Fiona Fox is the director of the Science Media Centre (SMC).
Despite having no previous background in either 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.
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 disturbingingly 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.
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 Go to a Printer Friendly Page