The hypocrisy of the warmongering media

18 June 2023
Tom Gilchrist

“The story goes on beyond this judgement. We will continue to hold people involved in war crimes to account. The responsibility for these atrocities does not end with Ben Roberts-Smith”, said Nine Entertainment’s managing director of publishing, James Chessell, after the court finding that Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated soldier, was a murderer and war criminal. Nine publishes the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, both formerly owned by Fairfax Media. They have spent the last few weeks congratulating themselves for their reporting on Roberts-Smith’s war crimes.

Chessell highlighted that the problem is not just one rogue soldier. Indeed, the 2020 Brereton inquiry into Australian war crimes in Afghanistan recommended that nineteen special forces soldiers be investigated by police for possible war crimes, including evidence of 39 murders.

Some attention, though fleeting, has been drawn to the role of officers higher up the chain of command who, even if they lacked precise knowledge of the crimes committed, seem at best to have turned a blind eye to the actions of their soldiers. A report by defence consultant Samantha Crompvoets into the cultural problems in the special forces found: “According to the people who approached me, a lot of behaviour goes largely unchecked ... and there is intense pressure not to report things up”.

But outside of those in the military, responsibility also rests with those who campaigned for and launched the war in Afghanistan. The brutal crimes of the special forces reflect the brutal nature of the invasion itself.

This includes politicians from the Labor and Liberal parties and the media that parroted their lies and campaigned for the war. It wasn’t just the reactionary Murdoch press, but liberal publications like the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age that joined the chorus for bloodshed following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

They even attempted to give the war, waged by the hard-right neoconservative US administration of George W. Bush, a progressive and feminist gloss. Pamela Bone, then an associate editor of the Age, argued that the invasion was an opportunity to liberate Afghan women. “If there’s a war on”, she wrote in a 2004 opinion piece, “we should be clear about who is the real enemy of civilisation. Despite the reservations any liberal would feel for some policies of the present Administration, the enemy is not America”.

In light of the revelations of systemic war crimes, the idea that there was any moral authority guiding the invasion of Afghanistan is now much more obviously absurd.

But if you thought their role in reporting these crimes had led the Age and Sydney Morning Herald to repent from their warmongering journalism, you would be mistaken. Earlier this year, both publications ran a three-part propaganda special about the need to “psychologically” prepare for a war with China in as little as three years. Drawing on five hand-picked “security experts”, the “Red Alert” series argued across the newspapers’ front pages that Australia needs to double the defence budget, reintroduce a form of conscription and consider hosting US nuclear weapons.

If a war does break out between China and the West, the crimes committed by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan will pale in comparison to the human cost of such a conflict.

The investigative journalism of Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters is commendable, and the Nine publications’ exposure of war crimes contrasts favourably with the apologism seen in the Murdoch press and the disgraceful campaigning in Ben Robert-Smith’s favour from Kerry Stokes and his Seven West Media. But for managers at Nine to gloat about their mastheads’ role in exposing these crimes while continuing their hawkish campaigning reeks of hypocrisy. We need media that are not only opposed to the illegal excesses of war, but to the entire project of Australian militarism.

Read More

Red Flag
Red Flag is published by Socialist Alternative, a revolutionary socialist group with branches across Australia.
Find out more about us, get involved, or subscribe.

Original Red Flag content is subject to a Creative Commons licence and may be republished under the terms listed here.