By Paul Anthony Taylor
"Our job is to give people not what they want, but what we decide they ought to have." (Richard Salent, former president, CBS News).
From time to time, people write and ask us why the media doesn’t give more publicity to the issues that we cover on our website. If all of the things on the Foundation’s website are true, they reason, then wouldn’t the media be reporting on them as well?
To illustrate why such thinking is naïve, and in response to the many requests we have received to speak out about the TV item on Codex that was broadcast in May 2008 on the Tros TV channel in the Netherlands, the following article by Paul Anthony Taylor, the Foundation’s External Relations Director, explains why Big Media cannot be seen as an ally in the campaign for vitamin freedom.
In 2008, British journalist Rachel Johnson admitted she had been "under pressure" to back an anti-vitamin story even though she "thought it was simply impossible to pin any of the outcomes on taking vitamins".
Our Foundation has known for some time now that journalists are sometimes put under pressure to back anti-vitamin stories. In April 2008, for example, the British journalist and writer Rachel Johnson wrote an article entitled ‘Not so vital vitamins’ for the UK Sunday Times in which she cited a review on vitamins by Danish scientists, stated that vitamins are a waste of money and claimed that taking them may shorten life expectancy.Subsequently however, upon being presented with an article – citing research published in the International Journal of Cancer – showing that a researcher who claimed vitamins can speed up the development of cancer has essentially admitted she got it wrong, Johnson confessed that she “knew there was something fishy” about the Danish scientists’ review but claimed she “was under pressure to back it” even though she “thought it was simply impossible to pin any of the outcomes on taking vitamins.”
But Johnson is by no means alone in having come up against interference with her journalistic independence in relation to natural health issues. One well-known natural health-orientated journalist that I have met with has claimed that their editor sometimes cuts out sections of their articles, and, when they later enquire why, has been told that the omitted material conflicted with the publication’s advertising – the inference seemingly being that criticism of the pharmaceutical industry could result in it withdrawing its financial support for the publication. Others have made similarly controversial allegations, claiming that there are reams of newspaper articles relating to the restrictive European Union Directives on vitamins and herbs that have been withdrawn at the last minute and that some senior journalists have been put under severe pressure from their editors.
Contentious though some of these allegations may be, an enquiry that we received from a TV producer in the Netherlands in 2008 provided us with a particularly vivid illustration of why Big Media cannot be seen as an ally in the campaign for vitamin freedom.
The office of the Codex Alimentarius Commission's Secretariat is located in the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in Rome, Italy, above. (Image source: Wikipedia).
Early in May 2008, I received an email enquiry from Wim Vis, a producer for the Radar documentary programme on the Dutch Tros TV channel. Telling me that he was working on an item about the Codex Alimentarius Commission, he said that he had read one of my articles and that he was very much interested in talking to me. He added that the Radar show has over 2 million viewers and said that the main point in the item would be “the consequences of the Codex for consumers, now that the Codex is slowly getting a more powerful status.”
For the uninitiated, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is a little-known commission of the United Nations. Sponsored by the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), its main functions revolve around the drafting of global standards and guidelines for all food products, including food supplements. Prior to 1994, countries’ adoption of these standards and guidelines had essentially been voluntary; after 1994, however, Codex experienced a significant increase in its global authority as a result of its standards and guidelines being given the bite of law in the global trade system through being incorporated into the World Trade Organization (WTO) regime. As such, Codex now has coercive authority and WTO member countries have very real incentives to adopt the texts that it produces into their national laws.
Significantly, therefore, and as Wim Vis will no doubt have been aware, the natural health movement has been campaigning against Codex since at least the mid-1990s. Its opposition reached a new high in July 2005 upon the final adoption by Codex of a new global guideline for vitamin and mineral supplements. Borrowing significant portions of text from the European Union’s restrictive Food Supplements Directive – including the requirement that maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in food supplements shall be set – the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements are now generally perceived by natural health advocates as one of the biggest global threats to the future open availability of therapeutic food supplements, and, by extension, a significant protector of the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and its 773 billion dollar annual income from the sale of patented synthetic chemical drugs.
Upon reading Vis’ email, however, I would openly admit to having felt somewhat sceptical about his enquiry, and perhaps even slightly suspicious, as, over the years, Big Media has consistently shown remarkably little interest in Codex and its twin roles in promoting the globalization of the food industry and protecting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
Setting my doubts aside, however, I sent Vis a polite and friendly reply – in my capacity as the Foundation’s External Relations Director – saying that I was glad to hear that he was becoming interested in the consequences that Codex holds for consumers as it was long since time that the media should have addressed this issue. I added that if he wished to email me some of his questions I would be happy to answer them.
Subsequently, Vis responded to my reply by telling me that: “We want to be very critical on the Codex. I feel the codex is something that is laid upon us, without our knowledge or consent. And that the consequences for the consumer can be very fierce.”
He went on to say that he had seen a Codex documentary movie produced by Rima Laibow (wife of Major General Albert Stubblebine) but that he could not find any evidence to support the things she said in it, either in Codex material or in any other source. Notably, therefore, he stated that he could not draw himself away from the thought that not everything Laibow says is fact-based.
Vis also took the opportunity to ask me a series of very specific questions, most of which concerned some of the more absurd claims made about Codex by Laibow. He concluded by saying that he wanted to base his Codex item upon facts, “rather than on stories and people like Dr. Laibow.”
Reassured by the fact that Vis seemed to be under no illusions regarding the paucity of evidence Laibow provides to back up her claims, I decided that it was probably worth my spending some time crafting a comprehensive reply to him. Whilst I was obviously still somewhat sceptical about his enquiry, it seemed only fair that I should give him the benefit of the doubt; especially so given his insistence to me that he wanted to be “very critical” about Codex. After all, if he really was working on an item about Codex, and if he was being truthful when he said that he wanted to base it upon the facts, then the opportunity of reaching over 2 million viewers in the Netherlands seemed to me to be too good an opportunity to waste.
My reply to Vis, which was sent on 8 May, 2008, fully addressed all of the issues and questions that he had raised with me. As well as providing references to specific documents on the Codex and WTO websites, I provided evidence to support our Foundation’s assertion that Codex is a threat to the health of consumers and that it is certainly something that people should be concerned about. I also assured Vis that once he had been through the material I had sent him I would try to make time to speak to him by telephone.
Nevertheless, after sending my reply, I never heard from Vis again.
Wim Vis' television item about Codex concentrated upon the inaccurate Codex reporting of Rima Laibow, above, and used it as a means of discrediting all critical reporting on Codex.
A little under two weeks later, on the evening of 19 May, 2008, Wim Vis’ item about Codex was broadcast on the Tros Radar programme in the Netherlands. However, far from being “very critical” about Codex, as Vis had said he wanted to be, the item concentrated instead upon the inaccurate Codex reporting of Rima Laibow and essentially used this as a means of discrediting all critical reporting on Codex, from whatever source.
Laibow is a very easy target for anybody who wishes to discredit the natural health movement, of course, as both she and her husband, Major General Albert Stubblebine, almost never cite proper references or provide hyperlinks to the relevant Codex documents in their online writings. As such, anybody coming across their internet material has no easy means of verifying whether or not the claims they make about Codex are true. Instead, readers are seemingly expected to simply take their word that “under Codex, all cows are to be treated with Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone and there are no upper limits”, or that Codex mandates that “all food must be irradiated unless eaten locally and raw,” as they don’t provide any proof – in the form of references to the 16,000 pages of Codex documentation that Laibow claims to have studied – to substantiate their claims.
Bart Staes, above, a member of the European Parliament, cited the inaccurate Codex reporting of Rima Laibow and used it as a means of dismissing all critical reporting on Codex as being "conspiracy theory".
Nevertheless, damning though the programme was in its criticism of Laibow and her inaccurate reporting of Codex issues, it has to be said that its choice of “expert” contributors, upon whom it relied heavily, was far from impressive.
Bart Staes, for example, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament, tried unconvincingly to discredit the idea that Codex represents a threat to the future availability of therapeutically effective vitamin and mineral supplements. In particular, he avoided making any mention of the fact that the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements require that maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in food supplements shall be set, or that this will seemingly be done using a risk assessment methodology that is deeply flawed. Instead, he simply cited the inaccurate Codex reporting of Rima Laibow and essentially used it as a means of dismissing all critical reporting on Codex as being “conspiracy theory”.
Professor Bernd Van Der Meulen, a Professor of Law and Governance at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, ignored the potential effects of Codex upon the future global availability of therapeutically effective vitamin and mineral supplements and failed to make any reference to the fact that Codex has gradually been weakening the international definition of the word "organic".
The programme also featured contributions from Professor Bernd Van Der Meulen, a Professor of Law and Governance at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who pointedly ignored the potential effects of Codex upon the future global availability of therapeutically effective vitamin and mineral supplements and spoke only about issues related to regular foods. Crucially, however, and amongst other omissions, Van Der Meulen failed to make any reference to the fact that Codex has gradually been weakening the international definition of the word “organic.” His failure to mention this issue was particularly significant given that Wim Vis had specifically asked me about it and had even gone so far as to say that the host of the Radar documentary programme is very fond of organic food (known as “biological food” in the Netherlands). Mindful of this, my second email reply to Vis had made particular reference to this matter.
This omission raises all manner of questions, as, unbeknownst to the vast majority of consumers, the substances now permitted for use under the Codex Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Marketing and Labelling of Organically Produced Food include sulphur dioxide, which is known to cause allergic reactions in some people; carrageenan, which has been linked with the formation of ulcers in the intestines and cancerous tumors in the gut; and ethylene, which is now permitted to be used for ripening kiwifruit and bananas. Whilst it is of course true that fruits produce their own ethylene as a part of their ripening process, there can be little doubt that most consumers would consider it a monstrous lie to label food as “organic” when it has been plucked before ripe, transported thousands of miles across the world in cold storage containers filled with carbon dioxide (CO2), and then artificially treated with ethylene for ripening.
Why, then, did Van Der Meulen – and, for that matter, Wim Vis – not see fit to make any mention of this in the programme? Did they not think that the subjecting of organic food to the same dubious and unnatural agricultural practices used in non-organic food production would have been of interest to Dutch viewers? Or would including mention of this issue not perhaps have painted a sufficiently cosy, consumer-friendly image of Codex?
In an ideal world, the mass media would be a completely reliable and impartial source of news and reports, and, in accessing it, consumers could be confident that they were always consulting fully independent providers of information.
Unfortunately, of course, and as even the media itself would have to admit, we don’t live in an ideal world and it would be naïve of anybody to think that we did.
Instead – at least so far as the impartiality and independence of the media is concerned – the available evidence would appear to suggest that the examples of bias and interference described above could merely be the tip of the iceberg.
In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), above, has long worked hand in glove with the media. (Image source: Wikipedia).
In the United States, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long worked hand in glove with the media and a memo from 1991 shows that by then it already had “relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly, and television network in the nation.” According to the memo, “in many instances” the CIA has “persuaded reporters to postpone, change, hold, or even scrap stories.”
Globally, a similar picture is emerging with recent evidence suggesting that shadowy intelligence agencies are pumping out black propaganda to manipulate global perception and that the media are simply swallowing it wholesale.
In the UK, meanwhile, the British government has been spending millions of pounds to fund television programmes that are all but indistinguishable from regular shows. Unlike normal documentaries, the programmes are commissioned by government ministers with the purpose of showing their policies or activities in a sympathetic light.
The uncomfortable reality that we have to face up to, therefore, is that Big Media’s output is distinctly less than independent and by no means completely impartial.
In saying this, of course, I am not trying to infer that reliable reporting does not exist. Far from it, in fact, as when sufficiently reliable and credible stories in the fields of health and politics are published by Big Media we are more than happy to include them in our Foundation’s newsletter.
Nor am I saying that the entire mass media is under the total control of some mysterious global conspiracy.
However, and as the examples in this article hopefully demonstrate, I would strongly argue that would be naïve for anybody to assume that Big Media’s output is free from bias and outside interference.
More to the point, so far as Codex is concerned, it is long since time that the media should have properly addressed its twin roles in promoting the globalization of the food industry and protecting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. As such, the fact that its airwaves and printing presses remain strangely silent on this matter – and this despite a growing public interest in Codex – is in itself noteworthy, to say the least.
To learn more about Codex, and how it affects you and your health, click here.
To access more in-depth articles on Codex, click here.