We Need a Hippocratic Oath for Journalists

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By George Monbiot

Is Murdoch now finished in the UK? As the pursuit of Gordon Brown by the Sunday Times and the Sun blows the hacking scandal into new corners of the old man’s empire, this story begins to feel like the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The naked attempt to destroy Brown by any means, including hacking the medical files of his sick baby son, means that there is no obvious limit to the story’s ramifications.

The scandal radically changes public perceptions of how politics works, the danger corporate power presents to democracy, and the extent to which it has compromised and corrupted the Metropolitan police, who have now been dragged in so deep they are beginning to look like Murdoch’s private army. It has electrified a dozy parliament and subjected the least accountable and most corrupt profession in Britain – journalism – to belated public scrutiny.

The cracks are appearing in the most unexpected places. Look at the remarkable admission by the rightwing columnist Janet Daley in this week’s Sunday Telegraph. “British political journalism is basically a club to which politicians and journalists both belong,” she wrote. “It is this familiarity, this intimacy, this set of shared assumptions … which is the real corruptor of political life. The self-limiting spectrum of what can and cannot be said … the self-reinforcing cowardice which takes for granted that certain vested interests are too powerful to be worth confronting. All of these things are constant dangers in the political life of any democracy.”

Most national journalists are embedded, immersed in the society, beliefs and culture of the people they are meant to hold to account.

They are fascinated by power struggles among the elite but have little interest in the conflict between the elite and those they dominate.

They celebrate those with agency and ignore those without.

But this is just part of the problem. Daley stopped short of naming the most persuasive force: the interests of the owner and the corporate class to which he belongs. The proprietor appoints editors in his own image – who impress their views on their staff. Murdoch’s editors, like those who work for the other proprietors, insist that they think and act independently.

It’s a lie exposed by the concurrence of their views (did all 247 News Corp editors just happen to support the invasion of Iraq?), and blown out of the water by Andrew Neil’s explosive testimony in 2008 before the Lords select committee on communications.

The papers cannot announce that their purpose is to ventriloquise the concerns of multimillionaires; they must present themselves as the voice of the people. The Sun, the Mail and the Express claim to represent the interests of the working man and woman. These interests turn out to be identical to those of the men who own the papers.

So the rightwing papers run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats. They savage the trade unions and excoriate the BBC. They lambast the regulations that restrain corporate power. They school us in the extrinsic values – the worship of power, money, image and fame – which advertisers love but which make this a shallower, more selfish country. Most of them deceive their readers about the causes of climate change. These are not the obsessions of working people. They are the obsessions thrust upon them by the multimillionaires who own these papers.

The corporate media is a gigantic astroturfing operation: a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests. In this respect the media companies resemble the Tea Party movement, which claims to be a spontaneous rising of blue-collar Americans against the elite but was founded with the help of the billionaire Koch brothers and promoted by Murdoch’s Fox News.

Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account. This purpose has been perfectly inverted. Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, stamping on new ideas, bullying the powerless. The press barons allowed governments occasionally to promote the interests of the poor, but never to hamper the interests of the rich. They also sought to discipline the rest of the media. The BBC, over the last 30 years, became a shadow of the gutsy broadcaster it was, and now treats big business with cringing deference. Every morning at 6.15, the Today programme’s business report grants executives the kind of unchallenged access of an unprecedented level. The rest of the programme seeks out controversy and sets up discussions between opponents, but these people are not confronted by their critics.

So what can be done? Because of the peculiar threat they present to democracy there’s a case to be made for breaking up all majority interests in media companies, and for a board of governors, appointed perhaps by Commons committee, to act as a counterweight to the shareholders’ business interests.

But even if that’s a workable idea, it’s a long way off. For now, the best hope might be to mobilise readers to demand that journalists answer to them, not just their proprietors. One means of doing this is to lobby journalists to commit themselves to a kind of Hippocratic oath. Here’s a rough stab at a first draft. I hope others can improve it. Ideally, I’d like to see the National Union of Journalists building on it and encouraging its members to sign.

‘Our primary task is to hold power to account. We will prioritise those stories and issues which expose the interests of power. We will be wary of the relationships we form with the rich and powerful, and ensure that we don’t become embedded in their society. We will not curry favour with politicians, businesses or other dominant groups by withholding scrutiny of their affairs, or twisting a story to suit their interests.

“We will stand up to the interests of the businesses we work for, and the advertisers which fund them. We will never take money for promulgating a particular opinion, and we will resist attempts to oblige us to adopt one.

“We will recognise and understand the power we wield and how it originates. We will challenge ourselves and our perception of the world as much as we challenge other people. When we turn out to be wrong, we will say so.”

I accept that this doesn’t directly address the power relations that govern the papers. But it might help journalists to assert a measure of independence, and readers to hold them to it. Just as voters should lobby their MPs to represent them and not just the whips, readers should seek to drag journalists away from the demands of their editors.

The oath is one possible tool that could enhance reader power.

If you don’t like it, suggest a better idea. Something has to change:   never again should a half a dozen oligarchs be allowed to dominate and corrupt the life of this country.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/11/media-corrupt-hippocratic-oath-journalists

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot’s website. On Twitter, @georgemonbiot.

13-30

Survey: Free Market Flawed

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By James Robbins

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.

In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.

There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.

Economic regulation

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was a victory for ordinary people across Eastern and Central Europe.

It also looked at the time like a crushing victory for free-market capitalism.

Twenty years on, this new global poll suggests confidence in free markets has taken heavy blows from the past 12 months of financial and economic crisis.

More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter – 23% of those who responded – feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.

And there is very strong support around the world for governments to distribute wealth more evenly. That is backed by majorities in 22 of the 27 countries.

If there is one issue where a global consensus seems to emerge from the survey it is this: there are majorities almost everywhere wanting government to be more active in regulating business.

It is only in Turkey that a majority want less government regulation.

Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided.

Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way.

But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia.

11- 47

Breaking the Gaza Siege

November 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

10-47