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Medialens, Monbiot, Wilby, Milne November 28, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism, Medialens.

[Update: George Monbiot's reply to Medialens
concerning this blog post - Robert Shone]

Medialens stress that journalists should “subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism” (see footnote 1). They’ve attacked Guardian columnist George Monbiot for not being more critical of the Guardian.(2) Yet, in a single Guardian article (The Lies of the Press), Monbiot wrote more words criticising the Guardian than Medialens wrote criticising the New Statesman (NS) in their entire run of NS columns.(3)

A striking example of Medialens’s double standards occurred in early 2005.The NS published a special “Iraq” edition to coincide with the “first” “democratic” elections in Iraq. Its general tone was establishment-friendly, eg:

“The democracy the Iraqis are about to get will be infinitely preferable to Saddam’s odious tyranny.”

“The first democratic elections in Iraq’s history ought to be an occasion for celebration…”

“If they get a measure of democracy, at least something will have been salvaged. Why begrudge them that?”

(Leader, New Statesman, 31 January 2005)

This seemed a good opportunity for Medialens to practise what they preached. They’d already criticised the media (but not the New Statesman) for being “almost unanimous in describing the elections as democratic and free” (NS, 24/1/05). Now they could use their NS column to criticise the magazine and its editor, Peter Wilby.

In fact, Medialens went uncharacteristically quiet at this point. No criticism of the NS in their remaining NS columns (and no “alerts” prompting readers to complain to Wilby). The Medialens editors were asked (on their message board) why they didn’t devote a column to criticising the NS on this matter. They responded:

The New Statesman column is a tiny window of opportunity (600 words every 3 to 4 weeks, at £60 a time, by the way) for us to raise important media issues [...] one might get away with the kind of full-frontal assault you’re suggesting once, but probably not more than once. (Medialens editors, Medialens message board post, February 2005)

In other words, Medialens were concerned about holding onto their column. Direct “full-frontal” criticism of the NS would endanger that. Their concern was understandable, although they’d previously asked George Monbiot if he’d considered resigning as Guardian columnist in protest at the Guardian’s performance over Iraq (Alert, 2/12/02). Presumably it didn’t occur to the Medialens editors to ditch their own column over the NS’s performance.

There’s a further twist to this “remarkable” hypocrisy. The Guardian’s comment editor, Seumas Milne, put the NS to shame by writing perhaps the only UK mainstream piece which portrayed the Iraqi “democratic” elections as a sham. You’d think Medialens would’ve approved, but Milne’s article committed the sin of not criticising the Guardian. David Edwards (Medialens co-editor) promptly wrote a letter to the Guardian complaining about it, and then criticised Milne in his NS column:

The Guardian comment editor, Seumas Milne, has even had the gall to complain that the elections “are routinely described by the BBC as Iraq’s first free and democratic elections”.

How convenient to take a free shot at the media’s favourite punchbag, when not just Milne’s own paper, but his entire industry, is pumping out exactly the same crass propaganda. (Medialens editors, New Statesman, 24 January, 2005)

This was just one week before the NS “Iraq” special edition which “pumped out” more of this “crass propaganda” – at which point the Medialens editors apparently decided to be less vocal on the issue. One of Medialens’s rationalisations for not criticising the NS was as follows:

But the NS really is small beer, we’ve generally used our precious 600 words every 3 or 4 weeks to take on much bigger media and issues. (Medialens editors, Medialens message board post, February 2005)

So, Seumas Milne was judged by Medialens to be higher than the NS in the hierarchy of “serious wrongdoers worthy of Medialens’s criticism”? It’s curious that apart from a different emphasis on criticising the media, Medialens’s NS column (24 Jan 2005) is very similar to Milne’s Guardian column (13 Jan 2005) – the same Tony Blair quote in the opening paragraph, exactly the same points about elections conducted by puppet regimes, the Fallujah refugees unable to vote, government crackdowns on al-Jazeera and press, the absence of monitoring by election observers, etc.

One wonders why Medialens were so hostile towards Milne [the Medialens editors continued their rant on their message board, accusing Milne of taking "risk-free swipes" at the BBC, and of having a "superficial" output compared to John Pilger's, etc(4)]. Even allowing for Medialens’s particular focus on “failings of the liberal media” it seems a strange overreaction.


1. The exact wording from their Alert (3/5/03) is: “The astonishing result is that we know of not one journalist writing in the mainstream willing to subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism”. Elsewhere, they’ve written: “What we’ve said is that we think dissident journalists can and should do more to draw attention to the failings of their host media in those media and outside.” (Medialens message board, February 2005) – note added 7/12/2008

2. For example, the Medialens editors accuse Monbiot of being “unwilling to criticise the Guardian’s role in limiting public understanding of our government’s responsibility for crimes against humanity” [Alert, 10/12/02]. Recently, they’ve written that Monbiot “continues to be used as a fig leaf to cover the Guardian’s failure to challenge power” [Alert, 26/11/08]

3. I found only two cases (27/10/03, 23/2/04) of Medialens criticising the NS in their run of NS columns. Both very brief (total word-count of criticisms = 108). Monbiot’s criticism of the Guardian in his Guardian article is 116 words long.

4. The Medialens editors wrote: “You can’t possibly compare Milne’s occasional, superficial comments on the media with [Pilger's] body of really excellent work challenging the system.” (Medialens message board post, 21 January 2005)

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