“Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth.” (John Pilger on NEWSPEAK)

Dear friends, Pluto Press are offering a limited number of pre-order copies of the second Media Lens book, ‘NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century’, at a discounted price. The book is officially released on August 20, 2009. But eager readers who pre-order from Pluto will receive their books weeks earlier, at the beginning of August.

Pricing is as follows:

UK: £13.50 inc P & P
EUROPE: £17.50 inc P & P
REST OF WORLD: £18.50 inc P & P

We’ve provided further details about the book below. But first, here’s an extract from chapter two…

Best wishes

David Cromwell and David Edwards


Growing Up With Auntie

We grew up with the BBC, or ‘Auntie Beeb’. We watched Watch With Mother with our mothers; we walked the walk and talked the talk with Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men. The excitement of childhood at Christmas is forever linked in our minds with the lighting of advent candles on Blue Peter, with the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. And then there was Top of the Pops, Tomorrow’s World, The Sky At Night. These were more like old friends than TV programmes. Even the BBC voice-overs were a source of comfort – calm, reassuring (if conspicuously well-spoken), gently guiding us between programmes.

A dentist once asked one of us (Edwards): “So what do you write about?” Through a tangle of drills, clamps and tubes, Edwards gurgled: “Thought control in democratic society.”

The answering micro-expressions – impossible to misread at a distance of six inches – signalled anxiety and confusion. A momentary curl of the upper lip unmistakably communicated disdain, as though the word ‘Marxist’ had flitted darkly, like a bat, across the good doctor’s mind.

What micro-expressions are likely to register, now, among our readers – people like us, people who grew up loving the Beeb – when we argue that the BBC is part of a system of thought control complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people abroad, in severe political oppression at home, and in the possible termination of human life on this planet. Are these fantastic claims? Or is it in fact possible to justify them?

The Selection In Perception

The BBC’s grand conceit is that it stands neutrally between all contending views. Its journalists will describe the full range of opinions of others, but will never, ever reveal their own.

This even-handedness is said to be firmly established in BBC guidelines, which declare a “commitment to impartiality”, requiring that journalists “strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.” (BBC, Editorial Guidelines, editorialguidelines/edguide/impariality/; accessed January 23, 2008)

We are reminded of Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” – the policy of non-interference, ostensibly guiding the crew of the starship Enterprise. Captain Kirk would often discourse earnestly on the need to avoid interfering in the development of alien cultures, even as he and his crew blasted the self-same aliens to atoms.

Richard Sambrook, the former BBC director of news, told one newspaper:

“People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do after the BBC. And the answer is that I’m going to have opinions again. They’ve been repressed for so long. In dinner party conversations, I find it quite hard to have an opinion, because I’m so used to the ‘on-the-one-hand, on-the-other’ outlook.” (Charlie Courtauld, ‘Richard Sambrook: “War coverage has changed for ever,’ Independent, March 31, 2003)

The problem is that while BBC journalists may stand neutrally between the range of views presented, the range itself inevitably reflects their value judgements.

Consider an item on the Six O’Clock News of March 20, 2006. Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget Kendall declared solemnly:

“There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?” (Kendall, BBC Six O’Clock News, March 20, 2006)

What ten-year-old could fail to see through the claim that Kendall was not thereby offering an opinion?

The assertion that the alternative to the pro-war justification was to argue that the war was merely a “disastrous miscalculation” offered a deeply personal, and in fact outrageous, view. The anti-war movement has always argued that the war was not just a “miscalculation”, but a deliberate and criminal war of aggression. Would Kendall describe the Nazi Holocaust as a “disastrous miscalculation”? Were the 9/11 attacks on America a “misjudgement”?

Many people, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and numerous specialists in international law, are clear that the invasion of Iraq was an “illegal” war of aggression. Many argue, along with the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials after World War Two, that the launching of a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. (Quoted, Walter J. Rockler, ‘War crimes law applies to U.S. too,’ Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1999)

So by what right does the BBC airbrush from reality the swath of informed public opinion that sees the invasion as a crime, rather than as a mistake? By what right does it declare this framing of the topic ‘impartial,’ ‘balanced’, ‘objective’ reporting?

As noted in the previous chapter, while working as the BBC’s political editor, Andrew Marr, declared:

“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.”

And yet, as Baghdad fell to American tanks, on April 9, 2003, Marr told a national audience on prime-time TV of Tony Blair:

“He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.” (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003)

Just this single comment makes a mockery of the BBC’s claims to impartiality and freedom from personal bias. What could more obviously have reflected Marr’s personal opinion, his personal sympathy for both Blair and the invasion? Marr has himself commented on his role in his book, My Trade:

“Gavin Hewitt, John Simpson, Andrew Marr and the rest are employed to be studiously neutral, expressing little emotion and certainly no opinion; millions of people would say that news is the conveying of fact, and nothing more.” (Andrew Marr, My Trade – A Short History of British Journalism, Macmillan, London, 2004, p.279)

Millions of people would be deceived – Marr most conspicuously among them!

Or consider this, by comparison, innocuous example of bias. A BBC website article reported:

“US President George W Bush has arrived in Israel to take part in celebrations for the country’s 60th anniversary.

“He also hopes to inject some momentum into the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.” (‘Bush begins tour of Middle East,’ BBC website, May 14, 2008)

How did the BBC know what Bush truly hoped? Why was it ‘neutral’ to present Bush’s claimed “hopes” as the uncontroversial reality? Given his record, it would have been far more reasonable to assert that Bush’s claim was bogus, that his intention was to continue to obstruct the international consensus on the need for a just and equitable settlement.

As American political scientist Norman Finkelstein has noted, the US has consistently opposed a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Except for the US and Israel (and the occasional US client state), an international consensus has backed what is called the “two-state” settlement for the past 30 years. The US cast the only veto blocking Security Council resolutions in 1976 and 1980 calling for a two-state settlement that was endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and front-line Arab states. A December 1989 General Assembly resolution along similar lines passed 151-3 (no abstentions) – the three negative votes were cast by Israel, the US, and Dominica. Finkelstein commented:

“The problem with the Bush administration, we are repeatedly told, is that it has been insufficiently engaged with the Middle East… But who gave the green light for Israel to commit the massacres? Who supplied the F-16s and Apache helicopters to Israel? Who vetoed the Security Council resolutions calling for international monitors to supervise the reduction of violence?”

He added:

“Consider this scenario. A and B stand accused of murder. The evidence shows that A provided B with the murder weapon, A gave B the ‘all-clear’ signal, and A prevented onlookers from answering the victim’s screams. Would the verdict be that A was insufficiently engaged or that A was every bit as guilty as B of murder?” (Norman G. Finkelstein, ‘First the Carrot, Then the Stick: Behind the Carnage in Palestine,’ ZNet, April 18, 2002)

The BBC could have approached commentators like Finkelstein for a dissenting challenge to Bush’s claim, but that is unthinkable – it is simply understood that Western leaders are to be portrayed as men and women of peace. If the BBC had provided a contrary view, it would have been interpreted as a sign that the BBC was “anti-American”. To be balanced is ‘biased’ – propaganda is ‘neutral.’

Critics might argue that the examples we have provided above were isolated slip ups. But in fact, as we will see, they are the norm. Sceptics might also have a case if examples could be cited exaggerating facts and opinions in a way that harmed powerful interests. But when did we ever hear the BBC report in 2002 or early 2003:

“Saddam Hussein hopes to inject some momentum into the current peace talks”?

This, after all, is what Saddam Hussein claimed, so why could the claim not be presented at face value? In fact, as we know, Saddam Hussein was very keen to avoid war in 2003 for very good reasons to do with self-preservation. He was the only actual peace-seeker in 2002 – Bush and Blair were determined to go to war. But these are unthinkable conclusions for the Western media, the BBC very much included.

From Chapter Two, ‘BBC Balance – The Magnificent Fiction’

About the book


NEWSPEAK in the 21st Century
by David Edwards and David Cromwell

PB / 9780745328935 / £16.99 (full, non-discount price)

Since 2001, Media Lens has encouraged thousands of readers to challenge the filtered and distorted version of the world provided by major newspapers and broadcasters. The media responses, collected in NEWSPEAK, are an exposé of the arrogance and servility to power of our leading journalists and editors, starring Andrew Marr, Alan Rusbridger, Roger Alton, Jon Snow, Jeremy Bowen and even George Monbiot.

Picking up where the highly acclaimed and successful Guardians of Power (2006) left off, NEWSPEAK is packed with forensic media analysis, revealing the lethal bias in ‘balanced’ reporting. Even the ‘best’ UK media – the Guardian, the Independent, Channel 4 News and the BBC – turn out to be cheerleaders for government, business and war.

Alongside an A-Z of BBC propaganda and chapters on Iraq and climate change, NEWSPEAK focuses on the demonisation of Iran and Venezuela, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the myth of impartial reporting and the dark art of smearing dissidents.