Systemic what? Silence in the media. Illusive freedom.

14 10 2008

Selection for obedience.

While we keep hearing again and again of “systemic” problems about the way people have behaved in the banks, there is a more pervasive and silenced systemic problem in the media. In his preface to Animal Farm, Literary Censorship in England, Orwell wrote:

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” (1)

After published an article on intellectual cleansing in the media (2), in which they comment on the sacking of a journalist for comparing the tactics of a supermarket to those of the Gestapo. Jonathan Cook (3) a professional journalist responded:

“There are many stages in the early career of journalists designed to handicap and weed out those who do not conform or who question the framework within which they work … If they are to survive long, writers must quickly learn what the news desk expects of them. Newcomers are given a small amount of leeway to adopt angles that are “not suitable”. But they are also expected to learn quickly why such articles are unsuitable and not to propose similar reports again.”

“Journalists, of course, see this lengthy process of recruitment as necessary to filter for “quality” rather than to remove those who fail to conform or whose reporting threatens powerful elites. The media are supposedly applying professional standards to find those deserving enough to reach the highest ranks of journalism … the effect is that the media identify the best propagandists to promote their corporate values.”

“It is notable that there is not a single large media institution dedicated to providing a platform to those who dissent or express non-conformist views, however talented they are as journalists. Only at the very margins of what are considered to be left-wing publications such as the Guardian and the Independent can such voices very occasionally be heard, and even then only in the comment pages (see below).”

Cook mentions the work of Fisk, Monbiot and Pilger as the only examples in the mainstream press of radical journalists and even with these “their host newspapers subtly encourage a view of them as crackpots, armchair revolutionaries and whingers”

A system that selects for obedience and subordination limits the presence of dissenting views, propagandises through omission and in turn crafts a media that supports the establishment. This is a problem that is protected by the veneer of objectivity and freedom in a media system that weeds out those who express views that challenge the status quo.

In the media. On the weekend.

Mainstream papers supposedly differ ideologically, but frequently present the same stories in very similar ways. It is often the use or absence of just one word that can influence the way a reader may perceive an event or situation. Take for example the Independent last Sunday in an article titled ‘Palin: An Abuse of Office’, Rupert Cornwell when commenting on US Presidential battle writes:

“…Mrs Palin has led the personal attacks on Mr Obama, focusing on his links with the 1960s radical militant William Ayers”.

What links? And what kind of links? Has the Independent oS proved these links? In the 1960s Obama was just a child and Ayers (4) is now a Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Yes Obama does have links with Ayers, he served on the board of Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a large education-related non-profit organisation that Ayers was instrumental in starting. Crornwell’s sentence does not represent the facts and misleads the reader.

On turning four pages I reach a statement by the Independent oS, a so called liberal paper, titled “The green lining to this chaos”. Now, for me this really does highlight the effectiveness of the selection system. After referring to their “Green List”, a list of 100 people they think have contributed the most to the UK’s environmental movement (a list that sees David Cameron at number 40) they write:

“The argument here is one of balance, which is why we do not agree with the anti-capitalists who see the economic crisis as a chance to impose their utopia, whether of a socialist or eco-fundamentalist kind. Most of us in this country enjoy long and fulfilling lives thanks to liberal capitalism: we have no desire to live in a yurt under a workers’ soviet”

I’m not going to start an argument about capitalism being the disease for there isn’t the space – the alternative is highly complex and has never existed. But I will argue that the Independent oS does not understand the fundamental roots of our global environmental problem and that green capitalism will likely not be the solution.


A prerequisite to democracy is a media system that is free, in which facts are reported objectively and all opinions from anti-establishment through statist to neo-liberalism are reflected in professional journalism. The only means to move away from the rigid bureaucratic institutions that constitute our mainstream press may first be to diffuse recognition of the problem, support local participatory alternatives and create a businesses model that eliminates dependency on advertising revenue (like what is attempting).

1) George Orwell’s ‘Literary Censorship in England’







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