A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Remeece march from Croyden to Brixton, a joyful experience due to the overwhelmingly positive response from shoppers, bus and car drivers, shop owners along the route, and the presence of the charismatic Remeece himself, whose relentless work at schools around the country has been vilified in the corporate media and earned him the respect of every right-thinking person.
When we all arrived jubilantly in Brixton, I left the main group to distribute leaflets to those waiting at a nearby bus stop, most of whom took them gladly or politely declined. One woman, however, looked disgusted and spat out that she wasn’t interested. Her seething manner piqued my interest and I asked her why not? ‘You’re deluded!’ was all she could manage through a grimace, and so I asked her exactly how the government figures on the leaflet meant I was deluded? ‘I’m a journalist’, she announced arrogantly. ‘Who for? I returned. ‘For the BBC’ she asserted, in a defiant and defensive tone betraying that that she expected some kind of admonishment. She wasn’t disappointed.
‘Why aren’t you reporting these figures?” I demanded. She made no effort to respond rationally, simply spewing out repeatedly, ‘you’re deluded!’. ‘YOU, are deluded!’ I said forcefully, ‘and if you’re so proud of working for the BBC, go into that crowd there, announce it, and see what happens’. ‘What??’ She said accusingly, as though I’d assured her she’d be hung, drawn and quartered. I repeated my suggestion, which she feverishly declined, demanding of me instead, ‘who do you work for?’. ‘I’m independent’ I told her, ‘which is why I’m free to report these figures’. I then told her exactly what I thought of the BBC, that Media Lens has a 20 year archive on their deplorable record and that the Glasgow Media Group has done studies on BBC bias. ‘You never challenge anything’ I told her. ‘Never challenge anything??” she replied, genuinely incredulous. ‘You never challenge anything important’, I adjusted.
Suddenly, she snatched the leaflet from me, saying, ‘let me have a look’, before scanning it and then proceeding to rip it up dramatically in front of my face. I laughed involuntarily at this truly revealing act of psychological distress. So unable was she to process the truth that was staring her in the face her only recourse was to physically destroy the source of her own agony.
I told her she was a perfect example of everything that was wrong with the mainstream corporate media and that she was not fit to lick the boots of real journalists before walking away to rejoin the marchers. We then headed off to Electric Avenue where we danced with the joy only truly free-minded people know.
Incidentally, I was asked by a member of the public during the leafleting in Woking recently why on earth mainstream journalists would suppress information? I had to give her the quick answer – ‘a stenographic reliance on their official sources’, but the deeper truth is even more fascinating. We know that media corporations are in bed with the power elite, but how is it they don’t have to instruct their journalists to lie or omit information they don’t want the public to know? Why is it these undoubtedly intelligent people know exactly where the boundaries are?
A clue is in the infamous exchange Andrew Marr had with Chomsky, the co-author with Ed Hermann of Manufacturing Consent, which sets out the five pillars of the Propaganda Model of media control. Marr insisted he’d never been told what to write or say, to which Chomsky replied, ‘if you didn’t believe what you believe, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’ But to really understand the process at work here read a stunningly incisive quote to follow by the great Gary Webb.
Webb was the local reporter who uncovered that the CIA was overseeing the channeling of cocaine from Contra rebels in Nicaragua to the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles and directing the profits to the fight against the Sandanista government. Webb was vilified for his articles on this story by the big corporate media players, The Washington Post, The New York Times etc, – the very entities who should have been pursuing the truth – and had his career ruined before he was found dead with two bullet wounds in his head. Official verdict: suicide. He has since been vindicated, however, and was portrayed in the surprisingly sympathetic Hollywood film, ‘Kill The Messenger’ by Jeremy Renner. Webb is one of my journalistic heroes, and here he perfectly sums up the entire problem of a system which selects for obedience, and why you will routinely hear corporate journalists insist they are free to write whatever they want:
“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 muckracking…’
‘…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)
Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews, an independent journalist, singer/songwriter, performance poet, and long-term activist on human and animal rights.