Why did you start up Media Lens?

David Edwards and David Cromwell met in 1999 when Cromwell asked Edwards to act as a ‘reader’ for the media chapter of Cromwell’s first book Private Planet (on the strength of Edwards‘ books Free to be Human and The Compassionate Revolution). Inspired by the website Cromwell had created for Private Planet, Edwards suggested setting up a media-watch site together – he then came up with a name they both liked, Media Lens. A friend then put us in touch with original webmaster Phil Chandler who set up the site and Media Lens began sending alerts in July 2001.

Media Lens is a response based on our conviction that the increasingly centralised, corporate nature of the media means that it acts as a de facto propaganda system for corporate and other establishment interests. The costs incurred as a result of this propaganda, in terms of human suffering and environmental degradation, are incalculable.

What is Media Lens?

Media Lens is a UK-based media-watch project analysing mainstream media bias.

What is the objective of Media Lens?

To challenge the claim that the corporate media system is either willing or able to report honestly or accurately on a world dominated by corporate power. Our aim is to encourage the general population to challenge journalists, editors and media managers who operate a de facto propaganda system for establishment/elite interests. We hope to promote non-corporate media offering a more honest and compassionate response to the world. Fundamentally, we wish to reduce suffering wherever it occurs.

Who are you?

You can find out who we are here.

Are you saying that the mainstream media is some kind of a giant conspiracy to keep the public ignorant?

No. In seeking to understand systematic media distortion, we reject all conspiracy theories. Instead, we point to the inevitably corrupting effects of ‘market forces’ operating on, and through, media corporations seeking profit in a society dominated by corporate power. We disagree with the idea that journalists are generally guilty of self-censorship and conscious lying. It does happen, but we believe that the all-too-human tendency to self-deception accounts for their widespread conviction that they are honest purveyors of uncompromised truth. We all have a tendency to believe what best suits our purpose; highly paid, highly privileged editors and journalists are no exception. Media employees are part of a corporate system that, unsurprisingly, selects for servility to the needs and goals of corporate power.

No-one expected the Soviet Communist Party’s newspaper Pravda to tell the truth about the Communist Party; why should we expect the corporate press to tell the truth about corporate power?

But surely our major authoritative media, such as the BBC, are more or less neutral in their reporting and analysis?

We believe that media claims to ‘neutrality’ are a deception that serve to hide systematic pro-corporate bias. ‘Neutrality’ most often means ‘impartially’ reporting dominant establishment views, while ignoring or marginalising dissent. In reality it is not possible for journalists to be neutral: regardless of whether we do or do not overtly express our personal opinion, that opinion is always reflected in the facts we choose to highlight or ignore.

While Media Lens seeks to correct for some of the worst excesses of corporate media distortions as honestly as possible, our concern is not to affect some spurious ‘objectivity’, but to engage with the world to do whatever we can to reduce suffering and to resist the forces that seek to subordinate human well-being to profit. We do not believe that passively observing human misery without attempting to intervene constitutes ‘neutrality’. Nor do we believe that ‘neutrality’ can ever be deemed more important than doing all in our power to help others.

The performance of the BBC is typified by former political editor, Andrew Marr. In 2001, Marr declared:

“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.” (Marr, ‘Politicians aren’t as loathsome as we think: discuss,’ Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2001)

Compare that with Marr’s comments on the BBC’s main evening news on April 9, 2003, as Baghdad fell to US tanks. All we ask is that people compare the two and come to their own conclusions – it is not a question of taking our word for anything.

So, what is the fundamental aim of Media Lens?

We accept the Buddhist contention that while greed, hatred and ignorance distort reason; compassion empowers it. Our aim is to increase rational awareness, critical thought and compassion, and to decrease greed, hatred and ignorance. Our goal is not at all to attack, insult or anger individual editors or journalists, but to highlight significant examples of the systemic media distortion that is facilitating appalling crimes against humanity: the failure to communicate the truth of who is responsible for the slaughter of over half a million Iraqi children under five since 1991; the silence surrounding the motives and devastating consequences of corporate obstruction of action on climate change; the true nature, motives and consequences of ‘globalisation’; the corporate degradation and distortion of democratic society and culture.

Our hope is that by so doing we can help all of us to free ourselves from harmful delusions. In the age of global warming and globalised exploitation these delusions threaten an extraordinary, and perhaps terminal, disaster. They should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

We hope that this website will help to turn bystanders into compassionate actors. As historian Howard Zinn has written:

“Society has varying and conflicting interests; what is called objectivity is the disguise of one of these interests – that of neutrality. But neutrality is a fiction in an unneutral world. There are victims, there are executioners, and there are bystanders… and the ‘objectivity’ of the bystander calls for inaction while other heads fall.”

Who/what inspired you to set up Media Lens?

A key inspiration was Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR, a media watchdog based in the United States: see http://www.fair.org ). FAIR produces Action Alerts that invite people to write to journalists and editors. It seemed obvious to us that someone should be doing something similar in the UK.

We owe a particular debt to Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, especially their wonderful book, ‘Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ (Pantheon, 1988). Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model of media control” is a very sound basis for understanding how truth is filtered in the modern media system. Have a read of an excerpt from the book. You can also watch Mark Achbar’s superb documentary from 1992: Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky And The Media.

What does Media Lens actually do?

We analyse print and broadcast media, mostly in the UK, but also in the US. We then email regular, free ‘Media Alerts’ that discuss important examples of media bias. We invite readers to compare the mainstream version of events with alternative perspectives supplied by credible academics, dissident journalists, non-governmental organisations, the United Nations and so on. At the end of each alert, we include “Suggested Action” providing the email addresses for journalists and editors. We encourage readers to send polite challenges. We strongly discourage the sending of impolite and abusive emails.

Our media alerts are archived on this site for ease of reference. The archive of more than 470 alerts is now fully searchable.

We also send Cogitations that discuss related themes from a more philosophical, psychological and spiritual perspective – the mind boggles!

How do I sign up for free media alerts?

Just sign up on the right-hand side of the subscription page. You can opt to receive the Full Alerts or a Precis version which sends you the first few paragraphs with a link to the full alert. You can also sign up for our Cogitations.

How do I update my email address for receiving media alerts?

First unsubscribe your old email address, using the link provided at the end of each Alert. Then subscribe from the site using your new email address.

How do I stop receiving media alerts?

Unsubscribe using the link provided at the end of each Alert. Or send us an irate email.

Are you aiming to convince mainstream editors and journalists to be more honest and/or to give more space to dissidents and their arguments?

It is very encouraging when journalists do respond positively – it has happened many times; sometimes after an initially negative reaction. Promoting more honest journalism can of course have beneficial effects. Our deeper aim, though, is to draw public attention to the systemic problems afflicting modern journalism. The key point is that structural forces operating on and within corporate media – for example, their legal obligation to maximise profits for shareholders, their dependence on advertising, and on subsidised state and corporate news – constantly work against the production of honest, challenging journalism.

Why do you concentrate on the ‘liberal’ media?

Few expect the likes of The Times or the Telegraph to challenge the establishment seriously and relentlessly, far less the tabloid press. But what about the so-called “liberal media”? Many people on the left, and in green circles, believe that the Guardian, for example, should be regarded almost as an ally. It is, after all, seen by some as a kind of flagship newspaper of the environment movement. Tony Juniper, then director of Friends of the Earth, once said: “It is difficult to overestimate the impact of the Guardian and Observer. The Guardian is certainly considered the voice of progressive and sound environmental thinking both in the UK and in Europe.” (Ian Mayes, ‘Flying in the face of the facts’, Ian Mayes, The Guardian, January 24, 2004)

But the Guardian, like the rest of “the liberal media”, is complicit in war crimes and looming climate chaos. We’ve documented this in several books and many media alerts. The Guardian as an idea – as a benevolent, well-intentioned, basically liberal friend – is wonderful. But when you look at what the Guardian actually writes about the key issues that matter, it is really shocking. Over the past decade of working on Media Lens, we have become even more convinced of the need to constantly challenge the performance of the so-called “best media” like the Guardian, the BBC, the Observer, Channel 4 News, the Independent and so on.

Why do you sometimes criticise others on the left or in the green movement? Shouldn’t you concentrate your attacks on more obvious ‘villains’?

Genuine debate has nothing to do with attacking people or criticising them personally, as we said above. It is also, not at all about winning or losing. It should be about an exchange of views on issues of tremendous importance. There is very little of that in the mainstream, so for us any kind of genuine debate is very positive. To challenge the ideas of environmentalist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, for example, as we did in December 2002, is not to make a personal attack against him. The idea that criticising someone’s ideas somehow involves a personal attack seems quite widespread, particularly among ‘liberals’ (who intensely dislike challenges from the left). We regard the charge of ‘personal attack’ as a way of stifling honest debate.

Does Media Lens think that honest journalists and media commentators should resign from the mainstream?

There is a strong case for refusing to participate as part of the mainstream corporate media. Consider that the media has covered up a million dead as a result of economic sanctions on Iraq, with likely a further million dead as a result of the 2003 invasion. It has turned a blind eye to the Western installation and support of dictators around the world in support of “good investment climates”. It has failed to tell the truth about the deep corporate opposition to action on climate change. It has obscured the reality, as Ralph Nader has noted, that party politics is “a two-party dictatorship… in thraldom to these giant corporations”.

How bad does it have to get before journalists start to consider their positions? Presumably no one would argue it would have been acceptable to work for the Nazi press, or Pravda. Is there a point when journalists should take a stand against press destructiveness here and now? Let’s be clear that in our press, including our ‘liberal’ press, there is an understanding that journalists (rare exceptions like John Pilger aside) are simply not allowed to examine or expose the limits of the corporate press, either by focussing on individual newspapers/TV channels or on the press generally. There has never been a serious analysis of the limits of freedom in the media. It’s worh reflecting on that: there has never been a serious analysis of how our society communicates truth to itself!

Our view is that in a free society, given the costs of press mendacity in terms of suffering and human lives, journalists should consider refusing to work for a corporate media institution unless it is on the understanding that they are free to criticise both the media generally, and that media entity specifically. This, of course, is outrageous from the point of view of the corporate mindset; no-one in business is allowed to criticise the product in front of customers. Employees, including journalists, are recruited to increase, not decrease, profits (being consistently honest might win readers but would lose advertising and government support, as the worker-friendly Daily Herald found out in the 1960s). But we think this mindset should be challenged. Human life and happiness, and in fact the future of the planet, should not be subordinated to the internal logic of corporate profit, no matter how many people act as if there is no other way. We know that this is crazy from a corporate point of view. But it’s sane, and in fact vital, from a human point of view.

Are you claiming that certain things cannot be said in the mainstream media?

Yes, at least not loudly and consistently – fig leaves are fine, indeed required. It seems to us that the whole of the mainstream media is in the icy grip of a giant ‘gentleman’s agreement’; it’s simply understood that certain things can’t be said about the media because it ‘just isn’t done’. The rewards if you’re willing to go along with this are huge and obvious. The insider logic (or illogic) is that going along with it means honest journalists can do more good from inside, and if they speak out and get fired, or resign, that means there is less honest journalism for people to see.

Is mainstream media propaganda maintained by conscious design?

Again, we reject any notion of a massive organised covert campaign to manipulate public opinion. This is what Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky have to say about it in Manufacturing Consent:

“The ‘societal purpose’ of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.”

Media Lens would agree that our system can’t be reduced to a cleverly disguised form of ‘1984’. In fact, thought control is far more important and effective in our society because it’s far more hidden. As Chomsky, has famously said:

“Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to the totalitarian state.”

Why don’t you issue media alerts more frequently?

We’d love to, but a lack of resources means we’re limited in what we can do.There is certainly no shortage of examples of propaganda to address! However, the alerts are almost without exception researched, written and edited by just two people: David Edwards and David Cromwell.

Also, the media alerts tend to be quite lengthy, deliberately so. Because our task is to counter propaganda in the mainstream that typically requires explaining in some depth why a particular article or news broadcast is indeed propaganda. That means setting out our sources and arguments carefully. It’s quite understandable if readers are highly sceptical when they read our alerts – who are we to challenge BBC correspondents, for instance? In fact, we encourage scepticism. People should be sceptical about anything they read or hear. We’d like readers to read our alerts then be able to go away and check the facts for themselves, should folk so choose; and so we try to provide the necessary information for people to do that.

We send out on average about one alert a week, but sometimes it’s more frequent than that, particularly at times of real significance such as when the US/UK politicians ramp up the war rhetoric.

 Why is non-violence so important to Media Lens?

Violence always feeds concentrated power and repression. One of the reasons the world is dominated by concentrated power to the extent that it currently is, we believe, is that the left has often not renounced violence. This has been used to marginalise and destroy the left, and to strengthen established power. This, surely, is one of the big lessons to be learned from the last century.

The 9-11 attacks against America have been used to facilitate and justify a wave of repressive measures and murderous wars around the world. The forces of exploitative greed are vitally dependent on a supply of enemies to demonise and fight against. If enemies don’t arise naturally, and it’s debatable to what extent they do arise naturally, such enemies are simply hyped and created out of fantasy.

We understand the frustration that people feel in the face of warmongering and destruction of the environment, but the (false) idea that venting this frustration will bring some kind of personal relief should not be confused with the idea that it will bring progressive change. In fact, violence, and the threat of violence, are the best ways to promote passivity and obedience in the population. It’s the best way to turn the public against progressive movements.

What authority do you have to speak out on media issues, given that you’re not even working journalists yourselves?

We accept that we have no inherent credibility. We are not tenured professors at prestigious universities; we are not boosted by a world-famous newspaper. We are two people writing on the internet. In a protracted sneer, the Observer’s foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont described us as “these self-appointed media watchdogs”. And that’s the point. We are appointed by no-one; we are accountable to no authority. It is difficult for Beaumont and his pals to understand, but that is what people like about our work.

Surely The Guardian and The Observer, at least, have lots of progressive, even radical, journalists?

There are progressive voices there, yes. We like many of George Monbiot’s articles, for example, as well as those of Paul Foot, and some of the work of Guardian comment editor Seamas Milne, to name a few. But the idea that those writers and others such as Paul Brown, John Vidal and Richard Norton-Taylor, for example, really challenge established power, including the media, just isn’t borne out upon detailed examination. None of them ever question the role of their own newspaper in maintaining state-corporate power.

Another example: former Guardian comment editor David Leigh, sometimes considered favourably for granting comment space to a number of left writers, co-authored an article titled: “Counting Iraq’s victims – Dead babies always figure heavily in atrocity propaganda, and Osama bin Laden is merely the latest to exploit them. But what is the truth?” (The Guardian, October 19, 2001) Under a graphic reviewing various estimates for numbers of excess child deaths in Iraq, were the words, “Those dead babies”, as though the subject were somehow a matter for levity. He wrote “The ‘dead babies of Iraq’ are a statistical construct.” It caused a storm of protest.

There’s also the problem of the Guardian/Observer’s actual overall performance on a range of issues. It’s generally abysmal, as we’ve documented in case after case. Having a small handful of more progressive writers on the comment pages hardly balances the acres of establishment-friendly propaganda in the Guardian’s more extensive news pages We once asked George Monbiot what he thought of the Guardian’s awful performance on Iraq and he refused to answer us.

The Guardian might be free of some of the pressures of ownership. But the impact of government, advertising (on which the Guardian is dependent for fully 75% of its revenue), sourcing, corporate flak, market ideology and patriotism mean that it is very much a part of the propaganda system and performs much as the propaganda model would predict.

We know of a large number of excellent writers – John Pilger, Edward Herman, Howard Zinn, Mark Curtis, Sharon Beder, Milan Rai, Michael Albert, Norman Soloman, and many others – who are effectively excluded from the Guardian for no good reason we know about. Could it be that writers who are selected to contribute to The Guardian, even progressive commentators, are acceptable, in part, because they rarely criticise the media?

Why do you strongly discourage even joking references to violence at the Media Lens message board?

We don’t, if it’s funny and clearly intended in jest.

 What do other people think of Media Lens?

We’ve almost without exception had an enthusiastic response from readers and warm endorsements from prominent commentators on the left, including Noam Chomsky who wrote:

“Establishment of Media Lens is a welcome development. Regular media monitoring by FAIR and other organizations in the US has provided an invaluable service for people who seek to understand the world, and for media professionals who value critical reaction. Expansion of such projects elsewhere should have the same salutary effects, while also providing an important comparative perspective that should facilitate inquiry into the nature and functioning of ideological institutions of the state capitalist democracies.”

On the other hand, many journalists have responded to our challenges with abuse, sarcasm and anger (as well as silence). BBC political editor Andrew Marr once accused us of being “pernicious and anti-journalistic” while Observer columnist Nick Cohen once disparaged us with “Viva Stalin”.

How is Media Lens funded?

We have no glossy advertisers, no wealthy philanthropists helping behind the scenes. And of course we don’t charge. This means we are dependent on the £1, £2, £5 and sometimes higher monthly (or occasional) donations we receive from individual readers.

How can I help or support Media Lens?

You can donate in various ways on the Donate Page

We are currently looking for help in producing video alerts. If you can help, drop us a line here: [email protected]