Exposing the Guardians of Power

Email Print


What has 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.org.
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.”

That appeared
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.

Like the 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."
The BBC’s 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.

The tone 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**ts at Media Lens?” When questioned about her
environmental reporting, Fiona Harvey, of the Financial Times,
replied: “You’re pathetic . . . Who are you?”

The message
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.”

Edwards 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 2 December will
present Media Lens with the prestigious Gandhi International Peace
Award. I salute them.

1, 2007

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.

John Pilger 2007

Pilger Archives

Email Print