Monthly Archives: March 2015

Interview with Emily Johns about The World Is My Country

Interview with Emily Johns about The World Is My Country
by Ian Sinclair
Camden Review
March 2015

Since last year we have been in the midst of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

Emily Johns, co-editor of the monthly newspaper Peace News, believes the often nationalistic tone of the public discourse has been a continuation of pro-military campaigns like Armed Forces Day and Help For Heroes. These have been “created as a response to people’s dissatisfaction with war and various governments commitment to going to war”, the 51-year old peace activist argues as she speaks to me in Peace News’s Caledonian Road office.

“I think the government has been putting a lot of effort into trying to counter that shift”, she says about the public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And where you put that concentration is cultural.”

Realising the commemorations would focus on the idea of military sacrifice, Johns teamed up with her Peace News colleague Gabriel Carlyle to create The World Is My Country, a 100-page alternative history of the First World War that celebrates the people and movements opposed to the conflict.

With Carlyle’s lively prose interspersed with ten posters painted by Johns, the booklet is populated by many fascinating characters and stories – from philosopher Bertrand Russell being banned from a third of Britain to the setting up of The Women’s Peace Crusade, a countrywide socialist movement pressing for peace negotiations. Johns’s favourite tale of resistance is of Tribunal, the newspaper of the No-Conscription Fellowship, an organisation which supported Conscientious Objectors. With the male members of the group in prison, the paper was run by women who had gained organisational experience as Suffragettes before the war. Under police surveillance, proof copies were secretly delivered by an old woman with a pram. “Whenever their printer ran out of type for producing their paper they would go round to the Daily Mail’s printers and borrow type from them”, Johns laughs. “The Daily Mail didn’t realise it!”

Taking a view I haven’t seen in any of the media coverage of the 1914-18 conflict, the booklet begins by noting “The very term ‘The First World War’ is highly ideological.” Johns explains: “It’s a way of eradicating the past several hundred years of a continuous world war which was being waged by the colonising European nations against the rest of the world. At the end of the nineteenth century European countries are having these brutal wars of suppression and colonisation against people of the Global South.”

What does she hope readers will take from the book? “Recognising that anti-war movements have been very, very strong for the past 100 years and that political action against militarism was deeply embedded in Britain and Europe and other parts of the world when the First World War started”, she replies. “It was a very serious objection to how the elites were governing and creating the world.”

Making links between the past and present, she also hopes the book will encourage people to expand their understanding of “honourable sacrifice” beyond the idea it “is solely about a military sacrifice”.

“A lot of Conscientious Objectors died in prison in Britain because they refused to go and fight people”, she notes. “That level of commitment and sacrifice is something to measure up to in a time now when we are engaged or about to engage in wars around the world.”

The World Is My Country is published by Peace News Press, priced £5. To purchase the book or to invite Emily or Gabriel to speak visit http://theworldismycountry.info/

Advertisements

Interview with Graham Smith from anti-monarchy pressure group Republic

Interview with Graham Smith from anti-monarchy pressure group Republic
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
May 2011

Graham Smith is not one of the estimated two billion people who will be watching William and Kate get married on Friday. “I have no interest in what dress Kate Middleton is wearing or whether they fluff their lines or anything”, he quips. Actually that’s not quite true. As Campaign Manager for the anti-monarchy group Republic, Smith says he would probably catch a little bit of the coverage so he can comment in the media.

Sitting in his apartment cum office in South London, Smith, 37, explains that Republic was established in 1983. Then, about six years ago Republic was reinvented as a serious, professional pressure group, employing full-time staff and a long-term strategy. Today it has over 14,000 supporters, up from 8,000 in November 2010. Perversely, the royal wedding seems to have given a boost to republicanism in the UK. “Even if they don’t like it that much, most people don’t really give it much thought”, he pontificates. “But when they then get saturation media coverage telling them that they must celebrate and get excited, I think it grates and they get motivated to come and find us.”

According to its website, Republic wants “a democratically accountable head of state and an end to any constitutional role for the royal family”. In pursuit of this aim, it carries out media work, e-campaigns, gives talks in schools and universities and lobbies parliament. Currently, Republic has the support of a wide range of public figures such as Will Self, Mike Leigh and, er, Stan Collymore, and a number of MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas. Smith notes the organisation’s long-term aim is to be able to engage effectively with public opinion, something he admits they are not quite capable of at the present time.

So why does Republic oppose the monarchy? “Principally for us it is a political issue, a democratic reform issue”, he replies. “Although the monarchy is often promoted as a benign, harmless institution that is maybe entertaining to some people, it is not. It’s actually a deeply political institution. Behind the throne there is vast power and vested interest.”

Smith argues that the prime minister and government have too much power today, having gained power over the monarch and parliament during the last two centuries. “Because the crown is sovereign there is no authority over it”, he explains. “If the prime minister exercises the Queen’s powers there is not a court in the land or anybody anywhere that can do anything about it.” To counter this Republic want a system that limits the power of politicians with a written constitution and an elected head of state who is independent of the prime minister. As in Ireland, Smith says the head of state would be a constitutional position, rather than a political one. “The person would do all of the ribbon cutting but also be able to speak and act independently of the prime minister if they believe the politicians are stepping outside of their remit of the constitution”, he explains.

Republic also opposes the monarchy as a matter of principle: “If we go around claiming we are a democracy we shouldn’t have a hereditary head of state because democracy is founded on the idea of being equal citizens”.

Although the monarchy has little formal power, Smith argues it wields enormous amounts of power behind the scenes. For example, it is well known Prince Charles lobbies the government on issues such as architecture and homeopathy, while Prince Andrew has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons regarding his role as the UK’s trade ambassador. “The monarch, of course, has secret meetings with the prime minister almost every week”, he adds. “They are unminuted and there is no one in the room apart from the prime minister and the Queen. So we have no idea of what is being said.” Previous prime ministers, he notes, have been said to have gone to the palace and come back with their mind changed on certain issues. As Margaret Thatcher noted in 2006, “Anyone who believes that such meetings are a mere formality would be greatly mistaken”.

Smith gives short shrift to common arguments for maintaining the status quo. Regarding the idea the monarchy is good for tourism, he notes he hasn’t seen any evidence that people would come to a republican Britain in fewer numbers. “In fact you could even argue you might even get more people coming because Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle would be entirely open for everyone to look at all year round.” However, he sees this argument as a red-herring: “Even if we could prove that we could make a profit out of it, we would still want to get rid of the royal family. It’s worth paying for democracy.”

How about the argument the royal family work hard for charitable causes? “Again it’s a question of where the evidence is”, he counters. “This isn’t to be churlish and say they are lazy and feckless but the evidence isn’t there to suggest they work hard.” He references Mark Bolland, Prince Charles’s former press officer, who has said “The Windsors are very good at working three days a week, five months a year and making it look as though they work hard.”

Turning to the wedding itself, he describes the media coverage as “completely obscene”. In particular, he singles out the BBC which has a legal and moral obligation to provide balance when reporting on contested issues. “They are going on about it like it’s the second coming of Christ”, he jokes. “But you suspect if it was actually the second coming of Christ they would be more balanced by having Muslims and Hindus discussing whether he really is Christ.” Why does he think the BBC’s coverage is so rabidly pro-monarchy? “I think it’s driven by a miscalculation of what the public want. I think it’s driven by fear – that if they get it wrong the tabloids will be on their backs.” He continues: “I think it’s driven to a certain extent by commercial pressures. And it’s driven by certain elements who simply support the monarchy and want to give it a good show, helped along by lobbying from the Palace and the Government.”

Although Smith admits polls consistently show majority support for keeping the monarchy, he is hopeful for change in the future. “Roughly 20 percent give or take a couple of percentage points say they want to get rid of it, which in the hostile media environment is actually quite a healthy place to be starting from”, he argues. He also believes the majority support for the monarchy is a little more nuanced than the numbers suggest. For example, a recent YouGov poll found that 36 percent of respondents oppose public funding for the royal wedding.

“There has been quite a big shift from 30 years ago, when people were much more excited about it and much more positively and actively pro-monarchy”, he notes. “This made it much harder for republicans to stick their head above the parapet. Nowadays most people are happy to engage with us, listen to us and discuss the issue. Even if they strongly disagree with us they accept it’s a credible position to have.”

For more information see www.republic.org.uk

The Guardian dishonestly whitewashes its own support for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan

The Guardian dishonestly whitewashes its own support for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan
by Ian Sinclair
17 March 2015

Following the official service at St Paul’s cathedral to commemorate the British servicemen and servicewomen who served in the 13-year Afghan war, on Saturday 14 March 2015 the Guardian’s editorial turned to assessing Britain’s leading role in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Guardian gave space to summarising its own position on the invasion at the time:

“The morning after 9/11, this newspaper recognised the need for a response but warned against an over-reaction, especially a military over-reaction. A day later, the Guardian said that pounding Afghanistan into dust ‘would do nothing to curb the menace of transnational terrorism’, and urged that a military assault should be an option of last resort. It risked, we said, civilian casualties, the inflaming of Muslim opinion and the danger of handing the terrorists the ‘holy war’ they had tried so hard to provoke. The conflict could be protracted and bloody. There was a lack of clear mission aims, limits and rules of engagement.”

Like me, no doubt everyone reading this summary will presume the Guardian opposed the invasion of Afghanistan at the time, or at least was deeply sceptical. However, the Guardian is only able to present itself as anti-war by ignoring its own editorial on 8 October 2001 – the day after the US-led attack on Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, begun. Here is what this inconvenient editorial had to say:

“… it needs to be said as clearly and as unemotively as possible at the outset that the United States was entitled to launch a military response [to 9/11]… As long as that kind of danger – that scale of evil – remains loose in the world, then military action can be justified not just as an act of justice, but as an act of legitimate self-defence to protect our nations from further attack and further casualties… Much of the world remains deeply sceptical about this campaign, to put it mildly. Naturally, also, many will fear that its goals are unachievable. Nevertheless, judged by his own words last night, Mr Bush understands these truths much better than some of his critics have given him credit for. In his broadcast, as he has done more often than not since September 11, he repeated that the actions will be focussed on terrorist assets and on the military capability of the Taliban. As the attacks began, he also promised drops of food, medicine and other supplies to Afghan civilians. Both Mr Bush and Mr Blair said the right words last night. But words are the easy part. It is now for the US military and their allies to put those words into action. Nothing in the world is more important right now than that they succeed.” (my emphasis added)

Not only are these two editorials a good example of why the liberal media is deeply compromised when it comes to British foreign policy, they are also a near perfect example of the intellectual deceit of some of the most senior journalists at the Guardian.

Is the Green Party happy for the UK to maintain the fifth largest military budget in the world?

Is the Green Party happy for the UK to maintain the fifth largest military budget in the world?
by Ian Sinclair
12 March 2015

The UK currently has the fifth largest military budget in the world.

Below is what Darren Hall, the Green Party of England and Wales parliamentary candidate for Bristol West, said about UK military spending on the Today Programme this morning.

James Naughtie, presenter: “Darren Hall, just summarise your position on defence spending from a Green Party perspective.”

Darren Hall, the Green Party of England and Wales parliamentary candidate for Bristol West: “Well, it might surprise people to know the Green Party has no plans to make further cuts to the defence spending over and above that that has been set out by the Coalition Government. Other than, of course, our well understood position on Trident. Defence is a primary role of government and it’s incredibly important we are able to play a full and proper role in a Europe-wide capability that can resist attacks here and abroad.”

James Naughtie: “So just in round figures, the £40 billion defence budget is one that you, if you had significant representation in the House of Commons, wouldn’t vote against?”

Darren Hall: “As I said, we have a long term view that we need to move to a more diplomatic solutions. I think the cuts to the Foreign Office are difficult. But in the short-term we have no plans to go beyond the cuts that the Coalition Government has set out.”

James Naughtie: “So it’s the anti-renewal of Trident in the way, in the form it’s been proposed but a defence budget that is roughly in keeping. Bob Stewart, does that surprise you, from the Green Party?”

Colonel Bob Stewart, Conservative MP: “I’m delighted to hear the Greens saying that. Congratulations the Green Party. That is exactly – I’m very happy to hear it.”

Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 12 March 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b054t3s0 (1 hour, 19 minutes in)

Interview with former British Ambassador Craig Murray

Interview with former British Craig Murray
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
April 2008

“I‘m in pains to say I‘m really not an heroic person”, Craig Murray explains as I take a seat in the book-laden living room of his West London flat. However, despite his protestations, by speaking out against the US-UK support for the Uzbekistan Government when he was British Ambassador there from 2002-4, Murray is very much a heroic figure to many people, not least dissidents in Uzbekistan itself.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1984, the now 49-year old Murray rose rapidly through the ranks of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with a number of overseas postings in Africa and Europe, before being appointed the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002. Before his posting to the Central Asian Republic he attended a series of briefings at the FCO. “The first thing to say is that human rights featured virtually not at all”, Murray says. Instead, “there were two main concerns. The first was oil and gas and the second was the ‘war on terror‘.”

In particular he was told it was essential to maintain a good relationship with Uzbekistan as they had granted the US an airbase in the south of the country in Karshi Khanabad. Citing official Pentagon documents, Murray explains this airbase was part of the US ‘lily pad system‘ – a network of American-allied airbases surrounding the wider Middle East, “which is, purely coincidentally, the world‘s largest oil and gas belt”. With bases in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Cyprus, Murray argues the American military is able to project force very quickly to protect their interests in the area.

Arriving in Tashkent, Uzbekistan‘s capital, Murray was soon made aware of the dire state of human rights in the country, when gruesome evidence of prisoners being boiled to death was brought to his attention. “It had actually got much worse since Soviet times”, he says. “The media was 100 per cent state controlled. There are no opposition parties allowed, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, definitely no freedom of religion. The people lived in a state of palpable fear.”

According to Murray, in 2002, purportedly to resist the growth of militant Islam, the US “gave the Uzbeks over $500 million of aid, of which $120 million went straight to the Uzbek armed forces and $80 million went to the Uzbek security services, who probably have the worst reputation in the whole world for torture.” Furthermore Murray contends Uzbekistan was being used as an extraordinary rendition destination, with the CIA “actually embedded” in the Uzbek security services.

If all this wasn‘t bad enough, Murray then began to receive British intelligence reports which included material from the Uzbek security services, probably obtained through torture. He was soon writing to his superiors in London arguing we should not be getting our intelligence through these channels, “on legal, practical and moral grounds”. Incredibly his line manager replied criticising him for being “over-focussed on human rights”.

With Britain‘s de facto role “to effectively be sidekicks to the Americans, and support them in deflecting international criticism of the Uzbek regime” a speech Murray made in October 2002 criticising the Uzbek Government proved particularly controversial. According to a Senior FCO source quoted in the Guardian at the time, for going ‘off message‘ Murray was soon on the receiving end of a “campaign of systematic undermining” partly “exercised on the orders of No. 10.” He was called back to London to face 18 disciplinary charges (all subsequently disproved), with the Kafkaesque proviso he wasn‘t permitted to discuss these with anyone. Under immense pressure he had a breakdown, sunk in to a pit of depression and experienced a life threatening pulmonary embolism. However, although Murray recovered and returned to his post, in October 2004 he was sacked, ostensibly “for operational reasons.”

A year later Murray unsuccessfully stood against his old boss Jack Straw in the 2005 General Election, and published Murder in Samarkand, his own account of events – offering a refreshingly honest and fallible portrait of himself. “Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed ‘save me‘”, wrote the then married Murray upon seeing 21-year old Nadira – whom he now lives with in London – for the first time in a club where she worked as an erotic dancer. Murray explains his candour: “I had been through this terrible smear campaign where they made all kinds of allegations which were not true, and I thought the best way to tackle this is to be completely honest and open.”

The news that Murder in Samarkand is being made in to a film will publicise his story to millions of people around the world. The script has been written by the playwright David Hare and will be directed by Michael Winterbottom, with the comic actor Steve Coogan playing Murray. “I think I am in very safe hands”, he says of Winterbottom, whose previous work includes The Road to Guantamano and 24 Hour Party People. About Coogan, Murray says they “haven‘t really had any serious discussions yet. The trouble is when we meet we tend to drink and tell jokes.”

Murray is also in the middle of writing three books, including an earlier set of memoirs about his time in Africa and an historical biography of Alexander Burns, a diplomat, explorer and army officer who died in the first Afghan war. “The parallels of that invasion and what has gone wrong with our current invasion our absolutely extraordinary”, he says. “We are very bad from learning from history.”

Returning to his defiance of the UK Government, Murray says he is amazed how few people have resigned over Iraq, Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror‘. “The lesson of it is that most people will do anything to hang on to their job”, he says. The ex-British Ambassador to Uzbekistan isn‘t so easily silenced though: “I hope to be around to annoy the Government for sometime to come.”

Murder in Samarkand. A British Ambassador‘s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror is published by Mainstream Publishing, priced £7.99.

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?

Is Noam Chomsky right that the US doesn’t want regime change in Syria?
by Ian Sinclair
Huffington Post
12 March 2014

Noam Chomsky is probably the most influential leftist on the planet right now. So when he argues the US “has shown no indication it wants the rebels to win in Syria”, as he did recently in an interview with the Voice of Russia, his opinion carries a lot of weight amongst progressives. But while I consider Chomsky one of the most intelligent analysts of US foreign policy, the facts strongly suggest the US is trying to overthrow the President Bashar al-Assad.

First, the Obama Administration’s public statements on the future of the Syrian president are quite clear. “Assad must go – and I believe he will go”, Obama stated in March 2013. Six months later US Secretary of State John Kerry reconfirmed “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go.” While one should always be wary of taking the public utterances of those in power at face value, it is important to consider the enabling effect these statements of intent have on Syrian rebels and those who support them. Furthermore, US actions broadly match the US Government’s wish to see Assad overthrow. The New York Times certainly thinks so, reporting in July 2012 that the Obama administration has “abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad”.

From the early stages of the war the US has been “acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates”, according to the Wall Street Journal. By May 2013 the Financial Times estimated Qatar had provided $3 billion worth of arms to the rebels. Not content to leave the dirty work to its autocratic Gulf allies, the US has been playing a coordinating role in arming the rebels since before May 2012. Reporting on this deadly arms race in March 2013 the New York Times quoted an expert who estimated 3,500 tons of military equipment had been sent to the rebels by Arab Governments and Turkey with assistance from the CIA.

The US role goes beyond coordination. The CIA has been training and arming hundreds of rebels in Jordan and then sending them back to the killing fields in Syria. This is on top of significant amounts of non-lethal assistance the US has given to the rebels – vehicles, communications equipment, combat medical kits and 350,000 military food packets. In recent weeks the US has been increasing its financial assistance to rebels in southern Syria, giving millions of dollars to pay the monthly salaries of tens of thousands of insurgents.

The White House has repeatedly claimed it opposes sending in anti-aircraft missiles in case they got into the hands of extremists. However, last month the Wall Street Journal reported the US is complicit in doing exactly this. “Rebel leaders say they met with U.S. and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close”, noted the story. “That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [the anti-aircraft missiles].” The meeting likely took place in the military operations room in Amman which hosts intelligence agencies from 11 countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK.

If the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad, as Chomsky claims, why is it making it more likely by arming and training the rebels and giving a wink and a nod to their allies in the region to do the same? A common retort is the US is providing just enough assistance to pressure Assad but not for the rebels to win. If so, this is a very dangerous game to play – and one the US is unlikely to be able to control. Wars are unpredictable and US interference will only increase the conflict’s volatility. In addition, the anti-aircraft missiles Saudi Arabia plans to give to rebels with the tacit agreement of the US could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favour of the opposition, according to rebels.

The argument that the US doesn’t want to overthrow Assad assumes the US could easily do so if it wanted. But while the US certainly has the military might to quickly depose Assad it is constrained by realpolitik geopolitical considerations and, most importantly for anti-war and peace activists, public opinion. Take the Vietnam War, for example. In 1966 specialists at the Pentagon presented a plan, based on a computer model, to US President Lyndon Johnson to end the war and save lives – by nuking the country. On hearing this Johnson reportedly pointed out the window towards a crowd of protestors and said “I have one more problem for your computer. Will you feed into it how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their President?” In short, while the US has always been able to technically destroy whichever enemy it has been fighting it has always been inhibited by what is politically possible.

On Syria the constraints on the Obama Administration are clear: US public opinion is firmly against military strikes and arming the rebels. This opposition is probably the main reason it is very difficult to get a clear understanding of the US’s (often covert) actions in Syria. However, what information that does exist in the public domain clearly points to the US providing substantial support to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian Government.

“Truly independent”?: The Guardian and advertising

“Truly independent”?: The Guardian and advertising
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 March 2015

The Guardian’s public profile is shrouded in the journalism equivalent of American Exceptionalism. And nowhere is this delusional belief stronger than among Guardian journalists themselves.

“The Guardian is truly independent”, explains Jonathan Freedland, the Executive Editor for Opinion at the newspaper. “Protected by the Scott Trust…we have no corporate owner telling us what to think… we are free to pursue the facts”. Guardian columnist Owen Jones may disagree with Freedland on many issues but on this topic they sing from the same hymn sheet. “The paper is unique for being owned by a trust rather than a media mogul… I have never been prevented from writing what I think”, the Labour Leftist recently assured readers.

The problem with this self-serving argument is there are obviously more influences on the editorial content of a newspaper than just its ownership structure. For example, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model of the media highlights five filters that produce the elite-friendly reporting that dominates the Western press – ownership, advertising, the sources used by journalists, the flak media organisations can receive and the dominant ideology of the period.

Resigning last month as the Telegraph’s Chief Political Commentator, Peter Oborne exposed how the interests of corporate advertisers had influenced the newspaper’s news agenda, limiting embarrassing stories about HSBC. Oborne’s principled analysis chimes with the thoughts of the BBC’s Andrew Marr, himself a former editor of the Independent newspaper: “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.”

For broadsheet newspapers, the sums are pretty telling, with advertising accounting for around 75% of their income.

Challenged by media watchdog Media Lens about the thickness of the ‘Chinese Wall’ between advertising and editorial at the Guardian, the paper’s most radical columnist George Monbiot retorted “If you have an example of the Guardian spiking a story on behalf of its advertisers, please send me a link.”

The Telegraph soon obliged, reporting how the headline of a 2014 Guardian article about Iraq had been altered to fit with the wishes of Apple, who had stipulated their advertising should not be placed next to negative news. “If editorial staff knew what was happening here they would be horrified”, the Telegraph quoted a “Guardian insider” as saying. Guardian columnist and former editor of the Times newspaper Simon Jenkins made a similar point in his response to the Oborne furore. Writing about the increasing influence of advertising on the layout and content of newspapers, he noted “Even the Guardian cannot be regarded as immune from such pressures”.

Despite this evidence, the focus on overt censorship is something of a red herring. First, because public arguments between advertisers and newspapers are extremely rare. The secretive relationship between the two has been well polished over decades of publishing. It’s rarely in the interest of either party that the partnership be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. And second, because the influence of advertising is far broader, subtler and therefore more insidious than the dramatic spiking of a single story.

James Twitchell, author of Adcult USA, explains the extent of the collaboration: “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.”

Just as fish probably don’t see the water they swim in, Guardian journalists seem unable to comprehend the journalism habitat they work in has been shaped by corporate advertisers.

But shaped it certainly has been. Since the renewed expansion of the Guardian’s US online presence in 2011 the centre of gravity of the newspaper’s online coverage and recruitment focus has shifted across the Atlantic. This shift was driven by commercial interests. According to Andrew Miller, the CEO of the Guardian Media Group, the move to the US was centred on a strategy to “increase the commercial opportunity of our readership”. Or as he put it later in the same interview: to “monetize the readership.” Two years later the Guardian’s website went global changing its domain to http://www.theguardian.com. Tanya Cordrey, the Chief Digital Officer at Guardian News and Media, explained why: “This will open up more worldwide commercial possibilities for us in markets across the globe, enabling us to offer our partners and advertisers increased access to our growing global audience.”

In early 2014 the Guardian signed a “seven-figure” deal with mega-corporation Unilever. The partnership established Guardian Labs, a “branded content and innovation agency” with 133 staff “which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences.” We certainly aren’t in Kansas anymore.

The Guardian regularly publishes sponsored content in the main part of the newspaper including a roundtable on sustainable diets funded by Tesco and a seminar on public health reform sponsored by Pfizer.

Indeed, what is the Guardian’s glossy Weekend magazine if not one giant advert? In 2013 the magazine’s blind date feature had one lucky couple jetting off to Los Angeles for the weekend courtesy of Air New Zealand. The previous October over 100,000 people marched in London in opposition to the most severe cuts to public spending since the second world war. On the same day the Weekend magazine thought it appropriate to publish an interview with actress Romola Garai accompanied by a photo shoot of her advertising a £5,800 dress.

All this is not to say the Guardian is worthless or shouldn’t be read. Far from it. There are many great writers doing brilliant work published in the Guardian – Monbiot and Jones among them – and many important news reports too. I buy the Guardian every day, and have even written for the paper a couple of times when they let me. What I’m arguing is we need to go beyond wishful thinking about Guardian Exceptionalism and seriously consider how corporate advertising and commercial interests influences, and likely limits, the breadth and depth of the editorial content of the newspaper.

This enlightening process is essential for positive social change. Because only once we understand the deficiencies of even our best media outlets can we begin to realise that radical alternatives are needed. And only once we have a clear understanding of what those problems are can we start to imagine what a better media will actually look like.