We are happy to report that we will be accepting the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award on December 2. See here:
For the first time this year, thanks to readers’ donations, David Cromwell has been able to take a sabbatical from his full-time job as a researcher at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. This has meant David has been able to spend 50% of his time on Media Lens work for one year until March 2008. David Edwards continues to be able to devote most of his time to Media Lens.
One of our longer-term projects this year has involved working on a follow up to our book Guardians Of Power (Pluto Press, 2006). Last year, we documented some of the tremendous press reactions we got to our book from as far afield as South Korea and Japan (www.Media Lens.org/alerts/06/061003_an_appeal_for.php). The book has also been translated into Korean and Arabic. We cited positive comments from former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby and others. To this day, the book has yet to receive a single mention in any national British newspaper. We can hardly conceive of a greater back-handed compliment!
While the press reaction has been predictable enough, more interesting are the reactions of some of the larger ‘radical’ publishers to our proposals for a follow-up book. One commissioning editor rejected our sample chapters saying:
“it reads rather too much as a collection of Media Lens alerts, rather than as a standalone book, and that puts very severe limits on what it can be expected to do in commercial terms.”
A second editor wrote:
“It’s of course an urgent subject and you’ve assembled some great material, but it felt to us more a collection of pieces rather than a book, and we found ourselves wondering whether, as a book, it could make a lasting impact in the trade.”
This criticism would have been more credible to us if Guardians Of Power – also built around the most interesting sections from our media alerts – had not been so well received by experienced media commentators. John Pilger, for example, described it as “the most important book about journalism I can remember”. Also, our first book involved considerable rewriting, expansion and updating to make it a cohesive whole. We would hope that many readers found it a credible “standalone book” whose argument builds cumulatively throughout. The material we have assembled since its publication in early 2006 is, if anything, even more powerful – on climate change, Iraq, Iran, Latin America and other issues.
The unspoken real reason for rejection, we believe, is that these publishers have a morbid fear of alienating the big newspapers on which they depend for favourable reviews of their books, and of which we are so critical in our own.
We received a taste of this fear in 2002 when we invited readers to ask journalists why they had failed to review John Pilger’s book, The New Rulers of the World. We were sent this surprise response by Fiona Price at Verso, the publisher of Pilger’s book. Significantly, the email was copied to Susie Feay, the literary editor of the Independent on Sunday:
“Please could you ask the people who visit your website to refrain from emailing the literary editors of national newspapers questioning why they have not reviewed John Pilger’s book, The New Rulers of the World. The Independent has a review waiting to be published but after receiving a number of unpleasant emails, all copied in to your email address, they are seriously thinking of pulling the review.
“I am working hard to get other national newspapers to review the book and do not appreciate having my efforts undermined by people who do not understand the pressure of space for reviews in newspapers. A paper’s failure to review a title is not always politically motivated.” (Fiona Price, Marketing & Publicity Manager, Verso, email to Media Lens, July 30, 2002)
It turned out that Feay had received a grand total of two emails from our readers! Suffice to say, Pilger did not share Price’s view (his book was eventually reviewed by the Independent on Sunday, on April 20, 2003).
Verso’s reaction gave a small indication of how thought is controlled in modern society – not by force or physical intimidation, but by the sheer power of corporations to enable or deny access to a mass audience. Verso, recall, is one of the more courageous and radical of publishers.
The control is silent, the rules unwritten, undiscussed – it is simply understood that behaviour potentially or actually damaging to corporate interests will be punished. People are not disappeared in our society, but careers +are+ stalled, contracts are lost, professional relationships are soured. The net result is that important ideas are prevented from appearing, they are drowned out by ideas deemed safe and suitable based on priorities other than honesty and compassion.
In his book, Disciplined Minds, American physicist and writer Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to run organisations in the interests of their employers. The key word is ’trust’. Because employers cannot be on hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to “ensure that each and every detail of their work favours the right interests – or skewers the disfavoured ones” in the absence of overt control. Schmidt continues:
“The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorise, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology.” (Schmidt, Disciplined Minds – A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals And The Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, p.16, www.disciplinedminds.com)
Even to have this discussion, even to talk about the problem of corporate control, is to be ‘untrustworthy’, to be judged beyond the pale. As ever, the rationalisation revolves round the idea that it is somehow impolite, disrespectful, unreasonable and even disgraceful to bring to light what is ‘simply understood’ and cannot be challenged. The ‘gentleman’s agreements’ that so often lie at the heart of modern systems of thought control really are deemed to be just that – to challenge them is to be deemed something less than a “gentleman”.
Fiona Price’s email was really a convoluted way of saying what the King of Spain – aka, Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias – recently said to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez:
“Why don’t you shut up?”
Chavez later replied:
“I think it’s imprudent for a king to shout at a president to shut up. Mr King, we are not going to shut up.”
It is imprudent, indeed, for any of us to “shut up” when so much modern suffering is built precisely on silence.
Last year, we mentioned that Norway’s Medialupe, in part inspired by Media Lens, was underway: www.medialupe.no/
Since then, Ireland’s Media Bite has also started seriously challenging the Irish media: www.mediabite.org/
Media Bite’s excellent Media Shot, ‘Tipping the Balance In The West,’ (http://www.mediabite.org/article_Tipping-the-balance-west_959696573.html) was recently published in the leading Irish political magazine The Village.
As ever, if you value what we’re doing, please consider sending a donation. There are various methods by which you can donate, either as a one-off payment or on a regular basis.
Warm thanks to all our readers for their many kind words of support and donations over the last year – they are very much appreciated.
David Edwards, David Cromwell and Olly Maw