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Did you want to get the gist of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s master work ‘Manufacturing Consent’ but not have to read that long, dryly informative tomb? Have I got the book for you. ‘Why are we the Good Guys?’ by David Cromwell runs on essentially the same thesis but is many more times engaging and yet at the same time, marginally less academically verbose than Manufacturing Consent. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire work and would like to share a pertinent excerpt on how media coverage perpetuates the destructive cycles (the financial meltdown of 2008 et cetera) we see in our society.
“All the media samples we’ve seen so far in this chapter are indicative of the narrow spectrum of permitted corporate and political opinion on the financial and economic crisis. Viewpoints are heavily biased toward the status quo, with only occasional fig leave of mild dissent. This spectrum of news reporting and commentary is systemically biased; it avoids scrutiny of an economic system that is both fundamentally flawed and stacked against the majority of humanity.
As Shutt notes, one of the most striking features of the ongoing crisis is: “the uniformly superficial nature of the analysis of its causes presented by mainstream observers, whether government officials, academics or business representatives. Thus it is commonly stated that the crisis was caused by a combination of imprudent investment by bankers and others […] and unduly lax official regulation and supervision of markets. Yet the obvious question begged by such explanations – of how or why such a dysfunctional climate came to be created – is never addressed in any serious fashion”. Shutt continued: ” The inescapable conclusion […] is that the crisis was the product of a conscious process of facilitating ever greater risk of massive systemic failure.”
With a few ruffled feathers here and there, Western leaders and their faithful retinue in the media and academia continue to deceive the public about the global economic crisis and its root causes; because power and profits demand it. Otherwise these elites run the serious risk of a huge slump in public confidence in the current system and even in what passes for democratic policies. As it turned out, the chair of the prestigious US law firm Sullivan & Cromwell was not far off in his prediction that ‘Wall Street, after getting billions of taxpayer dollars, will emerge from the financial crisis looking much the same as before the markets collapsed.’ Indeed it was strengthened, as explained by Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the IMF: ‘Throughout the crisis the [US] government has taken extreme care not to upset the interests of the financial institutions, or to question the basic outlines of the system that got us here.’ Moreover, the ‘elite business interests … [who] played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse … are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive’ while ‘the government seems helpless, or unwilling to act against them.’ As Chomsky notes: this is ‘no surprise, at least to those who remember their Adam Smith,’ and adds, ‘The outcome was nicely captured by two adjacent front-page stores in the New York Times, headlined “$3.4 Billion Profit at Goldman Revives Gilded Pay Packages” and “In Recession, a Bleaker Path for Workers to Slog.”‘
-David Cromwell. Why Are We The Good Guys? pp 174 – 175
Cheery stuff I realize, but its good to know who is doing what to who. Perhaps during the next collapse we’ll hold the bastards accountable.
The writers over at Media Lens have really outdone themselves. This will be in the next edition of the textbooks about media analysis and what happens once you go against the status quo. Russel Brand has made the mistake of categorizing and identifying what is wrong with our economic systems and society. Watch as the liberal press rallies against what can only be a threat to the system they inhabit.
“Brand’s Newsnight performance, then, was an inspiring cri de coeur. But a 10-minute, impassioned, ill-formed demand for ‘Change!’ from a lone comedian is not a problem for the media’s gatekeepers. It makes for great television, enhances the illusion that the media is open and inclusive, and can be quickly forgotten – no harm done.”
Brand’s new book, ‘Revolution,’ is different – the focus is clear, specific and fiercely anti-corporate. As we will see in Part 2 of this alert, the media reaction is also different.
Brand begins by describing the grotesque levels of modern inequality:
‘Oxfam say a bus with the eighty-five richest people in the world on it would contain more wealth than the collective assets of half the earth’s population – that’s three-and-a-half billion people.’ (p.34)
‘The richest 1 per cent of British people have as much as the poorest 55 per cent.’ (p.34)
But even these facts do not begin to describe the full scale of the current crisis:
‘The same interests that benefit from this… need, in order to maintain it, to deplete the earth’s resources so rapidly, violently and irresponsibly that our planet’s ability to support human life is being threatened.’ (p.36)
‘Global warming is totally real, it has been empirically proven, and the only people who tell you it’s not real are, yes, people who make money from creating the conditions that cause it. (pp.539-540)
We are therefore at a crossroads:
‘”Today humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.”
‘The reason the occupants of the [elite] fun bus are so draconian in their defence of the economy is that they have decided to ditch the planet.’ (p.345)
And so ‘we require radical action fast, and that radical action will not come from the very interests that created and benefit from things being the way they are. The one place we cannot look for change is to the occupants of the bejewelled bus.’ (p.42)
The problem, then, is that ‘we live under a tyranny’. (p.550) The US, in particular, ‘acts like an army that enforces the business interests of the corporations it is allied to’. (p.493)
But this is more than just a crude, Big Brother totalitarian state:
‘A small minority cannot control an uncooperative majority, so they must be distracted, divided, tyrannised or anaesthetised into compliance…’ which means ‘the colonisation of consciousness by corporations’. (p.165)
Brand notes that 70 per cent of the UK press is controlled by three companies, 90 per cent of the US press by six:
‘The people that own the means for conveying information, who decide what knowledge enters our minds, are on the fun bus.’ (p.592)
He even manages a swipe at the ‘quality’ liberal press:
‘Remember, the people who tell you this can’t work, in government, on Fox News or MSNBC, or in op-eds in the Guardian or the Spectator, or wherever, are people with a vested interest in things staying the same.’ (p.514)
Thus, the ‘political process’ is a nonsense: ‘voting is pointless, democracy a façade’ (p.45): ‘a bloke with a nice smile and an angle is swept into power after a more obviously despicable regime and then behaves more or less exactly like his predecessors’. (p.431)
The highly debatable merit of voting aside, anyone with an ounce of awareness will accept pretty much everything Brand has to say above. Put simply, he’s right – this is the current state of people, planet and politics. A catastrophic environmental collapse is very rapidly approaching with nothing substantive being done to make it better and everything being done to make it worse.
Even if we disagree with everything else he has to say, every sane person has an interest in supporting Brand’s call to action to stop this corporate genocide and biocide. A thought we might bear in mind when we subsequently turn to the corporate media reaction.
I’m always amused when I see people commentating on the “liberal bias” in the media. It is usually followed by a trenchant analysis of at least one instance of how news corporation X has finally gone off the rails and has lost all of its journalistic integrity blah blah blah.
Sitting where I am, in political and social Outlier-ville, I have to smile to myself. This might be a case of “liberal bias” but when you take a step back and look at what the media does, it is fairly easy to discern that mouldering just under the surface of “a vibrant free-press’ is a well tuned, self-selecting propaganda apparatus that exists only to serve the agenda of the state.
Oh sure we like to make fun of Pravada and point to those poor brain-washed induhviduals. Ironically we here in the west have even a better system in place, that masquerades as independent and unbiased, yet in the final analysis, is just as credible as the Pravda we like to point at and say “boo”.
Of course, using different sources, as I like to do, such as Counterpoint, Alter.net, Al-Jazeera, Tom’s Dispatch, et cetera often gets me into trouble as people who are firmly ensconced in the propaganda model get bent out shape fairly quickly when exposed to a non-official point of view.
Explaining the western version of the Propaganda model is what Media Lens does best:
The essential feature of corporate media performance is that elite interests are routinely favoured and protected, while serious public dissent is minimised and marginalised. The BBC, the biggest and arguably the most globally respected news organisation, is far from being an exception. Indeed, on any issue that matters, its consistently biased news coverage – propped up, by a horrible irony, with the financial support of the public whose interests it so often crushes – means that BBC News is surely the most insidious propaganda outlet today.
Consider, for example, the way BBC editors and journalists constantly portray Nato as an organisation that maintains peace and security. During the recent Nato summit in Wales, newsreader Sophie Raworth dutifully told viewers of BBC News at Ten:
‘Nato leaders will have to try to tackle the growing threat of the Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria, and decide what steps to take next. (September 4, 2014)
As we have since seen, the ‘steps’ that were taken ‘next’ meant a third war waged by the West in Iraq in just 24 years.
The same edition of BBC News at Ten relayed, uncontested, this ideological assertion from Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen:
‘Surrounded by an arc of crisis, our alliance, our transatlantic community, represents an island of security, stability and prosperity.’
In fact, the truth is almost precisely the reverse of Rasmussen’s assertion. Nato is a source of insecurity, instability, war and violence afflicting much of the world. True to form, BBC News kept well clear of that documented truth. Nor did it even remind its audience of the awkward fact that Rasmussen, when he was Danish prime minister, had once said:
‘Iraq has WMDs. It is not something we think, it is something we know.’
That was embarrassing enough. But also off the agenda was any critical awareness that the Nato summit’s opening ceremony was replete with military grandeur and pomposity of the sort that would have elicited ridicule from journalists if it had taken place in North Korea, Iran or some other state-designated ‘enemy’. Media Lens challenges you to watch this charade without dissolving into laughter or switching it off before reaching the end.
Oh Aunte-Beebs, say it ain’t so. Of course, it gets worse –
“Of course, it is ironic that leading politicians constantly strive to foster a media image of themselves as caring, truthful and fearless. In reality, they are all beholden to powerful business and financial interests, and even afraid to step out of line; notably so when it comes to criticism of Israel. Political ‘leaders’ are virtual puppets with little, if any, autonomy; condemned to perform an elite-friendly role that keeps the general population as passive and powerless as possible. The corporate media plays an essential role here, as the British historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis observes:
‘The evidence is overwhelming that BBC and commercial television news report on Britain’s foreign policy in ways that resemble straightforward state propaganda organs. Although by no means directed by the state, their output might as well be; it is not even subtle. BBC, ITV and Channel 5 news simply report nothing seriously critical on British foreign policy; the exception is the odd report on Channel 4 news. Television news – the source of most people’s information – provides the most extreme media distortion of [foreign policy news coverage], playing an even greater ideological function than the press.’ (Mark Curtis, ‘Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World’, Vintage, London, 2003, page 379).
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, the former Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad, recently related that:
‘there is tendency for the Western media to claim that it is neutral and unbiased, when in fact it’s clearly propagating a one-sided, quite nationalistic and selfish view of its own interventions in these countries.’
‘If you want to accuse the US military of an atrocity, you have to make sure that every last element of your story is absolutely accurate, because if you make one mistake, you will be vilified and your career will be over. And we have seen that happen to some people in recent years. But if you want to say that some group of militants in Yemen or Afghanistan or Iraq have committed an atrocity, your story might be completely wrong, but nobody will vilify you and nobody will ever really check it out.’
The Dutch journalist Karel Van Wolferen recently wrote an insightful piece exposing the state-corporate propaganda that is so crucial to keeping the public in a state of general ignorance and passivity. There ‘could hardly be a better time than now’, he said, to study the effects of this ‘insidious propaganda’ in the so-called ‘free world’. He continued:
‘What makes propaganda effective is the manner in which, through its between-the-lines existence, it inserts itself into the brain as tacit knowledge. Our tacit understanding of things is by definition not focused, it helps us understand other things. The assumptions it entails are settled, no longer subject to discussion.’
Much of this propaganda originates in centres of power, notably Washington and London, and ‘continues to be faithfully followed by institutions like the BBC and the vast majority of the European mainstream media’. Thus, BBC News endlessly trumpets Western ‘values’ and takes as assumed that parliamentary ‘democracy’ represents the range of acceptable public opinion and sensible discourse. Underpinning this elite-supporting news framework is a faith-based ideology which Van Wolferen calls ‘Atlanticism’. This doctrine holds that:
‘the world will not run properly if the United States is not accepted as its primary political conductor, and Europe should not get in America’s way.’
‘Propaganda reduces everything to comic book simplicity’ of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.
So, really – tell me more about how about how damn liberally-biased our media is despite the fact that in the bigger picture, the majority of it (news media) is serving the propagandist needs of the state.
Media Lens is an invaluable source to in describing and measuring how far the “respectable media” kowtows to state and corporate interests. This excerpt from their latest media alert illustrates the mendacity that is common place in what is considered to be “acceptable journalistic practices”.
“The key to what is precisely wrong with corporate journalism is explained in this nutshell by the US commentator Michael Parenti:
‘Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for “objectivity”. Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.’
Examples of bias towards the orthodoxy of Western power are legion every day of the week. On January 30 this year, David Loyn reported for BBC News at Ten from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan as US troops prepared to withdraw from a blood-strewn occupation. Standing beside a large US military plane, he intoned:
‘For all of the lives lost and money spent, it could have been so much better.’
‘After 12 years, £390bn, and countless dead, we leave poverty, fraud – and the Taliban in Afghanistan…60 per cent of children are malnourished and only 27 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water…Elections are now so fraudulent as to rob the winners of legitimacy.’
The damning conclusion?
‘Faced with these multiple disasters western leaders simply ignore Afghan reality and take refuge in spin that is not far from deliberate lying.’
BBC News has been a major component of this gross deception of the public.”
Hmm. What is troubling is that many outside of the UK look to BBC as a “better” source of news that is more reliable that what is available in North America.
Admittedly, I would take BBC reporting hands down over anything from the propaganda mill known as Fox News, but how many people have the time to really sink their teeth into multiple news sources? How many people even care about the news that much anymore?
I’m shocked that so many people have consciously chosen ignorance as their strategy for dealing with the news and world events. Denial of the world ‘out there’ can only lead to insular thinking and simplistic interpretations of complex problems. We need more people, not less, grounded in rationality with a gist of how the world actually works. How can you effect change in the world if you know nothing of how it works?
It is important to periodically remind yourself of who the corporate media serves and how that focus bends what is reported and how it is reported into the fantastical shapes we observe today. Critical thinking, news triangulation and a healthy dose of skepticism are all required to make sense of what is actually happening in the world. One of the sources that I have found helpful in my quest for media awareness have been by the folks over at Media Lens – David Edwards and David Cromwell.
“Media Lens focuses on the media in the UK mostly, but the same lessons can be applied to your media consumption. I excerpt from their latest alert and recommend that you subscribe and support these two journalists who have the audacity to authentically practice their trade.
“In the last year, Media Lens has dissected corporate media performance on a host of topics including climate change, Iraq, the death of Hugo Chávez, the case for challenging corporate journalism, Israel and Palestine, WikiLeaks, Syria, Libya, the pharmaceuticals industry, US imperialism, the Leveson inquiry, North Korea, the NHS and Iran. We also publish Cogitations which look at the philosophy and spirituality underpinning our work, issues which are so often ignored and even derided by progressive commentators.
We were asked recently by author and journalist Ian Sinclair to contribute to a roundtable discussion for Peace News on the pros and cons of working with, or in, the ‘mainstream’ media. We first pointed out that we should dispense with the misleading term ‘mainstream’. Why? Because the corporate media is a powerful but mostly extremist fringe that supports the humanly-catastrophic goals of a ruthless, unaccountable elite. This system is not in business to alert humanity to the real risk of climate catastrophe and the need for immediate action to avert disaster. The corporate media has a proven, indeed astonishing, track record of suppressing public awareness on these crucial issues.
For years, left and green activists have argued that we should work with, or within, corporate media to reach a wider public. And for a long time the argument seemed reasonable. But after decades of accelerating planetary devastation and rapidly declining democracy, the argument has weakened to the point of collapse. By a process of carefully-rationed corporate ‘inclusion’, the honesty, vitality and truth of both the greens and the left have been contained, trivialised and stifled.
But while the internet remains relatively open, there is a brief window to break away from the corporate media, to build something honest, radical and publicly accountable. The first step is to build public motivation and momentum for this shift by exposing the corporate media for what it is. Climate crisis is already upon us, with much worse likely to come. The stakes almost literally could not be higher.”
Orwell day was January 21st, and of course, I missed it. Media Lens did not miss the boat and has an article up laced with the sort of irony and breathtaking self-deception that Orwell fought against.
“January 21, ‘Orwell Day’, marked the 63rd anniversary of George Orwell’s death, Steven Poole notes in the Guardian. To commemorate 110 years since Orwell was born (June 25), BBC radio will broadcast a series about his life while Penguin will publish a new edition of his essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. This essay, Poole comments, is Orwell’s ‘most famous shorter work, and probably the most wildly overrated of any of his writings’.
Why ‘wildly overrated’?
‘Much of it is the kind of nonsense screed against linguistic pet hates that anyone today might compose in a green-text email to the newspapers.’
The essay’s ‘assault on political euphemism’, it seems, ‘is righteous but limited’, while its more general attacks ‘on what he perceives to be bad style are often outright ridiculous, parading a comically arbitrary collection of intolerances’.
This is strong stuff indeed. Was one of Orwell’s most highly-regarded essays really about venting ‘linguistic pet hates’? The answer is in the essay. Orwell noted that the writing he admired was generally provided by ‘some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style’.
As for the mainstream productions of his day – the ‘pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos’:
‘one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them’.
This typically dramatic and disturbing passage makes clear that Orwell was not focusing on ‘linguistic pet hates’. Rather, he was motivated to resist a process of social dehumanisation facilitated by ‘imitative’ and ‘lifeless’ communication, by a toxic ‘orthodoxy’. He underlined his reasoning:
‘I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.’
If this was a crucial issue in Orwell’s time, it is even more so today.”
Follow the link and read the rest of the article. If it doesn’t inspire you to triangulate your news reading, I’m not sure what will.
This is the good part of an article off the Media Lens website –
the piece gets a bit loopy so if you want to read the rest please follow the link provided. The most important idea is one mentioned by Noam Chomsky, his observations give structure to the question “What is the rationale behind the choices our media makes?”
The Mystery of the Missing Clocks – By: David Edwards
The truth peeks out at us from the most unexpected places. It can be seen, for example, in the empty spaces where one might otherwise hope to find a clock in shops. The average retailer doesn’t approve of customers clock-watching – they might realise they have something more important to do and cut short their shopping trips.
Noam Chomsky crafted a small skeleton key to understanding the world:
‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’ (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, New York, 1992, p.79)
Chomsky argues, for example, that George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 were embraced as great novels, and standard school texts, not because they were particularly profound, but because they attacked the Soviet Union:
‘Fame, Fortune and Respect await those who reveal the crimes of official enemies; those who undertake the vastly more important task of raising a mirror to their own societies can expect quite different treatment. George Orwell is famous for Animal Farm and 1984, which focus on the official enemy. Had he addressed the more interesting and significant question of thought control in relatively free and democratic societies, it would not have been appreciated, and instead of wide acclaim, he would have faced silent dismissal or obloquy.’ (Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill And Wang, 1992, p.372)
Hans von Sponeck raised a mirror to our society in his book A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq (Bergahn Books, 2006). In meticulous detail, he described how American and British policymakers had knowingly caused mass death through sanctions in Iraq from 1990-2003:
‘At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical and mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-for-Food Programme.’ (p.144)
The effects were catastrophic:
‘The [US-UK] hard-line approach prevailed, with the result that practically an entire nation was subjected to poverty, death and destruction of its physical and mental foundations.’ (p.161)
This being the key reason why ‘the number of excess deaths of children under five during 1991-8 was between 400,000 and 500,000’. (p.165)
I have interviewed von Sponeck several times. He could hardly be more rational and restrained, hardly better qualified to comment – he ran the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Baghdad from 1998-2000 before resigning in protest at the effects of sanctions. His book, published three years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, could hardly have been more topical. But it has never been reviewed by any UK newspaper. It has been mentioned once, in a single paragraph, in a single mainstream article in the Independent.
Thus we find empty spaces in the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and the Telegraph where detailed, positive reviews and interviews analysing von Sponeck’s ‘clock’ should have been. We need to know the time – shops are there to help, are they not? And we need to know how and why our government caused the deaths of half a million children in Iraq. But there are no clocks to be found – just empty space!