Science Media Centre expanding its empire
2.Fiona Fox - SpinProfile
1.SMC expanding its empire
The current successor to biotech entrepreneur, billionaire and Labour Pary donor, Lord Sainsbury, as the UK's Minister for Science and Innovation, is biotech entrepreneur, multi-millionaire and Labour Pary donor, Lord Drayson. Like Lord Sainsbury, Drayson's relationship with Labour has been mired in allegations of corruption and cronyism - not least because before going into government, Drayson owned the biotech company Powderject when it made massive profits from a Labour Government contract. Drayson was also at one time head of the BioIndustry Association, whose motto is "Promoting UK Biotechnology".
Drayson's company, while he still headed it, was a financial supporter of the Science Media Centre - a pet project of Lord Sainsbury's. Powderject's support for the SMC dried up following Drayson's departure. Drayson has also served on a working party of another controversial pro-GM lobby-group, Sense About Science.
Drayson operates out of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). BIS has now set up a Science and the Media Expert Group. The Group has been asked to draw up an action plan on the following:
* explore the possibilities for an expansion of the role and remit of the Science Media Centre
* help equip the media with skills to promote effective responsible reporting on science
* develop ways to encourage more members of the science community to act as intermediaries with the media
* work with lead departments and regulators to boost high quality science programming, targeted at a variety of audiences across a range of communication channels
* build on the campaign to promote a better/appropriate reflection/representation of scientists in the media
The BIS Group is chaired by Fiona Fox, the directorof the SMC. Fox's spinprofile is below and is well worth reading in full as it not only makes clear that Fox is an intimate of Frank Furedi's controversial LM network, that denies claimate change and eulogises GMOs, human cloning and nuclear power (the directors of Sense About Science are also part of the Furedi network), but explains why Fox's own journalism has been called "an affront to the truth" and has proved enormously controversial.
Like Fox, the SMC is not what it claims. In a formal complaint about bias and the SMC, the investigative journlaist Andy Rowell noted:
"[P]eople have asked me why such a pro-science organisation as the SMC has done so little on climate, given that it is emerging as quite possibly the most important scientific issue of our time. Climate change is also one where there is massive anti-science lobbying, much of which is ending up in publications like the Mail, the Telegraph and the Spectator. Yet, if my memory serves me correctly, of the 120 odd press releases the SMC has issued - and which are on its website - only about 4 have been on climate. This compares to over 40 on issues to do with genetics and roughly another dozen each on animals in research and GM crops.
...I also think there is evidence that the SMC is failing in the mission it has set itself. In its consultation report it says: 'the Centre will be free of any particular agenda within science and will always strive to promote a broad spectrum of scientific opinion - especially where there are clear divisions within science'. As well as 'the SMC will provide access to the wide spectrum of scientific opinion on any one issue. We can provide an anti-GM scientist and a pro-GM scientist... etc, etc'.
But on the exact issue it quotes, GM, it is difficult to see much evidence of the SMC promoting or providing such a spectrum. The views of scientists critical of GM are all but absent, whereas pro-GM scientists are routinely quoted. The SMC also includes quotes from the Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) - a corporate lobby group for the biotech industry. Its chairman is clearly neither an eminent nor an independent scientist.
The independence of others whose views the SMC has promoted is also open to question. Some of the pro-GM scientists quoted could be regarded as campaigners or lobbyists on the issue, eg Anthony Trewavas and Vivian Moses, who are both on the Scientific Advisory Forum of the Scientific Alliance. Vivian Moses is also the Chairman of Cropgen an organization funded by industry and which has a 'mission to make the case for GM crops and foods.' Moses is quoted more than once in SMC media briefings. In once case he is identified as the Chairman of Cropgen, but in another purely as 'Visiting Professor of Biology at University College London' without any mention of the fact that he is the head of a pro-GM lobby group."
More information about the Science and the Media Expert Group, including a list of its members and the minutes of its first meeting, can be found at:
2.Fiona Fox - SpinProfile
[embedded links to sources at this link]
Fiona Fox is the director of the Science Media Centre (SMC).
Despite having no previous background in science or science communication, Fox has been afforded, since her appointment in December 2001, the status of expert. She has, for example, been included in a working party on peer review set up by Sense About Science, and in a steering group on improving communication over science policy and risk set up by the Office of Science and Technology. In 2003 Fox delivered a lecture at Green College, Oxford, on the challenge of adapting science to the mass media.
1 Controversy over Science Media Centre
2 Denying genocide in Rwanda
3 Northern Ireland
Controversy over Science Media Centre
Within a matter of months of Fox becoming director, the SMC was embroiled in controversy over its activities. It was accused of operating as "a sort of Mandelsonian rapid rebuttal unit" and of employing "some of the clumsiest spin techniques of New Labour". There have also been controversies about both the SMC's funding and Fox's background.
According to the profile provided by the SMC, Fox previously ran "the media operation at the National Council for One Parent Families" and was "Head of Media at CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency". In addition, the SMC says, Fox "has written extensively for newspapers and publications, authored several policy papers and contributed to books on humanitarian aid".
What they do not say is that throughout much of that time Fox led a double life. It's one which seriously undermines the SMC's claims to be open, rational, balanced and independent, not to mention its being in the business of ensuring the 'that the public gets access to all sides of the debate about controversial issues.'
It's a double life that connects the SMC's director to the inner circles of a political network that compares environmentalists to Nazis and eulogises GM crops and cloning. More disturbingly it is a network whose members have a long history of infiltrating media organisations and science-related lobby groups in order to promote their own agenda. It is also a network that has targeted certain media organisations and sought to discredit them or their journalists.
Denying genocide in Rwanda
Fox's double life was first exposed after an article entitled "Massacring the truth in Rwanda" appeared in the December 1995 issue of Living Marxism.. The magazine subsequently reported receiving 'a stream of outraged letters from the Nazi-hunters of the prestigious Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, the Rwandan embassy, the London-based African Rights group and others.'
Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal of African Rights wrote to the magazine to express their outrage at the article:
"Investigating crimes against humanity gives one a high threshold of shock. But the article by Fiona Foster on Rwanda (Massacring the truth in Rwanda, December 1995) was the sort of writing that we never expected to appear in print. We each read it with a growing sense of outrage, leaving us at the end simply numb. Had your paper been entitled Living Fascism we might have been less surprised, but even then we would have expected something a little more circumspect. Not only do you make an apologia for the genocide - the first to appear in print in a widely sold English language publication - but go so far as to question its very reality. This is not only an affront to the truth, in defiance of the fundamentals of humanity, but deeply offensive to the survivors of the third indisputable genocide of this century."
Omaar and de Waal, who now works for the U.N., describe the article as 'shoddy journalism' and the ideas advanced in it as 'absurd'. All of which 'would matter less if you were not dealing with one of the greatest crimes of the century, and playing into the hands of genocidal killers'. Omaar and de Waal subsequently established that 'Fiona Foster', the author of the article, was Fiona Fox, then a press officer for CAFOD.
Those trying to understand Fox's bid, in the words of a Guardian article, 'to rewrite history in favour of the murderers', have focussed on her media role at a Catholic aid agency, linking this to the embarrassment of the Church over the role of some priests and bishops in the mass murder. What has received less attention is the nature of Fox's relationship with Living Marxism.
By the time of the Rwandan article Fox had, in fact, been regularly writing for the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) for at least two and a half years. Living Marxism was first published in 1987 and although the LM archive only goes back to 1992 and not all issues are accessible, it is clear that Fox's articles in Living Marxism stretch from at least 1992 to 1999, ie to not long before it was forced into closure. Indeed, prior to her Rwanda article, Fox was one of Living Marxism's most prolific contributors, on one occasion even contributing two articles to a single issue (LM 75).
Her use of the Fiona Foster alias may have reflected a need to keep her Living Marxism connections hidden, although the use of aliases was also a standard practice among leading RCP supporters. These aliases typically involved retaining first names and altering surnames. For instance, Frank Furedi was Frank Richards, James Hughes was James Heartfield, Joan Hoey was Joan Phillips, Keith Teare was Keith Tompson and Claire Fox, Fiona's sister, was Claire Foster.
The main focus of most of Fiona Fox's articles was the troubles in Northern Ireland. In her pieces Fox makes reference to both the Irish Freedom Movement and the Campaign Against Militarism, both of which were front groups for the RCP. The line Fox advances in the articles is precisely that of the RCP which unequiviocally supported the IRA in its armed struggle against 'British imperialism'.
According to a former RCP supporter, Fiona Fox became the head of the Irish Freedom Movement which had a position of never condemning the IRA even when it committed terrorist atrocities aimed at civilian targets. In the end, her support for the 'armed struggle' was to outflank even that of the IRA.
After the start of the peace process, Fox's articles provided a platform for the dissident republican Tommy McKearney (See: Irish republican speaks out - LM 66, April 94 Opposing the 'peace process' - LM 75, January 95). Like the RCP, McKearney saw the peace process as 'a historic defeat for the liberation movement', or as he puts it in one of Fox's pieces, 'a cynical ploy to dupe the republican movement' into surrendering unconditionally to the British.
"First and foremost I don't believe that it is a peace process at all." That was how Tommy McKearney, a former IRA prisoner of war, began his speech to the Campaign Against Militarism conference at Wembley in March 1994. He concluded by calling on his audience to expose Britain as a warmonger not a peacemaker in Ireland.
In spite of providing a platform for someone who was opposing the peace process in Ireland, in June 2003 Fiona Fox chaired a session at the two day conference Communicating the War on Terror which took place at the Royal Institution, as did Bruno Waterfield and Bill Durodie, who organised the conference for the Centre for Defence Studies at Kings College London. All have had connections to RCP/LM as had conference speakers like Frank Furedi, Phil Hammond, Michael Fitzpatrick and Mick Hume, LM's former editor. LM contributor and Assistant Director of Sense About Science, Ellen Raphael helped Durodie organise the event. Their LM connections do not appear to have been disclosed to conference participants or fellow contributors.
Fox's last article for LM, which was on Africa, was in 1999 but she appears to have continued her connection with the group, chairing a meeting, for example, for the Institute of Ideas (IoI), the organisation formed by her sister Claire when LM was sued out of existence, in February 2002.
Claire Fox's LM connections and role within the RCP have been much more public than her sister's, but interestingly in terms of Living Marxism, Claire Fox's contributions to Living Marxism do not begin until December 1993 - eighteen months after her sister's - and they are at first only very intermittent.
Fiona Fox's presence in the SMC also needs to be seen in the context of LM contributors holding senior positions, in a series of organisations which lobby on issues related to biotechnology, eg Sense About Science (managing director: Tracey Brown; director: Ellen Raphael), Genetic Interest Group (former policy director: John Gillott), Progress Educational Trust (former director: Juliet Tizzard), and the Scientific Alliance (advisor: Bill Durodie).
This background has to be an immense cause for concern in relation to Fox's role as director of the SMC. Fox's Green College Lecture was titled, 'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: so where does that leave journalism?' But neither Fox nor the Science Media Centre have been willing to disclose any of the truth about her long years of involvement with a network of extremists who engage in infiltration of media organisations and science-related lobby groups in order to promote their own agenda. It is also a network which eulogises GM crops and cloning and is extremely hostile towards their critics.
Fox's own journalism might also suggest that she is none too fussy about either truth or openness when it comes to pushing her agenda. It is perhaps revealing that someone whose own journalism has been called 'shoddy' and 'an affront to the truth', and has proved enormously controversial, has been selected as the director of an organisation which claims the role of making sure that controversial scientific issues like GM crops are reported accurately in the media.
1.Ronan Bennett, "The conspiracy to undermine the truth about our GM drama", The Guardian, 2 June 2002, accessed March 22 2009
2.Alan Rusbridger, "Fields of ire", The Guardian, 7 June 2002 accessed March 22 2009
3."Staff", Science Media Centre website, version placed in web archive 17 January 2004, accessed March 2009
4."Massacring the truth in Rwanda", LM, December 1995, accessed in web archive March 23 2009