Interview: Media Lens

Interview: David Edwards and David Cromwell, Editors' of Media Lens:
15th April 2003

What are the Media Len's prime aims and objectives?

To promote compassionate action in response to suffering and awareness of the causes of that suffering. To indicate how the corporate media contribute to unnecessary suffering. To encourage the public to challenge journalists, to defend their views and arguments. Ultimately, to work towards a more honest mass media that is not owned by, or dependent on, profit-oriented vested interests.

What's the biggest stories you have worked on?

Afghanistan and Iraq.

What positive contribution have you made to media?

We've encouraged readers to question the neutrality of the media and to challenge journalists and editors. We've tried to suggest that the best media in the UK - the Guardian, Observer and Independent - are still fundamentally pro-establishment and, in fact, awful. We've shown that even the most 'liberal' media ignore vitally important voices and arguments that interfere with establishment goals.

Why did you establish the website?

See prime objectives, above. Also, after some years of trying to work with and within the mainstream media, it became clear to both of us that it simply was not possible to tell the truth in the mainstream. The best option seemed to be to attempt to challenge the credibility of the media from outside in the hopes of opening it up, rather than to compromise from within.

What are the biggest challenges?

Trying to maintain a flow of high quality analysis with almost zero resources.

Do you publish everything you receive? Why or why not?

In a debate with journalists and editors, we publish everything they send to us completely unedited, no matter how critical. We're very keen to engage with the media's most powerful criticisms. After all, if they are right in what they are saying then we should shut down and find a more productive way of helping people. We sometimes get boring or waffling responses which we don't bother publishing or replying to, either because it's not interesting or we feel our time is better spent elsewhere. As for submitted articles, we do post a few from time to time if we feel that they are well-written and contribute significantly to the objectives of Media Lens.

Has the War in Iraq increased the public's awareness of MediaLens?

The number of hits and subscribers has increased enormously over the last couple of months - so, yes. A lot of work in Media Alerts over the last 6 months has been on Iraq. This has led to a regular slot in New Statesman, a weekly UK-based news magazine that has a modest circulation of 20,000 or so.

Do you believe the Iraqi people would have been able to overthrow the Sadam Hussein dictatorship, without outside intervention from the collation of the willing?

Of course that's possible - it's happened in any number of countries (think of the former Warsaw Pact countries, for example). At the end of the Gulf War it was suggested that a 'no-drive zone' could have been declared in Iraq by 'the allies' - this could have been enough to facilitate an uprising. There's no doubt that sanctions strengthened Saddam and the people's reliance on him. Remember the biggest fear of the West has been 'losing' Iraq to Iranian-style nationalism, so they've been keen to protect Saddam until a more suitable 'iron fist' could be put in his place.

Describe the similarities and differences in censorship between the U.S, Iraq and U.K?

The US is a profoundly business-controlled society, even more so than Britain. There's little overt censorship - corporate interests +are+ the media and so they determine what does and does not reach people. John Pilger's films are never shown there, for example. Corporate power obviously controls politics - these and other vested interests pressure the media to report in an establishment-friendly way. It really is 'brainwashing under freedom'. It's quite similar in Britain - corporations +are+ the media and the two leading political parties are the left and right wings of the one Big Business Party, and so on. In Iraq it's completely different. In a totalitarian society control is maintained by violence - you don't have to persuade people they're free when they're really not, as here - you just torture and kill any dissidents. Control of the media and what people are able to know about is far more important in an ostensibly democratic society, such as ours.

What main areas for improvement are there in the "mainstream" media?

We need media not dependent for 75% of their revenues on advertisers. We need newspapers and TV stations accountable to the public in some way. We need to know about, and have input on, who sets the news agenda, how and why. We need to know about and interrupt the overwhelming influence of corporate influences on the media through bottom line pressures, advertisers, corporate pressure groups, corporate political parties, and so on. We need to know who runs the media and what their goals are. Who are these people? Where do they come from? What are their interests and affiliations? The public by and large doesn't have a clue about these questions.

What advantages had online publishing offered you?

Instant access to large numbers of people at minimal cost. This has raised the possibility of individuals not motivated by greed or status reaching a mass audience - a first?

What's your background?

David Edwards worked in marketing and management consultancy for large corporations in London before 'retiring' in 1991. He works as a teacher and freelance writer and author. David Cromwell studied physics and astronomy at the University of Glasgow. He has been a researcher in oceanography since 1993. Before that, he spent five years as an exploration geophysicist for Shell, based in the Netherlands. He lives with his partner and two young sons in Southampton.

Given some sensitive issues that you cover, I will assume you occasionally displease some people. Have you ever received death threats?

Out of many thousands of emails and letters, we've had literally 6 or 7 abusive e-mails. One Australian reader offered to perform a surgical operation with our keyboards, but that's as bad as it has got. We try to be restrained and tolerant and try to encourage these traits in our readers. We have no faith whatever in the power of anger and hatred. If people send us abuse, we try to respond with restraint, if at all - we're not into tit for tat abuse. We believe that compassion for others is the key to real progress in human affairs - anger incinerates compassion, it's the destroyer of progressive hopes.

Who are your biggest and most "powerful" supporters?

John Pilger has mentioned us several times in his writing - he's a big supporter of what we're doing. Edward Herman is also very supportive. The Ecologist magazine has often published our work. The New Statesman has started publishing our work, so you could say they're the first supportive mainstream outlet.

Who are your biggest critics?

Nobody in particular - we have debates with journalists who disagree with us.

How many visitors / impressions does your website attract, and how many pages does it contain?

We've had over 180,000 hits (we started July 2001). Last Christmas we'd recorded 100,000 hits.

How would you describe the relationship between online and off-line media?

I think off-line media are beginning to perceive an authentic and powerful threat from online, non-corporate media. The Economist recently reported that many people, particularly young people under 24, are abandoning the mainstream media in droves and are seeking more honest sources online. Our feeling is that offline media are struggling to cope with this new trend.

There is, for example, widespread awareness of Media Lens throughout the press and in the BBC, for example. We have impacted on multi-billion pound media organisations with almost literally zero resources ourselves - that's got to be a sign for future developments.

What are your main achievements?

We've tried to help contribute to a process of making the media part of the problem, rather than a fictional 'neutral' reporter of problems. We've shown people that journalists and editors, often deemed celebrities, can be successfully and powerfully challenged by 'ordinary people'. We've shown that journalists seem competent, well-informed and honest only because they are protected from all serious challenge. When challenged, their arguments have often been astonishingly weak and ill-informed.

What is the best advise you have ever been given?

"Come to an understanding that no matter how it may seem, the root of all suffering is in actuality the desire to accomplish our own benefit and our own aims, and the root of all happiness is the relinquishment of that concern and the desire to accomplish the benefit of others." (Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche).

What else would you like our readers to be aware of?

Starting something like Media Lens isn't as difficult as you might imagine. We'd like to see other media websites springing up in other countries, just as the US-based group, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) at were a major inspiration to us in setting up Media Lens. We've got an extensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section at our website, partly in the hope that others will be encouraged to start their own projects.

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