25November2014

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ROLLING DEEPLY IN THE DUST

The Guardian Media Group, Spark Magazine And Toyota

The corporate response to the corporate destruction of the environment for profit has been to invest a small portion of the spoils in creating a veneer of 'green responsibility' while keeping the foot slammed down on the accelerator of growth and profit. The irony, of course, is that the display of 'concern' is motivated precisely by a determination to continue subordinating people and planet to profit - deceitful gestures are simply the most cost-effective solution to the problem.

We might ask ourselves what kind of people would be willing to respond so cynically to a threat, not just to people and planet, but to their +own+ people and planet. If an organisation claiming to be aiding the sick and dying were found to have been faking that assistance in order to stifle public concern because it profited from the suffering, we would consider its managers criminally insane. Words hardly exist to describe the lunacy of executives doing the same in response to a disaster certain also to engulf them!

In a recent documentary, The Corporation, Canadian film-makers Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan, note that corporations are legally and structurally bound to pursue profits at any cost. Their conclusions are ominous indeed:

"What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis. Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation's operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath." (http://www.thecorporation.tv/)

The power of corporate deception lies in the fact that, while every action is rooted in the merciless priorities of profit, every action is actually performed by executives who are themselves often very reasonable human beings - unwittingly conformist and compromised perhaps, but not psychopathic. It is all too easy, then, for the corporate system to hide its real nature behind well-meaning individuals making laudable but essentially trivial gestures.

Thus, the Guardian readers' editor, Ian Mayes, writes of how the paper's website www.guardian.co.uk/values indicates how it "goes beyond the bounds of journalism". (Mayes, 'A sense of community', The Guardian, April 3, 2004)

This is no mere profit-making enterprise, we learn - the Guardian is involved in a number of local community projects, including a secondary high school for girls, a primary school and a special school: "About 90 staff from all departments of the company spend time at the schools helping, among other ways, with small reading groups or as individual mentors." A senior management project with Pentonville prison is planned.

Who would not applaud such important and worthy initiatives? We all know that we need much more of exactly this kind of thing. Unfortunately, these projects recall the Guardian's proposed initiatives in response to global warming: "recycling household rubbish, disposing of household chemicals carefully, encouraging wildlife in the garden and composting vegetable cuttings". ('The death of species', Leader, The Guardian, January 8, 2004)

What of the real world? What of the violent collision between profits and environmental limits? What of the fact that the Guardian regularly promotes climate-wrecking fossil fuel adverts, including 2 for 1 flight offers? Mayes responded blandly:

"No one I have spoken to in the Guardian believes the curtailment of such offers, let alone airline advertising, is a serious option." (Mayes, 'Flying in the face of the facts', The Guardian, January 24, 2004)

Talk of helping secondary schools and of composting are baubles of human responsibility intended to prettify what is, in reality, a deeply destructive profit-making machine.

The Guardian, after all, is part of the Guardian Media Group (GMG), which has only one bottom line - making money. The GMG website enlightens anyone who thinks the Guardian is a dauntless liberal force for truth and compassion in a money-grubbing world:

"Guardian Media Group has a wide portfolio of media interests. The flagship titles - the Guardian, the Observer, the Manchester Evening News, and Auto Trader - are strengthened and supplemented by a range of successful businesses which together from one of the most vibrant media organisations in the UK. Our investments in the Internet, electronic publishing and radio give us a broad and successful commercial base. Guardian Media Group is owned by the Scott Trust." (http://www.gmgplc.co.uk)

Consider Trader Media Group (TMG), which is wholly owned by the Guardian Media Group. TMG publishes over 70 publications on a weekly basis. These, presumably, are publications raging against the despoliation of our precious planet as we teeter on the brink of catastrophe - they are surely devoted to building dissident awareness and resistance through primary and secondary schools and the like. The website again:

"Some of the most recognised publications include Auto Trader, Bike Trader, Truck Trader and Top Marques. TMG also owns the UK's busiest automotive web site www.autotrader.co.uk which attracts some 2.3 million unique users per month. Due to the high volume of visits the web site receives, autotrader.co.uk can be found in the top 20 visited web sites in the UK. In addition TMG also offers interactive services on digital television and mobile phones.

"With an annual turnover in excess of £280million, TMG employs over 4,000 employees, located over 35 locations throughout the UK and Ireland. TMG also has three international operations located in Holland, Italy and South Africa."

This is a group of operations working at the dark heart of the fossil fuel industries that are destroying our world. These are the industries confronted by the Guardian's own journalist, George Monbiot, in 1999. Monbiot wrote movingly of how he tried to raise the issue of resource use and global warming with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders: "they burst into gales of laughter. They found these concepts funny, I think, because they seemed so far away, so remote from the sphere of their own considerations that anyone who could compare them in importance to the growth of their industry had to be either joking or insane". (Monbiot, 'Apocalypse now', The Guardian, July 29, 1999)

In fact it is the motor manufacturers who are suffering from a kind of insanity - it is the structural psychopathy imposed on them by the logic of profit.

Workthing was established by the Guardian Media Group in 2000:

"Workthing provides solutions that help organisations manage the complete resourcing process, from establishing an employer brand online and attracting the right candidates to managing applicants through the hiring process and beyond. Our solutions help clients reduce the time and costs involved in recruiting, whilst improving the quality of the talent they hire."

GMG own www.workthing.com, a leading UK job and advice site, and PeopleBank, "a technology solution that powers the corporate career services of major blue-chip companies such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, Whitbread, The Tussaud's Group, Compass, Sodexho, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Weetabix and Nestlé".

We believe that all of this puts into perfect perspective the imploring comments sent by one of our readers to Guardian environment correspondent, Paul Brown:

"Where am I to go for serious coverage and debate on the big issues of climate change and global warming?  Would the front page headline DEAD PLANET not sell a few papers?  Or are the airline, automotive and energy industries such big players that their muscle skews your angle on this topic?  As a dissatisfied consumer of your product could you do me the favour of clearing up once and for all what it is exactly that you produce: is it a platform for advertisers or a medium for serious, free-thinking analysis of the facts?" (Forwarded to Media Lens, January 11, 2004)

The answer to the last question is found at www.gmgplc.co.uk. We suspect that Brown - who is no fool and no cynic - feels as frustrated with, and appalled by, the Guardian and the rest of the media as many of the people who wrote to him. The problem is that he cannot openly declare his agreement because he is working for a psychopathic organisation that will not allow anyone or anything to obstruct its true reason for being - profit.

Down In The Corporate Gutter - One Bright Spark

In February this year, the Guardian launched its Spark magazine - "Positive thinking for a better tomorrow" - in association with Toyota Prius. Five of the magazine's thirty-six pages were taken up in advertising Toyota's car. In their introduction, the editors wrote:

"Welcome to Spark, a new magazine about the positive things that are going on all over the world, and the people working to create a brighter future for us all."

Opposite these words could be seen a full-page advert for the Toyota Prius with the banner: "The future starts now". The text on the front cover of the magazine read: "Positive thinking for a better tomorrow."

Toyota's website tells us that Prius means "ahead of its time".

In case you are tempted to think that the editors and advertisers agreed a 'vision' tailored to Toyota's selling angle, the editors are clear on the matter:

"All editorial content is independent of sponsor."

In fact the emphasis on high-tech innovation and low environmental impact - clearly Toyota's marketing focus for the Prius - was everywhere in the magazine. A feature article on page 11 told us: "71% of those surveyed agreed that 'environmental concerns, such as petrol usage and emissions' would influence their choice of car".

A dozen pages further on, coincidentally, could be found a long, Toyota Prius 'advertorial' sandwiched between two feature articles entitled, 'The Engine Of Change'. This declared:

"In terms of low-emissions, the Prius demolishes any other car on the road. Particulate matter is non-existent... So Prius is the intelligent buy, the choice for anyone who needs to drive but doesn't believe that has to mean the speedy destruction of our environment." (February 28, 2004)

"Positive thinking for a better tomorrow", in other words - just what the 71% are looking for.

A "news" piece on page 5 read: "At Spark we may be idealists, but we're also realistic...".

Attempting to pass off a booster for corporate advertising as honest news and commentary is not "idealism"; it is an attempt to manipulate the public.

It might be countered that at least Toyota is trying to improve its performance, at least it is trying to develop less destructive technology. That's fine, but honest media discussion should evaluate, and not merely promote, such claims. It should point out that while corporations are busy pushing their green credentials, big business around the world is absolutely, 100% committed to foot-to-the-floor economic growth regardless of the cost. Indeed it is working all out to prevent action even on the terminal threat of climate change, even now when we have been warned that fully one-quarter of all species on earth will be doomed to extinction by 2050.

If Spark, the Guardian and Toyota are about honest debate, then they should allow dissenting voices to point out the record thus far of green consumerism and green capitalism in promising much, delivering little, and deluding many, over several decades. In their book, Green Business: Hope or Hoax, Christopher and Judith Plant write:

"Because the commodity spectacle is so all-engaging, 'light' green business tends to merely perpetuate the colonisation of the mind, sapping our visions of an alternative and giving the idea that our salvation can be gained through shopping rather than through social struggle and transformation. In this respect, green business at worst is a danger and a trap." (Plant and Plant, New Society, 1991, p.7)

Toyota and the Guardian Media Group might not agree with this argument, but if it is not allowed to be part of the discussion, 'honest' corporate media 'debate' sponsored by big business is a lie.

Spark reminds us that totalitarianism can take many forms. It can make us literal slaves, of course, slamming us in dungeons and gulags. But it can also seek to confine us in prisons of the mind. It can seek to present a distorted, greed-driven version of the world as 'reality'. If we can be persuaded that the distortion is 'just how things are', then the "struggle for the mind of man" will have been won by the cynics. Historian Howard Zinn writes:

"Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept, without much questioning, someone else's version of what that reality is. It is a crucial act of independent thinking to be sceptical of someone else's description of reality." (The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.338)

And that is the goal of magazines like Spark - to sell a sales pitch as reality.

Writing in the 1930s of the cultural depredations of the Roman empire, the anarchist Rudolf Rocker might have been describing our own plight under corporate domination:

"No other literature... is so filled with the most disgusting flattery of the great ones of the earth as is the Roman. In no other does the spirit of servility and boot-licking display itself so openly and shamelessly. There never was a time in which poet and artist rolled so deeply in the dust." (Rudolf Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p.390)

The "idealism" of Spark magazine rolls deeply in that same dust.

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Email: nick.taylor@guardian.co.uk

Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Email: ian.mayes@guardian.co.uk

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