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  • The Guardian has been accused of bias against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

    The Guardian has been accused of bias against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 July 2016
teleSUR spoke to David Cromwell and David Edwards, co-editors of Media Lens, about The Guardian and corporate media's bias against Labour party leader Jeremy Cobyn. 

teleSUR: On June 30, The Guardian published an article with the headline, “Jeremy Corbyn appears to compare Israeli government to Islamic State.”

Here’s what Corbyn actually said, “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

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The Guardian has since changed the headline to “Jeremy Corbyn launches anti-Semitism report amid controversy.” They have also amended the article after they originally quoted Corbyn as saying “Islamic State” instead of “various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.”

What’s your take on this and The Guardian’s coverage of Corbyn more generally since he was elected Labour leader in 2015?

David Cromwell and David Edwards: The Guardian’s coverage of Jeremy Corbyn and, especially, its editorial stance, has been relentlessly negative; the above is but one example. As we noted in our latest media alert, the "Guardian view" is that the "Corbyn experiment is effectively over at Westminster."

This casual dismissal came from the "flagship" paper of liberal journalism which opposed Corbyn from the start, and which made no mention of the relentless media wrecking campaign against him, including its own ugly role. The "Corbyn experiment" is an experiment in real democracy, something which The Guardian has sought to destroy. A responsible newspaper would relentlessly expose the truth about society, namely, that "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," as the American philosopher John Dewey said.

Nobody should be surprised at the shameful performance of the corporate media, including The Guardian. After all, the paper represents the "acceptable" end of the permissible narrow spectrum of "mainstream" media coverage. To use Noam Chomsky’s famous phrase about the limiting nature of liberal journalism, "Thus far and no further."

Any threat to the "natural order" of power brings the schism between private interests and public interests into sharp focus. Rather than feeling anguished at this state of affairs, we can regard it as a sign of how nervous and vulnerable the establishment is when an awakened public challenges elite power.

teleSUR: Post-referendum U.K. is in a state of flux. Originally, many thought the divide between In/Out Tories might inflict serious long-term damage on the party. Instead, it looks like Labour is on the cusp of splitting while the far-right, including the U.K. Independence Party, is clearly feeling emboldened. At the grassroots, xenophobia is out in the open and racist hate-crimes have become a daily phenomena. At a time of crisis like this you might expect the liberal media to get behind Corbyn but instead the coverage in The Guardian, the Independent and elsewhere continues to vilify and present the man as unelectable. Why do you think this is?

David Cromwell and David Edwards: We need to recognize the ownership structure of "liberal" papers, including The Guardian and the Independent. The latter is owned by Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev, father-and-son Russian oligarchs. They have business and financial interests to protect and they are hardly likely to be committed to an agenda that seriously questions neoliberalism, climate-wrecking consumerism and the government-imposed "austerity" regime.

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We must always remember that The Guardian is at the liberal end of the corporate media "spectrum." It portrays itself as a compassionate forum for journalism willing to hold power to account, and it makes great play of its journalistic freedom under the auspices of Scott Trust Limited (replacing the Scott Trust in 2008). The paper, therefore, might not at first sight appear to be a corporate institution. And it does publish good journalism at times (notably the Edward Snowden revelations, when Glenn Greenwald still wrote for the paper).

But the paper is owned by The Guardian Media Group which is run by a high-powered board comprising elite — well-connected people from the worlds of banking, insurance, advertising, multinational consumer goods companies, telecommunications, information technology giants, venture investment firms, media, marketing services, the World Economic Forum, and other sectors of big business, finance and industry. This is not a board staffed by radically nonconformist environmental, human rights and peace campaigners, trade unionists, National Health Service campaigners, housing collectives nor anyone else who might threaten the status quo.

Consider the example of Nafeez Ahmed, a respected analyst and writer on energy, the environment and foreign policy. In 2014, The Guardian dropped his popular, highly-regarded online column. This was because he overstepped the mark by examining credible claims that Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza that summer was motivated, in part, by greed for gas resources.

He observed, "If this is the state of The Guardian, undoubtedly one of the better newspapers, then clearly we have a serious problem with the media. Ultimately, mainstream media remains under the undue influence of powerful special interests, whether financial, corporate or ideological."

teleSUR: Thinking in more general terms, what’s the relationship between The Guardian and liberal press and the left in the U.K.? What is The Guardian’s actual agenda? Do you think it has a positive effect in the struggle for a better society? What needs to change and how do you think this can come about?

David Cromwell and David Edwards: Nobody on the left should have any illusions about the nature and agenda of The Guardian. Its performance on Corbyn has made that crystal-clear, if it wasn’t already so. We’ve often pointed out, as has Chomsky, that the tiny handful of relatively critical and challenging journalists in the "mainstream" is required in order to give the illusion of dissent and a wide spectrum of views. If these few journalists were missing, it would be even more obvious to the public how shriveled are the available options. Greenwald did not stay with The Guardian for very long and he has been quite critical of them since he left for example, in Twitter exchanges involving Guardian journalists.

The U.S. writer Chris Hedges is rightly damning of the whole "liberal class," of which The Guardian is certainly a significant element.

He wrote, "The liberal class functions in a traditional, capitalist democracy as a safety valve. It lets off enough steam to keep the system intact. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible … The liberal class is permitted to decry the worst excesses of power and champion basic human rights while at the same time endowing systems of power with a morality and virtue it does not possess."

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Finally, you ask, "What needs to change and how do you think this can come about?" Sometimes the answer is so obvious people can't see it. Pool together some of the best writers and journalists, and have them throw themselves at the mercy of the public. It would have to be 100 percent free—no charge, no advertising, no billionaire boss (no boss at all), no embarrassing pleading for money or tacky targets, no cooperation with the corporate media (that would be the big, upfront position). Just say to people: if you like what we're doing, think it's important, feel free to donate.

Do you think people around the world wouldn't support a media commune made up of Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Jonathan Cook, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Herman, Chris Hedges, Robert Fisk, Nafeez Ahmed and others? Why not try? We should suck as much talent out of the corporate media as possible and expose them with no-holds-bar corporate media insider whistleblowing and truth-telling. The internet makes the outreach and donations possible. The support would be vast, if the initiative was posited as an alternative to the biocidal, corruption-drenched corporate media.

If two writers like us with little profile and very little outreach, can support ourselves with very few appeals, how much support would there be for a collective of high-profile truth-tellers seriously attacking the corporate media?

But two absolutely key points: it would have to be totally free and it would have to be openly presented as a declaration of intellectual war on the corporate media. In an era of climate chaos and permanent war, the stakes are very high and there is very little time. Let’s do it now.

David Cromwell and David Edwards are co-editors of Media Lens.

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