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Giving The Climate Camp A Good Telling Off!


Last week’s peaceful protests at the Heathrow Camp for Climate Action (http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/) were a heartening sign of sanity in response to the huge climate threat facing us. Activists drew attention to the role of aviation in global warming, conducted seminars on climate science and undertook a series of nonviolent demonstrations. A mass siege even temporarily shut down the national headquarters of British Airports Authority (BAA), owners of Heathrow airport.

Actions were not limited to Heathrow. They included British Petroleum’s headquarters, Sizewell A and B nuclear power stations, and the offices of “red herring” carbon offsetting companies in Oxford and London. Despite a heavy police presence, including some provocation, at Heathrow, the protesters were almost wholly calm and peaceful. They were, as they said so well, “armed only with peer-reviewed science”. Here at Media Lens, we were pleased to receive regular press releases from the climate camp, posting them within minutes on our message board.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who visited the climate camp, hailed it as a success:

“All the facilities that 1,500 people would need – including running water, sanitation, hot food twice a day, banks of computers and walkie-talkies, stage lighting, sound systems, even a cinema – were set up in a few hours on unfamiliar ground, in the teeth of police blockades. A system of affinity groups and neighbourhoods, feeding their decisions upwards to general meetings, permitted a genuine participatory democracy of the kind that you will never encounter in British public life. The actions themselves were disciplined and remained non-violent, even when the police got heavy. I left the camp on Sunday evening convinced that a new political movement has been born.” (Monbiot, ‘Beneath Heathrow’s pall of misery, a new political movement is born,’ The Guardian, August 21, 2007)

Activist Chris Shaw reported back:

“I attended the climate camp and found the event deeply inspiring and uplifting. The camp was characterised by values of selflessness, solidarity and cooperation. I have never known anything like it – intelligent and deeply committed people acting together for a greater cause. My predictive powers are no better than [astrologer] Russell Grant’s, but I sincerely feel this is the beginning of a movement which will have a profound impact on how we live our lives.” (Email to ‘Crisis Forum’ mailing list, August 21, 2007)

Not all visitors were as enthused. Guardian environment editor John Vidal wrote bitterly:

“I went to the camp twice, and to the HQ of the metropolitan police once for a briefing last week. Frankly, it was easier and far more pleasant getting into Scotland Yard. A small but anonymous faction of the old protest movement at the climate camp had decided from the start that the ‘corporate’ press is actually the enemy, and therefore has to be excluded.” (Vidal, ‘Climate camp’s media mismanagement,’ The Guardian, August 21, 2007; http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/2007/08/climate_camps_media_mismanagme.html)

Vidal concluded of the activist movement seeking action on climate change:

“Via its media strategy it threatens to become one more totalitarian, exclusive group that is neither liked nor taken seriously. Rather than being armed with ‘nothing but peer-reviewed science’, as it proclaims, it seems to be armed with ill-founded suspicion.”

On August 22, we sent the following email to Vidal:

Dear John,

We hope you’re well.

In our experience few people do self-pity better than your average corporate journalist. And yes, John, that’s what you are: an employee of a large corporation, the Guardian Media Group (GMG), dependent on advertisers for 75% of its income. However well-intentioned, your presentation of yourself as a loyal friend of the green movement has always been riddled with compromise, conflicts of interest and awkward silences.

Consider the Trader Media Group (TMG), valued at $1.35 billion, in which the GMG has a majority stake (‘Guardian Media Group announces sale of stake in Trader Media Group,’ March 23, 2007; http://www.gmgplc.co.uk/media/pressreleases/tabid/213/default.aspx?pressreleaseid=3&cid=viewdetails). TMG publishes over 70 publications on a weekly basis. These, presumably, are publications raging against the despoliation of our precious planet as we teeter on the brink of catastrophe; they are surely devoted to building dissident awareness and resistance.

Your website announces:

“Some of the most recognised publications include Auto Trader, Bike Trader, Truck Trader and Top Marques. TMG also owns the UK‘s busiest automotive web site http://www.autotrader.co.uk which attracts some 2.3 million unique users per month. Due to the high volume of visits the web site receives, autotrader.co.uk can be found in the top 20 visited web sites in the UK. In addition TMG also offers interactive services on digital television and mobile phones.

“With an annual turnover in excess of £280 million, TMG employs over 4,000 employees, located over 35 locations throughout the UK and Ireland. TMG also has three international operations located in Holland, Italy and South Africa.”

As an embedded part of the corporate system, your newspaper is hardly in favour of the far-reaching, radical action that is required to respond to climate change. Your paper’s adverts, special offers, and 99.9% of its reporting and commentary, are all about business as usual, about protecting the status quo.

You write:

“Just when the campers were saying that climate action had to become a mass movement and were appealing to the public to join them, they were deliberately keeping the media out – the very people needed to open up the debate.”

Just as they, the corporate media, have been keeping out radical activists for years!

You claim:

“The paranoia comes from years of being rolled over by certain newspapers and being consistently harassed by the police. It has led to a defensive culture and deep mistrust and mistakes. It is also a hangover of American authoritarianism and Puritanism….”

Not so; it comes from decades of corporate media performance functioning as a propaganda arm of powerful interests.
Apart from the corporate nature and priorities of the GMG, just look at the institutional, business and establishment links of those who sit on the Trust: corporate media, the Labour party, KPMG Corporate Finance, Tesco, the Bank of England (http://www.gmgplc.co.uk/ScottTrust/TheTrustees/CurrentTrustees/tabid/254/Default.aspx).

More importantly, examine the output of the Guardian, as Media Lens has done in many media alerts since 2001 and in our book, ‘Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media’ (Pluto Press, 2006).

Choose a subject: climate change, sanctions on Iraq, Iraqi WMD, illegality of the 2003 invasion, Iraqi civilian casualties, Iran, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, missile defence, arms sales, UK militarism. The Guardian has, like the liberal media generally, provided effective cover for the crimes and abuses of western state-corporate power over the years, while maintaining the illusion of providing a forum for radical challenge and serious debate.

If activists are finally waking up to this fact and making you part of the story to be analysed and discussed – rather than accepted on blind faith – then there’s finally a chance of genuine progress.

You write:

“No argument was ever won by people trying to hide or manipulate freedom of movement or speech. It is an ugly culture that cannot welcome its potential friends, and debate with its enemies, and which feels it must control people’s perceptions so crudely.”

What does the corporate media do on a daily basis? Crude perception management is what your adverts are all about. Honest analysis reveals the same of your paper’s editorials and slanted news reports. When have you ever discussed the crucial role of the corporate media in obstructing action on climate change? When have you discussed the role of corporate advertising in papers such as your own in normalising the biocidal status quo?

George Monbiot made a rare mention of these issues recently (‘The editorials urge us to cut emissions, but the ads tell a very different story’, August 14, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2148256,00.html). It was a courageous piece because, as he well knows, the discussion is all but forbidden in a system you consider a “free press”. As for welcoming potential friends and allies – the thinkers and ideas that really matter are all but excluded from your pages. Small fig leaves of dissent are allowed, but not enough to make a difference. The picture is overwhelmingly conformist, heavily favouring the business status quo.

You write of the climate camp:

“Via its media strategy it threatens to become one more totalitarian, exclusive group that is neither liked nor taken seriously.”

The corporation is one of the most totalitarian organisations imaginable: control is strictly top-down with zero public input and minimal staff input flowing back up the chain of command. As the Canadian lawyer Joel Bakan has noted, the corporate motivation is essentially “psychopathic”: all concerns, values, motivations are subordinated to the bottom line of maximised profits as a matter of legal obligation. That’s what you are part of.

As for being taken seriously, your diatribe against the climate camp tells its own story. When has a corporate journalist ever railed in this manner against the restrictions imposed by the US/UK military in Iraq, against the control freaks of New Labour, against the taboo on discussing their advertisers’ products and services?

Your piece is a good example of how respect is reserved for the powerful, while the powerless are considered fair game to be patronised and in effect told off with impunity. It’s all part of the great myth of balanced professional journalism. It turns out that ‘balanced’ is that which does not offend powerful interests. You are very much part of the corporate media problem, John. The sooner we all wake up to this, the better.

Best wishes,
David Edwards & David Cromwell

Postscript

We approached Comment is Free (CiF), the online section of the Guardian whose declared aim is “to host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement and to invite users to comment on everything they read.” We mentioned that we had a piece in response to Vidal’s blog which would also address the Guardian and the Scott Trust. CiF editor Georgina Henry responded:

“But why would I be interested in commissioning piece about the Guardian and the Scott Trust from you?” (Email, August 22, 2007)

A good question. Perhaps not all comment is welcome; particularly when it offers critical analysis of the newspaper in question.

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to John Vidal, Guardian environment editor
Email: [email protected]

Write to Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor
Email: [email protected]

Please send a copy of your emails to us
Email: [email protected]

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