Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Guardian gets new editor. Beyond the applause, key questions for Katharine Viner

There's been much congratulatory response to the announcement of Katharine Viner as new editor-in-chief at the Guardian.

On hearing the decision, Guardian columnist Owen Jones tweeted his almost euphoric approval:
Incredible news that @KathViner is new Guardian editor! Nearly whooped in the quiet carriage. That's how excited I am.
Jones also, in typical petulant tone, berates those who haven't so-readily deferred to Viner's appointment, dismissing reasonable questions as 'resentful' and 'sniping' responses.

As apparent testament to her progressive credentials, Jones and others, like Paul Mason, have pointed to Viner's part in writing the play My Name is Rachel Corrie for the stage. Like them, many will say this, at least, suggests a more assertive editorial support for the Palestinian cause.

We'll see. Viner's role in this is, of course, commendable. Yet, even participation in such a laudable human rights story indicates little certainty of her delivering any wider radical imprint at the Guardian.

Viner's recent CV has been more corporate-focused than humanitarian campaigning, concentrating on building the Guardian's US and Australian operations. Are we to believe that someone heading-up these kind of profit-centred assignments is now likely to turn on the very corporate forces that run the media, including the Guardian?    

Journalistic courtesies aside, shouldn't we be expecting writers worth their salt to be asking immediate questions about where the incoming Guardian editor will stand on key issues, from emergency climate change to war policy, Israel-Palestine to the propaganda-fest being waged against Russia?

And what might Viner have to say about the Guardian's own in-house part in suppressing damning evidence of HSBC's UK operation?

The way in which this key exposure by Nafeez Ahmed has been quietly ignored by the Guardian's 'best' parallels the glossing-over of its editors' cosy relationships with political power.

Here's an instructive little passage, in that regard, from Jones's book The Establishment:  
Andy Coulson, who had resigned as editor of the News of the World over allegations of phone-hacking in 2007, was appointed Cameron's communications director, at the particular insistence of George Osborne. Editors at The Guardian had privately warned Cameron's inner circle about Coulson's past: but for the Tories, the former News of the World editor was too much of a prize, a key means of keeping the Murdoch empire onside. (The Establishment, 2014, pp 115-116. My italics.)
Isn't it remarkable that a lengthy work supposedly probing the inner sanctums of the Establishment, and, in this particular chapter, power of the 'mediaocracy', could so smoothly glide-past the Guardian editor giving private counsel to Cameron and his inner cabal? Did Jones not even consider, in writing these thirteen sparse words, the implications of such 'advisory' contact? Is it fine to take-apart the intimate relationships around Murdoch/News International and the Chipping Norton set, but not Rusbridger's and the Guardian's dealings with the political elite?

As with his reaction over Viner, Jones's holds a special reverence for Rusbridger. Fittingly, in a book purporting to map  Britain's elite movers and shakers, Rusbridger isn't named once.  Here, in effect, we see how deflected dissent and prudent circumvention helps protect a vital section of the liberal establishment. 

As closely detailed by Media Lens, Jones's principal targets in The Establishment are the 'moguls', press barons and wealthy media proprietors. But "key issues of structural corporate media corruption are not even mentioned." And on the "crucial problem of media dependency on advertising - a non-mogul related problem that applies every bit as much to the Guardian as it does to the Tory and tabloid press - Jones has literally nothing to say."

Actually, much of which Jones identifies and dissects in his book is not really an anatomy of the Establishment at all, more a railing against the broader neoliberal order. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and there's plenty of informative and rallying detail on political deceit, police corruption, tax dodging and corporate scrounging to commend in the text. But it lacks any primary indictment of the structural corporate monolith driving it all.  

Again, this is nowhere more apparent than Jones's section on the media, which eagerly savages Murdoch, the Daily Mail and the usual Tory demons, but offers no appreciable analysis of the corporate forces directing the liberal media. Conveniently, there's a Grand Canyon-sized omission here regarding the Guardian, Independent and other liberal-establishment serving outlets. 

It's also notable that Viner continues the Oxbridge line at the Guardian helm. Not that an Oxbridge background in itself - either hers, Rusbridger's or even Jones's - should preclude radical thought. But it's also remarkable how many of that select ilk do, in fact, come to run, manage and dutifully defend the Guardian and its 'vanguard ethos'. All of which helps disguise its crucial establishment role, rather than, as Jones fails to do, place it decisively at the heart of the establishment network.

Rather than dismiss those who aren't rushing to laud Viner, Jones, his Guardian peers and others across the liberal media should be posing critical questions to her and the Guardian as a key section of the establishment media. Asking why they aren't doing so isn't an exercise in 'sniping' or negativity. It's part of legitimate enquiry and public debate.  

So, as Viner steps up to the job, here's some pertinent things people like Jones might more usefully be pushing her to answer.  

Will she reverse the Guardian's craven editorial line in consistently supporting and rationalising Western interventionism and talking-up Britain's imperialist role?

Will she exert any serious check on Jonathan Freedland as effective gatekeeper of the paper's lame, apologist editorial position on Israel-Palestine?

Will she halt the rehabilitation/cultivation of Tony Blair and his war circle, ending the protection and free platform they get to sanitise their actions?

Will she explain why the Guardian took a safe establishment position over the Scottish independence referendum?

Will she conduct an open investigation and state clearly why Nafeez Ahmed was sacked from the paper's environmental section after writing a 'contentious' piece on Gaza's offshore gas fields?

Will she pledge to end the Guardian's carbon/fossil fuel advertising?

Will she move to end the Guardian's corporate green-washing, as in its major partnership with Unilever

Will she show real transparency over the Guardian's relationship with HSBC?

Will she shine an honest, critical light on the Guardian's own corporate-based directorship, and cease pretending that the Scott Trust Limited is anything more than a corporate entity?

So many vital questions, so much quiescent silence. So much in-house deference. Such urgent need for a truly independent, challenging journalism.


Ann Garrison said...

It would also be good of The Guardian's new editor to review the paper's everlasting love for the warmongering, authoritarian spy state of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Also long overdue for review is their embrace of the official version of the Rwandan massacres of 1994. This simplistic tale of good Tutsis and evil Hutus is legally enforced in Rwanda but has recently been challenged by the BBC documentary "Rwanda's Untold Story." https://vimeo.com/107867605, and by a handful of well documented books including "Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction," by Robin Philpot, "The Politics of Genocide" and "Enduring Lies: Rwanda in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later," by Ed Herman and David Peterson, "Accidental Genocide," by Peter Erlinder, "Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and its Consequences," by Barrie Collins, and "Surviving the Slaughter" by Marie Beatrice Umutezi.

Instead, The Guardian recently published a purple prose "re-review" of Phillip Gourevitch's purple prose propaganda, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families."

Anonymous said...

You wrote, "Will she reverse the Guardian's craven editorial line in consistently supporting and rationalising Western interventionism and talking-up Britain's imperialist role?"

We have the answer. It is a defiant NO.