Media Lens - 2008 News analysis and media criticism Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:42:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb CAN THIS BE TRUE? GEORGE MONBIOT CHALLENGES MEDIA LENS ON HYPOCRISY

The Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, posted the following on our website message board yesterday:

"Can this be true? 11/28/medialens-monbiot-wilby-milne/

"If so, I think I have reason to feel aggrieved."

The link was to a blog by Bob Shone. Shone has, himself, long felt aggrieved by our criticism of Iraq Body Count (IBC), of which he is a passionate supporter. In response, he has smeared us whenever and wherever he can across the web. Perhaps because we have written less about IBC over the last couple of years, Shone has branched out by, for example, misrepresenting our criticism of Nick Davies's book Flat Earth News. See here.

In his latest blog, Shone writes:

"Medialens stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism' (Alert, 3/5/03). They've attacked Guardian columnist George Monbiot for not being more critical of the Guardian.* Yet, in a single Guardian article (The Lies of the Press), Monbiot wrote more words criticising the Guardian than Medialens wrote criticising the New Statesman (NS) in their entire run of NS columns." ( 2008/11/28/medialens-monbiot-wilby-milne/)

Monbiot comments on our message board:

"Now I discover that, if the posting I link to is correct, the editors justified their decision not to attack one of their employers - the New Statesman - with the very arguments they have lambasted me for using. I discover that the standards they have so volubly demanded of me somehow do not apply to them. In fact, they appear to be less prepared to do as they say than I am. Who would not, under these circumstances, feel annoyed?" (Monbiot, December 4)

How casually Monbiot has chosen to confront us with this damning public criticism. This, of course, is how internet-based media with essentially no resources are often treated by corporate journalism. If Monbiot had been targeting a powerful think tank or political party, he would perhaps have checked if the posting was "correct". And he would perhaps have taken a few seconds to look at the blog from which it came to examine the mindset of the blogger. Incidentally, our "employers" at the New Statesman paid us £60 per monthly column (if it appeared) - rather less, we suspect, than Monbiot's employers pay him.

The casualness of Monbiot's approach is even more depressing given that he has strongly supported our work, describing it as "a major service to democracy". (Monbiot, email to Media Lens, February 2, 2005)

It seems that, on this occasion, feelings of personal offence weigh more heavily with Monbiot than concern for any service we might be rendering.

This is our response to Monbiot:

Hi George

We're happy to hear from you again. But why now? We wrote to you just over one year ago, asking why you had written:

"I believe that Iran is trying to acquire the bomb." (Monbiot, 'The Middle East has had a secretive nuclear power in its midst for years,' The Guardian, November 20, 2007; commentisfree/2007/nov/20/foreignpolicy.usa)

We asked you to explain the basis for your belief. You also wrote:

"Yes, Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad. The president is a Holocaust denier opposed to the existence of Israel."

We asked if you believed that Ahmadinejad, rather than Khamenei, was the supreme ruler of Iran. If so, why? And we asked which "acts of terror abroad" you had in mind: did you include the claims that Iran had supplied Explosively-Formed Penetrators to blow up US-UK tanks and troops in Iraq, for example? 

Finally, we asked the basis for your belief that Ahmadinejad was "opposed to the existence of Israel".

We wrote a further two times but received no reply. Two years earlier, you had written to us:

"I know we've had disagreements in the past, but I wanted to send you a note of appreciation for your work. Your persistence seems to be paying off: it's clear that many of the country's most prominent journalists are aware of Medialens, read your bulletins and, perhaps, are beginning to feel the pressure. If, as I think you have, you have begun to force people working for newspapers and broadcasters to look over their left shoulders as well as their right, and worry about being held to account for the untruths they disseminate, then you have already performed a major service to democracy. I feel you have begun to open up a public debate on media bias, which has been a closed book in the United Kingdom for a long time." (Email, February 2, 2005)

More recently, we asked for your views on the Guardian's latest comments on fossil fuel advertising - again, no reply. Why? 

Bob Shone writes:

"Medialens stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism' (Alert, 3/5/03)." ( 2008/11/28/medialens-monbiot-wilby-milne/)

The link is to a media alert from 2003, so we can easily check. This is what we actually wrote:

"The deeper problem with [David] Miller's article - a problem faced by all honest journalists wherever they are writing in the mainstream - is that it appears in the Guardian but does not mention the Guardian. Miller's article gives the impression that the Guardian is promoting open and honest discussion on media bias. But this is not so. In fact Miller's article avoids many of the most serious issues of how the media colluded with a dishonest government to take us to war - an extraordinarily serious violation of our democracy - and, as seriously, it allows the Guardian to point accusing fingers at other media while being itself guilty of similar bias. 

"We are well aware of the pressures facing Miller - mentions of the Guardian's failings would not have been welcome in his article. The problem facing dissidents is that it seems better to publish some of the truth in a national newspaper rather than none at all, and so we forever allow the 'liberal' press to publish watered down versions of media bias as if they were themselves free of bias. This helps obscure the extraordinary extent to which these same media outlets are manipulating the public in support of establishment goals. Furthermore, the sight of one media outlet criticising another gives the false impression that competitive pressures and internal clashes are protecting us from systemic media bias. 

"It is understood in the media that to criticise the host media providing such valuable exposure and publicity is in extremely poor taste and will surely result in a journalist falling from favour. For all the talk of 'professional journalism', media relations are remarkable in that they are actually much closer to social relations - a newspaper or magazine is viewed as a kind of 'friend'. If you hurt your friend's feelings - or, worse, her interests - your friend will naturally feel hurt and may well break off relations. It might be vital for democracy and freedom to hurt your friends feelings and interests, but that's not the point - employees do +not+ criticise the company product. This curious personalisation of corporate media/individual journalistic relations has a powerful effect on what journalists feel able to write. 

"The astonishing result is that we know of not one journalist writing in the mainstream willing to subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism. Because these media are part of the wider, profit-driven corporate media, journalists, with honourable exceptions, are also reluctant to criticise the media system as a whole, as this would clearly involve implicit criticism of their own media." (Chaining the Watchdog Part 2)

In other words, Shone's claim that we "stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism'" in the alert is simply false - we said no such thing. He misrepresented what we wrote. In our experience, this is a standard Shone tactic. It is also something you could easily have checked. 

We wrote in the same alert:

"Assuming that it is vital to challenge the mainstream media system, and assuming that this system will not itself host such a critique, what options are open to people determined to make such a challenge?" (Chaining the Watchdog Part 3)

Why would we adamantly demand something of journalists that we ourselves declare impossible, especially when we are anyway discussing alternatives?

As the above material makes clear, what we've actually said (endlessly, as Shone knows, having closely monitored our message board for years), is:

1) Journalists are unwilling and/or unable to criticise their host media, not just in their own media but anywhere. 

2) We understand why they don't, the pressures against such criticism are huge, including: external flak, internal censure, stalled career progress, demotion, dismissal, reaching the point where a journalist is deemed "radioactive" (unemployable).

3) Nevertheless, we believe it is one of the tasks of the public to pressure journalists to do what they can to be +more+ critical of their host media and the media system more generally, and to pressure the media to accept more criticism. As you noted in your Guardian column, it was our criticism that prompted you to discuss the issue of fossil fuel advertising in the first place ( commentisfree/2007/aug/14/ 

Our hope is that by generating public criticism, we can help give honest journalists leverage to push their editors to cover issues they would not normally consider. It seems to have worked in this case (also in the Independent and Independent on Sunday). That's extremely important. We are aware that we are in a sense demanding the impossible, but reality has an odd way of bending before the insistence that something +should+ be possible. This has nothing to do with stupidly insisting that journalists should subject their host media to intense criticism as a matter of course, as Shone is suggesting.

4) It is also our task to look for alternative ways to challenge the system. We have, for example, talked of the possibility of dissident journalists boycotting the corporate media.

We did criticise the New Statesman while we were writing for them (2003-2005) both in the magazine and in media alerts. For example, in the magazine itself:

"Companies such as BNFL have money to fund a 32-page supplement in the New Statesman (which is 40 per cent dependent on advertising and sponsorship). But you won't be reading 32-page supplements by the anti-war movement or radical green groups any time soon. The idea that money should buy influence in news reporting or commentary is deemed outrageous. But when it comes to advertising in our 'free press' - business is business." (

As Shone notes, citing us, we weren't critical of the New Statesman more often because we considered it small beer. We used our small column - 450 words once a month - to expose the big propaganda in the big media to a mainstream audience. Apart from two related alerts in autumn 2006, we have also paid the New Statesman very little critical attention since we stopped writing for it, for the same reason. 

In our New Statesman articles, which were always focused on corporate media propaganda, we were implicitly criticising almost everything the magazine said, for example, about Iraq. So when we commented in different New Statesman articles:

"Elite journalists are protected by a corporate media system locked into a status quo serving corporate interests - profit over people, profit over truth." (David Edwards, 'The powerful get an easy ride; Observations on media,' New Statesman, July 5, 2004)


"...with the establishment united in silence, the press has nothing to say." (David Edwards and David Cromwell, 'Rigorous? Don't make us laugh,' New Statesman, March 25, 2004)


"In his new book, Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis shows how the mainstream media promote one key concept above all others: 'the idea of Britain's basic benevolence'. The illusion is maintained, Curtis writes, by consistent bias that 'sanitises quite terrible policies and presents them as 'normal'. US-UK responsibility for suffering is always downplayed, never eliciting the attention or horror it deserves." (David Edwards, 'A strange kind of liberation; Observations on Iraq and the media,' New Statesman, May 19, 2003)

We were implicitly criticising just about every New Statesman journalist (John Pilger aside) and every editorial that appeared around those articles at the time. 

In February 2004, a time when we were writing the regular column, this appeared at the bottom of a media alert criticising then New Statesman political editor, John Kampfner:

Write to the John Kampfner, New Statesman political editor:

Copy your emails to Peter Wilby, New Statesman editor, and the magazine's letters page:

Both Kampfner and Wilby received numerous emails. It felt odd when one of us (Edwards) then chatted to Wilby on the phone to discuss the editing of the next New Statesman piece. Wilby was a kind and honest editor, we liked him and felt bad about some of the fierce emails he had received that had been copied to us. He responded graciously, but as you know, George, by mainstream standards this was completely impossible behaviour on our part. It just isn't done to cause a flood of complaints to be sent to the editor publishing your work. 

We put both Wilby and Kampfner's names at the bottom of another alert in May 2005. This may have been the last straw. Wilby was replaced by Kampfner, who rejected our next submission - that turned out to be the end of our regular column. So in deciding whether you should feel aggrieved, you can compare the above with Shone's comment:

"In other words, Medialens were concerned about holding onto their column. Direct 'full-frontal' criticism of the NS would endanger that."

The irony of Shone's argument is that we weren't concerned about holding onto, or losing, the column. We made almost no effort to get it going again after our submission was rejected (Kampfner did publish a piece by us a year later, in 2006). We have never tried very hard to be published in the corporate media - we prefer to encourage people to look outside the mainstream for honest material. That's one reason why we have rejected numerous invitations to appear on the BBC, particularly BBC2's Newsnight, but also on BBC1, BBC radio, ITV, CNN, and others. Shone is just wrong on every level.

A Milestone In Moral Depravity - Media Lens And The Guardian

It is telling, in fact shameful, that Shone, who claims to be so meticulous, forgot to mention the far more pertinent example (certainly from your point of view): our record of criticising the Guardian in and out of the Guardian. 

Of course we have criticised the Guardian endlessly in our alerts - both directly and implicitly as part of the corporate media system. But what about our criticism of the Guardian +in+ the Guardian? 

In the summer of 2004, then Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne invited us to submit a piece on media coverage of Iraq - he appeared to have it in mind to publish a piece quickly during the quiet 'silly season' when many MPs and journalists were away. We agreed on the condition that the article would include serious criticism of the Guardian. It may be that this delayed publication - after an agonising process, the piece finally appeared in the depths of winter, on December 15! 

While we were negotiating publication of the article, we put these names at the bottom of our September 29, 2004 alert:

Write to Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger:

Write to Seumas Milne, Guardian comments section editor:

These comments appeared directly above:

"As for The Guardian? Well, clearly, it would rather remain part of some grotesque agreement between reasonable gentlemen of the establishment. It wouldn't do for the paper to be +too+ critical [of Blair]. 

"Tens of thousands of [Iraqi] dead, hundreds of thousands of injured and grieving - a vast illegal act of mass murder. But for our 'liberal' press a vague gesture in the direction of an apology is a 'milestone' in Blair's rehabilitation. This is, itself, a milestone in moral depravity - urbane, well-heeled and well-spoken - of the most lethal kind." (Immoral Milestones)

Who knows, perhaps this helps explain why so many of our queries on the fate of our proposed article went unanswered by Milne, and why it took four months to reach the public.

Here's some of what we published in the December 15 Guardian article:

"Of 12,447 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003 on the Guardian Unlimited website, Ritter was mentioned in only 17, mostly in passing. Denis Halliday, who set up the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and who blamed the US and British governments for the huge death toll of Iraqi civilians under sanctions, was mentioned in two articles. His successor, Hans von Sponeck, who also resigned in protest at sanctions, received five mentions. The Independent mentioned Ritter only eight times in 5,648 articles on Iraq in 2003. Ritter's disarmament claim received fewer than a dozen brief mentions in the Guardian the year before. 

"The failure of the liberal media, including the Guardian and Independent, is vital to this debate because, while they are consistently more open than their conservative counterparts, they set the boundaries of permissible dissent. In the case of Iraq, those boundaries helped create a disaster." ( 2004/dec/15/media.pressandpublishing)


"We would argue that the media's failure on Iraq was not really a failure at all, but rather a classic product of 'balanced' professional journalism. The modern conception of objective reporting is little more than a century old. There was little concern that newspapers were partisan so long as the public was free to choose from a wide range of opinions. Newspapers dependent on advertisers for 75% of their revenues, such as the Guardian and Independent, would have been regarded as independent by few radicals and progressives in, say, the 1940s."

You can read the rest here: dec/15/media.pressandpublishing

We have never been invited back - the pieces we've offered have been rejected, our emails unanswered. A month after our Milne-commissioned piece appeared, we wrote in the New Statesman:

"The Guardian comment editor, Seumas Milne, has even had the gall to complain that the elections 'are routinely described by the BBC as Iraq's first free and democratic elections'.

"How convenient to take a free shot at the media's favourite punchbag, when not just Milne's own paper, but his entire industry, is pumping out exactly the same crass propaganda." (

We noted in the media alert version of this piece that Milne replied to our criticism:

"!!" (Unity In Deceit)

We commented:

"The confusion is understandable. Milne helped us publish an article strongly criticising Guardian performance in the Guardian itself in December - no mean achievement on his part. The unwritten media rule is that you back off from criticising people who help publish your work in this way."

Obviously, we knew Milne would see what we wrote in the New Statesman (and probably the alert).

Shone comments: "One wonders why Medialens were so hostile towards Milne."

It's worth re-reading what we wrote. Was it in fact 'hostile', or simply the kind of honesty that is not tolerated by the media? But isn't it interesting that it is interpreted as hostility?

Perhaps Shone should wonder what our criticism of Milne says about his charge that we are hypocrites. In fact, it is a good example of us living up to the standards he describes but which we do not in fact demand of journalists. As you know, it really is not done to publish high-profile criticism of a powerful gatekeeper who has recently opened his doors - most writers would do anything to avoid upsetting someone who has given them such an opportunity. As you also know, a foot in the door like that can potentially lead to a long, lucrative media career. So this was career-suicidal behaviour, as we well knew. It's worth reflecting, again, that Shone somehow forgot to mention any of this in his blog.

Should you feel aggrieved, George? Should Wilby? Should Milne? To be honest, we're not sure. It's true that we have been asking the impossible, putting people in difficult situations. But it seems to us that this is vital if we are to break the silence and reveal some truths about how the media stifles honest criticism. 

The problem is that, as a result of this silence, the public believe they are being given a reasonably accurate version of the war in Iraq, of Afghanistan, of climate change, and so on. The next time the media insist that, this time, an attack on a defenceless Third World country really is vital, the public will likely find it credible. The stakes are high, George - higher than your personal discomfort.

It may be hard to believe, but we really don't like putting people like you, someone we respect and admire, on the spot. We honestly don't do it with any hatred or vindictiveness. On the other hand, we are very happy to burn bridges, if doing so helps cast a light into some dark corners of the propaganda system. 

In the final analysis, we are all on the spot - the world is not changing fast enough. Again, if you are aggrieved, it's nothing compared to the real grief of millions of people surviving in the wreckage of Iraq, or the grief so many of us feel at the destruction of the climate and planet. Perhaps feeling uncomfortable is a price we all have to pay for progressive change. 

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell

Alerts 2008 Thu, 07 Apr 2011 09:21:09 +0000


Hectoring And Censoring - And Climate Catastrophe

Last week, Guardian News & Media (GNM) published ‘Living Our Values’, an independently audited account of the company’s annual performance on sustainability issues. GNM, which encompasses the Guardian, the Observer and, claims to have strong environmental ambitions. Its ongoing mission: to seek out and “explore subjects like climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality” in ever greater depth.

The Guardian’s ultimate aim is to be nothing less than "the world's leading liberal voice". (Siobhain Butterworth, ‘Open door. The readers' editor on... the Guardian's green and global mission,’ November 17, 2008; s/nov/17/readers-editor-guardian-sustainability-business)

An awkward point for the Guardian, mentioned by the audit, is that their environmental performance has been strongly criticised by one of their own columnists, George Monbiot. Last year, after a gentle nudge from Media Lens, Monbiot asked the Guardian and other newspapers to reject adverts for products and services that are particularly damaging to the climate: ads for gas guzzling cars and flights. He pointed out that, by accepting these ads, his editors "make the destruction of the biosphere seem socially acceptable”. (Monbiot, ‘The editorials urge us to cut emissions, but the ads tell a very different story,’ The Guardian, August 14, 2007; /2007/aug/14/

In the same column, Monbiot described most of the negative responses he received to his proposal as “inadequate”.

The Guardian’s latest audit comments on the controversy:

"Our role is neither to hector our readers nor to censor on their behalf. Our editorial coverage informs and influences their choices."

And yet the Guardian has consistently supported the ban of other destructive advertising. An April 1997 leader applauded one of New Labour’s key promises:

“Now Britain is on the verge of making a much belated further step in health promotion: a ban on tobacco advertising... Any industry whose product kills 300 of its own customers every day will have one over-riding concern: recruiting another 300 more consumers a day to ensure its survival...” (Leader, ‘Dealing with the killing weeds - Tobacco promotion should be banned as well as advertising,’ The Guardian, April 18, 1997)

In 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that global warming was already contributing to more than 150,000 deaths each year - 410 deaths every day. The toll could double by 2030. (Juliet Eilperin, ‘Climate Shift Tied To 150,000 Fatalities,’ Washington Post, November 17, 2005; content/article/2005/11/16/AR2005111602197.html)

In its reply to Monbiot’s calls for an advertising ban, the Guardian wrote:

“We would rather encourage advertisers... to become more sustainable. We have just appointed a commercial sustainability manager who will be considering ways to achieve this...” (Monbiot, op. cit)

But as the same editors noted of the tobacco industry in the 1997 leader cited above: “The various voluntary restrictions on advertising and promotion have been shown to be a sham.” Attempts to encourage fossil-fuel advertisers to become more sustainable have also resulted in sham and deception on a grand scale.

Guardian leaders since 1997 have been happy “to hector... and censor” on tobacco advertising, for example in a 2002 editorial entitled, ‘A healthy ban on adverts: Motor sport should be included as well’:

“It is not too late for ministers to take a stronger line against motor sport, which has been given an exemption until 2006. It is not that difficult for sports to attract alternative sponsors.” (Leading article, ‘A healthy ban on adverts: Motor sport should be included as well,’ The Guardian, August 23, 2002)

The Guardian editors take a cheap shot in their latest audit when they emphasise that they found more objections to ads for fashion brands that use low cost labour than to ads for cars and budget airlines (11% of Guardian readers and 10% of website users).

Why would readers feel strongly about the need to ban ads for high-emission transport when the subject has almost never been discussed by the media? The public needs access to serious discussion of the issues before it can reach an informed opinion. This is something media like the Guardian have never provided.

Ironically, Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of the Guardian and Observer, states in the audit:

“One of the roles of the media is to boil down intensely complex subjects and make them comprehensible. If these issues are not aired and placed on the public agenda and debated with facts that are reliable, then it lets everyone off the hook.” (Alan Rusbridger, quoted, in Guardian News & Media, Jo Confino and Emma Wright, editors, ‘Living our values. Sustainability report,’ November 17, 2008;

The Guardian has certainly let itself off the hook. Discussion of the media’s heavy reliance on advertising, and its corrosive impact on news coverage, is dangerous territory where journalists dare not venture.

Instead, Rusbridger baldly asserts: "As long as the journalism is free and we allow George Monbiot to criticise us, and we feel free to criticise the people who advertise - that is more important than advertising."

The problem is that Rusbridger literally does mean George Monbiot. He is the only Guardian journalist who has seriously addressed the issue, and he is the only one likely to be able to do so in future. A lone voice is manageable; the Guardian would have a serious problem if several journalists on the paper began criticising major advertisers, who might well decide to switch to more supportive media platforms. This is a grave threat when advertising provides around 75 per cent of the Guardian’s revenue. (Peter Preston, ‘War, What Is It Good For?,’ The Observer, October 7, 2001)

Guardian Gloss

The Guardian’s ‘Living Our Values’ (LOV) audit is, we are told, “up front about the contradictions between editorial and advertising.” The curious wording suggests that the famous “firewall” protecting editorial from advertising is not quite as all-consuming as we are led to believe.

Ownership by the Scott Trust puts the Guardian “in a privileged position,” the report continues. The newspaper has to be "profit-seeking, efficient and cost-effective," of course, but it is "values-driven, not profit-driven". The words are reassuring - and contradicted when the report reveals the underlying reality:

“The reason GNM is able to fulfil its core purpose [providing “liberal journalism”] is because of the financial support of its parent company Guardian Media Group (GMG). Over the past five years alone, GMG has invested £207m in GNM, part of which has gone into new all-colour presses and the development of our global website.

“GMG is able to do this by running a portfolio of profit-maximising businesses in areas such as radio, regional papers, property and second-hand car sales.” (LOV, p. 20)

The Guardian, then, is heavily dependent on “profit-maximising” businesses not normally associated with sustainability or “values-driven” performance.

Asked by the Scott Trust to restate the Guardian’s “values for the online era”, Alan Rusbridger declaims: “the trust exists to preserve the Guardian and its journalistic traditions in perpetuity... our journalists' main relationships are with our colleagues and with readers, viewers or listeners.”

In the real world, numerous studies have exposed the close relationship between journalists, advertisers and bias. In 1978, Columbia Journalism Review published one researcher’s telling discovery:

“In magazines that accept cigarette advertising, I was unable to find a single article, in seven years of publication, that could have given readers any clear notion of the nature and extent of the medical and social havoc being wreaked by the cigarette smoking habit... advertising revenue can indeed silence the editors of American magazines.” (R.C. Smith, Columbia Journalism Review, 1978, January. See:

Rusbridger also omitted to mention the journalists embedded with the military, with the political establishment, with corporate interests - producing material that is inevitably compromised by the need to carefully nurture influential news sources. Readers may recall, for example, the front-page Pentagon propaganda targeting Iran under Simon Tisdall’s byline last May. (Media Alert, ‘Pentagon Propaganda Occupies The Guardian’s Front Page,’ May 24, 2007)

Rusbridger continues:

“There should be a high premium on transparency, collaboration and discussion. At the same time we should allow plurality of opinion ... the papers should promote minority views as well as mainstream argument and should encourage dissent.” (LOV, p. 11)

Some dissent, though, is not welcome. Since the Guardian’s cynical smearing of Noam Chomsky in October 2005, Rusbridger has flatly refused to engage with us or our readers - in the last three years he has not replied to a single one of our emails. Recently, in response to an article on media fakery on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, we posted a comment about the Guardian’s own fakery in its treatment of Chomsky. The Guardian moderators deleted our comments and several others.

When we challenged the Guardian’s censorship, we were told our relevant remarks were off topic and had led to discussion that was “problematic.”. When we offered to publish a critical piece about the Guardian and the Scott Trust on Comment Is Free, we were asked by editor Georgina Henry: “But why would I be interested in commissioning piece about the Guardian and the Scott Trust from you?” (Email, August 22, 2007)

And yet Rusbridger says in the audit:

“We should behave fairly and allow our opponents a voice.”

Admirable sentiments of this kind are sprinkled throughout:

“Social justice has always been at the heart of our journalism.” (LOV, p. 5)

The report makes no mention of the fact that members of the Guardian Media Group Board and/or the Scott Trust have links with the corporate media, New Labour, Cadbury Schweppes, KPMG Corporate Finance, the chemicals company Hickson International Plc, Fenner Plc, the investment management company Rathbone Brothers Plc, global investment company Lehman Brothers, global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, the Bank of England...

Are we really to believe that a newspaper embedded in these establishment and corporate networks, and dependent on advertisers for 75 per cent of its revenues, can provide uncompromised coverage of a world dominated, and exploited, by these same powerful interests?

The Guardian claims to “desire to build trust in the media by becoming increasingly transparent about the decisions we reach and the way we implement them in both our editorial and commercial operations.” (LOV, p. 3)

A good place to start would be for GNM to tell us exactly how much money it takes from oil giants, car companies, airlines and other businesses heavily dependent on fossil-fuel consumption.

When we emailed George Monbiot for his response to the Guardian’s latest comments on advertising, he did not reply. Monbiot is a decent, well-intentioned person - we have great respect for him - but he is caught between the rock of honest dissent and the hard place of corporate priorities. A partial explanation for his silence is perhaps found on page 7 of LOV, where the Guardian unveils a plan:

“Expanding the role of George Monbiot, one of the most respected columnists writing about sustainability, to create video interviews with major figures.”

This is further evidence, if any were needed, that Monbiot continues to be used as a fig leaf to cover the Guardian’s failure to challenge power. Given the “profit-maximising” goals of the Guardian’s parent company, and the establishment figureheads of the Scott Trust, how could it be any other way?

The concession of an expanded role for Monbiot again recalls a favoured tactic of the tobacco industry. A memo from the company Philip Morris noted:

“... by opening a dialogue followed by a few minor concessions, the industry can be saved from heavy legislation for at least two to three more years.” (Philip Morris, 1976, 'Trust US We’re The Tobacco Industry,' Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids; global/framework/docs/TrustUs.pdf)

In a recent guest media alert, former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, wrote of dissident writers like Monbiot, Robert Fisk and John Pilger:

“However grateful we should be to these dissident writers, their relegation to the margins of the commentary pages of Britain's ‘leftwing’ media serves a useful purpose for corporate interests. It helps define the ‘character’ of the British media as provocative, pluralistic and free-thinking - when in truth they are anything but. It is a vital component in maintaining the fiction that a professional media is a diverse media.”



The Observer Smears Climate Activism

Despite the fine words of the ’Living Our Values’ audit, the Guardian and the Observer are part of a corporate system that is determined to prevent the public from interfering with the maximisation of profits.

Earlier this month, the Observer smeared climate activists by highlighting police warnings of a “growing threat of eco-terrorism”. The alleged threat is presented by a group called Earth First!, which the paper claimed “has supporters who believe that reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths will help to protect the planet”. (Mark Townsend and Nick Denning, ‘Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists: Fear of deadly attack by lone maverick as officers alert major firms to danger of green extremism,’ The Observer, November 9, 2008)

The Observer implied no less than three times that Earth First! activists would not only like to see the Earth’s human population drastically reduced, but might be willing to take action to make that happen. The impression given was of a group bent on the mass murder of billions!

And yet, almost comically, the article focused on police concerns that “a ‘lone maverick’ eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons”.

If an entire group really is advocating mass murder, then presumably the concern is not for “a lone maverick”. And some kind of evidence - weaponry, plans, perhaps a declaration of intent - should be available to justify these extreme allegations. But none was provided by the Observer.

Worse still, the article linked eco-terrorists to some very sane and peaceable climate camps in Britain. A police unit, the Observer reported, “is currently monitoring blogs and internet traffic connected to a network of UK climate camps and radical environmental movements under the umbrella of Earth First!, which has claimed responsibility for a series of criminal acts in recent months.”

It seems that activists “are doing research of possible targets... they could research an airline and see how many of its aircraft are not environmentally friendly.”

The article thus insinuated that green terrorists “could” target airliners - a mere hypothetical possibility, but obviously a key public fear since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

A group of four academics from the universities of Aston, Keele, Kent and Southampton responded to the allegations in a letter to the Observer:

“Neither in Britain nor in the US have even the most radical environmental activists attacked people rather than property... Research on environmental direct action taken in the name of Earth First! in the past 16 years shows that activists are overwhelmingly committed to nonviolence, and are not using terrorism, violence, or any other direct action to seek to reduce the Earth's human population.” (

And what of the claim that the climate camps fall “under the umbrella” of the Earth First! group? We asked Kevin Smith, a member of the climate camp media working group, someone who has been involved in climate change activism since 2000, if this was an accurate description:

“No, not at all. Not in the slightest. There is no ‘umbrella’ for Climate Camp. It is a stand alone process. It involves a number of individuals who have been active in Earth First! networks, but no organisation has any sort of official representation or affiliation within the climate camp process.” (Email to Media Lens, November 18, 2008)

Likewise, the alleged involvement of a “network of climate camps” - a phrase perhaps intended to trigger fears of al Qaeda-style “cells” - is a myth. There have only ever been three climate camps in the UK - one every year for the last three years. The last was in August, lasting a week. No climate camp has ever resulted in a conviction for a violent offence.

Given the reality of impending climate catastrophe, the Observer’s demonisation of peaceable direct action is deeply irresponsible. The crisis is now so severe that everyone from Al Gore to leading NASA scientist James Hansen is supporting civil disobedience in an attempt to try and get something done. As Smith points out:

“The real extremists are the companies - such as E.ON and BAA - who are hell-bent on profiting from increasing C02 emissions by burning more coal and building more runways, and the government which is doing their bidding.” (Smith, letter to the Observer, email to Media Lens, November 17, 2008)

So what was the purpose of the Observer article? In their letter, the four academics wrote:

“When, in the late 1990s, some American politicians and media started to call activists 'eco-terrorists', it was the start of a concerted campaign which prepared the way for repressive policing and new laws curtailing fundamental civil liberties. Is the same thing about to happen here?”

Direct action is a potent way of pressing for political change. By associating that action with terrorism, the Observer is helping to dissuade the public from offering the support it urgently needs. More insidiously still, if the security apparatus subsequently chooses to crush this form of dissent, then the public will be less likely to object in the mistaken belief that a deadly “eco-terrorist” threat has been averted.

Chalk One For Media Activism - The Observer Withdraws The Story

On November 23, Stephen Pritchard, the Observer’s readers’ editor, wrote of the eco-terrorism article:

“It's perfectly legitimate to report police security concerns, but none of the statements were substantiated. No website links were offered, no names were mentioned, no companies identified and no police source would go on the record.” ( /2008/nov/23/readers-editor-climate-change)

He added:

“We've been here before. Other newspapers reported on a predicted 'summer of hate' at climate camps that never materialised and the Press Complaints Commission found against the Evening Standard at climate campers were planning attacks at Heathrow... I can't verify that or the fears about mass murder because, despite repeated requests, Nectu won't respond. Accordingly, The Observer has decided to withdraw the story.”

Kevin Smith sent us his response:

“On the one hand, I obviously think it’s great that the article has been taken down. I think this has real consequences in terms of it not being able to be used in court at a later date for the granting of injunctions and so on. I'm also really pleased in that between this and the upholding of the complaint against the Evening Standard last year at the PCC [Press Complaints Commission], we are sending out a message to the mainstream media that people can't just print outrageous lies and slander against us and get away with it. It sounds like the paper was besieged from a number of different angles by people expressing their dismay at the article - it's really heartening that so many people took this article seriously and took it upon themselves to make complaints.

“I appreciate the efforts of Stephen Pritchard in going through the process of holding the journalists in question accountable and making the decision to retract the piece, but I don't want to get into the mentality of being grateful when it’s just horrendous that the article got printed in the first place. These 'green backlash' pieces were common at the height of the anti-roads protests in the Daily Mail and such papers, but I didn't expect that sort of thing from the Observer.

“I'm also incredulous that such odious, shoddy journalism was able to make its way through all the various layers, people who should have checked it out and spotted it for what it was.

“It's difficult when we spend so much time having to talk about the heavy-handedness of the police and repudiate these sorts of insidious aspersions, when what we are trying to do is have a serious conversation with the mainstream media about the real issues - the unsustainability of the model of constant economic growth in the face of the enormous ecological catastrophe we are facing.” (Email to Media Lens, November 25, 2008)

The last point is the most important. Media like the Guardian and the Observer are run by human beings - people who live on this planet, who have children and grandchildren who will be required to do the same over the next few decades. When will these journalists start having the kind of serious conversation about the real issues that people like Kevin Smith are seeking? When will they wake up from their glossy, PR version of the world to the reality of what we are doing to our planet, to the unimaginable disaster that is overtaking us?

What will it take before they wake up, before we all wake up, to the truth of where we are at this very moment, here, now?


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor 

Siobhain Butterworth, readers’ editor of the Guardian

John Mulholland, editor of the Observer

Mark Townsend, the Observer

Please send a copy of your emails to us 

Alerts 2008 Thu, 07 Apr 2011 09:11:48 +0000

In Part 1 of this alert, we noted how journalists who threaten their employers' interests - and the interests of their key political and corporate allies - tend to be unceremoniously dumped. We also described how the force of the law can be deployed to silence dissidents seeking to expose chronic media bias.

In Part 2, we hosted journalist Jonathan Cook's splendid analysis in response. Cook's main point was that media managers rarely have to take such extreme measures because few journalists "make it to senior positions unless they have already learnt how to toe the line."

An interesting question arises, then, in the age of the internet: To what extent will these same ultra-sensitive media companies tolerate public criticism? For example, will they allow visitors to their websites to post material that is critical of their journalism, and perhaps even damaging to their interests? Last month, we tested the limits of dissent on the Guardian's Comment Is Free (CiF) website.

On September 20, we posted a message on CiF in response to an article written by Guardian journalist Emma Brockes. Brockes had commented wryly on Tania Head, a 9/11 survivor, "of whom it has been alleged that she was not on the 78th floor of the South Tower on September 11th as she claimed, but may have been in Spain at the time..."

Brockes added:

"But well below the level of mental illness a lot of low-level fakery is actively embraced and rewarded." ( 2008/sep/20/uselections2008.usa?commentpage= 1&commentposted=1)

We posted the following comment:

"This is from the same journalist [Brockes] who wrote in October 2005:

"'[Noam] Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.'"

In our post, we described Chomsky's outrage at the suggestion that he had denied that the Serb killings of Bosnians at Srebrenica in 1995 constituted a massacre. In 2005, Chomsky wrote to us of Brockes's article:

"Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear... her piece de resistance, the claim that I put the word 'massacre' in quotes. Sheer fabrication."

Chomsky described his treatment by Brockes and the Guardian as "one of the most dishonest and cowardly performances I recall ever having seen in the media." (See our media alert: 'Smearing Chomsky'.)

We were interested to see how these comments would be received by the Guardian website. In the event, our message remained in place for 48 hours but was then deleted. The site moderator explained in an email:

"The article that Medialens replied to was about emotional fakery and its role in American political culture. The comment that was removed did not address this topic but instead raised a past journalistic error by the author." (Email to Media Lens, September 23, 2008)

In fact, while Brockes had discussed emotional fakery, focusing on "self dramatisation", she had also written: "fakery no less shameless goes on every day in the political debate and the way we the audience internalise it. McCain flatly contradicts himself within the space of a single day."

Political fakery and self-contradiction were exactly the themes of our post, but it was deleted as "off topic" by the Guardian gatekeepers.

Only a handful of comments had been posted in response to Brockes's article. When we and one or two other people posted messages protesting the deletions, these were also deleted and someone called the Community Moderator shut down the debate, writing: "This discussion will now close, as it has mostly been off topic." A final message appeared: "Comments are now closed for this entry."

The website shows five messages deleted alongside just nine posts remaining. Other posts had been removed altogether: sep/20/uselections2008.usa?commentpage= 1&commentposted=1

Self-Deceits Held In Common - Groupthink

We have seen how the propaganda system is filtered by a range of carrot and stick pressures: professional training, selection for obedience, promotions and demotions, sackings, legal pressures, and the rest. The final piece of the jigsaw is much more elusive and mysterious. 

In his book Vital Lies, Simple Truths, psychologist Daniel Goleman examined the human capacity for self-deception. According to Goleman, we build our version of reality around key frameworks of understanding, or "schemas", which we then protect from conflicting facts and ideas. The more important a schema is for our sense of identity and security, the less likely we are to accept evidence contradicting it. Goleman wrote:

"Foremost among these shared, yet unspoken, schemas are those that designate what is worthy of attention, how it is to be attended to - and what we choose to ignore or deny... People in groups also learn together how not to see - how aspects of shared experience can be veiled by self-deceits held in common." (Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths - The Psychology of Self-Deception, Bloomsbury 1997, p.158)

Goleman concluded: "The ease with which we deny and dissemble - and deny and dissemble to ourselves that we have denied or dissembled - is remarkable."

Psychologist Donald Spence noted the sophistication of this process:

"We are tempted to conclude that the avoidance is not random but highly efficient - the person knows just where not to look." (Ibid, p.107)

This tendency to self-deception appears to be greatly increased when we join as part of a group. Groups create a sense of belonging, a "we-feeling", which can provide even greater incentives to reject painful truths. As psychologist Irving Janis reports, the 'we-feeling' lends "a sense of belonging to a powerful, protective group that in some vague way opens up new potentials for each of them." (Ibid, p.186)

Members are thus reluctant to say or do anything that might lessen these feelings of security and empowerment. In this situation, even pointing out the risks surrounding a group decision may seem to represent an unforgivable attack on the group itself. This is 'groupthink'. Individual self-deception, combined with groupthink, helps explain why journalists are able to ignore even the most obvious facts.

In our September 16 Media Alert, we wrote that the Independent had devoted 153 words in the first two weeks of September to the flooding catastrophe in Haiti. By that time, 1,000 people were reported killed with 1 million made homeless out of a population of 9 million. 

In response, the Independent's former Washington correspondent, now Asia correspondent, Andrew Buncombe, wrote to us:

Dear Davids, Hello and best wishes. Hope all is well. Your latest alert about Haiti is as thought-provoking as ever but I think there are a couple of clear errors you've made that ought to be cleared up. Firstly you say The Independent did not report the hurricanes raging down on the country and that "the Independent has not mentioned Haiti since September 5. But the paper has at least helped explain its own prejudice". That simple point clearly is not true. Guy Adams filed on September 7 a page lead pointing out the chaos facing untold thousands. americas/haiti-in-crisis- after-tropical-storm-claims-more-than- 500-lives-921716.html

But beyond that you also claim "This indifference has led to an appalling level of non-reporting, not just of the latest floods, but also of the killing of unarmed civilians by United Nations forces (Minustah), the Haitian National Police, and death squads". You say a raid in Cite Soleil in July 2005 was reported only by a few US newspapers but that is not the case. The Independent reported on the raid and revealed evidence collated by Kevin Pina that unarmed civilians were killed. world/americas/peacekeepers-accused-after-killings-in-haiti-500570.html

This was followed up in Feb 2007 by more details of civilians being killed by UN troops.

You're correct in saying that Haiti does not get as much coverage as the US but your claim that the paper has not reported on Haiti, its problems and its ongoing challenges is not true. A simple search on Google for articles about Haiti over the last few years would quickly show that. Best wishes, Andy Buncombe

Andrew Buncombe
Asia Correspondent
The Independent

We replied on September 21:

Dear Andrew

Many thanks for your email. You're right about Guy Adams' September 7 article. For some reason, that wasn't picked up by our LexisNexis search. We note, though, that the piece devoted 360 words to the disaster in Haiti. At the time we wrote the alert, that figure could have been added to the 153 words mentioning Haiti in the paper that month. That would have totalled 513 words for a 16-day period when perhaps 1000 people died and utter catastrophe befell the island.

You write:

"You say a raid in Cite Soleil in July 2005 was reported only by a few US newspapers but that is not the case."

In fact we weren't commenting on UK reporting in that section. We were describing research presented in Dan Beeton's report on +US+ media performance: 'Bad News From Haiti: U.S. Press Misses the Story.' We wrote:

"... only a few US newspapers mentioned the incident. These mostly portrayed the incident as a successful UN attempt to eliminate gang members - reports of civilian deaths were ignored.

"The US press has given similar treatment to atrocities committed by the Haitian National Police."

We thought it was clear that we were referring to Beeton's analysis solely of the US press, but perhaps we could have been clearer.

It's hard not to reflect on the deeper significance of your response. You're right that the Independent devoted 513 rather than 153 words to the devastation of Haiti from September 1-16. But, really, so what? Would you be focusing on this tiny difference in assessing the Independent's performance if you were not working for the paper? Wouldn't a dispassionate, rational observer join with us in criticising the Independent's appalling indifference to the disaster this month rather than arguing that "your claim that the paper has not reported on Haiti, its problems and its ongoing challenges is not true"? We did not argue that the Independent has "not reported on Haiti". We argued that its performance, particularly this month in offering a few hundred words - less than one word per death - was pitiful. We have a great deal of respect for you. But isn't your response on this occasion an example of a kind of corporate 'groupthink'?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell

It is painful for a journalist to be aware of both his or her employer's shortcomings and his or her powerlessness to remedy them. As Daniel Goleman has noted, "when one can't do anything to change the situation, the other recourse is to change how one perceives it."  (Goleman, op. cit, p.148)

This, finally, is the key human trait that enables "brainwashing under freedom" - journalists are able to perceive as important only that which allows them to thrive as successful components of the corporate system. The price is high, as Norman Mailer noted:

"There is an odour to any Press Headquarters that is unmistakeable... the unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine." (Mailer, The Time of Our Time, Little Brown, 1998, p.457)


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Matt Seaton, editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free website. Ask him why he rejected Greg Philo's excellent piece.

Write to the the Sunday Herald. Ask them why Martin Tierney will no longer be reviewing books for them:
Email: and

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:09:40 +0000

Appearance And Reality In The Relaunch Of Brand America

In 1997, the British media filled with talk of "historic" change. Blair's victory that year "bursts open the door to a British transformation," the Independent declared. (Neal Ascherson, 'Through the door he can begin to create a freer land,' The Independent, May 4, 1997)

A Guardian leader saluted the nation: "Few now sang England Arise, but England had risen all the same." (Leader, 'A political earthquake,' The Guardian, May 2, 1997)

The editors predicted that, by 2007, Blair's triumph would be seen as "one of the great turning-points of British political history... the moment when Britain at last gave itself the chance to construct a modern liberal socialist order." (Ibid)

The Observer assured readers that the Blair government would create "new worldwide rules on human rights" and implement "tough new limits on arms sales." (

This, after all, was the dawn of Blair's "ethical" foreign policy.

It was a dawn of the dead - Blair left behind him the almost unimaginable horror of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A rare poll conducted by Ipsos last January of 754 Iraqi refugees in Syria found that "every single person interviewed by Ipsos reported experiencing at least one traumatic event in Iraq prior to their arrival in Syria." ( vtx/iraq?page=news&id=479616762)

UNHCR estimated that one in five of those registered with the agency in Syria over the previous year were classified as "victims of torture and/or violence." The survey showed that fully 89 per cent of those interviewed suffered depression and 82 per cent anxiety. This was linked to terrors endured before they fled Iraq - 77 per cent of those interviewed reported being affected by air bombardments, shelling or rocket attacks. Eighty per cent had witnessed a shooting... and so on. (Ibid)

John Pilger was a lonely voice in 1997 warning that Blair was a dangerous fraud, a neocon in sheep's clothing. As Pilger later pointed out, the media could hardly plead ignorance

"Blair's Vichy-like devotion to Washington was known: read his speeches about a new order led by America. His devotion to Rupert Murdoch, who flew him and Cherie Booth around the world first class, was known. His devotion to an extreme neoliberal Thatcherite economics was known..." (John Pilger, Blair's bloody hands,' March 4, 2005;

Over the past two weeks - one decade and three wars later - the same media have been insisting, as one, that US president-elect Barrack Obama is another "new dawn". A Guardian leader observed:

"They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world...

"Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America's hope and, in no small way, ours too." ( 2008/nov/06/barackobama-uselections2008)

In the Guardian's news section, Oliver Burkeman described the victory as "historic, epochal, path breaking". But there was more:

"Just being alive at a time when it's so evident that history is being made was elating and exhausting." ( 2008/nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama)

In 2003, the Guardian's foreign editor, Ed Pilkington, told us:

"We are not in the business of editorialising our news reports." (Email, November 15, 2003)

Someone forgot to tell Burkeman, indeed the entire Guardian news team. At times like these, the media's claims to balanced coverage seem to belong to a different universe. Over the last two weeks, the public has been subjected to a one-way delusional deluge by the media. The propaganda is such that comments made by independent US presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, appear simply shocking:

"What we're seeing is the highest level of resignation and apathy and powerlessness I've ever seen. We're not talking about hoopla. We're not talking about 'hope'. We're not talking about rhetoric. We're not talking about 'rock star Obama'. We're talking about the question that is asked everywhere I go: 'What is left for the American people to decide other than their own personal lives under more restrictive circumstances year after year?' And the answer is: almost nothing." (Interview,, November 4; content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2717)

Nader says of Obama: "This is show business what you're seeing." The crucial point: "Obama doesn't like to take on power." (Ibid)

But our media, passionately committed to 'balance' though they claim to be, are not interested. Their view (or so they claim): Obama's victory is a wonderful, transformational moment for the world.

The message is enhanced by precisely the abandonment of any pretence of impartiality. This might be termed the 'Get Real!' stratagem of propaganda swamping. The suggestion is that the truth is so obvious, so marvellous, that it is churlish to be concerned with balance. When the whole media system is screaming at us to be overjoyed, something is wrong - life is just not that straightforward.

The same version of events has been repeated right across the media. The Times's leading warmonger under Bush-Blair-Brown, Gerard Baker, commented: "there haven't been many days preceded by more energy and freighted with much greater historic significance than this one". (Baker, 'Amid the silence, citizens will make history with their sacred rite,' The Times, November 4, 2008)

The BBC's Justin Webb wrote:

"On every level America will be changed by this result - its impact will be so profound that the nation will never be the same." (

David Usborne gushed for the non-editorialising news pages of the Independent:

"As tears wetted a thousand cheeks in the Chicago crowd, it was clear that the significance of Mr Obama's victory may take some while to sink in." ( barack-obama-wins-his-place-in-history-992750.html)

How to communicate the impact?

"Call it the demise of cynicism or the end of apathy. The country that pretends to be the standard-bearer of the democracy and presumes, indeed, to export it to the other countries around the world was living up to its own standards."

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News did not disappoint:

"Hello history (to use the word of the times). What a staggering and indescribable moment this is. Barack Obama's graceful acceptance of what had seemed both inevitable and impossible is up there equalling any political event since the downing of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela." (Snowmail, November 5, 2008)

And the basis for this staggeringly important moment?

"Even after so many months of speech-making it's still not clear what are the concrete changes that may now ensue and in particular, there are some big foreign policy areas where Obama is not promising a hugely different tack from Bush..." (Ibid)

As we will see below, the amazing fact is that this eruption of media hype is based on essentially nothing. Obama has had little to say about what he will do, and what he has said has been depressing for anyone hoping for genuine change. Matthew Parris summed it up in the Times:

"Here we have a handsome, dashing and intelligent man, a man with generous instincts and a silver tongue; but a man with no distinctive plan for government that he has seen fit to share with us; a daring opportunist; somebody we may one day judge as a sort of Tony Blair with brains. And here we go again, all over again, hook, line and sinker." (Matthew Parris, 'Calm down! He's not President of the World,' The Times, November 8, 2008)

The former Europe minister and arch-Blairite, Denis MacShane, also unwittingly supplied a note of caution:

"I shut my eyes when I listen to this guy [Obama] and it could be Tony. He is doing the same thing that we did in 1997." (Tom Baldwin, 'Blair team look in mirror of history,' The Times, November 8, 2008)

Obama And Iraq

As discussed above, the media's propaganda swamping on Obama - of which we have sampled only a fraction - is based on almost nothing at all. Tariq Ali commented on Democracy Now

"As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn't promise very much, basically talked in clichés and synthetic slogans like 'change we can believe in.' No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to Afghanistan, what he said was worse than McCain..." ( president_elect_obama_and_the_future)

Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer:

"Iraq and Afghanistan are the sharp end of the partnership between Britain and the United States. Senior members of the British government quite candidly confess: 'We don't have a particularly clear view about what they want to do.'" ( 2008/nov/09/obama- administration-brown-cameron-sarkozy)

And yet, in the face of Obama's silence, and flat rejection of progressive policies, the media has sought to portray him as an all-new "dawn". Thus, Jonathan Freedland wrote in his open letter to Obama:

"You have promised to... end the war in Iraq." (Freedland, 'A few thoughts on how to handle the world's most potent political weapon,' The Guardian, November 5, 2008)

In the same newspaper, Julian Borger described Obama's goals: "US troops will be pulled out of Iraq in the next 16 months..." ( nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama6)

A Times leader asked: "How quickly can the United States military withdraw from Iraq?" ( leading_article/article5084156.ece)

We doubt any journalist on the Times actually believes Obama is intending to withdraw US troops from Iraq (in the intended meaning of the term).

In the Guardian, Jonathan Steele supplied a more realistic appraisal:

"... his position contains massive inconsistencies... he has not repudiated the war on terror. Rather, he insists that by focusing excessively on Iraq, the Bush administration 'took its eye off the ball'. The real target must be Afghanistan and if Osama bin Laden is spotted in Pakistan, bombing must be used there too." (

Steele commented on the number of troops Obama is planning to keep in Iraq:

"Officials on his team say it could number as many as 50,000 troops. Even if much of this force remains on bases and is barely visible to Iraqi civilians (much as the 4,500 British at Basra airfield are), it cannot avoid symbolising the fact that the occupation continues." (Ibid)

Obama - Hawk

John Pilger - who was right about Blair in 1997 and who is surely right about Obama now - also rejects the mainstream consensus:

"Like all serious presidential candidates, past and present, Obama is a hawk and an expansionist. He comes from an unbroken Democratic tradition, as the war-making of presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton demonstrates." (

Obama, after all, has supported Colombia's "right to strike terrorists who seek safe-havens across its borders." ( 2008/06/pilger-obama-truly-bush) He has promised to continue America's fierce economic strangulation of Cuba. He has promised to support an "undivided Jerusalem" as Israel's capital.

In August, Obama said he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government:

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." ( domesticNews/idUSN0132206420070801)

He has also said: "We will kill Bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida." (,22606,24464976-912,00.html)

ZNet's Michael Albert commented last week:

"My guess is, sadly, that within one week, literally one week, Obama's staff and cabinet choices will make decisively evident that without mass activism forcing new outcomes, change will stop at the surface. I fervently hope I am wrong." (Albert, 'Obama Mania?', ZNet, November 7, 2008)

Albert appears to have been vindicated. Vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a pro-war Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, helped push through NAFTA and favoured the war on Iraq. Alexander Cockburn writes of him:

"He's a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians." (

In a co-authored book, Emanuel wrote:

"We need to fortify the military's 'thin green line' around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops." (Ibid)

Nader comments on Obama:

"What he's basically doing so far is giving the Clinton crowd a second chance. Rahm Emanuel? He's the worst of Clinton. Spokesman for Wall Street, Israel, globalization." (Ibid)

Conclusion - Relaunching The Brand

We are to believe that the US political system that Ralph Nader accurately describes as "a two-party dictatorship in thraldom to giant corporations," has produced a staggeringly different, progressive individual. And yet Nader has described how he was himself locked out of the election. He was not allowed to participate in the televised debates and lack of media coverage consigned his campaign to oblivion. He wrote to Obama:

"Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys... Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?" ( index.php?context=va&aid=10809)

It is no accident that the entire media system is so fervently announcing "historic" change. The American and British political brands have been badly battered and bloodied by utter disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the fiscal chaos of the "credit crunch". The insanity of greed-driven militarism enforcing catastrophic 'solutions' has become all too obvious, as has the provision of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us.

And so the American political brand must be rebirthed, resold, relaunched as a fresh start under new management.

We are being put through a crash-course in "Learning to love America again," as the Telegraph put it. (Iain Martin, 'The election of Barack Obama,' Daily Telegraph, November 6, 2008)

A leader in the Times on November 5 could hardly have stated the message more clearly:

"The American nation will replenish the confidence that it has lately lost. In the eyes of the world, the slate will be clean and the pretext, always spurious, for anti-Americanism has been removed." ( comment/leading_article/article5084156.ece)


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to the BBC's Justin Webb

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Julian Borger at the Guardian

Siobhain Butterworth, readers' editor of the Guardian

Jon Snow at Channel 4 News

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:08:52 +0000

Media Silent On Evidence Of Israeli Targeting Of Youngsters

On the afternoon of Thursday 28 February, 2008, a group of Palestinian boys were playing football on some open ground near their homes in the Gaza Strip. At around 3.20pm, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the boys, killing four of them instantly and seriously injuring another three. The four dead boys were Omar Hussein Dardouna, aged 14, Dardouna Deib Dardouna, aged 12, Mohammed Na'im Hammouda, aged 9, and Ali Munir Dardouna who was just 8.

Palestinian human rights fieldworkers investigated the circumstances of this attack by Israeli forces. They concluded there was no Palestinian resistance in the area at the time and that the boys "must have been clearly visible to the [Israeli] aircraft that fired the missile."

Similar cases abound. A new study by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 68 children died in Gaza between June 2007 - June 2008 (PCHR press release, October 21, 2008; PressR/English/2008/2008/43-2008.html). Over the same period, 12 children were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The report highlights the "deliberate targeting of civilians, including children". (Palestinian Council for Human Rights, 'Blood on their hands. Child killings by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip. June 2007 - June 2008', October 22, 2008, p. 4; downloads/pdf/081021-pchr-childkillings.pdf

Since the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 859 children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The child death toll rose dramatically during the first six months of 2008, mostly as the result of a large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The massive assault, code-named 'Operation Winter Heat', was launched on February 27. The Israeli military killed more children (47) in the Gaza Strip during the first four months of 2008 than during the whole of 2007 (32 children). A total of 110 civilians were killed during 'Operation Winter Heat' in February-March 2008. (See our earlier Media Alerts: 'Israel's Illegal Assault On The Gaza "Prison"', March 3, 2008; and 'Israeli Deaths Matter More', March 11, 2008)

The website Remember These Children reports that 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000. (

Most children killed in recent years in the Gaza Strip have died as a result of bombardment, surface-to-surface missiles, or missiles fired from aircraft. The Palestinian human rights investigation notes that Israel has "consistently bombed either inside or extremely close to densely populated residential areas, including schools and areas in close proximity to schools." It uses "disproportionate and excessive force across the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], without regard for civilian life, including the lives of children."

But the report is even more damning than that. It concludes that Israeli forces "deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population."

The human rights investigation also concludes that:

"There is also strong and consistent evidence to suggest that [Israeli forces] deliberately kill Palestinian children in reprisal for the deaths of Israeli civilians or members of the [Israeli forces], which amounts to a war crime." (PCHR, op. cit., p. 46)

According to international humanitarian law, children are to be afforded special protection during international armed conflicts. This includes military occupation such as exists in the Palestinian territories under Israel. Legal protection is provided by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Israel signed the CRC in 1991.

Protection was strengthened by the (CRC) Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Protocol reaffirms "that the rights of children require special protection" and condemns "the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals." Israel signed the Optional Protocol on 14 November 2001 (PCHR, op. cit., p. 14), but it endlessly tramples the legal agreements to which it is a signatory.

Finally, the PCHR report notes that Israel has consistently failed to investigate Israeli killings of unarmed civilians, including children. On the rare occasions that official investigations are launched, these have been conducted by the Israeli forces themselves. The persistent result is a whitewash, and a travesty of justice.

And while Israel continues to kill unarmed civilians with impunity, the international community has failed to intervene effectively to exert pressure on Israel to stop killing Palestinian civilians, including children. These killings ought to be publicly condemned by the international community who, as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, are obliged to act immediately in order to protect all unarmed civilians from Israeli attacks.

As the PCHR observes:

"The lives of Palestinian children are as sacred as the lives of children from Israel, Europe or anywhere else in the world."

Minimal Response From A Protective Media

The report from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was shocking. Guy Gabriel, an adviser to the London-based Arab Media Watch, told us that the group "is a credible organisation with a lot to commend it, and is better placed than many - in terms of location, resources and support - to inform the wider world about the situation in Gaza." (Email, October 31, 2008). Journalist John Pilger commented: "The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is, in my experience, a highly credible statistics gathering body." (Email, October 27, 2008)

This credible human rights group, then, had produced compelling evidence of a persistent pattern of deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, +including children+, by the Israeli military. Surely this would have been headline news everywhere.

Sadly no. In the entire British press there was a giant, gaping hole in coverage.

The only exception we could find was a short, 400-word piece in the Guardian on the day of the report's publication: Rory McCarthy, 'Palestinian group says Israel killed 68 children in Gaza in year', The Guardian, October 21, 2008; palestinian-children

As McCarthy pointed out:

"A prominent Palestinian human rights group says it has found evidence that 68 children were killed in the Gaza Strip in the 12 months to June this year as a result of 'disproportionate and excessive lethal force' by the Israeli military."

This was welcome coverage. But, crucially, there was no mention of the military policy of deliberately targeting civilians, including children. In his report, McCarthy said he was unable to obtain any response to the study from an Israeli official (it was a Jewish religious holiday). He then inserted the standard Israeli disclaimer

"[Israel] has in the past repeatedly defended its military actions in Gaza, saying it does not intentionally target civilians, and noting that Palestinian militants frequently fire from civilian areas."

On October 27, 2008, we emailed McCarthy and praised him for reporting the publication of the study. We then pointed to the study's central, repeated message - backed by multiple eye-witness testimony - that Israel deliberately targets civilians, including children. We asked why his Guardian article had omitted this core conclusion. McCarthy did not respond to our email, nor to a second sent on October 29.

As for the "balanced" and "impartial" BBC, the corporation appears to have performed its usual role of protecting the powerful. Judging by the PCHR report's apparent absence from headline BBC news coverage and the BBC's website, the corporation has buried the report's findings. As far as we could determine, the same shameful silence characterised ITN and Channel 4 News.

By contrast, Al Jazeera aired a three-minute segment on the report that included a moving interview with a bereaved mother. There was also disturbing footage of injured and traumatised children, one of whom had seen his father killed by an Israeli missile (Al-Jazeera, October 22, 2008; In the Al Jazeera news piece, Hamdi Shokri of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights emphasised:

"We have clear evidence to suggest and to say that there were patterns of deliberate killing and deliberate targeting of children."

We emailed Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, on October 26, 2008. We asked him why the BBC had done so little, if anything, to bring this damning human rights report to the public's attention. Why had the BBC failed to expose a deliberate Israeli practice of targeting children? In short, why can't the BBC do better in its coverage of the occupied territories? Bowen did not respond.

Greg Philo, of the world-renowned Glasgow Media Group, recently commissioned YouGov to ask a sample of 2,086 UK adults whether they thought that more news coverage should be given to the Israeli point of view, or more to the Palestinians, or equal for both. Nearly twice as many people thought that the Palestinians should have the most as compared with the Israelis, but the bulk of the replies (72%) were that both should have the same. A staggering 95% of the population were unhappy with the main news output of the broadcasters. (Philo, 'More News, Less Views', September 30, 2008;

Routine silences and omissions in coverage of the Middle East are symptoms of a deep-rooted bias that suppresses public awareness of the true gravity of Israel's human rights abuses. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of the "indiscriminate beating, tear-gassing, and shooting of children", as documented in a thousand-page study from Save the Children. The average age of the victims was ten years old; the majority of those shot were not even participating in stone throwing. In 80 per cent of cases where children were shot, the Israeli army prevented the victims from receiving medical attention. The report concluded that more than 50,000 children required medical attention for injuries including gunshot wounds, tear gas inhalation and multiple fractures.

In 1989, a bulletin from the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, titled 'Deliberate Murder', reported the targeting of Palestinian children in leadership roles. Israeli army and snipers from "special units" had "carefully chosen" the children who were shot in the head or heart and died instantaneously. Other evidence, from Israeli human rights groups and the Israeli press, point to extensive use of torture, such as severe beating and electric shocks, against detainees including children. (Mike Berry and Greg Philo, 'Israel and Palestine - Competing Histories', Pluto Press, London, 2006, pp. 86-87)

Amnesty International has also reported that groups of Palestinian civilians, including children, appear, "on many occasions, to have been deliberately targeted". Israeli soldiers themselves have admitted that they have deliberately shot and killed unarmed civilians including children (Ibid., p. 116). Indeed, for many years, Amnesty has documented and condemned Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Most of these violations are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are therefore war crimes. (Ibid., pp. 60-61).

Israeli Terror: Not Terror, By Definition

In his 2002 documentary, 'Palestine Is Still The Issue', John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, then Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. Pilger asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their terrorist acts in the same way that they condemn terrorist acts against Israel:

John Pilger (JP): When those Israelis, who are now famous names [Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon], committed acts of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have said to them, nothing justifies what you've done, ripping apart all those lives. And they would say it did justify it. What's the difference?

Dori Gold (DG): I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding. I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore, whether you're talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.

JP: Does that include state terrorism?

DG: No country has the right to deliberately target civilians, as no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.

JP: What about Israeli terrorism now?

DG: The language of terrorism, you have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians, in a kind of warfare. That's what the terrorism against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability, Palestinian terrorist organisations.

JP: All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world's press for one, and frankly we'd be here all day with other examples, isn't that terrorism?

DG: I don't know the case you're speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing. An Israeli who takes aim - even an Israeli sniper - is taking aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper's rifle on a civilian deliberately.

JP: Well that's - that's what I've just described.

DG: That is what - no. I can tell you that did not happen.

JP: It did happen. And - and I think that's where some people have a problem with the argument that terrorism exists on - on one side. Your definition is absolutely correct, about civilians. And those suicide bombers are terrorists.

DG: If you mix terrorism and counter-terrorism, if you create some kind of moral obfuscation, you will bring about not just a problem for Israel, but you will bring ab - bring about a problem for the entire western alliance. Because we are all facing this threat.

As John Pilger concluded:

"It's hard to see the difference between what the Israelis call 'counter-terrorism' and terrorism. Whatever the target, both involve the killing of innocent people." (John Pilger, 'Israeli Terror', page.asp?partid=143; 'Palestine Is Still The Issue' documentary can be viewed here: videoplay?docid=1259454859593416473; Dori Gold interview starts at around 34 mins:32 secs)

Today, Dori Gold "spends his time traveling around the world raising awareness about the situation going [sic] in Israel and the fight over Jerusalem [and] is available for speaking engagements, fundraisers and corporate events." (

We asked John Pilger for his response to the new study from the Palestinian human rights group and the report's effective burial by the corporate media. He told us:

"That this shocking report has been virtually ignored across the mainstream media, with the exception of the Guardian, is a striking example of the media's two classes of humanity in Palestine. There is first class humanity, worthy of meticulous, often emotive coverage; these are the Israelis, including those guilty of great crimes, such as Ariel Sharon. And there is second class humanity, unworthy of even acknowledgement of their brutalising let alone the epic injustice done to them; these are the Palestinians. No, 'second class' is too high. They are third and fourth class victims, for not even the suffering and murder of their children is considered human enough to warrant reporting." (Email, October 27, 2008)

We are reminded of British historian Mark Curtis's term, "Unpeople", to describe those on the receiving end of the West's policies, actions and massive firepower. For those unfortunate individuals in the crosshairs of Western violence, their human aspirations, hopes, dreams, loves and lives are simply of no value.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Rory McCarthy, Guardian reporter 

Siobhain Butterworth, readers' editor of the Guardian

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

David Mannion, ITV News editor in chief

Jim Gray, editor of Channel 4 News

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:06:39 +0000


Since starting Media Lens in 2001, we have learned that corporate journalists are very often ill-equipped, or disinclined, to debate vital issues with members of the public.

In 2004, the esteemed Lancet medical journal published a study showing that 98,000 Iraqis had most likely died following the US-led invasion ( images/journals/lancet/ s0140673606694919.pdf). John Rentoul, chief political correspondent of the Independent on Sunday, responded with sarcasm when we challenged him about his dismissal of the peer-reviewed science:

"Oh no. You have found me out. I am in fact a neocon agent in the pay of the third morpork of the teleogens of Tharg." (Email, September 15, 2005)

In 2006, a follow-up Lancet study estimated that the death toll had risen to 655,000. Today, the probable death toll exceeds one million. (Just Foreign Policy, /iraq/iraqdeaths.html; 'Update on Iraqi casualty data', Opinion Research Business, January 2008; Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=88)

In 2003, Roger Alton, then editor of the Observer, also did not take kindly to a reader accusing him of peddling Downing Street propaganda on the eve of the invasion:

"What a lot of balls ... do you read the paper old friend? ... 'Pre-digested pablum from Downing Street...' my arse. Do you read the paper or are you just recycling garbage from Medialens?" (Email, February 14, 2003)

Last week, Matt Seaton, editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free website, was asked why he dismissed readers of Media Lens as a mere "lobby", but not readers who post comments on his website. Seaton replied:

"because, unlike MediaLens readers, users of Comment is free are not given directives to spam journalists and others - and would not mindlessly follow such directives if they were" (Email, October 15, 2008)

The constant journalistic refrain is that the public is made up of ill-informed idiots, mindless "blog-o-bots" (Robert Fisk, interviewed by Justin Podur, 'Fisk: War is the total failure of the human spirit', December 5, 2005;, launching "an attack of the clones" (BBC journalist Adam Curtis, email to Media Lens, June 18, 2002). A moment's thought would tell these journalists that the people responding to our alerts are interested in our efforts precisely to expose methods of public deception, manipulation and control. The whole point of what we are doing is to challenge all forms of psychological goose-stepping.

Little of this professional contempt for public challenge ever makes it into the open. The media sections of the press, where journalism ought to be scrutinised, are reserved for professional navel-gazing, ego-burnishing and insider gossip. At best, media commentary is inoffensive, rarely straying from the anodyne; and even then, only to mock easy targets like the Sun or the Daily Mail. At its worst, corporate media 'analysis' props up a brutal propaganda system in which "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business", as the US social philosopher John Dewey observed.

Swooning Over The British Press

Consider Stephen Glover, media commentator in the Independent, who earlier this month gloried at the supposedly vibrant state of the British press. Glover, one of the founders of the Independent in 1986, described his pleasure in "fingering the redesigned Daily Telegraph" which "looks quite handsome". Glover also liked the "much-improved Times", while the "revamped Independent" positively "crackles with energy." (Stephen Glover, 'It has its faults, but we should be proud of the British press', the Independent, October 6, 2008) As though in the pay of "the teleogens of Tharg", Glover asked innocently, "Am I starry-eyed?"

Undoubtedly. He was also suffering from blinkered, power-friendly vision. It is only two months since Glover belatedly, and superficially, pointed to the failings of the UK press in challenging government propaganda on Iraq:

"I am still awaiting an apology from those newspapers that assured their readers, before the invasion of Iraq, that there was absolutely no doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction." (Stephen Glover, 'Press were wrong on Iraq', August 11, 2008)

But media performance was far worse than Glover would have us believe, as we reminded him at the time (email to Stephen Glover, 'No mea culpa from the British press', August 19, 2008; viewtopic.php?p=9849#9849).

The British media were willing accomplices in the perverse political portrayal of Iraq as a threat to the West. And, because the media simply buried the facts, not many people know that Iraq had already been devastated by thirteen years of brutal United Nations sanctions leading to the deaths of over a million people. Around half of them were children under five.

The two Westerners who knew Iraq best - Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, senior UN diplomats in Baghdad who resigned over the "genocidal" sanctions - were virtually shut out of British press and broadcasting. (For more on their expert and excluded analyses, see Hans C. Von Sponeck, 'A Different Kind of War', Berghahn Books, New York, 2006; and Denis Halliday, interviewed by David Edwards, Media Lens, May 2000)

The ideological role played by the corporate media, as faithful stenographers to power, continued up to and beyond the illegal 2003 invasion. This was a war of aggression, in contravention of the UN Charter, and recognised in law as the "supreme international crime". If the British media had performed its fairy-tale role, and actually held power to account, perhaps there would have been no Iraq invasion, no cataclysm, no outpouring of grief and misery.

It is all too easy for media insiders to be seduced by the superficial glamour and "vibrancy" of newspapers, and to divert their eyes from the blood-soaked reality underneath.

At the Guardian's website, an ostensibly rival media commentator, Roy Greenslade, noted that the Independent had ditched its media section. Greenslade, a Guardian veteran and now professor of journalism at City University in London, wrote:

"... 'the media' is a part of modern life that deserves to be monitored consistently. Its influence appears to grow rather than diminish. There needs to be public scrutiny of the people who own and control the various media platforms and of those who manage and operate it on behalf of those owners and controllers." (Greenslade blog, Guardian website, October 6, 2008; media/greenslade/2008/oct/06/theindependent)

As this paragraph suggests, Greenslade has mastered the art of saying very little. He could have observed that news operations, the BBC and Guardian very much included, operate as platforms for established interests in society: corporations, business investors and warmongering Western leaders. But such obvious, real-world facts are not allowed to intrude. He added:

"Despite its scant resources, The Independent has played, and is playing, a part in keeping the media honest."

It is a bold judgement, one that can be made only by ignoring the actual content of the Independent's media coverage. More crucially, it also overlooks what the paper reports, and does not report, in its news and business sections. In the age of the internet - when honest, non-corporate news sources are readily accessible - it is becoming ever harder to ignore the evidence before our own eyes.

Green Alliance - A Spin Profile

This Alice-in-Wonderland quality extends to the publicly funded BBC whose output regularly contravenes its own guidelines on "impartiality", "balance" and a stated commitment "to reflect a wide range of opinion."  Consider a recent BBC online piece which proclaimed:

"Green groups have welcomed the creation of a new energy and climate department in Gordon Brown's government reshuffle." (Mark Kinver, 'Greens welcome new climate department', October 3, 2008; 1/hi/sci/tech/7650669.stm)

Which "Green groups" were these? Well, the only group cited was the Green Alliance, which describes itself as "an independent organisation" but which, in fact, has close links with both government and big business. (Source Watch; index.php?title=Green_Alliance)

The BBC report quoted Green Alliance director Stephen Hale:

"Hallelujah. A department of energy and climate change, and not before time... The new department puts climate change where it belongs, with its own seat at the cabinet table."

The BBC was here taking us deep into Orwell territory. Hale was a special adviser to Margaret Beckett when she was Secretary of State for the Environment. The most recently available accounts indicate that Green Alliance has received funding from a range of sources which include government departments: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Development. (Green Alliance Trust accounts for year ending 31 March, 2007; uploadedFiles/About_Us/FinalAccounts0607(1).pdf)

Funding and support for Green Alliance have also come from centres of green activism like BP, Glaxo, Lever Brothers, Shell, the BBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Tarmac and the privatised utilities. (SpinProfiles, index.php/Green_Alliance; website to be launched in November 2008)

As the excellent new online resource SpinProfiles says: "Green Alliance looks like an enormously powerful corporate lobby heavily connected to the political forces that have reshaped the globe since the late 1970s." (Ibid.)
In his BBC report, Kinver did also cite the Sustainable Development Commission. But this is hardly a "green group" as readers would normally understand the term. After all, as Kinver noted, it was set up by the government to which it reports.

All of this makes a nonsense of the headline, leading paragraph and thrust of the BBC piece about environmentalists supposedly applauding the creation of the new department. The BBC's analysis, as ever, failed to mention the small matter of the government's lamentable record in tackling the climate crisis, and that this latest initiative has as much substance as previous government assertions of "joined-up thinking."

Lack of space cannot account for failures of this kind: they occur too consistently right across the BBC's copious broadcasts and webpages. When asked, "Why can't the BBC do better than this?", Mark Kinver responded:

"I did contact the main green groups in the UK (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF) for their reaction to the news of the formation of the new department. All welcomed the move by Gordon Brown to use his reshuffle to bring the energy and environment portfolios under one departmental roof.

"However, I did not include direct quotes from these organisations because I balanced the left-leaning Green Alliance's views with the comments from the free-market think-tank, Policy Exchange (their positions were illustrated by the direct quotes I used in the story).

"Because the reshuffle was a change within the Whitehall village, rather than a change of government policy, I felt that the most appropriate comments were from organisations that operated within that sphere - hence quotes from the Green Alliance, Policy Exchange, CBI [Confederation of British Industry] and SDC [the Sustainable Development Commission]."

Longstanding readers of our alerts may recall that we have sometimes highlighted the moribund state, and lack of radical vision, of the main green groups, notably Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace (e.g. 'Silence is Green', February 3, 2005). 

And we have truly gone down Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole when a BBC journalist can describe the Green Alliance as "left-leaning." The editorial commitment to "a wide range of opinion" is equally surreal when quotes are restricted to elite groups within the "sphere" of "the Whitehall village." Finally, the BBC's notion of "impartiality" is exemplified in the "balance" in the piece between the corporate-leaning Green Alliance and the even more rabidly corporate "free-market think tank", Policy Exchange.

Readers can cast their minds back to New Labour's ascension to power in 1997 when there was similar optimistic talk of "joined-up" government. Back then, John Prescott's "super-ministry" was sold to the British public as a great innovation taking responsibility for transport, environment and the regions of the UK. The Independent told its readers that Prescott, a "blunt Northerner", "regards himself as a moderniser and a man with ideas. He is restless for power, and is likely to turn his office into one of the engine-rooms of the Blair government." ('Blair's magnificent seven: the new cabinet takes shape', The Independent, May 3, 1997; no byline)

The Observer's Patrick Wintour assured us that Prescott was a "policy wonk" who was "willing to address policy challenges without prejudice. His record in campaigning on green issues stretches back to long before they became fashionable." (Patrick Wintour, 'Five challenges to forge a better Britain: action on the environment', The Observer, May 11, 1997)

The Guardian's Larry Elliott announced breathlessly in the early days of the New Labour regime:

"The first fortnight of the Blair administration has proved one thing: Labour may not be as red as it once was, but it is one hell of a lot greener. One of the beneficial spin-offs of modernisation is that the obsession with growth at all costs has been ditched." (Larry Elliott, 'Labour's moral mission: going from red to green with a pollution solution. Environment has moved centre stage in a new government that sees protecting the world as good business and good politics', The Guardian, May 19, 1997)

More than a decade later and we are supposed to perceive the latest recarving of Whitehall departments as a bold move that will really get to grips with the terrifying threat of climate chaos. We are supposed to believe the prime minister will perform a massive U-turn away from corporate priorities, as the Guardian insists he must:

"Mr Brown must now prove that he is prepared to treat an ailing climate with an injection of political capital to match the vast dose of financial capital he was so willing to invest in the banks." (Leader article, 'The greening of Brown', the Guardian, October 20, 2008; commentisfree/2008/oct/20/ leader-climate-carbon-gordon-brown)

The required suspension of disbelief is truly farcical. Meanwhile, the world's life-support systems are continuing to collapse under rapidly escalating global financial and industrial exploitation.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Stephen Glover, media commentator, the Independent 

Roy Greenslade, media commentator, the Guardian

Mark Kinver, BBC reporter

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:04:38 +0000

Former Guardian and Observer Journalist Jonathan Cook Responds

In response to Part 1 of this alert, the former Guardian and Observer journalist, Jonathan Cook, emailed us:

"I woke up after four hours sleep my head buzzing with recollections of my early years in journalism. I've been sitting and writing ever since, trying to make sense of it all. It's quite therapeutic and more revealing about how the media work than I had appreciated before. Your alert really has set off processes in my head." (Email to Media Lens, October 3, 2008)

A short piece Cook initially sent us on this theme was brilliant, in fact one of the most honest and insightful media analyses we have seen. The key point he made is that crude sackings of the kind we highlighted "are a great rarity":

"Editors hardly ever need to bare their teeth against an established journalist because few make it to senior positions unless they have already learnt how to toe the line."

But Cook didn't stop there. He appears to have spent most of the weekend October 4-5 writing a 6,500-word piece which had the effect of "reframing my career in a way that finally makes sense to me". We have published an edited version of this below. The full article is available here in our archived forum.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Jonathan Cook for the time, energy and thought he has put into his response.


Jonathan Cook is a British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His reports on Israel-Palestine have been published in numerous journals and websites including the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, Al Jazeera, New Statesman, International Herald Tribune, Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), The National (Abu Dhabi), Electronic Intifada and Counterpunch. His new book, published this month, is 'Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair' (Zed Books). His two earlier books are 'Blood and Religion' (Pluto Books, 2006) and 'Israel and the Clash of Civilisations' (Pluto Books, 2008). He has his own website at

Cook started out writing for the Southampton Advertiser and then Southampton's Daily Echo. He comments on his early career:

"Most ambitious journalists start out on a daily local newspaper (I would soon end up on one), owned by one of a handful of large media groups. There, as I would learn, one quickly feels all sorts of institutional constraints on one's reporting. As a young journalist, if you know no better, you simply come to accept that journalism is done in a certain kind of way, that certain stories are suitable and others unsuitable, that arbitrary rules have to be followed. These seem like laws of nature, unquestionable and self-evident to your more experienced colleagues. Being a better journalist requires that these work practices become second nature."

These "rules" were constantly reinforced:

"Promotion meant moving on from the lowly beat reporter, covering community issues, to other posts: the city or county council correspondent, who depended on council officials and councillors for information; the court reporter, who loyally regurgitated court proceedings; the business staff, who tried to liven up advertisers' press releases; and the crime correspondent, who spent all day hanging out with policemen.

"In other words, success at the newspaper was gauged in terms of obedience to figures of authority, and the ability not to alienate powerful groups within the community. Ambitious journalists learnt to whom they must turn for a comment or a quote, and where 'suitable' stories could be found. It was a skill that presumably stayed with them for the rest of their careers.

"Those who struggled to cope with these strictures were soon found out. They either failed their probationary periods and were forced to move on, or stayed on in the lowliest positions where they could do little harm."

In the guest media alert below, Cook describes his experience of intellectual cleansing.

There Is No Home Of The Brave

Like many British journalists, my ambition was to reach the national media. I had been working for several years at the Echo, learning my craft, proving I was a professional, slowly moving up the hierarchy in terms of promotion but not much in terms of responsibility. I seemed to have a hit a glass ceiling, and I had a vague sense of why.

A damning criticism I have often heard in newsrooms was that someone is not a "team player". Nobody said this to my face at the Echo but I had no doubt that it was a suspicion held by the senior staff. I thought of them as cowardly, failing in their role as watchdogs of power. Maybe my contempt showed a little.

In those days, my experiences at the Echo did nothing to shake my faith in the profession. I assumed that these failings were restricted to the paper and its lily-livered editors. Were new editors to be appointed, or were I to move to another paper, I would find things were different. The national newspapers, I had no doubt, were braver.

Working on a national is seen as the pinnacle of a professional journalist's career. Very few make it that far. The competition is fierce, and acceptance is slow. There are many stages in the early career of journalists designed to handicap and weed out those who do not conform or who question the framework within which they work. Noam Chomsky refers to this as part of a "filtering" process. Are the nationals different?

It is worth examining how a journalist who works for the Guardian, Independent, BBC or any other major media institution gets a job. There are several stages on the way to a secure position in the national media.

The most common requirement is to have completed several years in the local media. Turnover of staff at the local level is high, with most "non-team players" identified very quickly. Those who survive tend to share the professional values of the editors they serve. If there is any doubt in the case of a particular individual, the national media can always check his or her track record of published articles.

A tiny number of privileged individuals manage to avoid this route and come direct from university. At the Guardian, where I worked for several years, it was seen as a mild amusing idiosyncrasy that the newspaper recruited the odd trainee direct from Oxbridge, and more usually from Cambridge. It was generally assumed that this was a legacy of the fact that the paper's editors had traditionally been Cambridge graduates. These journalists invariably worked their way up the paper's hierarchy rapidly.

This preference for untested Oxbridge graduates can probably be explained by the filtering process too. The selected graduates always came from the same predictable backgrounds, and were the product of lengthy filtering processes endured in the country's education system. The Guardian appeared to be more confident that such types could be relied on without the kind of "quality control" needed with other applicants.

For a journalist like myself who was well trained and had spent several years in the local media, getting a foot in the door of the nationals was relatively easy. Keeping my feet under the desk was far harder. Few recruits are given a job or allowed to write for a paper until they have completed yet another lengthy probationary period.

On national newspapers, this usually means spending considerable time as a sub-editor, as I did, a role in which the journalist is slowly acclimatised to the newspaper's "values". The sub sits at the bottom of the newspaper's editorial hierarchy, editing and styling reports as they come in for publication. Above him or her are the section editors (home, foreign etc), a chief sub-editor (usually an old hand), and a revise sub to check their work. Subs invariably spend years as freelancers or on short-term contracts.

The subs' primary task is to stop errors of fact and judgment getting into the newspaper. But their own judgment is constantly under scrutiny from editors higher up the hierarchy. If they fail to understand the paper's "values", their career is likely to stall on this bottom rung or their contract will not be renewed.

Reporters who avoid a period of sub-editing are in an equally insecure position. They are usually taken on as a freelance writer before getting a series of short contracts. During this period news reporters are mainly restricted to the night shift, when their job is to update for the later editions stories that have already been filed by senior reporters during the day. Writers offering material from abroad fare little better. The best they can usually aspire to is being taken on as a stringer, retained by the paper for an agreed period.

Hollywood films may perpetuate the idea of reporters, even junior ones, regularly initiating new stories for their papers, but actually it is relatively rare. In truth, reporters are more usually directed by senior editors on which stories to cover and how to cover them. Unless they are senior writers, usually specialist correspondents, they have little input into the way they cover events.

If they are to survive long, writers must quickly learn what the news desk expects of them. Newcomers are given a small amount of leeway to adopt angles that are "not suitable". But they are also expected to learn quickly why such articles are unsuitable and not to propose similar reports again.
The advantage of this system is that high-profile sackings are a great rarity. Editors hardly ever need to bare their teeth against an established journalist because few make it to senior positions unless they have already learnt how to toe the line.

The media's lengthy filtering system means that it is many years before the great majority of journalists get the chance to write with any degree of freedom for a national newspaper, and they must first have proved their "good judgment" many times over to a variety of senior editors. Most have been let go long before they would ever be in a position to influence the paper's coverage.

Journalists, of course, see this lengthy process of recruitment as necessary to filter for "quality" rather than to remove those who fail to conform or whose reporting threatens powerful elites. The media are supposedly applying professional standards to find those deserving enough to reach the highest ranks of journalism.

But, of course, these goals - finding the best, and weeding out the non-team players - are not contradictory. The system does promote outstanding "professional" journalists, but it ensures that they also subscribe to orthodox views of what journalism is there to do. The effect is that the media identify the best propagandists to promote their corporate values.

It is notable that there is not a single large media institution dedicated to providing a platform to those who dissent or express non-conformist views, however talented they are as journalists. Only at the very margins of what are considered to be left-wing publications such as the Guardian and the Independent can such voices very occasionally be heard, and even then only in the comment pages.

Surprisingly, most national newspapers talk a great deal about their "values" and the special character that marks them out from their rivals. And yet when I was seeking a job on the national newspapers, it was striking how interchangeable the staff were. I spent periods working freelance for the Guardian, Observer and Telegraph, and kept meeting the same aspiring journalists trying to get work at these apparently very different newspapers.

As freelancers we quickly became aware of what each newspaper expected from us in terms of story presentation, and the differences were not great; it was more about nuance (that favourite term of professional journalists). Similarly, the nationals regularly poached senior staff from each other.

Journalists like to argue that this is not surprising in a "professional" environment. After all, the point of "professional" standards is that all newspapers should apply the same principles of supposed neutrality and objectivity.

Where, then, is this difference of character to be located in our media? According to most journalists it is to be found in the commentary pages and in the selection of news stories. This is where a paper reveals its true values. (We will gloss over the problematic fact that the need for stories to be selected - by whom and according to what criteria? - in itself undermines the idea of impartiality.)

In fact, despite their claims to having distinctive characters, newspapers closely follow the same news agendas, trying to mirror each other's story lists. One of the jobs I once had on the foreign desk was to scan the pages of the first editions of rival papers to see if they had any stories we had missed. All national papers do this compulsively.

Success Comes With The Herd

The mirroring by newspapers of each other's news agendas is often attributed to human nature, in the form of the herd instinct or the tendency to follow the pack. In truth, this is the way most reporters work out in the field. They attend press conferences, they chase after celebrities together, they speak to the same official spokespeople.

I learnt this myself the hard way when I moved to Israel to report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Naively, I assumed that, in line with my vision of the ideal journalist as an investigative reporter, a Woodward or a Bernstein, that I should be trying to find exclusives, stories no other reporter knew about. After all, most newspapers still include as their motto some variation on the claim to be "First with the news".

What I discovered, however, was that, when I rung up the news desk back in London, the editor would always start by asking me where else the story had been published. Paradoxically, when I said it was an exclusive, I could hear his interest wilt. Even though he knew I had a great deal of experience, he did not want to take a chance on a story that no one else had reported.

On run-of-the-mill stories too, the demand from the news desk was the same: could I get an official source to confirm the story? It happened even when I had seen something with my own eyes. And an official source meant an Israeli source. It felt almost as if the Israeli government and army had to give their seal of approval before a story could be published.

In fact, more than 95 per cent of the reports filed by Britain's distinguished correspondents in Jerusalem originate in stories they have seen published either by the world's two main news agencies, Reuters and Associated Press, or in the local Israeli media. Exclusives are almost unheard of. The correspondent's main job is to rewrite the agency copy by adding his own "angle"; usually a minor matter of emphasis in the first paragraphs or an addition of a few quotes from an official contact.

This reliance on the wires is in itself a very effective way of filtering out news that challenges dominant interests. The agencies, dependent for survival on funding from the large media groups, are extremely deferential to the main Western power elites and their allies. This is for two chief reasons: first, large media owners like the Murdoch empire might pull out of the arrangement, or even set up their own rival agency, were Reuters or AP regularly to run stories damaging to their business interests; and second, the agencies, needing to provide reams of copy each day, rely primarily on official sources for their information.

The minnow in the battle between the agencies is AFP, the French news agency. And much like the Advertiser in its golden days, AFP needs to beat the Reuters-AP cartel by finding other readers / buyers for its wire service. It does this by trying to provide a limited supply of alternative news, especially of what are called "human interest" stories.

In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict this sometimes translates into sympathetic reports of Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israeli army or the Jewish settlers, stories hard to find in Reuters or AP. Not surprisingly, the media in countries that do not subscribe to the Western corporate view of world affairs are the main subscribers to AFP.

The main other source of information, the Israeli media, reinforces the coverage trends of the big agencies. Israeli newspapers are subject to all the usual institutional constraints we have considered in the case of the evening paper in Southampton. But they also reflect the dominant values of a highly ideological and mobilised society. The British media's reliance on partisan Israeli news gatherers for information severely undermines their own claims to objectivity and neutrality.

Being a foreign correspondent in Israel, it should be underlined, is no different from being one anywhere else in the world. The same issues apply.

The inadmissibility of many important details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - especially when they concern the weaker, Palestinian side - is not confined to news reports. Even the opinion pages of newspapers are closed off to the full spectrum of human, mainly Palestinian, experience and relevant political context, as I have repeatedly discovered.

Through personal contacts and fortuitous circumstances, I managed in the early stages of the second intifada, which began in 2000, to publish several commentaries in the International Herald Tribune. All were critical of Israel's behaviour in a way that is rarely seen in any American media.

After a short time, Israel's powerful lobby, realising that I had evaded the normal safeguards, moved into action. After one of my commentaries, the lobby organised the largest postbag of complaints the IHT had received in its history, as a sympathetic editor confided in me. I was forced to submit a lengthy defence of my article to counter the campaign of pressure from the lobby groups, with the IHT eventually accepting that there were no errors in my piece and refusing to publish an apology. However, they severed all links with me: another triumph for the lobby.

Subsequent efforts by the main Palestinian media organisation in the US to get my commentaries published in American papers and journals have failed dismally. Even publications regarded as progressive by American standards refuse to consider my pieces.

The use of institutional power to silence dissident voices is more savage and ugly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than elsewhere, but similar obstacles face any journalist anywhere in the world who tries to break out of the narrow confines of mainstream reporting, analysis and commentary.

It's Not Really About Readers

How is it then, if this thesis is right, that there are dissenting voices like John Pilger, Robert Fisk, George Monbiot and Seumas Milne who write in the British media while refusing to toe the line?

Note that the above list pretty much exhausts the examples of writers who genuinely and consistently oppose the normal frameworks of journalistic thinking and refuse to join the herd. That means that in Britain's supposedly leftwing media we can find one writer working for the Independent (Fisk), one for the New Statesman (Pilger) and two for the Guardian (Milne and Monbiot). Only Fisk, we should further note, writes regular news reports. The rest are given at best weekly columns in which to express their opinions.

However grateful we should be to these dissident writers, their relegation to the margins of the commentary pages of Britain's "leftwing" media serves a useful purpose for corporate interests. It helps define the "character" of the British media as provocative, pluralistic and free-thinking - when in truth they are anything but. It is a vital component in maintaining the fiction that a professional media is a diverse media.

Also, by presenting these exceptional writers as straining at the very limits of the thinkable, their host newspapers subtly encourage a view of them as crackpots, armchair revolutionaries and whingers, as they often are described in the paper's feedback columns.

The case of Fisk is instructive. All the evidence is that the Independent might have folded were it not for his inclusion in the news and comment pages. Fisk appears to be one of the main reasons people buy the Independent. When, for example, the editors realised that most of the hits on the paper's website were for Fisk's articles, they made his pieces accessible only by paying a subscription fee. In response people simply stopped visiting the site, forcing the Independent to restore free access to his stories.

It is also probable that the other writers cited above are among the chief reasons readers choose the publications that host them. It is at least possible that, were more such writers allowed on their pages, these papers would grow in popularity. We are never likely to see the hypothesis tested because the so-called leftwing media appear to be in no hurry to take on more dissenting voices.

Finally, it should also be noted that none of these admirable writers - with the exception of Pilger - choose or are allowed to write seriously about the dire state of the mainstream media they serve. Sadly, it seems self-evident that were they to do so they would quickly find their employment terminated.

We are fortunate to have their incisive analyses of some of the most important events of our era. Nonetheless it is vital to acknowledge that even they cannot speak out on an issue that is fundamental to the health of our democracy.

How then do I dare write as I have done here? Simply because I have little to lose. The mainstream media spat me out some time ago. Were it otherwise, I would probably be keeping my silence too.

Part 3 will follow shortly...

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 14:03:23 +0000

Keeping The Media Safe For Big Business

Martin Tierney is one of a tiny number of mainstream journalists willing to review our book, 'Guardians of Power'. In June 2006, he published an accurate outline of our argument in the Herald, commenting: "It stands up to scrutiny."

He added that we "do not see conscious conspiracy but a 'filter system maintained by free market forces.' After all it wouldn't be appropriate to show the limbs of third world children during Thanksgiving as it would only remind consumers who was really being stuffed." 

Exactly so. But if no conspiracy is involved, how on earth does the market manage to filter dissident views with such consistency? As baffled Channel 4 news reader, Jon Snow, told us:

"Well, I'm sorry to say, it either happens or it doesn't happen. If it does happen, it's a conspiracy; if it doesn't happen, it's not a conspiracy." (Interview with David Edwards, January 9, 2001)

In 1996, Noam Chomsky attempted to explain to an equally bemused Andrew Marr (then of the Independent):

Marr: "This is what I don't get, because it suggests - I mean, I'm a journalist - people like me are 'self-censoring'..."

Chomsky: "No - not self-censoring. There's a filtering system that starts in kindergarten and goes all the way through and - it doesn't work a hundred percent, but it's pretty effective - it selects for obedience and subordination, and especially..."

Marr: "So, stroppy people won't make it to positions of influence..."

Chomsky: "There'll be 'behaviour problems' or... if you read applications to a graduate school, you see that people will tell you 'he doesn't get along too well with his colleagues' - you know how to interpret those things."

Chomsky's key point:

"I'm sure you believe everything you're saying. But what I'm saying is, if you believed something different you wouldn't be sitting where you're sitting." (The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996; php?e=news&id=4&lang=0)

So what happens when a professional journalist does express "something different"? Is their office seat just yanked away from them and rolled under a more reliable rear end?

Consider the case of our reviewer, Martin Tierney, who wrote for the Saturday Herald for seven years. In August, Tierney reviewed Barbara Ehrenreich's book Going To Extremes (Granta, 2008). With his usual uncompromising vim, he wrote:

"It is essentially a tirade against every method used against US citizens to ensure that their wealth is systematically transferred to government and corporate elites.

"This is done, she claims, via abuse of the tax system, scapegoating immigrants; denial of Unions and Gestapo tactics used by the likes of... [a large US supermarket] to ensure this and a perennial 'Warfare State' where taxpayers money merely is used to enrich arms dealers while bludgeoning them into a unnecessary paranoia."

Notice that Tierney merely +reported+ claims made by Ehrenreich in her book regarding the use of "Gestapo tactics". It seems the Herald's initial response to the review was positive - the piece was excellent, he was told. (Email to Media Lens, September 25, 2008)

But someone else on the Herald's editorial staff informed Tierney that the reference to the supermarket's "Gestapo tactics" had caused great upset and anger in the office. One senior editor in particular was deeply unamused. This last reaction appears to have been decisive. Indeed, as a result, Tierney was told, he was being asked to relinquish his column. The reasoning? His editor felt she could not feel confident that he would not make similarly extreme comments in future - comments that might slip undetected into the paper. (Email from Tierney to Media Lens, October 1, 2008)

The reference to a lack of confidence immediately recalls the work of journalist and physicist Jeff Schmidt who has studied the filtering of career professionals in some depth. The professional, Schmidt explains, "is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorise, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology. The political and intellectual timidity of today's most highly educated employees is no accident." (Schmidt, Disciplined Minds, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, p.16)

The question of trust is crucial - employers must be able to rely on their human property to play by the rules. This is why Tierney was fired.

The employer's reference to Tierney's extreme comment was ironic indeed given the extreme nature of the horrors exposed in Ehrenreich's book - titled, after all, Going To Extremes - and outlined in Tierney's review.

Tierney tells us the review was published - with the unamusing mention of the US supermarket, and all references to it, removed - on August 16. (Email from Tierney to Media Lens September 30, 2008)

If you've ever wondered why the press finds it so hard to find 'space' for the multitude of excellent, radical analyses, this incident gives an idea of the true reasons. The unwritten corporate media rule is that you can say what you like about the powerless - they can be treated with contempt, smeared and slandered without limit. But when the powerless attempt to challenge the powerful, a different rule applies.

By contrast, in May, the mighty Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, had no problems attacking the BBC in a Times article titled, 'Watch out, the Gestapo are about.'
( comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3933535.ece)

Butler was not merely reporting an accusation of "Gestapo tactics", as Tierney did; he was himself protesting a BBC advert that sought to scare viewers into paying their licence fees. Butler commented:

"Nor are these Gestapo tactics new. Years ago, similar advertisements showed a family laughing at some comedy programme on TV. Comes the voice-over: 'If you have a TV licence, you're laughing.' In the dimly-lit street, a van draws up. Black leather boots crunch up the path, the family still oblivious. The voice continues: 'If not...' A gloved hand presses the bell. Suddenly, the family stops laughing, their faces gripped by sheer dread."

You can bet there was no great upset in the Times' offices.

In July 2007, Ned Temko and Nicholas Watt of the Observer reported that the wife of Downing Street's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, had "lifted the lid on the private fury felt by Tony Blair's inner circle over the cash-for- peerages inquiry, accusing the police of 'Gestapo tactics'." ( politics/2007/jul/22/uk.partyfunding)

Imagine the shock if Temko and Watt had been sacked for reporting the accusation.

In September 2006, Dominic Lawson wrote an article titled, 'Gestapo tactics in freedom's name.' Protesting the US-UK use of torture in fighting "the war on terror", Lawson wrote:

"America is inevitably tainted - and Britain by association - with the unanswerable charge that it has used the tactics of the Gestapo in the name of freedom." ( opinion/commentators/dominic- lawson/dominic-lawson-gestapo- tactics-in-freedoms-name-415613.html)

Samantha's Christmas Cards - And Other Scandals

All around us, unseen, our media are being continuously cleansed, pore-deep, of important rational comments for the simple, crude reason that they threaten profits.

Last month, Nick Clayton, a columnist at the Scotsman for 12 years and formerly its technology editor, reported that advertisers were leaving the paper in favour of online media. He wrote: "Whether you're looking for work or a home, the web's the place to go."

Clayton was fired for writing this. He commented on his sacking:

"I really don't understand why I've been fired... I was merely reporting what estate agents had said to me about advertising in newspapers." ( story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=42095)

Freelancers aren't fired, just waved away. Last month, Greg Philo of the prestigious Glasgow University Media Group submitted a powerful article, 'More News Less Views', to the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) website. Philo wrote:

"News is a procession of the powerful. Watch it on TV, listen to the Today programme and marvel at the orthodoxy of views and the lack of critical voices. When the credit crunch hit, we were given a succession of bankers, stockbrokers and even hedge-fund managers to explain and say what should be done. But these were the people who had caused the problem, thinking nothing of taking £20 billion a year in city bonuses. The solution these free market wizards agreed to, was that tax payers should stump up £50 billion (and rising) to fill up the black holes in the banking system. Where were the critical voices to say it would be a better idea to take the bonuses back?

"Mainstream news has sometimes a social-democratic edge. There are complaints aired about fuel poverty and the state of inner cities. But there are precious few voices making the point that the reason why there are so many poor people is because the rich have taken the bulk of the disposable wealth. The notion that the people should own the nation's resources is close to derided on orthodox news." ( forum/viewtopic.php?p=9838#9838)

He added:

"At the start of the Iraq war we had the normal parade of generals and military experts, but in fact, a consistent body of opinion then and since has been completely opposed to it. We asked our sample [of TV viewers] whether people such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Naomi Klein and Michael Moore should be featured routinely on the news as part of a normal range of opinion. Seventy three per cent opted for this rather than wanting them on just occasionally, as at present."

Matt Seaton, the CiF editor, rejected the article on the grounds that "it would be read as a piece of old lefty whingeing about bias". (Email from Greg Philo, September 30, 2008)

This from the same website that has just published Anne Perkins's analysis of the merits of different leaders' wives. Sarah Brown, wife of prime minister Gordon, and Samantha Cameron, wife of Tory leader David, are doing so much better than "that awful Cherie" Blair, it seems:

"Brown is unflashy and sincere. Cameron is cool and elegant. The joke is they could be sisters, with pretty but unacademic Samantha and the older, not quite as pretty but dead brainy Sarah." ( commentisfree/2008/oct/01/cherieblair.women)

Samantha "keeps her mouth shut and looks cool and stylish", although there have been gaffes: "no one mentions those packs of Smythson's Christmas cards (£5.70 each, £57 for 10)". And so on...

We found this within seconds of visiting the site - there are limitless comparable examples. At time of writing, Perkins's article has garnered 15 uninspired comments, including: "It is a very silly Daily Mail sort of article as others say, but this is the way the Guardian is going, alas."

As we ourselves know, where dissidents can't be sacked, patronised or ignored, legal action is always an option.

CanWest, one of Canada's largest media companies, is the owner of newspapers, radio and television stations, and online properties. CanWest founder, Israel (Izzy) Asper, a strong supporter of Israel's right-wing Likud party, reportedly told the Jerusalem Post:

"In all our newspapers, including the National Post, we have a very pro-Israel position... we are the strongest supporter of Israel in Canada." ( znet/viewArticle/18899)

The Guardian noted that Asper "was highly critical of any perceived anti-Israeli position in the media, particularly the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's coverage of the Middle East, which he suggested had anti-Semitic overtones". ( /2003/oct/16/guardianobituaries)

Responding to this consistent pro-Israeli stance, the Palestine Media Collective produced a satirised version of CanWest's Vancouver Sun newspaper on the theme of the 40th anniversary of the Israeli Occupation in 2007. This included stories such as: "Study Shows Truth Biased against Israel, By CYN SORSHEEP." ( profits-and-free-speech-in-Canada/)

In response, CanWest hit the media collective with a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) claiming a violation of trademark law. Because the writers were initially anonymous, CanWest sued the printer and another activist, Mordecai Briemberg, who had passed out copies. Robert Jensen, professor of journalism at the University of Texas, takes up the story:

"Such a suit is legitimate only when the plaintiff can show there's a reasonable likelihood that people will confuse the fake with the real and that some harm will result. In this case, there clearly is no confusion and no harm, and hence no serious claim. But CanWest presses on.

"Calling the [Palestine Media] Collective's paper 'a counterfeit version' that amounts to 'identity theft,' CanWest seems to want to frame this as a kind of intellectual-property terrorism: 'This piece was not satirical. It was not a clever spoof. It was a deliberate act to mislead and misinform thousands of people by using the actual Vancouver Sun masthead, logo and layout," reads a company statement on the case." (Jensen, ( znet/viewArticle/18899)

Briemberg initially sought coverage of his plight from the Canadian press without success. He then approached the international press, including the Guardian, with an opinion piece. The Guardian directed him to their Comment is Free website, which has ignored him.

The Index Censorship has run an edited version of his op-ed here:

A Seriously Free Speech Committee has also been formed to help with honorary members such as Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman, and many others:

There has so far been no mention of this story in any UK newspaper.

Part 2 will follow shortly...

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 13:52:34 +0000
"NOT VERY INTERESTING" - Haiti, New Orleans And Media Hypocrisy

On September 1, the press began warning that "the storm of the century" was about to hit New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav "bore down nearly three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city". ('It's the storm of the century,' Daily Mirror, September 1, 2008)

A comparable storm of media coverage was to follow, with continuous live broadcasts from the city. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin heightened the sense of drama:

"For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you - that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life." (Paul Thompson, 'Storm of the century,' Daily Mail, September 1, 2008)

But Nagin's worst fears were not realised. In fact weather forecasters had warned at the time that it was "too early to know whether New Orleans will take another direct hit". (Daily Mirror, op.cit)

By September 3, the reality was apparent. Hurricane Gustav had swept through Louisiana, causing eight deaths and widespread damage, but "had not produced any significant flooding," the Independent reported. US officials "faced charges of over-reacting" as they were "forced to defend the decision to evacuate more than two million people". (Guy Adams, 'Officials deny threat of Gustav was exaggerated,' The Independent, September 3, 2008)

Saturation media coverage had been devoted to a disaster that had simply not happened.

The following day, a senior BBC journalist leaked an email from his editor to media analyst David Miller at Strathclyde University. The whistleblower's editor had listed several stories which he described as "not that interesting", followed by the comment: "Dull stories - every one of them, don't you think?" These were the stories:

"The leading anti-drugs judge in Afghanistan has been assassinated.
"There's been an angry reaction in France following the magazine publication of photos of Taleban fighters displaying trophies they'd stripped from French soldiers killed in an ambush.
"The authorities in Haiti say the number of those killed in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna has risen to more than sixty.
"A United Nations report says the world's wealthiest countries are failing to deliver on their promises to boost development aid."

The anonymous BBC journalist expressed his feelings:

"I'm sure once that Hurricane gets to Florida we'll have live coverage of the telephone polls falling over, but sixty dead people in Haiti. Not that interesting."

Hell In Haiti

Indeed, initial early estimates that more than 500 people had died in Haiti's floods received barely half a dozen mentions in British newspapers. It is now thought that as many as 1,000 people have died so far, with one million made homeless out of a population of 8.7 million ( haiti_struggles_with_humanitarian_disaster_in). Rescue groups were last week reported to be unable to reach many villages across the southern region or to Gonaives, Haiti's third-largest city, which was cut off with 300,000 homeless residents. The city's population has been stranded for days without food or drinking water.

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, a group that provides free medical care in central Haiti, wrote:

"After 25 years spent working in Haiti and having grown up in Florida, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything as painful as what I just witnessed in Gonaives." ( news/PEF_hurricane_letter.html)

Hedi Annabi, a United Nations envoy, touring Gonaives commented:

"What I saw in this city today is close to hell on earth." ( 08/world/americas/08ike.html)

The New York Times reported how crowds of children had chased UN food trucks shouting "Hungry, hungry" while families climbed on to rooftops and floating cars to escape floodwaters.

The figure of 1,000 dead in Haiti compares with eight dead reported for Louisiana. And yet a media database search (September 15) showed that the words 'New Orleans' and 'hurricane' appeared in 265 UK newspaper articles over the last three weeks. Over the same period, the words 'Haiti' and 'hurricane' appeared in 113 articles. There were 67 mentions of Haiti's 'floods'.

But the devil is in the detail. Many references to Haiti were limited to one or two sentences. On September 9, the Daily Mail reported merely: "Hurricane Hanna killed hundreds of people and caused widespread destruction when it struck the island of Haiti last week." (Helen Bruce, 'Here comes a hurricane to soak us again,' Daily Mail, September 9, 2008)

On the same day, the Mirror wrote: "Hanna, which caused widespread destruction and killed more than 500 people when it hit Haiti, is now on its way across the Atlantic towards Ireland." (Maeve Quigley, 'Hit by Hanna,' Mirror, September 9, 2003)

The most substantial report was a 530-word section in an article in the Guardian on September 7. The Times devoted 150 words to the story on September 8. The Independent has this month devoted a total of 153 words to Haiti's crisis. By contrast, a single Independent article on the threat to New Orleans on September 1 took up 1,269 words.

The irony is striking. Earlier this month, an Independent leader noted the "stark contrast" between the massive attention given to the plight of New Orleans while "the catastrophic floods in the Indian state of Bihar have barely registered on the international radar". The editors added:

"What makes the discrepancy even starker is that the Bihar disaster has so far been considerably more destructive, killing hundreds and leaving more than a million people in this desperately poor region homeless." (Leader, 'A flood of sympathy, sometimes,' The Independent, September 2, 2008; /leading-articles/leading-article-a-flood- of-sympathy-sometimes-915628.html)

There were practical reasons for the difference, we were told - it was harder for journalists to travel to Bihar than to New Orleans. But there was more:

"[I]t would be dishonest to ignore some of the darker reasons for the discrepancy in the media coverage of these two disasters. One is a failure of empathy in the West. People can envisage themselves stranded in New Orleans, but not a village in Bihar. And then there is the sad reality that, even in our globalised age, lives lost in the developing world are regarded as less newsworthy than lives lost in the rich world. Even when subject to the undiscriminating violence of nature, it would appear that all men and women are nothing like equal."

At time of writing, the Independent has not mentioned Haiti since September 5. But the paper has at least helped explain its own prejudice.

Inconvenient News

Recent performance fits as part of a consistent bias in media reporting. In the latest NACLA Report on the Americas, Dan Beeton of the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research interviewed several US journalists who have reported from Haiti. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one described a common view among editors:

"Everyone knows the place [Haiti] is a mess, so what are you going to tell me that's new? What goes on there does not affect people in the US." (Beeton, 'Bad News From Haiti: U.S. Press Misses the Story,' September/October 2008, NACLA. See the full article here.

This indifference has led to an appalling level of non-reporting, not just of the latest floods, but also of the killing of unarmed civilians by United Nations forces (Minustah), the Haitian National Police, and death squads.

On July 6, 2005, the UN's Minustah force launched an assault into Haiti's Cité Soleil. According to declassified messages sent that day from the US Embassy in the Haitian capital to the State Department, UN troops fired 22,000 shots in seven hours in a neighbourhood where most people live in flimsy metal structures. As many as 30 people were killed, including a number of  children.

Although a freelance journalist was on hand to document the shootings and take video statements from victims' relatives, only a few US newspapers mentioned the incident. These mostly portrayed the incident as a successful UN attempt to eliminate gang members - reports of civilian deaths were ignored.

The US press has given similar treatment to atrocities committed by the Haitian National Police. By contrast, at the time of President Aristide's second term in power (2001-2004), there were numerous articles, editorials, and opinion pieces in US and British papers denouncing violence. The Times, for example, did not grieve Aristide's overthrow by armed thugs in 2004, but instead denounced his "despotic and erratic rule". (Leader, 'Au revoir Aristide,' The Times, March 1, 2004)

The Independent's Andrew Gumbel wrote a piece titled, "The little priest [Aristide] who became a bloody dictator like the one he once despised." (Gumbel, The Independent, February 21, 2004)

And yet, Beeton reports:

"Reasonable estimates put the number of political killings - by the police or groups supporting his government - during Aristide's two terms in office at between 10 and 30. This contrasts with the more than 3,000 political killings that took place under the 2004-06 interim government (and the estimated 50,000 under the Duvalier dictatorships)."

So why has so little attention been paid to Haiti after Aristide, when there has been far more political turmoil and violence? One reporter told Beeton:

"If the United States has spent millions of dollars funding the training of police officers, who then terrorize people or become drug traffickers, the U.S. would not be eager to have this information broadcast to American taxpayers."

Another reporter described how his editor had turned down an investigative piece on Rudolph Boulos, one of the wealthiest men in Haiti and a board member of the Haiti Democracy Project, a Washington-based lobby group. The editor explained: "Boulos is a very well-known figure in Washington."

The deeper reasons were indicated by The Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which observed after the initial, US-backed coup to overthrow Aristide in September 1991:

"Under Aristide, for the first time in the republic's tortured history, Haiti seemed to be on the verge of tearing free from the fabric of despotism and tyranny which had smothered all previous attempts at democratic expression and self-determination." Aristide's victory "represented more than a decade of civic engagement and education on his part," in "a textbook example of participatory, 'bottom-up' and democratic political development". (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.209)

Howard French wrote in the New York Times in 1992:

"Despite much blood on the army's hands, United States diplomats consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle rhetoric... threatened or antagonized traditional power centres at home and abroad." (French, 'Aristide seeks more than moral support,' New York Times, September 27, 1992)

We asked Beeton what he thought of media coverage of the latest flooding. He explained that the crisis is made far worse by the fact that so many of Haiti's trees have been cut down by desperate people for sale or use:

"Media coverage of floods and other natural disasters in Haiti consistently overlooks the human-made contribution to those disasters. In Haiti's case, this is the endemic poverty, the lack of infrastructure, lack of adequate health care, and lack of social spending that has resulted in so many people living in shacks and make-shift housing, and most of the population in poverty. But Haiti's poverty is a legacy of impoverishment, a result of centuries of economic looting of the country by France, the U.S., and of odious debt owed to creditors like the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. Haiti has never been allowed to pursue an economic development strategy of its own choosing, and recent decades of IMF-mandated policies have left the country more impoverished than ever.

"This is why the country is denuded of trees, after desperate Haitians cut them down to make charcoal to use or sell. Without vegetation, the country is more prone to flooding.

"Until Haiti is able to develop, free of foreign interference and the dictates of foreign creditors, it's impoverishment is likely to continue and even to worsen.

"The international community can help mitigate future disasters by canceling Haiti's debt - much of it accrued under the Duvalier dictatorships - and giving Haiti the policy space it needs to promote real, sustainable, development." (Email to Media Lens, September 9, 2008)

This honest analysis of the root causes of Haitian misery, like the misery itself, is unlikely to trouble the pages of our newspapers any time soon.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Ask the Independent why it has had so little to say about the crisis in Haiti.

Write to the Independent's foreign news editor, Katherine Butler

Write to Roger Alton, editor of the Independent

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 13:51:14 +0000

Last month, a senior UK government adviser warned of the real risk of a devastating rise in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius. Professor Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said:

"There is no doubt that we should aim to limit changes in the global mean surface temperature to 2C above pre-industrial [levels].

"But given this is an ambitious target, and we don't know in detail how to limit greenhouse gas emissions to realise a 2 degree target, we should be prepared to adapt to 4C." (James Randerson, 'Prepare for global temperature rise of 4C, warns top scientist', Guardian, August 7, 2008; 06/climatechange.scienceofclimatechange)

But what would a 4C rise mean for the planet? According to the 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change, up to 300 million people would be affected by coastal flooding annually. Water availability in Southern Africa and the Mediterranean could drop by half, and agricultural yields in Africa may be cut by up to 35%, with devastating consequences for millions at risk of starvation, malnutrition and disease. Half of all animal and plant species could face extinction.

Worse, rapid runaway warming could be triggered - for example, by the release of methane hydrate deposits in the Arctic - rapidly escalating the temperature rise far above even 4C. The idea that we should somehow "adapt" to such cataclysmic outcomes is deeply irrational.


IPCC graphic depicting projected risks of global warming. Reproduced from Science,
Vol 318, 23 November 2007, p. 1231.

Sir David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser, has backed Watson's call to "prepare for the worst." King said that even if a global deal could ever be agreed to keep carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere below 450 parts per million (ppm), there is a 50% probability that temperatures would exceed 2C and a 20% probability they would exceed 3.5C.

By contrast, Professor Neil Adger of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has rejected the call for "adaptation", describing it as "a dangerous mindset."

Unfortunately, it is considered "improbable" by some scientists that, under current policies, global warming will even be kept below 4C. The authors of a new report say that stabilising carbon dioxide at the required atmospheric concentration of 650ppm would require industrialised nations to "begin to make draconian emission reductions within a decade". (Jenny Haworth, The Scotsman, 'Temperature rises "will be double the safe limit" for global warming', September 1, 2008;

The authors also warn that the G8 promise to cut emissions by half by 2050, in an effort to limit the global temperature rise to just 2C, has no scientific basis. Instead, this delusion could lead to "dangerously misguided" policies: "Political inaction on global warming has become so dire" that "nations must now consider extreme technical solutions." These "geo-engineering options" include dumping iron into the oceans to boost the growth of plankton (which absorbs carbon dioxide) and injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. (David Adam, 'Extreme and risky action the only way to tackle global warming, say scientists', Guardian, September 1, 2008)

As humanity teeters on the brink, the corporate media are sure to give increasing coverage to these dubious and risky "technofixes." Influential business lobbyists will make ever-greater efforts to push for lucrative, but diversionary, "solutions" to climate chaos. We need to be alert to such self-serving manoeuvres and willing to expose them.

This much is clear: after more than twenty years of ever more urgent scientific warnings, and government and corporate obstructionism, we really have arrived at the edge of the climate abyss.

Pushing Carbon Storage - Pushing Profits

Professor Watson's response to his own dire warning to "prepare" for a 4C rise was to call for the UK to take a lead in research on carbon capture and storage (CCS). This would require an "Apollo-type programme" akin to the huge resources devoted by the US in the 1960s space race.

So what does CCS entail? First, carbon dioxide is "captured" by separating it out from the waste gases emitted by power stations. The CO2 is then liquefied and pumped into underground geological formations, such as former oil reservoirs, and thus "stored." Proponents of this technology claim that carbon emissions from power stations could be reduced by as much as 90 per cent.

The words "carbon capture and storage" have now become a standard buzz-phrase along with "pollution permits", "joint implementation mechanism" and "tradable energy quotas."

We conducted a Nexis newspaper database search for "carbon capture and storage" in the British press over the 12-month period of Sep 1, 2007 - Aug 31, 2008 and discovered 219 mentions. Almost one half (100 mentions) was in the Guardian alone. This compares with 86 (23 in the Guardian) for the previous twelve month period and 48 (14 in the Guardian) for the year before that. The numbers drop off quickly going further back, with the first mention in a Times article in 2004. This article reported that people who had been interviewed about CCS had, understandably, never heard of it:

"They said it sounded dangerous and unnecessary... They don't like the idea of a quick fix or burying the problem. Most people would rather see a move to renewables and improved energy efficiency."

But when "the problem of emissions was explained", we were told, "they came round a bit" and understood that "CCS could solve a problem over the next few decades. People are more inclined to accept it as part of a package of measures, policies and ideas." (Anjana Ahuja, 'A global threat buried', The Times, May 20, 2004)

As indicated by its rapidly escalating media profile, CCS has been hyped into the foreground with serious discussion of alternative "measures, policies and ideas" left trailing in its wake. Corporate energy chiefs have pushed CCS hard, a greenwashing strategy to protect business interests, profits and power.

The stakes are high for big business. Between now and 2020, the UK must replace about a third of its existing electricity generating capacity. One of those jockeying for prime position is Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON which runs the Kingsnorth power station, scene of the summer's Climate Camp protests. Golby has declared a breathless enthusiasm for "a new generation of nuclear reactors, more gas storage facilities and gas stations, and a limited number of new coal-fired stations, built ready to be fitted with CCS equipment, which could cut carbon emissions by 90%." (Paul Golby, 'Protesters at our coal plant are deluded if they think renewables alone can serve Britain's needs', The Guardian, July 31, 2008)

We are to believe that E.ON, as "one of the UK's leading green generators", is ready to serve the country by doing its bit to minimise any risk to "our security of supply" in the "face [of] greater cost burdens." Whereas the aspirations of the climate activists for a huge expansion in renewables and energy efficiency are "simply unrealistic", Golby believes that "if we are to achieve the low-carbon economy we want, then existing nuclear capacity needs to be replaced at least on a like-for-like basis."

But consider the extent of the hype. A recent report from Corporate Watch warns that CCS technology is unlikely to be proven, scaled up and in widespread use until 2030 at the earliest, and possibly not until 2050 - too late to prevent climate chaos. (Claire Fauset, 'Techno-fixes: A critical guide to climate change technologies', Corporate Watch, 2008, p. 4; download.php?id=78)

Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, comments:

"[I]t is disingenuous of the energy companies to use the promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as a carrot to get the approval they need to build the power station [at Kingsnorth], when they know full well that CCS technology is unproven and costly."

Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, states emphatically that it may well +never+ be "prudent or politically acceptable" to adopt such risky measures; and, in any case, "they must not divert attention away from efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases." In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dismissed geo-engineering as "largely speculative and unproven and with the risk of unknown side-effects." (David Adam, 'Extreme and risky action the only way to tackle global warming, say scientists', The Guardian, September 1, 2008)

Contrary to the assertions of E.ON's chief executive, Reeves argues that carbon emissions targets can be met without resorting to nuclear power or coal, adding:

"Investment in energy conservation instead of nuclear and coal would result in seven times the reduction in emissions. Renewables can provide the power we need, given the political will." (Nick Reeves, 'No to nuclear', letter to New Statesman, August 25, 2008)

Nevertheless, huge propaganda campaigns are being launched by powerful companies, such as E.ON, to push both CCS and nuclear energy. The latter is already firmly back on the government's agenda.

A welcome, but entirely inadequate, note of caution about corporate claims appeared in a Guardian editorial:

"The idea of stripping pollution from fossil fuels is seductive - a quick fix to an overwhelming crisis." However, the paper added, "for countries that develop it there could also be big profits." (Leading article, 'Climate change: A captivating remedy', The Guardian, June 2, 2008)

More accurately, the "big profits" would enrich corporations and investors, not the citizens of the countries concerned.

Corporate media coverage has shamefully buried the truth that CCS would be exploited to enhance oil recovery: pumping carbon dioxide into ageing oil reservoirs has the effect of forcing out oil that would otherwise stay underground. CCS and other technical "solutions" to impending climate chaos are thus being used to prop up the fossil fuel industry which remains committed to massive exploration and exploitation efforts for decades to come. David Hone, climate change adviser for Shell, concedes that fossil fuels will remain Shell's core business "for some time." (Terry Slavin, 'Promise of a green industrial revolution', The Guardian, July 16, 2008)

The push for CCS then - and, indeed, for nuclear power - is yet another outcome of pathological business greed. It is a fatal display of short-sightedness and arrogance which relies on technical fixes to tackle symptoms, rather than the systemic sickness at the heart of global capitalism. One might as well feed beta-blocking drugs to an obese person with heart disease in an effort to prevent heart attacks, rather than address fundamental issues of health, diet and lifestyle.

Tinkering At The Edges - The Independent's Environment Editor

The public is encouraged to believe that, if anyone in the media 'gets it' on climate change, then it is the environment correspondents and editors of the liberal press. Michael McCarthy, the Independent's environment editor, wrote recently that, for "the idealists of the green movement", the threat of global warming meant:

"People would be obliged to live in respectful harmony with the earth. They would be obliged to alter their ways: swap their cars for bikes and public transport; substitute renewable energy systems for coal-fired electricity; and consume less of everything. The alternative was catastrophe. It was go green, or die.

"It has gradually become clear that this dream is not going to be realised, which is a sad recognition for anyone who sympathises with the environment movement to have to make."

Instead, claimed McCarthy, the best hopes of tackling climate change now lie "most of all with technological fixes." He even went so far as to claim that CCS is "now the only realistic response to climate change." (McCarthy, 'A simple plan to save the world', The Independent, August 22, 2008)

And yet, just two years earlier, McCarthy had described "how hard it is to cut carbon emissions by tinkering at the edges of a capitalist economy in full growth mode. It is now clear that the pursuit of economic business-as-usual is simply not an option." (McCarthy, 'Blow for Britain's fight against climate change as emissions target is missed,' The Independent, March 29, 2006)

McCarthy was responding to the rational analysis of Labour MP Colin Challen, who had argued "the pursuit of economic growth makes controlling CO2 an impossibility... a different path must be sought." (McCarthy, ibid)

How can the Independent's environment editor possibly justify the dodgy CCS technofix - which may not even be in place before 2050 - as anything other than "tinkering at the edges" of capitalism in full growth mode? And why has he had so little to say about critical challenges to the political orthodoxy of unsustainable economic growth? McCarthy's failures and omissions are symptomatic of everything that is wrong with even the best news media.

Fatal Taboo - Endless Growth

We cannot rely on environment editors, far less other journalists, to challenge the elite consensus on the need for relentless economic 'growth', a cancerous process that is killing the planet. The issue is rarely addressed seriously in the corporate media, or discussed by politicians, academia, think tanks - or even by the major green pressure groups. George Monbiot calls it "the last of the universal taboos." (Monbiot, 'In this age of diamond saucepans, only a recession makes sense', The Guardian, October 9, 2007)

Colin Challen courageously challenged this fatal conceit in 2006:

"We are imprisoned by our political Hippocratic oath: we will deliver unto the electorate more goodies than anybody else. Such an oath was only ever achievable by increasing our despoliation of the world's resources. Our economic model is not so different in the cold light of day to that of the Third Reich - which knew it could only expand by grabbing what it needed from its neighbours.

"Genocide followed. Now there is a case to answer that genocide is once again an apt description of how we are pursuing business as usual, wilfully ignoring the consequences for the poorest people in the world." (Challen, 'We must think the unthinkable, and take voters with us,' The Independent, March 28, 2006)

The media's obsequious compliance with "the last of the universal taboos" make it complicit in this genocide, in this crime against humanity and against the Earth.

Rather than "slouching towards disaster", as the Independent's environment editor once put it (Michael McCarthy, 'Slouching towards disaster', The Tablet, 12 February, 2005), we could take a wise, compassionate and optimistic approach. The fact is that sudden, unexpected radical social changes +do+ occur. As the media critic John Theobald noted, the events of 1989 in Eastern Europe give one example:

"It may be remembered that even weeks before the dramatic events and the short timescale in which they took place, they seemed impossible. Apparently robust social systems, power structures and ideologies... [can] submit to counter-hegemonic pressures for radical change in which popular action plays a significant role." (Theobald, 'The media and the making of history', Ashgate, 2004, p. 139)

US historian Howard Zinn also reminds us that governments rely on our tacit acceptance of their policies, and on our obedience. Withdraw that obedience, and we truly do have a "power [that] governments cannot suppress." (Howard Zinn, 'A Power Governments Cannot Suppress', City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2007)

If we can loosen, even a little, the crushing chains of corporate power and thought control, then we still have a chance of averting disaster.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Michael McCarthy, environment editor of the Independent 

Roger Alton, editor of the Independent 

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian 

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Alerts 2008 Tue, 16 Nov 2010 13:35:45 +0000