Tag: BBC

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

Disinformation and new forms of propaganda can take many forms—from the use of false images, misleading headlines, to social media techniques that create an impression of consensus – that the ‘majority’ understands an issue in a certain way (also called ‘bandwaggon technique’). Polling can be misused, for example, to create an illusion of agreement in a population, and to draw on the conformity tendency or ‘herd mentality’ of the public.

Media agenda setting and framing of events may also contribute to the bandwaggon effect, and even subtle cues such as a broadcast presenter’s attitude and language towards election candidates can also influence voters.

For example, the many times we have heard the phrase “… let Jeremy Corbyn in” from broadcast media over the course of this election sends out a message that a Labour government would not be the norm, or the ‘preferred’ outcome of an election. The phrase also references and amplifies Theresa May’s chilling authoritarian comment that the Tories would “never allow [Jeremy Corbyn to be elected as Prime Minister] that to happen”. That is the intended subtext.

Sometimes, journalists quite openly reveal their own clear biases. This blatant lack of impartiality contravenes the UK’s norms of democracy and dismally fails to uphold public interest.

The comments, attitudes, gestures and facial expressions of presenters may also send out cues about party leaders deemed ‘suitability’ for office. Boris Johnson’s avoidance of difficult interviews was not because of cowardice. It was a tactical measure to avoid scrutiny, and to avoid being seen in a negative light. The interviews he did participate in were friendlier than other party leaders. Johnson had an easier time of it, by and large, during the election campaign.

The PM having a friendly selfie moment on This Morning

Johnson was somehow unable to find time to be interviewed by BBC1’s Conservative but nonetheless formidable Andrew Neil. He had no problem squeezing in a breezy and fawning chat with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV.

Can’t imagine why. Informative to see what ‘rigorous scrutiny’ from the British media looks like, however.

The media’s complicity in a strategic disinformation campaign

The case of Jack Williment-Barr, the four-year-old boy (pictured above) who was forced to sleep on a hospital floor as he waited in A&E, has brought public focus on the state of the chronically underfunded NHS just days before the election. The story appeared in the Daily Mirror. But it has also put focus on the other key trend of the election campaign: false and misleading claims that have circulated on social media and been amplified significantly by the mainstream press.

The image of Jack lying on a pile of coats has been at the centre of two major controversial disinformation campaigns. Jack’s story and the shocking image that highlighted the shocking state of the NHS have now been subjected to dishonest political re-edits, twice over. It is inconceivable that these re-edits have originated from anywhere other than the Conservative headquarters.

First, journalists who claimed to have been briefed by ‘senior Conservatives’ misreported that Matt Hancock’s adviser had been punched by one of 100 activists who arrived after the health secretary came to the hospital in an attempt to deal with the ongoing story. It turned out that there was no such punch, and that the adviser had simply accidently walked into the hand of one of the very small number of protesters who were at the hospital. He was pointing at something.

Hancock visited the hospital as a ‘damage management’ exercise following Boris Johnson’s earlier refusal to look at a photo of Jack on the floor of the hospital presented to him by Joe Pike, an ITV journalist. He took the phone from Pike, to avoid a difficult discussion about the government’s chronic underfunding of the NHS.

In the second re-edit, thousands of people shared a story that claimed to prove the photo of Jack was ‘staged’ by ‘Labour activists’, and that his mother had placed him on the floor specifically to take a photo. Once again, the claim was false; once again, it was amplified across social media by key journalists and political editors before any of them had bothered checking the provenance of the claim, or the facts of the case from the hospital itself.

None of this was true.

So Hancock was sent to Leeds General Infirmary, where the original photograph was taken. “Health Secretary has been despatched to Leeds to try to sort this out after PM’s awkward reaction earlier,” the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweeted.

Soon after he arrived, reports came from many of the country’s leading political journalists that Hancock’s aide had been attacked. Reports including ITV political editor Robert Peston, Laura Kuenssberg and others. This certainly looked like a very well co-ordinated disinformation campaign.

There were also reports that claimed “100 activists” had arrived and that their journey had been “paid for by the Labour Party.”

Some indicated that they had been told the news by Conservatives, and later indicated that the claims had been checked with “multiple sources.”

That will be just Matt Hancock, then.

It very quickly became clear that all of those claims were false. A video of the incident appeared shortly after that made very clear that there were only a few activists, and that the punch had not actually happened at all. 

Then, the same evening, the second misleading narrative took hold. A flurry of tweets began, boosting two stories that were eerily written using the same wording.

The first and most prominent disinformation item claimed to be sourced from a senior nurse who worked at the hospital, though it got the name of it wrong. It said that the photo had been staged by Jack’s mother, and that he immediately got back on a trolley after it was taken.

The second, which appeared to start slightly later, was credited to a “paediatric nurse.” It used a range of seeming medical jargon to definitively suggest that “no child would be treated in such a way,” and that therefore the image was either fake or misleading.

In both cases, a flurry of accounts took the text of the tweet and re-shared it, oddly, as if it was their own comment. It also made its way onto Twitter, where it was similarly shared without context.

Taken together, the story was shared tens of thousands of times onto different social media sites. Many have suggested that bots have been used.

The original viral post on a medical secretary’s Facebook account said, “I am a nurse myself” and cited a “good friend of mine” at Leeds General. It claimed the boy in the photo “was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and then uploaded it to media outlets”. The post dismissed the pictures of the ill boy as “another Momentum propaganda story”, despite the fact the hospital had already apologised for his treatment.

She later claimed her account had been hacked.

It didn’t matter that the hospital had confirmed the incident happened and apologised to the family, or that the nurses who supposedly served as the source for either story were anonymous and almost certainly not real. The story was shared as if it was fact and was amplified by Conservative MPs and senior journalists.

In some cases, those people have taken down those tweets. But worryingly, others are still live, and still being interacted with by readers.

Neither of the claims are remotely factual. Again, the hospital involved has confirmed that the incident happened, and that the event the photograph shows is real.

Responsible and publicly trusted reporters, such as Kuenssberg and Peston have a fundamental duty to make sure the comments they are putting out in the public domain have been verified and fact checked.

The hospital statement had already summed it the situation up – the hospital admitted there was no bed, the expectations of the family fell woefully short of the high standards of the NHS and as such an apology was issued.

The standards of journalism fell woefully short of the high expectations of the UK media. Throughout the election campaign, it’s clearly evident that the mainstream media has demonstrated that we cannot trust it to deliver impartial commentaries or fact checked news. 

However, the BBC did address the despicable misinformation campaign, but not during peak viewing hours: 

 

Laura Kuenssberg’s controversial, possibly illegal comments on the postal vote

Laura Kuenssberg: “the postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties, they’re not meant to look at them, but they do kind of get a hint. And, on both sides, people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking very grim for Labour…”.

The Electoral Commission says: 1.9 Ballot papers will be kept face down throughout a postal vote opening session. Anyone attending an opening session must not attempt to see how individual ballot papers have been marked. It follows therefore that keeping a tally of how ballot papers have been marked is not allowed.

1.10 In addition, anyone attending a postal vote opening must not attempt to look at identifying marks or numbers on ballot papers, disclose how any particular ballot paper has been marked or pass on any such information gained from the session. Anyone found guilty of breaching these requirements can face an unlimited fine, or may be imprisoned for up to six months.”

In a statement on Twitter, the watchdog said: ‘It may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed. ‘Anyone with information to suggest this has happened should report it immediately to the police.’

Kuenssberg told viewers on Wednesday – with just hours to go before the polling stations opened – that while parties were not supposed to look at voting papers when they were verified – but not counted – at opening sessions, they did “get a hint” of how they were doing and it was not looking good for Labour.

Her comments, however, came across as a statement of fact, rather than a hint.

She said: “The forecast is that it’s going to be wet and cold tomorrow. The postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties – they’re not meant to look at it, but they do kind of get a hint – and on both sides people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country.

“Of course, postal voters tend to skew to elderly voters and people who vote early … but the kind of younger generation who we know skew much more to the Labour party, you might expect to turn out to the polls tomorrow. But in this winter election, turnout is just another one of these factors that we just can’t predict.”

Kuenssberg’s remarks, made during an interview on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, was widely shared on social media on the final day of an election campaign that has seen unprecedented criticism of the media. It led to suggestions that she could potentially have breached the Representation of the People Act, which prevents the reporting of how people voted until after polls close.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster made clear they did not believe there were any issues with the on-air comments. “The BBC does not believe it, or its political editor, has breached electoral law,” they said.

Ballot papers are kept face down while votes are opened and it is forbidden to attempt to see how ballots have been marked or to keep a count. Postal votes are not counted until 10pm on the day of the election.

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has strict electoral rules around broadcasting or publishing the results of votes or opinion polls on election day before 10pm over concerns that doing so could influence voters’ decisions.  

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Waltham Forest council in east London has been scrambling to deliver postal votes that should have been out by last Friday, after an administrative error delayed the process.

The problem affected 1,470 voters in three constituencies, including Chingford and Woodford Green, which Iain Duncan Smith won for the Conservatives with a majority of 2,438 at the last election and which is a key target for Labour.

The council could not say how many voters were affected in each constituency but said all but one form had now been delivered.

It said 1,364 forms had been hand-delivered by the end of Monday and 105 more had been couriered to voters outside London on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A council spokesman said the borough had dealt with 27,993 postal votes for this election. He apologised for the error and said the Electoral Commission had been notified.

He added: “Completed postal votes will get to us if they are posted by last post on Wednesday 11 December. They can also be handed to staff at any polling station in the constituency on the day of the general election.”

Given the context of this error, it’s very easy to see why many people have a growing concern that this election may be rigged.

The fake narratives and lies in the Conservatives’ and Liberal democrats’ social media campaigns

Almost all of the Conservative Party’s recent Facebook adverts promote claims labelled as misleading or untrue by one of the platform’s third-party fact-checking partners, a First Draft investigation has found.

Nearly 90% of the ads posted in the first days of December push figures already challenged by Full Fact, the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation. The non-partisan, independent charity works with the tech giant to assess posts which have been reported as misleading or false by users in the UK.

Facebook recently announced that posts from political organisations and political adverts are exempt from fact-checking, meaning parties and candidates can promote inaccurate claims without scrutiny.

Online ads have become a controversial central theme of elections, where parties can reach voters with micro-targeted messages that are ‘psychographically tailored’ according to the data held on individuals, concerning their postcode, hobbies, site and online buying preferences and other private information collected by data analysts, but these categories are not in public view in the Ad Library. (See: The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign.)

The so-called “dark ads” have emerged as a method of advertising that utilises data obtained by the likes of Facebook and Google, among other platforms to ‘customise’ and tailor messages in political campaigns.

They can be served directly to users of Facebook and via Google’s widely used double-click technology which serves ads to millions of websites, including political ads.

It should not be left to US internet companies to safeguard UK elections. Our election laws are decades out of date, and our next Parliament should take urgent steps to secure the accountability and transparency we need to protect our democracy.

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, told First Draft: “Full Fact plays an independent role in Facebook’s Third Party Fact Checking programme, which doesn’t currently cover ads or content from political figures or parties.

“But Full Fact continues to regularly scrutinise claims by all political parties, including manifestos and debates during this election campaign.”

The Conservatives massively stepped up their ad campaign on Facebook, running almost 7,000 ads and spending more than £50,000 between November 27 and December 3, according to the latest figures from Facebook’s Ad Library.

First Draft accessed the Facebook Ad Library API to download all 6,749 ads from the Conservative Party between December 1 and December 4. Some 88% (5,952) of the most widely promoted ads featured claims about the NHS, income tax cuts, and the Labour Party which had already been labelled misleading or untrue by Full Fact.

Not every ad includes the misleading claim directly in its image or caption. At least 54% (3,646) of the total ads served link to a webpage carrying the misleading claims.

When ITV News asked senior Conservative Michael Gove about the ads, he said: “I’m not aware of any adverts that we publish that have been misleading.”

The central Conservative Party press office have not responded to requests for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson told ITV News: “We don’t believe a private company like Facebook should censor politicians. Our approach is instead to introduce unprecedented levels of transparency so anyone can see every political advert and who it’s from.”

The misleading ads include:

Moy, director of Full Fact, said: “This election candidates and campaigns on all sides are asking voters for their trust. Serious parties and politicians should not be recycling debunked claims or targeting individuals with bad information – we all deserve better than that.”

Facebook, however, expects that the public will somehow determine for themselves the truth of claims made in adverts. It’s a view that is evidently shared by the BBC regarding claims made in party manifestos.

The Liberal Democrats have also been accused of misleading voters ahead of polling day, using inaccurate graphs and leaflets masquerading as local newspapers, which featured in their posted leaflets.

The Lib Dems have also been accused of using misleading graphs in Facebook ads. First Draft found hundreds of Lib Dem Facebook ads use graphs to falsely claim they are the only party to beat Labour, the Conservatives or the SNP “in seats like yours”.

Facebook does not provide data on where the ads have been targeted but some Twitter users have complained that they have received ads which reflect voting pattern statistics that are inaccurate for their constituency.

At least 16.5% of the Lib Dems 7,295 ads since the campaign began feature such claims.

First Draft has not been able to find misleading claims in Facebook adverts from the Labour Party, which has promoted far fewer ads than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.

However, Full Fact recently described as “not credible” one claim that the average family would save £6,700 under Labour policies. Labour’s Liz McInnes has used this claim in a Facebook ad.

Fact Check say: “More than three quarters of the supposed “savings” come from just two large costs, rail season tickets and childcare, neither of which comes close to reflecting what an average family actually pays. In England, two fifths of families don’t pay anything for childcare; only 5% of people use a train more than three times a week.

However: “Some of the smaller figures seem fair estimates of savings that might come about if Labour’s policies were implemented, but they overstate the extra costs families have faced since 2010.”

And: “We haven’t seen the workings behind this figure, which Labour says is from a House of Commons Library analysis.”

There’s a world of difference between contested figures and deliberate intent to mislead the public, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have set out to do.

The Tories’ ambition is a one party state

The Tories have been brazen in their contempt for democratic process and norms. For example, it has been plain from their increasing reliance on statutory instruments (SI) to sidestep debate and voting in the Commons, in order to push through controversial and unpopular draconian policies. 

When the House of Lords overturned Osborne’s nasty raid on the working poor’s tax credits (itself enacted by statutory instrument, in case the Commons vote it down), he reacted with the oblique but unmistakable threat to flood the Lords with so many new Tory peers so that such a defiance of his authority could not be repeated.

The Conservatives’ utter contempt for both international and national human rights legislative frameworks is another worrying symptom of authoritarianism. The UK is the first state to have prompted investigation into how it upholds the human rights of disabled people. The inquiry report concluded that the government have systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people via their punitive policies. The government continue to deny this, and in the meantime, the public has tended to look the other way while ill and disabled people die prematurely through neglect, loss of support and other austerity related cuts that were disproportionately targeted at one of the most vulnerable communities.

The way in which the Tories have treated marginalised communities has expressed clearly their traditional prejudices, leading to direct discrimination and oppressive policies, while those with the least need – the millionaires – have been lavished with tax cuts and other hand outs from our public funds.

The highly controversial welfare ‘reforms’ were hammered through the scrutiny stage into legislative process by Cameron’s claim to an archaic Commons proviso: ‘financial privilege’. The public are still waiting to see the risk register following the Health and Social Care bill, despite the government being ordered to place it in the public domain by the Information Commissioner and the court.

Then there was Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament- normally a standard procedure in the calendar of Parliament, but the prerogative was clearly used for controversial political objectives by the PM.

The prorogation was an improper and unlawful attempt to evade parliamentary scrutiny of Johnson’s Brexit plans in advance of the UK’s departure from the European Union on 31 October 2019; individuals and groups who opposed the prorogation included opposition MPs, UK constitutional law scholars, and John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called the decision a “constitutional outrage”.  

Page 48 of the Conservative manifesto

Stefan Enchelmaier, Professor of European Law at the University of Oxford, “almost missed” the mention of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the Conservative manifesto. Probably, most people have. That is probably the point.

Buried on page 48, the 2019 manifesto contains a single mention of the party’s pledge to “update” the 1998 HRA, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. It doesn’t specify what the ‘update’ will look like, or when it will happen (beyond “after Brexit,” which isn’t much of a clue). The language is euphemistic and vague, indicating that the ‘update’ will “ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” This is not a pledge intended to draw attention.

The attempt at hiding this pledge marks a change. David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto, which also promised the infamous “in-out referendum,” committed—five times over; three in bold—to “scrap” the Human Rights Act (HRA) and introduce a British Bill of fRights. This pledge came despite the failure of the 2010 coalition’s especially set-up Bill of Rights Commission to agree on its content, and by the end of 2015, there was still no British Bill of Rights. In December 2016, it was announced that HRA repeal was delayed until after Brexit; and the 2017 Tory manifesto pledged to remain signed up to the ECHR “for the duration of this parliament.” For now, that is.

During this time, some prominent Conservatives politicised the HRA as “Labour’s.” Others, such as Dominic Grieve defended it.

This is a bit strange given it passed with overwhelming cross-party support in 1998.

Furthermore, the ECHR itself was shaped to a considerable degree by Winston Churchill and Tory lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe . More recently, the Conservatives have used a narrative of the legal sovereignty issue into the Brexit debate, BUT leaving the EU does not entail leaving the ECHR. They are two different organisations completely.

Tory statements on human rights have often been inflammatory, like Cameron saying he felt “physically sick” at the thought of prisoners’ right to vote. Then there were the lies that were used to portray human rights in a negative light – like the “pet cat” Theresa May said prevented a deportation (in reality, Judge Gleeson had found that the deportee was in a stable relationship, and was therefore allowed to stay under the HRA, and that the couple also kept a cat).

Helen Mountfield, barrister, legal scholar and principal of Mansfield College, Oxford said: “There has really been a populist misrepresentation of what the law is.” She is suggesting that politicians and the populist press have in part intentionally fuelled the perception that the HRA is “a rogue’s charter.”

It’s noteworthy that the Conservatives’ new promise to “update” the HRA is hidden away in a paragraph that,rather worryingly, promises other sorts of constitutional review, including looking at “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts.” Basically the Tories want to place themselves above the law. It’s usually one of the first acts of a despotic regime when they gain office. Amending existing human rights laws is another

The Tories are being intentionally unclear so that later they can do what they want. Given their past record, we can say that they mean to ‘weaken’ the commitments that we have to the ECHR. Some of Cameron’s plans entailed making human rights ‘relevant’ and relative. It would be down to a minister to decide if a case would be heard, the decision would be on an individual basis. This profoundly undermines the universality of human rights.If only some rights are upheld, it flies in the face of the fundamental principle that everyone has the same fundamental rights

The Tory proposal is likely address when, where and by whom those rights can be enjoyed and who can be held to account for their violation. It won’t be the government.

Whatever the eventual shape of the HRA, the systematic attacks on it are symptomatic of a troubling trend: populist attempts to undermine the perceived legitimacy of the rule of law.

The “Enemies of the People” headline used by the Daily Mail after the case on triggering Article 50 in 2017 demonstrates the government are fine with attacking the independent Judiciary. So this is about destroying the mechanisms of government accountability and operating within the law. It is an attack on our institutions, and the dignity and wellbeing of citizens.

We’ve already seen the government’s utter contempt for the human rights of disabled people and some ethnic communities. Their manifesto promises to confiscate the belongings of Roma, Gypsies and travellers, and to move them from their homes.

The Tories are far worse than ‘anti-progressive.’ They are brutal, cruel authoritarian eugenicists. It’s written between the lines of their narratives of ‘deserving and undeserving’ it’s embedded in their the myth of meritocracy. It drips from their disdain for a public they think can’t spell Pinocchio, or aren’t ‘clever’ enough to escape a burning multi-storey building. They think they are better than others and that gives them the right to rule. On their own terms.

That’s not a democracy, by the way.

Nor is the government’s almost total control over our mainstream media, who no longer serve the public interest.

—–

Related
 

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

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 
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Update following the election result: 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:

John Mann@LordJohnMann
 

I can this morning announce that as government advisor on antisemitism that I will be instigating an investigation this January into the role of the Canary and other websites in the growth of antisemitism in the United Kingdom. https://twitter.com/supergutman/status/1205296902301990912 

Marlon Solomon@supergutman
 

Who’d have guessed that Mendoza – one of the people most responsible for toxifying the British left with racially charged conspiracy theories about Jews – would blame a Jew before anyone else.

Whoever takes control of Labour, from whatever faction, please fuck these people off.

View image on Twitter
3,147 people are talking about this
 
 

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. 

DonatenowButton

 

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

The comment below is from Marcus Moore, a former fellow BBC scriptwriter who has worked for the last three decades as a freelance writer, theatre practitioner and arts consultant. It’s a summary of how Conservatives have corrupted the BBC

The Duke of Hazzard – a flashback to the Thatcher era

I also used to write scripts for the BBC’s Community Programme Unit when I was very young, green and unreservedly creative. I witnessed Marmaduke Hussey’s appointment as Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors in 1986, following the death of Stuart Young. His appointment – which was not so much about cleaning out the Augean stables, but rather more about downsizing and refurbishing them – was thanks in part to his close connections to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party. He “steered” the corporation through a period when there was pressure from the Conservative government to do so – it was being heavily criticised for its perceived left wing bias.

Conservatives always make this claim, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith more recently in 2012, set about “monitoring” the BBC for “left wing bias”. For Conservatives, the more things change, the more they must be made to stay the same.   

What we are left with is reporting that is simply structured along the lines of government announcements. That’s not analysis and news, it is a publicly funded PR and strategic communcations service for an authoritarian government, which clearly sidesteps public interests and any idea of democratic accountability.

September 1986 Hussey received a call from the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, offering him the chairmanship of the BBC governors.

The corporation was  under constant attack from right wing politicians such as Norman Tebbit and Jeffrey Archer and apparently a constant goad to Margaret Thatcher, infuriated daily by the alleged “pinkoes” running the Today programme.

Only those close to the newspaper business had heard of this former chief executive of Times newspapers, he was notable for leading the company into a confrontation with the trade unions, with the support of William Rees-Mogg, then editor of The Times. They decided on a “big bang” solution, shutting down the newspapers in an effort to bring the unions to heel. Convinced that such shock tactics would cause almost instant capitulation, Hussey and his colleagues had devised no strategy on how to proceed if that did not happen. The closure lasted 50 weeks and, when the papers did finally return, the basic issues remained unresolved. The confrontation ended in ignominious defeat, and eventually, to the acquisition of The Times and Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch. 

An anonymous briefer at Conservative Central Office said at the time that Hussey’s job was “to make it bloody clear” that change was urgently required; he was “to get in there and sort it out”. Hurd subsequently denied issuing a brief, telling Hussey he would find out what he had to do when he got to the BBC. All the same, Duke went in the BBC awaiting further instructions. 

Within three months of joining the BBC, he had forced the resignation of the director-general, Alasdair Milne – father of Guardian journalist and Corbyn advisor, Seumas Milne – following a series of rows between the BBC and the Conservative government. Milne wasn’t a socialist by any means, but he had represented the more independent spirit of BBC programme making at that time. 

In the 1990s, Hussey also ended up in conflict with director general John Birt over his management style and Panorama’s controversial interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995. It was said that Thatcher had installed Hussey to “sort out” the BBC. Such is the language of authoritarians who don’t like to be held to account. 

Those of a less constrained New Right Conservative view saw Hussey as an illiberal Frankenstein and John Birt as his pet monster. They were devastated by the chairman’s lack of interest or skill in intellectual argument and his readiness to make big decisions on a basis of ignorance or prejudice. Conservative through and through.

Toeing the party line: Conservative bias

In 2016, a study by Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies revealed that the BBC has a “high dependency” on the Conservative Party for statistics. The study was used by the BBC Trust to conduct a report called Making Sense of Statistics, and confirmed that the Conservatives are responsible for three-quarters of the statistics that the BBC receives (and thus presents to the public) from political sources. This is extremely problematic as the Conservatives have been formally rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority on many occasions for using misleading or manufactured statistical data to justify ideologically driven policies, which reflect a neoliberal hegemony.

The BBC Trust report once again calls the impartiality of the BBC into question, and states that the corporation should not be so content with reporting statistics “straight from a press release”. It also concluded that the BBC has failed to “go beyond the headlines”.  The report went on to say: 

“The content analysis demonstrates that there is an especially high number of political figures providing statistical information on BBC [output],” said the report. “And Conservative politicians represented nearly three-quarters (73%) of these statistical references.

And that:

“BBC journalists need the confidence and skills to go beyond headlines, and to challenge misleading claims.”

“It is reasonable to expect the BBC to cover statements which the UK or devolved governments make. […] However, as Cardiff’s content analysis points out, it does make it vital that those statements are challenged where necessary so that the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of political affairs is not affected.”

The analysis by Cardiff University found that there were “many instances” where quotes and statistics given to the broadcaster from the Conservative government were simply reported with a complete failure to fact-check and scrutinise the information or even question and challenge it on “any fundamental level”. The Conservatives are effectively handing the BBC a script to read from.

At the same time, the Government has perpetuated a myth that the BBC has a “left wing bias”. It’s a claim that has allowed the Conservatives and right wing to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda. For its part, the BBC has become fearful of crossing certain lines, and so remains generally complaint, and toes the party line.

Many of BBC journalists have Conservative party connections and most of its panelists are from the neoliberal centre right. They not only fail to comprehend and appreciate Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-neoliberalism and promise of policies that provide long overdue priority and support for ordinary citizens, they seem to loathe and fear it. 

The BBC’s political output has long had more than its fair share of Conservatives in prominent roles – none more so than Andrew Neil, who previously worked for the Conservative’s Research Department and who now chairs the holding company that owns the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. It is unusual for any broadcaster, whether left or right wing, to dominate political coverage as much as Neil does on the BBC, who fronts the weekday Daily Politics show and presents his own programmes on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.

The appointment of Robbie Gibb as May’s director of communications was unsurprising; he was treading a well-worn path, after all. May’s predecessor David Cameron appointed the then head of BBC TV News, Craig Oliver, to be his director of communications and before him the then Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appointed Guto Hari, a BBC political correspondent, to head of his media team. 

The news that two BBC men were lined up for those positions came at a time when the BBC faces unprecedented criticism from the left for its heavy Conservative bias. Quite properly so. While the Labour party naturally expect negative reporting from a press that is overwhelmingly aligned to the Conservatives and owned by billionaires, many of us have been shocked and appalled by the poor, inaccurate and often hostile coverage the party have received from the BBC, which is now seen as a pro-status quo, pro-establishment organisation.

A succession of senior BBC journalists have accepted that the Corporation’s political coverage struggles to escape the Westminster bubble, which is perhaps one reason why the BBC’s coverage of the last two general elections and the Brexit referendum failed to adequately reflect the national mood (though the BBC was far from being alone in this failing).

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has been a particular focus of criticism from Labour party supporters, and was found to have breached the BBC’s impartiality rules in an early and important report on Corbyn. This was intentional, and designed to mislead the public. The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that a Kuenssberg report for the News at Six programme in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an unreasonably angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

The News at Six item included a clip of the Labour leader stating: “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.”

The person who made the complaint is not named, but clarified that it was from neither Corbyn nor “anyone else on his behalf”. The complaint said 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 found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to state that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals.

Kuenssberg had disgracefully presented that 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 as the Trust also concluded, Corbyn had been speaking in a different context. Kuenssberg intentionally edited an interview to give the incorrect impression that Corbyn disagreed with the use of firearms by police in incidents such as that month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. His purported answer to a question as broadcast in the report was in fact his reply to a more general (unbroadcast) question, not specifically about that terrorist attack.  The Trust said that accuracy was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern.”

It’s impossible to see this as anything other than an attempt to deliberately mislead the public regarding Corbyn’s views. That she wasn’t dismissed indicates just how little the BBC prioritizes and values accuracy, genuine “objectivity” and “impartiality”.  Furthermore, the doctored interview was not taken down from the BBC‘s site for some time, with Conservative MPs continuing to Tweet it.

Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011 and is a former Labour councillor, said that there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

In 2016, he told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.

All I’m voicing is the anxiety that has been expressed publicly by others … We had here a charter review process which has been littered with wild kites flown which, we can’t see the string is held by the secretary of state, but the suspicion is that actually it’s people very close to him.

His own comments have suggested that he might be blessed by a future without the BBC. Is the BBC strong enough to withstand a challenge to its integrity and impartiality?”

Lyons said there were “very real suspicions that ministers want to get much closer to the BBC, and that is not in anybody’s interests”. Corbyn told grassroots supporters that it was necessary for Labour to use social media to communicate with the public, because right wing media were censoring political debate in an unprecedented assault on the party. He is absolutely right. 

The commodification of politics and the PR narrative

Vance Packard’s influential 1957 polemic, The Hidden Persuaders, described how “political hucksters” were now treating voters as spectator-consumers, not much  interested in politics or its content, able to be roused only by controversy, stunts and personality. This approach seemed justified, Packard wrote, “by the growing evidence that voters could not be depended on to be rational. There seemed to be a strong illogical or non-logical element in their behaviour, both individually and in masses” (Packard 2007). 

As Packard discovered in his research, this had been happily accepted by the commercial world which was abreast of the new approach – and which was exporting its techniques to the political communicators. He quotes an editorial in an early 1956 edition of the  magazine The Nation’s Business, published by the US Chamber of Commerce, which reported: Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods […] no flag-waving faithfuls will parade the streets. Instead corps of volunteers will ring doorbells and telephones […] radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power […] candidates need […] to look ‘sincerely at the TV camera’. (Packard 2007).

It was an early intimation of the replacement of political parties (the “faithfuls”) by public relations, a movement which has since advanced. Politics has been reduced to brand, reputation management and ‘strategic communications’.  

More recently, the Leveson inquiry concluded that politicians “developed too close a relationship with the Press in a way which has not been in the public interest.” Public relations professionals are charged with organising media space, engagements and ensuring that their political candidate’s public profile stays positive. 

Robbie Gibb, who headed the BBC's political team at Westminster, is Theresa May's new Director of Communications

 

Robbie Gibb, who headed the BBC’s political team at Westminster, is Theresa May’s new Director of Communications ( Robbie Gibb/Twitter ).

In its election manifesto in 2010 the Conservative party promised to give the National Audit Office “full access” to the BBC‘s accounts in order to make the corporation more accountable for the way it spends the licence fee.

Jeremy Hunt said that the BBC Trust, which replaced the corporation’s board of governors in 2007, had to change and that the Tories were considering “ripping up the charter” ahead of its expiration in 2016 to achieve its plan.

The encroaching government influence on the BBC became more visible to the public in 2016, when the then culture secretary was accused of attempting to “bend the BBC to his political will” after it emerged he planned to have the government directly appoint most members of a new body to run the corporation. 

Despite the early rhetoric about abolishing the trust, the then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would only act “within the envelope set by the Royal Charter”, so major changes were not possible until the Charter expired after the end of 2016.  Hunt had instead expressed his support for changing the name of the Trust and installing a new non-executive chairman on the BBC’s Executive Board. 

The proposal to scrap the Trust was officially presented to Parliament as part of a charter review white paper on 12 May 2016. Governance of the BBC was transferred to the new BBC Board in April 2017. Sir David Clementi became the new Chairman of the Board.

John Whittingdale said only two or three members of a 13-strong unitary board, which would replace the ‘discredited’ BBC Trust model, would be BBC executives while the rest would be government appointees.

In 2016, the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, had already flagged his concerns about the Clementi proposals for replacing the BBC trust with the unitary board. In a speech , Lord Hall pointed out that unlike any previous governing body, the unitary board would set the editorial direction of the whole BBC. Neither the trust nor its predecessor – the BBC governors who oversaw the corporation from its founding until 2005 – had such powers.

Hall warned: “It will make key decisions on programmes and services, and it will work with me – as editor in chief – on how we manage our impartial journalism. It doesn’t feel to me that these tasks should be undertaken by government-appointed board members. The BBC is one of the world’s great public service broadcasters – not a state broadcaster. A strong, sustainable BBC needs new safeguards for independence, not yet more erosion.” 

It’s another symptom of how oppressive the government has become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who eve looks as though they may presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

Churnalism and the PR-isation of the news and public affairs

One time BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston – regarded as being among the most authoritative journalists in the UK – publicly lamented his profession’s increasingly “hideous and degrading” reliance on PR material. 

“When I worked on the Sunday Telegraph a decade ago, the fax machine was strategically placed above the waste paper basket so that press releases went straight into what we called the round filing cabinet. Now newspapers are filled with reports based on spurious PR generated surveys and polls, simply to save time and money … More disturbing, perhaps, PRs seem to have become more powerful and effective as gatekeepers and minders of businesses, celebrities and public or semipublic figures … today’s PR industry has become much more machinelike, controlled – and in its slightly chilling way – professional (Peston 2014).

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and former Daily Mirror editor, reports similar tensions when he writes, in 2012, that “if the current trends [of more PR practitioners] continue, we will end up without the essential ‘media filter’ [of journalism] that … acts at its best on behalf of a public deluged with self interested public relations material”. He continues: “What we’re talking about here … is an assault on democracy”.

Both of these sentiments capture a zeitgeist of the state of journalism and PR in neoliberal democracies such as the UK and USA, and represent an issue that has moved up academic, public and professional agendas of concern in the last 10-15 years. This is commonly described as ‘churnalism’, which is characterised by a swelling PR industry, blurring job roles and a growing colonization of PR mindsets amongst journalists.

Here, churnalism – the use of unchecked PR material in news – is an outcome of the broader process of structural and professional change, and conflicting interests. PRs want the best possible news coverage for their paying clients, the occupational ideals of journalism are inter alia, “focus on truth, social reporting and democratic education”. Or at least they were.

Add to that the neoliberal turn: an economic model that has led to the marketisation of news and in turn, of journalism practices. What we witness is less original investigation, and more reactive journalism by way of writing up agency copy or PR material. The now habitual incorporation of media releases and other PR material into the news by journalists is not a new phenomenon, but the change in the scale and regularity in which this is now happening is.

A number of recent studies in the UK and US have established the success of PR practitioners in placing subsidies with news media to influence the media agenda, in turn influencing public opinion and the public agenda. There is significant political power to be exercised in both agenda setting and in the framing of news. Power is present in conceptions of agenda-building in media narratives and public discourse. 

There is a climate of growing concern about ascendant PR and a journalism in crisis. It should be of central concern that there has been a rapidly growing influence of PR and ‘communication’ professionals in the newsgathering and reporting process, and the onsequent diminution of editorial independence and watchdog journalism in the UK.

Studies describe government and political press officers as “increasingly assertive in their relationships with journalists”, not just in terms of information management, but often, to the point of manipulation and aggression.

In truth, the BBC struggles to maintain independence from governments, who set the terms under which it operates, they appoint its most senior figures, who in future will be directly involved in day-to-day managerial decision making, and they set the level of the licence fee, which is the BBC’s major source of income. So given this context within which the BBC operates, it hardly amounts to independence in any substantive sense.

Critics can also point to a number of senior BBC figures with known Conservative associations. The Today presenter and former political editor, Nick Robinson, is a former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association. James Harding, who as director of news has reputedly centralised the BBC’s news operations, is a former editor of The Times, and the BBC’s high profile political presenter, Andrew Neil, is well known as a right-winger, having briefly worked for the Conservative Party before making his name in Murdoch enterprises.

Robbie Gibb, the frontrunner to be the Tories’ new Alastair Campbell, is Andrew Neil’s editor at the Daily Politics. He is also the brother of Tory Minister Nicholas Gibb. Two  senior Tory Ministers are also ex-BBC: Chris Grayling and Michael Gove.

Then there are the declared interests of the Westminster bubble journalists. For example, Andrew Gimson, who is contributing editor of Conservative Home, is a commentator for the BBC, Associated Newspapers, the New Statesman, and he is also an associate  consultant for a PR and political lobbyist consultancy, Lodestone Communications. He specialises in interviewing Cabinet ministers and other Conservative politicians, and wrote Boris Johnson’s biography.  He started his career in the Conservative Research Department and has served as Deputy Editor of the Spectator, political columnist at the Independent on Sunday, and Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

BBC political editor/commentator Laura Kuenssberg’s declared interests are: Journalism for The House Magazine. Speaking for Credit Suisse and Ernst and Young (registered July 2017). Chaired events for Intelligence Squared (debate/think tank) and Mischon (law firm), speaking for Healthcare Management Association (membership organisation) and JP Morgan (bank) (registered March 2018). 

Timothy Shipman of the Sunday Times, and also commentator for Sky News, BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics, Radio 5 Live, LBC and Talk Radio. Paper Reviewer for BBC News Channel.  Freelance journalism for The Spectator and the New Statesman. Under contract to Kirby Jones, a speaker agency, for public speaking. Fees received from the following for speaking engagements, most arranged via Kirby JonesArtemis Asset management, Association of British Insurers, Axon Moore, Bain & Co, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, British Bookmaker’s Association, Housing 2017, Independent Schools Bursar’s Association, the Legatum Institute, Oakhill Communications, Owen James Group, Policy Connect, Portland Communications, the Publishers Association, Westminster Policy Institute.

Then there is Andrew Neil. His declared interests are as follows: Chairman, Press Holdings Media Group (The Spectator, Spectator Health, Life, Money and Australia; and Apollo, the international arts magazine). Chairman, ITP Magazine Group (Dubai). Chairman, The Addison Club (London). Director, Glenburn Enterprises Limited (provides media and consultancy services). Fees for speaking at, hosting or chairing an event were received from the following organisations: IBC (annual trade fair for global broadcasters); Credit Services Association (industry body for credit services and debt collection); Jefferies (investment bank); Pega Systems (Boston-based software provider); KPMG (global financial services); Construction News (publication for the construction industry); British Growth Fund (provides long-term capital to fast-growing UK companies); Association of Pension Providers (trade body for pensions industry); Retail Motor Industry Association (represents vehicle dealers); Chairman’s Group (private association of company chairmen); HSBC (global bank); White & Case (city law firm); Aberdeen Asset Management (global asset management); Exponent (private equity company); Christie & Co (property advisory service); Mayer Brown (global law firm); Titlestone (property finance company); Knight Frank (global estate agent); EY (global accountancy and consultancy service); Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (trade body which provides support for procurement and supply management); Pipeline Industries Guild (trade body for pipeline industries); SES (European satellite provider); Barnet Waddington (provider of actuarial, administration and consultancy services); Digital TV Group (association of digital TV broadcasters); BNP Paribas (global banking group); Philadelphia Committee on Foreign Relations (group of private individuals based in Greater Philadelphia area interested in foreign policy); Raymond Jones (financial services company); Incisive Media (information and events business). (Registered June 2017).

Holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to register:

Any occupation or employment for which you receive over £760 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by your pass.’

When the global financial system went into meltdown, BBC interviews were dominated by City voices such as stockbrokers and hedge fund managers, rather than critics of a sector that had plunged the country into disaster. It’s not much of a surprise, however, in view of some of the listed interests of BBC personnel. 

A certain kind of political-economic ‘common sense’ is constructed and negotiated amongst the political-media elite. The fact that this elite often share common private interests is also problematic. This raises serious questions about the capacity of the media to hold the government to account, to understand contemporary democratic politics, let alone entertain the idea of public interests. 

Recent BBC coverage of the local elections was essentially a one party state broadcast. Labour were presented as “failing” to take seats. Yet the figures tell us a different story. While the results could have been better for Labour, the party did not do badly at all. Labour gained 77 seats and the Conservatives lost 33 seats overall.

There is no demarcation between corporate, media and government interests. Nick  Robinson, former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association, Kuenssberg and Neil are often held as the conspicuous examples of those promoting neoliberal-Conservative norms. However, those interests are reflected throughout the BBC’s reporting, including those who regularly make editorial decisions, which as study after study has shown, overwhelmingly defers to officialdom and upholds powerful private interests at the expense of public interests. The revolving door between consultancy/strategic communcations/ PR companies, the media and the Government indicates the existence of a set of shared narrow norms and an ideological crib sheet.

The narrowly shared understanding of ‘politics’ among an elite of Conservative politicians, big business, the communications and PR industry, news  makersand opinion shapers is not only enormously unrepresentative of the public, but it also displays an increasingly tenuous grasp on broader democratic political reality. 

Image result for BBC bias

The BBC was accused of “extreme bias” after it featured the altered image of Jeremy Corbyn against the Kremlin skyline during a segment about escalating tensions between the UK and Russia on Newsnight, despite presenter Evan Davies’ attempts to justify its use. The Labour leader was depicted wearing a Russian Bolshevik cap against a red-tinted backdrop of the St. Basil’s Cathedral while Ayesha Hazarika, former special advisor to Ed Milliband, and Corbyn ally Chris Williamson MP, were being interviewed about the Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning.

The BBC backdrop embeds a codified message to viewers that is almost subliminal, especially as it was presented on the same day that newspapers like the Daily Mail ran with such headlines as ‘CORBYN, THE KREMLIN STOOGE’.

The image that the BBC claimed to have used and not edited, was taken in 2016 and if you compare the two, there is certainly a red hue that has been applied along with lowerng the contrast and tightening the aspect ratio, which make Corbyn’s clothes appear darker.

This changes the look of the hat he is wearing, which makes it look more like a Russian ushanka hat, whilst there are noticeable differences in the ‘Newsnight’ image and an ushanka, to those who aren’t paying a massive amount of attention to the backdrop or are unable to see a comparison, it would certainly look like one on first look.

The BBC have rejected the criticisms of their programme while acknowledging they did edit the image, by saying that they previously did a similar mock up of Gavin Williamson on the same programme. 

However, it is the context and framing that matters, as I am sure the BBC is very much aware.

Recently, the BBC disclosed a shocking revelation, in an article titled:The vetting files: How the BBC kept out ‘subversives’’ .  Left wing individuals were actively vetted by MI5 and barred from holding positions of influence within the Corporation.

The article says that the purpose of the MI5 vetting candidates for political roles within the BBC was to prevent the formation of a left wing government, stating: “The fear was that ‘evilly disposed’ engineers might sabotage the network at a critical time, or that conspirators might “discredit” the BBC so that ‘the way could be made clear for a left-wing government’”.

Portraying Her Majesty’s opposition as “subversives”  and “conspirators” has some profound implications for democracy.  However, it is still happening – the Labour party are portrayed by the incumbents as pathological, rather than as an essential mechanism of a wider functioning democracy.

For decades the BBC denied that job applicants were subject to political vetting by MI5. But in fact vetting began in the early days of the BBC and “continued until the 1990s”. Paul Reynolds, the first journalist to see all the BBC‘s vetting files, tells the story of the long relationship between the corporation and the Security Service.

“Policy: keep head down and stonewall all questions.” So wrote a senior BBC official in early 1985, not long before the Observer exposed so many details of the work done in Room 105 Broadcasting House that there was no point continuing to hide it.

By that stage, a policy of flatly denying the existence of political vetting – not just stonewalling, but if necessary lying – had been in place for five decades.

As early as 1933 a BBC executive, Col Alan Dawnay, had begun holding meetings to exchange information with the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, at Dawnay’s flat in Eaton Terrace, Chelsea. It was an era of political radicalism and both sides deemed the BBC in need of “assistance in regard to ‘communist’ activities”. 

Vetting file

“Formalities” was the code word for the vetting system

A memo from 1984 gives a run-down of organisations on the banned list. On the left, there were the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency. By this stage there were also concerns about movements on the far right – the National Front and the British National Party.

A banned applicant did not need to be a member of these organisations – association was enough.

Over the years, some BBC executives worried about the “deceptive” statements they had to make – even to an inquisitive MP on one occasion. But when MI5 suggested scaling back the number of jobs subject to vetting, the BBC argued against such a move. Though there were some opponents of vetting within the corporation, they had little influence until the Cold War began to thaw in the 1980s

These revelations completely dismantle the idea that the BBC has ever been a passive, impartial, politically neutral entity. 

Of course, as I’ve outlines, the undue political influence on the BBC becomes clear when we investigate the backgrounds of prominent and influential BBC political figures. There’s arecurring pattern, with direct links to the Conservative party. 

Owen Jones says The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.”  

The Intellgience services have always worked to prevent a Labour government. Who could forget the fake Zinoviev letter, which was engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise the first Labour government. 

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents. The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Noam Chomsky once said: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” It’s going down.

Dr Lawrence Britt wrote about the defining features of authoritarianism, fascism and totalitarianism. He outlined that among the key characteristics of a fundamnetal shift away from democracy is political censorship through a controlled mass media. He says that the media is either directly controlled by the Government, or indirectly controlled by government regulation, sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. 

It’s a very sobering thought that the British Broadcasting Corporation currently fulfils all of those criteria. 

Democracy has been profoundly compromised and corrupted by its colonisation. Lobbyists, professional private interest propagandists, corporate and financial power have merged with the state, and are all singing from the same crib sheet.

 

Related

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

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

David Dimbleby says Jeremy Corbyn is treated unfairly by a biased right wing press

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

 


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We must not permit the prime minister to tell lies in parliament with impunity, it’s dangerously authoritarian behaviour

peston windrush.png

The government has been dismissive when facing challenges regarding the Windrush scandal. The prime minister has refused to intervene when it emerged that one man was being denied radiotherapy unless he could pay a £54,000 bill upfront. Downing Street also initially rejected Caribbean countries’ request for a meeting to address the problem. 

As outrage over the grotesque injustices has  grown, the home secretary made an unusually forthright apology in the House of Commons on Monday. Amber Rudd described her own department’s actions as “appalling”.

A new taskforce has been created and is supposed to resolve cases within two weeks. In a statement on Tuesday, the Home Office said that “in 2010, the decision was taken by the UK Border Agency to securely dispose of some documents known as registration slips.”  

This decision was made in line with the Data Protection Act 1998, under which the Home Office has a legal obligation to ensure that the personal data it holds is not kept for longer than is necessary.” 

However, speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Theresa May claimed that the decision to destroy the documents had been made in 2009, when a Labour government was in power. The misleading of parliament is the knowing presentation of false information to parliament, a very serious charge in Westminster-style parliamentary assemblies. Especially from a prime minister.

The Home Office spokesperson also argued that the landing card slips did not provide proof of residence: “Registration slips provided details of an individual’s date of entry, they did not provide any reliable evidence relating to ongoing residence in the UK or their immigration status.”  

“So it would be misleading and inaccurate to suggest that registration slips would therefore have a bearing on immigration cases whereby Commonwealth citizens are proving residency in the UK.”  

Yesterday, the prime minister lied in parliament during prime minister’s questions. Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May if she  had “signed off” the decision to destroy the Windrush landing cards. May claimed that an “operational decision” by the Border Agency was made in 2010, but that the original decision was made in 2009 under the last Labour government.

Yesterday I posted a Home Office whistleblower’s account, reported by Guardian prior to May’s lie. The account contradicts the prime minister, saying that the Home Office made the decision and destroyed the records in October 2010, when May was Home Office secretary. Furthermore, May was warned at the time by staff about the problems it would cause for the Windrush generation migrants. So she knew about the purging of  disembarkation documents.

The prime minister delivered what seems to be an intentional lie with an expression of fury and sheer malice, the Conservative benches sneered and brayed like unpleasant boorish beasts in a zoo as usual, showing utter contempt for parliamentary procedure, norms and conventions of decorum and public expectations of objective, rational standards of parliamentary debate. And honesty.  

The Labour leader raised the “hostile environment” policy that Theresa May created in 2014, with an aim of “deterring” illegal immigrants. Because the landing records had been destroyed, the imposition of a harsh “verification framework” – which was designed to ensure that immigrants provide documentary proof of their legal citizenship status – presented unacceptable hardships and difficulties for some, leading to the absolute scandal of citizens who had lived and worked in the UK for many years being refused essential NHS treatment for cancer, being evicted from their home, being unable to access social security support, losing their jobs, being detained and facing threats of deportation. And death.  

The mother of a Windrush citizen who died suddenly last month after being classified as an “illegal immigrant” and sacked from his job believes the stress caused by his immigration problems was responsible for his death.  

Dexter Bristol, who was 57 when he died, moved from Grenada to the UK when he was eight in 1968, to join his mother who was working as an NHS nurse, and spent the rest of his life in the UK. He was sacked from his cleaning job last year because he had no passport, and was denied benefits because shamefully, government officials did not believe he was in the country legally. 

One problem facing those affected by the Windrush immigrants is that they cannot get a passport now because the documents proving they are longstanding UK citizens have been destroyed. 

Employers now are legally obliged to check employees citizen status, and landlords too. This has led to more than one person becoming homeless, unable to secure another tenancy, unable to claim social security unable to access lifeline support, and unable to work. These are citizens who have lived in the UK sinve the 40s, 50s and 60s, worked for years and have family here.  

Jeremy Corbyn said yestreday that May had been responsible for the destruction of the landing records in October, 2010, and added that parliament needed “absolute clarity” on when the decision was taken. As Home Office secretary, May must surely have at least given permission for the destruction of the records to go ahead, regardless of where the proposal to do so came from, originally, and why. 

Theresa May’s precise claim was: 

“The decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 under a Labour government.” 

Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central), also highlighted the fact that the prime minister had misled parliament with a point of order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that the decision to destroy landing cards was taken in 2009. I have had it confirmed that the Home Office briefed yesterday that the decision was taken by the UK Border Agency in 2010 and that the records were destroyed in October 2010. Can the House, the Windrush generation, the Commonwealth leaders and the country get clarification from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary?” 

A point of order is a query in a formal debate as to whether correct procedure is being followed. In this case, the correct procedure is for the prime minister to tell the truth.

May – gloating over the impact of her lie on Corbyn – ventured into a defence of her appalling, discriminatory “crackdown” on illegal immigration, saying it was “absolutely right” that only people entitled to use public services used them. 

This isn’t about illegal immigration,” retorted Corbyn, “but about Commonwealth citizens who have a right to be here”. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said: “The decision was taken to securely dispose of these documents, and that was the right one to take.” 

Asked on Tuesday if Theresa May had been aware of the disposal of the records while she was home secretary, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “My belief, at this moment, is that it was an operational decision that was taken by the Border Agency.”  

The Borders Agency was effectively part of the civil service and it took its advice and direction from ministers. 

The Guardian reports

A former Home Office employee said the records, stored in the basement of a government tower block, were a vital resource for case workers when they were asked to find information about someone’s arrival date in the UK from the West Indies – usually when the individual was struggling to resolve immigration status problems.” 

“The former employee (who has asked for his name not to be printed) said it was decided in 2010 to destroy the disembarkation cards, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, when the Home Office’s Whitgift Centre in Croydon was closed and the staff were moved to another site. Employees in his department told their managers it was a bad idea, because these papers were often the last remaining record of a person’s arrival date, in the event of uncertainty or lost documents. The files were destroyed in October that year, when Theresa May was home secretary.” 

Furthermore, as stated, it was reported that a Downing Street spokesman said yesterday that the “operational decision” to dispose of the documents was taken by the UK Border Agency, meaning it would not have come across the desk of the then Labour Home Secretary. They were then destroyed in 2010. 

May has finally acknowledged that the crisis had arisen due to the harsh rules imposed during her time as Home Secretary.

The measures, introduced from 2011 onwards, require employers, landlords and health service providers to demand evidence of legal immigration status. At the time, May said they were designed to create a “hostile environment” for people living in the UK illegally. 

As a consequence, some lost their jobs, others were evicted from their homes, and a few were reported to have been threatened with deportation. 

This issue has come to light because of measures that we introduced recently to make sure that only those with a legal right to live here can access things like the NHS,” May said, according to the UK Press Association. 

And this has resulted in some people who – through no fault of their own – has resulted in some people now needing to be able to evidence their immigration status.” 

May’s apology came after the Home Office announced the creation on Monday of a new team to help those with Commonwealth status secure their UK status. 

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “The Windrush generation have been threatened with deportation because they cannot provide documents, but now we learn that the Home Office destroyed the very records that could have demonstrated their right to remain.” 

On Tuesday, she called on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to announce that she will accept the “burden of proof” in deportation cases for the Windrush generation should lie with the Home Office rather than the potential deportee. 

She said: “The revelation that Windrush landing cards were destroyed is truly shocking and the culpability of this fiasco rests solely with the Home Office.

“Amber Rudd must explain who authorised this action and when, and what Theresa May’s role was as the then home secretary.”

In summary,  two Home Office whistleblowers have rejected May’s claim that the destruction of landing cards had no impact on immigration cases, saying they were routinely used as an information source before their destruction. 

The home affairs committee has summoned Amber Rudd, the home secretary, to appear before it next week and answer questions on the Windrush scandal. 

The Home Office said 113 cases had been reported to a hotline set up to try to resolve the arising distressing issues.

The Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, and the Labour MP David Lammy have called for those denied services, wrongfully detained or deported to be awarded compensation.

Tory immigration policy was “reminiscent of Nazi Germany” – Bob Kerslake

Lord Kerslake has made clear the unease among politicians and civil servants at the set of policies implemented when May was Home Secretary, that have now come under scrutiny amid the Windrush scandal. 

The phrase ‘hostile environment’ was used by May in a 2012 interview, when she was Home Secretary. It involved legislation and regulation to “tackle illegal immigration” and help bring the net number of people coming to the UK down to “tens of thousands a year”. 

Theresa May had repealed parts of the previous government’s immigration legislation and amended overlapping legislation, to narrow the criteria that qualify UK citizenship, making them much more difficult to meet from 2010 onwards. The subsequent amendments were even more harsh. 

The changes involves migrants having to prove their immigration status when accessing NHS services and housing. Landlords and employers are also expected to enforce new policies or risk fines.

Emblematic of Lynton Crosby’s trumpeted dog whistling tactics, the much-criticised, extremely racially divisive ‘go home’ vans where dispatched by the Home Office in 2013,  displaying billboards with the message: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.”

Remarkably, the vans, which some said out did UKIP in terms of displays of racism, prompted Nigel Farage to criticise them as “nasty” and “Orwellian.”

 

Appearing on BBC 2’s Newsnight, Lord Kerslake, head of the civil service between 2012 and 2015, told presenter Evan Davies about how the civil service gave advice on “some of the challenges of the policies”, especially over taking action against people who are “acting lawfully”. 

Asked whether May, then Home Secretary, was challenged, Lord Kerslake responded:  “It was not just a question of the Home Secretary being told that, the Prime Minister was as well, and this was a very contested piece of legislation across government departments.

The changes since 2010 involve migrants having to prove their immigration status when accessing NHS services and housing. Landlords and employers are also expected to enforce new policies or risk fines. (See also: Windrush: Home Office officials raised concerns over immigration rules says ex-civil service chief)

Yet the prime minister attempted to duck accountability and divert legitimate criticism from the opposition by making an outrageously expedient and deplorable, inaccurate swipe about the “rife antisemitism” in the Labour party. 

Still, it’s a change from the usual deeply divisive, confict-laden and untrue comments about Corbyn’s “special relationship” with Russia. It doesn’t do much for diplomatic relations and de-escalating conflicts when Conservative politicians and right-wing media pundits make openly insulting and disgraceful claims that Corbyn is “Russia’s useful idiot”. Aggressive playground politics, that weaponises Corbyn’s internationalism, diplomacy and respect for diversity, and further underlines Russian observations of “Russiaphobia” in the UK. 

It seems that the humbling public confession of telling outrageous lies and humiliating apology from Ben Bradley, following the threat of legal action, isn’t a sufficient lesson for the wider party to stop telling lies. Utterly despicable behaviour from the government.

 

waugh

Deplorable BBC bias

On a site that makes the deeply ironic comment “Why you can trust BBC News“, which is definitely not because it is “accurate, impartial, independent and fair,” the BBC spectacularly failed to report that the prime minister misled parliament yesterday.

It wasn’t even commented on that May’s claim contradicted previous Home Office statements. The BBC have consistently failed to uphold public interests.  They fail in  challenging injustice, dishonesty and more generally, in holding an increasingly authoritarian government to account. There was no mention of the point of order made by Dawn Butler, either. Basically, the BBC are stage-managing democracy, or rather, they hold up a facade of democracy, on behalf of the authoritarian, media-monitoring Conservatives. 

I can’t believe that even the Daily Mail‘s account of yesterday’s prime minister’s questions was substantially more accurate, balanced, impartial and objective than the BBC’s frequently repeated propaganda. This morning, the record had not changed – May’s lie was presented and repeated as if it was an irrefutable truth, despite the fact that it was significantly challenged in parliament. 

I will stick to reading Hansard records. I know I can’t depend on the BBC for delivering factual and impartial accounts. However, I can always depend on the Corporation for their pro-Conservative grovelling, constructed PR stories and lessons in what not to do while a prejudiced, vile and dangerous authoritarian government systematically targets discrimination at one social group after another, while trampling on their human dignity and violating their human rights. 

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I am not a socialist..” springs to mind yet again. 

Looking through the BBC article, the lack of independent and critical analysis leaves me wondering if Lynton Crosby and the numerous other PR/communications consultants employed by the Conservatives have been been distributing crib sheets again. One commentator on BBC News this morning, said “It as to be said that Lord Kerslake has been an advisor for the Labour Party”, as if that somehow negates his account, and the harrowing accounts of those people who are watching their lives fall apart because of the racist and Kafkaesque bureacracy of extremely punitive, socially divisive and discriminatory government policies. 

Back in 2011, Theresa May said: “The government should not be “constrained in removing foreign nationals by the Human Rights Act as it attempts to reduce levels of immigration into the UK.” Her offensive speech was designed to stigmatise immigrants, spoken in the language of hardened authoritarianism. And there was also catgate.  


I think the The British Broadcasting Corporation has become the CCBAC: The Complicit Conservative Bystander Apathy Corporation.

The Ministerial Code of Conduct

I feel very strongly that no politician should lie in parliament, or set out to deceive the public, least of all, a prime minister. The Conservatives have a long history, however, of role modelling atrocious behaviours, and delivering socially divisive rhetoric that signals a permission for public prejudice, discrimination, abuse, bullying and hate crime. 

The Ministerial Code, which sets out standards of behaviour expected from all those who serve in Government, says: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister. ”

And if the person who knowingly misled Parliament is the prime minister? Well, you can make a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Office here.

The prime minister has also violated the Nolan principles, which are:

Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. 

Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence their work. They  should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships. 

Objectivity: Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias. 

Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny necessary to ensure this. 

Openness: Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner.Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so. 

Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.

Leadership: Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

You can complain about the lack of objectivity, fairness, balance and impartiality of the BBC here

It’s time we demanded democratic accountability from our government, and facts instead of propaganda from the media.


 

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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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The Prime Minister is negotiating far-reaching welfare reform with the EU

Image result for EU

The BBC report that the prime minister has made welfare reform one of his key European Union (EU) demands. The current EU legal restrictions preventing EU citizens from being discriminated against have led to government ministers increasingly focusing on ideas that would also prevent thousands of UK citizens from getting in-work benefits.

Ministers have said that an EU treaty change will be required to make any major welfare changes.

The legal barriers to direct discrimination within the treaty have meant that ministers are focusing on finding welfare savings that are based on indirect discrimination – these are options that disproportionately affect EU migrants but would also impact on UK citizens.

One proposal under consideration would mean that all claimants will be denied in-work benefits unless they have received unemployment benefit in the previous year. The proposal could see someone who has worked for many years failing to qualify for support if their income fell because, for example, their employer cut their hours.

Whitehall officials have told the BBC that people claiming some in-work benefits may be better off giving up their job temporarily as a consequence of the government’s EU negotiations.

David Cameron has insisted that he has a mandate to pursue such EU reform following the Conservatives’ general election victory.

He wants to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership ahead of an in/out referendum by the end of 2017. He has said that he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU only if he gets the reforms that he wants.

However, Cameron has said he would “not give a running commentary” on the negotiations.

A document seen by BBC News in the summer from government lawyers to ministers indicated legal problems with current government proposals, it said: “imposing additional requirements on EU workers that do not apply to a member state’s own workers constitutes direct discrimination which is prohibited under current EU law.”

The legal opinion came several months after a speech by David Cameron last November in which he first announced his intention to stop EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits – housing benefit and working tax credits – for four years. However,  a four-year residency test for all benefit claimants has now been fully costed and is being considered by Treasury officials.

It would also mean that UK residents, even if they had lived in the UK all of their lives, would be ineligible for in-work benefits for four years from their 18th birthday.

A third suggestion has been proposed by Oliver Letwin, the former policy minister who now oversees the cabinet office. Letwin has proposed that in-work benefits should be denied to people who had not paid enough National Insurance contributions for three years.

This proposal was seen as being problematic however, said one official, as it would change the nature of Universal Credit and may conversely make EU migrants eligible for out-of-work benefits.

The prime minister remains insistent about pushing for welfare reform in his EU negotiations, despite officials believing the changes already introduced have tightened the system considerably.

“New EU migrants now face one of the toughest in-work benefit systems in Europe when they come here,” said one official.

“We have made benefit tourism a thing of the past.”

BBC News said that Whitehall officials told them they were not fully consulted about the legality of the proposals prior to Cameron’s speech in November.

However, it’s not just the legality of the proposals that are problematic: some officials have said that the politics of them are, too. Conservative  ministers are wary as these options will affect tens of thousands of British people and could undermine one of the government’s central messages, that people should always be better off in work.

Nigel Farage said that the prime minister’s renegotiation strategy was unravelling. Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “Even the one area where he was going to go to the European Council and try to get a rule change, actually we’ve surrendered already by saying we will change the British social security system.” 

“So young couples in this country, aged 21, who work and have got children, will, if this goes ahead, be better off not working than being in work. I think it’s appalling.”

The EU welfare proposals follow on from the recent controversial proposed cuts to tax credits, which were widely criticised by both Conservatives and the opposition, partly because they undermine the work ethic that the Tories value so much. Last month, Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said it was “arithmetically impossible” for the increase in the minimum wage to compensate for the loss in tax credits. In the post-budget briefing, the IFS said 13 million families would lose an average of £240 a year, while 3 million families would lose over £1,000 a year.

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

BBC reports unsurprisingly that Newcastle City Council has been ‘forced’ to plunder welfare funds

Newcastle Civic CentreNewcastle City Council said it would have to stop providing crisis loans to vulnerable residents

The BBC reports that a north-east council says government budget cuts are forcing it to use funding earmarked for vulnerable residents.

Newcastle City Council is using money previously ring-fenced for welfare and crisis loans on other frontline services.

Labour council deputy leader Joyce McCarty said it was facing “really tough choices”.

The government said local councils were best placed to decide priorities.

However, the government is proposing to cut a further £12bn from its annual welfare budget.

Funding for welfare grants and crisis loans was devolved to local control in 2013/14.

Ring-fencing was removed from 2015/16 and the cash now goes into the council’s central budget.

The authority said it could not prioritise discretionary loans over its statutory obligations and would only be able to allocate £120,000, compared with last year’s £229,000, for emergency welfare payments.

The Council had been forced to “make some really, really tough choices between providing frontline services and offering this level of support” to poorer residents, Ms McCarty said.

The Tees Valley Community Foundation, a private charity which helps to support those in need, said they expected more requests for help as a result.

Chief executive Hugh McGouran said he expected to see “a rapid increase” in demand.

“Twelve billion is such an eye watering figure,” he said.

“There’s going to be some significant cuts and I think people will start to turn more and more to charities to try and plug that gap.”

The government claim that nationally-run community care grants and crisis loans had been “poorly targeted and failed to help those most in need”.

“Local authorities now choose how best to support local welfare needs,” a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said.

“Additional money had been provided to assist authorities dealing with pressures on local welfare and health and social care,” he said.

However, I believe that this comment is little more than a platitude, intended to blur central government accountabilty. The government know precisely how much money is available to each council. How is it conceivable that local authorities have been provided with additional funding when this is offset with overall steep local authority budget cuts by the same government?

Moreover, the largest cuts have been made in the poorest areas, as the Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) point out, with the same areas set to lose the most again over the next few years.

During the last term, local authorities in England with communities ranked in the top 20 per cent for health deprivation and disability have faced an average reduction in spending power of £205 per head – 12 times the average for places in the bottom 20 per cent.

Communities ranked in the top fifth for income deprivation affecting older people saw an average reduction in spending power of £229 per head while the average reduction for places in the bottom fifth was just £39.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that those authorities in the most deprived areas tend to be those that are predominantly Labour. This clearly indicates that the government is purposefully targeting Labour councils for dispropotionately higher cuts than Conservative ones.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) also point out that severe cuts to local authority budgets are having a profound effect on the services people receive. The poorest communities and residents are being hardest hit and those least able to cope with service withdrawal are bearing the brunt of the Conservative austerity drive.

It’s inconceivable that this isn’t intentional, targeted austerity on the part of the government.

The shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hilary Benn, said earlier this year that it was “irresponsible and unfair” for the Conservatives to have imposed the biggest reductions in local authority budgets on those communities with the highest numbers of older people living in deprived households.

“The A&E crisis in our NHS, driven in part by insufficient social care provision where it is needed, shows that the Tories can’t be trusted with vitally important health and social care services,” he said.

Ed Miliband announces that Labour will put democratic leaders’ debates on a statutory footing. And Cameron is a coward.

chickenEd Miliband is quite right to call Cameron a chicken. Tory MP Rees-Mogg appeared on Channel 4 News and laid bare the reason for Cameron’s “predicament” regarding the pre-election debates – it’s all because of a “left-wing conspiracy.” Really.

Gosh, does that mean the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, once chairman of the Young Conservatives, has undergone a radical Trotskyist transformation whilst we slept?

Since when was debate, open discussion of pressing issues that affect the electorate, democratic discussion of policies, political transparency and  accountability deemed a “left-wing conspiracy”? Given the priceless claim of “BBC bias”, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s ongoing intensive monitoring campaign to keep the beeb “right”, I had to chuckle very heartily at that. It gave me quite a sarcastic turn.

I’m sure that emminent communist Lord Patten of Barnes must be delighted that standards haven’t slipped since he resigned last May as the Chairman of the BBC Trust, which is the appointed governing body.

Mind you, the government appointment of Pattern’s successor, following backroom negotiations, certainly raised a few eyebrows. Renowned socialist, Rona Fairhead (appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012) is one of the government’s business ambassadors and a director at the Cabinet Office, advising Francis Maude. There may be a glimpse of a political hinterland, however, from the fact that her husband, Tom, a director of the private equity firm Campbell Lutyens, was a Tory councillor.

Andrew Neil, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship political programmes Daily Politics and This Week, is chairman of the Spectator magazine. His editor is Robbie Gibb, former chief of staff to Francis Maude. And after the BBC’s economics editor Stephanie Flanders left for a £400,000-a-year job at that communist hotbed, JP Morgan, she was replaced by its business editor Robert Peston.

Peston himself has said: “Any suggestion the BBC has a left-wing bias is bollocks and the broadcaster actually veers towards a right-wing, pro-establishment view for fear of criticism.”

Research does indeed indicate that the BBC’s output is heavily biased towards the establishment and right-wing sources. Cardiff University undertook an extensive study, revealing that whilst there is always a slight bias towards political incumbents, the ratio in favour of Conservative politicians appearing on BBC news is significantly far greater than it was in favour of Labour figures when Gordon Brown was prime minister. Business representatives appear much more than they do on commercial news, and appear 19 times more frequently than trade union spokespersons on the BBC Six O’Clock News.

The evidence from the research is very clear. The BBC tends to reproduce a pro-Establishment, Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world. Furthermore, the Queen appoints the regulatory body – the BBC trust –  advised by government ministers, and the BBC trust then appoints the Director General. This has led to a public service run by people with strongly right-wing political and business affiliation.

Tory insiders say that Cameron is “determined” to avoid participating in the televised debates on equal terms with Miliband before the election, as he believes the Labour leader is the only one who would benefit. Chief election strategist Lynton Crosby and the former party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft both insist Cameron should not risk taking part in a head to head, even if he endures “short-term criticism” for not doing so.

Ed Milband has announced that a Labour government would take legal steps to make sure leaders’ debates become a permanent feature in general election campaigns following David Cameron’s flat, arrogant refusal to take part in the three showdowns proposed by broadcasters.

A Labour government will move to put “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing in an effort to avoid them becoming subject to the kind of “political wrangling” that has characterised the programmes scheduled for next month in the run-up to polling day.

The new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts, under which parties are consulted but not given the power to veto them.

This may be done by establishing the body which negotiates the terms of debates as a trust in statute with responsibility for determining the dates, format, volume and attendees.

A Labour government would set a deadline of 2017 for changes to be put in place, giving more than enough time to plan the debates for a 2020 election.

Meanwhile, the four broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have said they will stick to their previously-announced plans for three debates during the election campaign, and urged the Prime Minister to “reconsider” his refusal to take part in these shows, including a head-to-head showdown with Mr Miliband.

Miliband told the Observer: “In recent days the British public has been treated to the unedifying and tawdry spectacle of a prime minister seeking to duck out of the TV debates he once claimed to support with great enthusiasm. Yesterday the broadcasters made it clear they would not be cowed by his tactics but it is wrong for them and the British public to have governing parties use this kind of pressure in campaign periods. It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people not the prime minister of the day.”

But Cameron hasn’t exactly led a democratically inclined, transparent and accountable government for the past five years. He knows that in agreeing to just one debate with seven parties, questions will get such a short time for responses that he can evade any meaningful, in-depth scrutiny regarding his appalling policy record, entailing the myriad U-turns, inflicted cruelties and crass, prolific dishonesties of his leadership. And the one debate that Cameron has agreed will take place before his party manifesto is published, which again dodges accountability to the electorate: a profoundly (and consistently) undemocratic approach.

As Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College, London says: “Debates should not be subject to the tactical calculations of party leaders. There is certainly the case for a statute requiring debates between leaders of all parties with over 5% of the vote; and a separate debate between the PM and leader of the opposition. That statute is best administered by the Electoral Commission rather than the broadcasters who can too easily be accused of bias.”

Cameron clearly dare not debate head-to-head with Ed Miliband – which is remarkable, given that the Tories’ entire campaign is predicated on portraying the Labour leader as “weak and incompetent.” So why is Cameron too afraid to confront him in public?

Last year I wrote that people often mistake Miliband’s decency and refusal to engage in negative smear campaigning as “weak”: it isn’t. This year, Ed Miliband has acknowledged that perception – fueled by a desperate Tory party and right-wing media barons that have endeavoured to portray Miliband as “unelectable” – asked us not to make that mistake, in an interview with Simon Hattenstone  – Ed Miliband: don’t mistake my decency for weaknessIt’s worth reading the entire interview, what shines through is Miliband’s genuine warmth, honesty, decency, strength and conviction in his principles.

Miliband is no “career politician” and Cameron knows that formal debate with him would serve to juxtapose unfavourably – exposing the vast differences between his own unprincipled archetypal anti-heroic Flashman character – a manipulative scoundrel and liar, a cunning cheat, a corrupt and coarse coward  – and a steadfast, decent, true partisan, conviction politician with principles and integrity. Miliband is precisely the prime minister that this country so desperately needs. Cameron knows it. He doesn’t want the public to know it.

Cam weaknessThe right-wing media campaign, aimed at attempting to undermine Miliband’s credibility as a leader, arose precisely because Miliband is the biggest threat to the UK power base and status quo that we’ve seen for many decades. He’s challenging the neo-liberal consensus of the past 30 years – now that is a plain indication of strong leader, and someone with personal strength and courage. Qualities that Cameron so conspicuously lacks.

I wonder if the Tories consider their imminent loss on 7 May due to their own callous policies, prolific lying and unmitigated economic disaster these past five years a left-wing conspiracy, too?

Laugh out loud.

 

Further reading:

Cameron’s chief spinner on leaders’ debates: No no no! The PM should hide and throw things at Miliband

The establishment are ‘frit’ because Ed Miliband is the biggest threat to the status quo we’ve seen for decades

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street

Miliband is an excellent leader, and here’s why

The Tories attack Miliband because they’ve got no decent policies

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

tory liesThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.