Media Lens - 2010 News analysis and media criticism Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:04:37 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb What Happened To Academia? Part 2

In our reply to Piers Robinson, below, we try to show how 'objective scholarship', like 'objective journalism', all too often filters out what really matters. Moreover, as in journalism, the scholar's obsession with objectivity tends to promote the interests of power. Why? Because mainstream academics and journalists are deeply and unconsciously biased. They notice subjective opinion that hurts power because power is on hand to make them aware, in no uncertain terms, with high-level complaints, legal threats, political flak and other attacks. When subjective opinion promotes power no-one notices because peace reigns supreme. 

A superb example was provided in John Pilger's new film, The War You Don't See. The BBC's Head of Newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, told Pilger: "it's the BBC's duty to scrutinise what it is that people [leaders] say; we're not there to accuse them of lying, though, because that's a judgement..."

And this would be fine, but for the fact that the BBC clearly is willing to laud these same leaders to the skies! Nobody notices that this also constitutes "a judgement" because people with the ability to hurt the media stay silent. This is a major reason why ostensibly objective journalists and scholars so consistently drift towards "the centre-left ground" (to use the polite term). It is a key issue in academia, as in journalism, and needs to be discussed. We replied to Piers Robinson on December 14: 

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Wed, 15 Dec 2010 17:20:19 +0000
What Happened To Academia? - Part 1

Exchanges With Piers Robinson of The University Of Manchester

What happened to academia? In 2008, Terry Eagleton, formerly Professor of English Literature at Manchester University, wrote:

"By and large, academic institutions have shifted from being the accusers of corporate capitalism to being its accomplices. They are intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries." (Eagleton, 'Death of the intellectual,' Red Pepper, October 2008)

He added:

"The logic of the commodity has now penetrated into the sphere of human needs and nurture, breeding pathological symptoms there. In universities, as in transnational corporations, a largely disaffected labour force confronts a finance-obsessed managerial elite."

We have long been fascinated by the silencing of academe. How does it work in an ostensibly free society? What are the mechanisms that bring the honest and outspoken to heel? The late historian Howard Zinn described how the well-intentioned desire to work for progressive change "gets tangled in a cluster of beliefs so stuck, fungus-like, to the scholar, that even the most activist of us cannot cleanly extricate ourselves. These beliefs are roughly expressed by the phrases 'disinterested scholarship,' 'dispassionate learning,' 'objective study,' 'scientific method'..." (The Zinn Reader - Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, Seven Stories Press, 1997, pp.502-3)

So our attention was naturally piqued when, on October 12, one of our readers sent us a link to an article on the website that reported the findings of a new study of the media. The article cited principal researcher, Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester:

"The UK benefits from an 'admirably wide range of coverage' when it comes to war reporting, according to a new study from the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

"The research, which appears in a new book from Manchester University Press titled Pockets of Resistance, says the UK media provided balanced coverage of the Iraq invasion, including a 'strongly anti-war element'."

We wrote to Piers Robinson on the same day. He replied cordially and we emailed several questions politely challenging the assumptions and conclusions of his study. As so often happens, these touched a raw nerve. Robinson replied on October 15:

"I understand all of this, and I am now getting annoyed with your tone...

"What I find most frustrating about this is that, as an academic, I have more work on than you could possibly imagine."

As non-academics, we are also busy and found it easy to sympathise. Robinson listed his many academic duties before adding: 

"ANd, if you were to look at my publishing record and so on, you would see that I am hardly in a different camp from you when it comes to our analysis of mainstream media. And yet, I have now had to spend an hour of time defending myself against you.

"What is it that you are hoping to achieve in all of this?" 

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Tue, 14 Dec 2010 07:48:12 +0000


On November 17, we sent out a media alert that highlighted the corporate media’s lack of interest in official documents revealing Israel’s deliberate policy of near-starvation for Gaza.

The documents had been obtained by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, which won a legal battle in October to compel the Israeli government to release the information. The state policy relates to the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the May 31, 2010 attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. Israel still refuses to release documents on the current blockade policy, now supposedly “eased” following worldwide condemnation of the flotilla attack.

We, and many of our readers, emailed broadcasters and newspapers asking why the release of these documents was not reported in October. Were journalists simply unaware of the documents and their significance? For the BBC in particular, with all its huge resources for monitoring developments in the Middle East, this is surely implausible.

Two readers pointed out to us that the BBC had published one online story about the legal battle over the release of the documents back in May. However, BBC journalist Tim Franks accepted the Israeli assertion that the then secret documents “were not used for policy-making.”

The BBC obviously thought the story was newsworthy at the time, just as it should have last month. Indeed, the news is all the more compelling now that the documents have been released, despite the efforts of the Israeli government to block their publication. It is of major significance that explicit Israeli calculations for the amount of food, animal feed and poultry to be allowed into Gaza can be seen, starkly laid out in black and white. One of the calculated quantities is “breathing space”: the number of days that supplies will last in Gaza. The concept of “breathing space” for Gaza, dictated by the Israelis, is chilling; yet, the media appear happy to look the other way.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Wed, 01 Dec 2010 19:33:15 +0000

We are happy to announce that, beginning September 20, David Cromwell took the big leap out of paid work into full-time co-editing of Media Lens, there to join David Edwards who has been working full-time on the project since 2002.

This represents a huge step forward for us, one that for a long time appeared unachievable. After all, the web is awash with websites and bloggers asking for support: for donations, adverts, even for a few words to fill their empty comment boxes. 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 donations we receive from individual readers. If, as Roger Alton, former editor of the Observer and Independent, argues, we are “poisonous cunts”, then truly we are the People’s Poisonous Cunts. We only exist because members of the public find value in what we write and choose to support us.

And it is not because we have inherent credibility - we have none. 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.

Having both of us working full-time on Media entails a level of risk. We estimate that, on current levels of funding, we will be broke within four years. But living in a state of financial insecurity is not wholly negative. A sense of security promotes complacency and the illusion that it is possible to be truly secure. As Geshe Lhundub Sopa writes:

“Should someone who has fallen from the peak of a very high mountain feel happy as they fall through the air heading toward destruction? Since they are running toward death from the time of their birth, how can sentient beings find happiness during the interval of life?”

To feel insecure is to be aligned with the reality of life’s transience, fragility and suffering. This is the basis of humility and compassion.

In the unlikely event of us having to ditch the Media Lens biplane at sea, as it were, we would return to teaching and research work while continuing to do what we could on Media Lens in our spare time, which is how we started. So all would not be lost. We, of course, would prefer for that not to happen - in our strange world, time not spent on Media Alerts and Cogitations often feels like time wasted. So your continued support is very much appreciated.

The best way to help us is to send a monthly donation via PayPal or a standing order with a UK bank:

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Media Lens in 2011, other exciting developments lie ahead. At the end of this week, we are launching a new version of our website. Media Lens webmaster, Olly Maw, who has a vested interest, tells us this will allow “a much greater degree of interactivity and interconnectivity”. It will allow us to publish more technically sophisticated Media Alerts which will come with immediate and direct URLs, i.e. permanent links (unlike now). This is also the first time that the complete 10 year archive of 472 alerts will be properly formatted and searchable. We will have many different RSS feeds on key pages of the site, and social networkers can ‘Like’ and 'Tweet' individual pages/alerts. We will also have the ‘Email a page to a friend’ function and ‘Printer friendly’ options. The new website will go live on November 26, here:

We are also working hard to master the skills required to produce video versions of our Media Alerts (any technical help very gratefully received). We hope to produce our first Video Alert early in 2011.

Also, in December, John Pilger is releasing his new film, ‘The War You Don't See’. To be shown in cinemas and broadcast in the UK on ITV on December 14, this is “a powerful and timely investigation into the media’s role in war, tracing the history of ‘embedded’ and independent reporting from the carnage of World War One to the destruction of Hiroshima, and from the invasion of Vietnam to the current war in Afghanistan and disaster in Iraq”. You can see a trailer here. Media Lens supported the film-makers with research and media analysis.

Many thanks for your support.

David Edwards, David Cromwell and Olly Maw

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Mon, 29 Nov 2010 09:17:57 +0000
"Put the Palestinians on a Diet"

Media Bury Documents Revealing Israel's Deliberate Policy Of Near-Starvation For Gaza

Israel has been forced to reveal what Palestinians and other observers on the ground have known for a long time: that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment, not to bolster Israeli “security”.

An Israeli human rights group has won a legal battle to compel the Israeli government to release three important documents. These outline state policy for permitting the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the May 31 attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. The group, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, is demanding Israeli transparency. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to release documents on the current version of blockade policy which was “eased” after international condemnation following the flotilla attack.

The released documents, whose existence Israel had denied for eighteen months, reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods, including food and fuel, in the Gaza Strip. Gisha Director Sari Bashi explains:

“Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place.” (Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, ‘Due to Gisha's Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy’, October 21, 2010)

As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy:

“in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are ‘putting the people of Gaza on a diet’.” (Saeed Bannoura, ‘Israeli government documents show deliberate policy to keep Gazans at near-starvation levels’, International Middle East Media Center, November 6, 2010 21:32)

Bannoura adds:

“This release of documents also severely undermines Israel's oft-made claim that the siege is ‘for security reasons’, as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.”

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Thu, 18 Nov 2010 14:03:50 +0000
Wikileaks - The Smear And The Denial - Part 2

The UK and US media smears described in Part 1 should be kept in mind when considering the gravity and importance of the latest WikiLeaks. In addition to thousands of previously unreported civilian killings, the leaks revealed more than 1,300 claims of torture by Iraqi police and military between 2005 and 2009. More than 180,000 people were detained at some point between 2004 and 2009, or one in 50 Iraqi males.

But these are only the incidents the US military knew about, or chose to know about, or chose to report; and the documents are an unknown sample of all documentation held by the US government. There are, for example, no reports from the “shock and awe” year of 2003, and none from the tens of thousands of after-attack Pentagon bombing assessments. The leaks also report no civilian deaths in major US atrocities, including the offensive that devastated Fallujah in 2004.

The leaks corroborate previous allegations that US forces turned over prisoners to the Wolf Brigade, the feared 2nd battalion of the Iraqi interior ministry's commandos, infamous for their torture and extra judicial killings. This was not merely ‘turning a blind eye’ to torture, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter notes: “The implication was that the Shi'a commandos would be able to extract more information from the detainees than would be allowed by U.S. rules.”

US forces, then, were complicit in the torture. Indeed, under international law, as the occupying power, the coalition is accountable for all of these crimes.

US troops are actually commanded to not investigate the tortures by an order called Frago 242. Issued in June 2004, this instructs coalition troops not to investigate any abuse of detainees unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi forces on Iraqis, "only an initial report will be made... No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
The leaks reveal that the US military was also aware that the Iraqi government had murdered detainees.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Mon, 08 Nov 2010 15:07:43 +0000
Wikileaks - The Smear And The Denial - Part 1

“Journalists don't like WikiLeaks”, Hugo Rifkind notes in The Times, but “the people who comment online under articles do... Maybe you've noticed, and been wondering why. I certainly have.” (Hugo Rifkind Notebook, ‘Remind me. It's the red one I mustn't press, right?,’ The Times, October 26, 2010)

Rifkind is right. The internet has revealed a chasm separating the corporate media from readers and viewers. Previously, the divide was hidden by the simple fact that Rifkind’s journalists - described accurately by Peter Wilby as the “unskilled middle class” - monopolised the means of mass communication. Dissent was restricted to a few lonely lines on the letter’s page, if that. Readers were free to vote with their notes and coins, of course. But in reality, when it comes to the mainstream media, the public has always been free to choose any colour it likes, so long as it’s corporate ‘black’. The internet is beginning to offer some brighter colours.

If Rifkind is confused, answers can be found between the lines of his own analysis:

 “With WikiLeaks, with the internet at large, power is democratised, but responsibility remains the preserve of professionals.”

This echoes Lord Castlereagh’s insistence that "persons exercising the power of the press" should be "men of some respectability and property". (Quoted, James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility - The Press And Broadcasting in Britain, Routledge, 1991, p.13)

And it is with exactly this version of “responsibility” that non-corporate commentators are utterly fed up. We are, for example, tired of the way even the most courageous individuals challenging even the most appalling crimes of state are smeared as “irresponsible”.

Thus, Rifkind describes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as “a frighteningly amoral figure”. In truth, journalists find Assange a frighteningly moral figure. Someone willing to make an enemy of the world’s leading rogue state in order to expose the truth about the horrors it has inflicted on Afghanistan and Iraq is frightening to the compromised, semi-autonomous employees of corporate power. Assange’s courage is the antidote to their poison.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2010 Tue, 09 Nov 2010 07:53:38 +0000


Where They Have Holes In Their Souls

We bask in a certain reflected glory from the newspapers we read. To “take” The Times is to be far more intellectual, far more highbrow, than someone who takes the Mail. To read the Mail is to be far more responsible than someone who gawks in the Mirror. A Guardian reader is highbrow with a human face: intellectual, aware, like other “broadsheet” readers, but with a much greater commitment to making the world a better, fairer place. Independent readers share the same commitment, perhaps a little less earnestly.

Because we locate some of our identity in what we read - some sense of who we are as intelligent, caring people - we may react with rage when the newspapers we take are criticised. To suggest that “my” newspaper is biased and superficial can seem to imply the same of “me” and “my” beliefs about the world.

A similar glow of pride reflects on us from cinema screens. How we love to declare our appreciation for the latest thoughtful, sensitive, challenging movie. Again, we may reinforce a sense of ourselves as smart and caring from the films we watch. Of course we don’t like the gung-ho rubbish, but we do believe there is a certain satisfying stream of liberal, even leftist, movies challenging power: think George Clooney, Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins and a few others. Matthew Alford, author of 'Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy’ (Pluto Books, 2010) does not agree.

In his book, Alford sets the charges for a controlled demolition of the myth that there is any kind of serious challenge to US foreign policy coming out of Hollywood. By the end of the book, not just Stallone, not just Schwarzenegger and Willis, but the entire edifice of liberal credibility has collapsed into its own footprint. Alford writes:

“One of the recurrent themes of the body of films in Reel Power is that even many of the most politically sophisticated of them assume the essential benevolence of US foreign policy, even when they express tactical concerns over using force. To suggest that foreign policy is the result of deeper, more unseemly economic and political interests is virtually unsayable.”

Over the last couple of weeks we have been e-chatting with Alford about his book.

Alerts 2010 Fri, 22 Oct 2010 08:39:46 +0000

Following Israel’s capture of the West Bank in 1967, along with other territories including East Jerusalem, Israel has built and expanded Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The settlers enjoy the benefits of a separate, and far superior, civilian infrastructure to nearby Palestinian communities, and they are protected at great expense by the Israeli military. Under international law, the settlements are illegal. But despite private agreements with the US to rein in growth, Israel has continued the non-stop expansion of its illegal settlements. While the public stance of the United States is that it does not recognise “the international legitimacy” of the settlements, Washington has in practice provided decades-long support for Israeli policy.

Earlier this week, independent journalist Jonathan Cook reported facts that blow a hole through the standard deceit that the United States is an “honest broker” for peace in the Middle East. (Jonathan Cook, ‘Obama's Cave-In to Israel’, Counterpunch, 4 October, 2010; As Cook explains, details were leaked of a letter sent by US President Barack Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister:

“Obama made a series of extraordinarily generous offers to Israel, many of them at the expense of the Palestinians, in return for a single minor concession from Netanyahu: a two-month extension of the partial freeze on settlement growth.”

The  previous 10-month freeze on settlement growth in the West Bank, which has just ended, has not so far been renewed by Israel. This obduracy threatens to bring the negotiations to an abrupt halt. This was the deadlock that Obama’s letter was supposedly designed to break. 

Netanyahu reportedly declined the US offer, while Washington denies that a letter was ever sent. But according to the Israeli media, US officials in Washington are “incensed” by Netanyahu’s rejection.

As Cook notes, the disclosures were made by an informed source: David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a close associate of Dennis Ross, Obama’s chief adviser on the Middle East, who is said to have initiated the offer.

Alerts 2010 Thu, 07 Oct 2010 11:58:03 +0000


In a despairing article in the Guardian last week, George Monbiot described the true extent of the failure to respond to the threat of climate change. Beyond all the bluster and rhetoric, Monbiot wrote, “there is not a single effective instrument for containing man-made global warming anywhere on earth.” It is, quite simply, “the greatest political failure the world has ever seen”. 

Monbiot explained:

“Greens are a puny force by comparison to industrial lobby groups, the cowardice of governments and the natural human tendency to deny what we don't want to see.” (George Monbiot, ‘Climate change enlightenment was fun while it lasted. But now it's dead’, Comment is Free, 20 September, 2010;

The lobby groups are indeed powerful. But the notion of government “cowardice” is a classic liberal herring - the problem has always been the government +alliance+ with corporate power, not its “cowardice”.

Alerts 2010 Wed, 29 Sep 2010 10:54:41 +0000