"We are at an important juncture for press freedom - the global corporate 'monoculture' has never been more powerful, but its success is generating massive opposition," says David Edwards, associate director of independent media website Media Lens ( www.medialens.org ). Media Lens aims "to challenge the idea that we have a truly free press; to encourage readers to pressure mainstream editors and journalists to include more of what is omitted, and to promote concern for others, compassion and critical thought."
Edwards, author of The Compassionate Revolution , teamed up with David Cromwell to set up Media Lens with the backing of big-name leftwing activists, including Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and George Monbiot. Pilger says such a website is overdue.
Its aims are similar to those of campaign organisations in the United States, such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a national media-watch organisation set up in 1986. Edwards says the US is way ahead of the United Kingdom in terms of research on links between big business and the press - such as the presence of oil company representatives on the boards of NBC and CBS. A survey of the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that a third of editors "would not feel free to run a news story that was damaging to their parent firm".
"Much the same applies in Britain," Edwards says.
Mark Covell, a journalist for Indymedia in Genoa, says: "The feeling in the independent media is that the corporate press doesn't research its stories properly and most reporters are unwilling to take on their editors. They tend to accept police and G8 statements." Edwards adds that the independent web media has seen an explosion since the anti-globalisation demonstrations because of frustration and disillusionment over "the refusal of the press to reflect people's concerns". Coverage of the environment, health, defence and employment each got less than 1 per cent of general election coverage, he says.
Richard Keeble, a senior lecturer in journalism at City University in London, says the internet has tremendous potential for allowing people access to different viewpoints. However, "the same disparities in media power are apparent in the internet as in the mainstream media", although he adds that the internet is different from the alternative press of the past because of its low cost and international reach.
Edwards believes the battle over press freedom is hotting up. "A struggle is taking place between corporate interests attempting to transform the internet into a glorified marketing service and activists who are determined to use it to challenge corporate power. The last thing business wants is for the internet to allow people in Britain and the US to coordinate opposition to the global economy - it will be interesting to see which way the battle goes."