Update: Liberal Herrings Part 2 – The Guardian’s John Vidal Responds on Climate Coverage

In Part 1 of this alert (August 6), we replied to Guardian environment editor John Vidal’s response to our media alert of 4 July, 2002:

On August 8, we received this reply from Vidal:

gissa break guys. I’ve just had my first two weeks hols in more than nine months and have returned to more than 1,000 emails. BUT i will reply when i can


We hope that Vidal has returned refreshed and relaxed from his deckchairs and iced-lollies, and we look forward to receiving some interesting responses to his mountain of emails. We also, again, very much appreciate the friendly and positive tone of his response.

On July 10, 2002, we wrote to John Vidal:

You kindly solicited suggestions for what you could do. Firstly, then, here is a distillation of the possible ‘action points’ contained in the media alert update that we sent you on 4 July:

* There has +never+ been serious mainstream discussion of the implications for press freedom of the fact that the mass media is made up of profit-seeking corporations controlled by wealthy owners and giant parent companies, and dependent on corporate advertisers. Why not start such a discussion in The Guardian, particularly in the light of your news story today on the 3WE survey (see more below)? Why not, for example, examine how often Guardian journalists have specifically advised readers +not+ to buy the products advertised in their paper.

* You wrote in your Ecologist review of George Monbiot’s book, ‘Captive State’, that “the intellectual and political establishment – and I include the mainstream media of which I am part” are loathe to tackle “the politicians, the local authorities, the corporations, and the many individuals and institutions” whom Monbiot names and shames in his book. You should investigate and report on +why+ the establishment – the mainstream media, in particular, and especially the Guardian – might be loath to do so.

* To what extent is The Guardian really different from other newspapers in being owned by the Scott Trust, rather than a media ‘mogul’ like Conrad Black or Rupert Murdoch? In short, to what extent is The Guardian really more free from commercial considerations than other media outlets, and in a better position to provide challenges to established authority?

* Report fully, and repeatedly, on the exorbitant public subsidies and tax breaks paid to the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of climate-saving renewable energy enterprises. You could do the same with other non-sustainable versus sustainable industries. If this is not possible or practical in The Guardian, then why not?

* Investigate the extent to which the corporate economy is actually subsidised by public taxes. Why is this a message that gets relatively scant airing in the Guardian’s news and business pages?

* Investigate why your own newspaper, especially outside your G2 Environment pages, makes so few links between the concerns of climate campaigners and ‘anti-globalisation’ protesters.

Here are a few additional suggestions not made in the media alert update of 4 July:

* Investigate the industry, establishment and other links of all individual members of the Scott Trust and the Guardian Media Group (GMG).

* Investigate the financial, shareholding, industrial and other links of GMG with other sectors of the economy.

* Investigate how these links might affect the breadth and depth of coverage by The Guardian and The Observer on a wide range of issues.

* Pursue the links between western oil and other corporate interests and western policy towards East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq (and other countries/ regions). Investigate the long-standing and well-documented US/UK trend of selecting, training, arming, installing and defending violent dictators protecting Third World resources for Western state-corporate interests. We would be happy to recommend sources.

* Examine how these same interests have bolstered a medieval sanctions regime on the Iraqi population that has contributed to the deaths of over one million people, half of them children under 5. Media Lens has highlighted significant biases, distortions and omissions in Guardian/ Observer coverage on Iraq (and other issues) – see our archive of media alerts at http://www.Media Lens.org

* Expose the deceptive rhetoric behind the US/UK ‘war against terrorism’. (Again, plenty of examples at the Media Lens website, and also the huge ZNet site at http://www.zmag.org). Investigate how many of the ‘allies’ in this ‘war’ are themselves guilty of major acts of terrorism.

* Examine the hierarchical structure of corporations: can they +ever+ be reformed into forces for sustainable development, or should/could industry be organised differently?

* Provoke a Guardian investigation into participative economics (‘parecon’), as pursued by Mike Albert and co-authors: see http://www.parecon.org

* Investigate, and invite radical commentary on, how the ‘cancer’ of capitalism is built upon greed, hatred and ignorance.

* Attempt to persuade your fellow journalists and editors on The Guardian of the importance of the above issues. Write publicly about the responses, or non-responses, you encounter.

George Orwell wrote about censorship in ostensibly free societies, noting “that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban.” In other words, no conspiracy is necessary for the establishment – including the mass media – to police legitimate dissent. But the concept of “unpopular ideas” requires explanation. By “unpopular” Orwell meant rational and progressive ideas that elites nevertheless find threatening to their own entrenched interests. In fact these same “unpopular” but rational ideas may very well find approval amongst the general populace. For this to happen, public fora are required in which such ideas can be heard, discussed and developed. People cannot make a judgement on what is happening in the world, and what best to do about it, unless they have ready access to descriptions of events at home and abroad that are unfiltered by the requirements of greed.

In short, as a necessary (but insufficient) start, the public requires a genuinely free press. The Guardian, despite the occasional glimmer of hope and dissent, does not and probably cannot – for commercial, structural and other reasons – fit the bill.


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

Write to John Vidal, environment editor of The Guardian. Ask him to what extent he feels that his reporting and analysis are constrained. Remind him of his Ecologist review of Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ and ask him to expand on his comments on the role of the media in promoting state-corporate power.

Email: [email protected]

Copy your emails to: Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian:

Email:[email protected]

And Ian Mayes, the Guardian’s readers’editor:

Email:[email protected]

Ask Michael McCarthy, environment editor of The Independent, why he has failed to respond to Media Lens and its correspondents. Ask him about his newspaper’s minimal coverage of the likely impacts of climate change, the work of climate campaigners, the lobbying of politicians by big business, and the inadequacy of the Kyoto Protocol. Ask him to report on the exorbitant public subsidies and tax breaks paid to the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of climate-saving renewable energy enterprises. Ask him why his newspaper makes so few links between the concerns of climate campaigners and ‘anti-globalisation’ protesters. (You could also ask why his newspaper, like other mainstream sources, persists in using that pejorative term, rather than say, ‘pro-democracy’ protesters.)

Email:[email protected]

Copy your emails to: Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:

Email:[email protected]