Review by Scientists for Global Responsibility

Newspeak in the 21st century.

By Media Lens authors David Edwards and David Cromwell

We re now nine years into our ‘War on Terror’. Confidence in entire categories of establishment figures is approaching meltdown, (politicians, bankers, multinational corporations, Roman Catholic priests). We face multiple mega-threats to our species, (global warming, the population explosion, energy and water shortages). Not surprising then that many are wondering what is going on? I mean what is really going on?

Our mystification is aggravated by being continually asked, by the political and media establishment, to believe what, on reflection, are preposterous propositions. We need continuous growth with limited resources. Competition is highly superior to co-operation. We must maintain weapons that can destroy the planet ready to be launched at a moments notice in order to ensure our safety. Many other contentious issues could be mentioned that remain largely unchallenged in the corporate media.

Well, to find out what is really going on and to witness (if not to take part in) a public discussion on such issues most people turn to the media; in particular television and newspapers. The media has a huge responsibility. How does it fulfil this responsibility? Not well. All the anomalies referred to are made to appear unexceptional – normal. It is the purpose of ‘Newspeak’ to unpick the way this is done. This book does fulfil its responsibilities. John Pilger declared that ‘Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth’.

Filleting the news as presented by the media is a special skill which has to be learned.

Many of us know that we are being manipulated but sometimes cannot quite locate where or how this is being accomplished. Each chapter in ‘Newspeak’ is a lesson in how to unravel the tangled web of lies and half-truths.

‘Newspeak’ presents convincing evidence that “The ‘free press’, truly, is not what it seems and gives ample examples of ‘..the consistently distorted, power-friendly performance of the media at all levels.’ Distorting factors are explored including the need not to threaten profits and advertising revenue.  Also explored is the way in which the capacity for self-deception drives the propaganda system.

One chapter includes a discussion of “The Magnificent Fiction” of BBC balance. It is pointed out that the BBC’s upper echelons are largely populated by senior corporate and government figures and that there exists a revolving door linking the BBC, the government and big business. The bias of balance and the adoption of ‘neutral views’ is explored (e.g. the assumption that the UK and the US are motivated by humanitarian concerns in Iraq is a ‘neutral’ view adopted continuously without challenge). A further chapter treats us to a prescient “A to Z of BBC Propaganda”.

The section on climate change points to gaping holes in reporting and to the way that the media describes the compelling science dissipates its impact. To cognitive dissonance and profit-friendly clichés we can add straight propaganda supporting the sceptics. Reporting of the lead-in to the Iraq war is critically analysed as is the on-going news of the war itself including the way the 2004 and 2006 Lancet Reports on Iraqi civilian deaths was handled.

Other topics dealt with include reporting on the Israel/Palestine issue, on Iran, and on Venezuela.

A final chapter puts forward a plea for compassion, awareness and honest journalism.”….we should take the side of compassion against indifference, greed and hatred” and “we should seek to identify the real causes of human and animal suffering with as much honesty as we are capable…” We must free ourselves from self-serving bias.

The authors of ‘Newspeak’ make a convincing case for achieving their goal “…to offer evidence for a profound, consistent bias favouring powerful interests stretching right across the media ‘spectrum’” (p17).

There is still much to do. Perhaps the authors’ next book will unpick those commonly used words and phrases which are themselves lies or encapsulate networks of lies; words and phrases which are repeated so often by the establishment and the media that they represent, in themselves, an effective system of brainwashing. Words and phrases  like ‘defence’, the defence industry’, ‘The Ministry of Defence’, ‘our deterrent’, ‘Our independent deterrent’, ‘Our vital interests’, The Coalition of the Willing’, ‘Insurgents’, ‘The War on Terror’, ‘rogue states’, ‘The free world’.


Jim McCluskey, SGR newsletter, Winter 2011.