The political imbalance and prejudice of MSM (mainstream media) have been well documented over the years by media analysts (e.g. in Glasgow and Cardiff), and questions of who gets air time and how they are treated when reported or interviewed remain contentious issues. But never mind the evidence, Nick Robinson, former BBC political editor, chooses to characterise all those who find fault with MSM as extremists (Right or Left) (‘Silencing the disagreeable won’t work. Put them on air’, The Guardian, 28 09 2017). He casts the BBC and traditional media as blameless victims of social media and “the increased polarisation of our society” (cited Graham Ruddick, ‘Alternative news sites in “guerrilla war” with BBC, says Robinson’. The Guardian, 28 09 2017). This is worse than ingenuous, and combines ignorance and casual insult in a way that has become all too common, notably since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.
Guardian letter writers point out how MSM (including Robinson himself and Andrew Marr) have colluded with climate breakdown deniers (30 09 2017). But the track record of MSM also includes choosing not to report significant events. For example, you would have thought the BBC, set up as a public service broadcaster, had a special duty to report on the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS over the last 7 years. Not so. Apparently this was not ‘a great story’ worth chasing. Instead, information was withheld, leaving David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt in particular to carry on regardless: denying and lying as they smiled their way past any opposition. Campaigners across the country were left tearing their hair out at this mainstream media silence, having to resort to the street, public meetings and social media to spread the bad news. The consequence is that, until very recently, too few people (beyond the workforces themselves) had any idea of what was going on and how serious the consequences already were.
The neoliberal orthodoxy internalised by media moguls and too many journalists, commentators, academics and politicians has left them bewildered by recent political events, for example, the EU referendum result and the 2017 general election. As news values have shifted, and facts, values and opinions have ended up in the blender, they have visibly lost control of their own professional field of ‘expertise’. For journalists and commentators, their practices have increasingly morphed into ‘entertainment’, and worse, entrapment as entertainment. Three journalists in action this week around the Labour party conference in Brighton, provide evidence that Robinson’s defensive complacency is misplaced:
Jo Coburn, of the Sunday Politics show, interviewed multiple award-winning film director, and now the official film-maker for the Labour party, Ken Loach, after the LP conference this week. She suggested that to describe the Austerity policies and actions of the Tory government as “conscious cruelty” was extreme, ridiculous even, as it implied that all Tory politicians were cruel people (she thought this was unfair). She argued that instead we should be celebrating the rise in employment levels. Loach, who has a long track record of political activism and artistic production that focuses on poverty and social justice issues (most recently his film, I Daniel), drew attention to the poverty of much of that employment (such as low pay, insecure and unsafe jobs, zero hours contracts). And he denied that “conscious cruelty” was a misnomer.
Not only does Loach care passionately about these social and political issues as an artist and human being, he is also eloquent in their exposition, and has the stats on child poverty, hunger, food banks, housing, homelessness, for example, at his fingertips. He cited these, to justify the “conscious cruelty” verdict, simultaneously ascertaining that Jo Coburn did not know the answers to his questions about these damning features of our society. She had implied that his statement was just a flamboyant, personal opinion. He demonstrated that it was a judgement based on hard, incontrovertible evidence. “I know what is going on”, he said quietly.
As a film maker (documentary and ‘fiction’), his work is rooted in extensive and careful research. Coburn showed herself not so thoroughly prepared, not least perhaps because in her media role she expects to challenge and interrogate, to be in control. She does not expect to be challenged (and shown wanting). On this occasion, both her humanity and her professional competence as a political journalist were left quietly in tatters.
In the same week, Jon Snow, interviewing Jeremy Corbyn, suggested that perhaps the Labour party is now “the nasty party”. Again, the form of questioning and the chosen issue of racism in the Labour party, seemed to be about trying to catch Jeremy out, to gain control, to overpower. Not such a ‘new man’ after all, Jon.
And something similar happened in Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn this week, where, as a senior political journalist, she pretends (surely) not to know what the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had meant when he spoke at a LP fringe meeting of those individuals and institutions as “they” who “will come after us” in government. Of course she knows what he means. She was trying to turn it into an attack on Labour’s credibility, as well as a way of implying or creating friction between these two long standing best friends and allies.
These are examples of modern journalistic practice as entertainment / entrapment: a power struggle that leaves the ethics and purpose of broadcast and public sector journalism sorely damaged. Less fit for purpose than we, the people, have a right to expect. And therefore less likely to be trusted. On the evidence.
val walsh / 30 09 2017