BSN Series critiquing Channel 4 News by Alison Banville
Part One: ‘As Good As It Gets’?
The day after Julian Assange appeared on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (August 19th 2012), Media Lens tweeted their followers: ‘For people outside the UK, Channel 4 News is at the extreme left of the mainstream media spectrum. As good as it gets!’
They were commenting wryly on the extraordinary coverage this supposedly unbiased and professional news team broadcast on the Assange story. Quotes from the programme’s report included: ‘Sporting a brand new haircut and looking like he [Assange] was making a best man’s speech at a wedding.’’. Why did Media Lens editors Davids Edwards and Cromwell choose this one? Because it neatly exposes the myth that is Channel 4 News’s scrupulously objective credentials. Media Lens’s pained exclamation, ‘as good as it gets!’ was as much a lament as an accusation, justifying its policy of concentrating on the ‘best’ journalism the UK mainstream media has to offer its audience, because if this really is ‘as good as it gets’, – we’re in trouble folks!
The Assange case is just the latest example of the Channel 4 News modus operandi, one that is, despite what its well compensated journalists and editors like to boast, firmly rooted in the ‘propaganda model’; the same model all other corporate media organisations strictly adhere to, the model outlined by Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their highly recommended book, ‘Manufacturing Consent’, a must read for any awakened individual who cares about the carnage wreaked by governments emboldened by a weak mainstream media that is constantly parroting official sources rather than questioning them, with tragic consequences.
Yes, ‘as good as it gets’ is highly ironic because it is precisely the ‘better’ end of the corporate news spectrum that is the biggest problem. It’s easy to spot the Fox News brigade, but when a programme pontificates about, and poses as, ‘objective’, cultivating an image of fierce independence holding the powers that be to account, then practices nothing of the sort but offers only a parody of what they purport to represent, then that adds immeasurably to the suffering in the world. Their cosy relationship with the governing elites who manipulate them with Machiavellian ease means there is nothing to prevent war crimes being committed because the premise from which Channel 4 News works is exactly the same premise from which every other corporate news programme works – we are the good guys!
This premise is absorbed into the corporate journalist’s psyche from the very start of their training and any evidence of independent thought that veers from it will see individuals weeded out before they can reach the higher rungs of the career ladder. By the time a face reaches our national TV screens the conditioning is so complete that there is never any fear of that person stepping out of line. Our news anchors can grill their interviewees, quite genuinely, with all the righteous aggression they can muster because the boundaries are already set and are never consciously acknowledged. Any attempt to point out this conditioning will be met with anger, denial, ridicule; all the usual ego-defences. There is really too much to lose by honestly examining themselves.
Oh yes. We have a lethal combination here – immorality and vanity. The immorality of those who commit war crimes, who torture, who lie routinely and with psychopathic lack of guilt, who secretly despise the public they flatter; and we have the vanity of journalists (and their editors) who stupidly believe that their high-profile positions and fat salaries make them important when they are simply media marionettes.
How laughable to know they imagine themselves autonomous and influential. How fascinating to watch as they skip off from ‘grilling’ a minister to making a speech at some lucrative corporate event because they’ve sold themselves to the highest bidder. At Channel 4 News, all are employees of ITN, a company with a profit motive like any other, and that is why if any of them showed independence of thought it would be all over, just like it was for Pulitzer Prize-winning US journalist Gary Webb:
“In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn’t get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It +encouraged+ enterprise. It +rewarded+ muckraking.
..And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.” (Webb, ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On’, in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw – Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Prometheus, 2002, pp.296-7)
Gary chose truth over vanity and so paid the price when his glittering career was ended – but he, at least, tasted freedom! Something the corporate hacks at Channel 4 News will never do. He leaped from the luxury ship with al its comforts straight into the choppy waters of independence and therefore lived in absolute integrity. He would not be silenced; he did not rationalise desperately or lash out when he discovered what a charade his professional life had been. His example shines out like a beacon through choking blackness. His bravery sustains those of us committed to authentic journalism.
Because authentic journalism is what this series is all about. And Channel 4 News has been chosen as its subject only because of its perceived position as being radical in the mainstream TV news landscape. We will show how damaging this false image actually is, how it distorts the truth of important issues in the public mind and how, in turn, that leads to very real suffering. The journalists and editors we will meet are not evil people conspiring with corrupt governments, but ordinary Joes and Janes with families and children and moral values any decent person would share. How they came to be disconnected from the wider moral implications of their profession is both fascinating and vitally important. It is not something to be dismissed because the truth is too painful to hear. No, the stakes are too high.
This series, then, will examine the evidence for the assertions made here; that Channel 4 News is part of a big problem, that its journalists are selected for obedience and can be relied upon not to stray from the corporate principles which ensure our governing elites’ claims are never properly challenged resulting in mass suffering of the kind we saw in Iraq:
‘…Or my favourite, the barrels of chemical weapons agent reported by Channel Four News, even though the footage they broadcast of the barrels clearly showed them to be labelled with their real contents ‘pesticide’.’
And how will this evidence be presented? Mainly through email correspondence with Channel 4 News journalists backed up by examples from their broadcasts and interaction with other media campaigners.
No organisation can operate without the individuals within it playing their part. Without the willing participation of its highly intelligent, educated and sometimes egoistic employees, the corporation that is ITN, and the programme that is Channel 4 News, could not perpetuate the myth of an independent, feisty mainstream media. This illusion keeps the public asleep when what is need in these troubled times is a populace that is fully awake! The British public sleeps soundly when it thinks the guardians of truth are on watch. But what if the guardians are not doing their job? The public deserves a news media that will challenge – not parrot! – official sources!, one that will not allow those sources to dictate the ‘official enemy’ but will tear away façades and expose the underlying motivations of governments. When this stage is finally reached, we may no longer see the planet littered with the victims of our moral crimes:
‘Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge…they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.’ John Adams
This series will ‘star’:
- Ed Fraser (deputy editor)
- Jonathan Miller (Foreign Affairs Correspondent)
- Jim Gray (former editor)
- Krishnan Guru-Murthy (anchor)
- Alex Thomson (Chief Correspondent)
- Jon Snow (anchor)
- Amy Lawson (Press Officer)
See Part II here.