Sunday, 31 July 2016

Response to media distortion of Corbyn will be a test of strength of our democracy

There have now been three academic reports documenting the systematic distortion of Jeremy Corbyn’s message - not only in right wing papers such as the Telegraph, Mail and Sun - but also in the Guardian and at the BBC. The BBC is the most worrying because people trust the BBC more than any newspaper and the BBC is acting in contravention of its own editorial guidelines. The reports are linked herehere and here.

The reports do not highlight opposition to Corbyn (which newspapers are free to exhibit if they choose, but not the BBC) but something very different - the deliberate distortion of Corbyn’s views. This is done in a wide variety of ways including only quoting Corbyn’s opponents, quoting Corbyn out of context, repeating baseless smears and ignoring Corbyn’s side of a story altogether.

It is hardly surprising that people who rely on the newspapers or the BBC for their views on Corbyn tend to strongly oppose him.

Meanwhile there are millions of people who do support Corbyn and it is likely that they do not trust the so-called mainstream media and inform themselves either direct or through social media.

All who care about democracy in the UK should care about media distortion of Corbyn. Our society’s response to the three reports is a test of the strength of our democratic culture.

Democracy is not an either/or state. Instead countries can be placed on a sliding scale between “no democracy” and “perfect democracy”.  One important element to make up a properly functioning democracy is that there is a media which gives voters the necessary information so that they can make an informed choice. This is clearly not happening in the case of Corbyn.

Corbyn is not a fringe politician. He is leader of the opposition. Under his leadership millions of people cast votes for his party, which received more votes than any other party in the local elections in May. 

Corbyn is not an extremist politician. His central economic policy of anti-austerity has been adopted by his current opponent Owen Smith and may well soon be adopted by the Tories. Indeed, many of his policies have been adopted by Smith who is described as the choice of the “moderates”. 

Everyone knows the saying attributed to Voltaire: - “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”   Anyone who cares about democracy should care that Corbyn’s views are distorted whether or not they support Corbyn.

Monday, 25 July 2016

GUEST POST Resisting the lie machine by William Bolton

An academic study by the LSE has detailed how the mainstream media has forsaken its duty to be society’s watchdog to take on instead the role of the establishment’s attackdog against Jeremy Corbyn.

The study shows systematically how the Fleet Street attackdog does its work.  Here are some quotes from a typical piece by Carole Malone in the Daily Mirror last week: 
Jeremy Corbyn's supporters are like Lenin style bully boys who'd send women to the gulag
No Corbyn rally is complete without violence or the threat of it.

And so on it goes.  Corbyn is a bully boy, he incites violence, he's an anti-Semite, he’s a misogynist.  This weekend we discover he’s a burglar.  (He particularly likes to bully and burgle women, we are being led to believe.)  

We have been here many times before.  It's from exactly the same playbook used by the media in the miners’ strike, about Hillsborough, and in 2003 during the build up to the invasion of Iraq. It was used too against the ‘Yes’ pro-independence campaign in Scotland.  

We, who think ourselves more sophisticated consumers of Fleet Street’s bile, affect to be unaffected by it.  But the spin doctors know that if they throw enough mud, some of it sticks, and a little nagging doubt is created: maybe the Corbynites do have a problem with women, or Jews, or Asian women being strong and standing up for what they believe in. 

The strategy of “sowing the seed of doubt” was invented by the PR industry for big tobacco and has been pursued relentlessly for over a decade by professional climate change sceptics funded by the fossil fuel industry. 

But it’s not just about the crudest propaganda.  The Guardian also wants Corbyn out and it uses a more insidious approach.  

In this post I want to pick up a small example of how the nasty anti-Corbyn stuff is being blended in with “nicer” anti-Corbyn stuff – “more in sorrow than in anger” material that is aimed at Labour people who may think themselves immune to the crude propaganda, but whose vote in the leadership contest might yet be swung away from Corbyn.   

Reporters need to report on something, so they act in cahoots with the PR industry and the Parliamentary Labour Party, which has geared up to feed them a steady stream of anti-Corbyn stories.  Craig Murray explained how the system works: showing how a single heckle from an employee of Alastair Campbell’s company Portland Communications gets to be a front page story in The Guardian. 

My example from today is the story by Guardian political editor Anushka Asthana currently in pole position on the Guardian’s worldwide website, the news that the Labour  leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Angela Smith, has decided she can no longer support Jeremy Corbyn.  This Labour peer, who is little known to the general public, comes out against Corbyn with the absolutely standard-issue line that has been doing the rounds for weeks: "I support his politics but he has proved an ineffective leader":
Smith said she had worked hard to support Corbyn after his election, including appearing on television to welcome his new style of politics. But she claimed that he had failed to prove himself a strong leader.  Smith was particularly critical of Corbyn’s performances at shadow cabinet meetings. Asked if she was impressed by him, she said: “No. I wanted to be, I would have liked to be, but I wasn’t. And I wasn’t alone. He was good at giving people their say, but I wanted to see more engagement in the debate. He listened politely but the role of leadership is to bring those strands together.”

Baroness Angela Smith was a staunch follower of Tony Blair and is very firmly on the Blairite wing of the party. In order for the Guardian to be a credible unbiased source, it should have given the reader some information about what wing of the party she is from, or challenged her assertion that she "wanted to be...would have liked to be" impressed by Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of informing its readers, the Guardian is deliberately exploiting their ignorance of the facts to collaborate with Angela Smith to get one of the currently approved attack lines into the paper for the umpteenth time.  

And why on earth is this article given such prominence on the front page?  I suspect the Guardian may be worried that some people might be being put off by the surfeit of "nasty anti-Corbyn" stories which are proving to be untrue.  As the “he burgles and harasses Asian women MPs” story has collapsed during Sunday, they have hurriedly reached for one of their stockpiled "more in sorrow than anger” anti-Corbyn stories, and tried to move the news agenda on. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Who highly values the truth? Not Donald Trump. Not Boris Johnson. Not, apparently, Professor Roy Greenslade of the Guardian.

Western democracy is threatened by the disturbing idea that truth no longer matters and that what matters, instead, is whatever wins votes, whether it is true or not. This is a “post-truth” political world. Donald Trump is the world’s prime exponent of this approach; and in the UK it is Boris Johnson.  

But politicians can only succeed in this way if the media allows them to. Too often, the media amplifies their lies; too rarely, does it undertake the role that democracy requires of it, namely to expose those lies.

On 19 July 2016, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and media commentator on the Guardian wrote a deeply troubling article in which he appears to say that it does not matter whether what journalists write is true or not. 

Greenslade was commenting on a report published on 1 July 2016 by academics at the London School of Economics. The report is entitled - “Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog.”  The study covers the following eight newspapers - Guardian, Mirror, Independent, Evening Standard, Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun. 

The findings of the report are - or should be - of great concern to anyone who cares about democracy or press standards, whether or not they support Jeremy Corbyn. The lack of reaction to the LSE report is itself a sign or how debased our political culture has become.

The report finds that most newspapers have “systematically vilified the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his idea and politics.” 

The report was careful to make a distinction between the press’ legitimate  watchdog function of probing Corbyn’s proposals from this illegitimate attackdog function. It found a failure to make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact - a fundamental distinction in journalism.

The report found that 74% of news coverage (that is news not comment), either ignored Corbyn’s actual views altogether or distorted them. 

Greenslade’s response to the report is entitled: - “Yes, Jeremy Corbyn has suffered a bad press, but where’s the harm?”  

Far from taking what the report says as a matter of concern for the press generally or for the Guardian in particular, Greenslade suggests the British people do not “hunger for unbiased political coverage.”  

Astonishingly, Greenslade then suggests that the behaviour of systematically distorting and undermining the message of the leader of the opposition is acceptable journalism because no one can “demonstrate that the negative coverage of Corbyn has unduly influenced the papers’ readerships”

In fact, as Greenslade should know, there is plenty of evidence that people believe any number of falsehoods about Corbyn, just as they did over Brexit, as a result of what they have read in the papers.

More fundamentally, what about the ethics of journalism? What about basic standards?

When such a pillar of the journalistic establishment as Professor Greenslade appears to care so little for truth in journalism, then it is welcome, indeed, to the post-truth, Trumpified United Kingdom of 2016.