Review By The Brunei Times



DAVIDS Edwards and Cromwell are co-editors of Media Lens, an online journal dedicated to scrutinising mainstream media outlets and exposing bias and misinformation.

Across the narrow spectrum of opinion in British current affairs coverage – from pro-war, pro-Israel, anti-Chavez conservatives to pro-war, pro-Israel, anti-Chavez liberals, the first decade of the 21st Century has been characterised by a demoralising servility to power on the part of the hired wordsmiths whose job it is to frame the terms of public discourse. 

Whether it’s on Israel-Palestine, the Iraq war or the Chavez regime, the consensus among both corporate and state-funded media follows a remarkably simple pattern – official US and British government policy perspectives are accepted at face value, subject to only the rarest and most disarmingly qualified criticism.

To make matters worse, unequivocally pro-war BBC reporters like Andrew Marr make great play of their own purported objectivity, publishing self-indulgent biographies in which they bemoan the hardships of the strict discipline involved in staying so honest. 

A good proportion of Newspeak in the 21st Century is taken up with considering the causes of the criminal complacency of almost the entire journalistic profession — personal ambition, the influence of corporate sponsors and the like — but the majority of the book consists of subject-by-subject case studies of distortions and outright lies.

The media bias is perhaps most obvious in coverage of Israeli violence against Arabs. 

In its coverage of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, the mainstream media automatically and universally accepted the official Israeli line that the war had been provoked by the kidnapping, on 25th June 2006, of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked militants, ignoring the fact that the kidnapping had been only one incident in a spate of tit-for-tat violence which included the June 24th kidnapping of a Palestinian doctor and his brother by Israeli forces, as well Israeli killings of twenty civilians (including nine children) in an attack several days earlier. On Israel-Palestine, even dissenting voices like Robert Fisk and Seumas Milne tend to operate within one key overriding assumption — that Israeli actions are motivated by a genuine desire to achieve security. 

An alternative view — endorsed by Edwards and Cromwell and articulated at length by Noam Chomsky — is that Israel deliberately sacrifices security in the cause of territorial expansion. 

It is at the very least an argument worth serious consideration, but it is conspicuously absent from the pages of even the more liberal British newspapers such as the Guardian or Independent, and we are stuck with this notion of Israel as a clumsy but well-meaning oaf — a discursive framework that has, of course, also informed decades of journalistic apologism about US foreign policy, taking for granted the essential good faith of the latter.

Well written and thoroughly researched, Newspeak in 21st Century provides fourteen chapters of cogent, thoughtful and incisive critical analysis along these lines. 

It also doubles as a timely critique of the violence and instability wrought by a decade of US-led realpolitik.

At a time of great global uncertainty, the failure of the mainstream media to provide anything like an effective critical response has served to impoverish democratic debate and induce public apathy towards politics. 

In this context Media Lens performs an invaluable service, and gives cause for optimism.

The Brunei Times

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