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[casi] Chaining The Watchdog - Part 3 (fwd)

Dear Listmembers,
Apologies that this article is ``off subject'' but I feel that there
will be sufficient interest to warrant my posting it here. Many
of you will know about Medialens and their work in producing
excellent media alerts which have focussed on Iraq and the invasion
recently. I'm posting their latest article here because I think
it offers a vision for something really excellent and hopeful
and we all need hope, especially right now.

Marginalise the Mainstream!

best wishes,

+  Fay Dowker                       Physics Department               +
+                                   Queen Mary, University of London +
+  E-mail:       Mile End Road,                  +
+  Phone:  +44-(0)20-7882-5047      London E1 4NS.                   +
+  Fax:    +44-(0)20-8981-9465                                       +
+  Homepage:          +

>From Thu May 8 10:09:44 2003 Date: Thu, 8 May
2003 01:08:28 +1000 From: Medialens Media Alerts
<> To: Fay Dowker <> Subject:
Chaining The Watchdog - Part 3

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

May 7, 2003


Mainstream Credibility Is Dead ^÷ Long Live The ^—Netizens^“!

^”In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had
better aim high.^‘ (Thoreau)

Friendly Fascism

In the first two parts of this 3-part series, we showed how systemic
media bias constitutes one of many "dangerous ideas" excluded from the
media as a result of "collusion between the press and the
powerful". We suggested that watered down versions of dissent are used
to give the impression of open and honest debate on media bias where
in fact there is almost none.

The destruction of freedom of speech in the media is not just another
issue. The mass media is not simply a window on the world; it is the
means by which information relating to problems and solutions is
communicated to the public for consideration. If these means are
biased to ignore problems that conflict with the needs of established
interests, then society will be unable to solve or even recognise such

Global society may, for example, thrust its collective hand into the
flame of climate change and, thanks to the systemic bias of the
corporate mass media and corporate politics, leave it there. Last year
the US National Academy of Sciences, America's most august scientific
body, warned of a global climate holocaust, perhaps within the next
ten years. Barely a flicker of concern registered across the media ^÷
the story was mentioned in passing and forgotten. Vast fortunes can be
built on the back of responses to Iraqi and Korean missile
^—threats^“, but not in response to global warming - the media knows
which problems to emphasise.

The same impassivity in the face of catastrophe has of course long
been a feature of the media response to Western abuses of humanity in
the Third World. Jeremy Vine recently suggested on the BBC^“s Politics
Show that the Anglo-American failure to discover any weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq would be ^”toe-curlingly embarrassing for the
politicians^‘ (The Politics Show, BBC1, May 4, 2003). To have launched
an illegal invasion, conquest, occupation and devastation of a
defenceless Third World country, killing thousands, on a completely
false pretext would be merely ^”embarrassing^‘, according to the
BBC. The Politics Show may be broadcast from a bright, high-tech
studio ^÷ with Vine looking relaxed in dress-down smart-casual - but
this is exactly what Bertram Gross had in mind when he talked of
^”friendly fascism^‘.

Given the reality of systemic media bias, the ban on discussing the
problem, and the role of this bias in facilitating vast crimes and
catastrophes in the world, to what extent should honest journalists be
willing to participate in this system? Would we have participated in
the Nazi press? Would we have been willing to write for the Soviet
state newspaper, Pravda? Should we be willing to participate in a
system that has, for example, buried the truth of genocidal Western
sanctions responsible for the deaths of one million Iraqi civilians?

With his usual honesty, Tolstoy discussed the bad consequences of good
people participating in bad systems ^÷ here, government, but his
comments apply equally to the modern mass media:

^”It is harmful because enlightened, good, and honest people by
entering the ranks of the government give it a moral authority which,
but for them, it would not possess. If the government were made up
entirely of that coarse element ^÷ the violators, self-seekers, and
flatterers ^÷ who form its core, it could not continue to exist. The
fact that honest and enlightened people are found who participate in
the affairs of the government gives government whatever it possesses
of moral prestige.^‘ (Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and
Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p.192)

While it might be reasonable for honest journalists to enter the ranks
of the media, it is surely not reasonable for them to do so without
drawing attention to the lethal corruption of the system employing
them. As Tolstoy goes on to write, the danger is that such journalists
^”only say what they are allowed to say, and ^÷ by that very silence
about what is most important ^÷ convey to the public distorted views
which just suit the government^‘, or the media system.

We have often admired the work of, for example, George Monbiot, Robert
Fisk and Greg Palast (Fisk, in particular, has been an inspiration
throughout the Iraq crisis), but their failure to subject the media ^÷
including the media entities hosting their work ^÷ to sustained
systemic criticism is deeply damaging, we believe, for the reasons
identified by Tolstoy. The problem is that the public identify these
writers as being ^—about as good as it gets^“ - if even they are
silent on systemic media corruption, how much of a problem can it be?

Assuming that it is vital to challenge the mainstream media system,
and assuming that this system will not itself host such a critique,
what options are open to people determined to make such a challenge?

Every Citizen A Reporter - OhmyNews Shows The Way

It seems to us that there is growing evidence to show that dissidents
may be in a position, perhaps for the first time, to mount a serious
challenge to the stranglehold of state-corporate power on the public

>From the early days of the nineteenth century, business and
 government have been resolutely determined to stamp out the free
 expression of ideas. The first resort were the seditious libel and
 blasphemy laws, which essentially outlawed all challenges to the
 status quo. When these failed to have the desired effect, elites
 turned to newspaper stamp duty and taxes on paper and advertisements
 to price radical journals out of the market. Between 1789 and 1815,
 stamp duty was increased by 266 per cent, helping to ensure, as Lord
 Castlereagh put it, that ^”persons exercising the power of the
 press^‘ would be ^”men of some respectability and property^‘ (Quoted,
 James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility - The
 Press And Broadcasting in Britain, p.13). The point being that these
 more ^”respectable^‘ owners of the press ^”would conduct them in a
 more respectable manner than was likely to be the result of pauper
 management^‘, as Cresset Pelham observed at the time.(Ibid)

This state-orchestrated financial war on the radical working class
press was reinforced by the natural refusal of advertisers to support
radicalism. In 1817, for example, Cobbett^“s popular Political
Register received a total of three advertisements, although its
advertising rates were less than one-hundredth of that of
^”respectable^‘ rival periodicals.

Liberal hyperbole notwithstanding, the question for those who govern
us has always been, not how to liberate the press, but how to contain
it. The Lord Chancellor put it succinctly in 1834:

^”The only question to answer, and the only problem to solve, is how
they [the people] shall read in the best manner; how they shall be
instructed politically, and have political habits formed the most safe
for the constitution of the country.^‘ (Ibid, p.25)

With the industrialisation of the press, and the associated rise in
the cost of setting up and distributing national newspapers, economic
pressures ensured that the radical press was quickly pushed to the
margins. Ben Bagdikian notes that when the first edition of his book,
The Media Monopoly, was published in 1983, 50 giant firms dominated
almost every mass medium - in 1990, this number had shrunk to just 23.

Nevertheless, today, the internet appears to have raised the
possibility that mass media might at last be owned by people other
than ^”men of some respectability and property^‘.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Howard French reports of
South Korea:

^”For years, people will be debating what made this country go from
conservative to liberal, from gerontocracy to youth culture and from
staunchly pro-American to a deeply ambivalent ally - all seemingly
overnight... But for many observers, the most important agent of
change has been the Internet.^‘ (French, ^—Online Newspaper Shakes Up
Korean Politics^“, The New York Times, March 6, 2003)

South Korea is ^”wired^‘ ^÷ it has fast broadband connections in fully
70 percent of all households. "The internet is so important here," a
Western diplomat in Seoul says. "This is the most online country in
the world. The younger generation get all their information from the
web. Some don't even bother with TVs. They just download the
programmes." (Jonathan Watts, ^—World^“s first internet president logs
on: Web already shaping policy of new South Korean leader^“, The
Guardian, February 24, 2003)

As elections approached in South Korea last year, more and more people
began to get their information and political analysis from internet
news services instead of from the country's overwhelmingly
conservative newspapers. The most influential internet service,
OhmyNews, registered 20 million page views per day around election
time last December. In March, the service still averaged around 14
million visits daily, in a country of 40 million people. OhmyNews was
started three years ago by Oh Yeon Ho, 38, who says:

"My goal was to say farewell to 20th-century Korean journalism, with
the concept that every citizen is a reporter... The professional news
culture has eroded our journalism, and I have always wanted to
revitalize it. Since I had no money, I decided to use the Internet,
which has made this guerrilla strategy possible."

French explains the strategy:

^‘Although the staff has grown to 41, from the beginning the
electronic newspaper's unusual concept has been to rely mostly on
contributions from ordinary readers all over the country, who send
dispatches about everything from local happenings and personal musings
to national politics.^‘

Something comparable happened spontaneously to Media Lens on a much
smaller scale during the Iraq crisis ^÷ thousands of readers began
posting and reading the best and most current reporting on the crisis,
together with their views and local experiences, on the Media Lens
message board. As a result, readers have often been able to access
accurate versions of a story before it appears in the mainstream
media, so effectively neutralising much mainstream propaganda. When
they see a story reported by the media, it is now reflexive for many
readers to check what they have read and seen on the internet ^÷ which
often reveals key details and perspectives omitted by the
mainstream. For example, the famous toppling of the statue of Saddam
Hussein in Baghdad on April 9 appeared to us, from watching BBC and
ITN news, to have been cheered by enormous crowds ^÷ we quickly
learned that this was not the case from our own message board.

Relying almost solely on ordinary readers in this way, OhmyNews helped
generate a huge national movement that resulted in the election of Roh
Moo Hyun, a reformist lawyer, last December. Before OhmyNews got
involved, the new president had been a relative unknown. After his
election, he granted OhmyNews the first interview he gave to any
Korean news organization. ^”Netizens won,^‘ Oh says of the
election. ^”Traditional media lost.^‘ (Mark L. Clifford and Moon
Ihlwan, ^—Korea: The Politics of Peril^“, Business Week, February 24,

Creating A Commotion

This is a remarkable story of tremendous importance to anyone
interested in challenging the state-corporate control of what we know
and think about the world. The enormous success of OhmyNews, together
with our own humble experience, suggests that internet media relying
^”mostly on contributions from ordinary readers all over the country^‘
represent a truly potent democratising force.

It seems clear to us that we should all ^÷ media consumers and
progressive journalists alike ^÷ be committing as much of our
resources and energy as possible to these kinds of projects. As
readers, we casually hand over our money to the corporate
establishment, taking it for granted that honest, alternative media
should be freely available on the web and presumably need no
funding. As journalists, we happily plot our career paths through the
least awful newspapers and magazines, reaping the rewards, while
averting our eyes from the problems outlined by Tolstoy.

We need to start turning away from corporate mainstream media and
towards democratic citizens^“ media en masse. Howard Zinn gives an
idea of what is required:

^”Change will come through tumultuous movements around the country,
movements that are so strong that whatever party is holding power has
to respond. The future will be determined by whether citizens organise
and mobilise and create a commotion.^‘ (Zinn, Quoted New Statesman,
November 1, 1996)

We received the report on OhmyNews from Edward Herman who followed up
his mention of the story with this email commenting on how it had been

^”In a recent ZNet Commentary I mentioned the South Korean Internet
success story, OhmyNews, and got little or no feedback from the
readers of that article. This puzzles me, as the left in this country
is overwhelmed by the power of the mainstream media, and OhmyNews is a
startling illustration of the possibilities of the Internet for
developing an alternative news source. It is true that South Korea is
different, and has, among other differences, 70% of computer-e-mail
users on broadband and with a very Internet-oriented culture. But the
culture of this country is not stable, broadband is growing in
importance, and I can^“t see any good reason why the SK experience
doesn^“t offer a model that we should be thinking about with great
interest and even excitement.^‘ (Herman to Media Lens, April 20, 2003)

We totally agree with Ed Herman. For too long, honest journalists have
worried too much about being marginalised by the mainstream media ^÷
now is the time for readers and journalists to think seriously
themselves about marginalising the mainstream as many people in South
Korea have done. We need to do everything we can to create genuine
alternatives with the power to challenge the corrupt control of the
public mind.

Media Lens began in July 2001 with three people working in our spare
time without resources. After less than two years of activity we have
recently been invited to give interviews by CNN International, BBC
Radio 4, BBC Radio Five Live, the New Statesman and others. We
currently have 12 subscribers within the BBC receiving our Media
Alerts, 12 within the UK government, 5 within the US government, 3
within the Telegraph Group, 2 within the Guardian, and we seem to be
familiar to many in the BBC and elsewhere in the media (the BBC^“s
Newsnight editor, George Entwistle, recently suggested as much to
us). We were recently invited to dinner (on him) by the Guardian^“s
Political Correspondent, and we regularly receive supportive emails
from dissident journalists working inside the Guardian, Observer and

The point is that this impact, however small, has been achieved with
almost zero resources in a media environment dominated by
multi-billion pound corporate giants ^÷ the implications for what
could be achieved with even minimal resources are blindingly obvious
to us.

Our hope is to expand Media Lens to provide an alternative to the
corporate media. Our webmaster is developing an Active News services
^÷ a glorified Media Lens message board whereby netizens (who, as Oh
says, are all reporters now) can post their analyses and background
sources, and exchange ideas, musings and thoughts on news stories and
on the performance of mainstream media.

We also have longer-term plans (dependent on levels of funding) for
the development of a Daily Antidote supplying ^—instant^“ email
responses to the mainstream media^“s distortion of emerging
stories. Our recent Media Alert: ^—Killings At Falluja - The BBC Tells
One Side Of The Story^“ (April 29, 2003 ^÷ see Media Alert Archive, was a trial run of the kind of short, rapid
response we have in mind.

The media, frankly, is not our primary concern. Our concern is to work
towards a society in which rational and compassionate ideas are not
subject to wholesale suppression simply because they interfere with
the fundamentalist ^—pragmatism^“ of maximised profits. We believe
that nothing could be more naÔve than this version of
^—pragmatism^“. We believe that human happiness and well-being are
naturally rooted in concern for others, and that unrestrained egotism
and greed are as devastating to us as individuals as they are to the
world around us.

It is all very well to talk of ^—netizens^“ and alternative media, but
what is really needed is a truly democratic media rooted in generosity
rather than greed, humility rather than self-aggrandising egotism,
compassion rather than selfishness, honesty rather than compromised
^—lesser of two evil^“ careerism. As has been said: ^”What use is a
revolution if our hearts stay the same?^‘

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