David Dimbleby has confirmed what many of us already knew – that Jeremy Corbyn has been treated unfairly and misrepresented by the media.
Dimbleby will be interviewing both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May for a Question Time special on Thursday. Dimbleby said that most British newspapers show a right wing bias and complained of their “lazy pessimism”.
He said: “I don’t think anyone could say that Corbyn has had a fair deal at the hands of the press, in a way that the Labour party did when it was more to the centre, but then we generally have a rightwing press.”
He also suggested the Labour leader has more support among the public than he does among the parliamentary Labour party.
He went on to say: “My own prediction is that, contrary to the scepticism and lazy pessimism of the newspapers and the British media, it’s going to be a really fascinating night, and it will drive home some messages about our political system and the political appeal of different parties that no amount of polling or reading the papers will tell us.”
Just four months ago, the BBC Trust found a BBC political editor inaccurately reported Jeremy Corbyn’s views about shoot-to-kill policies in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris.
The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that Laura Kuenssberg‘s report for the News at Six in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an angry response from the corporation’s director of news.
The News at Six item included a clip of Jeremy Corbyn saying: “I am not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive.”
Kuenssberg had presented the clip as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but the Trust concluded that Corbyn had been speaking in a different context.
The Labour leader had acually been responding to a question about whether he would be happy to order police or military “to shoot to kill” on Britain’s streets – and not specifically regarding a Paris-style terrorist attack in the UK.
The Trust agreed with the complainant that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the government was proposing. The Trust also found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to claim that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals.
The Trust agreed with the complainant, pointing out that accuracy in any one programme rather than the entire output was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern”.
The news item was edited to mislead the public. It’s a curious thing that the Conservatives have frequently used the very same tactic of deliberately misquoting Corbyn to misrepresent his views in their election campaign. It’s time there were tighter laws on this kind of nasty manipulation of pubic perceptions and opinion.
It was agreed that: “According to this high standard [of accuracy], the report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr Corbyn’s interview.”
Inaccurate portrayals like this have become normalised by the media and the government.
However, it isn’t just the way that responses are mispresented that is problematic. The framing of issues is also heavily biased, reflecting the permitted success of the Conservatives and a predominantly right wing press to shape the entire news agenda. What we hear and read is a long way from impartiality and accuracy.
BBC’s Steven Sackur has said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a “threat” to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information in 2015, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.
“National security” is a theme that has run through the Conservatives campaigns and media commentary since. It works because it generates fear. It’s the political use of psychological manipulation at its very worst, as it presents an “enemy” for the public to vote against, rather than something inspiring to vote for.
The Conservative party always emphasise and distort issues of national defense and magnifies our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or “invading” ideologies like Socialism (see the Zinoviev letter, for example). They reduce and present the world as a frightening place, and justify authoritarian policies to remedy the perceived threats. This is then used to portray the party as “strong”, and any opposition as “weak”.
The Conservatives, with the cooperation of most of the media, are using this strategy of tension, designed intentionally to create public alarm – to portray the left as a “threat” to the wellbeing of society – and it reverberates around the media, to be used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn. That is before he even has an opportunity to put the record straight. Yet even a glance through the Labour manifesto shows that this “threat” patently untrue.
The media does not engage the public, instead there is a pre-determined, biased and right wing agenda being imposed and then presented as a consensus. The media is contributing significantly to public cynicism and alienation and sowing divisiveness. We are witnessing the erosion of the media’s role of watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between the governing and the governed. We are witnessing the mainstreaming of democratic decay.
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