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Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 8) – CENSORSHIP January 4, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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This is the last of a series on Medialens (see also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) – it documents their bizarre attempts to rationalise censorship.

A more honest way to censor?

Medialens recently banned at least three people from their board/forum (over the course of a few days), to the consternation of some of their followers. One of the banned, former Reuters and New York Times correspondent, Daniel Simpson, documents what happened to him. Another was banned after posting a link to Daniel’s article on the Medialens message board (it was immediately deleted by the Medialens editors, leaving no trace). A third poster, ‘Max’, was quietly disappeared after a few days of polite, on-topic (but apparently off-message) posts.1

I was banned by Medialens a long time ago (June 2006). More recently, when George Monbiot asked why I was banned, Edwards and Cromwell (the Medialens editors) replied that, “One reason is that he has repeatedly accused us of lying”. To support this (false) claim, they linked to a Media Hell page containing one of a few specific cases in which I rightly accuse them of lying2 in October 2007, over a year after they banned me.

(In fact they’d banned me along with several other people who had challenged their attacks on Iraq Body Count. Their “official” reason at the time was that I was “bombarding” them with posts – another demonstrably false claim.3 “Bombarding” and “hounding” are the most common reasons that Medialens gives for banning people & deleting posts – see below for examples).

Liars?

In addition to being “creative with the truth”, Medialens’s reply to Monbiot was revealing in other ways. They’ve never addressed their falsehood about IBC (mentioned in the Media Hell page they’d linked to) which I’d demonstrated was a knowing falsehood2 – nor have they denied it, apologised for it, or made any attempt to correct the damage done by it. Rather than addressing the matter of substance, they asked Monbiot: “Would you allow Shone to post this kind of thing about you on your website message board, if you had one?”

George Monbiot was probably unaware that the Medialens editors had posted at length (under the pseudonym “Woofles”) in the comments section of the Media Hell page which so offended their sensibilities. On this and a few other Media Hell pages (eg here, here and here) their arguments in the comments section are taken apart by other posters (including Daniel Simpson, aka Raoul) – something you don’t often see on the Medialens board, due to their face-saving censorship.

“Hounding and Destructive”

We banned Raoul Djukanovic/Daniel Simpson from this board for incivility and hounding. (David Edwards, Medialens forum, 12/12/09)

The problem is when the criticism becomes hounding and destructive. (Medialens’s reply to poster ‘Max’, before banning him)

The “hounding and destructive” claim seems to be Medialens’s default justification for suppressing views and removing people. I’m reminded of the reasons that police give for removing campaigners from political conferences, etc.

If you read the censored material (before it’s deleted) you usually find that it’s no more “hounding” or “destructive” than most of what’s allowed. In fact the real “hounding” seems to come from those who support the Medialens editors by demonising those who have been banned or censored. For example, Daniel Simpson was likened to an “extremely obsessive & fanatical stalker“. Medialens’s disciples lined up to label the second recently banned poster (‘Max’) a “troll” and “liar“. One wrote: “I wish you would simply p+++ off.“)

All of this was allowed to stand by the Medialens editors. Occasionally a lone voice of reason would be ignored:

Branding people who disagree with you ‘trolls’ simply promotes ‘group think’ in my view (Medialens message board, 16/12/09)

It’s curious how a lot of the people who go against ML on some subject end up being characterized as “extremely obsessive & fanatical stalkers” – it’s so automatic, it’s practically a natural law around here. (Medialens message board, 1/12/09)

Around the time that Medialens were hyperventilating about my claim that they’d lied, their supporters had coalesced into a mob to attack me: “jumped up little amateurish twerp”, “shoddy and dishonest”, “dishonest and shoddy”, “careless and dishonest”, “a bad liar”, “a troll”, “the prototroll”, “a troll and a spoiler”, “an obvious troll with a grudge”, “a evil little wanker” (by email), “pathological”, “a questionable character”, “a deeply pathetic character”, “a neo-liberal fella (or being paid for by them)”, etc.

Presumably noticing that several long threads attacking me contained about 95% “hounding” and 5% “argument”, George Monbiot intervened with a post suggesting that the Medialens faithful actually read what I’d written (in a blog entry) rather than “simply dismissing or vilifying” me.

Edwards and Cromwell apparently found it neither “hounding” nor “destructive” for someone to be vilified in this way (without being able to respond) on their message board, since they appeared to allow all the insults and character assassinations to stand (with the exception of a few words edited out).

Incidentally, the Medialens editors wrote that they were surprised to see George Monbiot “boosting [my] cause” (whatever that means). More recently, they were happy to smear Monbiot in an article that ZNet refused to publish due to a passage which “implied that a very excellent journalist, George Monbiot, was protecting corporate interests” (in the words of ZNet editor, Michael Albert, who added that “We refuse to give silly and destructive claims and formulations credibility” (posted to Medialens messageboard, 16/7/09).

“Nobody is being censored”

The Medialens editors’ peculiar logic is that they aren’t really censoring anyone because there are “any number of sites” that would host the things that they delete. They’re not suppressing free speech, they assert, because free speech is available elsewhere, and because “virtually 100% free speech is literally a click away” on one of their other forums – unless, like Daniel Simpson or those who challenge Medialens’s attacks on IBC, etc, one happens to be banned from that forum as well.5

The argument that “not-quite-free speech is available at forum B” doesn’t help if you’re being accused in forum A (of, say, “aiding and abetting in war crimes”) – especially if forum A has a much larger audience for spreading the baseless accusations. If the mass media employed Medialens’s argument to rationalise suppression of dissident views, Medialens would no doubt be outraged, with a bad case of adjectivitis.

Edwards and Cromwell have a habit of failing to think through the consequences of their own “logic”. Nobody is ever really censored, since free speech is available somewhere else? So why, one wonders, did Medialens complain bitterly when the Guardian website removed their off-topic post (which was clearly intended to “hound” a Guardian journalist over an old issue). Why weren’t Edwards and Cromwell content to take their beef to their own “B” forum, with its “virtually 100% free speech” almost guaranteed?

Another outstanding piece of Medialens reasoning is that people who have no message-boards of their own shouldn’t criticise Medialens’s censorship:

If you check the websites for FAIR, Monbiot, Pilger and many others, you’ll find they don’t have a board like this allowing messages to be posted without prior approval (or they don’t have message boards at all). Nor do critics like Kamm, Bob Shone and Mike at Media Lens Watch who accuse us of not tolerating dissent. (Medialens message board, 11/12/09)

As for “gagging” you, I guess we could claim IBC are gagging everyone by not having a comparable message board. (Medialens’s reply to a banned poster who’d defended IBC)

Or, as Edwards/Cromwell childishly replied after their censorship and general ignorance on IBC-related matters were revealed in a debate with IBC’s Josh Dougherty: “Where’s your message board, Josh?”. (Here’s another example of such juvenile responses from the Medialens editors – it compares Josh to one of their old girlfriends). Perhaps Medialens’s plan is to save the planet with petty remarks and poor logic? (For an update on this, please see footnote 4).

Manufacture of (bogus) consensus

As noted above, Medialens sometimes (perhaps often?) prevents people from defending themselves against accusations made on an ostensibly open, public message board (which they claim is read by thousands, including influential media folk). They offer bizarre rationalisations, but only when the censorship is exposed – otherwise it happens unnannounced; posts and posters simply disappear.

I first noticed this in 2006 after a number of people had criticised Medialens’s attacks on Iraq Body Count. Before long I realised that at least four such people had been banned (plus another, the former BBC journalist, David Fuller, who was hounded off the board by sneering, personal attacks from compassionate, respectful Medialens disciples). Criticism of Medialens on this topic eventually dwindled because only one person was left to post it – presumably Medialens realised that banning IBC’s Josh Dougherty (the lone remaining dissenter) would be bad PR for them. Confronted with mob-like animosity and remarkable ignorance, Josh eventually stopped posting, and Medialens finally had their no-dissent “consensus”.

A bogus “consensus” is a more serious matter than a biased “alert” (or blog entry, etc). In the latter case, the reader makes an allowance for individual viewpoint (or “bias”). An ostensibly “free”, “open” “consensus” is more comparable to a poll result – it’s seen as more significant than one individual’s opinion. This seems far from trivial in terms of influencing wider debate (see, for example, the Spiral of Silence communication theory). Anyone who witnessed the extension of Medialens’s bogus consensus (eg over IBC) from their message board to other, similar, forums might see a similarity to the kind of group-think encouraged by mass-media hysteria-rags. The real problem occurs when a “consensus” becomes resistant to facts. (In the Medialens/IBC context, some of the resisted facts are listed here and here).

‘New media’ censorship – stupid analogies

Medialens once gave the analogy of a “living room” for their message board. Why should they allow disruptive types into their living room, they asked. Someone pointed out that when Medialens put signs in their “living room” window accusing antiwar campaigners of “actively aiding and abetting in war crimes“, they should expect their polite “living room” ambience to be “disrupted” by demands that they remove their false accusations. (The person who pointed this out was banned at some point).

They no longer appear to use the ‘living room’ analogy. Instead they’ve opted for the ‘meeting hall’:

You couldn’t really have a climate denial fanatic at a Greenpeace meeting organising a climate change campaign endlessly insiting (sic) that the whole basis of the campaign was wrong. [...] You’d find a way to stop the disruption. (Medialens message board, 18/12/09)

Of course, “disruption” in meeting places suggests something physical: chairs kicked over, objects thrown, shouting, a concrete obstacle to proceedings, etc. One might question how this is analogous to someone simply posting a link to an article which Medialens disapprove of. (Medialens have deleted such posts and banned posters – on more than one occasion – for such harmless “disruptions”).

Note also Medialens’s use of the term “fanatic”. (They once banned someone with the “explanation” that he was “a fanatical defender of IBC“). “Fanatics” might be easy to spot in meeting halls (or at least security personnel at Labour/Tory Party conferences seem to think so, even though these “fanatics” may appear, to the rest of us, to be harmless pensioners who happen to disagree with Jack Straw, etc) – but it’s difficult to judge whether a poster to a message board is a “fanatic” if one can’t read his posts because they’ve been deleted without trace.

To delete or not to delete? As Tony Blair would say, it’s a tough decision. And as the Medialens editors do in fact say, “It’s very difficult and fraught”. Centuries of real struggle towards free speech weighed against the need to protect a web message-board from… “disruption”.

Control freaks & dogmas

I’m as optimistic about the democratic potential of “new media” as Medialens claim to be. But there’s a flip side to it – a control-freak’s delight, which Medialens seem to be taking advantage of. For example, by preventing someone from participating in a debate by secretly changing his password, while stating that he remained a “registered user” (with the false implication that he was able to participate – see footnote here). What kind of scenario in a real meeting hall would be analogous to that?

In 2002, George Monbiot wrote the following to Medialens (after being attacked by them):

Rather than offering a clear, objective analysis of why the media works the way it does, who pulls the strings, how journalists are manipulated, knowingly or otherwise, you appear to have decided instead to use your platform merely to attack those who do not accept your narrow and particular doctrine. [...] You appear to me to be confronting one form of bias and intolerance with another.

And that seems to be the main problem with Medialens. The more invested they are in a “narrow and particular doctrine”, the more likely they’ll have a protective instinct which makes censorship of “disruptions” to it seem appealing and easily rationalised.

Meanwhile, if Edwards and Cromwell are ever interested in hosting a real meeting in a real meeting place, I’d be happy to contribute some non-disruptive views. You might like to ponder how the following meeting of campaigners would play out on a Medialens-style message board:

Footnotes

1. Here and here are a few of the posts typical of the banned poster, ‘Max’, which apparently caused a “disruption” for Medialens. A lone Medialens supporter commented in favour of the banned poster, but this was ignored or quickly forgotten.

(Stop press: As I write I see that Medialens have just deleted another post. Unusually, they’ve notified the poster, David Sketchley, of the deletion – perhaps because he’s been a loyal supporter. Edwards/Cromwell explain that they’re “not keen on posts that accuse journalists of lying”. But apparently they’re happy enough to see the above banned poster, ‘Max’, accused of being a “little liar”.)

2. I don’t make such accusations lightly; this was an unambiguous, clearly documented lie. As I’ve explained in both the Media Hell page mentioned and in this ZNet article, Medialens wrote (in Oct 2007): “In the past, IBC’s response to the suggestion that violence prevents journalists from capturing many deaths has been, in effect, ‘Prove it!’” As Medialens know, IBC have always stated the exact reverse: “it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media”. How can we be sure that Medialens knew about this? Because they had quoted IBC’s statement in an earlier “alert“. (They still have not corrected their falsehood – or indeed any of the others I documented at ZNet.)

3. The Medialens editors’ “official” reason for banning me was provided in their email to me (18 June 2006). They accused me of “swamping” and “bombarding” their message board. When I’d pointed out that only 1 in 40 posts on their board was mine, and that mine were “mostly direct, concise responses to attacks on IBC”, I received no reply.

In stark contrast to the Medialens editors’ version of events, here’s one of Medialens’s supporters from that time, SueC, writing (20 June 2006) about me and the banning: “he was unfailingly courteous on the board and is a committed media activist writing excellent letters and emails to journalists and broadcasters; his only crime as far as I could see was in being a bit too good in argument”.

4. ‘Sean M’ has contacted me to ask: “Interesting blog but what do you say to Medialens’ argument that websites without a message board (e.g. yours, IBC’s) are in effect censoring ‘everyone’?”.

To use Medialens’s analogy of a meeting hall, which of the following would you say constitutes censorship:

a) Noam Chomsky gives a televised lecture, but is pressed for time, so there’s no Q&A period.

b) Noam Chomsky gives a televised lecture with a Q&A period, but the organisers have gagged those sympathic to his views.

Is Chomsky “gagging everyone” by allowing no Q&A in the first case?

Incidentally, I allow full reply from anyone I’ve criticised, posted underneath my blog entry if they request it (see also footnote 5). Would Medialens publish a reply from IBC directly under their original IBC “alerts”, or email it to the recipients of those alerts? Obviously not. (They won’t even allow me to respond on their message board to their ‘alert‘ attacking me).

5. Update (13/1/10). David Edwards’s response to this blog entry was to republish it whole (but with the links missing, a picture caption misplaced as a subheading, ruined formatting, etc) on the Medialens forum, without my permission. But it wasn’t just a careless copy-n-paste job. He’d edited it slightly so that the automatically-generated WordPress caption “comments closed” stood out, as if it were a separate heading. Above it, he writes: “Bob Shone doesn’t allow +any+ comments on his website – and yet he accuses us of censorship!”

In fact I allow full reply from anyone I’ve criticised, posted directly underneath my original blog entry if they wish. I’ll even allow them to be impolite and disrespectful. David Edwards has never bothered to check with me. Consequently his claim is false. So, I registered with the Medialens forum to correct his error (I’ve never posted there before), but they refuse to activate my account. So: banned from their “virtually 100% free speech” forum before I’ve even posted a word.

As for Edwards’s warped logic, one can do it justice only with spoof screen-caps (note the “logic” of the heading):

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