David Cromwell and David Edwards

David Cromwell and David Edwards

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

When Truth Becomes Silence: Glastonbury’s Cancelling Of A Powerful Film About Jeremy Corbyn
Thursday, 22 June 2023 14:58

When Truth Becomes Silence: Glastonbury’s Cancelling Of A Powerful Film About Jeremy Corbyn

Published in Films

The Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko famously said that:

When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.’

In this country, as in other western ‘democracies’, important truths are effectively being silenced. As we have written on many occasions, antisemitism was used as a weapon to destroy the chances of Jeremy Corbyn becoming the British Prime Minister. Labour HQ staffers, and even Labour MPs, actively conspired against him. Al Jazeera’s powerful series, ‘The Labour Files’, which was blatantly blanked by the establishment media, has documented all this in considerable detail.

And now the Glastonbury Film Festival has succumbed to similar pressure and cancelled a screening of a new film, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie’.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BDBJ), a right-wing establishment organisation that claims to represent the British Jewish ‘community’, had written to Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis, saying it would be ‘profoundly sinister’ if the festival platformed the film. Marie van der Zyl, president of BDBJ, said in a letter to the festival organisers:

‘It seems profoundly sinister for it to be providing a platform to a film which clearly seeks to indoctrinate people into believing a conspiracy theory effectively aimed at Jewish organisations.

‘We would request that you not allow your festival to be hijacked by those seeking to promote hatred with no basis in fact, in the same way as we would hope that your festival would not screen films seeking to promote other conspiracy theories, such as anti-vaccination, 9/11 truthers or chemtrails.’ 

The makers of the film, first shown in London in February, describe the film thus:

‘Produced by award-winning radical film-maker Platform Films, with contributions from Jackie Walker, Ken Loach, Andrew Murray, Graham Bash and Moshe Machover, and narrated by Alexei Sayle, this feature-length documentary film explores a dark and murky story of political deceit and outrageous antisemitic smears. It also uncovers the critical role played by current Labour leader, Keir Starmer and asks if the movement which backed Corbyn could rise again.’

Reviewer Diane Datson wrote:

‘The real message conveyed in this film is that the Labour Party is no alternative to the Conservatives – it serves the ruling class and is led by someone every bit as devious as Boris Johnson, if not more so.’

She added:

However, I for one felt uplifted, as the film ended optimistically. Many of the interviewees think that all is not lost – those millions of people who were inspired and given hope by the Corbyn project haven’t gone away – they are to be found supporting the picket lines, protesting and fighting for many causes such as public ownership of the NHS and the right to strike and the establishment is STILL petrified.’

But Paul Mason, formerly of BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News, and now a would-be Labour MP under Starmer, attacked the film as presenting:

‘a full-blown conspiracy theory about Corbyn’s opponents, conflating Zionists, Jews and Israel as part of a force that “orchestrated” his overthrow.’

Mason gave a specific example:

‘Seventeen minutes in, after presenting evidence of an “orchestrated campaign” against Corbyn, the narrator, Alexei Sayle asks: “But if it was an orchestrated campaign, who was in the orchestra?” There follows a silent montage showing the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, and the Israel Advocacy Movement.

‘As a professional film-maker I recognise this wordless presentation of a controversial idea not as an accident but as a technique: using captions and pictures to state what, if spoken aloud, could be accused of anti-Semitism.’

Mason’s description is a gross distortion. This section of the film does indeed address the role of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK, with the montage indicating key players. But prior to this section, ‘The Big Lie’ already emphasises the crucial point that it was the establishment as a whole that worked tirelessly to bring Corbyn down, even to the extent of an unnamed acting British army general threatening that the army would ‘mutiny’ and that ‘people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul’ to get rid of Corbyn (Sunday Times, 20 September 2015).

Sayle, as narrator, stated unequivocally that:

‘For the establishment, the sudden rise of Corbyn was terrifying.’

He continued:

‘Corbyn was anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons. A socialist, even.’

Mike Cowley, a Labour Party member, said:

I guess that’s what gave the establishment such a fright, to a degree, because they saw the numbers he was mobilising. And, as we began to see, it’s not actually Corbyn they’re afraid of. It’s us – he’s only one man. It’s us, they’re afraid of.’

Sayle then pointed out that:

‘From the start, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest threat was from his own Labour MPs.’ 

After the 2017 election, the campaign against Corbyn ‘went into overdrive’:

‘The Tory press threw its all at Jeremy Corbyn. They tried smear after smear [front-page press montage]. But in the end, only one stuck [alleged antisemitism].’

In other words, the film overwhelmingly makes clear that the pro-Israel lobby was only one player in a much larger orchestra that was fundamentally establishment, not Jewish, in nature. Mason chose to ignore this in his review. And yet, he had himself accepted the wider conspiracy in 2020:

‘A senior group of Labour staffers actively conspired for the party to lose the 2017 election… this is a Watergate moment, not just for Labour but for British politics’              

 On Twitter, leftist singer Billy Bragg joined the attack on the film:

‘The problem with the film is that it implies there is a Jewish conspiracy behind Corbyn’s defeat. The fact that the film’s supporters have been blaming the Israeli lobby for the ban rather than the content of the film kinda underlines their lack of understanding of that problem’

As evidence, Bragg then cited Mason’s misleading quote (presumably, and ill-advisedly, because Bragg had not himself seen the film) as an attempted ‘Gotcha!’

Jackie Walker, a Jewish activist who is interviewed in ‘The Big Lie’, made an additional, relevant point when she responded to Bragg:

‘Labour Friends of Israel are overwhelmingly not Jewish, the Board of deputies do not hide their commitment to Israel, and the IAM [Israel Advocacy Movement] are exactly what they say on the tin – they ADVOCATE for Israel’

‘The Big Lie’ is, of course, right to address the important part played by the pro-Israel lobby. It includes clips from the Al Jazeera film, ‘The Lobby’, which exposed Israel’s determined attempts to interfere in Britain’s politics. In particular, Israeli embassy official Shai Masot was caught on film boasting that he could help ‘bring down’ pro-Palestinian MPs. A clip of Peter Oborne, former political editor of the Telegraph, from the same Al Jazeera film, is also shown in which he says:

‘It [the actions of the Israel lobby] is outrageous interference in British politics. It shouldn’t be permitted.’ 

On Twitter, Ben Sellers observed that:

‘I have worked in Parliament & been an anti-racist activist all my adult life. I’m not naive about these things. I watched the film very carefully for anything that could be deemed antisemitic. The idea that it implies a “Jewish conspiracy” defeated Corbyn is a distortion.’

He continued:

‘What it does is explain that organisations (with their own centrist & rightwing politics) inside & outside the party, worked to create a crisis for Corbyn’s leadership & in order to defeat the left in the party. This is well documented & evidenced (e.g in the Al Jazeera docs).’

Sellers concluded:

‘It’s not a conspiracy theory – it’s an argument. And what people [like Mason and Bragg] don’t like is that argument. They don’t want to hear it. So they’ve manage[d] to silence the voice of left-wing Jews (on the basis that the Jewish community is some sort of monolith). That’s dangerous & undemocratic.’

‘Anti-Racists Accused Of Racism By Racists’

‘The Big Lie’ also highlights the incessant establishment media attacks on Corbyn, particularly after the 2017 General Election which he came so close to winning. The ‘smear that stuck’ was the myth that antisemitism was supposedly rife in Labour under Corbyn. A ‘cancer’, as one despicable newspaper headline put it.  

In his distorted review of the documentary, Mason raised the spectre of legal action on the grounds that the film supposedly breaches the politically biased and much-disputed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Simply put, the film dares to criticise the apartheid state of Israel, its lobbyists and the media acolytes who campaigned to smear Corbyn and his supporters, including long-time grassroots Labour activists.

As journalist Jonathan Cook observed in 2021, a five-year campaign by highly partisan, pro-Israel lobby groups was able to mislead the international community about the nature of what has been wrongly described as the ‘gold standard’ definition of antisemitism. The definition has now become ‘a cudgel’ with which to beat critics of Israel and to suppress the rights of Palestinians.

Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor at Oxford University, observed in the foreword of a 2021 report on how the definition of antisemitism has been misrepresented:

‘[A] definition intended to protect Jews against antisemitism was twisted to protect the State of Israel against valid criticisms that have nothing to do with anti-Jewish racism.’

In September 2018, Alexei Sayle had told a packed fringe meeting at the Labour party conference that:

‘There can be no greater injustice than anti-racists being accused of racism by racists.’

That is a precise and succinct summary of what has been happening in recent years.

Having watched the complete documentary, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie’, it is clear that it is thoroughly researched, relies on credible and articulate interviewees, and its arguments are expertly marshalled and presented. The notion that it is in any way ‘antisemitic’ is just a sign of how far down the road of totalitarian censorship we have travelled in this country.

Glastonbury Capitulates

Rather than spring to the film’s defence, Michael Walker of Novara Media criticised the film’s title:

‘Normally I’m v against clamping down on any open discussion about what happened in and to labour between 2015 and 2019. But calling your film “the big lie” is, at best, really really dumb.’

Why? Because Hitler had used the same phrase, ‘the big lie’. But, as several people pointed out in response to Walker’s ‘really really dumb’ comment, so have many others. In fact, ‘the big lie’ comes from one of the Jewish contributors to the film, Moshé Machover, in describing the smears against Corbyn. Moreover, Walker admitted he had not even seen the film.

This continued the shameful record of Novara – remember, supposedly an ‘alternative’ to the corporate media – in failing to critically appraise the weaponising of antisemitism; indeed, accepting the myth that antisemitism was endemic under Corbyn-led Labour.

Once they had caved in to pro-Israel pressure to cancel the film, the Glastonbury festival organisers then issued a statement in which they said:

‘Although we believe that the Pilton Palais [cinema] booked this film in good faith, in the hope of provoking political debate, it’s become clear that it is not appropriate for us to screen it at the festival.

‘Glastonbury is about unity and not division, and we stand against all forms of discrimination.’

What a contrast from 2017 when Corbyn had addressed a massive, appreciative crowd at Glastonbury, proclaiming a message of ‘unity, and not division’ and ‘standing against all forms of discrimination’.

The BDBJ crowed that the film had now been cancelled:

‘We are pleased that in the wake of a letter we sent earlier today, @glastonbury have announced the cancellation of the screening of this film. Hateful conspiracy theories should have no place in our society.’

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a founding member of Jewish Voice for Labour who was expelled from Starmer’s Labour Party for being the ‘wrong type of Jew’said on Twitter:

‘Unbelievable that @glastonbury has bowed to demands from fans of Starmer’s @uklabour, banning a film exposing demonisation of @jeremycorbyn. The censors say the film conflates Zionists, Jews & Israel. No, actually, that’s what they do. See it & judge for yourself.’

US journalist Glenn Greenwald noted:

‘The @glastonbury Film Festival capitulated to pressure and cancelled the Corbyn documentary.

‘This illustrates the great crisis in the democratic world: an intense fixation on suppressing and silencing, rather than engaging, dissenting views.

‘Every solution now is censorship.’

It is indeed the ‘solution’ seen by established power, and it is utterly wrong.

There was minimal reporting by the British state-corporate media and, crucially, no uproar about censorship and yet another step being taken towards suppression of free speech. There was a handful of short news reports, including in the Independent, the Evening Standard, the Guardian (passed over in just three lines), the TimesDaily Mail and Telegraph.

These mainly led with the charges of ‘antisemitism’ and ‘conspiracy theory’. The Evening Standard also carried a smear piece, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn: Glasto myth and a poisonous conspiracy theory’, by Tanya Gold.

The single significant piece refuting the specious, cynical charges was an article in the Independent reporting the reaction of Norman Thomas, the film’s producer. He said that the film’s cancellation had been caused by ‘vicious outside pressure’. He added:

‘An outside pressure group [BDBJ] has declared war on our film. They wrote to the festival’s sponsors… and whipped up huge storm of complaints about the film claiming, without any foundation whatsoever, that the film is antisemitic.’

He continued:

‘The claim that the film is antisemitic is a total smear.

‘The festival organisers even had a lawyer examine the film who pronounced it totally devoid of antisemitism. [Our emphasis]’

As we have also seen with the cruel persecution of Julian Assange and the treatment of Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, the establishment is becoming ever fiercer in its attacks on those who challenge power.

It is ironic indeed that Glenn Greenwald, a US journalist, is far more vocal in defending UK freedom of speech than British journalists. A great silence has fallen over the media in this country.

Friday, 10 March 2017 19:37

Distortion and groupthink

David Cromwell and David Edwards edit Media Lens, www.medialens.org. In a foundation essay on media culture, they explain how the British media distort reality and marginalise dissent. Media bias against the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is likely to be prominent in the next few weeks, and we invite further contributions on this topic.

The media presents itself as a neutral window on the world. We are to believe that the view we see through that window supplies ‘all the news that’s fit to print’. But when you take a closer look at the ‘window’, you realise it’s not a window on the world at all - it’s a kind of distorted and limited painting of a window on the world. Moreover, the ‘painting’ has been produced using colours, textures and forms all selected by profit-seeking corporations or national broadcasters tied intimately to the state.

It is no wonder that so much media output looks the same, with an artificial shared consensus on vital issues – ‘austerity’, war on Iraq, war on Libya, war on Syria, the NHS and the economy, to name just a few. The reality is that the state and the corporate media have shared elite interests, goals and biases. Anything that seriously challenges the status quo is marginalised, buried or vilified.

Consider the impact of advertising which typically provides around 50 per cent of revenues for the commercial media. Journalists regularly claim that reporting and opinion are protected from the influence of advertising by a failsafe firewall. Editorial priorities and media performance are, they say, completely uncontaminated by the ads in which they are embedded. In the real world, every last aspect of a newspaper is shaped by and designed to attract advertising. Media analyst James Twitchell explains:

You name it: the appearance of ads throughout the pages, the “jump” or continuation of a story from page to page, the rise of sectionalisation (as with news, cartoons, sports, financial, living, real estate), common page size, halftone images, process engraving, the use of black-and-white photography, then colour, sweepstakes, and finally discounted subscriptions were all forced on publishers by advertisers hoping to find target audiences. 

- quoted in Sharon Beder, Global Spin, Green Books, 1997, p.181

Even Andrew Marr, the BBC’s former political editor and former editor of the Independent, once admitted:

But the biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda. It does, of course. It’s hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques.

Marr, My Trade, Macmillan, 2004, p.112

Media historians James Curran and Jean Seaton described the impact of advertising revenue on media culture at the beginning of the twentieth century:

Dependence on advertising encouraged the absorption or elimination of the early radical press and stunted its subsequent development before the First World War

 - Curran and Seaton, Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain, Routledge, 1991, p.47

In fact, advertising completely changed the media landscape:

In short, one of four things happened to national radical papers that failed to meet the requirements of advertisers. They either closed down; accommodated to advertising pressure by moving up-market; stayed in a small audience ghetto with manageable losses; or accepted an alternative source of institutional patronage.

- Ibid, p.43

It is no coincidence that just as corporations achieved this unprecedented stranglehold, the notion of ‘professional journalism’ appeared. American media analyst, Robert McChesney, writes:

Savvy publishers understood that they needed to have their journalism appear neutral and unbiased, notions entirely foreign to the journalism of the era of the Founding Fathers, or their businesses would be far less profitable.

- Robert McChesney, in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw - Leading Journalists Expose The Myth Of A Free Press, Prometheus Books, 2002, p.367

By promoting education in formal ‘schools of journalism’, which did not exist before 1900 in the United States, wealthy owners could claim that trained editors and reporters were granted autonomy to make editorial decisions based on their professional judgement, rather than on the needs of owners and advertisers. As a result, owners could present their media monopoly as a ‘neutral’ service to the community. The claim, McChesney writes, was ‘entirely bogus’.

Built-in to ‘neutral’ professional journalism were three major biases. First, ostensibly to ensure balanced selection of stories, professional journalists decided that the actions and opinions of official sources should form the basis of legitimate news. As a result, news came to be dominated by ‘mainstream’ political and business sources representing similar establishment interests.

Second, journalists agreed that a news ‘hook’ - a dramatic event, official announcement or publication of a report - was required to justify covering a story. This also strongly favoured establishment interests, which were far more able to generate the required ‘hook’ than marginalised dissident groups.

Finally, carrot-and-stick pressures from advertisers, business associations and leading political parties had the effect of herding corporate journalists away from some issues and towards others. Newspapers dependent on corporate advertisers are, after all, unlikely to focus too intensively on the destructive impact of these same corporations on public health, the Third World and environment.

McChesney notes how professional journalism ‘smuggles in values conducive to the commercial aims of the owners and advertisers, as well as the political aims of the owning class’. (Ibid, p.369)

All of these factors are included in the most complete analysis of media bias: the ‘propaganda model’, introduced by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1988 book, ‘Manufacturing Consent’. The propaganda model consists of five ‘news filters’ through which ‘money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public’. They are:

i) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;

ii) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;

iii) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power;

iv) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media;

v) "anticommunism" (more recently, “anti-terrorism”) as a national religion and control mechanism.

All of these factors work to ensure that the ‘mainstream’ media actually promote the interests of a very narrow, 1% elite. Herman and Chomsky commented:

The “societal purpose” of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.

But what about the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4 News? Aren’t they different? Don’t they present accurate reporting and a wide range of views? Certainly, no serious media analyst looks to the right-wing press to defend and expand free speech; they are plainly propaganda organs for established greed. But many people do look to the so-called ‘left-leaning’ press. Until recently, many liberals, and much of the general public, viewed the BBC and, to a lesser extent, the Guardian as national treasures. However, two recent major events have severely challenged this complacent assumption. In Scotland, in particular, there is now considerable scepticism, to say the least, at endless proclamations that BBC News is an ‘impartial’ public-interest service. The broadcaster’s biased coverage of the independence referendum campaign in 2014 blew apart that illusion once and for all.

And throughout the UK, people have witnessed the spectacular ‘mainstream’ media bias targeting Jeremy Corbyn. Given the huge mandate that Corbyn received to become leader of the Labour Party in two elections, the constant attacks on him have highlighted how systemically opposed the media is to policies favoured by much of the public. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell commented recently:

Jeremy Corbyn is trying to transform our society so that it is radically more equal, radically more fair, radically more democratic. The whole media establishment [is] owned by people whose power is entrenched. They are trying to destroy a socialist who is trying to transfer power from the establishment to the people. That is their job to do. The oligarchs are protecting their power base.

- https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/03/labour-caught-in-struggle-to-survive-media-attacks-says-john-mcdonnell

But what of the so-called ‘left-leaning’ press? McDonnell added:

The Guardian became part of the New Labour establishment and, as a result of that, you feel dispossessed because your people are no longer in power…

Other issues also reveal the lie of the ‘liberal’ media: coverage of the NHS; Israel’s monstrous crimes against the Palestinians; and the West’s endless wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. We have covered these issues, and many others, in hundreds of media alerts and several books going back over 15 years. See, for example, our free online archive at http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive.html

In a talk almost twenty years ago, the American political writer and media critic Michael Parenti explained powerfully how journalism works in practice, including the liberal media:

'Oddly enough, if you talk to most reporters, most of the reporters I know who are giving me stories about censorship, about top-down control and all, are ex-reporters. They're often people - I began noticing, "Well I used to work for Associated Press...", or "Well, I used to work for CBS..." – "Well I used to..." The ones who are still in there absolutely vehemently deny that there's any such thing like this. They get very indignant. They say: "Are you telling me that I'm not my own man? I'll have you know that in 17 years with this paper I always say what I like." And I say to them: "You say what you like, because they like what you say."

'And, you know, the minute you move too far - and you have no sensation of a restraint on your freedom. I mean, you don't know you're wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day. It's only if you then begin to wander to a prohibited perimeter that you feel the tug, you see. So you're free because your ideological perspective is congruent with that of your boss. So you have no sensation of being at odds with your boss.

- Michael Parenti - Inventing Reality, YouTube, talk on 17 October 1993)

As Chomsky has pointed out, the tiny handful of relatively honest journalists working in the ‘mainstream’ – Owen Jones, George Monbiot and Robert Fisk, for example – play a vital role in supporting the illusion that corporate media offer a wide ‘spectrum’ of available views. In truth, they are tiny oases in a desert of news and commentary promoting elite interests. Glenn Greenwald, who reported whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations for the Guardian, soon left the paper. Indeed, he has been quite critical of them since he left; for example, pointing out in Twitter exchanges involving Guardian journalists:

Mocking you [Media Lens] as conspiracists is how UK journalists demonstrate their in-group coolness to one another: adolescent herd behavior
- https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/636131030399909889


I've never encountered any group more driven by group-think and rank-closing cohesion than British journalists.
- https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/636131347019497473

The Guardian likes to 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.

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, NHS campaigners, housing collectives; nor anyone else who might threaten the status quo.

Consider the fate 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 after he overstepped the mark when he examined credible claims that Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza last 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.