- Created on 07 August 2012
- 07 August 2012
This is the full interview below:
Mat Ward: John Pilger has said of 'Why Are We The Good Guys?': ‘Every member of the public and every journalist with an ounce of scepticism about authority should read his outstanding book.’ Do you think this is one of the main problems, that journalists do not see themselves as members of the public?
David Cromwell: Leading journalists, like elites everywhere, probably see themselves as special. They have a privileged platform to report the news and/or promulgate their views; as long as they fit the requirements of media owners and advertisers. They have access to powerful people, get invited to prestigious conferences, meetings, parties and ‘country suppers’. But the main problem with journalism is a systemic one: it’s the corporate structure of the media; not whether individual journalists regard themselves as members of the public.
MW: One of the best things about this book is that you've made it more personal in describing your childhood and career. Did you feel that past books have been a little too dry to reach a wider audience?
DC: Reaching a wider audience isn’t really a motivating factor for my writing. It doesn’t and can’t work like that. I write what I like and if other people get to hear about it by word of mouth, for instance, and like it, that’s fine. It’s hard for me to be objective, of course, but if you’re talking about the two Media Lens books I don’t think they were dry at all. They’re packed with sharp observations, gob-smacking exchanges with journalists and even discussions of psychology and philosophy that you will rarely find in books about ‘current affairs’ or journalism. This book has more personal aspects to it because I’ve long wanted to write about some aspects of my upbringing and experiences that have shaped the critical approach I take to understanding news, politics and the state of the world.
MW: You talk about your father selling the Daily Worker, later to become Morning Star. What did he make of you taking a job with Shell?
DC: He’s always been supportive of me in whatever decisions I’ve made. He was happy to see me find a job. And happy that I moved on for good reasons a few years later.
MW: What does your father make of Media Lens?
DC: He loves it and reads our media alerts and Cogitations avidly. He’s long been a fan of John Pilger’s journalism which is almost certainly how I first became aware of Pilger’s television documentaries in the 1970s. The fact that Pilger has always been a stalwart supporter of Media Lens is much appreciated by my father.
MW: You quote from Jeff Schmidt and Howard Zinn, both of whom have noted studies showing that the higher the level of education a person has achieved, the more likely that person is to have views in line with the establishment. This suggests that people have their politics educated out of them. Why have you not raised this point - as far as I know - with critics who claim your radical politics are a sign of immaturity?
DC: You’re right; I don’t think we have raised that point sufficiently in exchanges with journalists. For example, it would have been a good rejoinder to David Smith, economics editor of the Sunday Times, when he rejected my critique of corporate capitalism – based on cogent remarks by people like Harry Shutt and David Harvey – with this nonsense: ‘Most of us get these things out of our system when we are students’. Perhaps the next time!
MW: Do you think your training as a scientist made you more likely to question the status quo? Chomsky says that, contrary to the humanities, in the sciences, ‘the goal is to learn how to do creative work, and to challenge everything’. (Chomsky, ‘Understanding Power’)
DC: No. In my experience, scientists are no more likely to challenge the current inequitable system of economics or even how best to tackle the state-corporate interests that are blocking action on climate change. The best scientists do indeed think creatively, and perhaps ‘challenge everything’; but only in their own, usually narrow, field. I was very privileged to be educated and do research in several stimulating environments with many wonderful (and sometimes eccentric) people. But being brilliant at pushing forward our understanding of the fundamental forces of the universe or human evolution or how cancer develops, doesn’t seem to lead to stronger challenges to the status quo. If anything, it can leave less time and effort for that.
MW: You quote Shantideva saying ‘This is no time to sleep, you fool!’ Your constant monitoring of the media, your message boards and extensive background reading must leave little time for sleep. Describe a typical day.
DC: I certainly can’t claim to live up to Shantideva’s code of conduct! I’ve got a pretty normal family life with a partner and two children. I get up early during the week – before 6 am. Over coffee, I check emails, our message board and a few other websites. I then go for an early-morning swim when the local pool opens, and I’m normally back at my home office just after 8 am. I have several files on my computer to collect quotes, thoughts, ideas for alerts, etc. Normally either David Edwards or I (or both of us together) are planning an alert, working through various drafts or completing a new one, ready to go out on our site. We email each other several times during the day, swapping suggestions, pointing out good links (not always media-related – could be about music, for instance) or just making daft jokes. I try to meditate for about 20 mins every day, usually in the morning. A lot of my writing gets done in the morning and early afternoon. Sometimes late in the afternoon or evening, I’ll be performing a taxi service for one or other of my boys (parents reading this will know how it goes!), perhaps picking them up from an afterschool club or taking them to football training, then later helping them with homework, etc. After an evening meal, I’ll do a bit more checking of emails and websites, perhaps tweaking something I wrote earlier. Later on I’ll maybe watch some television then read a book. I try and read a bit during the day as well which is also a good break from sitting behind the pc, tapping away at a keyboard. I’m normally zonked by 11pm!
MW: Non-corporate media has a relatively tiny audience compared with the corporate media. What do you think it needs to do to win a bigger audience?
DC: Beyond producing good-quality journalism that is honest, challenging and full of heart, I really don’t know. Big audiences won’t come unless changes to corporate media are part of a broader grassroots struggle to dismantle corporate institutions of power and replace them with cooperative enterprises. Mike Albert’s ideas about ‘parecon’ (participative economics) seem to be worth exploring.
MW: James Hansen is endlessly quoted by environmentalists, including Green Left, but few climatologists are as outspoken as he is. Why do you think that is?
DC: Most climate scientists, like every other professional, are fearful of rocking the boat too much or have simply convinced themselves it’s ‘not their job’ to step outside their narrow discipline. It’s not surprising in a way: we are immersed in a culture that rewards obedience and sanctions those who step out of line. James Hansen is a brave and principled exception who is also blessed, if that’s the right word, with the moral authority of having been one of the first scientists to raise the alarm about global warming.
MW: In the book you often blast others' use of rhetoric. What would you say to those who accuse Media Lens of using rhetoric, for example, in describing those you approve of as "popular", "eloquent" and so on? Are you ever tempted to use more neutral language?
DC: Media Lens spotlights and criticises rhetoric without substance; more precisely, rhetoric that promotes the destructive claims and aims of state-corporate power. Using neutral language helps to preserve the status quo. As Howard Zinn said, ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train’. It’s vital to use language that is precise, accurate and informed. But it’s also important to use language that sparks the reader’s emotions and imagination. To quote Shantideva once again: ‘It’s time to wake up!’
MW: To what extent would you say the following quote from Chomsky also applies to Media Lens:
‘I think the smartest thing to do is to read everything you read - and that includes what I write, I would always tell people this - skeptically. And in fact, an honest writer will try to make it clear what his or her biases are and where the work is starting from, so that then readers can compensate - they can say, "This person's coming from over here, and that's the way she's looking at the world, now I can correct for what may well be her bias; I can decide for myself whether what she's telling me is accurate, because at least she's making her premises clear." And people should do that. You should start by being very skeptical about anything that comes to you from any sort of power system - and about everything else too. You should be skeptical about what I tell you - why should you believe a word of it? I got my own ax to grind. So figure it out for yourself.’
(Chomsky, ‘Understanding Power’)
DC: That very much sums up what we’re trying to do. We always say that people should read what we write with scepticism, check our sources, challenge our arguments with rationality (rather than abuse or smears, obviously).
MW: Do you feel you have ever lost an argument?
DC: No. We’ve published hundreds of media alerts and although we could have written things a little differently at times, perhaps modifying the tone in places, we don’t think anyone has demolished any significant points we’ve made. Readers may feel otherwise, of course; especially those who have challenged us. That’s natural.
MW: You refer to Danny Wallace's ‘Join Me: The True Story of a Man Who Started a Cult by Accident.’ Do you feel you have accidentally started a cult in Media Lens?
DC: I really enjoyed that book, so... what an intriguing question. No, I don’t think the point is fair. In fact, on quite extreme occasions, it’s been deployed as an ignorant smear against us and our readers. For instance, Peter Beaumont, then Observer foreign editor, once descended to comical abuse. He called us and our readers ‘controlling Politburo lefties’ and wrote of our website:
‘It is a closed and distorting little world that selects and twists its facts to suit its arguments, 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. Think a train spotters' club run by Uncle Joe Stalin.’
Stalin popped up in Observer columnist Nick Cohen’s email to us in 2002 where he addressed us as ‘Dear Serviles’ and signed off with ‘Viva Joe Stalin’.
Adam Curtis, BBC documentary film-maker, was annoyed at being challenged by Media Lens editors and readers about his series ‘The Century of the Self’:
‘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.’
And the BBC’s Gavin Esler took umbrage at the many (varied and articulate) emails he received in response to one of our media alerts:
‘The last time I remember a robotic response from people like this was watching film of the nuremberg rallies. I always wondered why people marched to another's beat without any obvious thought from themselves. Perhaps you know the answer, or perhaps you merely intend to keep marching.
‘Please don't write to me again in someone else's words. It is so embarrasing for you. Please learn to think for yourself.’
There have been many variations, all suggesting that the people who support what we do are a homogeneous mass of uncritical worshippers. Have these journalists ever even read our media alerts or books, and visited our message board and seen the fiesty debates going on? Or seen the emails we get, even from people who say they like what we do? Some of the most eloquent, impassioned, articulate, independently-crafted critiques of the media I’ve ever seen have come from the individuals who visit our website or fire off emails in response to our alerts. If anything, it’s the herd mentality of corporate journalists – the almost uniformly hostile treatment of Julian Assange is classic – that exhibits cult-like behaviour.
- Created on 24 December 2005
- 12 November 2010
“Guardians of Power. The Myth of the Liberal Media” is a new book by David Edwards and David Cromwell, the two editors of Media Lens, an excellent watchdog “correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media”.
According to Noam Chomsky “Regular critical analysis of the media, filling crucial gaps and correcting the distortions of ideological prisms, has never been more important. Media Lens has performed a major public service by carrying out this task with energy, insight, and care.” (1)
Edward Herman wrote, “Media Lens is doing an outstanding job of pressing the mainstream media to at least follow their own stated principles and meet their public service obligations. It is fun as well as enlightening to watch their representatives, while sometimes giving straightforward answers to queries, often getting flustered, angry, evasive, and sometimes mis-stating the facts.” (2)
John Pilger thinks that “The creators and editors of Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell, have had such influence in a short time that, by holding to account those who, it is said, write history’s draft, they may well have changed the course of modern historiography (…) Not since Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent have we had such an incisive and erudite guide through the media’s thicket of agendas and vested interests. Indeed, they have done the job of true journalists: they have set the record straight. For this reason, Guardians of Power ought to be required reading in every media college. It is the most important book about journalism I can remember.” (3)
But not everybody agrees. The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor Ian Mayes, who also happens to be the President of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, recently described Media Lens as “an electronic lobby group” and expressed his views about the Guardian’s readers, his job and the very idea of democracy: “I did not engage with or respond to this lobby, whose members poured several hundred emails into the Guardian. I did not read more than a tiny sample of the emails directed at me. I consider organised lobbies in general to be in effect – whatever the rights or wrongs of their position – oppressive to put it mildly.” (4)
I asked David Edwards and David Cromwell to tell me more about their book and their work at Media Lens.
QUESTION: Why the title (and the subtitle) “Guardians of Power. The myth of the liberal media”?
ANSWER: The title is obviously a not very subtle reference to the Guardian, but it also refers to the media in general. The sub-title is intended to indicate that the liberal media – the best media, like the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer (as it used to be) and the BBC - play a really crucial role in protecting power. In a totalitarian system it doesn’t matter what people think – if they get out of line, you can hit them on the head, drag them away in the middle of the night. Thanks to centuries of popular struggle, violence of that kind is no longer an option for Western elites. Instead, in our society, control is primarily maintained by controlling what people think.
It’s ironic that we tend to associate this kind of thought control with Soviet-style systems, but in fact it’s far more important in an ostensibly democratic society like ours. If you are to convince people in our society that they are free, you can’t just censor everything as they did in the Soviet Union, because then everyone knows they’re living in a kind of prison. In our society people are bombarded with business and political propaganda that shapes their assumptions about the world. But they also have access to some honest ideas in comparatively small circulation newspapers like the Guardian and the Independent, and primarily through one or two honest writers like John Pilger and Robert Fisk. This acts as a kind of vaccine – tiny doses of dissent that inoculate people against the idea that they are subject to thought control. But the reality is that this dissent is flooded and overwhelmed by propaganda that keeps us thinking the right way, keeps us passive and in line. By the way, we don’t intend to suggest that this is the result of any kind of conspiracy. It happens as a kind of side-effect of the media’s pursuit of maximised profits in a state-capitalist society.
QUESTION: What is Media Lens? When did ML start? How does ML work?
ANSWER: Media Lens is an attempt to subject the mainstream corporate media to honest, rational analysis uncompromised by personal hopes of employment, payment or status within the media system. We do this by analysing the media’s versions of events and comparing these with what we believe are honest, uncompromised versions based on rational arguments, verifiable facts and multiple, credible sources. We provide references and links for all of these so that readers can evaluate for themselves whether we are distorting the facts in some way. Comparing the two versions, we then invite readers to judge for themselves which version is more reasonable and accurate, and to send their opinions to both journalists and us. It is vital for us to provide an honest and accurate account of the media version because we are not ‘selling a line’ – we are encouraging readers to make a rational judgement on the basis of the facts. This is why we think it is wrong to describe us as a “lobby”, as often happens. The tobacco lobby, for example, is not motivated to provide the public with the facts it needs to make an informed judgement. The goal of the tobacco lobby is to subordinate truth to maximised profits. Their goal is to manipulate the public, to persuade them of their version of the truth. Our goal is to empower the public to establish their own version of the truth based on their own evaluation of the arguments. The world needs self-confident, critical thinking, empowered human beings, not Media Lens drones.
Our readers can check the media version of events for themselves, so we have every reason to be accurate and honest in describing these. Our readers can also easily check out the credibility and accuracy of the facts and sources we give because, as discussed, we provide references for all of them. As Noam Chomsky has noted many times, dissidents challenging the corporate status quo are automatically subjected to intense and relentless attack regardless of the honesty and accuracy of their views – our arguments have to be extremely accurate and reasonable if they are to stand a chance of being taken seriously.
Also, unlike, say, corporate lobbies, we are not motivated by profit, nor status or power. Our goal is to provide the facts so that people can draw their own conclusions.
QUESTION: Please, give us a couple of concrete examples of your work?
ANSWER: Example One – Climate Change and Advertising
An editorial in the Independent on December 3, 2005 declared: Global warming and the need for all of us to act now to avoid catastrophe>
“Governments must demand greater energy conservation from industry. And action must be taken to curtail emissions from transport. That means extensive investment in the development of alternative fuels and the taxation of air flights.”
The editors concluded:
“But it is not just governments that have a responsibility. Individuals must act too. By opting to cycle or walk, instead of driving everywhere, we can all do something to reduce emissions. If more of us turned off electrical devices when not in use and recycled our waste properly, our societies would be hugely less energy inefficient… A failure to act now will not be forgiven by future generations.”
As though these words had not appeared, the rest of the paper returned to adverts, consumer advice and financial news (“bet on easyJet to fly higher”). The Independent’s holiday supplement, The Traveller, urged readers to climb on fossil fuel burning planes and visit Paris, Brussels, Syria, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Aspen, Chamonix, Mallorca, Australia, Dubai, New Zealand, Lapland, Spain, North America, Austria, Germany, the Maldives, and on and on.
Advertising industry sources told us that between January 1 and October 7, 2005, Independent News and Media PLC - owners of the Independent newspapers – received the following revenues from advertisers:
BP Plc £11,769 (this figure has risen substantially since October 7 as a result of the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ campaign)
Citroen UK Ltd £418,779
Ford Motor Company Ltd £247,506
Peugeot Motor Co Plc £260,920
Renault UK Ltd £427,097
Toyota (GB) Ltd £715,050
Vauxhall Motors Ltd £662,359
Volkswagen UK Ltd £555,518
BMI British Midland £60,847
Bmibaby Ltd £12,810
British Airways Plc £248,165
Easyjet Airline Co Ltd £59,905
Monarch Airlines £15,713
Ryanair Ltd £28,543 (Email to Media Lens, December 12, 2005)
It is enlightening to compare these figures with the Independent editors’ suggestion, cited above:
“Individuals must act too. By opting to cycle or walk, instead of driving everywhere, we can all do something to reduce emissions.”
At the same time, the Independent is hosting adverts specifically designed to disarm dissent and pacify the public.
The point is that the media are structurally obliged to remain on square one. What is a corporate business like the Independent to say about the impact of its own corporate advertising on environmental collapse? What is it to say about the remorseless activities of its business allies working to bend the public mind to their will over decades? What is to say about their determination to destroy all attempts to subordinate short-term profits to action on climate change? What is it to say about the historical potency of people power in challenging systems of entrenched and irresponsible power of this kind, of which it is itself a part?
Example Two: An Exchange With Newsnight Editor, George Entwistle
In researching a New Statesman article, Media Lens co-editor, David Edwards, interviewed George Entwistle (March 31, 2003), then editor of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight. Part of the interview involved asking Entwistle if Scott Ritter had appeared on Newsnight in recent months. Ritter, a UN weapons inspector in Iraq 1991-98, described how Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ by 1998 without the threat of war, and how any retained weapons of mass destruction would likely have long since become harmless ‘sludge’. He was almost completely ignored by the mainstream press ahead of the war. In 2003, the Guardian and Observer mentioned Iraq in a total of 12,356 articles. In these articles, Ritter was mentioned a total of 17 times.
David Edwards: ‘Have you pitted Ritter against government spokespeople like Mike O’Brien and John Reid?’
George Entwistle: ‘I can’t recall when we last had Ritter on.’
DE: ‘Have you had him on this year?’
GE: ‘Not this year, not in 2003, no.’
DE: ‘Why would that be?’
GE: ‘I don’t particularly have an answer for that; we just haven’t.’
DE: ‘Isn’t he an incredibly important, authoritative witness on this?’
GE: ‘I think he’s an interesting witness. I mean we’ve had…’
DE: ‘Well, he was chief UNSCOM arms inspector.’
GE: ‘Absolutely, yeah. We’ve had Ekeus on, and lots of people like that.’
DE: ‘But why not Ritter?’
GE: ‘I don’t have a particular answer to that… I mean, sometimes we phone people and they’re not available; sometimes they are.’
DE: ‘Well I know he’s very keen, he’s forever speaking all over the place. He’s travelled to Iraq and so on…’
GE: ‘There’s no particular… there’s no sort of injunction against him; we just haven’t had him on as far as I’m aware.’
DE: ‘The other claim is…’
GE: ‘David, can I ask a question of you at this stage?’
GE: ‘What’s the thesis?’
DE: ‘What, sorry, on why you haven’t…?’
GE: ‘No, I mean all these questions tend in a particular direction. Do you think that Newsnight is acting as a pro-government organisation?’
DE: ‘My feeling is that you tend to steer away from embarrassing the government [Entwistle laughs] in your selection of interviewees and so on, they tend to be establishment interviewees. I don’t see people like Chomsky, Edward Herman, Howard Zinn, Michael Albert, you know – there’s an enormous amount of dissidents…’
GE: ‘Well we’ve being trying to get Chomsky on lately, and he’s not wanted to come on for reasons I can’t explain. What’s the guy who was the UN aid programme guy…?’
DE: ‘Denis Halliday?’
GE: ‘Yeah, we’ve had him on. I think our Blair special on BBC2 confronted him [Blair] with all sorts of uncomfortable propositions.’
DE: ‘The other thing is that UNSCOM inspectors, CIA reports and so on have said that any retained Iraqi WMD is likely to be “sludge” – that’s the word they use – because, for example, liquid bulk anthrax lasts maybe three years under ideal storage conditions. Again, I haven’t seen that put to people like John Reid and Mike O’Brien.’
GE: ‘Um, I can’t recall whether we have or not. Have you watched every… episode, since when?
DE: ‘Pretty much. This year, for example. Have you covered that?’
GE: ‘Um, I’ll have to check. I mean, we’ve done endless pieces about the state of the WMD, about the dossier and all that stuff.’
DE: ‘Oh sure, about that, but about the fact that any retained WMD is likely to be non-lethal by now, I mean…’
GE: ‘I’ll, I can… I’ll have to have a look.’
DE: ‘You haven’t covered it have you?’
GE: ‘I honestly, I don’t know; I’d have to check. I genuinely can’t remember everything we’ve covered.’
DE: ‘Sure, but I mean it’s a pretty major point isn’t it?’
GE: ‘It’s an interesting point, but it’s the kind of point that we have been engaging with.’
DE: ‘Well, I’ve never seen it.’
GE: ‘Well, I mean, I’ll endeavour to get back to you and see if I can help.’
Following this conversation, Entwistle wrote to Edwards by email. He provided what he considered powerful evidence that Newsnight had in fact challenged the government case for war on Iraq. He cited this exchange between Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and Tony Blair (Blair On Iraq – A Newsnight Special, BBC2, February 6, 2003)
TONY BLAIR: Well I can assure you I’ve said every time I’m asked about this, they have contained him up to a point and the fact is the sanctions regime was beginning to crumble, it’s why it’s subsequent in fact to that quote we had a whole series of negotiations about tightening the sanctions regime but the truth is the inspectors were put out of Iraq so -
JEREMY PAXMAN: They were not put out of Iraq, Prime Minister, that is just not true. The weapons inspectors left Iraq after being told by the American government that bombs would be dropped on the country. (The rest of the transcript followed, March 31)
We responded to Entwistle:
‘You mention Paxman raising the myth of inspectors being thrown out. You’re right, Paxman did pick him [Blair] up on the idea that inspectors were “put out” of Iraq, but then the exchange on the topic ended like this:
TONY BLAIR: They were withdrawn because they couldn’t do their job. I mean let’s not be ridiculous about this, there’s no point in the inspectors being in there unless they can do the job they’re put in there to do. And the fact is we know that Iraq throughout that time was concealing its weapons.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Right.
Right! Paxman let Blair get away with this retreat back to a second deception.’ (David Edwards to Entwistle, March 31, 2003)
In fact the remarkable truth is that the 1991-98 inspections ended in almost complete success. As we have discussed, Ritter insists that Iraq was ‘fundamentally disarmed’ by December 1998, with 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction eliminated. Thus, Entwistle’s chosen example of Paxman powerfully challenging Blair is in fact an excellent example of him failing to make even the most obvious challenge.
QUESTION: How have the liberal media reacted to your work? Any examples?
ANSWER: Reactions have changed over time. Initially, the reaction was disbelief and open contempt. When we challenged the BBC’s John Sweeney on child deaths in Iraq, he wrote: “I don’t agree with torturing children. Get stuffed.” (Email to Media Lens Editors, June 24, 2002)
A typical response has been to suggest that we and our readers can’t possibly have read what has been written, or that we can’t have watched what has been broadcast:
“I wonder – from your email – if you actually read the Guardian, or whether you are responding to a suggested form of words on a website?” (Email from Alan Rusbridger to Media Lens reader, 7 February, 2003).
ITN’s head of news gathering, Jonathan Munro, wrote:
“It would help if the correspondents had actually watched the programmes. Most are round-robins and refer to pieces published in newspapers or in other media.” (Email to Media Lens, February 17, 2003)
Observer editor Roger Alton here once again observes the customer-friendly protocol familiar to all who have engaged with the press:
“What a lot of balls … do you read the paper old friend? ... “Pre-digested pablum [sic] from Downing Street…” my arse. Do you read the paper or are you just recycling garbage from Media Lens?
Best Roger Alton” (February 14, 2003)
It may be that the media are becoming less complacent about internet-based criticism. The Guardian readers’ editor, Ian Mayes, noted recently:
“Immediately after what everyone involved took as the resolution of the complaint, the editor of the Guardian sent an email to about 400 of the people who had emailed the Guardian on the subject of the Chomsky interview. He took the opportunity to reject conspiracy theories claiming that senior journalists at the Guardian had colluded in targeting Prof Chomsky with the object of discrediting him. I believe he was right to do that. Nothing emerged in my interviews to support the idea.” (Mayes, ‘Open door,’ December 12, 2005)
Previously, the media has simply ignored even large numbers of emails. On this occasion, even the editor of the Guardian felt compelled to respond to the huge numbers of people who had written in.
We are also beginning to receive (comparatively) positive comments form the media. The BBC’s Newsnight editor Peter Barron has begun inviting us to appear, has invited our sources to appear on the programme (on our suggestion), and has even written:
“One of Media Lens’ less ingratiating habits is to suggest to their readers that they contact me to complain about things we’ve done. They’re a website whose rather grand aim is to ‘correct the distorted vision of the corporate media’.
“They prolifically let us know what they think of our coverage, mainly on Iraq, George Bush and the Middle East, from a Chomskyist perspective.
“In fact I rather like them. David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they’re plain right.
“For example, Newsnight hasn’t done enough on the US war on insurgency in Western Iraq. The reason is we don’t have a presence there because it’s too dangerous and pictures and firm evidence are hard to come by. But that shouldn’t be an excuse, and this week we managed to get an interview with a US Marine colonel on the front line to raise some of the points Media Lens and others are concerned about.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/4426334.stm)
QUESTION: Why someone who already knows s/he can’t trust the corporate media should read your book?
ANSWER: This really sounds like hype, but here’s the reason. We have read every one of our Media Alerts over and over again. When we took the nuggets out of the alerts, updated them, added material and mashed it all together in the book, we assumed the result would be very familiar to us – we both thought it would seem very samey and tedious to us. But when we read through the result something quite remarkable happened. The combined impact of all this concentrated, damning material and evidence was to open our eyes to just how obviously corrupt and compromised the corporate media system is. It actually opened our eyes to what we’re dealing with!
This points to an interesting feature of media propaganda. It operates by a kind of mass hypnosis – when you’re exposed to it day in day out, it infiltrates the way you see things; it makes even complete absurdity seem serious. The illusion is attenuated somewhat when you read an honest article or two. But when you read a really concentrated blast of powerful evidence, it seems to have a different order of effect on the mind. That’s the conclusion we’ve come to because it was very surprising to be educated by our own book!
To know more, please visit http://www.Media Lens.org
1) Media Lens www.Media Lens.org/bookshop/guardians_of_power.php
4) To know more, please read The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor’s strange idea of democracy, by Gabriele Zamparini, an oppressive email by an electronic lobby group’s member.
Gabriele Zamparini is an independent filmmaker, writer and journalist living in London. He’s the producer and director of the documentaries XXI CENTURY and The Peace! DVD and author of American Voices of Dissent (Paradigm Publishers). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org – Find out more about him and his work at http://TheCatsDream.com
- Created on 12 November 2010
- 12 November 2010
The following is an interview with David Edwards and David Cromwell editors of Media Lens and co-authors of the new book ‘Guardians of Power: The myth of the liberal media’.
UKWatch: Your new book is called ‘Guardians of Power’ who are the Guardians of Power? Who are they protecting and why?
Media Lens: The guardians are the corporate mass media. They are protecting the powerful state-corporate interests on which they depend and of which they are a part. In this book we specifically focus on the ‘liberal’ guardians of power - the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, the BBC and so on. They are essentially protecting their own interests. For example, many people consider the BBC a bastion of honest reporting. On December 2, the media reported that Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and her husband Alan Clements netted £1m each from the sale of IWC Media, the television production company, to RDF Media, maker of Wife Swap, for £14m. The other presenters of Newsnight – Jeremy Paxman, for example – are also millionaires.
Irish billionaire Sir Anthony O’Reilly, who is chief executive of Independent News & Media Plc, the multinational company that publishes the Independent and Independent on Sunday in London, is estimated to be worth £1.3 billion, making him the richest man in Ireland.
A Guardian Weekend supplement in March 2004 consisted of 128 pages. Of these, 90 were taken up in advertising, some of it aimed at society’s wealthiest elites. The “chiffon halterneck dress with metal sequin overlay” advertised on page 74, for example, cost £5,890. The country’s leading liberal newspaper described this as “absolute glamour”. (‘Come dancing,’ Guardian magazine, March 6, 2004)
The Guardian 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)
These are obviously just a few small examples; but this is an elite media system that has been designed, and has evolved, over many decades to defend the interests of the top 5% of the British population who own 45% of the nation’s wealth and who run the country. The idea that this system reports neutrally between the interests of corporate titans like O’Reilly and impoverished civilians in the Third World, for example in Iraq, is just absurd.
UKW: The focus of your book is the liberal media. Why have you chosen this target rather than the right-wing media which many would consider far worse.
ML: As Joel Bakan notes in his book, The Corporation, the current status quo is fundamentally psychopathic – it systematically subordinates people and planet to profit. Much of the suffering in the Third World is the result of deliberate military, economic and other interventions to subordinate the interests of local people to Western corporate profits. Much of the destruction of the environment – for example of the climate – is the result of the same psychopathic set of priorities. Even now the websites of major business front groups like the US National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce are full of climate scepticism, Kyoto rejectionism and so on. Unfortunately, a profit-oriented corporate media system owned by wealthy people and/or parent companies, dependent on advertisers, linked with any number of business enterprises, has every interest in maintaining this psychopathic status quo. Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations and communications, advises corporations:
“People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut ‘victory’. ... Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.”
This is the main function of ‘professional’ news reporting. The main function of the ‘liberal’ arm of professional journalism is indicated by Australian media analyst Alex Carey:
“There is evidence from a major wartime study that, for the best results, one side only of an issue or argument should be presented to poorly educated people. Two-sided presentations, however, are more effective in influencing better educated people and those initially opposed to the desired view.” (Alex Carey, p.159)
The liberal media tell both sides of the story – kind of. They emphasise the state-corporate version of the truth, particularly in news reporting. This is then ‘balanced’ by commentary that presents superficial or trivial counter-arguments that do not seriously challenge the official view. So, for example, on the issue of Iraqi WMD, the official view – that Iraq was a threat that had to be disarmed, by force of necessary – was countered with a superficial, trivial view – that this may well be true, but any action should be endorsed by the UN. The real counter-argument – that Iraq was clearly not a threat and that any attack on Iraq, with or without UN approval, would be the supreme war crime – the launching of a war of aggression – was almost nowhere to be seen. The result is what Edward Herman describes as “normalising the unthinkable”. The liberal audience – the section of the population that might be expected to be most compassionate, most fiercely opposed to government crimes – was subject to endless liberal propaganda persuading them of the basic reasonableness and respectability of the US-UK government position. This consistently has the effect of pacifying and neutralising the most concerned and motivated section of society - people drawn to progressive, liberal ideas. By contrast, the right-wing press preaches to the converted, people who are happy with the status quo and keen for it not to be challenged.
UKW: The liberal media do allow some genuine dissenting voices. The Guardian and the independent for instance publish articles by principled radicals such as George Monbiot, Mark Curtis, Naomi Klein, Robert Fisk amongst others. If the liberal media are truly “Guardians of Power” why let these dissenting voices be heard at all?
ML: This is not actually true. The liberal media do not allow genuine dissent when it comes to analysing the structural corruption of the corporate media system. Monbiot, Klein and Fisk have written essentially nothing about this topic in the Guardian and Independent. Last time we checked, Curtis had not mentioned the role of the media at all in his Guardian articles. Fisk never criticises the Independent – in fact he praises it, as he does the British media generally. He does not focus on the appalling performance of the liberal media – he seems to believe that the Independent really is independent; an astonishingly naïve view. Recall that these are our most honest writers. Serious media analysis is a completely taboo subject within the mainstream. We published one article on the issue in the Guardian in December 2004 but that was a one-off gesture in response to intense criticism of the Guardian from Media Lens readers – it took us four months to place the article and we haven’t been invited back.
The only journalist who has been consistently honest about the media is John Pilger. It’s interesting to consider how he’s treated. In our view he’s the country’s most powerful dissident – his writing is superb, and the depth and breadth of his insight is beyond most of the other writers you mention. But it seems there’s no place for him in any of the quality papers! People talk about the Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne as a radical force – but he won’t publish Pilger. We’ve asked Milne why and he refuses to answer. So our best living dissident – obviously one of the all-time greats – is required to write a fortnightly column in the New Statesman which reaches a few thousand people. So why is he treated differently to Klein and Monbiot? Because he’s honest about the media – he criticises the Guardian, he draws attention to the vital role of the entire liberal media establishment in crimes against humanity. So he is persona non grata. The same is true of Chomsky. American dissidents are traditionally much more honest about the media – here it’s just understood that you don’t talk about it – and so they are not welcome in our press. It couldn’t be more obvious. By the way, the media in other countries are sometimes far more honest. Papers in places like South Korea and the United Arab Emirates publish material that is sometimes far more critical of the media. It matters more here – we’re closer to centres of real power – so it’s more tightly controlled.
Readers are not stupid. In the USSR it was obvious to much of the public that the media was heavily controlled and censored. As a result most people realised they were not free and so they sought out honest sources of information (like Samizdat) and energetically pushed for greater political freedom – the clear fact of media oppression motivated progressive change. By contrast, in the West, occasional examples of honest commentary and reporting create the powerful illusion that we have access to an open, independent press. It is like a vaccine that inoculates people against the truth of thought control.
UKW: Why do you think the UK media does not behave more like the United States media where dissenting voices are almost totally excluded? Which system do you think is more effective in controlling the domestic population?
ML: Bush and Blair are both currently in office rather than in jail, so we conclude that both systems must be extremely effective. The US is an unusual and extreme case. Historically, US corporate elites have waged a very intense and conscious kind of class warfare – really huge, centrally directed campaigns of propaganda manipulation and political control designed to stifle opposition. The British public are largely unaware of this, but the very large and popular socialist movements in the US in the first half of the 20th century were deliberately targeted and destroyed by business power. The propaganda campaigns were like something out of Stalinism or Maoism (see Elizabeth Fones-Wolf’s remarkable work Selling Free Enterprise for details) – really vast attempts to brainwash society.
Things were initially not that different here. From the early days of the nineteenth century, business and government were resolutely determined to stamp out the free expression of ideas. The first resort were the seditious libel and blasphemy laws, which essentially outlawed all challenges to the status quo. When these failed to have the desired effect, elites turned to newspaper stamp duty and taxes on paper and advertisements to price radical journals out of the market. Between 1789 and 1815, stamp duty was increased by 266 per cent, helping to ensure, as Lord Castlereagh put it, that “persons exercising the power of the press” would be “men of some respectability and property”; the point being that these more “respectable” owners of the press “would conduct them in a more respectable manner than was likely to be the result of pauper management”, as Cresset Pelham observed at the time.
The rise of a parliamentary socialist opposition – which was never successful to the same extent in the US - naturally supported a left-leaning press. This has been under remorseless attack ever since. With the convergence of Labour and Tory parties in the style of the US political system, the pressure on left elements within the media has increased markedly. There are signs that the press, too, is converging – the Observer is now essentially a right-wing propaganda organ. The Guardian also makes no bones about rejecting radical causes in favour of “the centre ground”. The centre, now, in fact is the hard, corporate right. It is ruthless realpolitik dressed as humanitarian intervention. It’s noticeable that, despite being proved right in almost everything they said, several high-profile anti-war journalists and politicians have lost their jobs since 2003 – cruise missile columnists like Aaronovitch, Cohen and Hari have not been touched. That’s surely a sign of the times.
UKW: Tell us a bit about Media Lens. How did the project begin? What were your hopes for it?
ML: We had both published books on radical politics/media analysis. We had also managed to publish a few articles and book reviews in the mainstream press. But it was agonising work – it was clear that tests of servility were being set up, hoops were being held out, punishment for honesty was being administered. Naturally, we were expected to play the same game as everyone else – notably, don’t even dream of subjecting the corporate media system to serious criticism. DC had set up a website for his book, Private Planet , and DE suggested a similar website on media analysis. Our initial thought was to just send out useful analysis and information to a small circle of interested friends – the idea of how to reach more people than did not initially occur to us. We assumed we’d be ignored and blanked, and remain pretty much unknown.
We thought it would be interesting to conduct an experiment – what happens if you give no thought to the sensitivities of mainstream commissioning editors and just tell the truth, as we see it, about the media? So we very consciously decided to burn any media career bridges we might have, to abandon any thought of making money from writing, and just write what seemed most important. We consciously set out to reject all forms of compromise. We are both strongly drawn to the idea that motivation is crucial – we believe that it is vital that our work should be rooted in a compassionate motivation rather than in a personal concern for career security, status, and so on.
UKW: An important part of what you do is getting people to regularly challenge journalists and editors. Do you think these challenges have had an impact on the way the news is reported?
ML: It’s very difficult to judge, and maybe we’re not the best people to give an opinion. There have been clear examples where readers have changed outcomes in the media – questions have been asked of senior politicians on BBC radio and TV that otherwise would not have been asked.
UKW: Media Lens has understandably focussed on the crimes of the media and on raising consciousness on this issue. To turn to another side of the problem what kind of media would you like to see? In what ways should the media change and how is change to be achieved?
ML: We are an example of the media we would like to see. Forget for a moment issues of structure and so on – what is it we really need? We need individuals motivated by compassion for suffering rather than greed – people who are willing to write honestly about the causes of that suffering. We need journalists who are not compromised by their aspiration for money, status, respectability and power – people who find the idea of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous repulsive if it means they have to subordinate the interests of the impoverished and defenceless to their own career progression. We need journalists who understand that personal happiness and social welfare are ultimately rooted in concern for others - in personal qualities of kindness, generosity, compassion, patience and non-violence. We are not trying to pretend we are exemplars of these qualities, but we do aspire to be motivated by them, and we do think they should be at the heart of honest journalism. It’s reasonable to say that one-half of our focus is on challenging greed, hatred and ignorance with facts and arguments. The other half is to maintain and increase a compassionate motivation for what we’re doing.
UKW: What do you think of the state of alternative media in this country? Is it capable of ever supplanting the mainstream?
ML: It already has for some people to some extent. Quite a few people who want to understand the truth of Haiti, Colombia, Iraq and so on turn to alternative media rather than seek confusing, misleading, compromised accounts in the mainstream. We have written often of how we hope that increased public awareness of the limits of political and media freedom will generate truly democratic, alternative media with the power to impose a news agenda on the mainstream, or to replace it as source of news. Ideally, beyond even this, powerful alternative media should aspire to inform and motivate large popular movements, and even new, libertarian political parties, which might then be in a position to reform media structures to limit the influence of corporate interests.
UKW: What are your hopes for the book? What do you want people to take away from it?
ML: People will never seek liberation from a situation of oppression if they believe they are already free. The illusion of media freedom is incredibly potent. It is backed up by high-tech power, endorsed by endless celebrities and global heroes telling us, or implying, that the media system is fundamentally benign, free, open and honest. It’s very difficult to step outside this propaganda and think for ourselves. We have collected the most powerful and relevant examples we can find showing how even the best media systematically impose a false, controlling, pacifying, oppressive and lethal version of the world on the public. Of course, we have read this stuff 100 times, so we assumed the impact on us personally would be pretty minimal, even tedious. We were both pleasantly surprised to find that, after reading the book in proof and final form, we came away with an unusually clear sense of just how obviously compromised and destructive the media system is. It opened our eyes! If the book has a similar effect on other readers, that would be a positive result.
- Created on 07 February 2006
- 12 November 2010
by Veli Koskinen
What is Media Lens?
Media Lens is an attempt to subject the mainstream corporate media - primarily the liberal media in the UK. We do this by analysing the media's versions of events and comparing these with what we believe are honest, uncompromised versions based on rational arguments, verifiable facts and multiple, credible sources. We provide references and links for all of these so that readers can evaluate for themselves whether we are distorting the facts in some way. Comparing the two versions, we then invite readers to judge for themselves which version is more reasonable and accurate, and to send their opinions to both journalists and us. It is vital for us to provide an honest and accurate account of the media version because we are not 'selling a line' - we are encouraging readers to make a rational judgement on the basis of the facts. Media Lens is not only not profit-oriented, we are not revenue-oriented - we provide our Media Alerts and Cogitations completely free of charge. We aspire to offer an example of journalism motivated by concern for others rather than greed for profit, status and respectability.
How and when Media Lens became Media Lens and what was the experience that led you to do this work?
We had both published books on radical politics/media analysis. We had also managed to publish a few articles and book reviews in the mainstream press. But it was agonising work - it was clear that a certain version of 'balance' was expected from us, that there were certain limits on what could be said, and that there would be punishment for failing to obey the unwritten rules. We were expected to play the same game as everyone else - notably, don't even +dream+ of subjecting the corporate media system to serious criticism. In setting up Media Lens, our initial thought was to just send out useful analysis and information as a kind of resource to a small circle of interested friends - the idea that we would reach more people than that did not initially occur to us. We sent out our first Media Alert in July 2001.
What is the goal for Media Lens? What do you want to achieve?
There are several related goals. First, we hope to indicate just how little freedom of speech there really is in the mainstream media. We hope that widespread public awareness will lead to increased challenges to journalists and editors - this can, in itself, have an important effect in improving media performance. Beyond that, we hope people will work to develop powerful, non-corporate alternative media. This development needs to be rooted in genuinely democratic political movements working to restrain and eventually remove the corporate media monopoly of the media.
Where do you get the strength to carry on, and is it frustrating to deal with the intentionally misleading corporate media?
We try to be motivated by compassion rather than anger. Many people believe that compassion only serves to increase suffering by increasing one's own sadness at the unhappiness of others. According to the Buddhist contemplative Geshe Yeshe Thubtop, who has been cultivating compassion through intensive meditation for twenty-three years, this is not the case:
"When you first witness a child who is suffering, your immediate experience is one of sadness. But then this emotion is displaced by the yearning, 'How can I help? Does the child need food? Shelter? What can be done to alleviate the child's suffering?' This is when true compassion arises, and when it is present, the previous sadness vanishes." (Quoted, Alan Wallace, Genuine Happiness, Wiley & Sons, 2005, p.132)
Compassion, then, is +not+ mere sympathy for suffering. It is not the sentimental, sorrowful indulgence of much Western presumption. Rather, it is a clear-headed, forceful and determined (even fierce!) urge to act to relieve suffering. Compassion is extremely motivating, very powerful.
Journalists participate as cogs in a military-media killing machine that consumes hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of lives. We need to be clear about this - the bland soundbites and compromised versions of 'news' - on what our leaders 'hope', what are leaders 'sincerely believe', what our leaders are 'genuinely' trying to achieve - are as vital for the killing as the bullets and bombs. Most of the tankers, troopers and air force pilots don't actually have blood on their hands either. The suffering faced by the people of the Third World, for example in Iraq, as a result of this is so unimaginable that we feel compelled to challenge the media deceptions that make this suffering possible. The flood of propaganda is endless, there is no shortage of material to work on.
There are of course times when we feel frustrated that the same violent deceptions are being produced in a slightly different form. The Times columnist, Gerard Baker, wrote recently:
"The unimaginable but ultimately inescapable truth is that we are going to have to get ready for war with Iran." (Baker, 'Prepare yourself for the unthinkable: war against Iran may be a necessity,' The Times, January 27, 2006)
Why might this be?
"If Iran gets safely and unmolested to nuclear status, it will be a threshold moment in the history of the world, up there with the Bolshevik Revolution and the coming of Hitler."
It is frustrating that such words can appear just three years after the flood of deceptions that subordinated the welfare of millions of Iraqis to the greed of a tiny few. It is even more remarkable given that Baker himself wrote in February 2003:
"victory [in Iraq] will quickly vindicate US and British claims about the scale of the threat Saddam poses". (Baker, 'Defeating prejudice with persuasion,' Financial Times, February 20, 2003)
Baker was positively gleeful:
"I cannot wait to hear what the French, Russians and Germans have to say when the conquering troops begin to uncover the death factories Mr Hussein has been hiding from inspectors for 12 years... And do not be shocked if allied liberators discover all kinds of connections between Baghdad and terrorism around the world."
But we try to stay positive and optimistic.
How is main stream media treating Media Lens in Britain? Are they ignoring you or ridiculing you?
They have never completely ignored us. At first they responded with contempt but now they are far more cautious. Journalists have considerable egos and often see themselves as the 'good guys', as people standing up for human rights and all good things. As a result they find it almost impossible to resist responding to criticism from the left. If people criticism them for being too left wing, too critical of government and business, that's fine - they like that. But if we criticise them for conforming to the requirements of a corporate media system, they seem to feel they have to respond. That's one reason we receive so many interesting and revealing emails from journalists - they can't help themselves. By the way, the more honest journalists, strongly support what we're doing because they feel we're exposing some fundamental truths about the lack of free speech - they very much want these issues to be discussed. They sometimes tell us that they can't be seen to discuss this stuff themselves, they can't be seen to be too close to us, but that they are very happy we're doing what we're doing outside the system.
How is it generally; what are the main stream media's ways to control the dissident voice? Do you think there is an agenda based on which the independent thinkers are treated by the mass media?
Control is rooted in the concept of "professional journalism", which is supposed to be what's called 'neutral', balanced' and 'objective'. On closer examination it turns out that neutral, balanced and objective mean that journalists can be as biased as they like in supporting the views of the powerful, but they had better not subject power to serious criticism. In 2003, the BBC's Washington correspondent, Matt Frei, for example, said: "There's no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power." (Frei, BBC1 Panorama, April 13, 2003) Was this scrupulously neutral, professional journalism? In fact, this statement communicated deeply controversial, personal opinions, but Frei was not criticised as biased or unprofessional. Imagine if Frei had said: "There's no doubt that the desire to exploit the Third World, to project US corporate power in the world, and especially now in the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power." There is no doubt that Frei would have been sacked, or at least severely punished. So that's an important mechanism of control - if you serve powerful interests, you are 'neutral', 'professional'. If you upset powerful interests, you are a 'biased', 'unprofessional', 'crusading' journalist. Then you become 'one of them' and your career will stall, or you may lose your job altogether.
Could you provide us an example of a case where people were manipulated to act in a particular way?
The most remarkable example of recent times was probably the flood of political and media propaganda that persuaded the American public to support the war against Iraq. If you check the opinion polls, you'll find that US public opinion closely reflected the lies being broadcast about Iraqi WMD, links to al Qaeda, responsibility for the September 11 attacks and so on. American public beliefs were unique in the world - literally no other nation believed these arguments to anything like the same extent - but the intense US propaganda system persuaded huge numbers of Americans it was all true. And of course none of it was true. Internet opens new and uncensored doors to information for the public.
Do you think this access will be limited and controlled in the future by the governments and the corporate media?
That's up to people like you and us. We can be sure that governments will +try+ to prevent the internet being used as a tool for compassion, liberation and justice. It's up to us to do everything we can to ensure that it is. As elections approached in South Korea in 2002, more and more people began to get their information and political analysis from internet news services instead of from the country's conservative newspapers. The most influential internet service, OhmyNews, registered 20 million page views per day around election time in December 2002. In March 2003, the service still averaged around 14 million visits daily, in a country of 40 million people. OhmyNews had been started three years earlier by Oh Yeon Ho, 39, who says: "My goal was to say farewell to 20th-century Korean journalism, with the concept that every citizen is a reporter... The professional news culture has eroded our journalism, and I have always wanted to revitalize it. Since I had no money, I decided to use the Internet, which has made this guerrilla strategy possible." Relying almost solely on ordinary readers, OhmyNews helped generate a huge national movement that resulted in the election of Roh Moo Hyun, a reformist lawyer, in December 2002. Before OhmyNews got involved, the new president had been a relative unknown. After his election, he granted OhmyNews the first interview he gave to any Korean news organization. "Netizens won," Oh said of the election. "Traditional media lost." (Mark L. Clifford and Moon Ihlwan, 'Korea: The Politics of Peril', Business Week, February 24, 2003) This is a remarkable story of tremendous importance to anyone interested in challenging state-corporate control of society. The success of libertarian, internet-based sites in South Korea suggests that internet media relying mostly on contributions from ordinary readers represent a potent democratising force.
What is there to be done to improve people's awareness of the power structures that guide the corporate media?
Well, the power structures don't "guide" the media - the media +are+ the power structures. It's important not to see the media as separate from power - they are a crucial part of the corporate system. The problem with raising awareness is not the complexity of the issues - the issues, in fact, are very simple - but the problem of reaching people. The corporate media have a virtual monopoly on mass communication. However, the internet has created the possibility of reaching a lot of people at very low cost - that has started to change the balance of power. I asked my 10-year-old nephew if he thought a newspaper that relied on big advertisers for 75% of its money would be likely to strongly criticise those advertisers in its pages. He answered: 'It doesn't seem very likely.' He's ten! If he can understand the obvious contradiction that is the 'corporate free press', then most adults should be able to manage it. The facts are readily available, the case studies show media bias in a dramatically clear fashion. It just requires a little hard work motivated by an awareness that suffering is real and that the media bear a huge responsibility for causing it. And given the approaching collapse of environmental life-support systems, we really do not have much time to continue sticking our heads in the sands. People in Finland should think up setting up their own version of Media Lens - it costs virtually nothing and would be fun and easy to do.
Please feel free to contact us for advice - we have helped people set up projects in various places around the world.
David Edwards, co-editor, Media Lens