Tag Archives: propaganda

RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

There are occasions in life when time that can never be retrieved is expended on something that is worthless. So far, three valuable hours of my life has been wasted on what RTE describes as a ‘commemorative drama’ to herald the beginning of the Centenary year of the 1916 revolution. Wasted, other than in terms of understanding the propaganda value to the political class even of badly constructed ‘historical’ costume drama – although describing ‘Rebellion’ as coherent drama is stretching it.

I quibbled after the first episode about the use of the term ‘Rebellion’ instead of the more accurate term ‘Revolution’, but it finally dawned on me with Episode 3 that what the writer, director and producers really mean is that this is about rebelliousness within the featured families, to which the 1916 Revolution is just a backdrop.

It would be a useful exercise after the series comes to an end to put a stopwatch to good use to work out the proportion of the five hours of screen-time that is devoted to an exceedingly poor and skewed telling of the story of the 1916 Revolution, and what proportion was used to tell the confusing, intertwined, and fairly inconsequential stories of domestic disagreement. There is of course a market for the latter, and for its setting in a sort of ‘upstairs-downstairs’ genre, but this series, more soap than serious drama, should not be its vehicle.

The 1916 Revolution – what was it really about, who made up the rank-and-file – essential to the creation of a revolution, what scale of operation was in play, what impediments to success existed? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

The leaders – who were they, what were they like, what did they believe in, was there a plan, had they some endgame, some vision? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

Where is Tom Clarke, or Seán MacDiarmada, or Joe Plunkett, three iconic signatories of the Proclamation, all present in the GPO – but not so far in this sorry series? No clue as to their characters, and precious little of James Connolly’s – relegated to a bit part, or of Patrick Pearse’s – other than his addiction to prayer, his deference to the clergy, his obsession with blood sacrifice, and a capacity for rhetorical exaggeration – as RTE would have us believe.

Where is the evidence of strong public support particularly in the impoverished inner city tenements, without which the revolution could not have lasted almost a week? We know it was there, we who have bothered to acquaint ourselves with the true narrative. Instead, that hoary old myth of widespread public disaffection with the revolution is hammered home at every opportunity.

Episode 3 begins with some bearded chap being put up against a wall and shot by firing squad. Who was he? We are none the wiser by the end of Episode 3. Why might it be important to know that he was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a journalist, an advanced-feminist, a pacifist who had played no part in the revolution itself? Because, perhaps, that it is true, and that he was murdered on the command of a crazed, out-of-control British army officer – an essential detail of the 1916 narrative – but not as the masses are supposed to know it since it would upset the entirely revisionist slant of this television disaster, a revisionism that is deliberately applied. And so it goes on.

Against fleeting scenes of chaos, created as we are led to believe by violent anti-democratic nutcases hell-bent on creating a Catholic state, we are encouraged to note the stabilising influence and the manners and the etiquette of both the Irish ‘Castle Catholics’ and their British masters in Dublin Castle. Fast-forward by 100 years and we see the same spurious choice being presented to the people by the political class – ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’, white or black, good or bad. No need to tease out what each side really stood for back then, or what each side stands for now.

There are those who ask ‘what matter – it is only TV drama?’. Propaganda is at its most effective when it is inserted subtly into the thought-processes of its target audience, and repeated through various forms from news and current affairs, commentary, and yes, entertainment. That works, as Joseph Goebbels knew all too well.

RTE claims an audience of 600,000 for its first episode of ‘Rebellion’. A large proportion of these will vote in the upcoming general election in which the main choice will be between, the political class tells us, stability or chaos. And that audience is also entering into the centenary year of the 1916 revolution with its competing interpretations, one of which champions the Redmondite parliamentarian Home Rule option over the other – the right of a people to self-determination and self-government, to be established through revolution where no other viable option was available. Presenting a partisan and therefore skewed version of the 1916 revolution primes at least a part of that audience to adopt a negative view of the legitimacy of that revolution and of its leaders, and that represents a highly political intervention in the popular history of 1916 on the part of the State broadcaster, RTE. It is not, presented in that way, just TV drama.

‘Rebellion’ looks like a cheap production, but cost as much as Ken Loach spent making The Wind That Shakes The Barley – an excellent production for the big screen, which grossed three times its production costs at the international box-office. Why wasn’t Loach asked to make this series? It is not as if he lacks experience. But then, he could be relied on to create a credible narrative around the main story of revolution and to consign the less consequential sub-plots to their rightful places. That would not suit the political class, including its RTE functionaries.

The 1916 revolution is an intriguing, exciting and rich human story, as rich in dramatic potential – characters, incidents and plot-lines – as was the highly successful and accurate 1913 Lockout TV drama ‘Strumpet City’, produced by RTE in 1980. ‘Rebellion’ on the other hand is dross. Some people, their names figuring prominently on the credits of each episode, opted for dross, and each received a considerable reward tor taking that option.

The foundational narrative of modern Ireland – in which the 1916 Revolution is the inciting incident – deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. That is entirely absent in this spurious version.

There are times when we remark that ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The series writer did, with input from others.

And there are times when we remark that ‘it couldn’t get any worse’. Oh yes it can, and it will.

Of that I am certain.

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A Very British Coup in the making

Those who are familiar with the 1988 mini-series “A Very British Coup” in which a newly elected left-wing Labour British prime minister is brought down by dark forces within the British Establishment, will with some justification see parallels in that same establishment’s reaction to the election as Labour party leader of Jeremy Corbyn.

A sustained campaign across the entire British mainstream media, including in supposedly slightly-leftish newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent, sought to undermine Corbyn’s candidacy and then his leadership, often involving risible smears, outright lies and distortions regarding his positions on a variety of issues and backed up with partial quotes taken entirely out of context.

A reasonable onlooker to all of this might hope that such an outlandish campaign of vilification as this might be understood by a majority of people in Britain, who can rightly be assumed to be intelligent and fair-minded, might backfire, but there is no evidence of a mass reaction against it.

Recent developments are more worrying to those who believe in the primacy of democracy over tyranny.

Just last weekend, in the Sunday Times, a serving British army General was reported as saying that if Corbyn were elected Prime Minister “the British military would take direct action. There would be mass resignations at all levels. He would face the very real possibility of an event which would in effect be a mutiny.”

That is an extraordinary statement for a serving officer to make. There is precedence for it. In 1914 senior army officers based in Ireland threatened to resign en masse in what became known as the Curragh Mutiny over British Cabinet plans to suppress Unionist paramilitary opposition to Home Rule by moving against the Ulster Volunteer Force.

More recently, hard evidence has emerged to support long-standing claims by Irish nationalists of collusion between the British army and Loyalist paramilitaries to carry out planned assassinations of political opponents and random murders of Catholics presumed to be IRA supporters or as acts of terror – terrorism against a civilian population. The British army has previous form in carrying out extra-judicial activities, as reports from Kenya and other former colonies bears out.

And so, the remarks by that serving British army General have to be taken seriously. As of now, there is no evidence that he has been forced to resign for his direct challenge to democratic institutions, and to democracy itself.

Where does the British Conservative Party stand on this challenge to government, parliament and the will of the British people, who, one can reasonably assume, would not support what would in effect be a military coup to subvert the democratic process?

Within hours of Corbyn’s election as leader of the British Labour Party, prime minister David Cameron had accused him of being a ‘threat to national security’, in effect giving the green light to that army General and his colleagues, including in the secret services.

Three days after the General’s threat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt MP – Conservative Party, appeared on the BBC’s ‘HardTalk’ programme to be questioned by Stephen Sachur. Here is the exchange between Sachur and Crispin blunt (CB) relating to that threat, and to Corbyn.

Sachur: A serving General said in the Sunday Times that if Corbyn were elected Prime Minister “the British military would take direct action. There would be mass resignations at all levels. He would face the very real possibility of an event which would in effect be a mutiny.”

(CB): He can speak for himself but he certainly is speaking way outside the authority of any serving officer. If Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister under a Labor Government the army, like everybody else will have to turn to their right and carry out the instructions of the elected government.

Sachur: It is confusing for the public because your party – as soon as Corbyn was elected – issued propaganda – if I may call it that – suggesting that he was a fundamental threat to the security of the United Kingdom.

(CB): Well he is. If you believe in a coherent defence strategy of the United Kingdom where you want at least 2% of your GDP spent on defence – if you want the United Kingdom to be properly committed to NATO – then, I think he is a threat to our security. He would un-pick the whole of our defense posture. If he was allowed to revert to the opinions he expressed before he became leader of the Labor Party. There is obviously now a very live debate within the Labor Party with the people he has appointed. …

Sachur: But, there is something different about saying that he is a fundamental risk to the core of the security of the nation. It is a very active debate now about whether Cameron´s government is prepared to share with Jeremy Corbyn the level of military and intelligence information – secret information – that has been shared in the past.

(CB): Yes, but they are under no obligation to share that information.

Sachur: Precendence suggests that they will. It is a part of accountability and transparency in a democracy that the leader of the opposition knows as much as can be safely given to him about is being done in the name of the United Kingdom.

(CB): No, it is not I don´t think. I don´t think it is part of any – it may have become convention but I wouldn´t present it in those terms.

Sachur: You don´t see it as democracy, transparency and accountability?

(CB): No. The leader of the opposition gets privileged access to information on a basis that other members of Parliament don´t have? No, not necessarily. That is a judgement for the Government to take. It is normally taken when the Government is seeking to persuade the leader of the opposition to associate himself with a particular government strategy whilst the Government is seeking consensus. If the Government is not going to get consensus because he holds very strong views opposed to the use of military force in almost any circumstance.

Sachur: And you think that is justification for giving him less access to information than previous leaders of opposition in the recent past.

(CB): What would be the point of giving him the information if it is not an attempt to achieve consensus?

Far from supporting the primacy of Britain’s democratic institutions, Crispin Blunt is explicitly accusing Corbyn of being a threat to national security – echoing the prime minister and the army General, and suggests that even within the newly appointed shadow cabinet there are those who agree with Conservative Party, British Army and security services policy to the extent that they may be seen as undermining Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and justifies the withholding of crucial information and intelligence from Corbyn that would normally be shared with the Leader of the Opposition.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has stated his opposition to war and his support for political solutions in its place. He has stated that he is a republican but will reflect the wishes of the people who support the monarchy. He has promised to work for fairness and justice, and greater equality across British society. He is in favour of reducing dependence on hydrocarbons and in favour of green energy, and in developing modern industries based on technological innovation. He wants more democracy, more involvement by the people in shaping policy, more accountability, less corruption, greater control of the financial sector, more and better public services including health and education, renationalisation of key services including transport, and a changing role for Britain in the world to what has been the norm up to now.

He sounds like a decent, intelligent, ethical individual who is concerned about the lives of the many, not just in Britain but in other parts of the world.

He is, therefore, a dangerous man. He threatens the wealth, privilege and power of the British Establishment. He must go.

These anti-democratic machinations by the British establishment are what we would recall from various Latin American coups in the 1970s and 80s. Some of us might see resonances of that in the undermining of the democratic expressions of the Greek people by the European Union led by Germany, this year.

And those off us who remember that brilliant mini-series from 1988, a piece of fiction, can now see it begin to become fact in the creation today of A Very British Coup.

That is not a flight of fancy. Read the signs.


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