changed in the way we see the world? For as long as I can remember,
the relationship of journalists with power has been hidden behind
a bogus objectivity and notions of an "apathetic public" that
justify a mantra of "giving the public what they want." What has
changed is the public's perception and knowledge. No longer trusting
what they read and see and hear, people in western democracies
are questioning as never before, particularly via the internet.
Why, they ask, is the great majority of news sourced to authority
and its vested interests? Why are many journalists the agents
of power, not people?
Much of this
bracing new thinking can be traced to a remarkable UK website,
MediaLens. The creators
of Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell, assisted by their
webmaster, Olly Maw, have had such an extraordinary influence
since they set up the site in 2001 that, without their meticulous
and humane analysis, the full gravity of the debacles of Iraq
and Afghanistan might have been consigned to bad journalism's
first draft of bad history.
Peter Wilby put it well in his review of Guardians of Power: the
Myth of the Liberal Media, a drawing-together of Media Lens essays
published by Pluto Press, which he described as "mercifully free
of academic or political jargon and awesomely well researched.
All journalists should read it, because the Davids make a case
that demands to be answered."
in the New Statesman. Not a single major newspaper reviewed the
most important book about journalism I can remember. Take the
latest Media Lens essay, "Invasion - a Comparison of Soviet and
Western Media Performance." Written with Nikolai Lanine, who served
in the Soviet army during its 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan,
it draws on Soviet-era newspaper archives, comparing the propaganda
of that time with current western media performance. They are
revealed as almost identical.
reported "success" of the US "surge" in Iraq, the Soviet equivalent
allowed "poor peasants [to work] the land peacefully." Like the
Americans and British in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soviet troops were
liberators who became peacekeepers and always acted in "self-defense."
and honesty are enhanced by compassion and compromised by
greed and hatred. A journalist who is sincerely motivated
by concern for the suffering of others is more likely to
- David Edwards, Media Lens
Mark Urban's revelation of the "first real evidence that President
Bush's grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy
into the heart of the Middle East could work" (Newsnight, 12 April
2005) is almost word for word that of Soviet commentators claiming
benign and noble intent behind Moscow's actions in Afghanistan.
The BBC's Paul Wood, in thrall to the 101st Airborne, reported
that the Americans "must win here if they are to leave Iraq...
There is much still to do." That precisely was the Soviet line.
of Media Lens's questions to journalists is so respectful that
personal honesty is never questioned. Perhaps that explains a
reaction that can be both outraged and comic. The BBC presenter
Gavin Esler, champion of Princess Diana and Ronald Reagan, ranted
at Media Lens emailers as "fascistic" and "beyond redemption."
Roger Alton, editor of the London Observer and champion of the
invasion of Iraq, replied to one ultra-polite member of the public:
"Have you been told to write in by those c*nts at Media Lens?"
When questioned about her environmental reporting, Fiona Harvey,
of the Financial Times, replied: "You're pathetic... Who are you?"
is: how dare you challenge us in such a way that might expose
us? How dare you do the job of true journalism and keep the record
straight? Peter Barron, the editor of the BBC's Newsnight, took
a different approach. "I rather like them. David Edwards and David
Cromwell are unfailingly polite, their points are well argued
and sometimes they're plain right."
believes that "reason and honesty are enhanced by compassion and
compromised by greed and hatred. A journalist who is sincerely
motivated by concern for the suffering of others is more likely
to report honestly..." Some might call this an exotic view. I
don't. Neither does the Gandhi Foundation, which on December 2
will present Media Lens with the prestigious Gandhi International
Peace Award. I salute them.
Australia Builds Its Empire, by John