically examining government assertions and to actively seek the analysis of dissidents and independent groups, such as NGOs, is the least that can be expected of a media organisation to help make sense of situations. Yet, our mainstream media often continue to fail in this regard.

It is useful to contrast the coverage of Syria with the silence on Yemen. The US and UK-backed Saudi onslaught on Yemen, in the war against the Houthis – who have also committed atrocities, has created a humanitarian crisis and mass cholera outbreak. Over 2,000 have succumbed to cholera in the country since its spread in April this year, with 500,000 cases as a result of lack of access to water and waste collection. Over 10,000 have been killed since Saudi Arabia began bombing the country to try and reverse the takeover of the country by Houthi rebels.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions. Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water. These doctors and nurses are the backbone of the health response – without them we can do nothing in Yemen. They must be paid their wages so that they can continue to save lives,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Here the issue is not so much fake news stories but widespread failure by the mainstream media to report available facts and focus on this story. The Yemen conflict and suffering is an inconvenient one for the UK because our government continues to enable the Saudi bombing. In July, a High Court ruling found that the UK was not acting illegally by supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons in the midst of the war on Yemen. This is despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has bombed schools, markets, hospitals, funerals and homes during its two-year assault, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In October 2016, the Saudis bombed a packed funeral hall in Sanaa, killing some 100 people and injuring 500, including children. A witness told HRW, “When I got there, there were more than 50 burned bodies, many where you can still tell the features, but half of their body was gone, half of their head was gone, but the others, it was very, very hard to tell who they were.”

The High Court, however, found, in July 2017 that there was not a “serious risk” that UK arms and equipment sold to Saudi Arabia will be used to commit “a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

The UK’s record in Syria is not impressive. Bashar al-Assad was invited to Buckingham Palace in 2002, when he was a ‘friendly’ dictator, and sold chemicals capable of being used for warfare. In the early stages of the uprising in Syria, which began in 2011, the UK, following the US, turned against Assad by siding with rebel forces. They assisted in the smuggling of weapons and ‘non-lethal’ equipment to rebel forces. This is despite knowing that prominent amongst the rebels were extremist groups closely associated with Al Qaeda – and despite the warnings of the UN that providing arms to one side would only increase the bloodshed.

The UK’s objective of toppling the Assad regime has now changed with the rise of ISIS in Syria. The UK’s primary involvement is now conducting airstrikes and training Kurdish Peshmerga and other groups fighting ISIS.

The UK’s role in backing and arming Assad before the 2011 uprising – and supporting the US’ renditioning of suspects to Syria for torture by Assad’s regime, are inconvenient facts – as is the support that the UK provided to extremist rebels fighting Assad. The UK’s role in the ongoing death and destruction in Yemen as a result of Saudi bombing and in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi to unleash civil war, lawlessness, flow of weapons and abuse of migrants in Libya are also inconvenient facts worth avoiding.

More than 2,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since January 2017 trying to flee conflict zones or economic strife – the majority travelling from the Libya. The European nations have reduced search-and-rescue missions arguing that to actively save lives is to incentivise trafficking. NGOs that have tried to fill the breach and save people from drowning are under attack from these same European states.

Dr Piers Robinson presents two strands of the supposed “fake news” crisis: “One strand of this debate has focused on the use of propaganda and deception by authoritarian and autocratic states outside the West. In particular, there has been substantial attention to the propaganda activities of Russia. Another strand of this debate, receiving far less attention amongst the mainstream, has emphasized the role of deception, manipulation and propaganda within liberal democratic states.”

Whilst decrying fake news, the mainstream media is, on the whole, failing to report on readily available facts and narratives that expose inconvenient truths about powerful factions in our own society. As George Orwell explained, certain stories are “kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.”

Further Information

1) Creative collective, Anagram, give their take on their new project at IWM London, running until 17 September, I SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH (version 1) on their website.

2) Read an interview with Anagram by Aesthetica Magazine

3) Watch an interview with Anagram on the IWM website.

4) Reactions on Twitter:


I SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH runs until 17 September 2017 at IWM London.


The Value of Human Interaction: Talks at IWM London


IWM expert guide talk on WW1 Nery Artillery Gun

In the absence of the availability of audio guides, visitors seeking supporting context and more detailed narrative at IWM London have relied on a series of excellent daily talks by the Museum’s expert guides. They might be brief and focusing on particular displays but the talks provide informative and meaningful human interaction at  the Museum.

To add to these talks, IWM London has just announced a new £10-a-ticket introductory tour, “From Bedlam to Baghdad” which, in approximately 40 minutes, provides an overview of the origins of the building as Bethlem Hospital  – known as ‘Bedlam’ – through to the displays on three floors of the Museum. These tours will occur on selected days at 12 pm and  2 pm.


Free daily talks

The provision of the evolving series of free, public 20/30 minute talks provided by expert staff has been a highly effective development at IWM London since the £40 million redevelopment in 2014. The talks tend to focus on a particular display or exhibit and provide useful context and background for visitors who can drop-in to the talks – and, even, take a seat on a folding stool.

Most recently, the range of free daily talks have covered:

(i) Baghdad Car – destroyed in a suspected suicide bomb in Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. Toured around the US by artist Jeremy Deller before being donated to IWM.

(ii) Little Boy atomic bomb casing, one of which was dropped on Hiroshima – providing information on the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from both military and human perspectives.

(iii) Berlin Wall segment

(iv) John Singer Sargent painting, Gassed (Currently, this exhibit is being loaned to institutions in North America)

(v) Jacqmar scarves – propaganda scarves celebrating achievements of Winston Churchill

(vi) Midget X-7 submarine assigned to attack German battleship, Tirpitz on 22 September 1943.

(vii) Falkland Islands conflict display

(viii) Nery Artillery Gun (QF 13 pdr Mk 1 ) – deployed during WW1 from August 1914 by British forces as part of Cavalry Division.

(ix) V2 and V1 (doodlebug) German rockets and impact of London blitz.

Human Interaction


The newly launched introductory paid tour to IWM London is likely to be a very useful addition to the talks available at the Museum. The history of the building’s use as ‘Bedlam’, the mental patient hospital, is not currently presented in any exhibit in the Museum, so will be of particular interest to many visitors.

It is essential that IWM London retains its roster of engaging free daily talks, alongside this new paid tour initiative. The value of the talks in bringing to life objects and exhibitions and placing them in historical context is great.

There has been a deskilling of IWM staff since the 2014 privatisation of Visitor Services and Security staff in favour of security personnel on short-term precarious contracts. Expert staff guidance and context is less available as a result, making the availability of free talks of particular importance to visitors.

Moreover, as more and more Museum transactions occur online, from buying tickets to ascertaining information, the real human interaction with an expert guide is increasingly an invaluable offering and a major draw for visitors.

New daily talks are regularly developed by the IWM team to address important aspects of the collection and exhibitions. Talks occur at regular intervals during the day. It is advisable to contact the Museum in advance to find out if a particular talk is occurring on a given day.

Syria: A Conflict Explored



IWM London

Syria: A Conflict Explored runs until 3 September 2017

IWM London continues to commit itself to examine contemporary conflict. Having recently shown art installations concerning life in Gaza, the US drone campaign in north-west Pakistan and, currently, displaying Edmund Clark’s ‘War of Terror’ – IWM London has opened a series on the conflict in Syria.

There are three aspects to IWM’s new Syria programme – an exhibit of  over 60 photographs by Sergey Ponomarev taken within the government controlled area of Syria in 2013-14 and of refugees escaping, an exhibit covering the origins of the conflict, curated by Dr Christopher Phillips – and a series of pop-up events through to August 2017, produced by creative agency, Anagram. A recent such event was the Conflict Cafe, when visitors had an opportunity to speak to refugees whilst partaking in Syrian refreshments.


From the Middle East Monitor

The Imperial War Museum in London kick started its Conflict Now series yesterday with the Syria: A Conflict Explored event. The series will be running at the museum until September this year and will hold a series of exhibitions and events reflecting upon the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Part of the series includes an exhibition of photographs, the first of its kind in the UK, by award-winning Russian documentary photographer Sergey Ponomarev, which opened officially yesterday evening.

The exhibition showcases 60 powerful and evocative colour prints and digital media from two award-winning bodies of Ponomarev’s work which explores the human consequences of the Syria conflict and its connection to the ongoing refugee crisis.

The pictures are set across four rooms with two sections called Assad’s Syria and The Exodus. The former will feature pictures by the photographer from one of the few who were allowed into government-controlled areas of Syria in 2013-2014, and the latter will feature over 40 photographs taken by Ponomarev at the height of the European refugee crisis between 2015-2016.


Photograph by photographer Sergey Ponomarev displayed in the photo exhibition. [Jehan Alfarra / Middle East Monitor]

Journey to Justice: US Civil Rights Movements and Modern Legacy – Morley Art Gallery

If you’re visiting the Imperial War Museum London, you have a week – until Friday 3 February  – to catch the free travelling civil rights exhibition, Journey to Justice, on display in Morley Art Gallery, across the road from the Imperial War Museum. The exhibition has already been displayed in Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Tower Hamlets.

“It wasn’t about wonderful chats and sitting round planning the revolution or saying, ‘C’mon let’s vote!’ It was quiet conversations and absolute determination.” Marcia Heinemann Saunders, US voter registration volunteer and campaigner.

This quotation very much sums up the approach of Journey to Justice in presenting the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and its impact on the UK. The free exhibition takes the audience through key moments and movements in the US civil rights campaign, starting with the August 1955 abduction, torture and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, in Money, Mississippi, for allegedly flirting with a married white woman.

Through a series of ‘bus stops’ the exhibit takes the viewer through to 1968 and the assassination of Martin Luther King, as well as the Poor People’s Campaign. The modern legacy of the US civil rights movement in the UK is told, with contemporary campaigns for social justice in London highlighted in the form of films about the Ritzy Living Wage campaign by cinema workers and the Save Cressingham Gardens council estate campaign in Lambeth.


The exhibition is participatory in nature, with opportunities for the visitor to contribute to the exhibition by providing feedback or adding a note at the ‘lunch counter’ about their own experiences. Moreover, the exhibition has been constructed with participation of the public. London schoolchildren’s poems inspired by Ruby Bridges feature in the exhibit. Bridges was the black school girl who ran the gauntlet of hate and threats every day and found herself in class alone for attending a formerly all-white school in New Orleans.


Poem by Gabrielle K, London schoolgirl, inspired by Ruby Bridges

Throughout Journey to Justice, the impact of the US civil rights movement and its legacy in the UK feature. Three films tell the campaign of British-Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp and others to send a ‘Battle Bus’ around London and on to Nigeria to reveal and protest the impact of the international oil industry on the Niger delta and, in particular, upon the Ogoni people. The bus carried the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa, commemorating Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight who were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian military regime for their protests against the oil industry devastation of the Niger Delta.

The exhibition goes on to cover desegregation of schools with the story of Ruby Bridges carrying the weight of the desegregation of the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana, New Orleans – and, Barbara Henry, her white teacher. We get an insight into Ruby Bridges’ experience of facing baying crowds to and from school through audio testimony of the child psychologist Robert Coles, who volunteered to provide counselling to Bridges for her first year.

Notably, Coles’ reports that Bridges seemed unperturbed by the daily hostility she faced and even wished her adult abusers God’s forgiveness. Coles identifies Bridges’ illiterate parents as having conveyed real wisdom and moral education to their young daughter.

Through Journey to Justice, we get a sense of the ordinary people whose names may not have gone down in history but who made real sacrifices for the movement.  We know the names of the first students who commenced the Greensboro lunch counter boycotts, but only the mass movement of students who endured vicious violence and other repercussions made it effective.

The exhibition takes the visitor to the voter registration campaign of 1964, which Marica Heinemann Saunders took part in, to overcome violence, intimidation and bureaucratic obstructions to help register black people for the vote and on to the Birmingham 1963 children’s crusade which lasted three days and resulted in young people, such as 16 year-old, Janice Wesley, being arrested and detained.

In the UK, the Bristol bus boycott campaign to pressure the Bristol Omnibus Company to end its discriminatory policy of not recruiting non-white conductors or drivers is covered. This stands alongside the story of Malcolm X’s first visit to the UK and the story of the stained-glass window of a black Jesus designed by Welshman John Petts for the rebuilt 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama. The church had been bombed in September 1963 in a racially-motivated attack that killed four young black girls.

Finally, the exhibition ends with the 1963 March, of some 250,000 people, on Washington, the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike, the National Welfare Rights Organisation (NWRO) through the voice of an unmarried mother of three, Jean Stallings, who demanded recognition of mothers in the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

In people like Jean Stallings, as well as the “unknown hero” Bayard Rustin, gay, pacifist and a former Communist who organised the 1963 March on Washington – and the sanitation workers who rose in protest following the deaths of two colleagues in the back of their compressor trucks where they sheltered from the rain amongst rubbish and maggots, the exhibition highlights the many strands and elements of any successful movement.


Drawing by London schoolchild inspired by Ruby Bridges

The exhibition will continue touring the country, moving on this year to Nottingham, Hull and  Bristol.

Further information about UK-based campaigns featured in Journey to Justice

Homes Under the Sledgehammer – trailer of film Save Cressingham Gardens – council homes scheduled for demolition by Lambeth council.

Ritzy Living Wage Campaign meet Jon Snow and Channel 4 – interview about campaign for London Living Wage for cinema workers.

Film of memorial event for Ken Saro-Wiwa and others executed by Nigerian military regime in mid-90s for their campaign against environmental damage to Ogoniland and Niger Delta by oil companies, such as Shell – featuring artist, Sokari Douglas Camp’s, Battle Bus.


Fashion on the Ration: The story of clothing on the home front during World War Two | IWM North

Laura Clouting, curator of the Imperial War Museum exhibition Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style, talks about rationing, utility clothing and fashion on the home front during World War Two. Fashion on the Ration is currently showing at IWM North, Manchester, until May 1 2017.

Source: Fashion on the Ration: The story of clothing on the home front during World War Two | Culture24