By Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and Rector (i.e. president) of the University of Dundee. Craigmurray.org.uk.
If you argue a case strongly on the internet you must expect to receive robust argument back. Plus the odd insult. There has been plenty of both in reaction to my posts about corporate media control of access to the data in the Panama Papers. But I believe it is fair to say that the overwhelming public feeling I have picked up through monitoring online discussion worldwide, is that the full data should be made available online in searchable form so that the public can look through it and form their own conclusions.
I wish to address in a little more depth the arguments which have been raised.
Several people have argued with my reference to “corporate media”, as the consortium includes state organisations such as the BBC. My response to that is that the BBC has become in the last few years a mouthpiece for state propaganda with no effective independence of government, and that the politicians are very much in the pocket of the corporations who fund them. The BBC therefore promotes corporate interests just as much as those outlets directly owned by corporate interests. It is simply a question of direct or indirect control.
The key point is that access to the Panama data has been restricted in accordance with a media order which is decades out of date. It ignores citizen journalism. The only online based platforms given access are the billionaire owned Huffington Post and Craigslist. Nowadays people prefer to find things for themselves.
This ostensibly sympathetic article from Richard Smith illustrates the problem rather well. It is one of trust. Do we trust the – let me use a neutral word – established media to filter the information and decide what we are permitted to see? My answer is no, I do not trust them. I know many mainstream journalists and the vast majority of them are interested in pleasing their paymasters and advancing their careers. Very few and vanishingly less are disinterested promoters of truth.
Nor do I accept that revealing a story about David Cameron’s dead father – a story which had been in the public domain for four years – or securing the resignation of the Prime Minister of Iceland, a tiny state which happens to have taken the most radical action of any against bankers, is sign of balance.
It is a sign of a pretence of balance.
But Richard Smith is entitled to his view and perhaps his naïve trust in corporate media indicates a pleasant and trusting nature. I am often called naïve myself for wanting the world to be a better place. Mr Smith evidently believes it already is.
The only thing I actively dislike in Smith’s article is the contention that I criticised the BBC for not pointing out that the British Virgin Islands were implicated in one document flashed on the screen, obscured, during the BBC Panorama. Actually there were three separate documents about separate transactions, all involving the British Virgin Islands. Those transactions were central to the entire first half of the programme, and for the BBC to hide that it was all happening in the British Virgin Islands was disgraceful.
The BBC of course do not like me and I have been banned from appearing for many years. One of the many thousand people who retweeted my original post on the Panama Papers, subsequently tweeted that he had done so by accident. This brought the magisterial rebuke from Jamie Angus, editor of the BBC Radio Today programme, that accident “is the only acceptable reason for retweeting Craig Murray.” I can understand that Mr Angus does not want people to hear opinions not sanctioned by his employers, but I would be interested to know why he feels it is not “acceptable” to read my pieces. He has since challenged me to mention that the British Virgin Islands were criticised on his radio programme. I am happy to do so, because unlike Mr Angus, I do not believe views other than my own should be suppressed.
I shall not trouble you with the large volume of simply abusive tweets I have received, co-ordinated by the usual two groups – British unionist and pro-Israel lobbyists who for some reason like to troll me. Let us just ignore them.
I should now come to the question of privacy. The Guardian newspaper, along with the BBC the main “owner” of the data in the UK, has made no bones about the fact that most of the data will not be published, and that there are “legitimate reasons” why people have offshore accounts and companies. As the Guardian’s owners operated from tax-dodging overseas accounts for years, they have to say that of course.
There has been surprisingly little discussion of this topic. I do not accept that there is any legitimate reason for owning offshore companies and offshore bank accounts, if you do not have a business genuinely located in and operating from the jurisdiction. Ordinary people do not have accounts in tax havens. The only reason people have accounts and fake companies in tax havens is to avoid tax and other legal jurisdiction. This is not morally acceptable, whether or not our rulers make sure it is legal. I therefore do not accept any privacy argument for keeping the vast bulk of the data from the public.
This argument s absolutely at the heart of the corporate media’s interest in hiding 99.9% of the information – which behind the obfuscation is precisely what they intend to do. This argument needs to be met head on.
The only subject of any interest now in the Panama Papers is whether the data will be fully released on the internet and available to everybody, and not hidden by the corporate media.
We must all campaign to release the data.