Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Orwellian Prizes

"Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
The fate of famous quotations such as George Orwell's is to become a cliché, to lose meaning beyond their own historical reference points, themselves also by now a cliché. So to renew the observation, let's make it real again by looking at political prizes: the Orwell Prizes, no less. "The ambition of the prizes" we're told "is to reward, celebrate and promote work that helps nurture the discussion of politics and that contributes to the quality of public life." It is run "in association with The Orwell Trust ... and the Media Standards Trust". What more could guarantee objectivity and independence?

To begin we may ask what discussion does it seek to nurture? Looking at the archives, it has shortlisted books by Nick Cohen (twice!), Andrew Marr and (Tony Blair's press secretary) Alastair Campbell, each to varying degrees responsible for selling to the British public the solidity of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Distruction and respect to the murderous invasion of Iraq. Peek at its award for Journalism and you'll see the similar heroes of quality nurturing: Justin Webb, Johann Hari, Clive James, David Aaronovitch, Melanie Phillips, and Peter Hitchens (twice!). For the blog award, which began only last year, it has already included Oliver Kamm and Conservative blogger Iain Dale (twice!). Perhaps in scanning the lists I've skipped representatives of the Left and discussion isn't so constrained.

Of course, the prize has included some worthy authors, usually those writing about issues in lands safely out of range – this year the Arctic, Kenya and Zimbabwe (twice!). Yet what about those who have sought to elucidate Orwell's dictum in the nearest, the now and in England? Richard Seymour's Lenin's Tomb superbly written and often revelatory blog posts have yet to be recognised. His book was ignored too. It's a staggering truth also that John Pilger has not been nominated for the journalism prize. Here's his Welcome to Orwell's World. As for the book prize, the work from 2009 most overtly inspired by Orwell is surely Newspeak in the 21st Century by Davids Edward and Cromwell, "an exposé of the arrogance and servility to power of our leading journalists and editors". Yet it too is conspicuous by its absence from the longlist.

It is very fortunate then, that, due to the abiding example set by Orwell, the impeccably independent prize judges are free to resist the dead hand of political language in order to reward those who expose its lies and to hold to account those who make mass murder respectable. We can only assume the four writers mentioned above just didn't make the grade. After all, we can rest assured even those close to the power prefer freedom and independence to wealth and privilege. For this we give thanks, in association with the Media Standards Trust, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Surely the Orwell Prizes are meant to be ironic, in the best Orwellian sense. Right?



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