David Cromwell is part of the duo that is MediaLens, and if you are in any way skeptical about the corporate press, then you should read this book, and their other book, Newspeak in the 21st Century. These are both very insightful and challenging polemics about the grip that big business has over the 'free' press, and how it works. However, if I have just made them sound hard line hacks, I apologise, because they aren't. They are reasoned and polite, and their work is very interesting.
Remember that bit in the Matrix when Neo takes the pill that reveals the world as it really is & he can never go back? Don't read this book unless you want to feel the same way. It brilliantly unpicks the web of institutionalised propaganda & violence upon which our society blithely floats and left me feeling that I had two choices: do something about it or live with blood on my hands. An uncomfortable but inspiringly necessary read
The author - David Cromwell - is a character with an interesting CV; from a left leaning upbringing, to work in a prominent multinational, in science to finally in an outfit concerned with the quality of reporting (MediaLens). Everyone remembering the Cold War - even in its final, weak incarnation in the 1980s - or even the 1991 war against Iraq will recall the scorn poured on the 'laughable propaganda' presented as news reporting from the opposing side. The author's main premise is that the main purpose of media in the West is little different, if at times more refined - namely to defend the ideology and powers that be from public scrutiny coming too close to the truth.
The party line - namely of spreading democracy, human rights and welfare for all - starts wearing somewhat thin after the rhetoric somehow never manages to fully translate into practice. And the fewer the tangible examples of 'success' - or in the author's words us (the Western, capitalist societal model in the widest sense) being the good guys - one can see, the more support / cheer-leading from the so called neutral media is required to prevent hard questions.
Examples range from blatant and loyal support of brutal, repressive regimes as long as they are on the side of the reporting party, where even highly respected news outlets will turn two blind eyes to developments obvious to anyone, to the various wars fought for freedom and democracy after the Cold War, none of which seemed to have brought either; from Thatcherism to genetically modified foods. The author presents each case with ample support for his position from various experts, compares that to the official reporting on the phenomenon and then mostly confronts the journalists responsible with these facts and records their responses (or lack thereof).
The approach is a relatively transparent instrument for demonstrating the principles behind the rose tinted view of neutral, impartial reporting. Still it does make for tedious reading after a while, even if the author is a suitably capable story teller - there is more repetition than is necessary to bring the points across.
The book then takes on a very bizarre turn towards the end, with Buddhism, Nietzsche and the purpose of existence. While this certainly raises equally worthwhile questions as the rest of the book, it is not seamlessly integrated into the whole and one could ask oneself, if it is really necessary in this context.
And while the author's points are - in my opinion - on the whole valid, he does little in terms of presenting a better credible and reasonable alternative, which is the book's main failing in my opinion. As it is there is a high likelihood of the book appealing to the choir, and doing little eye-opening for the rest. This is not to say that the author's work - especially in the context of MediaLens - is in vain, only that the format is perhaps not optimal for capturing the new generations with a vision of a better future; these are a better bet than trying to persuade current entrenched believers anyway.
Be that as it may it is worthwhile on occasion reminding oneself that the media is far from the ideal, even handed chronicler of events - something the book does adequately well. This in not the same as throwing all aspects of our Western democratic / capitalist approach overboard, even if it has many inherent weaknesses, breeds unfairness - and like any unchecked system breeds the potential for abuse. Given that the author does relatively little in presenting an alternative, more appealing counter-proposal, one will do well to read the book in conjunction with How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region. Here one at least gets a detailed analysis of how the capitalist animal spirits can be bent by appropriate government policies to benefiting the wider population as a whole - whether such a situation is desirable or not is of course up to the reader to finally decide.
David Cromwell is a very readable author. Some books dealing with serious global issues can be very didactic and dry. This book reads more like a smoothly written thriller. Another interesting but for me, welcoming point, is that he personalises a lot of the issues and relates them back to his childhood and family influences and work experiences round the world. With this author you know where he developed his basic ideas. He deals with a number of pressing issues that are affecting our global community at present. From this book, his views appear to be very black and white, showing right and wrong rather than any shades of gray. However, if your convictions are such, then so be it. Whether you agree or disagree, there is much that is food for thought and the book does seem well researched with its references. He obviously uses a lot of books and research which comes from his stable of thought, such as David Harvey and Noam Chomsky. My personal issue is that he sometimes comes across as 'all knowing' and will say that he really likes an author's work and findings but says he is wrong on certain findings, rather than saying 'in his opinion' he might not have got it quite right. This particularly relates to the philosophy section. I did tend to disagree with a number of the author's points from that section. However, that wouldn't detract from giving 5 stars, as the book is very readable and makes you think. I agree with the author that we should always be questioning the motive of established journalists and the press. Also we need to be concerned that we are not following like sheep in believing that the governments of the western world are always acting for the good of all humanity, rather than just their own interests. The problem really lies in the fact that for the people in the west who have jobs and a reasonable standard of living, with all the luxuries that come with that, they might know that our government and press are not as 'good' as they make out to be but the people are scared of complaining too much and losing their present lifestyle. It probably comes down to not rocking the boat, for the advantaged classes. These classes are not just the small minority of ultra rich but the groups in the west who earn around the average salary, whose life is inordinately better than the vast majority of people around the globe (including India, China and other up and coming nations).
interesting book looking at big business ,politicians and propaganda, shows how tatty some journalists are remember when the guardian paper supported the iraq war how sad,yes when it comes to open and fair information and reporting we,re stuffed
An interesting analysis of how the manipulation of western media serves our business interests and sustains the illusion that we are acting for good. It reveals how news that does not fit into the required script to sustain these delusions is blotted out from the picture. Too often it seems, we as the "good guys" are in reality the "bad guys" from any moral standpoint as our big business organisations seek to dominate the acquisition and pricing of world resources for their benefit.
IF you care about the real news behind what they read out on Britain's major channels, and in the papers, this is for you. Nice writing style, dealing with big issues in a straightforward way. Already bought more of his books before I'd finished it. I hope there are more to come.