Sometimes humanity catches a glimpse of itself in the mirror of some great disaster and is shocked by what it sees. The war of 1914-1918 demolished, forever, the assumption that ‘progress’ was pre-ordained, a God-given gift buried in the natural world, so that all we had to do was uncover the path and follow it. Instead, we learned that technology could just as easily deliver mass death as mass production. The Second World War confirmed the terrifying amorality of science – we can build a world glittering with labour-saving, health-giving devices, and +still+ end up with a lifeless, incinerated planet.
But climate change is the ultimate mirror. In our lifetimes it will reveal the answer to the great question of who we are as a species: Is human society basically rational and free, or are we slaves to a billion selfish thoughts and actions that have become encrusted in political institutions over decades, centuries and millennia? Are the forces of reason able to transcend the forces of greed? Is the need for collective human action able to overcome the individual concern for instant gratification and familial security?
At present, it has to be said, the outlook is grim indeed. In contrast to the merciless ‘honesty’ of environmental limits, we have a political system that renders truth and sincerity ‘off-message’, and replaces them with rehearsed affectation.
We witnessed in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq how the sheer weight of media propaganda could make an invented, non-existent threat seem real. The same media have now made the choice between three corporate drones offering the same form of “friendly fascism” appear meaningful. The front page of the BBC’s news website today has an item that reads: “Paaarty! How to make this election night go with a bang.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/) It seems that any illusion can be made credible by this system; any ugliness can be normalised, buried beneath the makeup.
The lethal toxicity of the mainstream is summed up for us by its treatment of Conservative MP Michael Gove. In years past, broadcasters tirelessly replayed footage of dissident MP George Galloway appearing to “salute” Saddam Hussein. The event was used to smear Galloway as a “useful idiot” of tyrannical power – he was widely denounced, quite literally, as a traitor. Compare the response to Gove. In August 2002, he wrote of Saddam Hussein:
“He is racing to acquire a nuclear capability and enhance his other weapons of mass destruction… We have no alternative but to launch a pre-emptive war against Iraq to prevent Saddam completing his drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Massive military force must be deployed to remove Saddam’s regime.” (Gove, ‘We need Bush and not Saddam calling the shots,’ The Times, August 28, 2002)
If this was appalling, Gove’s comments in December 2008 were obscene:
“The liberation of Iraq has actually been that rarest of things – a proper British foreign policy success. Next year, while the world goes into recession, Iraq is likely to enjoy 10% GDP growth. Alone in the Arab Middle East, it is now a fully functioning democracy with a free press, properly contested elections and an independent judiciary… ”
(Gove, ‘Triumph of freedom over evil,’ Scotland on Sunday, December 21, 2008; http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/12700/Michael-Gove-Triumph-of-freedom.4812256.jp)
Despite numerous comments of this kind, Gove has been a regular fixture on the BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme throughout the current general election campaign. Night after night, he has been presented as a respectable, uncontroversial source of political commentary. Complicity in one of the great crimes of the 21st century consuming the lives of one million human beings is no problem for Auntie Beeb. This is how the unthinkable is normalised, quietly ushered into our living rooms.
Similarly, in recalling Labour’s record, the Guardian lamented the “inadequately planned pursuit of two wars”. The paper managed to recognise “the shame of Iraq”, for which, alas, the government has “still not apologised”. As if anyone, anywhere could give a damn about an apology.
This spring there is a deathly silence about what really matters at the heart of the election campaign and what passes for ‘democratic debate’. As we argued in our last alert, the media and political emphasis has been focused on ‘the art of appearing prime ministerial’. The public is being deprived of rational and uncompromised news, views and commentary; we are all being cheated.
A key reason why there is no serious left or green challenge to the political establishment is that the corporate media system +wants+ it that way. Thus, for example, Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of the Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper, is reported to have told colleagues: “It is my job to see that Cameron f***ing well gets into Downing Street.” (http://www.newstatesman.com/media/2010/05/murdoch-clegg-cameron-paper)
The status quo benefits a tiny elite, and the media system is run by, or on behalf of, the same elite. It is not just that the mainstream media instantly transforms dissidents into objects of hate, figures of fun, ‘loony lefties’ and the like. It keeps us all locked into a dehumanised consumer-producer mindset that makes alternative values, philosophies and goals seem absurd and irrelevant; even dangerous, as a destabilising threat to power.
So what needs to be done? As ever, we need to build and strengthen grassroots efforts to raise public awareness of the issues confronting humanity, and to challenge the powerful selfish interests that have driven us to the edge of the abyss.
Seriously tackling climate change, for example, requires that the public opposes elite interests in the corporate, financial, media, government and military sectors. We need to challenge the mantra of endless economic growth and rampant mass consumption. We must expose the myth that ‘our’ leaders have benevolent aims and humane priorities. ‘Democratic elections’ are largely a sham so long as people are immersed in a propaganda system of relentless brainwashing to promote state-corporate aims.
Moreover, social activists – on the left, in green circles and progressive pressure groups – have for too long avoided core issues about the nature of humanity and spirituality, deeming such ideas a ‘distraction’ or ‘irrelevant’. But Media Lens has always argued that these issues are vital. Radical and sustainable change in society cannot be achieved if we fail to address our inner needs, alienation and feelings of helplessness; and the very nature of suffering and happiness.
As Media Lens enters its 10th year, we are fully committed to doing all that we can to play our part in bringing about compassionate change. We are appealing for your support to help make it happen. Some readers might think that we are a substantial organisation with an office and administrative staff. In fact, we are only two writers and one webmaster working from home. Just one of us (Edwards) is able to work full-time on Media Lens, but only on a minimal income kindly provided by reader donations or small grants from trusts. The other editor (Cromwell) does what he can, unfunded, around his full-time job as a scientist.
Unlike on the right, there are few sources of funding for progressive groups, particularly income to cover even modest staff time. We recently applied to one of the major trusts that supports green and progressive groups in the UK, only to be told that “some trustees are not convinced by the strategy of targeting the liberal media.”
Despite a mountain of evidence, presented in hundreds of media alerts and two books, that “the liberal media” is complicit in war crimes and looming climate chaos, many progressives are still reluctant to accept that this is the case. Over the past decade of Media Lens, we have become ever more convinced that the so-called “best media” – the BBC, the Guardian, Channel 4 News, the Independent et al. – need to be constantly exposed for their systemic failings. There is an urgent need for democratic alternatives. As Alex Doherty of New Left Project asks:
“Where is our equivalent of Z Net? – http://www.zcommunications.org/
“Where is our Democracy Now? – http://www.democracynow.org/
“And why is it that Medialens – our best (only?) radical media monitoring group is run on a shoe string by two individuals when its American equivalent (http://www.fair.org) has a staff of ten, plus interns?
“My suspicion is that this in part reflects the intense sectarianism of the UK left as well as our failure (as the medialens eds point out) to recognise the extreme inadequacy of the liberal media.” (‘Election Roundtable’, comment posted at 05:27, April 27, 2010; http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/ article_comments/election_roundtable/)
Sometimes, though, support can come from the unlikeliest of sources. Last weekend, the Sunday Times included Media Lens in its compilation of the “40 bloggers who really count” (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/ news/tech_and_web/article7108518.ece).
We will continue to seek funding from trusts where we can. But it has only ever been a small part of our support. We rely almost totally on individuals to keep Media Lens alive. Unfortunately, the current low level of funding means vital work is not being done. At the very least, we need to overhaul our website, improve the email broadcast system for sending out media alerts, capture news broadcasts for use in alerts, and produce video blogs for YouTube and other sites. We would also like to do more to encourage and help others. Inspired by Media Lens, media watch sites have already been set up in Ireland and Norway. We have also been approached for advice and assistance by activists in Australia, India and Canada.
While newspaper circulations fall, and public scepticism of the media and politics rise, there is an opportunity to use the power of the internet to counter destructive state-corporate forces, and to benefit instead people and planet. Please consider supporting us.