Interview: David Edwards and David
Cromwell, Editors' of Media Lens: 15th
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
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
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
What advantages had online publishing
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
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 www.fair.org
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
For more information visit www.medialens.org