Like Them, We Cry!

On September 11 this year, the media came together in sombre reflection on the terrible events of three years ago. Journalists gathered at Ground Zero in New York and reported on ceremonies that included the reading out of the names of all who had died that day in the World Trade Centre. TV screens filled with shots of grieving relatives, of flags rippling over heads bowed in silent prayer – correspondents and news anchors fell respectfully silent.

How many names, we wonder, will be read out in commemoration of the unknown thousands of Afghan civilians who died under the campaign of American bombing that began three years ago today? How many minutes of airtime will journalists spend on the unbearable suffering of the people burned and blasted, torn limb from limb – husbands torn from wives, parents torn from children – and those they left behind? Who is there to reflect on the trauma of the literally hundreds of thousands of already desperate, starving refugees as aid convoys ground to a halt, making way for the bombing and the killing snows of winter?

Today, the Guardian had nothing whatever to say about this tragedy – it was not mentioned. The Independent, likewise, had nothing to say.

What will it take to persuade white, wealthy, Oxbridge journalists to listen to, but more importantly to +understand+, the words of this Palestinian refugee from Nablus commenting on America and the suffering of September 11:

“We also, like them, we cry! We live! We feel sad! We feel happy! And we have minds, also! I want them to use their minds and to understand what happened here.”? (Through Muslim Eyes, Channel 4, September 6, 2002)

Are These People Mad?

We recently reported how the Guardian editors had declared that Blair’s belated, limited ‘apology’ on Iraq was “a rightly well-received milestone in his fragile rehabilitation with his critics”. (Leader, ‘Mr Blair’s speech – in place of strife,’ The Guardian, September 29, 2004)

A day later, the same editors recommended that readers vote Liberal Democrat rather than Labour in the Hartlepool byelection so as to deliver “a modest but sharp message to the existing political establishment. That is the particular opportunity that has fallen to the voters of Hartlepool to deliver on our behalf today”. (Leader, ‘Hartlepool – sending a message’, The Guardian, September 30, 2004)

The editors of the Independent had earlier declared:

“Mr Blair… must apologise. This is the only way the public will be convinced that lessons have been learnt and that similar mistakes will not be repeated. It is the first, most elementary, condition for ‘moving on’.” (Leader, ‘The Lib Dems are right – Blair must apologise,’ The Independent, September 21, 2004)

And John Kampfner, political editor of the New Statesman, wrote in the Guardian:

“Blair has belatedly to acknowledge some mistakes over Iraq. His critics should then agree, as the boss would say, to ‘move on’. This would be an imperfect solution, but better than none.” (Kampfner, ‘Brown blew it. So stop moaning and start talking,’ The Guardian August 23, 2004)

Are these people mad?

Blair manifestly lied about WMDs – for example his claim not to have known the battlefield nature of the non-existent 45-minute WMDs – and he manifestly abused/distorted/concocted the intelligence, claiming “a serious and current threat” where none had been identified.

It is clear that Blair did all of this because he had secretly agreed to Bush’s pre-September 11 plan – as described by former US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill – to invade Iraq come what may. This was destined to happen entirely regardless of the unhindered Unmovic inspections, and the ‘diplomacy’, with a second resolution intended merely as a cosmetic ‘fig leaf’.

Ignoring public opinion, international law, the UN, Blair launched an illegal war of aggression against Iraq that has destroyed tens of thousands of lives, devastated the country, and created a seething cauldron of international terror and violence.

What on earth would Blair have to do before the ‘liberal’ media urged that he be given something more than “a modest but sharp message”? How many people would he have to kill in illegal mass violence before they demanded his resignation or impeachment?

Imagine if the Iraqi press had responded to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait suggesting he be given “a modest but sharp message”. It does not make sense.

The Purpose Of Media Lens

What we are inviting readers to do is to redefine the standards by which the media are judged. People occasionally write to us suggesting that we praise an article in the Independent, or a couple of reports by Channel 4, on the grounds that they “deserve to be mentioned in a relatively positive light when compared to the shockingly servile reporting of the situation we’re getting from the BBC and the rest of the media”.

But what we are suggesting is that the +entire+ corporate media is complicit in the devastation of the Third World, in the possibly terminal devastation of the environment, and in mass murder. They do not merely allow this to happen, they are +vital+ in articulating the deceit of benevolent ‘normality’ by which obscenity is perennially camouflaged. There could be no clearer example of this than the staggering refusal of the media to demand the resignation or impeachment of Tony Blair.

The performance of the media suggests that literally +nothing+ could persuade journalists to awaken from their establishment slumber – they are just too comfortable, too privileged, too compromised.

We must build alternative media, now, providing a rational and compassionate response to the problems facing us. We need to create a media liberated from the drive for profit, greed, egotism and power.

We also need to pressure for whatever immediate marginal improvements we can achieve in mainstream performance. Writing to journalists is an important part of this. We were sent a surprise email by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger last weekend assuring us that he reads +all+ the emails he receives from our readers. You can be sure that these are having some impact on him. Any kind of criticism gives genuine pause for thought. But polite criticism based on reasoned argument, credible evidence and compassion for suffering, has the power to fundamentally undermine the ignorance and self-deception on which much mainstream bias is based.

We believe this is an authentic Achilles heel of the propaganda system, which does +not+ rely on conscious lying and corruption. In our experience it relies on intelligent, honest, well-meaning people, who think the right thoughts, and who are therefore selected to the most influential positions. These people have often never seriously encountered dissident ideas before. They have been sheltered from the ugliest facts relating to Western crimes against humanity – this, indeed, is +why+ they believe what they believe.

We agree with Noam Chomsky that it is largely futile to “speak truth to power”. The important point about most journalists, however, is that they are not “power” in this sense – they are selected to serve power, and they are often only dimly aware of the role they are playing. This means they are comparatively open to this kind of challenge.

We believe that one of the reasons the BBC met with such violent government flak last year was that we, our readers, and other internet-based media activists, had been sending flurries of emails to a wide range of BBC journalists. The then director of BBC news, Richard Sambrook – an admirably sincere individual – was seriously reading, reflecting on, and replying to, literally hundreds of critical challenges.

All of this set BBC staff thinking and helped make the BBC less biased, less dumbly patriotic, than usual – to the unbridled outrage of Downing Street. At one point, Sambrook even felt moved to send an internal memo to staff (subsequently leaked to the press) warning that they should not be overly swayed by anti-war emailers. Clearly Sambrook, at least, was concerned that internet-based activism was having too +large+ an impact on journalistic judgement.

After three years of work, generous donations have meant that one of the editors is now able to work full-time on Media Lens. This is a huge step forward for us, used, as we are, to working entirely in our spare time. We now urgently need your support so that we can fund part- or full-time work by our second editor, so that we can move forward with our planned Rapid Response Media Alert, Sun Watch, and Telegraph Watch schemes. It is simply beyond the power of one of us to do it all, alone.

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With best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell
The Editors – Media Lens