Interview with David Edwards – Editor of Medialens and author of Guardians of Power

Phone hacking scandals, the takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation…Murdoch’s empire is in the limelight for one reason or another. This is an interview with David Edwards which the author of this blog conducted for a research project. The author of Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media and editor of Medialens gives very interesting points of view on the last events in the media industry and concentrated media ownership.

Question: In your book Guardians of Power you say that “the most highly respected ‘liberal’ media (BBC, The Guardian, The Observer, and The Independent) constitute a propaganda system for elite interests.” Do you believe that these ‘liberal’ media are those which mainly set the British news agenda?

Answer: The news agenda is set by a complex array of competing forces and factors, with state-corporate interests carrying enormous weight. If the US and UK governments decide that Iraq or Libya should be the focus of attention and concern, the media report but also heavily reinforce that focus. In a world full of suffering and violence, the government is able to highlight just this suffering or threat, which then becomes ‘the story’. Regardless of whether the suffering and threats are real, government and media propaganda have the power to make them seem of overwhelming importance. Media editors perceive their job as being one of supporting ‘democracy’ by reporting the opinions of elected officials at face value.

To seriously challenge government claims and motivations, to highlight its hypocrisy, is seen as sabotaging this democracy – supportive role – this is denounced as ‘biased’, ‘partial’ or ‘crusading’ journalism. The ‘liberal’ media do provide occasional glimpses of dissent challenging the government version of reality. But this dissent generally does not question the key propaganda claim that the government is basically benevolent and well-intentioned. So the BBC argued that the 2003 invasion of Iraq might be considered ‘justified’ or a ‘mistake’, but not what it very obviously was: a major war crime. That reality threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the ‘democracy’ which the BBC is supposed to support. So the liberal media do not necessarily set the news agenda, they set the limits on ‘respectable’ dissent. A position that is more critical than that offered by the liberal media is not deemed credible and is ignored by politics and media.

That’s why The Guardian, Independent and the BBC and so on are so important. They argue that there has been a government ‘failure’ to respond to climate change, not that big business inside and outside government and the media is fighting tooth and nail to prevent action. They argue that the war on Iraq was based on ‘flawed intelligence’, not that it was an oil grab. They argue that the intervention in Libya is well-intentioned, perhaps inadequate, perhaps fraught, but not driven by corporate greed, and so on.

Q: The Medialens website states that ‘Media employees are part of a corporate system that, unsurprisingly, selects for servility to the needs and goals of corporate power’. Do you think that editors and heads of the above-mentioned papers are expected to toe the company line or critical voices are also allowed within those organisations?

A: Executives in every corporation are expected to toe the company line. Most are recruited precisely because they believe the right things and hold the right values. Of course there are exceptions but these soon learn to compromise or are filtered out. By the way, this isn’t our view; it’s the view of honest voices from within the system. Former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, told us:

Every time we Guardian journalists walked into the office, we subtly realigned our personal views to accord with those of our employer. For most Guardian journalists, this was rarely a dramatic realignment. The paper seems leftish to most; the few there who struggled ideologically, eventually myself included, drifted away or were forced out.”

Q: What is, in your opinion, the impact (if any) that the corporate press in having on independent journalism in England? – and by independent journalism (although is not a complete definition ) I mean more independent and uncompromising media outlets like Democracy Now!, The Real News Network and ZNet, which you mention as examples of alternatives to the corporate mainstream media –.

A: I think the questioned should be reversed: what effect is independent journalism having on the corporate media? The answer is that, despite minimal resources, they are providing a serious challenge.

Q: Murdoch’s takeover has successfully completed despite Ofcom investigated the threats to media plurality. Do you think there should be more legal ownership restrictions as the current ones have proved to be too weak?

A: It’s not something we’ve looked at in any detail. No doubt moguls like Murdoch should be prevented from monopolising the media. But the reality is that the mainstream media system is anyway a corporate monopoly – it is of secondary importance whether the system is controlled by 10 corporations that are legally obliged to subordinate people and planet to profit, or five, or three -.

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