David Edwards interview with Jon Snow

By David Edwards

DE: “There’s a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and so on, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Are you aware of that argument, and what do you make of it…?”

JS: “I’m aware of the argument; I don’t believe it’s true.”

DE: “You don’t believe it’s true.”

JS: “No. No. I mean I don’t think that’s the motivation. I think they just know that sex and those sort of things sell a lot better. After all, Channel 4 has no institutional owner. What process would exist to fulfil this operation in Channel 4?”

DE: “Well…”

JS: “A wholly owned, publicly owned trust.”

DE: “Well, for example…”

JS: “I turn your attention to the 9th of January, 2001, page 8 of the Independent review. I think you would get a very interesting insight into the way sex is taking over from facts. But maybe sex is facts, who knows!”

DE: “Richard Ingrams wrote in the Observer last year, ‘When the newspapers are obviously doing so well out of all this [mobile phone] advertising, it is not so surprising that they tend not to give much coverage to the growing evidence that mobile phones are not only anti-social but extremely dangerous.’ Isn’t that…”

JS: “Well, but I don’t +agree+ with that. Unfortunately, and I’ve tried bloody hard on this, there just +isn’t+ the evidence, and that’s the problem.”

DE: “Well have you heard of the Wireless Technology Research Group?”

JS: “I have.”

DE: “They…”

JS: “But I mean, all these findings are extremely problematical, and the Government’s own research has also failed to pin it. I’m +very+ keen to pin mobile phones, I’d like to see them out of operation as of today.”

DE: “Tim Radford in the Guardian said there is no evidence that mobile phones can cause harm. The BBC news has said that, so has the ITN and so has the Independent…”

JS: “Well we’ve also said that they do cause harm but have not been able to prove it.”

DE: “But it’s quite a different thing to say there is +no+ evidence isn’t it? I mean there is evidence, even anecdotal evidence.”

JS: “I’m not even sure there is. I don’t think there is. You see the thing is about all these things, it’s so much easier for hacks to be able to blame some corporate conspiracy that prevents them from discussing these matters. Unfortunately, I wish there was, we would really have something to kick against then. I think, mainly, the biggest culprit in all this is the hack: journalists are lazy, they live in a goldfish bowl, they’re not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff themselves. And it isn’t because they’ve got the advertisers breathing down their necks – they couldn’t give a shit about the advertisers – it’s because it’s easier to do other things, where they’re spoon-fed.”

DE: “For example, the New York Times – one calculation was that it’s about 65% adverts…”

JS: “I’m surprised it’s as little as that.”

DE: “… NBC’s owned by General Electric and CBS is owned by Westinghouse…”

JS: “Yes but it’s no good looking at the United States to get your… What about looking here?”

DE: “But shouldn’t these issues be discussed?”

JS: “Well they are discussed all the time, but we don’t look to the United States for quality journalism.”

DE: “But have you seen a systemic analysis of the threat to freedom of information of the fact…?”

JS: “I have and unfortunately I don’t travel with it.”

DE: “Where have you seen it in the mainstream press?”

JS: “Well I’ve seen it in the Guardian media section; I’ve seen it in the Observer. There have been discussions about media ownership over the years – it comes up every time one of these organs changes hands.”

DE: “But shouldn’t it be a …?”

JS: “Look at Desmond taking over the Express. I mean the Express wasn’t worth taking over in the first place, but anyway, this is the reduction of something which once purported to be a right-wing political daily, which is now going to become a sex mag. Now is that some great corporate conspiracy? Alas not!”

DE: “Well I’m certainly not suggesting it’s a corporate conspiracy; what I’m suggesting is that the profit-orientation of the media, the fact that they are so dependent on advertisers, they are owned by wealthy owners…”

JS: “But +we’re+ not owned by wealthy owners, we’re mainstream…”

DE: “I know, I’m not just talking about Channel 4, I’m talking generally.”

JS: “No, but I am giving you Channel 4 as an example. I’ll give you the BBC as an example.”

DE: “But don’t you think this sort of debate should be standard for the media?”

JS: “Well I mean, but there are plenty of things that ought to be standard for the media. I mean, I don’t think the self-interest of who owns us is necessarily the most paramount issue we should be dealing with.”

DE: “But I mean the whole range of issues of influences?”

JS: “Well how about tobacco, do you want to do that?”

DE: “Well, I’ll tell you what I would like to do is Pinochet. Greg Palast wrote in the Observer: ‘The October 1970 plot against Chile’s President-elect Salvador Allende, using CIA “sub-machine guns and ammo”, was the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company’s former lawyer, President Richard Nixon.’ I saw that in the Observer, but I didn’t see it discussed anywhere else. Did you see that discussed anywhere else?”

JS: “Well, I haven’t seen that particular story discussed anywhere else, but we all +know+ that the Pinochet coup was a corporate American coup, and it’s been detailed to bloody oblivion! If I read another story about ITT…”

DE: “Did you cover it?”

JS: “I was +involved+! I +went+! I +reported+ it!”

DE: “I didn’t see it in the mainstream press, apart from…”

JS: “But it happened in +1970+… When was the coup in Chile? I can’t even remember, it was so long ago!”

DE: “But Pinochet was under house arrest for 18 months; I was amazed that I didn’t see it discussed during that period.”

JS: “But it was discussed very extensively at the time of the coup.”

DE: “But not when he was under house arrest.”

JS: “Well what difference would that make?”

DE: “Well isn’t it incredibly important that Palast – he wrote this article basically saying that corporate America was behind it…”

JS: “Well who is he?”

DE: “He’s a columnist with the Observer.”

JS: “But why should I be following up something he’s written?”

DE: “But as you say, it’s widely known but not discussed.”

JS: “But it +is+ discussed. There’s nobody who discusses Chile who doesn’t know it’s a corporate conspiracy. If there is, introduce me! ITT led the coup – that’s a fact!”

DE: “Did you discuss that much on Channel 4?”

JS: “Endlessly! But there isn’t anybody who’s discussed Chile and not mentioned the corporate American involvement!”

DE: “Have you heard of the British historian Mark Curtis?”

JS: “I don’t know.”

DE: “He argues that there’s a pattern to post-1945 British and US interventions, basically defending profits and installing people like the Shah in Iran…”

JS: “Oh this is bollocks! Total bollocks!”

DE: “Do you think so?”

JS: “Utter bollocks!”

DE: “Really.”

JS: “I wish it was true, it would make life so much easier.”

DE: “Why do you think it’s bollocks?”

JS: “Because, I’m afraid there are many, many other factors. Do you know the role Winston Churchill played in disposing of… of the brilliant, democratically elected prime minister, 1952 – what the fuck was his name? – the greatest Iranian politician of all time?”

DE: “Mussadiq.”

JS: “Mussadiq, wonderful man – assassinated by Britain. Do you hear people discussing that? There’s a conspiracy not to tell the truth about Iran!”

DE: “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy at all, I reject all ideas of a conspiracy. But it is extraordinary that these issues aren’t discussed.”

JS: “You’re calling for a debate which, quite frankly, is out there to be had any time you want it.”

DE: “Really?”

JS: “Yes. I just don’t travel with +any+ of this crap! What I travel with is lazy journalism.”

DE: “But isn’t there a pattern to the lazy journalism?”

JS: “No, unfortunately there is +not+! You mean, white, middle-class, middle-aged men, sitting around desks hatching plots which have nothing to do with the main interests of women and ethnic minorities? Well there is a bit of that, yes!”

DE: “Can I talk about global warming briefly?”

JS: “Global warming you can. I think you’re +bananas+!”

DE: “Do you?”

JS: “You’re completely off the clock!” (laughs)

DE: “Oh really (laughs). Well that’s fair enough, yeah.”

JS: “You should attend some of the editorial meetings in the mornings. You’d hear all this stuff flying.”

DE: “Obviously there was the failure of the Hague convention, and very little coverage of that in the States. Now…”

JS: “I must say, this newspaper or news programme that you have in mind will be fantastically dull watching. So far it’s going to be a few letters to a man from Pepsi-cola. It’s going to be a discussion of a coup that occurred over 30 years ago. It’s going to be a discussion of the murder of a politician in Iran in 1952. What about living in the present?”

DE: “That’s why I want to talk to you about global warming. The US National Association of Manufacturers have said on their website, ‘We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it.’ Big business in America is against the Kyoto Protocol…”

JS: “That has been repeatedly covered in +every+ newspaper I’ve seen discussing Kyoto. It has been completely trashed by American corporate business. There is +nobody+ that has not accused America of being the dirty man of the Kyoto convention.”

DE: “But they tend not to identify the +corporate+ obstructionists…”

JS: “I think they do…”

DE: “Geoffrey Lean said in the Independent, “The good news is that industry is ahead of politicians”. The New Scientist said: “Arguably, it is now business rather than governments that are leading the drive against greenhouse gases. If American industry is moving this way, it’s unlikely that Bush will oppose it.”

JS: “Well you’re reading the wrong organs, that’s all I can say. I’ve seen plenty of it in the Observer and the Guardian, and in the Herald Tribune, which is after all an American newspaper… I +totally+ reject this!”

DE: “You totally reject it.”

JS: “+Totally+! I wouldn’t even give it five minutes. I’d like to support it because it would make life so easy. We’d have an enemy that we could really define and paint into a corner.”

DE: “Have you actually read any of the analyses that support this case, like Manufacturing Consent, by Herman and Chomsky, for example?”

JS: “Chomsky I’ve read endlessly on both global warming and Third World fascism.”

DE: “Have you read Manufacturing Consent?”

JS: “I have.”

DE: “And you don’t think there’s any credibility…”

JS: “But I mean, lots of what Chomsky says appears in the mainstream press, amazingly; it’s just that you don’t want to read it.”

DE: “He says it doesn’t.”

JS: “Well, he’s wrong! He doesn’t read the British press.”

DE: “Well he does actually. His favourite newspaper’s the Financial Times. What Chomsky basically says is that there is a filtering process, whereby the corporate media tends not to radically criticise corporate behaviour – that’s his fundamental argument. He says it’s not a conspiracy, it just ends up that way.”

JS: “Well, I’m sorry to say, it either happens or it doesn’t happen. If it does happen, it’s a conspiracy; if it doesn’t happen, it’s not a conspiracy.”

DE: “Couldn’t it happen unconsciously, with people not aware of the pressures they’re under to conform?”

JS: “Well where are these pressure coming from – identify them for me? I can tell you if somebody rings me up from Pepsi-cola – and I must say I don’t think I’ve ever been rung by any corporation, would that I was! – I’d give them short shrift!”

DE: “Couldn’t you argue that the fact that wealthy owners own corporations, they recruit the editors who recruit the journalists – you could argue that…”

JS: “Yeah, but your big problem is that you’re dealing with a multi-media activity in Britain, in which there is a huge non-corporate involvement. What is the consequence of that? Does it produce anything different? Question! Does it? I don’t know!”

DE: “There is a complex range of influences…”

JS: “I mean the Scott Trust owns the Guardian. What effect does that have? Is the Guardian the same as all other newspapers? Does it make any difference who owns the paper? Who knows!”

DE: “But a third of newspaper profits are made up of advertising.”

JS: “Sure.”

DE: “Isn’t that, even unconsciously, going to be a strong influence on what people report?”

JS: “Well how do you propose to fund them?”

DE: “Well that’s a different question isn’t it.”

JS: “No it +isn’t+! You want to produce a bland, boring, under-financed bloody media, which has no adverts, and which prattles on about events that occurred 30 years ago.”

DE: “Not at all. What I’m saying is, shouldn’t the influence of advertisers even be discussed? I very rarely see that discussed. It’s such an obvious issue.”

JS: “Well I think what would be much more intelligent would be to get somebody to do some research and show how it affects the content of the paper.”

DE: “That’s what these radical analyses attempt to do.”

JS: “Not very successfully, as far as I can see! I’m sorry to say I would look to lazy journalism before I start to look to corporate interference… I’m a numero uno fan of Chomsky, but I live in the real world and I do not experience these things… Britain boasts some of the most right-wing media in the world. I mean, that’s what people want. It also boasts the Guardian, also boasts the FT.”

DE: “You consider the Guardian liberal do you?”

JS: “I consider it mainstream centre.”

DE: “So where’s the mainstream left, then?”

JS: “Well, unfortunately, the mainstream left don’t seem to be able to get any money together to run a newspaper. Well whose fault is that? Yours and mine! We’re too busy looking for conspiracies! We should be running newspapers instead.”