Media Lens - Reviews News analysis and media criticism Thu, 20 Sep 2018 01:13:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Review From Spiral Dynamics

Journalist John Pilger calls this "The most important book about journalism I can remember." The authors also operate Media Lens, a critical thinking center and media watch group based in the U.K. Media Lens rigorously challenges the profit-centered and quasi-corporate media like the BBC to speak truth rather than spin obediently on behalf of their corporate and governmental masters. Moreover, they call on the media to correct distortions rather than letting them lie on in the collective consciousness, an admission of error which the Guardians of Power rarely find attractive.

This extensively-researched book by the Media Lens editors is about the combined inability and refusal of the mainstream press, both print and broadcast, to ask the hard questions or deliver the real answers. Full of interviews and examples from skewed, distorted, and self-censored reporting on geopolitical hotspots including three chapters on Iraq, plus Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor and Haiti, Guardians of Power causes a re-think of what news means, and how truth is acquired and managed in our times. While international law and treaties are being tossed aside by regimes emboldened by their unchallenged powers, responsible citizens need to recognize the messages of this book and take civic action. So do responsible journalists.

In addition to looking at how mass media have filtered reporting and chosen not to correct errors and omissions pointed out to them with ample proofs, the book also explores the popular characterizations of politicians like Reagan and Thatcher, Clinton, Blair, and Bush as their personas fuse with the news and shaped what the easily-awed press reports. Guardians also addresses what the authors consider crucial to human survival: understanding the impacts of climate change and the arguments around it. Since democracy depends on an informed electorate, and since democratization is the watchword of the times, then the dissemination of accurate, unbiased, and unspun information is essential to making congruent political change in nations around the world, beginning in the US and UK.

In a chapter titled "Disciplined Media - Professional Conformity to Power" the authors try to explain why the existing system works so well for its masters, and why it goes so largely unchallenged by its minions. The notion that the media have become obedient to and well-disciplined by their owners and stakeholders - a group which does not include the general public - is laid bare through concrete examples, including conversations between the authors and editorial decision makers. Edwards and Cromwell suggest some constructive ways to impact the power-protecting media as it is - their own Media Lens is one - and they propose a route to a more compassionate, non-corporate way of reporting and delivery of facts to the populations which need them. For anyone concerned with freedoms of speech and accuracy in reporting in a time when information flow is being guarded and restricted, this book is critical. For others, it is a chilling read that shows how the filters imposed before the public consciousness really work, and how absurd claims of "fair and balanced" really are.

Edwards and Cromwell say that: "The facade of modern democracy depends on the idea the we are already living in a free and open society - the media are a central plank of this 'necessary illusion'. The maintenance of the deception is vital if elites are to continue manipulating the public to fight wars and to wreck the environment for profit. Turning the illusion of media freedom into a reality carries unimaginable costs for elite interests." They see some hope because "...the Internet does constitute a revolutionary change in the mass media - the power of non-corporate journalism has increased by orders of magnitude in the last ten or fifteen years...Given this astonishing change, it is remarkable that far more serious effort and funding have not gone into building alternative media to challenge the mainstream - the opportunity is quite clearly there and has not been wholly grasped." (Guardians, 202) This is why the protection of the Internet from corporate/governmental take-over so as to turn it into yet another profit center for the few and controlled channel for filtered information to be spoon-fed to a gullible, self-interested public. They suggest that deeper interests can be awakened.

The authors touch on Eric Fromm's concept of 'social filtering' which works to promote the status quo and illustrate how "a crucial reason for modern levels of unhappiness, malaise, and depression, then, is found in the impact of a filtering system distorting even our most fundamental ideas about ourselves and the world around us." They propose that "Corporate interests need us to pursue a version of human happiness that serves profits but not people" and the consequences that produces. "The promotion of cynical selfishness, egotism and indifference to others is so pervasive that they seem almost inevitable - we are trained to talk nicely of idealism and hope, but also to be 'practical', recognising the 'harsh reality' as seen in 'the cold light of day'." (Guardians, 210) At the same time, running through all of this is the pervasive need for order and meaning in a world of chaos and inevitable death. It is that orderliness which makes a stable, even if corrupted, status quo preferable to the risks of doing the right thing.

With government leaders operating in flagrant disregard of international law, a decrepit and dysfunctional United Nations cowering before a few powerful bully nations and their vetoes, and the western media so embedded with what Eisenhower once called 'the military-industrial-congressional complex' that they serve more as ad agencies than sources of truth, it is now up to the citizenry to stand up for human rights and decency, to break set with the pathological normalcy. (In his new film, Why We Fight, Eugene Jarecki adds 'think-tank' to Eisenhower's cautionary list since they now act as the policy neurons in the quadrilateral brain of Washington.) The citizens whose lives are confiscated by this quartet must stand up for justice themselves since the corporate media are embedded with those who feel the rush of hegemonic power and global empire cast as democratization, not with the people who seek just peace.

Keeping the people uninformed and propaganda-saturated has been the mission of the information elites as they bow down before power and promulgate fear on top of social laziness. Engraved on the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's prescient 1984 were three slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. And there was another one in war-powered Oceania - Big Brother is watching you. Thanks to a compliant press which criticizes trivia while giving a pass to principles, all of this has now come to be 'normal' and routine. The memes have been generally assimilated without question. They have replaced more elegant and complex goals for bettering human affairs with short-term pragmatism which benefits the powerful few.

The ideals agreed to in the original U.N. charter and further set forth in the Nuremberg principles are clear: aggressive wars and attacks on civilian populations are illegal. Rhetoric does not make them acceptable, though it seems to make the tolerable. Preemptive war and nuclear proliferation are violations of treaties, and ratified treaties carry the weight of law. Threats of nuclear first strikes and continuous improvements to these real-and-present weapons of mass destruction are madness, as if nothing has been learned since 1945. Condoning torture and forcible 'rendition' or coerced removal of civilians from their lands and homes are unconscionable acts. War crimes are just that, whether committed by Saddam Hussein's regime or George W. Bush's. States which do these things as a matter of policy while talking of human rights are not democracies; they are hypocrisies. Undoing fifty years of movement toward developing a body of recognized international law is imperial hubris of the worst sort. It makes the world far more volatile, not safer for anyone. Yet these things go largely unreported, too.

The failure of the mass of American (and British) people to rise up and demand a stop to oppressor practices followed by the investigation and prosecution of those authorizing them on all sides is simply disgraceful. The memetic virus of disengagement and tacit complicity in horrific acts against 'them' while celebrating the virtues of 'us' has become chronic, and a disgrace. While it is easy to blame the deferential media for inadequate and skewed reporting and credit the governments with insidious manipulation; but it is also time to lay some blame at a compliant sheep-like mainstream, one accepting of fear and quite willing to condemn those proclaimed enemies of the people, proven or not. This epoch of transnational shame must end, and only reasoning people of conscience taking positive civic action can end it, for the elites have too much to gain through perpetual war because they profit enormously by selling smoke and mirrors.

Yet the fog of lies and deceptions is beginning to clear for some, in the process revealing mammoth invasions of privacy and undoing of liberties as deep-rooted as freedom to speak out in the proximity of Parliament or un-herded into a fenced 'free speech zone' at a public political rally. At long last, there is a glimmer that American and British citizens are waking up to what much of the rest of the world has known for a long time: the emperors have no clothes behind their big guns. Worse, they are conspirators, dissimulators, and criminals. But those masters of hypocrisy can only be brought to task by popular uprising in support of international law and justice, along with the demand for restoration of personal liberties and rights by the people. It will take ordinary citizens with courage engaging in civic action to work around the guardians of power and free the truth from their clutches. In the face of acts passed to prevent disclosure and stifle free expression, as well as initiatives to privatize the information commons, the people of the western democracies and the earth stand at a critical tipping point. They must choose whether to become a world of law or to carry on as one of brute force justified with lies.

Edwards and Cromwell advocate what they call "full human dissent," a way of challenging the status quo and the hedonism they see in it by incorporating some of the tools of community and collaborativeness which are lost in the rush to focus on self-centered interests which benefit ourselves and our families without regard to the costs to others. It is time for the people to assume their responsibility and start watching Big Brother and his unaccountable agencies, and to insist that the overly consolidated media return to their duty of doing so, as well.

Demonization and polarization into categories of good and evil come far too easily for leaders enraptured by fourth level thinking and to the propagandists who build memes for them, often-insidious mind viruses which the media unquestioningly distribute as fact to be assimilated without question. Yet as Eisenhower warned decades ago, it is more than these planted ideas which threaten us, it is the ambition to power and profit drive of the fifth level which threatens democracy and the world, and which the far-from-liberal media enable so well. So in addition to their concerns about the fifth level's dominance of news and policy, and some suggestions for sixth level populist solutions, the authors advocate a shift out of manipulative media toward a new form with an 'express self without harm to others or the earth' theme. It requires citizen action and involvement rather than obedience, greed, or even tolerance. And it is that transformation which marks movement up the levels of human existence to a place where the guardians watch over truth and justice and compassion, not just power.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:12:54 +0000
Review In The Spectator

Pressuring the press

By Brendan O'Neill

I feel I ought to start this review by letting the authors know that I will not enter into correspondence with them.

However much they might loathe what I am about to say and wish to bombard me with emails ridiculing my reasoning, I regret to tell them that I will be far too busy to respond. That might look like a weird intro to a review, until you realise that the authors being reviewed David Edwards and David Cromwell run a pressure group called Media Lens which is in the business of berating journalists (and encouraging others to do likewise) for their perceived prejudices. Media Lens is like a radical leftist version of Ofcom, an unelected outfit that presumes the authority to lecture reporters and broadcasters, usually via email, about their shortcomings. This book provides a snapshot of the two Davids' guerrilla campaigning over the past five years, during which they have publicly upbraided some of this country's leading journalists.

The most gobsmacking thing is how many journalists respond to the authors' green-ink antics. This collection republishes emails from Andrew Marr, Roger Alton, Nick Cohen and others, defending themselves, often at length, against Media Lens' accusations of bias. There is a truly cringeworthy email from the Guardian's environment correspondent Paul Brown, who responds to claims that he has played down the corporate world's attempts to smash the environmentalist movement by insisting that he is in fact so pro-green that questions have been asked of his professional judgment:

We have sympathetically reported boycotting Exxon/Esso, Shell and other corporations to the point where our balance as reporters has been questioned by our own editors not by outsiders. I think George Bush and his supporters are the most dangerous and nasty people on the planet . . . but if I am to be effective as a journalist I have to protect myself by sticking to basic journalistic rules about balance.

Oh dear. So keen is Brown to demonstrate his greener-than-thou credentials to Media Lens that he reveals that his own editors think him suspect and admits to seeing objectivity as little more than a cover 'protection' for his political views.

Yet beneath the authors' self-righteousness and the various targeted journalists' self-loathing (one thanks Media Lens for pointing out the weakness of his reporting on Iraq and says he hopes he hasn't 'reinforced your propoganda sic model view of everyone who works for the corporate-owned media? !'), there is some good material here, especially on the liberal media's servility during times of war. It's useful to be reminded that some of the same outlets that lambast Blair for lying us into a bastard of a war in Iraq helped him to make war on Yugoslavia in 1999.

Channel 4 News fancies itself as a brave voice of reason on Iraq, yet in 1999 its correspondent Alex Thomson proudly declared, 'If you want to know why the public supported the war on Yugoslavia , thank a journalist.' Likewise Maggie O'Kane of the Guardian said it was 'press reporting' like hers that provided Blair with 'the sympathy he needed to fight the good fight against Milosevic'. Her newspaper accuses Blair of dirty tricks over Iraq; seven years ago it was proud to do his dirty work on Yugoslavia.

But Edwards and Cromwell let themselves down again with the latter section on climate change. Having reprimanded the media for buying (and selling) the nonsensical notion that tinpot tyrants pose a grave threat to civilisation, they then tell us off for not treating seriously enough the true threat to life as we know it: global warming.

'Our lives, the lives of our children are in grave danger, ' they warn, as if writing a voiceover for some dodgy disaster flick.

And if the media do not alert people to this danger, then 'there may well be no future for any of us'.

First, it strikes me as untrue that the media has been slack on climate change;

often you cannot open a newspaper without reading shrill headlines about rising sea levels or declining butterfly populations. Second, why is it unacceptable for Blair and co. to scare the living Jesus out of us with tall tales about demented dictators, but okay for Edwards and Cromwell to declare that the end is nigh and it's all the fault of the greedy masses and their habits of overconsumption which apparently are strangling the planet? In essence, the authors want to replace media fearmongering about WMD with media fearmongering about climate change. Both the mainstream media and its critics, it seems, are now in the business of scaring the public witless; they merely disagree over what will extinguish humanity first, hot wars or a hotter climate. This grisly competition of catastrophes is a sorry excuse for a grownup debate about life and politics in the 21st century.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:11:33 +0000
Review In Socialist Review

Between the Lines

Book Review by Liv Lewitschnik

Review of 'Guardians Of Power', David Edwards and David Cromwell, Pluto £14.99

'Guardians Of Power ought to be required reading in every media college. It is the most important book about journalism I can remember,' writes John Pilger in the introduction. He is right. The book about the myth of the liberal media offers an invaluable insight into the world of journalists and media companies.

'Guardians Of Power' is a compilation of the authors' media alerts issued on their Media Lens website. The website works as a public forum where critiques and questions about journalists' articles and commentaries can be posted.

By using the alerts and journalists' responses to them as well as their own detailed analysis, the two Davids contextualise and deconstruct the spin surrounding the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombing campaign against Serbia, as well as the reporting of the US's undermining of democracy in Haiti, and issues on climate change.

The main focus is on the build-up to war on Iraq in 2003 and the invasion. Skilfully they show how the media helped the government prepare the ground for war by ignoring dissenting voices and never seriously challenging the establishment's plans simply by hiding behind the ethos of professional objectivity.

The authors argue that this in fact made the media complicit in a crime against humanity: 'Editors and journalists do not drop the bombs and pull the triggers, but without their servility to power the public would not be fooled and the slaughter would have to end.'

This rather depressing conclusion is redressed several times in the book. For example, a Media Lens reader wrote to John Humphreys, BBC Today radio presenter, after an interview with Jack Straw. Humphreys was criticised for agreeing with Straw when he (among other lies) said that Unscom weapons inspectors had been thrown out of Iraq in 1998 when they in fact had been withdrawn by the US.

In a different interview Humphreys put Straw on the spot and corrected him as he was repeating the same lie. Such an example shows that there is hope for change even if many of journalists' responses included in the book simply dismiss public criticism.

Edwards and Cromwell use Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's 'propaganda model', published in their Manufacturing Consent, to explain why the media protects governments and corporations instead of keeping a check on them. The model shows how media output is shaped by media corporations operating within a capitalist system to best serve shareholders and advertisers on whom the media depend for their survival.

A number of filters, including dependence on elite sources for information and the ability of governments and businesses to withdraw licences and advertising in case of unfavourable coverage, limit democratic debate and wide media output while pressurising journalists to conform to acceptable views and interpretations of events.

Edwards and Cromwell clearly state that it is the overall system that needs to be changed if we want an end to media workers' contribution to selling wars and corporate cover-ups to us.

The key to the book is the recognition that journalists are open to criticism. In the concluding chapters Edwards and Cromwell call for action from the public. We can make our 'guardians of power' accountable to us if we show that we are listening.

In our struggle for a better world, which includes creating a media system that cares for people and not for big business, we must support and contribute to projects such as Media Lens.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:09:47 +0000
Review In Scotland On Sunday


David Edwards and David Cromwell

Pluto Press, £14.99

Do you read the publishers' names above this round-up? In this case
it's worth noticing Pluto Press, a crusading, left-leaning independent
publisher, and commend its bravery for publishing this. Edwards and
Cromwell are behind Media Lens, a website devoted to scrutinising
media activities, and this fine study exposes many subtle forgettings,
half-truths and outright lies in the reporting of some of the world's
recent conflicts. It's not a conspiracy, but a more sapping form of
lethargy they uncover; and their analyses of why some parts of the
media might skate over rather than dig deep is troubling. Who guards
the guards, as the saying goes. Nevertheless, I wish they'd had a
chapter on Michael Moore's fumbling with facts.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:08:54 +0000
Review By Scientists For Global Responsibility

Richard Jennings

Business and government work hand in glove. Governments need business for the wealth that it creates or brings into the country, and for the contributions it makes to the elections which keep politicians in power. Business needs government for protection – both domestically and abroad. Together business and government make up the establishment – the politico-economic power in society. The media is closely tied to the establishment – it depends for its existence on the establishment and in turn provides news and information that supports the establishment. Those who present the news are selected because they see the world in the right way – they share the world view of the establishment.

In 1988 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote a book, Manufacture of Consent (Pantheon Books) in which they developed the propaganda model of the media. The propaganda model identifies five ways in which the establishment controls the media. First, the media itself is a big business and the owners of this business have values and interests in common with other businesses. As businessmen themselves, they have the power to present news which is business friendly. Second, the media is dependent on advertisers for 75% of its income and hence cannot easily go against the interests of the businesses which support it. Third, the media is dependent on sources of information and the establishment offers steady, reliable and consistent information which is deemed credible because it is establishment information. Fourth, if it should stray from the establishment vision of the world, the establishment has considerable power to attack the media through its legal mechanisms and political power. And finally the media cannot easily report news inconsistent with generally held beliefs about the benevolence of business and government. Herman and Chomsky provide detailed evidence of how well this model accounts for the media reporting of various political events in the second half of the 20th Century.

The authors of Guardians of Power, David Edwards and David Cromwell, are editors of Media Lens, “an online UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media” (p.229). In their book, largely taken from their work presented online in Media Lens, they extend the work of Herman and Chomsky into the 21st and to the UK.

After an introduction to the propaganda theory, the book begins with three chapters which explain how the media systematically distorted the reporting of the information and events surrounding the Iraq war. They convincingly show that the propaganda model explains this reporting and go on to show how it explains reporting of events in Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Haiti and Central America. Furthermore, the authors show that the propaganda theory also applies to the reporting of science news. Chapter 10, ‘Climate Change – The Ultimate Media Betrayal’ is devoted to the establishment take on global warming. I cannot do this account justice in this short review, but instead will take another case of science reporting that the authors discuss, the media treatment of the Lancet report on the number of Iraqis killed in the war and its aftermath.

On October 29, 2004 the Lancet published “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey” a statistical survey of deaths in Iraq which resulted from the invasion. The article estimated that in Iraq there were nearly 100,000 more deaths than would have been expected if the invasion had not taken place. After the invasion violence was the major cause of death – mostly women and children and mainly attributed to coalition forces. If this had been the result of an Iranian invasion of, say, Turkmenistan, it would have been headline news. However, as things are, it is news that embarrasses the establishment and the media, as part of the establishment, would rather not know. The authors point out the virtual silence that followed this publication and the distortion placed on what reporting there was. For example, Channel 4 News claimed that casualties in Fallujah “strongly distorted this study” when in fact the study specifically excluded Fallujah statistics. Downing Street criticized the study because it used extrapolation instead of body counts, even though extrapolation is a universally used method for estimating mortality.

The moral problem with establishment media is that it does not enable compassionate understanding of our fellow human beings. When the media fails to report abuses of human rights (or of animals, or the environment), there is nobody to speak out against the abuse, except perhaps the victims of the abuse, whose voice is rarely heard. If the citizens of the developed nations, who still have the power to influence their governments, were aware of how the establishment abuses developing nations (or animals, or the environment), they would call on the government to stop these abuses. Without the media to inform them, citizens do not learn about what the establishment is doing to developing nations (or animals, or the environment) and therefore do nothing about it.

As a result of this lack of information and the political action that would result from it, the authors “believe that our lives, the lives of our children, indeed of much animal and plant life on this planet are in grave danger” (p.171). And, further, they believe “that the means of mobilising popular support for action to prevent this catastrophe – the mass media – is fatally compromised by its very structure, nature and goals” (p.171):

“Suffering caused by the West and its ‘friends’ is forever ignored, prettified, justified and forgotten. The effect of this continuous propaganda is that many people find it literally inconceivable that the West could be doing anything very wrong in the world….This conviction is utterly crucial – the public will not tolerate the mass killing of foreign innocents unless they believe an honourable goal is being served…. [T]he media portrays Western violence as moral, humanitarian and defensive. Editors and journalists do not drop the bombs or pull the triggers, but without their servility to power the public would not be fooled and the slaughter would have to end.” (p.103-4)

The authors offer a two-part alternative to establishment-embedded media. The first part is the alternative media that is available on the internet and the second part is an alternative model of reporting. For the first part they provide a list of about 75 alternative media sites on the internet – from Al-Jazeera to ZNet (p.218-228, including SGR). For the second part they offer a compassion model for news reporting. The underlying motive of this model is not to maximize profits (which corporations are legally obliged to do) but to minimize the suffering in the world. News is reported in the interest of all of humanity, not just those “on our side”. When there is suffering, or damage to the environment, wherever or however, it deserves to be reported so it can be rectified. And finally, on the basis of scientific research which shows that happiness cannot be found through self-serving motives, but can be found through compassion and mutual aid, the authors argue that the compassion model is right.

Richard Jennings
Review first appeared in SGR [Scientists for Global Responsibility] Newsletter, No. 33 (published January 2007)

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:07:47 +0000
Review In Planet: The Welsh Internationalist

Alternative Arguments

Owain Wilkins

Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media
David Edwards and David Cromwell
Pluto Press, £45 (hb) £14.99 (pb)

Review first appeared in Planet: The Welsh Internationalist (June/July 2007)

In 2001 David Cromwell and David Edwards established Media Lens, a website that holds to account mainstream newspapers and broadcasters who “provide a profoundly distorted picture of our world.” Rather than concentrating on easy targets in the UK’s right-wing press, however, they set their sights on the “liberal” media, including the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent. Subscribers to the website receive regular media alerts in which the mainstream media’s version of current affairs is set against more convincing and credible alternatives. Furthermore, the Davids frequently write to the journalists and producers whose work they scrutinise, politely asking them to explain their inaccurate coverage of world events. Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media brings together many of the issues covered by Media Lens and sets them in a historical and ideological context. It is an impeccably researched and enlightening read.

The opening chapter sets out the authors’ basic argument that the corporate mass media “constitute a propaganda system for elite interests.” The Davids draw heavily from works such as Joel Bakan’s The Corporation (2004) – which argues that corporations are “‘psychopathic creature[s]’, unable to recognise or act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others” – and the writings of John Pilger (who also provides a Foreword to the book) and Erich Fromm. The biggest influence, however, is Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), particularly its “propaganda model” of the media. Herman explains how “the media operate within restricted assumptions, depend heavily and uncritically on elite information sources, and participate in propaganda campaigns helpful to elite interests.” It is important to note, however, that government and media are not consciously united in a conspiracy against the general public. By contrast, as Cromwell and Edwards note, the “propaganda model” is a result of the fact that “media performance is largely shaped by market forces, by the bottom-line goals of media corporations operating within state-capitalist society.” In other words, our media – dependent as they are on forces such as owner influence and advertiser needs – act unconsciously as a mouthpiece for Western government and business interests.

As might be expected, news-coverage of the invasion of Iraq features prominently. Indeed, three of the book’s thirteen chapters are dedicated to this débacle. The events of 2003 are placed in their proper context as the authors show how Iraq’s social infrastructure was decimated by the 1991 Gulf War, and how the resultant UN sanctions meant it could not be reconstructed. Former UN assistant secretary-general Dennis Halliday argued that the withheld foodstuffs and medicines that contributed to mass deaths in the country were a result not of Saddam Hussein’s regime – as propagated by Western governments and the media – but of sanctions. Halliday resigned from the UN in 1998 in protest against the “immoral” sanctions – he claimed they were responsible for “genocide” – yet his comments (now and then) go largely unreported. Similarly, during the build up to the 2003 invasion we were consistently told how Saddam Hussein had previously banished UN weapons inspectors from Iraq in 1998. This despite the fact that former chief UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter (another important voice ignored by the mainstream media) claimed that CIA spies had infiltrated the arms inspection regime – making their work all but impossible – and that they were in fact ordered out of Iraq “by the United States on the eve of the Operation Desert Fox bombing.”

Guardians of Power therefore puts us in touch with our recent untold (indeed, neglected) history, exploding the myth of the “moral” case for war by demonstrating Western complicity in Iraqi suffering over the years. Subsequently, the media’s unadulterated joy at the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 – as well as its assumption that Iraq’s “democratic” elections might in fact vindicate Tony Blair’s decision to take us to war – is shown to be unsubstantiated nonsense. In fact, the catastrophe of Iraq is a prime example of how the media take the comments of those in power at face value, failing to seek out alternative views to the official line.

Other chapters show how lazy reporting is not just confined to Iraq. Coverage of events in Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor and Haiti is examined in depth, as is climate change, described as “the ultimate media betrayal”. Journalists’ responses to the authors’ e-mails are interesting too. They are very rarely treated with respect (indeed they are often ignored) but most telling are the sarcastic and contemptuous replies they receive from journalists who – when presented with alternative arguments – suddenly seem unable to engage in rational debate (this proves especially true of Nick Cohen and Andrew Marr).

Cromwell and Edwards though aren’t just here to make a nuisance of themselves. In fact, they “hope that increased public awareness of the limits of political and media freedom will generate truly democratic, alternative media with the power to impose a news agenda on the mainstream, or to replace it as a source of news.” They are particularly optimistic about the potential of the internet to achieve this aim.

The final two chapters – which outline the authors’ ideal of a compassionate media – are clearly influenced by a Buddhist philosophy which will not, admittedly, be to everyone’s taste. This should not distract us, however, from the fact that Guardians of Power as a whole is an extremely valuable resource. Indeed, you’ll learn more from this book than from any newspaper or news programme.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 11:06:42 +0000
Review In The New Statesman

Guardians of Power: the myth of the liberal media
David Edwards and David Cromwell Pluto Press, 241pp, £14.99
ISBN 0745324827

Reviewed by Peter Wilby

On Friday 13 January, at least 17 people, including children, were killed by US missiles in the Pakistani village of Damadola Burkanday, close to the Afghan border. The death toll may have been higher and may have included Qaeda members. What seems certain is that al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, failed to show up for a dinner of which the CIA had got wind and that he was, therefore, not among the dead.

Next day, the story was reported only briefly because it was unconfirmed by reliable sources. Most Sunday papers gave it prominent coverage, though only the Observer had a full page. A few more reports followed in the Monday papers.

Then the story died. Numerous questions were left unanswered. Are the casualty figures accurate and who exactly was killed? Does the US routinely pursue "militants" over the Pakistan border? Does it inform Rawalpindi in advance? How carefully does it check tips about the movements of Qaeda leaders before it rains down missiles? If the US had bumped off 17 people in western Europe, these questions and many more would be exhaustively addressed.

These apparent double standards are precisely those highlighted by David Edwards and David Cromwell (whom, since they oppose media Goliaths, I shall call the Davids) on their Media Lens website. They show how British newspapers and TV treat stories about, for example, Iraq, Haiti and global warming. They argue that, even in the supposedly liberal Guardian or on the "neutral" BBC, coverage is systematically biased towards the official British and US version of events and towards the world-view of international capital. Sources that have a contrary view, no matter how authoritative, are marginalised. For example (and the Davids have figures to prove it), Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, senior UN officials who resigned over the use of sanctions against Iraq, were persistently ignored in the media, as was Scott Ritter, ex-head of the UN weapons inspectors, who insisted that Saddam had no WMDs.

The two Davids write (and urge their readers to write) to editors and journalists asking them to account for such biases and omissions. They then post the replies. Their targets include Alan Rusbridger and Roger Alton (editors of the Guardian and Observer respectively), Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Jon Snow and even George Monbiot. The e-mail exchanges, as the hacks become more exasperated and the Davids more studiously polite, acquire an almost Alice in Wonderland quality as each side tries to make sense of the other's understanding of reality.

It is no use the hacks pleading that they have recently exposed a case of business corruption or ministerial lying. The Davids don't think it's a question of a few bad apples. Given that corporations are legally required to maximise profits for shareholders, regardless of human consequences, they are by definition psychopathic. Newspapers are owned by such corporations and, in any case, depend on ads for most of their revenues. They and their journalists are sucked into the system.

Nobody consciously tailors what they write to a corporate agenda. It is just that, by a Darwinian process of selection, the dissidents, though they survive in pockets, don't get to make editorial decisions or write regular columns. Again, the Guardian and the Independent don't suppress the latest climate alarms. But the effect is overshadowed by the motoring and travel pages that all papers carry to rake in the ads.

Neither David has ever worked in the media or has any obvious credentials for saying such things. The only analogy I can think of for their self-appointed role as media irritants is Mary Whitehouse, who also represented nobody but herself, and was also completely ignorant of what she was criticising. Yet to make the comparison is to make the Davids' point for them. Whitehouse, thanks to news-papers, became a household name, always quoted whenever TV showed a bit of bare flesh. The Davids are virtually unknown; as leftist critics, they are marginalised.

Their analysis is flawed in several respects - for example, not all, or even most, national papers are under a direct obligation to maximise profits - and I don't think they should incite Media Lens readers to e-mail journalists unless they have first read the full text of their articles. Nor do I think they are right to suggest that properly radical papers should refuse, say, airline ads. The effect would merely be to bankrupt any paper to the left of the Mail. But their basic critique is correct. Journalists rarely go out to find news. They allow pressure groups, companies, unions, MPs and, most of all, governments to set the agenda. Official bodies are treated as the default sources of information. It is also true that the mainstream media have been suckered by America's generous evaluation of itself. Press and TV rightly quote the millions killed by Stalin and Mao, but often lump in victims of state-induced famine. It is possible to reach similarly large figures for the postwar victims of the US if you include those murdered by puppet regimes or left to starve by neoliberal economic policies.

The Davids' writing is not a thing of beauty and they don't do humour. But this book - essentially a best of Media Lens compilation - is mercifully free of academic or political jargon, and is awesomely well researched. All journalists should read it, because the Davids make a case that demands to be answered.


Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:37:55 +0000
Review In New Matilda

Who’s Watching the Media?

By: Antony Loewenstein

Media writer for the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz, recently argued that the Washington press corps was suffering its greatest crisis in living memory. Aside from uncritically accepting Bush Administration spin on Iraq’s supposed WMD, Kurtz argued that far too many reporters were getting ‘cosy’ with Administration sources and ‘retailing their version of history,’ ‘pulling their punches with the White House because of concerns about losing access’ and ‘meeting secretly with the President while taking a vow of silence about the off-the-record chats.’

Kurtz warned that establishment media — of which he is a central figure — was in danger of forgetting its primary mission, namely, holding governments to account.

But what if the corporate media is structurally incapable of achieving this goal? Media Lens is a UK-based group aimed at challenging ‘the distorted vision of the corporate media.’ Their new book, Guardians of Power (Pluto Press, 2006) is a riveting analysis of the failures of contemporary journalism.

Authors David Edwards and David Cromwell ignore the conservative press, including the tabloids and pro-war Murdoch titles. Instead, they focus on the supposedly ‘liberal’ media, such as the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent (UK), and discuss the reporting of Iraq, East Timor, Kosovo, Afghanistan, climate change, Haiti and Western crimes in Latin America. The authors interviewed many of Britain’s supposedly leading journalists to discuss omissions, objections and corrections, and discovered a mostly dismissive group, many of whom didn’t believe they should be accountable to the public.

In his introduction to the book, John Pilger writes:

They have … concentrated on that sector of the media which prides itself on its ‘objectivity,’ ‘impartiality’ and ‘balance’ (such as the BBC) and its liberalism and fairness (such as The Guardian). Not since Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent have we had such an incisive and erudite guide through the media’s thicket of agendas and vested interests.

Guardians of Power acknowledges that the presence of advertising in the corporate media compromises their ability to accurately and fairly report the news of business and government. Furthermore, the authors explain how reporting on environmentalism is compromised because editors are afraid of offending certain advertisers. How, for example, can the Sydney Morning Herald talk passionately about the dangers of climate change and environmental degradation, while accepting advertising from oil and pharmaceutical companies — and not feel at least partly compromised? And how can they legitimately complain about the rapid rate of deforestation around the world yet still publish a massive collection of classifieds every Saturday on dead trees?

Climate change hypocrisy is just one of the subjects tackled by Edwards and Cromwell. Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois who is quoted in the book, reminds us that corporate media rely heavily on ‘official’ sources, and that

what those people say is news. Their perspectives are automatically legitimate. If you talk to prisoners, strikers, the homeless, or protestors, you have to paint their perspectives as unreliable, or else you’ve become an advocate and are no longer a ‘neutral’ professional journalist.

Every mainstream Australian media outlet is determined to ingratiate itself with those in power. The Australian, for example, proudly states that it maintains an intimate relationship with the Howard Government.

At the March launch of the Murdoch-produced The Howard Factor (Melbourne University Publishing, 2006), on 10 years of the Howard Government, Howard praised the newspaper as having made a ‘remarkable contribution’ to national debate. The paper reprinted the Prime Minister’s comments the next day. Some newspapers would be embarrassed to receive such endorsement from any government, no matter what its political stripe. It is a sign of the incestuousness between officialdom and journalists that such a relationship is regarded as worthy.

Edwards and Cromwell have spent many years examining the spurious claims given by governments, and accepted by the media, as pretexts for invading and occupying Iraq. They focus on the Oil-for-Food program implemented by the West and its disastrous effects on the Iraqi people. UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, and his successor Hans von Sponeck, both resigned in disgust at the program well before the 2003 war, and claimed the West was committing genocide in Iraq through its use of sanctions. Virtually none of this was ever reported in our media, and an alternative narrative emerged: Saddam was the ‘officially approved’ enemy, ‘our own government’ was benign and ‘we’ had no responsibility for the death of up to one million Iraqis during 12 years of sanctions.

Guardians of Power explains how history dictated by corporate elites is dangerous — because it reveals the true nature of the Establishment. It must therefore be hidden, changed or refined by the media elite.

What, then, of journalistic accountability and responsibility? Columnist for The Observer, Nick Cohen, a supposed Leftist who opposed the Iraq war, wrote in March 2002:

I look forward to seeing how Noam Chomsky and John Pilger manage to oppose a war which would end the sanctions they claim to have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would have had happy, healthy lives in a prison State (don’t fret, they’ll get there).

Four years on, Cohen’s position - that Western intervention in Iraq was humanitarian - looks embarrassing. According to the lead author of the Lancet study, as many as 200,000 Iraqis may have now been killed since ‘liberation.’

The vast majority of corporate journalists see themselves as an extension of the establishment, not a challenger of it. Besides, how many journalists would dare risk their job in the cause of reporting a story?

Guardians of Power reminds us that the corporate media’s role is one of servitude to power. Those searching for the truth should look elsewhere.

About the author
Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist and author. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Sydney’s Sun-Herald, The Bulletin, Znet, Counterpunch and others. Melbourne University Publishing will release his book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question, in August. Random House will publish his next book, on the Australian media, in 2007.

His blog can be found here.

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:36:27 +0000
Review In The Morning Star

The media myth

by David Edwards and David Cromwell

BRIAN PRECIOUS recommends a superb, devastating book that explodes the
myth of the liberal mainstream media.

John Pilger has written the foreword to this brilliant new book,
describing it as "the most important book about journalism I can

Authors David Edwards and David Cromwell are at least partly inspired
by Chomsky and Herman's ground-breaking work Manufacturing Consent,
since they use the technique of "paired examples" to illustrate the
mainstream media's obedience to Western established power.

Particularly memorable is the way in which the world's largest refugee
camp, holding 350,000 people at Maslakh in Afghanistan, in which up to
100 people die every day, remains a virtual non-story in the
mainstream media, which simultaneously spent column inches and
air-time reporting the plight of Marjan the one-eyed lion in Kabul

The authors deliciously comment: "In the land of the blind, the
one-eyed lion is news."

The reason for this deliberate blindness? Much of the blame for the
plight of those at Maslakh and across "liberated" Afghanistan rests
squarely with the US and Britain, as the authors document with
testimony from aid organisations and brief - but very telling -
stories buried in the media.

Cromwell and Edwards do a great job of contrasting the extent and
frequency of coverage of crimes attributable to official enemies, with
that given to stories where the responsibility is closer to home.

The authors include sometimes hilarious excerpts from email
correspondence with mainstream media people such as Jon Snow and Nick
Cohen, to illustrate the combination of flippant cynicism and sheer
naivety which keeps mainstream coverage within bounds acceptable to
the Establishment.

Snow shows that he is unable to see beyond the lame conspiracy theory
of media bias.

He tells the authors: "If bias does happen, it's a conspiracy. If it
doesn't happen, it's not a conspiracy."

Combine such things as pressure from advertisers, upon which virtually
all of the mainstream media is utterly dependent for finance,with
shallow purblind stupidity like Snow's and is it any wonder the media
remains within a set of assumptions which pose no threat to the ruling
elites of our society? Is this not precisely the obviation of the need for any conspiracy?

I really cannot do justice to this superb, devastating book such in a small space.

It is not merely excellent, it is outstanding. Buy it. Read it. Use it.


Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:34:33 +0000
Review In Justmag

Die Feuermelder.

Autor David Edwards, David Cromwell
Titel Guardians Of Power
Verlag Pluto Press
Seiten 216
Bewertung 7/9

David Edwards und David Cromwell sind die Gründer von Media Lens, eine Internseite aus Großbritannien, die den Mainstream-Medien auf die Finger guckt. Ihre Ergebnisse publizieren sie regelmäßig in sogenannten „media alerts.“ Mit den Erfahrungen der letzten Jahre veröffentlichen die beiden in diesen Tagen ein Buch, das zum ganz großen Schlag ausholt: Guardians Of Power (The Myth Of The Liberal Media. Ziel sind also weniger die offensichtlich unjournalistischen Boulevardblätter, als überwiegend die Flagschiffe liberaler Qualitätspresse in Großbritannien (nur am Rande kommen auch amerikanische Medien vor). BBC, Guardian und Independent sind für die beiden Autoren ebenfalls Teil der „corporate media“, weil sie genauso auf Profit zielen wie ein Unternehmen. Und deswegen dürften sie sich mit den mächtigen aus Politik und Wirtschaft nicht anlegen und vernachlässigten ihre Pflicht zur Wahrheit. „In this book we will argue that the corporate mass media (…) constitute a propaganda system for elite interest,“ schreiben sie zu Beginn.

Edwards und Cromwell können die verzerrte Berichterstattung eindrucksvoll belegen. Zwei Beispiele: Als die UN-Waffeninspekteure 1998 den Irak verlassen, schreibt der Guardian, dass diese wegen der anstehenden Luftangriffe der USA von der UN zurückgezogen worden seien. 2002, als sich der Einmarsch in den Irak bereits abzeichnet, schreibt der Guardian, der Irak habe die Inspekteure herausgeworfen.
Als die NATO 1999 einen Luftangriff gegen Serbien beginnt, begründet sie das mit den Vertreibungen der Kosovo-Albaner durch serbische Soldaten. Doch selbst westliche Experten, beispielsweise aus dem deutschen Außenministerium, sehen in dieser Zeit keine Anzeichen für große Flüchtlingsströme. Die Presse ignoriert das und brandmarkt das Verhalten der Serben als Völkermord. Bittere Ironie: Serbien setzt erst nach Beginn der Luftoffensive durch die NATO mit den Vertreibungen ein.

Die Autoren argumentieren hier so unstreitbar, weil sie mit Quellen arbeiten, beziehungsweise mit den Artikeln der Zeitungen selbst. Eigentlich stellen sich die Medien selbst bloß, nur muss darauf jemand hinweisen, und genau das tun Edwards und Cromwell. Manchmal ist es so offensichtlich, dass sich der Leser fragt, warum ihm das nicht selbst aufgefallen ist. Das Schicksal der Flüchtlinge aus dem Kosovo erhält große Aufmerksamkeit in den Medien, während die Vertriebenen in Afghanistan und Osttimor nur am Rande stattfinden. Erklärung: Im ersten Fall ist der politische Gegner Urheber der Vertreibungen, im zweiten Fall sind es westliche Länder und deren Verbündete. Wenn die beiden die Journalisten per Mail auf solche offensichtlichen Schieflagen aufmerksam machen, reagieren die ziemlich vorhersehbar: 1. Sie machen die Autoren als Verschwörungstheoretiker lächerlich. 2. Sie reden sich mit Zeit- und Platzmangel raus. 3. Sie antworten gar nicht. Das macht sie nicht gerade glaubwürdig, zumal Edwards und Cromwell immer wieder feststellen, dass sie keine Verschwörung für die voreingenommene Berichterstattung verantwortlich machen. Sie sei einfach das unvermeidbare Resultat eines Mediums, das im kapitalistischen Betrieb funktionieren müsse.

An dieser Stelle aber, als die Autoren den quellenbasierten Teil verlassen und sich an eine Theorie der „corporate mass media“ wagen, werden sie unpräzise, vielleicht weil sie glauben, ihre Feststellung alleine sei sowieso offensichtlich. Sie verstricken sich in einen Widerspruch: Auf der einen Seite behaupten sie, ein Journalist sei sich seiner Beeinflussung durch das „System“ nicht bewusst und deshalb von der Aufrichtigkeit seines Handelns überzeugt. Damit übernehmen sie das Modell von Noam Chomsky, das er unter anderem in Manufacturing Consent aufgestellt hat. Auf der anderen Seite sehen sie aber eine Steuerung durch Druck: Der Journalist weiß, dass er bestimmte Interessen nicht verletzen darf. Etwas holprig gerät auch die Passage, in der sie über Lösungsansätze nachdenken. Sie müssten keine Alternativen liefern, sagen sie, es sei erstmal wichtig, dass überhaupt wer auf die Missstände hinweise. Genauso wie jemand, der einen Brand melde, sich keine Vorwürfe gefallen lassen muss, wenn er den Brand nicht auch selbst löscht. Doch wenn sonst keiner löschen will, weil niemand an den Brand glaubt, muss er es eben doch.
Im vorletzten Kapitel deuten sie dann aber Lösungsvorschläge an und weisen auf die Chancen durchs Internet (Blogs, etc.) hin und auch wenn sie hier nichts Neues auftischen, merkt man ihnen an, dass Medienkritik für sie kein Selbstzweck ist. Sie wollen wirklich ein besseres Mediensystem.

Warum Edwards und Cromwell im letzten Kapitel dann aber noch zu einer großen Kritik an der kapitalistischen Moderne ausholen, wissen nur die beiden. Da kauen sie dann einfach wieder, was man aus dieser Richtung gewohnt ist zu hören. Die Kinder werden dicker durch Werbung, Markenklamotten setzen Jugendliche unter Druck und Depressionen sind die Folge eines Systems, das Höchstleistungen verlangt. Sie verlassen den Bereich, auf dem sie brillieren, um sich als Gutmenschen zu profilieren. Letztlich ist das aber nicht entscheidend. Dafür sind die ersten 150 Seiten zu dicht, zu stringent geschrieben. „The most important book about journalism I can remember“, schreibt John Pilger im Vorwort. Das ist übertrieben, aber Guardians Of Power ist unstreitbar eines der überzeugenderen und sachlicheren Beiträge linker Medienkritik.

Fazit: Guardians Of Power liefert lange Zeit einen beeindruckenden Beitrag zur Dokumentation von Lügen und verzerrten Darstellungen in den Massenmedien. Dass Edwards und Cromwell dabei nicht die Yellow Press ins Visier nehmen, sondern die sogenannten liberalen Medien, macht diese Arbeit umso wertvoller. Nur ihre Medientheorie hätten die beiden präziser formulieren müssen.

Sebastian Dalkowski

Guardians of Power Reviews Fri, 12 Nov 2010 10:32:57 +0000