MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
MEDIA ALERT: IN THE LABYRINTH OF ILLUSION
Waking Up From The Sweet Song Of Power
It is possible that the establishment is falling out of love with
George Bush and Tony Blair. The art of democratic government is to hide the
exploitation of people and planet behind fine words and illusions. The
philosopher Nagarjuna explained the rule 2,000 years ago:
“If one is plotting evil,
He always uses pleasant words.
When a hunter sees the game,
He sings a sweet song to lure it.”
But when the subordination of people to profit is so brazen, the
camouflaging lies so transparent, there is a real danger that the population
will wake up from the illusion of genteel statesmanship and civilised
democracy to the reality of elite violence and control. Thus, today, 54%
of the British population believe that Blair simply lied about the
threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Ironically, the experience of waking up from the “sweet song” of power
feels rather like falling into a Kafkaesque dream. We stumble,
confused, from the Intelligence and Security Committee, to the Foreign Affairs
Select Committee – no-one has any idea what these are about, how they
have been compromised, why they failed to get to the truth - to the
Hutton inquiry, to the Hutton
report, to the
held in secret far from public scrutiny.
Heath 1972-74, Harold Wilson 1974-75; principal private secretary to
Margaret Thatcher 1982-85, second permanent secretary to Treasury
1985-87; secretary of Cabinet, head of home civil service 1988-98. His clubs:
Anglo-Belgian, Athenaeum, Brooks's, Beefsteak.
In our waking dream, the
Guardian reports from
“On a hot day last June, all the knights of the garter gathered at
own garter, star, riband, collar and mantle. There was a splendid lunch
and, as the college website respectfully records: ‘Lady Butler even
gave a special wave to the Univ contingent as the knights' wives led the
ceremony by.’” (‘Lord Butler: the man who will investigate’, David
Leigh, Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Glover, The Guardian, February 4,
During the 1990s, Sir Robin,
dishonest arms sales minister Jonathan Aitken and attacked journalists
investigating him. He then defended
inquiry into secret arms sales to
Whichever way we turn in our dream democracy we meet Huttons and
turn we find Tony Blair smiling, lying, and killing, but forever
protected by establishment friends and allies. We never arrive at the truth.
its logical conclusion, we find a system of control that is almost feudal
in style, corruption and brutality.
If ministers fail to manage the economy, resignations are demanded and
secured. But if ministers fail to manage peace, security and morality –
and what can represent a greater failure than fighting an unnecessary
war reducing a foreign state to chaos and carnage? – then even
transparent lies and widespread public outrage are waved away.
In early February, the latest revelations emerged. Blair claimed that
he had found out as late as March 2003 that the (false) claim that Iraqi
WMD could be made ready for use in 45 minutes referred only to
battlefield weapons, like mortars, not to long range ballistic missiles.
This deception was even more desperate than usual, and as a result, as
discussed above, opinion polls show that fully 54% of the population
now believe Blair lied. This places the majority of the population far
beyond the views of most journalists, who prefer to talk of “flawed
intelligence” and “the mishandling of intelligence”.
In responding to Blair’s claimed confusion, Andrew Marr, the BBC’s
political editor, stood outside
now two types of people: those who had “made their minds up” on Blair
and “the vast army of the bored witless”. (BBC1 News,
We at Media Lens had never heard anything more inappropriate. Blair had
finally been cornered and had responded with claims of careless
ignorance which, coming from one of the world’s supreme control freaks, was
utterly fantastic. Blair’s credibility had finally gone over the edge
but, thanks to Marr and co, like a cartoon, he was not falling into the
Over the next few days it emerged that Marr’s jarring statement was
exactly the line being pushed by
political editor, John Kampfner, reported in the Guardian:
“In the second full week of life after Hutton, the message from Downing
Street to [BBC] corporation executives is that the public has ‘tired’
been largely successful in driving WMD off the agenda of television and
radio.” (Kampfner, ‘Don't mention the war’, The Guardian, February 16,
Both the BBC and ITN barely covered subsequent bombings at an Iraqi
school and double suicide bombings in Hilla.
dropped. The media switched instead to the Conservative’s budget plans ahead
of the next election. Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin filled us in.
Unlike Lord Butler, Letwin was educated at
journalist. Between 1991-97 he was a director at N M Rothschild & Sons.
We were back in the same
dream world inhabited by Hutton,
Blair. Fresh from seeing how every avenue to truth, accountability and
change is barred to the public, we now had to listen to Letwin’s nonsense
offering a “radical alternative” to New Labour’s spending plans.
The Architecture Of Establishment
Readers will have noticed that the architecture of establishment is not
deemed an important or proper subject for media discussion. The
political and cultural arches and colonnades supporting power are depicted as
simply ‘there’. The gubernatorial pillars of the BBC’s management
structure, for example, are surely not man-made – not the handiwork of
self-interested, powerful groups - they are the work of nature, perhaps even
of God, and so beyond discussion.
We have heard much impassioned talk in recent weeks about the desperate
need to preserve the fundamental independence of the BBC from external
state and commercial pressures. But what do we actually know of how the
BBC is run? Who are these governors that are to resist these external
pressure? Who selected them? On what basis? Might they themselves be the
product of the same external pressures to be resisted? If the
independence of the BBC is really so important, why are these issues never
Journalists talk grimly of the possibility of the government doing away
with the system of governors when the BBC’s charter comes up for
renewal. But as the public knows nothing about the governors, just as they
know nothing about the charter or its renewal, they are unable to form
any kind of rational opinion. And that is exactly as it should be, from
the point of view of power - the establishment is to be accepted, not
understood. To facilitate understanding is to invite challenge.
In reality, former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies was appointed by the Blair
government. So was Greg Dyke. So was Hutton. So was
BBC governors – establishment figures all. The issue of who the
governors actually are is central but shrouded in silence. Here they are:
Lord Ryder of Wensum, former chief whip in John Major’s government and
political secretary to Margaret Thatcher.
Mark Byford, a BBC “lifer” since 1979.
Sir Robert Smith, vice-chairman of Deutsche Asset Management and
director and chairman designate of Weir Group plc.
Dermot Gleeson the Executive chairman of the MJ Gleeson Group plc.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Defence and Overseas
Secretariat of the joint intelligence committee.
Monds, chairman of Invest Northern
economic development agency.
Dame Ruth Deech, barrister and academic, Chairman of English National
Jones, historian and broadcaster, and member for
at Broadcasting Standards Commission.
Angela Sarkis, former chief executive of the Church Urban Fund.
Deborah Bull, member of Arts
Ranjit Sondhi, a
race and ethnic studies.
We are told the great issue at hand is the need to preserve the
independence of these governors from the government that appointed them. The
fact that they are all members of the establishment elite, that they
were appointed by members of that elite, is presumed to be unproblematic.
Some thoughts are unthinkable – obviously true but too radical to be
In a 2,700-word piece on the BBC governors in the Guardian, Oliver
Burkeman asks ‘Who’s in charge around here?’ If the article was to answer
the question in its own title, it would clearly have to address the
system by which governors are appointed. This it does not do. Instead there
are brief references to the corporate and establishment nature of the
governors but no exploration of why they have been selected, by whom, or
the significance for democracy. We wrote to Burkeman:
Dear Oliver Burkeman
I was interested to read your article on the BBC in today's Guardian.
The title of your piece read: 'Who's in charge around here?' Surely the
only way to rationally consider the question is to examine the system
by which governors are appointed: who decides who becomes a governor and
on what basis? How does the public know the appointees are representing
popular rather than elite interests? A lot of journalists are currently
talking of the need to defend the BBC's independence from government
and commercial influence - but does the appointment procedure already
call into question the notion that the BBC is independent?
Why did you not consider these issues? Is it really more important to
focus on particular individuals – for example, on the experience of
former governors – rather than on the nature and mechanics of the system
that appoints them? Why did you not review the proportion of senior
corporate executives, government insiders and other establishment figures
that have made up the numbers of BBC governors over, say, the last 50
David Edwards (Email sent,
Thanks for reading the piece. I think you're right – it would have been
good to do more on the appointments procedure and the types of
appointees, and I'll certainly bear that in mind in returning to the subject.
The only point I'd make in counterweight to that is that I don't think
it was the sole aim of the piece to provide a systemic analysis of BBC
governance along the lines you suggest. To the extent that readers may
have become curious, during Hutton, about exactly who were the
personalities involved in handling the controversy, simply responding to that
curiosity seems to me to be a valid thing to do too. Both, I reckon, are
appropriate things to be doing in the paper. But I definitely take your
All the best
Oliver (Email to Media Lens,
Burkeman may well return to the subject. Meanwhile we will all continue
to wander the labyrinthine corridors of establishment illusion,
obfuscation and imposed confusion, pursuing a mirage of democracy that forever
retreats ahead of us as we wander on.