UK alternative media with Kerry-Anne Mendoza
Host Chris Hedges talks to Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor-in-chief of the Canary. Created just five years ago, the alternative socialist website is financed by subscribers and advertisers with 3.5 million monthly viewers. It has been accused of being “hyper-partisan” due to its mainly pro-Labor Party content. The Daily Telegraph, an elitist newspaper, called it “the maddest left-wing website in the world.”
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss the importance and role of alternative media with The Canary's editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza.
KM: How have we got to this point? And worse, why aren't the supposedly liberal, virtuous journalists in the mainstream calling this stuff out? If this is really who they are, if this is really what they stand for, where's the noise? Where was the absolute solidarity when journalists had been arrested, deported, extradited, where is that solidarity? And it doesn't exist because ultimately, they aren't journalists, they're propagandists, and they've kind of drunk their own Kool-Aid and still hold on to this identity of themselves as journalists, and it says something about the fact that they don't recognize us as journalists because I think it's offensive to them, the idea that we are and they no longer are.
CH: The Canary, founded in 2015 with the goal of diversifying the media and breaking free from the insular world of the elites, is one of the most successful alternative media platforms in Great Britain. It has 3.5 million unique users a month. The site has fearlessly called out the establishment media organizations such as the BBC and The Guardian for catering to the ruling elites and spreading official propaganda as if it was news. Joining me in the studio to discuss the importance of alternative media and the failure of the established media is Canary's editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza. So first of all, have--having read your site, you have really built a very important and quite effective media platform which, kind of, remarkable and so just briefly…
KM: Thank you.
CH: …tell us how you did it.
KM: We did it on our own. I mean, it was really born of our increasing frustration with exactly what you described, which is an increasingly narrow, elitist media which just parrots the propaganda of the state and capital versus old-fashioned journalism which goes out and does that grump work which it used to be the rigor of daily journalism which was finding out the truth. I'm reporting it in a way that readers could understand to the widest possible audience. And so, a group of us got together and decided that we wanted to set this thing up. We took no [INDISTINCT] funding which meant literally for the first three to six months, there was very little income, and we had this belief that it wasn't just us that had this frustration and if we could reach those other people that share those frustrations, this was the thing that could do really well. Within months, we were up and running, professionalizing, and, you know, being able to hire ever-more writers and cover ever-greater topics, and it's been, you know, an exciting and terrifying nearly five years in September.
CH: So, let's talk a little bit about the role of the alternative media. Traditionally, the alternative media, in essence, shames the mainstream media into doing their job. And you have numerous examples of--well, let's start with The Guardian, where you've done that, but just take a few of those off.
KM: I think for us, we wanted to get socialism back on the agenda. To be frank, this is a perfectly legitimate alternative idea that addresses some of the critical issues that are facing our society today which are born of a, sort of, morally and literally bankrupt political ideology which is neoliberalism. And our entire media backs that model.
CH: And let me just interrupt, because like the United States, perhaps even more than the United States, there's been a long tradition of socialism within the United Kingdom that, kind of, got obliterated by the twin swamp creatures, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
KM: Absolutely. It was made--I mean it became really heavily stigmatized despite the fact that most of us acknowledged that the greatest things about Britain are born of socialism. We have a National Health Service free at the point of use.
KM: We have a state education system which is one of the best things in the world…
CH: Although it's all being destroyed.
KM: Absolutely. And it's being destroyed because the principles that underlie their very foundations have been eroded and stigmatized. So, even to defend them from a socialist perspective, even though they're socialist ideas, suddenly becomes anathema to people. It's almost offensive to suggest that we should do these things…
CH: And, you know…
KM: …and how the idea of a welfare state has become a lunatic idea.
CH: You have privatized your public transportation, which has been a disaster. You have privatized, I believe, your postal service, correct?
CH: Which has been a disaster, I mean, so if it's not profitable to deliver to a remote community or they don't want to deliver it to individual boxes they just don't, and I--which I didn't know until I got to London, there's been heavy privatization of your healthcare service.
KM: Yeah, massively. And in two ways as well, not only are they outsourcing the services that are being provided, but in the way that it's funded is probably even more dangerous. So, they've used this thing called a private finance initiative which is effectively instead of the state funding that service, private finance funds it. So it's kind of the equivalent of buying your house instead of using a mortgage, using a credit card. You know, that is--that is the difference we're talking about in terms of the interest, in terms of the conditions. So we're facing even greater crises. You've got about, kind of, 27% of NHS trust at the moment which are being declared bankrupt or in financial trouble, which is absurd for a public service. You can't be bankrupt as a public service because all you're doing is paying what it takes to deal with the health problems that your society has and instead they're being run like business with profit and loss accounts crushed under the weight of this ever-growing pile of debt. And of course, what these--what these, kind of, corporate politicians then like to do would say, "You see? We can't possibly continue to have this NHS because it's costing too much," when they knew full well the reason those services are in trouble is being they're being chronically underfunded. Meanwhile, they're being put--placed under this enormous debt burden. So all of the funding they do have is being diverted essentially to line the pockets of private lenders versus actual [INDISTINCT]
CH: And it intrigues the demon--or the xenophobia, the Islamophobia, because, as in the states, they're blaming the collapse of these social services and privatization of these social services which become more costly to the citizen and more ineffective on the immigrant.
KM: Absolutely, because they want a nice clean narrative. And their narrative is, the reason that you've feel the sense of scarcity, the reason that you can't get a doctor's appointment when you want one or your kids can't get into the school that they want to get to or the class sizes are growing or you're in the back of the--this giant council housing list, the reason for all of these had nothing to do with us, nothing to do with our political decisions or our, you know, capitalist economic system, you know what is, it's the immigrants. There's too many people flooding into the country, jump, you know, run into the head of the queue is what they always like to put it, jumping the queue, and we cannot any longer sustain this burden. And then they might back that up if they--you know, if they were liberals, supposedly liberal, then they might go a little bit down on the immigrant one and, oh, it's the EU, it's these EU regulations. And those two scapegoats, the immigrant and the--and the EU, have basically been there for the last 30 years, while this neoliberalism agenda has been perpetrated on all of us. The scapegoats have been the immigrant and the EU. And so, it's no mystery how we got into our current, you know, crisis of politics where were have a massively resurgent far right in this country which is emboldened and energized by everything that's been going on recently because they've been fed these lies this whole time and, of course, those lies don't only help defend those politicians and capitalists from blame, it's also about dividing working class people against each other, splitting everyone off into camps so that people are more driven by the prejudice of their brag neighbor who's basically living the same life that they are, suffering the same shortages and scarcities that they are, rather than the millionaire politician which has been crushing them underfoot the whole time. And it's really insidious and it's one thing to expect that Daily Mail and The Sun to trike these racist arguments.
CH: These little tabloids.
KM: That's what they're there--we know--we know what they are, but when you have The Guardian and The BBC joining into this narrative, I think it's even more dangerous because they've been given a legitimacy. They have been given a credibility. They, sort of, stand there as if they're liberal and progressive. And they are trying out exactly these same tired regressive arguments that are designed essentially to kill off working class solidarity and divert blame and really protect privilege.
CH: So, I don't know the British media system as well as I do in the US, but there was a kind of coup d'etat. I mean, I work for The New York Times. There was a period under an editor named Abe Rosenthal when he swung the paper into the neoliberal camp. He used to have lunch every week with William F. Buckley, and turned what had been a traditional liberal media organization. And by that, I meant a media organization that was not--it was bound by the ideology of American capitalism and very friendly towards American imperialism, but it wasn't bound by the ideology of neoliberalism. And it became bound. I assume the same happened here.
KM: Absolutely. Well, The Guardian used to be run by The Scott Trust, you know, it was--it was not the sort of typical business enterprise. It was supposed to be kind of edgy and independent, and had a great staff of columnists that were producing some really great stuff around the time when we were addressing it right where The Guardian was in front and center in fighting that illegal war, and the BBC actually did a really great job in the, sort of, early days to fight--to fight that and it--I think, kind of, both of them rapidly retreated after that point. So, there's a real demarcation, kind of, pre-Iraq and post-Iraq media landscape. And even how Kath Viner at the--at The Guardian who's turned this into a very standard business model, the recruitment and retention of really, I mean, they're right-wing by most people's standards, you're actually looking at the actual political spectrum, you would say these are right-wing, these are people who write the most awfully Islamophobic content. You know, they're part of leading the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn and the Labour Party, part of the justification of which is this awful argument that, oh, Corbyn's anti-Semitic because of all those Muslim voters that he's trying to call, which is a disgusting and racist trope to be continually trotting out. But again, it doesn't matter because as long as they all accord with each other and continue to say that we are liberal, that's the truth.
CH: Well, what's interesting about The Canary is that you've really called these people out by, number one, exposing that hypocrisy and duplicity and subservient to not only an ideology but to corporate power, but also by covering stories they should cover that they don't. Just tick off a few, because it's quite an impressive list.
KM: I think, you know, the big ones I think of the rising Islamophobia, this is, you know, occasionally you'll have one odd columnist here or there that publishes something which is critical and in line with that, but then you put it in the context of the rest of paper's content, you go, "Hang on." They're actually just undermining that entire case but continue into propagating that narrative. The same happens with austerity. You know, the right, the odd column that, meanwhile, everything else in that paper will be supporting the neoliberal assumptions that perpetrators started in the first place. We've had a number of, you know, a really agreed just immigration cases that don't get picked up in the mainstream. We have the Grenfell Tower disaster where you literally have…
CH: And this was--and explain what that is for American--this was a public housing project, there was fire, the contactor was largely to blame.
KM: Yup. And this was awful. This is right in the center…
CH: And so with 70 people--70 people died I think, right?
KM: Yeah. Like, right in the center of London, one of Kensington and Chelsea, which is one of London's richest boroughs. You have, you know, a housing development, a tower block essentially, which is full of working-class, largely brown and black people and working white poor. And that goes up in a puff of smoke and we all watched it. We watched these people burn to death. It was absolutely harrowing. The media covered it for a week. There were some tears, but none of them carried on with the fight of saying--of holding politicians' feet to that fire and saying, "But what about austerity? What about the conditions…"
CH: But also there was a--wasn't…
KM: "…which drove this disaster?"
CH: Wasn't there a contactor that had put siding or something…
CH: …that should have been held responsible?
KM: Combustible cladding. We've just had another fire on that basis this week. This is really terrifying that we don't know how many people are housed in these buildings in London and beyond which, if there is a fire, the whole thing's going to go up. And it is--again, it's that thing of they will challenge the event, but they very rarely challenge…
CH: Yeah. That structure.
KM: Yup, exactly.
CH: Okay. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Canary's editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation with the editor-in-chief of The Canary, Kerry-Anne Mendoza. So there's a cost for doing journalism in the global corporate empire with the ideology of neoliberalism, what are journalists who are attempting to expose and even challenge this narrative facing?
KM: I think there are several lines of attack which happen, and the first is delegitimacy. What they seek to do is delegitimize anyone who is speaking from any other perspective and is very narrow for the neoliberal consensus that we have in the mainstream, and that shows up in several ways so, you know, when we'd first started, it is not just The Canary but a whole fleet of alternative media outlets, we faced a range of accusations which became increasingly hyperbolic, you know, from fake news, very Trump-esque kind of fake news…
CH: And this was being disseminated by the mainstream media, by--it was?
KM: Yeah, we--I mean, we had literally been running, I believe it was 12 weeks, and there was a whole page article in The Telegraph, denouncing us as the "Maddest left-wing website in the world." And then it was The Guardian, and then it was--and it just expanded. And we were--we've prepared for this because we were pretty sure when we started off that we we'd almost get worse and more kind of hateful challenge from the--from the liberal media than we ever with the far-right.
CH: Oh, because you're a threat, that's who you really threatened?
KM: Absolutely, yeah. And also because we were holding them to account from a progressive direction, and if they go toward with the right, they feel good. It validates their opinions of themselves because they'd say, "Look, we're liberal and we're challenging these people." But then when they have genuine progressives, genuine socialists saying, "Hang on a minute. No, you're supporting austerity which is demonizing the poor," you're--you know, and the string of arguments that we're making to them, then we get really angry because we're not just challenging their narrative, we're challenging their view of themselves, and they really want to see themselves as the kind of white saviors in all--in all of this.
CH: But they--it's important, you know, Chomsky's right about this, they posit themselves as the moral voice of the society, which is--and Chomsky has written a length about this, which is why when you puncture that facade, and expose the complicity that they have with the rule on elites, they are so vicious.
KM: Absolutely. And they come out en masse. You know, so you will be, you know, targeted by Twitter hate mobs, they'll go through all of your social media posts and try and, you know, find something that they can hang on you, even if it's 10 to 15 years old, doesn't matter. You know, they'll go through all of your list of associations, and, you know, if there's anyone you've ever spoken to…
CH: So give one of the examples of what they've done to you, I mean…
KM: When we had last year, I was--I was chosen by the Black Members Council of the National Union of Journalists, so I'm a member of that union, to give the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture, which is a really big deal here, Claudia Jones is a--is a--originally Caribbean, worked to the United States for a long time, she's a member of the Communist Party of the United States, and then was purged in a kind of Red Scare period, and ended up in London where she finds in the Notting Hill Carnival, and she's just this great figure in journalism, this black woman journalist operating at a time when you didn't have black woman journalists. And to get to give that speech was a great honor, and it was an opportunity to carry her work forward. But unfortunately, it was being held in The Guardian's headquarters. And when they found out, they began this insidious hate campaign. You know, it was really intense, and there was not a paper or media outlet in this country which wasn't running character assassinating articles about me and The Canary, they were going through to contributors like Max Blumenthal, who I know you know, and targeting them and attempting to put pressure on them, and eventually just said, "No, we're not going to have you in the building." And you know, and my union, which obviously should've--I've hoped, in good times, be there to support me as someone who's being abused and character-assassinated, behaved like a trade cartel and just, "Well, The Guardian is our biggest stakeholder. So, we're going to go with them." So, we ended up having told an alternative Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture somewhere, and they didn't care about the optics, the fact that this is a bunch of largely white journalists telling a black woman, "You can't speak in our building." You know, is there--is there any more of a disgusting racist [INDISTINCT] in that but literally say, "No, you can't come in." But that was just overlooked by all of these journalists who are supposedly liberal, supposedly anti-racist, all of these moral guardians of our society, because they don't want these conversations to be happening, they don't want to talk about genuine diversity in the newsroom. They don't want to talk about how we have this, kind of, angels-dancing-on-a-head-of-a-pin version of punditry in this country where you've got people who ever buy a cigarette papers difference between them politically arguing [INDISTINCT] as if they're really opponents, and freezing out all of the other ideas around that center.
CH: What about NewsGuard, what is this…
KM: So, NewsGuard is kind of an independent scheme which is designed to "trustmark" journalism. And it's--I mean it's another…
CH: Who runs it?
KM: Well, nobody knows.
CH: Wow, like kind of like proper now…
KM: Yeah, I mean, we have…
CH: …which I've been a victim of…
KM: Yeah. There's a thing at the moment, it's what's called Stop Funding Fake News which is target--targeting the advertisers which is supplying adverts to online news websites like ourselves and others who just so happened to be left-wing, and often with a pro-Palestinian justice idea that we say we're anti-apartheid, we didn't support this. And so, you have these groups up a few months go, called Stop Funding Fake News and, well, who funds them? We don't know. Who runs it? We don't know. Who makes it? We don't know. But they essentially create these little Twitter hate bombs that bombard advertisers with these allegations, "Why are you funding," you know, "anti-Semites?" or "Why are you funding thugs, why are you fund--" never mind there's no evidence for these accusations at all, never mind no one knows who is making these accusations, or who's paying them to do so. Advertisers then take note because that's what capital does, it flies away when it faces some controversy. And that's another effort to shut us down, too, is if they can't literally stop you speaking, what they then move to is, well, let's try and cut the funding out from underneath them and make sure that we can silence them that way. And, you know, they may call these arguments about transparency but the point is, every story I've ever published, every story The Canary has ever published, has a photograph byline in it. You know who's written it. You know, you see on the website exactly where we get all funding from and exactly how we distribute that funding amongst the contributors and the editors. We're regulated independently which we volunteered for, unlike the rest of our press which essentially has its own little cartel, where literally they sit on the board of their own regulator. It's just horse-trading when an accusation comes in.
CH: Well, aren't that--did--aren't they giving, like, color codes or something? They're rating the cred--this Canary has this rating…
KM: This site is a red cross, you know, we think--and so it's literally an--and it's difficult to even argue against it. Because you think about it, you sit in the studio, if I was to go into a BBC studio, and say, "Look, I've got some concerns about this. We don't know who funds these people, we don't know how model's going to work, we're worried about the threat of censorship," and those kind of things, and then you just get a BBC journalist around and say, "Oh, so you're against transparency? So you're against being held to account for the truth?" And you sit and you go, "No," and you end up standing like you're wearing a tinfoil hat, because you're saying, "Well, no, because I think people we've vest interest are moving this forward," and it's a slippery slope, you know, we get to a point where you've got this organization which no one really knows much about you, being able to green-tick and red-cross at will.
CH: Well, so [INDISTINCT] in the States, they raided left-wing sites, they're an anonymous organization, I'm on the list.
KM: I saw it.
CH: And then--and then what they did is they got Google, Twitter, and Facebook to create algorithms to steer people away from these sites. And in this case, they were disseminators of foreign propaganda, of Russian propaganda, which was what they've used the demonize the left-wing in the United States. And we're all now victims of these algorithms, not just the assault on advertisers.
KM: Yeah. It is, and I'm not key, I mean, this is--this is how capitalism does censorship. Really. You know, it's, you know, we--people still kind of are stuck in this old mindset of censorship as if some state official is going to come in and, you know, stamp--put a stamp on and go, you know, "You're censored, you can't do that." That was not how censorship works in our system. It's they choke you off in every way that they can choke you off and, you know, that's personally trying to terrify the hell out of you, you know, and basically make out you're never going to work in any other profession ever again if you--if you continue to act this way, and, you know, we have that way--you know, they'll have these Twitter mobs and they'll try and apply pressure to a journalist on the left to back down from a position, and you face a choice then, you know, like what are you going to do or don't. You know, and my choice in those moments is always don't, because the moment you make one capitulation to these people, then it just becomes business as usual, and you stop realizing you're making a compromise. And then you have these other routes which is to, you know, work with algorithms, and your methods of getting these stories to people, and also to stigmatize the--your very organization, so that, you know--it's really insidious down to memes, you know, it's, you know, to try and get--basically, what they want to communicate is, you're not a sensible person, you're not a sensible person if you hold these views or share these views. And that's, you know, it's becoming kind of McCarthyite in that sense when you go back to that point of time.
CH: Well the more--the more they're threatened, and I think the ideology of neoliberalism across the political spectrum has been exposed as largely bankrupt, the more they're threatened, the more vicious they're going to become. And, you know, the whole persecution of Julian Assange, you've been one of the few publications in Great Britain to get it. I mean, The Guardian, the BBC, all of the mainstream press contributed to the lynching of Assange.
KM: Completely, then they threw their whistleblowers under the bus. You know, that's, in the effect, what they did. You know, they got the readership a few years ago when they were publishing stories about it, and then a couple years down the road when it looks like they actually have to pay a price for that, they didn't want to pay it. So, they completely U-turned and become some of the most vociferously anti-Julian Assange voices in the United Kingdom, and it's no accident, you know, it's no accident that they behave that way. They behave that way because they are intrinsically linked to the system. They are absolutely tied in to it. And so they're never going to oppose it in any real way, a meaningful way, that has to come from the outside. And so then, what do they do to those outside sources, they start to tend to crush them, too. The problem they have is that we're not the same beasts. We didn't climb the greasy post that the people The Guardian or the BBC did, we're already outsiders. We've deliberately made the choice not to be insiders, so the kind of standard threat mechanisms that they were using and they hoped would work on us didn't. So we've kind of forced them to sort of capitulate or up the ante and obviously what they've done is up the ante and, as you say, at the most heinous end of that, you have things that are happening to the likes of Julian Assange when you become hunted. You become a prisoner. And this is also happening in Australia at the moment. You have the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, their offices being stormed.
CH: It was raided.
KM: And I was like, how have we got to this point? And worse, why aren't the supposedly liberal, virtuous journalists in the mainstream calling this stuff out? If this is really who they are, if this is really what they stand for, where's the noise? Where was the absolute solidarity when journalists had been arrested, deported, extradited, where is that solidarity? And it doesn't exist because ultimately, they aren't journalists, they're propagandists, and they've kind of drunk their own Kool-Aid and still sort of hold on to this identity of themselves as journalists, and it says something about the fact that they don't recognize us as journalists because I think it is offensive to them, the idea that we are, and they no longer are.
CH: Well, corporate power wants to present them as the legitimate voice.
KM: Absolutely. Never mind how many times they're wrong, never mind how many times they capitulate in the face of threats by the very tools of the establishment that as journalists we should be opposing and, you know, fighting, never mind all of that. It's the fact that they're just in the seats.
CH: Great. Thank you.
KM: Thank you.
CH: That was Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the editor-in-chief of The Canary. You were great.