Theme: Manufacturing ‘Public Opinion’

In my many criticisms of the western mass media coverage of foreign stories and how it is used to manipulate, or even manufacture public opinion, I am usually careful to point out that our ‘fine journalists’ do not actually say things that are untrue. Our form of propaganda and manipulation are much more sophisticated and subtle. They work through “lies of omission”, leaving out key facts and events that would cause the viewer, reader or listener to get a completely different understanding of what is happening. The ignorance of the public, who are deprived of any context, timeline or understanding of the evolution of situations, is carefully protected and husbanded by media who are not there to give us facts but to insert opinions into our heads ready formed.

Watching ITN reports on the final departure of British troops from Afghanistan I was stunned to hear the reporter say to the millions of Britons watching that “Ten million girls are now going to school in Afghanistan”. He then went on to ascribe this ‘factoid’ to the help given to the country by Britain. Leaving aside the fact that Britain was just one NATO member occupying Afghanistan, and that there were many other countries and the UN giving assistance to Afghanistan which might share any credit, this ‘fact’ was astounding.

The reason this fact was so astounding was because it seemed to fly in the face of everything that I thought I knew about Afghanistan, having followed closely the fate of this country since the end of the nineteen seventies. So I went back to a source which I thought would be reputable and uncontroversial, the current “CIA Factbook” on Afghanistan to check a few basic facts about the country.

I found that this document confirmed exactly all the facts and figures I knew about the country already. The entire population of Afghanistan is only about 32 million, thus we were being told that one third of the country’s population consists of school girls. This is particularly surprising when total Afghan government spending adds up to approximately US $60 per person per year. Interestingly figures for education spending are listed as ‘Not Available’. Current figures for adult literacy show that over 57% of Afghan males are illiterate, while 87% of Afghan women are illiterate. Afghanistan’s most notable ‘achievement’ in the world of national statistics comparisons is that out of over 200 UN member states it has the worst infant mortality. This is current data, following more than a decade of the country being occupied by over twenty of the world’s richest nations all boasting about how much they are doing for the country.

Let’s get real about Afghanistan. It’s a country three times the size of the UK with half its population, has less than one thirtieth of the metalled road network, no railways and total electricity generation capacity about enough to serve Leicester. Only a quarter of the population live in towns or cities. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished and least developed of countries in the world. In economic terms it is more akin to an African nation than an Asian one.

The fact is that most people in Afghanistan live in villages in remote valleys and planes where life has changed little in hundreds of years. They know little or nothing of the government in Kabul, except when armed men enter their world from outside. There is no ‘Afghan Nation’, it is a bewildering patchwork of different ethnic and tribal groups with competing loyalties and no unifying factor. Decades of foreign interference and ‘tribal’ war have destroyed much of what little infrastructural development took place when the USA and USSR competed with each other to be the country’s ‘friend’ during the Cold War. The truth is our most recent occupation has done nothing for the country outside of some efforts in the field of security which look like proving short lived.


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