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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 “...to 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.

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Category: Newspeak Reviews

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.

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Category: Newspeak Reviews

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.

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Category: Newspeak Reviews

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, www.plutobooks.compluto@plutobooks.com)

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Category: Newspeak Reviews

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.

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