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The Big Issue's Top Five 'Censored' News Stories for 2001

War and the military are always the most likely candidates for half-truths, censorship and lies. The war on Afghanistan is no exception. This week Media Workers Against The War are picketing the BBC "to register our support for colleagues who are doing all they can to resist government attempts at censorship" after Number 10 pulled in media chiefs to warn against broadcasting statements by Osama bin Laden or pictures of dead and wounded civilians in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, as in the Kosovo conflict, the ultimate censorship has also been applied. On October 8 the Taliban radio station, Voice of Sharia, was hit by cruise missiles. According to the Peshwar-based Afghan Islamic Press, 10 civilian radio station employees died in the raid. The 1999 Nato bombing of Belgradešs leading TV station, Radio Television Serbia, killed 15 civilian employees. Yet, as a damning Amnesty International report pointed out, under the Geneva Convention the deliberate targeting of civilians, including broadcasters, is held to be illegal unless those involved are actively inciting war, rather than simply supporting it.

Unfortunately, peaceful times do not guarantee a free press, as has been demonstrated by US-based Project Censored (, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Pushed and pulled by political and commercial interests, media corporations have "downplayed, reshaped, and obscured" stories about "significant issues of which the public should be aware, but is not". Each year an academic team sifts through these stories and selects the top Censored news of our times. Here, in the same spirit, are The Big Issue's top five 'Censored' news stories for 2001.

1. Our Undeclared War On Iraq

Britain and America have continued to regularly bomb Iraq in an undeclared war for the past 10 years ­ despite having no authority under international law to do so.

Raids by US and British warplanes have killed more than 300 civilians and injured 1,000 others, according to Baghdad. Bombing has intensified since September 11, with regular sorties continuing during the 26 days between the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the strikes on Afghanistan. On September 10, British and American bombs killed eight Iraqis. Two weeks earlier there were three separate attacks on Southern Iraq, killing three. On August 10, British RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft, using Paveway laser-guided bombs, joined American F-16 fighter planes in strikes at five targets. The sorties involved 50 aircraft, including 20 fighter planes in the attack on the southern 'no-fly' zone. It was described as "heavier-than-usual bombing of Iraq".

On June 19, Anglo-American forces bombed a northern football field, killing 23 civilians, aged four to 29 years old. After the heaviest raids in two years on February 16, Pentagon officials admitted that more than half of its bombs had missed their target because of "inaccurate guidance data". "It isn't perfect. It never is," said a Pentagon spokesman. Since the high-profile four-day Anglo-American bombing operation in December 1998, these regular attacks have been barely reported.

The attacks are to "aggressively" defend the 'no-fly' zones, which were set up after the Gulf War in 1991 to protect Kurds in the north and Shi-ite Muslim minorities in the south. The attacks are not authorised by the United Nations or sanctioned by any Security Council resolution ­ a violation of the UN charter. Three of the five members, Russia, China and France, do not support the bombing. Only the British and American military are involved.

Throughout, the British and American line has been the same: "We do not target civilians. Pilots are defending themselves."

(Sources: Pentagon, Ministry of Defence, Baghdad Radio)

2. Koreans Sue US Military

Next year South Korea will be at the centre of world attention as one of the twin venues of the 2002 World Cup. But what is little known is that 70 miles south-west of the capital Seoul, US fighter planes have dropped up to 700 bombs a day for the last half a century less than one mile from civilian houses. At least 12 villagers have been killed and scores of others injured by misfired bullets on the Koon-ni range, a training run for 37,000 US personnel stationed in the country as security since the Korean War. It's now owned by defence contractor Lockheed-Martin. Some have committed suicide as a result of the noise. From 11 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night, every week day, A10 and F-16 fighter aircraft drop depleted uranium shells adding radioactive contamination to other toxic wastes that have built up since bombing began in 1952.

There are cancer clusters in the area and women are increasingly experiencing miscarriages and birth defects. US military personnel are given earplugs while South Korean police who stand guard are not, and nor are the villagers. Last year there were huge demonstrations and occupations of the bombing range but to no avail. More than 2,200 villagers filed a suit in August seeking compensation from the state for property and psychological damage.

In June, the US Navy announced it would end similar military training in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in May 2003 after the death of a civilian guard and massive protests. There has been no such promises for the people of Korea.

(Sources: Karen Talbot, Project Censored; Yonhap, South Korean News Agency)

3. More Homeless Under Labour

Apart from rough sleeping, all forms of homelessness that the government measures have sharply increased in the UK in the past four years. The number of families and individuals officially homeless rose from 44,400 in September 1997 to 75,320 in June 2001.

That figure includes nearly a threefold increase in the number of families living in bed and breakfast hotels, from 4,100 to 11,340. In addition, the charity Crisis estimates that there could be 400,000 hidden homeless people, sleeping in places such as friends' floors or squats. They are missing from government statistics.

The visible end of the problem, rough sleeping, accounts for less than one per cent of homelessness. That figure fell from 1,633 in 1999 to 703 in June this year.

(Sources: Department of Transport, Local Government & the Regions, United Nations Human Development Report)

4. Cuba is Top for Organics

Cuba leads the world in organic farming, with the island becoming almost entirely pesticide-free over the past 15 years. The capital Havana alone has 28,000 urban farms and community gardens run by individual groups. Every patio, rooftop and balcony is used to grow food and herbs. Overall organic food production grew from 40,000 tonnes in 1995 to 115,000 in 1998. In addition to the US embargo, enforced due to the Communist government, Cuba has lost 80 per cent of its income since the collapse of the Soviet economies 10 years ago. Without the ability to import pesticides, Cuba needed to find another way to feed its people.

"It is the largest conversion from conventional agriculture to organic or semi-organic farming that the world has ever known," says the Institute for Food and Development Policy.

(Source: Project Censored, Hugh Warwick, Third World Resurgence)

5. The WTO is Illegal

The World Trade Organisation, a stand-alone body that polices global trade, has never been formally ratified by national governments. The WTO will have its biannual meeting in Doha, Qatar [or Singapore] from November 9 to launch a new round of trade liberalisation talks. Previous talks, in Seattle, US, collapsed amid mass protests.

The WTO was formed following the signing, in 1994 in Morocco, of a "technical document" negotiated behind closed doors. Even the heads of the delegations involved in the agreement were not completely informed of its statutes. The instatement of the WTO as a world body was done without the consultation of citizens, or even representatives of the nations. Yet membership of the WTO requires total acceptance of its precepts.

(Sources: Project Censored, Michel Chossudovsky, Covert Action Quarterly, Spring-Summer 2000)

- The Big Issue News Desk - 22 October 2001 -

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revised 18 November 2005