British Satellite News

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.
The logo for British Satellite News

British Satellite News was a semi covert propaganda operation funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office which appears to have gone out of service around 2009.

The British Satellite News website was a little coy about who funds it. It does say that it is "a free television news and features service".[1] To all intents and purposes it looks like an ordinary news website, though its lack of copyright protection might raise some questions in alert journalists. Broadcasters can use BSN material "directly into daily news programmes".[1] Look carefully and you find that BSN is provided by World Television which also makes corporate videos and fake news releases for corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline, BP and Nestlé. World Television also produced Towards Freedom Television on behalf of the UK Government. This was a propaganda broadcast distributed in Iraq by US Army psychological operations teams from a specially adapted aircraft, called Commando Solo, in 2003/4.

World Television, produces the fake news, but their efforts are entirely funded by the Foreign Office. According to its own estimate, the Foreign Office spent £340 million on its propaganda activities in the UK alone in 2001.[2] A comprehensive overhaul post 9/11means that this figure has probably markedly increased in the intervening period.

Screengrab of the British Satellite News website from 3 December 1998, captured 25 February 2010

The BSN operation

According to World Television, by November 2003, BSN propaganda material was being 'used regularly by 14 of the 17 Middle East countries. Over 400 stations around the world receive BSN stories. 185 are regular users of the stories, including broadcasters in Russia, Germany, Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Australia.'.[3] The diet of 'news' received by viewers of the service includes an endless pageant of government ministers and other official spokespersons. Recent headlines on Iraq include happy news such as 'Iraqi ambassador talks of allied troop timetable' (9 January 2006); 'Prime Minister in surprise visit to Iraq', (22 December 2005), or 'Iraqi ambassador upbeat on elections', (14 December 2005). Often Chatham House, the establishment think tank, provides the venue for policy discussions as in: 'The Psychology of terror - Experts meet', (23 December 2005)

Questioning the occupation of Iraq is out of the question, but some criticism of US policy is possible. In one extraordinary apologia for the British occupation of Iraq in 1920. The 'suggested intro' reads: 'This year is not the first time an outside power has sought to construct a modern, democratic, liberal state in Iraq. Britain tried to do the same in the 1920s, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.'

The benevolence of the US and the UK is simply assumed:

Today's US-led coalition, like the imperial occupiers of eighty years ago, are trying to free Iraq's government and security services from corruption and abuse.

But the clumsy strategy of the US is potentially 'alienating a large section of the population'. So the question arises what 'useful lessons could be drawn' from the British experience.[4] In reality the British occupation led immediately to a popular revolt which was ruthlessly suppressed. A puppet monarchy was then imposed, which was neither modern nor democratic and was in fact 'one of the most unpopular in the history of the Middle East'.[5]

The BSN strategy seems to be to emphasise that the UK is diverse and multicultural. Bulletins regularly highlight ethnic minority contributions to the UK and interview leading moderate Muslims. But on some issues, such as Palestine, it is possible to hear muted criticism of Israel. One item featured 'A leading Israeli academic has questioned both the wisdom and the effectiveness of the controversial "separation fence"'.[6]

A clue to the thinking behind this is to be found in a report for the Foreign Policy Centre in 2003 co-authored by its then Director Mark Leonard. Leonard had advised the Foreign Office on its post 9/11 Public Diplomacy review in 2002 and was later appointed to the resulting Public Diplomacy Strategy Board which directs Foreign Office propaganda strategy.[2] Leonard has no qualms about fake news and the deception it entails: 'If a message will engender distrust simply because it is coming from a foreign government then the government should hide that fact as much as possible', he noted in 2002.[7] The Foreign Policy Centre report suggests that the UK government 'should not be afraid of ‘bloodying the Americans’ noses’' in its propaganda messages on Israel/Palestine. The aim is to 'ensure that the differences between UK and American positions and thinking are emphasised'. The point is to tackle the perception that the UK 'apishly follows every American lead' in order that it can increase the 'usefulness' of 'UK support for the US'.[8]

This strategy of criticising the US, in order the better to support it, conforms well to Blair's wider Iraq strategy. It is clear from the documents leaked over the past year (including the Downing Street memo) that the strategy was to use the UN as a device for gaining legitimacy for the US/UK invasion. All this makes a mockery of Blair's claims to progressive values.[9] Indeed it suggests that such claims are themselves cynical propaganda.

Move to the Internet

In 2008 BSN opened a new channel for delivery via the internet.This was said to be funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and 'in line with its policy goals.' The new service was to use 'World Television’s Channel Player to display video news items produced in multiple languages by British Satellite News (BSN), the free television news and features service.'[10]

Available in both English and Arabic via the FCO’s homepage, 'World Television has ensured that the Player reaches the widest possible audience by distributing it to a number of third party portals including YouTube and MetaCafe.'[11]

Mike Nolan, is quoted as saying that 'BSN’s Channel Player is an extraordinary opportunity for us to get our news information about Britain to a broader audience. It perfectly supplements our broadcasting aims; and is an ideal global window to showcase our news and cultural items. It goes beyond the boundaries of set scheduled television news bulletins and gives us a further degree of interactivity with those who watch our material.'[12]

Holly Tett, Head of Public Diplomacy External Relations Team for the FCO, added 'When the current Foreign Secretary was appointed he made clear his determination that the FCO should be making more of the Internet and new media opportunities. The Channel Player is an excellent outlet for the FCO in implementing this vision. It enables the FCO to engage more directly with key audiences on global issues.'[13]

BSN 'not a "propaganda strategy"'

Responding to criticism of the BSN operation in the Guardian,[14] its editor Mike Nolan made the following points. These are contrasted with extracts from the contract between BSN and the Foriegn Office released under the Freedom of Information Act:

Nolan:
We report on genuine news developments, whether they are of political importance or about the latest British fashion designer's creation. Who makes the call on that? I do. As a former deputy head of Sky News and former senior foreign editor at ITN, I have a pretty good idea of what news is. The BSN output is not a "propaganda strategy". I wouldn't be involved in it if I thought that.[15]
BSN contract:
'The objectives of the service are:
(a) to publicise explain and win understanding for government policies
(b) project a UK view of topical and world events'[16]
Nolan:
The BSN service does exactly what it is paid to do, and that is to give overseas broadcasters not only more information about government policies but also about news developments within Britain's multicultural, multi-ethnic society.'[17]
BSN Contract:
'The contractor shall promptly comply with all instructions of the Authority's representative'[The FCO][18]
Nolan:
We produce more than 90% of our own material. We are not "a PR company" - we are a stand-alone organisation. We do not put out an "endless pageant of government ministers"; we put ministerial statements out when they are newsworthy.[19]
BSN Contract:
The production unit will need to work closely with the Islamic Media Team/Public Diplomacy Group... and establish relations with other Government press offices and agencies to remain informed of Government policy... The senior journalist/editor in chief will be expected to attend a weekly editorial meeting with the Authority [FCO]. there will be daily telephone briefings and a weekly editorial meeting. regular strategy and policy meetings will take place... during which the FCO will be informed of how the editorial content of BSN broadcasts could be tailored.[20]

Also:

News items should regularly include, inter alia:
(a) Government policy announcements and press conferences including where possible statements by Ministers
(b) Items drawing on current topics and events as supplied by Public Diplomacy Group'[21]

Finally, the key to the 'fakeness' of the news is that it is then broadcast without acknowledgement that it is a British government funded or inspired service. the contract states: 'The BSN service is to be provided directly to broadcasters... to be incorporated into their own programmes without attribution'[22]

Resources

  • Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 British Satellite News, About BSN, http://www.bsn.org.uk/index.php?action=about
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chris Wilton, Jonathan, Griffin, Andrew Fotheringham, Changing Perceptions, Review of Public Diplomacy, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 22 March 2002 http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/PDWiltonReview_March2002.pdf
  3. World Television Case Study: BRITISH SATELLITE NEWS – BROADCAST NEWS SERVICE Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 9 November 2006 on 16 November 2017.
  4. 'IRAQ EXPERT ON HISTORICAL LESSONS FOR IRAQ FUTURE', LONDON - 4 December 2003, http://www.bsn.org.uk/view_all.php?id=4932
  5. Mark Curtis, Unpeople, London: Vintage, 2004, p. 81.
  6. 'ISRAELI ACADEMIC CRITICISES SECURITY BARRIER' LONDON - 25 February 2004 http://www.bsn.org.uk/view_all.php?id=4710
  7. Mark Leonard 'Diplomacy by other means' Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2002, http://www.foreignpolicy.com, cited in Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit, Vintage 2003.
  8. All quotations from Mark Leonard and Conrad Smewing, Public Diplomacy and the Middle East London, The Foreign Policy Centre, 2003, pp 63, 65 + 69.
  9. For a discussion see 'Blair in secret plot with Bush to dupe U.N.' by SIMON WALTERS, Mail on Sunday 08:22am 29th January 2006 http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=375453&in_page_id=1770&ct=5
  10. FCO Delivers Video Content to New Audiences via Innovative Online Television Solution NewswireToday - /newswire/ - London, United Kingdom, 01/21/2008 -
  11. FCO Delivers Video Content to New Audiences via Innovative Online Television Solution NewswireToday - /newswire/ - London, United Kingdom, 01/21/2008 -
  12. FCO Delivers Video Content to New Audiences via Innovative Online Television Solution NewswireToday - /newswire/ - London, United Kingdom, 01/21/2008 -
  13. FCO Delivers Video Content to New Audiences via Innovative Online Television Solution NewswireToday - /newswire/ - London, United Kingdom, 01/21/2008 -
  14. David Miller The British Government's global fake news network, Spinwatch, 15 February 2006
  15. Mike Nolan Response: We do not spout propaganda - we report news. Yes, we are a government funded broadcaster, but that does not influence our journalism, says Mike Nolan The Guardian, Friday 24 February 2006 07.20 GMT
  16. Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act
  17. Mike Nolan Response: We do not spout propaganda - we report news. Yes, we are a government funded broadcaster, but that does not influence our journalism, says Mike Nolan The Guardian, Friday 24 February 2006 07.20 GMT
  18. Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act
  19. Mike Nolan Response: We do not spout propaganda - we report news. Yes, we are a government funded broadcaster, but that does not influence our journalism, says Mike Nolan The Guardian, Friday 24 February 2006 07.20 GMT
  20. Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act
  21. Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act
  22. Terms of Service agreement between World Television and the Foreign Office to provide British Satellite News. Released under the Freedom of Information Act