George Jacob Holyoake
Back in the mid seventies I was working for BBC television in Glasgow when a group called the Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) published a book titled Bad News covering research they had been conducting into bias in the media. It caused such a stir amongst the journalists that I worked with that it prompted me to buy a copy. The problem with the journalists was that they could not accept that the reports they turned in could in any way carry bias.
This year 2009 I have just come across a book written by members of Media Lens, a group of academics and activists who encourage readers to challenge received view of the world presented by major newspapers and broadcasters. Newspeak in the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell exposes the arrogance and servility to power of leading journalists and editors. This recalls George Orwell’s proposed preface to Animal Farm “The sinister fact about literary censorship … is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”. In the 35 intervening years since Bad News technology has changed the ways in which news is delivered increasing the breadth of methods delivery from TV radio and print medium to a whole host of electronic delivery systems which multi-millionaire media moguls have tried, with some success, to monopolise.
However the availability of computing power and the ability of this capacity to be used for the analysis of news corporations’ outputs has meant that much more sophisticated methods and more robust findings can be added to the early pioneer’s headline counts and measurements of column inches.
The archiving of transcripts of reports and comments on newsworthy issues has permitted the use of sophisticated search programmes which improve research accuracy and speed. The use of email to beard the offending journalists on their Blackberrys has added a new level of added scrutiny to the system. Further, and as this book amply illustrates, it is possible to direct readers to the authors’ sources on the internet.
An issue analysed in “Newspeak” is the Israeli operation “Cast Lead” in December 2008 in which they killed 1,400 Palestinians in that Ghetto they call the Gaza Strip. To set the context Edwards and Cromwell refer to a GUMG web page. www.gla.ac.uk/centres/mediagroup/media/israel_excerpt2.pdf. I shall not précis it except in to say that it warns us that the viewers’ basic knowledge of an issue should not be taken for granted.
Of great concern to the authors is the position of the BBC in this conflict with the questions as to whether it is taking sides or has it lost its spine on tricky issues. The contribution by Tim Llewellyn the BBC’s former Middle East correspondent voices his knowledgeable apprehensions on this count at
The distortion of language is taken to issue in Media Lens’ own archived report which forensically dissects the meanings ascribed to “arrested” or “kidnapped” which ironically includes a report by the BBC’s reporter Alan Johnstone who himself had time to ponder the semantic niceties of this conundrum when he himself was arrested/kidnapped.
In order to show that there is clear supporting evidence by official bodies for an alternative perspective you can reference UNHCR report in to the whole mess at
How this was taken up by the BBC is to be found at
Comment on operation Cast Lead from Seumas Milne provides support for a different perspective and is to be found in full at
Excerpts from BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen’s diary of the conflict between Hamas and Israel are to found at
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7822048.stm. Bowen found himself in hot water after heavy pressure on BBC Trust by Zionist groups to which the BBC Trust caved in.
And finally to restore faith in the human race the below article by Noam Chomsky provides a necessary antidote to our pusillanimous guardians at our State Broadcasters. Always remembering that lesser reporters than Bowen will all have taken the message broadcast by the Trust’s deliberations and that is that its own staff cannot trust the BBC’s spineless trust to support them.