Through a Lens: Keeping an eye on corporate-driven media

Through a Lens: Keeping an eye on corporate-driven media

Whoever said that nothing much good could ever come from idle chatter over a couple of pints of beer in a pub? Well, it wasn’t David Cromwell and David Edwards that’s for sure. While sitting in the Giddy Bridge pub in Southampton some years ago, they were discussing the issues of the day and the inability or unwillingness of the mainstream media to provide effective reporting on major events. They were pretty frustrated by the whole affair. One thing led to another, and in 2001, they set up the UK-based media watchdog Media Lens.

Cromwell and Edwards were inspired by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent — The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  The book argues that the organisation and control of the media determines what gets printed in newspapers or broadcast by radio and television. Herman and Chomsky explained how dissent from the mainstream is given little, or zero coverage, while governments and big business gain easy access to the public via the media in order to convey their state-corporate messages.

You may ask, so what? If this is true, just what can be done about it anyway? You could try to access alternative news sources from elsewhere, from the net, perhaps. But what about the many millions of people who rely on and accept the authenticity of what they read in newspapers or see on TV news bulletins? The type of information provided by the mainstream media has a direct bearing on the quality of democracy we have.

Indeed, as far back as 1964, the writer Herbert Marcuse in his book One Dimensional Man argued that advanced industrial society integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption, and the mass media played a major role in this process. Left unchecked, the outcome would be an undemocratic, ‘one-dimensional’ society in which the aptitude and ability for critical thought and oppositional behaviour withered away.
In a similar vein, Media Lens was set up to challenge the increasingly centralised, corporate nature of the media, which Cromwell and Edwards believe results in the media acting as a de facto propaganda system for corporate and other establishment interests. According to them, this is not necessarily the result of a conscious conspiracy by the media, but is more a consequence of the structural constraints and commercial impulses that determine the nature of news gathering and reporting.

As a media-watch project, Media Lens offers carefully thought-out criticism of mainstream media bias and censorship, while providing in-depth analysis, media contact details and other resources. Through its website, it highlights inaccuracies and omissions in the media and its failure to provide a true picture of what is happening in the world. It encourages the general population to challenge media managers, editors and journalists who set news agendas that traditionally reflect establishment interests. In doing so, Media Lens hopes to raise public awareness of the underlying systemic failings of the corporate media to report the world around us honestly and accurately.

The two editors regularly produce ‘media alerts’, which highlight perceived incidents of bias and often encourage email or letter-writing campaigns. They frequently engage in dialogue and conduct challenging interviews with senior journalists and media figures. Having the project centred on the internet is crucial. Cromwell says, “When so much of the public is alienated from politics and politicians, we believe the internet provides a tremendous opportunity for the public to get involved in matters of vital importance and debate these issues with journalists.”

Media Lens has been especially active in challenging mainstream reporting of events in Iraq and Afghanistan and on climate change and is keen to highlight the distorting effects on news that advertising, financial interests, ownership and traditional sourcing of news gathering has.

Media Lens is certainly having an impact. In 2007, it received the Gandhi International Peace Award from the Gandhi Foundation.

As you may imagine, however, Media Lens has not gone down well with everyone. Such a resource was always going to be a thorn in the side of certain people. Media Lens and its methods have been criticised by investment banker and ‘Times’ contributor Oliver Kamm, who has said that the organisation is a shrill group of malcontents who exploit the patience of practising journalists and that its practices are pernicious and anti-journalistic.
Alternatively, it would be easy to argue that Media Lens provides a major service to the public. Indeed, that’s what Noam Chomsky has stated. And John Pilger, the veteran journalist and documentary maker, asserted in the UK’s ‘New Statesman’ journal that without the meticulous and humane analysis of Media Lens, the full gravity of the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan might have been consigned to bad journalism's first draft of bad history.
These days, you can tune in to a hundred TV channels and listen to any number of news bulletins, and they will all be reporting on similar stories, saying similar things and relying on similar sources. When TV channels mushroomed, we were promised choice and diversity. We didn’t get it. We got standardisation. That’s because we live in a corporate media-driven age, not an information age. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? The two concepts are often blurred, but there is a world of difference.

(The writer is a UK-based journalist)

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