Established in 2001 with the aim of ‘correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media’, MediaLens uses a ‘propaganda model’ analysis inspired by Noam Chomsky to argue that mainstream newspapers and broadcasters are systematically incapable of challenging business and state power. In his latest book, the website’s co-editor David Cromwell offers both a critique of the ways the powerful convey propaganda through the media and a personal memoir.
Cromwell addresses several topics, including Iraq, climate change and the financial crisis, highlighting the narrow scope of media debates that rarely question the assumption of a benevolent if fallible west. He intersperses this with several formative moments of his life and his development as an activist.
Sometimes eye-opening information is uncovered. Consideration of the post-second world war Marshall Plan reveals how it was used as a cold war weapon to dissuade the Attlee government from nationalising industries. Chapters on the Iraq war and Iran expose both the media’s dissimulation of bias and distortions and the selective amnesia and hand-waving of many journalists when confronted on it.
That said, the book has weaknesses and its view of the world does not escape the good/bad guy dichotomy, with certain self-styled anti-imperialists left unchallenged. Cromwell denounces ‘the British media’ for trying to ‘silence or vilify’ Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, but does not address the rape allegations against him.
The final two chapters are the weakest, unconvincingly merging together existentialism, Buddhism and psychology to set out a personal philosophy in which social change seems to derive more from individual enlightenment than collective struggle. The result is an eclectic romanticism, in which enlightened individuals who have freed themselves from selfish indifference to others use compassion to overcome the egotistical corruption of civilisation.
This offers little obvious guidance as to how people constrained not by ‘indifference’ but by oppression can emancipate themselves. And strategic considerations as to how journalists can work within the limits of the capitalist press to speak out against power and ensure audiences receive accurate information are sidelined. Sadly, given the useful information compiled elsewhere in the book, this leaves political strategy sidelined in favour of empty moralism.
#229 No Return to ‘Normal’ ● Sir David King blasts the government ● State power, policing and civil rights under Covid-19 ● Hope and determination in grassroots resistance ● Black liberation and Palestine ● The future of ‘live’ ● Pubs, patriotism and precarity ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Anna Clayton reviews Natalie Olah's book, which explores how upper middle-class pop culture has affected British politics
Suchandrika Chakrabarti reviews Wendy Liu's proposals to reclaim technology's potential for the public good
Connor Beaton reviews Daniel Finn's account of the politics and personalities which drove the IRA
As apocalypse rhetoric spreads during Covid-19, James Hendrix Elsey explores what 'the end of the world' really means under racialised capitalism – and what comes next
The BBC hit drama shows the complexities of class mobility, but can’t avoid class and gender stereotypes, says Frances Hatherley
Mask Off offers a toolbox of explanations and arguments to question and challenge toxic masculinity, writes Huw Lemmey