Category: Independent Media

The election in the media: against evasion and lies, good journalism is all we [don’t] have – Alan Rusbridger

This post is by Alan Rusbridger, chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In his first 1,000 days in office Donald Trump made 13,435 false or misleading claims, according to the good folk at the Washington Post who painstakingly monitor the president’s habit of bending the truth. How we Brits have smiled at this con man’s Teflon gift. Could never happen here.

But consider the lessons political managers around the world might have learned about our election and how we struggled to negotiate the increasingly blurred lines between truth and falsehood; facts and propaganda; openness and stealth; accountability and impunity; clarity and confusion; news and opinion.

 It rather looks as if one or two skilled backroom manipulators (we can guess) studied Trump’s ability to persuade enough people that black is white and, rather than recoil in disgust, came to the opposite conclusion: it works.

One far off day we will discover whether 40 new hospitals will be built, and whether 20,000 new police officers will materialise along with 50,000 “new” nurses. It won’t be long before we learn whether we’ve now finally got Brexit “done” or whether this is just the start of a long and painful process of negotiating our future trading relationships with a greatly weakened hand.

We’ll learn the reality of whether there is to be frictionless trade between the mainland of Britain and the island of Ireland. We will read the truth about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum … and much more. But by then life will have moved on, and maybe many of us will have forgotten the promises, evasions and outright lies of late 2019.

Lessons learned? That, in an age of information chaos, you can get away with almost any amount of misleading. You can doctor videossuppress informationavoid challenging interviews – but only after your opponents have been thoroughly grilled. You can expel dissenting journalists from the press pack or hide in a fridge. You can rebrand a fake “fact-checking” website. In the end, none of it matters.

Coin one unforgettable message and stick to it. “Get Brexit done” was brilliant, never mind that the meaning of “Brexit” and “done” was far from clear: this is an age of simplicity, not complexity. Even the so-called mainstream media will do far more to amplify that slogan rather than question it. Try this stunt: slap the words on a JCB digger and drive it through a pile of polystyrene bricks … and watch as news editors obligingly clear their front pages for the image.

They are making posters, not doing journalism.

And remember that in most countries, governments have unusual power over public service broadcasters. So, in the event that television journalists seem to be getting too big for their boots, it is often useful to drop a heavy hint there will be a price to pay. Maybe Channel 4 has outlived its usefulness? Possibly it’s time to privatise the BBC? That should do the trick.

rees mogg 2

 Jacob Rees-Mogg was conspicuously missing from the Conservatives election campaign. Photograph: Ian Walton/Reuters

Old-fashioned press conferences should be kept to the minimum. A manifesto should say almost nothing. Gaffe-prone colleagues should be “disappeared”. If in real trouble, make things up. You’ll be amazed how readily even the best journalists will repeat unattributable fictions (see the “row” over the four-year-old boy in Leeds General Infirmary and what “happened” during the subsequent visit of health secretary Matt Hancock). By the time the journalists have corrected themselves and Twitter has spent 24 hours arguing about the truth, the world will have moved on.

So, as Trump has discovered, the liars, myth-makers and manipulators are in the ascendancy – and however valiantly individual journalists attempt to hold them to account (and many, especially at a local level, have tried magnificently) the dice are loaded against them.

The one over-riding thought is that for many years I looked at US newspapers and pitied colleagues there who “just” ran the newsroom, leaving comment pages to others. Pity has turned to envy. I now think it would be cleansing for all British national newspapers to split the responsibility for news and comment. It’s simply too hard for the average reader – especially, but not only online – to tell the difference.

And a hero? After the Yorkshire Evening Post‘s reporting of the Leeds story was questioned, its editor in chief, James Mitchinson, wrote a long and considered reply to a reader who, on the basis of something she read on social media, thought the story was fake. Mitchinson’s reply courteously asks the reader why she would believe the word of a total stranger (who might not even exist) over a newspaper she had read for many years in good faith.

The fact the paper knew the story to be true was, said Mitchinson, down to “bog-standard journalism”. It was a powerful statement of why good journalism – independent and decently crafted – should matter.

So let’s hear it for bog-standard journalism. There’s too little of it. It may not be enough, but it’s all we have.

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Related

The government’s disinformation campaign has been facilitated by a complicit, biased, undemocratic media

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and ‘strategic communications’ crib sheet

Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

Research finds ‘inaccuracies and distortions’ in media coverage of antisemitism and the Labour Party

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within

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Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power.

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

Independent journalists are now facing a threat from an authoritarian government, who have successfully managed to distort our mainstream media.

I did expect this promise of a purge on left leaning sites if Boris Johnson was returned to office, but not quite so soon after the event. It’s a case of vote Tory on Thursday, get fascism by Saturday. 

John Mann isn’t by a long stretch the only so-called moderate ex-Labour neoliberal  extremist whipping up McCarthyist hysteria and hate. But he has been strategically placed for a while by the Conservatives to destroy independent sites like mine. He’s a particularly nasty individual.

My first step to fight back in the coming year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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Letter endorsing Jeremy Corbyn signed by key public figures and credible Jewish academics

Corbyn

Media misrepresentations of the Labour party are being used strategically to create left wing folk devils and moral panic

An academic study published by the London School of Economics (LSE) which examined media and communications, specifically Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: from Watchdog to Attack dog, has shown that enduring, aggressive and non factual political and media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn were designed intentionally in a strategic attempt to thoroughly discredit him as a political actor. However, Corbyn is of course a legitimate democratic actor who is the leader of the main opposition party in British politics. Furthermore, he has presented a credible and increasingly popular alternative to the neoliberal doxa.   

One particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy. The Conservative’s election campaigns are always a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media has been geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also dominated the narrative; they constructed and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the Left, such as welfare, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right-wing scorn, derision and ridicule.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxaThe political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.

Words like competition, market place, small state, efficiency, responsibility and so on, now crowd out any opportunity of even a fleeting glance of another way of socio-economic organisation. They’ve become our ‘common sense’ without our consent. 

Anything presented that contradicts the consensus – a convincing, coherent, viable alternative perspective – is treated to a heavily staged editing via meta-coverage by the media. Anyone would think that the media regards the UK as a one-party state.

This clearly co-ordinated campaign of discrediting the opposition leader began from the moment he became a prominent candidate and ramped up after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of attempted delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice and media platform; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through use of the ‘guilt by association’ fallacy, mainly used with tenuous allegations of terrorism and antisemitism.

The LSE study found that 75 per cent of stories about the opposition leader are either distorted or failed to represent his actual views on subjects.

Dr Bart Cammaerts, the research director, described “an overall picture of most newspapers systematically vilifying the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics”.

The report also says“Denying such an important political actor a voice or distorting his views and ideas through the exercise of mediated power is highly problematic.”

Many of us have written at length about the oppressive, authoritarian-styled narratives in the media and the political circumstances in which they have arisen, as independent journalists. The language use itself  on the right warrants study – the left community has been stereotyped and stigmatised with labels such as “cult”, “Marxists” (which has undergone a politically engineered semantic shift, now being used as an insult), “rabble”, “dogs”, “Stalinists”, “Trots”, extremists”, “hard left” and so on. 

This language has been widely and purposely used to create folk devils and moral panic. It is the process of arousing social concern over an issue which may be constructed – usually seen as the work of moral entrepreneurs and the mass media, but it is also a tactic used widely by politicians on the right of the spectrum.

Some moral panics become embedded long-term in standard political discourse, such as enduring right wing McCarthyist values and longstanding concerns about “Reds under the beds” and about terrorism. (See also my article about the Zinoviev letter). 

We have seen a lot of high profile media commentaries from the Conservative Jewish community which has also resulted in the marginalisation of left leaning Jewish voices. We have also witnessed the media narratives of neoliberals (from  Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the faction of so-called moderates within the Labour party) that have attempted to portray an illusion of consensus, from a strategic communications crib sheet. 

Allegations made were purposely conflated in the media, with a narrative of ‘guilt by association’ – a commonly used propaganda technique. But allegations can often be founded on malice and until a fair investigation, where evidence is provided, allegations are simply claims made against someone. These have been made very often in the media, often without including a right to reply. 

A letter published in the Guardian two days ago was written by a group of celebrities, including people such as Joanna Lumley, claiming they “could not vote for Labour” under the current leadership. But the majority of this small group were utterly disingenuous, as they were known longstanding Conservative or Lib Dem supporters anyway. As an ‘animal rights campaigner’, among other things, Lumley, for example, supports a party that wants to re-introduce fox hunting. 

A Labour party spokesperson said: “It’s extraordinary that several of those who have signed this letter have themselves been accused of antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny. It’s less surprising that a number are Conservatives and Lib Dems. 

“We take allegations of antisemitism extremely seriously, we are taking robust action and we are absolutely committed to rooting it out of our party and wider society.”

It’s a pity many of the neoliberal commentators have been so caught up in manufacturing allegations against the Labour party that they have failed to notice people are dying because of neoliberal policies.

Disabled people in the UK have experienced harm and serious violations to their fundamental human rights under successive neoliberal governments since 2010. Ordinary citizens are experiencing absolute poverty as a direct consequence of Tory and Liberal Democrat policies. Yet the media is focused on allegations, smears and reducing democratic discourse to vicious political gossip-mongering.

Meanwhile, the Labour party are the only party to have held consultations with people in the disabled community. I was invited to round table discussions at Westminster to discuss Labour’s future social security policies, and I attended a consultation event hosted by Debbie Abrahams which was about embedding equality legislation into subsequent Labour policies for disabled people.

The result is an excellent Labour manifesto for disabled people with disabled people, called Nothing about you without you. 

None of the other political parties have stood up against the oppression we have experienced as a marginalised social group, because of the Conservative and Lib Dem austerity programme, which targeted disabled people disproportionately more than other citizens.  Nor have other parties actively campaigned for disabled people’s human rights, as Labour have. 

Open letter from credible key public figures in support of Jeremy Corbyn

Now, an open letter has been written in full support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn which has collected 30 signatories from a wide range of high-profile public figures, including musicians Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Thurston Moore, Kate Tempest, Robert Del Naja and Lowkey, and it also includes respected academics such as David Graeber, Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, the NME has revealed.

It’s unlikely to be accommodated by media outlets like the BBC and Guardian, however.

In the new letter, the signatories – also featuring a range of major Jewish authors and public figures – describe Corbyn as a “life-long committed anti-racist” and claim that “no political party or political leader has done more to address [antisemitism] than Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.”

Read the full letter below:

“To the Editor:

“The coming UK election is indeed a landmark and monumental one as signatories to a recent letter attest. However, we are outraged that Jeremy Corbyn, a life-long committed anti-racist, is being smeared as an anti-semite by people who should know better. Antisemitism is a problem within society and is present within all political parties and movements, including Labour. It must be confronted and rooted out at every turn. No political party or political leader has done more to address this problem than Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. In the last two years, the speed of investigations has increased fourfold, staffing committed to dealing with the issue has doubled, legal experts have been drafted, and rules changed to expedite sanctions. But the prevailing evidence speaks for itself: Labour’s political opponents and much of the media have trivialised and weaponised this issue for ideological ends.

“Progressives around the world are looking to this election and to the Labour Party as a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world. It has never been more important that voters are made aware of the truth of what the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn stands for: the eradication of all racism, including antisemitism, wherever it rears its ugly head.”

The text concludes with the full list of signatories, listed below:

Noam Chomsky
Naomi Klein
Yanis Varoufakis
Brian Eno
Rob Delaney
Angela Davis
Steve Coogan
Alexei Sayle
Maxine Peake
Roger Waters
Jason Hickel
Francesca Martinez
Lowkey
David Adler
Raoul Martinez
Miriam Margolyes
Massive Attack
Vivienne Westwood
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
John Keane
Michael Mansfield QC
Adjoa Andoh
Mike Leigh
Michael Rosen
Robert Cohen
Mark Ruffalo
Amir Amirani
Mark Rylance
Caryl Churchill
Kate Tempest
Jocelyn Pool
David Graeber (London School of Economics)

Des Freedman (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Justin Schlosberg (Birkbeck, University of London)

I know who are established credible and conscientious voices, and who I will be taking seriously on 12 December.


Related

Watch what Jewish people think about Jeremy Corbyn:


 


I don’t make any money from my work. My site costs me to run. But you can contribute if you like by making a donation and help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support to others who are going through traumatic social security disability assessments and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Paypal claim I am a ‘politically exposed person’ and have restricted my account

I logged into my paypal account and had the following message, completely out of the blue:

paypal limitation

I clicked on the PEP questions and got this:

politically exposed

I answered no because I don’t hold a position of political office, or ‘public trust’ and I’m not ‘associated’ with or related to someone in the public trust or polical office.  

I am, however, a member of a political party, like many other citizens. I have also been known to meet with MPs to raise and discuss issues with them. That does not make me a ‘politically exposed person.’

I briefly researched what a ‘politically exposed person’ is: “In financial regulation, “politically exposed person” (PEP) is a term describing someone who has been entrusted with a prominent public function. A PEP generally presents a higher risk for potential involvement in bribery and corruption by virtue of their position and the influence that they may hold.”

And: “While there is no global definition of a PEP, most countries have based their definition on the 2003 Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) standard, as for example the Swiss financial market regulator in 2011, which quoted it as “the international standard.” 

The FATF’s latest definition of politically exposed persons (PEP), revised from 2003, is as follows

  • Foreign PEPs: individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public functions by a foreign country, for example Heads of state or Heads of government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state owned corporations, important political party officials.
  • Domestic PEPs: individuals who are or have been entrusted domestically with prominent public functions, for example Heads of State or of government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state owned corporations, important political party officials. (Not all countries subscribe to the concept of domestic PEPs with respect to regulatory requirements/application of due diligence. For example, US law, specifically Section 312 of the USA Patriot Act and its implementing regulations provide for enhanced due diligence for SFPFs (Senior Foreign Political Figure) only, defined as: “a current or former senior official in the executive, legislative, administrative, military, or judicial branches of a ‘foreign’ government…a senior official of a major ‘foreign’ political party; and a senior executive of a ‘foreign’ government-owned commercial enterprise.)
  • Persons who are or have been entrusted with a prominent function by a state owned enterprise or an international organisation refers to members of senior management, i.e. directors, deputy directors and members of the board or equivalent functions.

Requirements for a PEP apply to family members or close associates, any individual publicly known, or known by the financial institution to be a close personal or professional associate.

None of these criteria apply to me.

As of January 2015 the UK’s PEP definition is identical to the 2003 FATF definition, i.e. without the 2012 update to include domestic PEPs; It is found in the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 Section 14(5)[9] A politically exposed person is considered any individual who fits any of the criteria listed below:

  • A foreign person who has held any time in the preceding year a prominent public function outside the United Kingdom, in a state or international institution
  • Members of courts of auditors or of the boards of central banks
  • Ambassadors, chargés d’affaires and high-ranking officers in the armed forces
  • Members of the administrative, management or supervisory bodies of state-owned enterprises
  • Heads of state, heads of government, ministers and deputy or assistant ministers
  • Members of parliaments
  • Members of supreme courts, constitutional courts or of other high-level judicial bodies

The definition explicitly excludes middle-ranking or more junior officials.

Apparently there are business screening tools available to “Screen your prospective clients against extensive global PEP lists.”  

There are a number of companies advertising for regulatory, financial and reputational risk screening.

‘Due diligence to uncover PEPs can be time consuming and requires the checking of names, dates of birth, national identification numbers and photos of clients against a reputable database of known PEPs, which usually contains over one million profiles.’

I should add at this point that I have this week had sudden inexplicable finance related problems. One is with a catalogue I have credit with (I needed a new cooker at the time, and other household items, which I have bought on credit) who have suddenly doubled the annual interest rate on my account, and justified this by claiming a ‘risk’ had come to light. They wouldn’t tell me what the ‘new risk’ was. I don’t have any other credit accounts, luckily, and have used the catalogue only when I have needed to replace essential household items for my family.

It’s probably unrelated, but I’m also suddenly battling with the council regarding an underpayment. They did reimburse me the amount last month thatthey had been deducting by mistake from my housing benefit over the last year. But now the council have this week retrospectively claimed that some of that money was Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), and want more than half of the money they reimbursed me back.

The DHP, which I didn’t actually claim from the dates they say, was only awarded on the date I received the notification for the decision to reimbuse me the amount I was underpaid, and mysteriously backdated over a year. They are now claiming they paid that money at the time my rent was reduced for the reason the council claimed was behind the mistaken deductions. The deductions happened because the council decided without telling me that my son no longer lived at home. He was at university, but returned home out of term times. Legally that means he still lives at home. As it happens, he had eft university anyway and returned home permanently, for much of the period concerned.

The Council are now claiming – a month after this was sorted out and I was paid for the period of underpayment concerned that they had awarded DHP at the time, because they understood my son had left home. The period they claim they paid me for was last year. A notification for that didn’t arrive until I got a letter telling me the council had made a mistake and were going to reimburse me. The DHP notification letter was among the documents of how my benefit had been worked out. The letter thanked me for making a claim – that I never made for that period –  which I thought was odd at the time.

It’s bureaucratic bullshit that reminds me of the Thatcher era, when the DHSS kept ‘losing’ my ‘file’ and not paying me my unemployment benefit at a time when I was a lone parent with a baby, fleeing domestic violence, staying in a women’s aid refuge  – and a political activist. At that time, I had some major and inexplicable problems accessing any support that other people take for granted.

I do have to wonder how I could possibly even remotely be considered to be a ‘politically exposed person,’  given the definition. I have very little money. I don’t get a huge amount of donations on my site. The current balance on my Paypal site is £3.46.

This week I have had a few more donations than average because of an appeal for support to replace my laptop, which is broken, but that could not reasonably be considered a trigger for the current restriction on my account or of any suspicion of ‘corruption’.

The most I have ever had on my paypal balance is £100, minus the money that Paypal deduct. I often don’t check my balance for a week at a time or longer, because on average, I generally do not have very much on my balance.

I don’t get paid for the work I do. I would love to make a living from research and writing, but have been unable to so far. That won’t stop me from continuing doing what I do, though, providing I can stay connected to the internet, of course. 

People donate sometimes. Those donations of course are entirely voluntary, and they support me in researching and writing independent articles, as well as providing help for people who desperately need support. I support people with their PIP and ESA assessments, reviews and appeals. I also support people who contact me because they are profoundly distressed by of the consequences of government austerity policies. 

If simply being a person who cares very much about injustice, human rights, inequality and increasing poverty, and about how our society is organised makes me a ‘politically exposed person’, well, so be it.

 

Update

I contacted Paypal today and went through some security checks with them. I asked why I had been suspected of being a ‘politically exposed person’ and they replied that the company is obliged to carry out monitoring and checks. I asked them why they had decided they needed to carry out monitoring and checks on me, specifically, and they said they ‘could not say why’.

My account restrictions have now been lifted.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.

Until the issues on my account with Paypal have been resolved, I won’t be using their donation button. But you can contact me directly if you want to make a donation.

 

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

media networks on Twitter

Media network community, from The University of Exeter’s study – Different News for Different Views: Political News-sharing Communities on Social Media Through the UK General Election in 2015

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Britain was judged to have been in 40th place. This compared to Norway and Sweden at the top of the index, with the UK placed below Trinidad and Tobago and only just ahead of Taiwan. The United States is also trailing, to the dismay of US media organisations, at 45 on the list (with North Korea in bottom place, at 180). 

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a survey questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

Last year, the World Press Freedom Index report said“The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

Britain’s ranking, from the World Press Freedom Index 2018

The recent report has drawn attention to several issues that may have contributed to the UK’s place in the ranking. It says: “A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security) has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index.” 

 

Related 

The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

The BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and strategic communications crib sheet 

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I write because I must. You can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping of public perceptions and flouting impartiality rule

jc newsnight krem.jpg

Many of us have criticised the BBC over the past 7 years of bias, and of reflecting broadly establishment opinion. However, the broadcasting corporation has persistently defended itself against legitimate charges of ideological favouritism, claiming a reputation for fair coverage.  Given the BBC’s reach, and the trust placed in it, any biases could potentially have a much more significant impact on altering public understanding of an issue than biases arising on other media platforms. 

A key reason why BBC bias is important is that, unlike its broadcast competitors and newspapers, the BBC is guaranteed its funds through a compulsory licence fee. Consumers are not able to punish the institution financially for perceived coverage bias. This puts it in a highly privileged position, one in which TV viewers are made to pay for the content, irrespective of their views on it.

In addition, the method through which the BBC is funded means that the organisation itself has a vested interest in the political process. It uses a chunk of its guaranteed revenues to lobby for the maintenance of the licence fee. If a government had a manifesto commitment to radically slash or abolish the BBC licence fee, the BBC’s coverage of that issue could be vitally important in framing that debate. This is not a mere theoretical point –  in 2015, Andrew Marr interviewed BBC Director General, Lord (Tony) Hall on just this issue.  

On Thursday night, the BBC’s Newsnight programme featured a large backdrop showing Jeremy Corbyn apparently standing outside of the Kremlin wearing a Russian-styled hat. Of course the photograph of the opposition leader was superimposed over the background. Jeremy Corbyn’s face had also been treated to a rather blatant red makeover by the BBC.

This is a blatant attempt at shaping public perception and disgraceful breach of the BBC’s impartiality obligations.  This was also most certainly a deviation in coverage from objective truth. It was a reference to the frequent, false and libelous accusations of Jeremy Corbyn being a  “Commie spy” and so on. Rather than highlighting the fact that these are false allegations, the BBC chose to highlight them using a picture that had been doctored to create a backdrop, giving viewers the impression that the lies and hysterical, long standing right wing smears are facts. 

The BBC set is the kind of nasty tactic that we ordinarily expect from the right wing rags. Like the photograph of the previous Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, eating a bacon sandwich, which became the source of sustained commentary in 2014 and 2015. Taken for the Evening Standard while Miliband was campaigning for local elections in May 2014, it was purposely shared to make him look awkward, error prone or incapable of performing simple tasks, as if eating  is somehow related to political performance. The photo was used in a deeply mocking front page of The Sun on the day before the 2015 general election.

Media bias in the UK

Last year, the Conservatives were accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published last February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. (See The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK. ) 

However, the Conservatives’ direction of travel regarding media freedoms was clear well before last year. As far back as 2012, the government were ‘monitoring’ the BBC in particular for ‘left wing bias’. The government’s fury at what they call the liberal, left-wing leaning of the state broadcaster was laid bare after Iain Duncan Smith accused the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, of ‘peeing all over British business’. (See also Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late ). 

Let’s not forget government officials smashing up hard drives containing the Snowden leaks at the Guardian office, too, and the intimidation involving the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner under the ‘terrorism’ act. As part of the global surveillance disclosure, the first of Snowden’s documents were published on June 5, 2013, in The Guardian in an article by Greenwald.

Journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, last year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press. RSF ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. 

We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

Types of bias

One source of media bias is a failure to include a perspective, viewpoint or information within a news story that might be objectively regarded as being important. This is important because exclusion of a particular viewpoint or opinion on a subject might be expected to shift the ‘Overton Window’, defining what it is politically acceptable to say. This can happen in such a way that a viewpoint becomes entirely eliminated or marginalised from political discourse. Within academic media theory, there is a line of reasoning that media influence on audiences is not immediate but occurs more through a continual process of repeated arguments – the ‘steady drip’ effect. 

A second potential source of bias is ‘bias by selection’. This might entail particular issues or viewpoints being more frequently covered, or certain guests or organisations being more likely to be selected. There are several others, for some of which the BBC has regularly been criticised. 

Herman and Chomsky (1988) proposed a propaganda model hypothesising systematic biases of media from structural economic causes. Their proposition is that media ownership by corporations, (and in other media, funding from advertising), the use of official sources, efforts to discredit independent media (“flak”), and “anti-communist ideology as the filters that bias news in favour of corporate and partisan political interests.

Politically biased messages may be conveyed via visual cues from the sets as a kind of underhanded reference-dependent framing.  A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. It entails the selection of some aspects of a perceived reality and makes them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and so on. 

On Friday’s night’s programme, author Owen Jones quite properly took Newsnight’s Evan Davis to task about the “disgraceful framing” of the narrative around the nerve-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Davis actually had the brazen cheek to laugh about Jones’s observations, and to deny them.

As other independent journalists have reported, Jones also referred to the observation of sharp-eyed Twitter user @duckspeech that Newsnight had not merely added Corbyn’s image to the backdrop – but had also photoshopped his hat to make it more closely resemble a Russian hat. This was of course referencing the long running and debunked “Russian stooge” and “appeasement” narrative of the Conservatives, which started with the fake Zinoviev letter, when the very first Labour government was in power.

The government have reduced politics to crude ad hominem attacks, aggressive posturing, overly simplistic sound bites and negative, divisive and emotive appeals. The media have reflected a corresponding lack of sophistication in their delivery of ‘news’.

The details and rationality matters 

Corbyn condemned the nerve agent attack on the Skripals in no uncertain terms. However, he responded rationally and stressed that any response to Russia must be based on clear evidence. Of course the right wing rags ran a smear campaign, despicably calling Corbyn a “Kremlin stooge”, and some of  the Labour party’s centrists started sniping.

Yet Corbyn has been rational and reasonable. He said: “The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war. It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.

Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights .Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence.” ​He is absolutely right. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have responded with a politics of petulance, with defence minister Gavin Williamson disgracefully saying that Russia should “go away and shut up” when asked how the Kremlin should respond to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats.

Corbyn was derided when presented a series of simple and reasonable questions to the prime minister, asking what steps the government has taken to collect evidence for its claims, he was loudly heckled by puerile, braying McCarthist members of the House of Commons.

He said: “If the government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Has the prime minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian government under Article IX(2)?

“How has she responded to the Russian government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?”

Perhaps Corbyn’s carping neoliberal opponents inside the Labour party should remember why party membership has significantly grown since Corbyn became the elected leader (twice) and precisely why the party’s popularity surged during last year’s snap election.

One particularly cowardly backbencher, wishing to remain anonymous, shamefully told the Guardian: “Putin’s constant and shameful apologist might just as well stand aside and let the Russian ambassador write the speeches and brief the media himself.” Despicable.

Yet on Wednesday Benjamin Griveaux, a spokesperson for the French government, said it was too early to decide on retaliatory measures against Russia, as its involvement was yet to be proven. Griveaux said France was waiting for “definitive conclusions,” and evidence that the “facts were completely true,” before taking a position. 

 As Walter Lipman once noted, the news media are a primary source of those “pictures in our heads” about the larger world of public affairs, a world that for most citizens is “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind.”  What people know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to show them. More specifically, the result of this mediated view of the world is that the priorities of the media strongly influence the priorities of the public. Elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind.

Given the reduction in sophistication and rationality in government rhetoric, media news and current affairs presentation, (and reduction in democratic accountability, for that matter) we don’t currently have a climate that particularly encourages citizens to think critically and for themselves.

Read Jeremy Corbyn’s  article in the Guardian: The Salisbury attack was appalling. But we must avoid a drift to conflict


 

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