Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Best of times, worst of Times: Murdoch goes after Media Lens

The Times, under Rupert Murdoch's News International, has threatened Media Lens with legal action, claiming that it had published an e-mail from Times journalist Bronwen Maddox without permission. It also alleges that Maddox had received intimidating letters from ML contributors.

Maddox had written a typical piece castigating Iran as a menacing threat to the West, part of the 'sensible' fearmongering output we've been seeing from the 'quality' press towards Tehran. ML had challenged Maddox's views and noted her reply as part of their exchange, a standard convention in any such correspondence. NI's legal manager, Alastair Brett, responded with the threat of legal proceedings, demanding that ML remove Maddox's e-mailed comments from their Alert piece. As a nominally-funded outfit, ML was forced to comply. Except for one outlandish e-mail from an unknown source, Brett has produced no evidence of these 'intimidating letters' to Maddox.

In a subsequent Alert , Media Lens detail the flimsy and malevolent nature of Brett's case:
"Brett claimed Times journalist Bronwen Maddox had been subject to “vexatious and threatening” emails from Media Lens readers, which constituted “harassment”. If this did not stop, Brett told us, he would notify the police who might wish to investigate the matter with a view to bringing a criminal prosecution. "

"Brett also claimed that we would be acting unlawfully by publishing an email from Maddox without permission. We sought advice and one legal expert told us:

“The Times has no case over the confidentiality of email correspondence. Email correspondence, in itself, is not considered confidential - unless the precise contents of an email are confidential.” "

"Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law at London Metropolitan University and an expert on the European Convention on Human Rights, commented:

"I find the stance of the Times appalling in moral terms and flimsy at best in law. Their legal position, if endorsed by the courts, would severely limit freedom of the press over issues of major public concern. Is that what they want? I have little doubt their arguments would be kicked out by the UK courts if they pursued them here; they would certainly not be upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is simply an attempt by a heavy-weight corporation to brow-beat a small freelance news operation that dares to be critical of its editorial line. It is quite scandalous. The Times should be ashamed of itself." (Email to Media Lens, July 8, 2008)"
An impressive flow of support for Media Lens has followed, even from some often at the receiving end of ML's (always rationally-argued and polite) output. The Times, meanwhile, has fallen strangely silent, refusing, of course, to print a single letter in their organ in defence of Media Lens.

It's an encouraging sign of the times for an expanding alternative media that News International should concentrate its corporate wrath on a small, but highly effective, site like Media Lens. It shows the gathering impact ML is having in exposing slavish journalism, corporate control and the liberal media's servility to power.

In contrast, while an establishment organ, long-standing, this episode reveals the Times in its worst incarnation to date: that of a bullying attack dog using its corporate teeth to silence dissent.

The Times assault on Media Lens is but the latest exercise in Murdoch's instructions-to-purge. We also have the ongoing persecution of Tommy Sheridan, his family and his colleagues by News International. One strongly suspects that, when the dust settles on this case, formal inquiry-type questions will have to be asked about those, at the highest levels, who instructed and pursued this cruel and political vendetta.

Like the attack on the 'Sheridan 7', NI's efforts to intimidate Media Lens illustrates the kind of Orwellian times we're living in. While the government pursues unprecedented draconian legislation to silence and detain, its corporate intimates are using their muscle to pick-off those beyond easy reach.

While the prospect of further legal action, and possible closure, remains, the Media Lens editors can take great heart from News International's militant 'attentions'. It's a testament to their rational, forensic and humanitarian output that Murdoch and the elite he represents wish to see them cowed and silenced.

Of course, while his legal hench-persons may have selected the wrong grounds this time for pursuing their kill - as shown by the widespread support and sympathy for Media Lens - the Empire is unlikely to give up. As shown in the Sheridan case, Murdoch is not known for graceful retreat.

In the meantime, ML's stellar output is proving a considerable problem for those continuing to hide behind the veil of 'professional journalism'. Particularly those 'sensible liberals' with their 'worried readings' of the 'Iranian menace'. There's a certain irony here that it's taken someone like Murdoch to 'act on their behalf' in trying to muzzle Media Lens. They would, no doubt, disapprove of such censorship, proclaiming ideals of a free media. Yet, it's a sign of the times, nonetheless, that the bully tactics of News International are serving to protect their hallowed liberal status. Which goes to show that, in times of war and the 'menacing other', this broad media amalgam can be safely relied upon to promote the same essential message of support for the West's lies and aggressions.


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