Media Lens - Reviews News analysis and media criticism Sun, 19 Nov 2017 02:56:28 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Review by Scientists for Global Responsibility

Newspeak in the 21st century.

By Media Lens authors David Edwards and David Cromwell

We re now nine years into our ‘War on Terror’. Confidence in entire categories of establishment figures is approaching meltdown, (politicians, bankers, multinational corporations, Roman Catholic priests). We face multiple mega-threats to our species, (global warming, the population explosion, energy and water shortages). Not surprising then that many are wondering what is going on? I mean what is really going on?

Our mystification is aggravated by being continually asked, by the political and media establishment, to believe what, on reflection, are preposterous propositions. We need continuous growth with limited resources. Competition is highly superior to co-operation. We must maintain weapons that can destroy the planet ready to be launched at a moments notice in order to ensure our safety. Many other contentious issues could be mentioned that remain largely unchallenged in the corporate media.

Well, to find out what is really going on and to witness (if not to take part in) a public discussion on such issues most people turn to the media; in particular television and newspapers. The media has a huge responsibility. How does it fulfil this responsibility? Not well. All the anomalies referred to are made to appear unexceptional – normal. It is the purpose of ‘Newspeak’ to unpick the way this is done. This book does fulfil its responsibilities. John Pilger declared that ‘Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth’.

Filleting the news as presented by the media is a special skill which has to be learned.

Many of us know that we are being manipulated but sometimes cannot quite locate where or how this is being accomplished. Each chapter in ‘Newspeak’ is a lesson in how to unravel the tangled web of lies and half-truths.

‘Newspeak’ presents convincing evidence that “The ‘free press’, truly, is not what it seems and gives ample examples of ‘..the consistently distorted, power-friendly performance of the media at all levels.’ Distorting factors are explored including the need not to threaten profits and advertising revenue.  Also explored is the way in which the capacity for self-deception drives the propaganda system.

One chapter includes a discussion of “The Magnificent Fiction” of BBC balance. It is pointed out that the BBC’s upper echelons are largely populated by senior corporate and government figures and that there exists a revolving door linking the BBC, the government and big business. The bias of balance and the adoption of ‘neutral views’ is explored (e.g. the assumption that the UK and the US are motivated by humanitarian concerns in Iraq is a ‘neutral’ view adopted continuously without challenge). A further chapter treats us to a prescient “A to Z of BBC Propaganda”.

The section on climate change points to gaping holes in reporting and to the way that the media describes the compelling science dissipates its impact. To cognitive dissonance and profit-friendly clichés we can add straight propaganda supporting the sceptics. Reporting of the lead-in to the Iraq war is critically analysed as is the on-going news of the war itself including the way the 2004 and 2006 Lancet Reports on Iraqi civilian deaths was handled.

Other topics dealt with include reporting on the Israel/Palestine issue, on Iran, and on Venezuela.

A final chapter puts forward a plea for compassion, awareness and honest journalism.”....we should take the side of compassion against indifference, greed and hatred” and “we should seek to identify the real causes of human and animal suffering with as much honesty as we are capable...” We must free ourselves from self-serving bias.

The authors of ‘Newspeak’ make a convincing case for achieving their goal “ offer evidence for a profound, consistent bias favouring powerful interests stretching right across the media ‘spectrum’” (p17).

There is still much to do. Perhaps the authors’ next book will unpick those commonly used words and phrases which are themselves lies or encapsulate networks of lies; words and phrases which are repeated so often by the establishment and the media that they represent, in themselves, an effective system of brainwashing. Words and phrases  like ‘defence’, the defence industry’, ‘The Ministry of Defence’, ‘our deterrent’, ‘Our independent deterrent’, ‘Our vital interests’, The Coalition of the Willing’, ‘Insurgents’, ‘The War on Terror’, ‘rogue states’, ‘The free world’.


Jim McCluskey, SGR newsletter, Winter 2011.

Newspeak Reviews Sun, 30 Jan 2011 20:23:39 +0000
A Book Review by Clyde Sanger Carleton University, Canada

Newspeak in the 21st Century

By David Edwards and David Cromwell
London, UK: Pluto Press, 2009. 304 pp.
ISBN: 9780745328935.

This book is a hatchet job. Granted, it is detailed and precise and no doubt accurate, and the authors who co-founded the London-based Media Lens website in 2001 are completely open about the main aim of both the website and this book. It is to highlight "examples of bias, omission or deception in British mainstream media" with a particular focus on media thought to be objective (the BBC) or left-wing (The Guardian, The Observer, and The Independent). They build on the work of Noam Chomsky's Propaganda Model and borrow their title from George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which Winston Smith's research job in the Ministry of Truth was to falsify records and to embrace an ideological language (Newspeak) that sanitizes any heretical thoughts. So they do not hide their hatchets, which positively gleam, as they chop away at mainly well-intentioned but duped broadcasters and reporters.

It is their second swing at this target. Earlier they published (also with Pluto Press) Guardians of Power: The myth of liberal media. You know what you are getting. They do not tell us about their own backgrounds, but the Internet is helpful as ever. Both born in 1962, Edwards has a degree in politics from Leicester, and got interested in human rights and the environment after years of doing sales in a marketing corporation, while Cromwell is a physicist and oceanographer from Glasgow who had four years with Shell in the Netherlands. They have published in newspapers and magazines, but there is no indication that either has ever worked on a newspaper.

Their general thesis is that reporters learn to be obedient and subordinate from childhood (the Chomsky "filtering system") if they are going to achieve positions of influence—no conspiracy, no self-censorship, you might call it conditioning. When they were challenged by a former Guardian writer who named dissenting voices on these papers (Robert Fisk and George Monbiot, and John Pilger on the New Statesman), they say only Fisk writes news reports—and they add that these writers have the effect of making the public feel their papers are honest and open. In total, they and the rest of us galley slaves have been bolstering the corporate power.

Yes, much of this is true. And they give in full detail many examples. One shocker (omission or suppression?) is the rejection seven times by editors on The Observer of the scoop its reporter Ed Vulliamy had that the CIA was reporting in the autumn of 2002 that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. Did naïve Ed try to publish elsewhere?, the two Davids asked. No, he did not want to harm his career. And they pay back their mentor with a section "The Guardian smears Chomsky" by retelling how Emma Brockes (a bright young Oxford graduate) had by elipsis suggested in 2005 that he had said the Srebenica massacre was exaggerated, and how the vital part of the tape she had recorded was missing. I agree (and so did the editor Alan Rusbridger) it reflected badly on the paper; but was there bias or even deception there? The argument—over paired letters and a spoof column—continued beyond the paper's retraction and Rusbridger's apology. One comes to understand why he and Roger Alton as Observer editor came to call Media Lens "pernicious" rather than persistent.

There are plenty of good examples—from the Iraq body count to the Falklands peace plan—that every journalist would do well to ponder. There is discussion about objectivity and bias. In some 58 years as a journalist, I can add a few examples from my own experience. During the Six-Day War in 1967, as an editorial writer on The Globe and Mail it took much arguing on my part to get an Arab viewpoint reflected on the comment page. In teaching the basics of journalism to former guerrillas (freedom fighters) in 1982 Zimbabwe, I never mentioned objectivity, but pressed the principle of fairness (to Joshua Nkomo as well as Robert Mugabe). Indeed, the American forerunner of Media Lens is called FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Earlier, in 1959 Rhodesia, when the governors of all three federal territories declared an emergency and detained hundreds, my magazine's managing director told me not to fly up to Nyasaland ("we can cover it from here"); I resigned my editorship, flew to Blantyre with Anthony Sampson of The Observer and learnt many facts from a few still-free Nyasas. (Omission, or deception by my boss).

"The myth of liberal media", say the two giant-slaying Davids. Please give the papers some credit at times. The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, and The Guardian are the two papers on which I served that I most respected. Barry Bingham then owned, and Mark Ethridge Sr., ran the Kentucky group (radio and TV as well) that in 1954 steadily supported desegregation through the Carl Braden trial for "conspiracy to overthrow the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States"—his crime: handing over his house in a white area to a black professional. Carl was the labour reporter, and the FBI piled up "evidence" by dragging his library into court and I heard people in gas stations muttering, "What did he want with all them books?" And then in November 1956 Alistair Hetherington rallied much of the opposition to the Anglo-French invasion of Suez by a string of brave editorials in The Guardian. In its earlier incarnation The Observer,too, under David Astor was anti-Suez.

That is my main criticism of this book. Never having worked inside a newspaper, the authors do not feel, certainly do not make allowance for, the pressures—from governments, from advertisers, from older readers or veterans, from ethnic lobbies, from their own management -- that can bend an editor's resolve. These are outside pressures, not lifelong conditioning. The authors might also read the account by Harold Evans (in his memoirs, "My Paper Chase") of how The Sunday Times covered the Northern Ireland conflict with difficulty but with a fine balance. That was before Murdoch moved in, they will say, highlighting only the dark aspect. Oh well, there are points on both sides.

About the Reviewer

Clyde Sanger was until recently Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Carleton University. Early in his career he was editor of the Central African Examiner 1957-1959, Africa correspondent of The Guardian 1960-1965, and director of information at the Commonwealth Secretariat 1977-1979. Long time Canada correspondent of The Economist, his books include Ordering the Oceans: The Making of the Law of the Sea; Safe and Sound: Disarmament and Development in the Eighties;and Half a Loaf: Canada's Semi-Role among Developing Countries.He has also published two biographical studies: Lotta and the Unitarian Service Committee and Malcolm Macdonald: Bringing an End to Empire. For the last few years he has taught M.A. students at University for Peace, Costa Rica.

Citing this book review:

Sanger, Clyde. (2010). [Review of the book Newspeak in the 21st century]. Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition, 3(2), 119-121.

Newspeak Reviews Tue, 04 Jan 2011 05:28:35 +0000
Review By Organiser

Independent media is like the myth of ‘flat earth’ theory

By Dr Vaidehi Nathan

Newspeak in the 21st Century, David Edwards and David Cromwell, Pluto Press, Pp 299 (PB), price not mentioned

WE have heard people like Noam Chomsky saying that ‘independent’ media is a myth and that in the developed democratic nations, they very much toe the government line, sideline and stifle dissenting voices. If proof was what was needed, David Edwards and David Cromwell provide in plenty in their book Newspeak in the 21st Century. 

Sample this: Ed Vulliamy, a leading reporter of the Observer was given a scoop by a former CIA analyst Mel Goodman that "in contradiction to everything the British and American governments had claimed, the CIA were reporting that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. And Goodman was willing to go on the record as a named source." Britain and America were trying their level best to convince their countrymen that they had to go to war to save the world from the mass destruction weapons of Saddam Hussein. The journalist tried to push the story seven times into the paper. It was rejected. And it was not a coincidence that four months later, the paper’s editor Roger Alton was a fellow guest at a holiday in the Alps with Jonathan Powell, ‘Tony Blair’s most trusted aide.’ 

Greg Philo of the Glasgow University media group says, "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." How very true in our domestic context too. The very people who are the reason for the crisis are given a platform to preach to us. Thus we have naxalites, separatists, anti-nationals, corrupt persons coming on TV and newspaper pages to tell us what should be/should have been done. The latest is the Commonwealth corruption issue. Kalmadi, the man at whom all fingers were pointing as accused got such blistering publicity, with all channels vying to ‘interview’ him. 

Media in India, as elsewhere, has become an elite club of the politicians, editors and the corporates. That’s why the media houses host huge events where they assess politicians, felicitate ‘good’ politicians, bestow awards on businessmen. While the basic idea itself is questionable, what makes it worse is that there is absolutely no transparency on the process of ‘choosing’ the winners. Awards most probably go to the highest bidders. 

Coming back to Newspeak, the Donahue show on the MSNBC, a talk show by Phil Donahue was the highest rated show in 2002-03. But the show was cancelled before the contract ended because, according to an internal memo, he presented "a difficult public face for the NBC in a time of war...he seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives." Clearly, a government prompted sacking. 

The book gives several instances of biased media reporting, in a deliberate attempt to influence the public opinion in favour of the government. The media also goes soft and cooing on the business interests not only of the nations but corporate houses. For instance, reporting negatively on the green movement in order to help the automobile industry etc. Reporting during the Iraq war comes under and repeated focus. 

The most interesting aspect about the style of narration is that it is neither moralistic nor judgmental. The writers have just placed facts on the table, for the reader to judge. 

Years ago, veteran journalist Girilal Jain had said that there was nothing called ‘objective journalism’ because from out of a hundred odd news reports an agency/publication/broadcaster gets, right at the sub-editor level, subjectivity begins. He or she ‘chooses’ some and rejects others, involving personal and professional preferences. His views are very much echoed by Nick Davis in his book Flat Earth News: "The great blockbuster myth of modern journalism is objectivity, the idea that a good newspaper or broadcaster simply collects and reproduces the objective truth. It is a classic Flat Earth tale, widely believed and devoid of reality. It has never happened and never will happen because it cannot happen. Reality exists objectively, but any attempt to record the truth about it always and everywhere necessarily involves selection." 

True enough. But in all this selection, one only hopes that the parameter for the ‘choice’ is public good, beyond any other consideration. That is where the good and bad journalism take separate roads. 

The two authors of this book set up an initiative called Media Lens in 2001 basically with an objective of alerting the reading hearing and seeing public. Since then, they have published more than 2,500 pages of material. The media organisations have naturally reacted sharply to Media Lens. India could do well with its own media lens. 

(Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA,

original source:

Newspeak Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:39:28 +0000
Review By The Morning Star

by Daniel Coysh

There is a fond belief among much of the British liberal left that, while the likes of the Daily Mail and the Sun are vile mouthpieces for far-right fat cats - and thus beneath contempt - they read the "left-wing" press.

Unfortunately, as our hallowed organ's unjust circulation figures attest, their idea of a left-wing newspaper is the Guardian or the Independent, and their idea of a "progressive" TV newsreader is Channel Four's John Snow. Even when challenged, they will argue that such media is, at least, "better" than the aforementioned tabloid shit-sheets.

The dedicated David Edwards and David Cromwell at Media Lens refute this cosy consensus. They have been pointing out the servility to power across the entirety of the mainstream media since 2001, and in this, their second book, they focus almost exclusively on the so-called "liberal media" to prove their point - that because of their phony status as "balanced," these are the most insidious mouthpieces of all for "government, business and war."

Media Lens operates by emailing "alerts" to its subscribers, forensically analysing media reports and contacting the writers and editors responsible to quiz them on the reasons for their decision to refer to the "liberation" of Iraq, rather than its "invasion," for example. This new book does a great job of showing how these journalists often respond with a startling degree of arrogant, ill-mannered truculence, often compounding their original sin by referring to Edwards's and Cromwell's polite inquiries as "rants," or Media Lens supporters as "thugs."

The writers first made their case in book form three years ago, with the powerful Guardians of Power, a volume that was unsurprisingly not reviewed by any national newspaper - even, it pains me to say it, the Morning Star, although I'm sure this was not due to the risk of upsetting our big business backers! - and Newspeak carries on where this left off, focusing more closely on particular big journalistic issues of the age, such as Iraq, Iran, climate change, the Bolivarian revolutions of Latin America and Israel-Palestine.

The authors painstakingly detail the distortions, government-spin-as-truth and downright lies of the Guardian, the Independent, Channel 4 News and the BBC, as well as the media responses collected by Media Lens when these institutions were challenged.

After introducing the reader to the basic operating principles of propaganda in a liberal democracy, Newspeak details the "Magnificent Fiction" of BBC "balance" and gives us the wryly informative "A-Z of BBC propaganda," which shows how the Beeb unthinkingly sucks up to the corporate state.

The life-or-death issue of climate change is dealt with impressively - Newspeak demonstrates how the "liberal" press has won undeserved kudos from its stance on "green" issues, while promoting the "business as usual" ethos of ever-expanding capitalist economy.

The chapters on how the liberal press responded to Downing Street's Iraq lies, the government-led smearing of the 2004 Lancet report into Iraq's civilian casualties, terrorist bombings, Israel and Palestine and Iran are similarly forensic in their detail and appalling in their conclusions.

Of particular interest to socialists is the authors' analysis of this media's attitude to left-wing leaders elsewhere in the world.

They point out that it is a matter of historical record that US interests have repeatedly meddled in Latin American affairs - to the detriment of democracy and with murderous results.

Yet the Chavez government of Venezuela is treated as a dangerous animal, with its leader referred to as a "firebrand" at best and subject to a remarkable hate campaign by "liberal left" journalists, who appear worryingly ill-informed about the numerous affronts to democracy and abuses of power by capital-friendly Latin American leaders.

As Newspeak puts it: "As usual, alleged concerns for democracy and human rights mask deeper priorities; protecting governments that toe the line dictated by Western power, and undermining those that do not."

Justice cannot be done to a work of such detail in a short review - only reading and absorbing the important lessons of this book can truly reflect the compassion, concern and commitment of its authors. It is a pity that those crusading liberal broadsheets will never let such sedition creep into their review pages.

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:35:30 +0000
Review By Giuseppe Pennisi

Reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi

Professor of Economics Università Europea di Roma
Rome, Italy

Does the crisis of the press in general and of the printed press in particular have as one of its determinants in the lack of trust of what is printed? This not the thesis of David Edwards and David Cromwell but rather the feeling the reviewer is left after going through 299 pages where news and reports are documented to be slanted either in good or in bad faith. Good faith is when the journalist is in error for lack of accuracy, sloppiness, laziness and/or mere ignorance. Bad faith is when the articles appear objective but are deeply slanted and intend to deceive the reader and to influence his or her opinion. David Edwards and David Cromwell are the co-editors of Media Lens, a non-profit British organization. On its website the organization defines itself as such : “Media Lens is a response based on our conviction that mainstream newspapers and broadcasters provide a profoundly distorted picture of our world. We are convinced that the increasingly centralised, corporate nature of the media means that it acts as a de facto propaganda system for corporate and other establishment interests. The costs incurred as a result of this propaganda, in terms of human suffering and environmental degradation, are incalculable”.

This self-presentation is telling a lot: Mr. Edwards and Mr. Cromwell do not think very highly of the profession. They do not take on print at the start of their book; they go straight to the Myth of the myths , the BBC alleged objective, unbiased, balanced and truthful reporting. For 60 pages, they document “The Magnificent Fiction” of the BBC. Not only a large number of mistakes is quoted, but also links are established between each of these errors in reporting and dependence on some power. Statistically, it is difficult to agree with the analysis because billion of news items are on the BBC every week, and those chosen may very well be a biased sample themselves. More interesting is that since the BBC was founded by Lord Reith in 1922 , it has been used as a propaganda power house in favor of the Baldwin Government. Thus, why wonder that it has been a propaganda weapon for Tony Blair.

Most of the book deals with reporting on the wars of the last 10 years: the Middle East Israel-Palestinian conflict, the Iraq entanglement, the Iran nuclear weapons of mass destruction. A chapter focuses on the press reports on the world climate problems and how the media is handling Venezuela and its controversial Head of State. Another chapter is an upfront fire on the “liberal press gang” – how the Independent and the Guardian are qualified when they are not called “brilliant fools”.

Thus, the diagnosis is quite bleak. Any therapy to improve the condition of the poor sick journalism or to alleviate its pains? A quite passionate, yet entertaining, book does not set any clear path , but a set of appeals to compassion, awareness, and honest journalism, even with reference to Buddhist monks (a model for guys struggling to make the front page or for chaps concerned more about their career than the betterment of mankind?)––in short, a pleasant read that could, nonetheless, scare the audience away from the media.

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:24:25 +0000
Review By The Brunei Times



DAVIDS Edwards and Cromwell are co-editors of Media Lens, an online journal dedicated to scrutinising mainstream media outlets and exposing bias and misinformation.

Across the narrow spectrum of opinion in British current affairs coverage - from pro-war, pro-Israel, anti-Chavez conservatives to pro-war, pro-Israel, anti-Chavez liberals, the first decade of the 21st Century has been characterised by a demoralising servility to power on the part of the hired wordsmiths whose job it is to frame the terms of public discourse. 

Whether it's on Israel-Palestine, the Iraq war or the Chavez regime, the consensus among both corporate and state-funded media follows a remarkably simple pattern - official US and British government policy perspectives are accepted at face value, subject to only the rarest and most disarmingly qualified criticism.

To make matters worse, unequivocally pro-war BBC reporters like Andrew Marr make great play of their own purported objectivity, publishing self-indulgent biographies in which they bemoan the hardships of the strict discipline involved in staying so honest. 

A good proportion of Newspeak in the 21st Century is taken up with considering the causes of the criminal complacency of almost the entire journalistic profession — personal ambition, the influence of corporate sponsors and the like — but the majority of the book consists of subject-by-subject case studies of distortions and outright lies.

The media bias is perhaps most obvious in coverage of Israeli violence against Arabs. 

In its coverage of Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, the mainstream media automatically and universally accepted the official Israeli line that the war had been provoked by the kidnapping, on 25th June 2006, of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked militants, ignoring the fact that the kidnapping had been only one incident in a spate of tit-for-tat violence which included the June 24th kidnapping of a Palestinian doctor and his brother by Israeli forces, as well Israeli killings of twenty civilians (including nine children) in an attack several days earlier. On Israel-Palestine, even dissenting voices like Robert Fisk and Seumas Milne tend to operate within one key overriding assumption — that Israeli actions are motivated by a genuine desire to achieve security. 

An alternative view — endorsed by Edwards and Cromwell and articulated at length by Noam Chomsky — is that Israel deliberately sacrifices security in the cause of territorial expansion. 

It is at the very least an argument worth serious consideration, but it is conspicuously absent from the pages of even the more liberal British newspapers such as the Guardian or Independent, and we are stuck with this notion of Israel as a clumsy but well-meaning oaf — a discursive framework that has, of course, also informed decades of journalistic apologism about US foreign policy, taking for granted the essential good faith of the latter.

Well written and thoroughly researched, Newspeak in 21st Century provides fourteen chapters of cogent, thoughtful and incisive critical analysis along these lines. 

It also doubles as a timely critique of the violence and instability wrought by a decade of US-led realpolitik.

At a time of great global uncertainty, the failure of the mainstream media to provide anything like an effective critical response has served to impoverish democratic debate and induce public apathy towards politics. 

In this context Media Lens performs an invaluable service, and gives cause for optimism.

The Brunei Times

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:18:56 +0000
Review By 3am Magazine

Attack of the Clones

By Max Dunbar

Newspeak in the 21st Century, David Edwards and David Cromwell, Pluto, 2009

There are now loads of popular internet sites purporting to expose the mendacity of the mainstream media - Biased BBC, Islamophobia Watch, the Taxpayers’ Alliance - yet Medialens pioneered the format when blogging was in its infancy in 2001. David Edwards and David Cromwell end the introduction to their book with a declaration of the site’s aims: to ‘challenge the deeply entrenched view that the media present us with a more or less honest view of the world.’ 

This is carried out by encouraging the website’s readers to bombard mainstream journalists with repetitive emails on a daily basis. The content of a Medialens alert is generally an accusation of propaganda against some writer or broadcaster who has deviated from the Medialens view of the world - criticised Hamas, say, or praised an aspect of US foreign policy. Any responses are posted on the website, whether the journalist has consented to this or not.

It’s a pointless dialogue - the Indie or Guardian man may make a small amendment to his article but nothing will satisfy the Medialens admins that is not a full retraction of everything the journalist has said plus a supplementary confession of their role as state capitalist running dog. The war correspondent Peter Beaumont made the point well: ‘[T]here is no conversation between them and their victims… a curious willy-waving exercise where the regulars brag about the emails they’ve sent to people like poor Helen Boaden at the BBC - and the replies they have garnered.’

From the receiving end it must be irritating, but for the spectator the few dashed-off responses coupled with Edwards and Cromwell’s total lack of self-awareness make for an unintentionally comic read. Adam Curtis: ‘I don’t know whether it occurred to you that I might have been away - instead of stamping your little feet and trying to whip up an attack of the clones.’ Gavin Esler: ‘Sorry but this medialens inspired stuff is very sophomoric. The last time I remember a robotic response from people like this was watching film of the Nuremberg rallies.’ Roger Alton: ‘Matey - This is utter bollocks… Please stop bothering people about such junk.’

It is true that there is irresponsible propagandist media in this country. Every day the Mail, the Express and the Sun publish outrageous lies about immigrants and recycled stories on ‘political correctness’. Together they create a seething sewage valve of hate, envy and fear.

Yet Medialens concentrates mainly on the high end of the trade, on reporters and broadcasters who aren’t perfect but do their best to report things as they are and do a decent job, most of the time. They include people who don’t see their families for months on end because they are getting shot at in Rwanda or Baluchistan. It’s a dangerous business - Paul Berman estimated that when it comes to Iraq, the job of military correspondent carries a greater risk of fatality than the job of soldier - and I can’t help thinking these men and women should be cut a little slack sometimes, rather than having to face constant accusations of complicity in blood-soaked imperialism.

There is valuable material in Newspeak in the 21st Century. Edwards and Cromwell give a forensic demolition of Channel 4’s The Great Global Warming Swindle, a junk science documentary that misrepresented the views of its participants and should never have been screened. There is also a credible defence of the Lancet’s Iraq papers. And a couple of the book’s general points ring true. The idea of balance and objectivity isn’t always adequate for an unbiased reporting of news. If such a policy were followed to the letter, every report on evolutionary biology would have to have a quote from some idiot creationist and every documentary on the Nazis would include a talking head from David Irving explaining that the Holocaust never happened.

The authors quote Noam Chomsky: ‘There’s a filtering system that starts in kindergarten and goes all the way through and - it doesn’t work a hundred per cent but it’s pretty effective - it selects for obedience and subordination… if you read applications to graduate school, you see that people will tell you ‘he doesn’t get along too well with his colleagues’ - you know how to interpret these things.’ It seems to me that Edwards and Cromwell misunderstand Chomsky’s argument, because they cite him as a support for their theory of a corporate/media axis carefully selecting and monitoring what is and is not written. Yet my impression is that Chomsky was making a more subtle point. The system rewards plodding mediocrities; it sidelines and marginalises people with talent and independence, but as part of a natural process owing more to human nature than an overarching plan.

Campaigning journalist Nick Davies, also cited by the Davids, rejected conspiratorial theories in his essential book Flat Earth News. He argued that the media does publish lies and propaganda. Yet this was often a result of competing interests. Newspapers are owned by people who are more interested in making money than in reporting what’s going on in the world. Good investigative journalism is expensive, and also runs the risk of offending advertisers, who are more vital than readers to a paper’s success. The result is that journalism is cheap, badly resourced and target-driven. Graduates on twelve grand a year spend all day in the office, pounding out single-sourced stories often dependent on PR copy or government press release or the equally stretched PA wires. This is why so many people are being laid off and why print media struggles to compete in the digital age.

Cromwell and Edwards ignore all this in favour of more sinister arguments. The Davids go out of their way to defend Hugo Chavez, an authoritarian populist who locks up journalists who disagree with him; also the Iranian theocracy that tortures, rapes and executes its dissidents, also the genocidal Hamas movement. This latter group is described by Cromwell and Edwards as a ‘democratic government’ when in fact it has minority support due to its oppression of Palestinians. The Davids will tell you that they speak truth to power, but they are happy to kiss power’s whip when it suits them. They’ve got some face in claiming to ‘take the side of compassion against indifference, greed and hatred.’ They end their book with a chapter on Buddhist meditations.

Having read through 287 pages of pious waffle, clumsy Orwell comparisons, sweeping moral equivalence and clanging exclamation marks, I can appreciate that I’ve been harsh on the Medialens founders. Yet I pity its subscribers. These are obviously good people who care about the state of the world and want to make a difference. They could be working for the UN or Doctors Without Borders and instead they are wasting their time firing off spam email to people who are just trying to get on with their jobs. I hope some of them took Gavin Esler’s advice: ‘Please don’t write to me again in someone else’s words. It is so embarrassing for you. Please learn to think for yourself.’

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:16:47 +0000
Review By The Guardian

by Stephen Poole

This book from the editors of the Medialens website is not really about "Newspeak", but offers a miscellany of detailed criticism of mainstream reporting on issues such as the Iraq war, Israel/Palestine, Hugo Chávez, global warming and so on. A major theme throughout is the fiction of media "balance", whereby opposing viewpoints represent the limits of the respectably thinkable. Deserved smackdowns are applied to Channel 4's trash documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle; Andrew Marr's declaration after the defeat of the Iraqi army in 2003 that the PM "now stands a larger man"; and the Guardian's own Chomskygate affair of 2005.

Litotes is not among the authors' stylistic weapons: they claim that "the BBC is part of a system of thought control complicit in the deaths of millions of people abroad, in severe political oppression at home, and in the possible termination of human life on this planet". So runs their counterproductive tendency to bathe everything in childishly apocalyptic polemic; they also affect to know what is going on "unconsciously" in journalists' minds, and seem unaware that their own preferred descriptions of events are often just as rhetorically framed as the versions of the "psychopathic corporate media" (on which they nonetheless rely for factual reference). Still, they are useful irritants. I liked their reply to one discomfited journalist: "The technical term for what you have experienced is: democracy."

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Mon, 08 Nov 2010 16:05:11 +0000
Review By The Tribune

Through a lens darkly

Newspeak is from the men behind media watchdog Media Lens.

The book’s focus is primarily on the liberal arm of mainstream media, The Guardian, Independent, Channel 4 News and the BBC, and how they more often serve vested interests than attack them.

Media Lens specialises in careful content analysis to tease apart the assumptions and prejudices behind news stories. It then asks supporters to email journalists direct and ask them why they wrote what they did.

Sometimes they are ignored; more often than you might think reporters email back engaging with the debate. Former Observer editor Roger Alton just swears a lot.

Looking at the motivations behind The Guardian is far more useful as it is seen as one of the few friends the Left has in the mainstream media.

So there are excellent chapters on how The Lancet’s report on deaths in Iraq was handled, the reporting on climate change and coverage of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

But then you come across sentences such as this: “Though they scoff at the notion, journalists really do have the blood of millions of innocent people on their hands” and it left me shaking my head in frustration at the simplicity and sanctimonious which bedevils this book.

Let’s start with the basic notion that the liberal mainstream media aren’t necessarily on the side of progressive individuals and organisations.

This is not news. Anyone involved in trade union activities could have told you the same.

It doesn’t mean that the work of Media Lens isn’t important, but throughout this book readers are assumed to be cruelly blinded by capitalist propaganda, unable to think for themselves.

Cromwell and Edwards write: “mainstream journalism is held in comparatively high esteem” except polls show hacks rate only slightly higher than estate agents and politicians in terms of public trust. I would suggest, that vote of no confidence from the public is precisely because people are tired of the media’s tricks and distortions.

Then there is the use of evidence.

Cromwell and Edwards’ thesis is that the all the mainstream media present news in packages designed to reflect the dominant culture. Competing ideas, organisations or individuals are ignored or ridiculed.

However, time and again the authors use as evidence, and without questioning, material published in one outlet to attack another. Reporters are castigated one minute for publishing lies then another story is taken as the truth.

It feels like they pick and choose when they wish to believe something in order to bolster their argument.

For instance there is a huge section on a news story about a leaked Downing Street memo showing Blair was preparing for war with Iraq and WMDs were just a ploy. They clinically take apart the misreporting of this leak in liberal media. And the outlet which had the scoop? The Sunday Times. But I thought that was part of the propaganda machine?

The authors demand newspapers break out of the capitalist model which shackles their reporting but when challenged on how this might be achieved have no answer.

Mostly though, Newspeak feels very out of date. Issues such as The Lancet report are hardly new. There is a large section on how The Guardian shafted Noam Chomsky (the patron saint of Media Lens) in an interview. That was published in 2005. Presumably the chapter on the Zinoviev letter was cut for reasons of space.

As for the biggest story of the last 12 months – the spectacular collapse of casino capitalism – there is not a word.

The focus is on print and TV, yet people get their media in many different formats and from many different sources. Edwards and Cromwell talk about the internet offering the prospect of an alternative to the mainstream media. Prospect? It’s here already.

There is a bit on the social background of Fleet Street reporters but this promising angle is never developed. Instead we get a last chapter on what Buddhists can teach reporters (I’d prefer them to learn shorthand).

Media Lens and this book offer sharp lessons on how the liberal media operate. Their probing of journalists and editors means that a spotlight has been trained and evasions and misrepresentations will not go unchallenged.

I think some of my criticism stems from a fatal flaw that many journalists have of closing ranks when under attack.

I acknowledge the hubris but it still means that, too often, I found their approach lacked nuance. Their carefully constructed world-view is impervious to any counter criticism.

Newspeak feels like an opportunity missed.

Original article here:

Newspeak Reviews Mon, 08 Nov 2010 15:53:01 +0000
Review By ZNet

31 March 2010

Journalism's Servility to Power

By Tapani Lausti

As the latest NATO "surge" in Afghanistan progresses with the inevitable "regrettable" civilian casualties, the BBC is there following uncritically the military operation. No one critical of the NATO occupation and surge is allowed to appear in front of the cameras. BBC correspondents take everything at face value. They talk earnestly about "winning hearts and minds" and creating "confidence" among the local population. "NATO is trying to minimize civilian casualities", one BBC reporter solemnly declared. This is the way the Soviet media covered the Russian disaster in Afghanistan.


The BBC likes to boast about its unbiased reporting and yet it is deeply influenced by assumptions which uncritically reflect Western elite opinions. Indeed David Edwards and David Cromwell in their new book quote research which shows that the BBC displayed the most pro-war agenda of any broadcaster on the Iraq invasion. (p. 28) In BBC culture "journalism that faithfully echoes the government line is viewed as neutral. Thus, the assumption that the US and UK governments are motivated by humanitarian concern in Iraq is a 'neutral' view — this can be repeated ad nauseam without provoking the slightest controversy. On the other hand the idea that US policy is driven by strategic and economic considerations — regional influence and control of oil — is a 'biased' view that needs to be balanced or, more likely, ignored." (p. 29)


Edwards and Cromwell concentrate on quality media and show its serious failings in living up to the ideal of "objective" reporting. The depth of the tragedy of Iraq is barely understood by mainstream journalists. They dismiss reliable reports of the immense number of civilian deaths as "controversial". Even after the leaking of the famous Downing Street papers most journalists failed to see that when Tony Blair talked about giving Saddam Hussein "a last chance", he was actually engaged in "a fraud designed to 'wrong foot' Saddam into rejecting the ultimatum and so trigger war." Edwards and Cromwell conclude: "In the real world, Blair was looking at ways to provoke, not merely justify, an illegal war of aggresssion." (p. 92)


As to objectivity, mainstream media tends to promote all sorts of illusions of journalistic standards. It is not unusual to meet reporters who have fallen into a self-congratulatory mode which borders on arrogance. Assumed independence turns into preconceptions which hamper serious analysis. According to Edwards and Cromwell this is how it works for the BBC: "The BBC's servility to power is mostly the product of a professional mindset that shares the values and assumptions of elite power. Auntie Beeb does not need Big Brother to keep her mind right." (p. 33)


The self-denial of being part of a distorted intellectual culture may explain the aggression often directed at dissidents like Noam Chomsky. Thus the leading British left-liberal newspaper The Guardian actually proceeded to do a demolition job on Chomsky. His interview was full of obvious distortions inserted by the interviewer Emma Brockes. The paper had to apologize, although — as Edwards and Cromwell point out — even the apology included distortions. (p. 232)


Not unexpectedly, Edwards and Cromwell's media criticism project, Media Lens, has been an object of abuse. Another British newspaper, The Times, had this to say — penned by their leader writer [Name Withheld - see note below]: "That organisation, as my regular readers will recall, is among the most reliable conduits of antisemitism and genocide denial". (p. 235) [Name Withheld] in fact is a reliable conduit of distortions when he rails against his intellectual enemies (See: [Name Withheld]).

In this up-side-down world journalists credit Western leaders with benign aims. In Edwards and Cromwell's words, if they "had reported that the US was attempting to subvert democracy around the world (as indeed it does), intense outrage would have been generated in response to their 'biased' and 'unbalanced' journalism. When the judgement goes the other way, nobody notices." (p. 58)


Editors' Note - December 4, 2010

Following complaints that this review is defamatory, we have removed the name of The Times' journalist mentioned. 

Newspeak Reviews Mon, 08 Nov 2010 15:45:57 +0000