A strange kind of normality

Observations on media

The psychiatrist R D Laing once wrote: "The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to be-come absurd, and thus to be normal." The media are undoubtedly the prime means by which society trains us for absurdity.

On 5 January, the BBC, in its 12-part documentary series Days That Shook the World, aired a programme on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Just 35 seconds were spent on the justification for an attack that incinerated 100,000 civilians. The claim that the attack was required in order to avoid a million US casualties during an invasion of the Japanese mainland went unchallenged.

I wrote to the writer and director, Stephen Walker, providing evidence that no serious effort had ever been made to estimate the likely costs of invasion. I asked him if he knew that the US Strategic Bombing Survey had interviewed 700 Japanese officials after the war and concluded that "certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated".

Reviewing all the available evidence, the American historian Howard Zinn concluded that the atomic bombings had nothing to do with avoiding casualties or forcing surrender. They were about "the aggrandisement of American national power". The US was letting the world - and the Soviet Union, in particular - know who was in charge.

At our prompting, more than 100 people sent e-mails asking the BBC about the 35 seconds and the lack of balance. The BBC replied with the usual robotic blather: "I understand that you felt that this programme was biased and did not accurately reflect events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima. I should explain that BBC programme-makers are well aware of our commitment to impartial reporting." The questions were simply ignored.

In similar vein, on 8 January, the Guardian responded to the publication of research in Nature which concluded that the effect of global warming could drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction by 2050. The paper suggested lamely that we need to switch to technologies that produce few or no greenhouse gases. Not a word about the need to challenge, and fast, the corporate maniacs who are still opposing action on climate change in defence of a fast buck. Instead, the editors recommended "putting a 'hog' in the lavatory cistern . . . encouraging wildlife in the garden and composting vegetable cuttings".

A day later, the Guardian composters had a full-page ad for American Airlines offering "2 for 1 flights to the Americas". Flying is one of the big causes of climate change. The paper's environment correspondent, Paul Brown, declared himself "snowed under" by complaints from our readers - people who care enough to go to the trouble in this indolent age.

Yet, on succeeding days, the paper published not one of the dozens of letters challenging its hypocrisy. The Guardian editors did, however, find space for ads for Citroen cars, Chrysler cars, Fiat cars, Toyota cars, flybmi.com, the easyJet sale - "everyone must go" - and another full-page advert for "2 for 1 flights".

David Edwards is co-editor of MediaLens (www.medialens.org)

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