Category: Guardians of Power Reviews
- Created on 20 March 2006
- 12 November 2010
Journalist John Pilger calls this "The most important book about journalism I can remember." The authors also operate Media Lens, a critical thinking center and media watch group based in the U.K. Media Lens rigorously challenges the profit-centered and quasi-corporate media like the BBC to speak truth rather than spin obediently on behalf of their corporate and governmental masters. Moreover, they call on the media to correct distortions rather than letting them lie on in the collective consciousness, an admission of error which the Guardians of Power rarely find attractive.
This extensively-researched book by the Media Lens editors is about the combined inability and refusal of the mainstream press, both print and broadcast, to ask the hard questions or deliver the real answers. Full of interviews and examples from skewed, distorted, and self-censored reporting on geopolitical hotspots including three chapters on Iraq, plus Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor and Haiti, Guardians of Power causes a re-think of what news means, and how truth is acquired and managed in our times. While international law and treaties are being tossed aside by regimes emboldened by their unchallenged powers, responsible citizens need to recognize the messages of this book and take civic action. So do responsible journalists.
In addition to looking at how mass media have filtered reporting and chosen not to correct errors and omissions pointed out to them with ample proofs, the book also explores the popular characterizations of politicians like Reagan and Thatcher, Clinton, Blair, and Bush as their personas fuse with the news and shaped what the easily-awed press reports. Guardians also addresses what the authors consider crucial to human survival: understanding the impacts of climate change and the arguments around it. Since democracy depends on an informed electorate, and since democratization is the watchword of the times, then the dissemination of accurate, unbiased, and unspun information is essential to making congruent political change in nations around the world, beginning in the US and UK.
In a chapter titled "Disciplined Media - Professional Conformity to Power" the authors try to explain why the existing system works so well for its masters, and why it goes so largely unchallenged by its minions. The notion that the media have become obedient to and well-disciplined by their owners and stakeholders - a group which does not include the general public - is laid bare through concrete examples, including conversations between the authors and editorial decision makers. Edwards and Cromwell suggest some constructive ways to impact the power-protecting media as it is - their own Media Lens is one - and they propose a route to a more compassionate, non-corporate way of reporting and delivery of facts to the populations which need them. For anyone concerned with freedoms of speech and accuracy in reporting in a time when information flow is being guarded and restricted, this book is critical. For others, it is a chilling read that shows how the filters imposed before the public consciousness really work, and how absurd claims of "fair and balanced" really are.
Edwards and Cromwell say that: "The facade of modern democracy depends on the idea the we are already living in a free and open society - the media are a central plank of this 'necessary illusion'. The maintenance of the deception is vital if elites are to continue manipulating the public to fight wars and to wreck the environment for profit. Turning the illusion of media freedom into a reality carries unimaginable costs for elite interests." They see some hope because "...the Internet does constitute a revolutionary change in the mass media - the power of non-corporate journalism has increased by orders of magnitude in the last ten or fifteen years...Given this astonishing change, it is remarkable that far more serious effort and funding have not gone into building alternative media to challenge the mainstream - the opportunity is quite clearly there and has not been wholly grasped." (Guardians, 202) This is why the protection of the Internet from corporate/governmental take-over so as to turn it into yet another profit center for the few and controlled channel for filtered information to be spoon-fed to a gullible, self-interested public. They suggest that deeper interests can be awakened.
The authors touch on Eric Fromm's concept of 'social filtering' which works to promote the status quo and illustrate how "a crucial reason for modern levels of unhappiness, malaise, and depression, then, is found in the impact of a filtering system distorting even our most fundamental ideas about ourselves and the world around us." They propose that "Corporate interests need us to pursue a version of human happiness that serves profits but not people" and the consequences that produces. "The promotion of cynical selfishness, egotism and indifference to others is so pervasive that they seem almost inevitable - we are trained to talk nicely of idealism and hope, but also to be 'practical', recognising the 'harsh reality' as seen in 'the cold light of day'." (Guardians, 210) At the same time, running through all of this is the pervasive need for order and meaning in a world of chaos and inevitable death. It is that orderliness which makes a stable, even if corrupted, status quo preferable to the risks of doing the right thing.
With government leaders operating in flagrant disregard of international law, a decrepit and dysfunctional United Nations cowering before a few powerful bully nations and their vetoes, and the western media so embedded with what Eisenhower once called 'the military-industrial-congressional complex' that they serve more as ad agencies than sources of truth, it is now up to the citizenry to stand up for human rights and decency, to break set with the pathological normalcy. (In his new film, Why We Fight, Eugene Jarecki adds 'think-tank' to Eisenhower's cautionary list since they now act as the policy neurons in the quadrilateral brain of Washington.) The citizens whose lives are confiscated by this quartet must stand up for justice themselves since the corporate media are embedded with those who feel the rush of hegemonic power and global empire cast as democratization, not with the people who seek just peace.
Keeping the people uninformed and propaganda-saturated has been the mission of the information elites as they bow down before power and promulgate fear on top of social laziness. Engraved on the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's prescient 1984 were three slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. And there was another one in war-powered Oceania - Big Brother is watching you. Thanks to a compliant press which criticizes trivia while giving a pass to principles, all of this has now come to be 'normal' and routine. The memes have been generally assimilated without question. They have replaced more elegant and complex goals for bettering human affairs with short-term pragmatism which benefits the powerful few.
The ideals agreed to in the original U.N. charter and further set forth in the Nuremberg principles are clear: aggressive wars and attacks on civilian populations are illegal. Rhetoric does not make them acceptable, though it seems to make the tolerable. Preemptive war and nuclear proliferation are violations of treaties, and ratified treaties carry the weight of law. Threats of nuclear first strikes and continuous improvements to these real-and-present weapons of mass destruction are madness, as if nothing has been learned since 1945. Condoning torture and forcible 'rendition' or coerced removal of civilians from their lands and homes are unconscionable acts. War crimes are just that, whether committed by Saddam Hussein's regime or George W. Bush's. States which do these things as a matter of policy while talking of human rights are not democracies; they are hypocrisies. Undoing fifty years of movement toward developing a body of recognized international law is imperial hubris of the worst sort. It makes the world far more volatile, not safer for anyone. Yet these things go largely unreported, too.
The failure of the mass of American (and British) people to rise up and demand a stop to oppressor practices followed by the investigation and prosecution of those authorizing them on all sides is simply disgraceful. The memetic virus of disengagement and tacit complicity in horrific acts against 'them' while celebrating the virtues of 'us' has become chronic, and a disgrace. While it is easy to blame the deferential media for inadequate and skewed reporting and credit the governments with insidious manipulation; but it is also time to lay some blame at a compliant sheep-like mainstream, one accepting of fear and quite willing to condemn those proclaimed enemies of the people, proven or not. This epoch of transnational shame must end, and only reasoning people of conscience taking positive civic action can end it, for the elites have too much to gain through perpetual war because they profit enormously by selling smoke and mirrors.
Yet the fog of lies and deceptions is beginning to clear for some, in the process revealing mammoth invasions of privacy and undoing of liberties as deep-rooted as freedom to speak out in the proximity of Parliament or un-herded into a fenced 'free speech zone' at a public political rally. At long last, there is a glimmer that American and British citizens are waking up to what much of the rest of the world has known for a long time: the emperors have no clothes behind their big guns. Worse, they are conspirators, dissimulators, and criminals. But those masters of hypocrisy can only be brought to task by popular uprising in support of international law and justice, along with the demand for restoration of personal liberties and rights by the people. It will take ordinary citizens with courage engaging in civic action to work around the guardians of power and free the truth from their clutches. In the face of acts passed to prevent disclosure and stifle free expression, as well as initiatives to privatize the information commons, the people of the western democracies and the earth stand at a critical tipping point. They must choose whether to become a world of law or to carry on as one of brute force justified with lies.
Edwards and Cromwell advocate what they call "full human dissent," a way of challenging the status quo and the hedonism they see in it by incorporating some of the tools of community and collaborativeness which are lost in the rush to focus on self-centered interests which benefit ourselves and our families without regard to the costs to others. It is time for the people to assume their responsibility and start watching Big Brother and his unaccountable agencies, and to insist that the overly consolidated media return to their duty of doing so, as well.
Demonization and polarization into categories of good and evil come far too easily for leaders enraptured by fourth level thinking and to the propagandists who build memes for them, often-insidious mind viruses which the media unquestioningly distribute as fact to be assimilated without question. Yet as Eisenhower warned decades ago, it is more than these planted ideas which threaten us, it is the ambition to power and profit drive of the fifth level which threatens democracy and the world, and which the far-from-liberal media enable so well. So in addition to their concerns about the fifth level's dominance of news and policy, and some suggestions for sixth level populist solutions, the authors advocate a shift out of manipulative media toward a new form with an 'express self without harm to others or the earth' theme. It requires citizen action and involvement rather than obedience, greed, or even tolerance. And it is that transformation which marks movement up the levels of human existence to a place where the guardians watch over truth and justice and compassion, not just power.
Category: Guardians of Power Reviews
- Created on 04 February 2006
- 12 November 2010
Pressuring the press
By Brendan O'Neill
I feel I ought to start this review by letting the authors know that I will not enter into correspondence with them.
However much they might loathe what I am about to say and wish to bombard me with emails ridiculing my reasoning, I regret to tell them that I will be far too busy to respond. That might look like a weird intro to a review, until you realise that the authors being reviewed David Edwards and David Cromwell run a pressure group called Media Lens which is in the business of berating journalists (and encouraging others to do likewise) for their perceived prejudices. Media Lens is like a radical leftist version of Ofcom, an unelected outfit that presumes the authority to lecture reporters and broadcasters, usually via email, about their shortcomings. This book provides a snapshot of the two Davids' guerrilla campaigning over the past five years, during which they have publicly upbraided some of this country's leading journalists.
The most gobsmacking thing is how many journalists respond to the authors' green-ink antics. This collection republishes emails from Andrew Marr, Roger Alton, Nick Cohen and others, defending themselves, often at length, against Media Lens' accusations of bias. There is a truly cringeworthy email from the Guardian's environment correspondent Paul Brown, who responds to claims that he has played down the corporate world's attempts to smash the environmentalist movement by insisting that he is in fact so pro-green that questions have been asked of his professional judgment:
We have sympathetically reported boycotting Exxon/Esso, Shell and other corporations to the point where our balance as reporters has been questioned by our own editors not by outsiders. I think George Bush and his supporters are the most dangerous and nasty people on the planet . . . but if I am to be effective as a journalist I have to protect myself by sticking to basic journalistic rules about balance.
Oh dear. So keen is Brown to demonstrate his greener-than-thou credentials to Media Lens that he reveals that his own editors think him suspect and admits to seeing objectivity as little more than a cover 'protection' for his political views.
Yet beneath the authors' self-righteousness and the various targeted journalists' self-loathing (one thanks Media Lens for pointing out the weakness of his reporting on Iraq and says he hopes he hasn't 'reinforced your propoganda sic model view of everyone who works for the corporate-owned media? !'), there is some good material here, especially on the liberal media's servility during times of war. It's useful to be reminded that some of the same outlets that lambast Blair for lying us into a bastard of a war in Iraq helped him to make war on Yugoslavia in 1999.
Channel 4 News fancies itself as a brave voice of reason on Iraq, yet in 1999 its correspondent Alex Thomson proudly declared, 'If you want to know why the public supported the war on Yugoslavia , thank a journalist.' Likewise Maggie O'Kane of the Guardian said it was 'press reporting' like hers that provided Blair with 'the sympathy he needed to fight the good fight against Milosevic'. Her newspaper accuses Blair of dirty tricks over Iraq; seven years ago it was proud to do his dirty work on Yugoslavia.
But Edwards and Cromwell let themselves down again with the latter section on climate change. Having reprimanded the media for buying (and selling) the nonsensical notion that tinpot tyrants pose a grave threat to civilisation, they then tell us off for not treating seriously enough the true threat to life as we know it: global warming.
'Our lives, the lives of our children are in grave danger, ' they warn, as if writing a voiceover for some dodgy disaster flick.
And if the media do not alert people to this danger, then 'there may well be no future for any of us'.
First, it strikes me as untrue that the media has been slack on climate change;
often you cannot open a newspaper without reading shrill headlines about rising sea levels or declining butterfly populations. Second, why is it unacceptable for Blair and co. to scare the living Jesus out of us with tall tales about demented dictators, but okay for Edwards and Cromwell to declare that the end is nigh and it's all the fault of the greedy masses and their habits of overconsumption which apparently are strangling the planet? In essence, the authors want to replace media fearmongering about WMD with media fearmongering about climate change. Both the mainstream media and its critics, it seems, are now in the business of scaring the public witless; they merely disagree over what will extinguish humanity first, hot wars or a hotter climate. This grisly competition of catastrophes is a sorry excuse for a grownup debate about life and politics in the 21st century.
Category: Guardians of Power Reviews
- Created on 30 April 2006
- 12 November 2010
GUARDIANS OF POWER
David Edwards and David Cromwell
Pluto Press, £14.99
Do you read the publishers' names above this round-up? In this case
it's worth noticing Pluto Press, a crusading, left-leaning independent
publisher, and commend its bravery for publishing this. Edwards and
Cromwell are behind Media Lens, a website devoted to scrutinising
media activities, and this fine study exposes many subtle forgettings,
half-truths and outright lies in the reporting of some of the world's
recent conflicts. It's not a conspiracy, but a more sapping form of
lethargy they uncover; and their analyses of why some parts of the
media might skate over rather than dig deep is troubling. Who guards
the guards, as the saying goes. Nevertheless, I wish they'd had a
chapter on Michael Moore's fumbling with facts.
Category: Guardians of Power Reviews
- Created on 14 February 2006
- 12 November 2010
Between the Lines
Book Review by Liv Lewitschnik
Review of 'Guardians Of Power', David Edwards and David Cromwell, Pluto £14.99
'Guardians Of Power ought to be required reading in every media college. It is the most important book about journalism I can remember,' writes John Pilger in the introduction. He is right. The book about the myth of the liberal media offers an invaluable insight into the world of journalists and media companies.
'Guardians Of Power' is a compilation of the authors' media alerts issued on their Media Lens website. The website works as a public forum where critiques and questions about journalists' articles and commentaries can be posted.
By using the alerts and journalists' responses to them as well as their own detailed analysis, the two Davids contextualise and deconstruct the spin surrounding the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombing campaign against Serbia, as well as the reporting of the US's undermining of democracy in Haiti, and issues on climate change.
The main focus is on the build-up to war on Iraq in 2003 and the invasion. Skilfully they show how the media helped the government prepare the ground for war by ignoring dissenting voices and never seriously challenging the establishment's plans simply by hiding behind the ethos of professional objectivity.
The authors argue that this in fact made the media complicit in a crime against humanity: 'Editors and journalists do not drop the bombs and pull the triggers, but without their servility to power the public would not be fooled and the slaughter would have to end.'
This rather depressing conclusion is redressed several times in the book. For example, a Media Lens reader wrote to John Humphreys, BBC Today radio presenter, after an interview with Jack Straw. Humphreys was criticised for agreeing with Straw when he (among other lies) said that Unscom weapons inspectors had been thrown out of Iraq in 1998 when they in fact had been withdrawn by the US.
In a different interview Humphreys put Straw on the spot and corrected him as he was repeating the same lie. Such an example shows that there is hope for change even if many of journalists' responses included in the book simply dismiss public criticism.
Edwards and Cromwell use Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's 'propaganda model', published in their Manufacturing Consent, to explain why the media protects governments and corporations instead of keeping a check on them. The model shows how media output is shaped by media corporations operating within a capitalist system to best serve shareholders and advertisers on whom the media depend for their survival.
A number of filters, including dependence on elite sources for information and the ability of governments and businesses to withdraw licences and advertising in case of unfavourable coverage, limit democratic debate and wide media output while pressurising journalists to conform to acceptable views and interpretations of events.
Edwards and Cromwell clearly state that it is the overall system that needs to be changed if we want an end to media workers' contribution to selling wars and corporate cover-ups to us.
The key to the book is the recognition that journalists are open to criticism. In the concluding chapters Edwards and Cromwell call for action from the public. We can make our 'guardians of power' accountable to us if we show that we are listening.
In our struggle for a better world, which includes creating a media system that cares for people and not for big business, we must support and contribute to projects such as Media Lens.
Category: Guardians of Power Reviews
- Created on 10 January 2007
- 12 November 2010
Business and government work hand in glove. Governments need business for the wealth that it creates or brings into the country, and for the contributions it makes to the elections which keep politicians in power. Business needs government for protection – both domestically and abroad. Together business and government make up the establishment – the politico-economic power in society. The media is closely tied to the establishment – it depends for its existence on the establishment and in turn provides news and information that supports the establishment. Those who present the news are selected because they see the world in the right way – they share the world view of the establishment.
In 1988 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote a book, Manufacture of Consent (Pantheon Books) in which they developed the propaganda model of the media. The propaganda model identifies five ways in which the establishment controls the media. First, the media itself is a big business and the owners of this business have values and interests in common with other businesses. As businessmen themselves, they have the power to present news which is business friendly. Second, the media is dependent on advertisers for 75% of its income and hence cannot easily go against the interests of the businesses which support it. Third, the media is dependent on sources of information and the establishment offers steady, reliable and consistent information which is deemed credible because it is establishment information. Fourth, if it should stray from the establishment vision of the world, the establishment has considerable power to attack the media through its legal mechanisms and political power. And finally the media cannot easily report news inconsistent with generally held beliefs about the benevolence of business and government. Herman and Chomsky provide detailed evidence of how well this model accounts for the media reporting of various political events in the second half of the 20th Century.
The authors of Guardians of Power, David Edwards and David Cromwell, are editors of Media Lens, “an online UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media” (p.229). In their book, largely taken from their work presented online in Media Lens, they extend the work of Herman and Chomsky into the 21st and to the UK.
After an introduction to the propaganda theory, the book begins with three chapters which explain how the media systematically distorted the reporting of the information and events surrounding the Iraq war. They convincingly show that the propaganda model explains this reporting and go on to show how it explains reporting of events in Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Haiti and Central America. Furthermore, the authors show that the propaganda theory also applies to the reporting of science news. Chapter 10, ‘Climate Change – The Ultimate Media Betrayal’ is devoted to the establishment take on global warming. I cannot do this account justice in this short review, but instead will take another case of science reporting that the authors discuss, the media treatment of the Lancet report on the number of Iraqis killed in the war and its aftermath.
On October 29, 2004 the Lancet published “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey” a statistical survey of deaths in Iraq which resulted from the invasion. The article estimated that in Iraq there were nearly 100,000 more deaths than would have been expected if the invasion had not taken place. After the invasion violence was the major cause of death – mostly women and children and mainly attributed to coalition forces. If this had been the result of an Iranian invasion of, say, Turkmenistan, it would have been headline news. However, as things are, it is news that embarrasses the establishment and the media, as part of the establishment, would rather not know. The authors point out the virtual silence that followed this publication and the distortion placed on what reporting there was. For example, Channel 4 News claimed that casualties in Fallujah “strongly distorted this study” when in fact the study specifically excluded Fallujah statistics. Downing Street criticized the study because it used extrapolation instead of body counts, even though extrapolation is a universally used method for estimating mortality.
The moral problem with establishment media is that it does not enable compassionate understanding of our fellow human beings. When the media fails to report abuses of human rights (or of animals, or the environment), there is nobody to speak out against the abuse, except perhaps the victims of the abuse, whose voice is rarely heard. If the citizens of the developed nations, who still have the power to influence their governments, were aware of how the establishment abuses developing nations (or animals, or the environment), they would call on the government to stop these abuses. Without the media to inform them, citizens do not learn about what the establishment is doing to developing nations (or animals, or the environment) and therefore do nothing about it.
As a result of this lack of information and the political action that would result from it, the authors “believe that our lives, the lives of our children, indeed of much animal and plant life on this planet are in grave danger” (p.171). And, further, they believe “that the means of mobilising popular support for action to prevent this catastrophe – the mass media – is fatally compromised by its very structure, nature and goals” (p.171):
“Suffering caused by the West and its ‘friends’ is forever ignored, prettified, justified and forgotten. The effect of this continuous propaganda is that many people find it literally inconceivable that the West could be doing anything very wrong in the world….This conviction is utterly crucial – the public will not tolerate the mass killing of foreign innocents unless they believe an honourable goal is being served…. [T]he media portrays Western violence as moral, humanitarian and defensive. Editors and journalists do not drop the bombs or pull the triggers, but without their servility to power the public would not be fooled and the slaughter would have to end.” (p.103-4)
The authors offer a two-part alternative to establishment-embedded media. The first part is the alternative media that is available on the internet and the second part is an alternative model of reporting. For the first part they provide a list of about 75 alternative media sites on the internet – from Al-Jazeera to ZNet (p.218-228, including SGR). For the second part they offer a compassion model for news reporting. The underlying motive of this model is not to maximize profits (which corporations are legally obliged to do) but to minimize the suffering in the world. News is reported in the interest of all of humanity, not just those “on our side”. When there is suffering, or damage to the environment, wherever or however, it deserves to be reported so it can be rectified. And finally, on the basis of scientific research which shows that happiness cannot be found through self-serving motives, but can be found through compassion and mutual aid, the authors argue that the compassion model is right.
Review first appeared in SGR [Scientists for Global Responsibility] Newsletter, No. 33 (published January 2007)