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The media and nuclear weapons: spot the difference between Britain and Iran
Over the last 7 months, UK journalists have consistently voiced their objection to nuclear weapons proliferation. This opposition appears as the western media holds a magnifying glass to Iran and speculation abounds over Iran's nuclear capabilities; speculation that appears to be more in line with western governments' policy rather than with any real evidence. Bloggers at the Telegraph are so against the proliferation of nuclear weapons that Con Coughlin called in November 2011 for 'Barack Obama to act' against Iran, and Dan Hodges called for the creation of a 'Start the War Coalition' to stop Iran from potentially developing a nuclear bomb.
The BBC has shown similar concern. On 27 November 2011 it reported that an IAEA report suggested that 'Iran was working towards acquiring a nuclear weapon', even though the report said no such thing. Three days later, Jon Simpson described Iran as 'a country that doesn't play by the rules - a country that seems close to having a nuclear bomb'.
Throughout 2012, Julian Borger, the security correspondent at the Guardian, has been examining reports from the Washington think-tank ISIS, mainstreaming the speculation (rather than evidence) that Iran might be developing a nuclear bomb at a military site in Parchin in his Guardian ‘Security Blog’.
Journalists are so concerned, in fact, that they seem unable to bring themselves to challenge UK politicians’ outright fabrications about Iran’s nuclear programme. So, George Osborne went unchallenged when he spoke to the BBC about 'the development of Iran's weaponised military nuclear weapon programme', while Liam Fox (former Defence Secretary of a nuclear state) faced no objection when he told the Today show’s James Naughtie that ‘obviously, Iran is a nuclear weapon state’. A Guardian headline even read: “Iran ‘seeking to build nuclear weapons’, warns David Cameron” (a statement based on ‘intelligence’) – a headline that no doubt reminded many of Blair’s 2003 claims about Iraq.
Considering this unified and overwhelming concern for potential nuclear weapons development, how do the UK news providers react when the UK, another signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), announces another step in continued noncompliance with the treaty with ‘a £1bn contract for reactors for the next generation of the UK's nuclear-armed submarines’?
What are the priorities for discussion in reporting on moves toward the UK’s renewal of its nuclear weapons system, in direct contravention of the NPT? Will the UK be called out as ‘a country that doesn’t play by the rules’?
Article VI of the NPT states that:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament
As such, one consideration might be the continued disregard of this article, as manifest in the UK’s policies. Journalists now have it handed to them on a plate: a country with an enormous military budget which has invaded and bombed a number of countries in the last decade (often regardless of international law) continues to brazenly flout the NPT. But instead this is reported rather positively, presented in such a way by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to focus the emphasis on job creation and economic output.
The Telegraph report highlights the strong public opposition to the renewal of Trident, noting that ‘A poll two years ago found that 63% of the public said they supported scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent… ’ Against this opposition it seems must now be pitted the argument of job creation. The Telegraph quotes an ‘MoD source’ praising the plans as ‘a great boost for jobs’. Job creation appears a key point in both a BBC report and similar Press Association report on the deal, carried by the Guardian, which cite 300 jobs which will be created under the deal.
This is a standard argument for those in favour of the renewal of the Trident system. It is of the same line of reasoning that exalts the arms industry (that lucrative supplier of weaponry to repressive regimes) for its contribution to the economy. Equally, one might suggest, £1bn could be invested in creating jobs in the green energy sector, for example, or many others of an equally constructive nature. Yet, taking their cue from the MoD, the Telegraph warns that ‘It is … claimed that failing to commission a new wave of submarines could cost up to 15,000 British jobs.’ This threat of a loss of employment is put forward in all seriousness, following a year in which more than a quarter of a million public workers lost their jobs following government cuts - something the Telegraph all but celebrates.
In this immediate coverage of the £1bn contract, priorities for discussion are limited to party politics (Lib Dem/Conservative fallout) and the implications for ‘British jobs’. The sham concern over the risks of nuclear proliferation when discussing Iran is in high contrast to the media’s portrayal of the UK’s nuclear ambitions, which relies heavily on the rhetoric of MoD sources while issues of the NPT and nuclear disarmament go unmentioned.