Why The Media Will Not Debate With Media Lens

The Soviet poet Yevgeney Yevtushenko once noted how, in totalitarian societies, “The truth is replaced by silence, and the silence is a lie.” (Quoted, Daniel Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths – The Psychology of Self-Deception, Bloomsbury, 1997, p.230)

This is perhaps even truer of ostensibly ‘democratic’ societies, where increased formal freedoms preclude the use of physical force to control the population. In our society something other than an ‘iron fist’ must be found to “keep the rabble in line” – silence is one of the favoured weapons in the armoury.

Readers will have noticed that Media Lens often does not publish Updates to earlier Media Alerts. This is despite the fact that large numbers of readers participated enthusiastically in Updates answering responses received, for example, from Nick Cohen of the Observer and Brian Whittaker of the Guardian. We are very keen to debate with mainstream journalists but are often unable to do so.

The reason is that we have received very few replies to the dozens of articles and hundreds of letters sent to mainstream editors and journalists by our readers, and by us. We have, for example, received not one reply from the editors of the Guardian, the Observer or the Independent to our work – both we and our readers have been subject to a de facto ban from their Letters Pages despite their avowed policy of honestly representing their post-bags. This, also, despite the fact that Guardian journalist, Peter Beaumont, wrote to us saying, “i have replied to some of your more polite correspondents individually, but since there are so many i submit this as a general reply.” (Email to Media Lens editors, May 5, 2002) We know that The Observer was, by its standards, swamped with emails in response to our debate with Nick Cohen – not one appeared on the Letters Page.

Based on the few replies we have received, we propose several possible rationalisations made by journalists and editors to justify dismissing our work out of hand:

Rationalisation 1 – Readers who write to the media in response to Media Lens Alerts are merely responding in knee-jerk fashion to calls to complain about media performance. Because these readers are not thinking for themselves, their letters are junk mail and should not be answered or represented on the Letters Page.

Response – This may be true in a few cases, but the overwhelming number of letters we have received – and many people copy or forward their letters to us – show unmistakable evidence of in-depth knowledge, thought, sincerity and passion. Readers often add powerful facts and arguments that are unknown to us. It should be obvious that Media Lens has no inherent credibility – there is no a priori reason why readers should find the arguments of two obscure writers more credible than those of a vast mass media system made up of celebrity journalists and acclaimed intellectuals. We believe our readers are rightly sceptical of what we have to say, and generally respond to our ‘suggested action’ only when they feel that we have made a highly plausible case +despite+ our inherent lack of credibility. We believe that editors refuse to print our readers’ letters because they offer rational and profound criticism of newspapers and the media generally – the truth about our ‘free press’ is that it does not tolerate serious criticism (as any number of journalists have privately told us).

Rationalisation 2 – Media Lens is a clear case of “committed journalism” – it is not interested in facts and objectivity but makes claims on the basis of prejudiced ideology. Its arguments are not serious and so should not be taken, or addressed, seriously.

Response – We are indeed an example of “committed journalism”. We believe that the corporate mass media is a propaganda system for state-corporate interests, that it is a system of institutionalised deception. However, the ‘claims’ made in our Media Alerts actually consist of reasoned arguments based on credible sources – state documents, human rights groups, UN diplomats, authorities and experts in the fields of media, environment, politics, and so on. The reason for this is, again, that we take it for granted that there is no reason for anybody to believe what +we+ say, or to take what we say on trust – we are completely reliant on rational arguments backed up by credible evidence and sources. The media’s failure to respond to our work is a failure to respond to rational arguments and credible sources.

Rationalisation 3 – Media Lens engages in attacks, including personal attacks, on newspapers and journalists. This is not serious debate, indeed it is abhorrent, and so journalists are right not to respond.

Response: To challenge arguments, facts and assumptions about the true nature and function of the media, is not to attack anyone; it is to defend democracy. The feeling among journalists that they are ‘under attack’ from Media Lens is symptomatic of the intellectual and moral corruption that has afflicted journalism for far too long – the corruption that is “power without responsibility”. Responsibility implies accountability – both are alien to the corporate mass media, just as they are alien to the rest of the corporate system.

Editors and journalists are professional messengers bearing a heavy weight of moral and democratic responsibility – the accuracy, honesty and courage of their reporting directly impact on the suffering of countless numbers of people at home and abroad. We believe it is the responsibility of everyone who cares about people and planet to subject these messengers to honest and non-aggressive challenge. We do not at all enjoy criticising or upsetting journalists, and we really do abhor all abusive letters sent to them (we would much prefer people not to write at all than to send such abuse), but the gravity of the current situation is such that we feel we simply must challenge the state-corporate forces, the media included, wreaking havoc on our world.

Rationalisation 4 – Media Lens presents powerful arguments that are essentially accurate and true, and therefore damaging to the credibility of mainstream newspapers, editors and journalists. Because debating these arguments incurs further credibility costs (see the series of Media Alert exchanges with Nick Cohen and Roger Alton of The Observer), it is preferable to engage in damage limitation by simply ignoring Media Lens articles and readers. This may be intellectually dishonest but it is the lesser of two evils.

Response – This is a self-deception. Mainstream newspapers, editors and journalists would +gain+ enormous credibility with the public from engaging in honest debate. The public are not inhuman monsters or lunatics – people love honesty, reason, compassion, the exposing of absurdity, the undermining of official lies and brutal power, the defence of the oppressed and tortured. However, for the mainstream media to engage honestly with the public in this way incurs very real costs in the form of ‘flak’ from the wider corporate system – loss of parent company/owner support, less of government support, loss of advertising, etc. The real reason for not debating our arguments, we believe, is that editors and journalists are part of a corporate system that cannot afford, and will not tolerate, honest debate.

Suggested Action

Write to Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian:

Email: [email protected]

Ask him why he has failed to respond once to any Media Alerts or letters from Media Lens and its readers. Ask him why he has not represented any of these letters on the Letters Page.

Write to Roger Alton, editor of The Observer:

Email: [email protected]

Ask him why he has failed to respond once to any of our Media Alerts and appears to have replied to only one letter from a reader. Ask him why he has not represented any of these letters on the Letters Page.

Write to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:

Email: [email protected]

Ask him why he has failed to respond once to any Media Alerts or letters from Media Lens and its readers. Ask him why he has not represented any of these letters on the Letters Page.