Our free and fearless press, together with the broadcast media, has been ready and waiting to tell its audience about every perceived instance of alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Every angle of the story has been worked and re-worked - except for one. That would be the part which calls the media out for skewed reporting.
So very little coverage has been given to the Media Reform Coalition report which has told “we found 95 clear cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. The problem was especially pronounced on television - which reaches far wider audiences by comparison - where two thirds of the news segments on television contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion”.
That was bad, but the detail was worse. “Several reports focused on a controversial social media post by Jeremy Corbyn omitted any mention that it was made six years ago, with some emphasising a sense of currency and recency that failed to make clear the historical context of the post”. A little bending of the space-time continuum there.
There was more. “Journalists covering the launch of Labour’s antisemitism report in 2016 routinely misquoted an activist in ways that were entirely removed from his original comment, in spite of a video recording of the event that was readily and immediately accessible”. Did someone say “Marc Wadsworth”? And yet more.
“Above all, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often entirely omitted critical discussion of the ‘working definition’ of antisemitism put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and wrongly characterized it as consensual and universally adopted”. It wasn’t “universally adopted”?
Seemingly not: “Although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves … In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UK’s central government in early 2017, Less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition”. Context, context, context, and yet again no context.
On went the inconvenient detail: “Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition … Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by four leading UK barristers”. Why does this matter?
“Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition”. That was not true.
Specific examples of speech that was seriously unhelpful were provided. “Distortions also risk stirring racial tensions by provoking counter-outrage that may be misdirected at Jews on either the left or right of the political spectrum. It is notable in this respect that in 2016, a Daily Mail columnist who has been outspoken on this issue described one Corbyn supporter as a ‘useful Jewish idiot’”. Actually Mail on Sunday: it was Dan Hodges.
The counter example to Desperate Dan? You’ll love this: “in 2018, the Prime Minister’s warm congratulatory words offered to her Malaysian counterpart - a leader who has openly described himself as an ‘antisemite’ - received barely no attention at all in mainstream news, despite antisemitism being such a salient issue on the news agenda at the time.” If it had been Jeremy Corbyn giving those “warm congratulatory words”. eh?
The MRC also picks up on the victimhood angle. “This was no anomaly: almost all of the problems observed in both the framing and sourcing of stories were in favour of a particular recurrent narrative: that the Labour Party has been or is being lost to extremists, racists and the ‘hard left’. Some of the most aggressive exponents of this narrative were routinely treated by journalists - paradoxically - as victims of aggression by the party’s ‘high command’” [my emphasis].
And the summary concluded thus: “At a time when the country is entering the final stages of its negotiated withdrawal from the European Union, these findings warrant urgent attention from journalists, editors, policymakers and activists alike”. That’s why press and broadcasters alike are not reporting on the MRC report and its findings.
The only reason news of the report has found its way into the Guardian is because a group of 27 signatories has submitted a letter to the paper bringing attention to its conclusions. It’s entirely possible that without the advocacy of Noam Chomsky, Brian Eno, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach, Des Freeman, Justin Schlosberg and 21 others, it would not have even been published there. Why should that be?
Ah well. The narrative had been established; copy had been generated, editorial decisions had been made. To admit such glaring errors and skewed journalism would be to lose face, worse, it would mean standing out from the media pack and risking exposure of the remainder of its members as a sham. And that would never do.
So many in the press and pundit establishment got this narrative wrong. That they all went wrong, as if in concert, was not a coincidence. Nor will be the lack of any apology.
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I complained to the BBC about their Newsnight edition which allowed Louise Ellman to claim she was 'appalled' to hear that Jeremy Corbyn had attended an event which compared Israel to the Nazis, an event she attended too. My complaint was how the BBC could allow a Labour MP with clear bias to lie so flagrantly. Their response was that they didn't know it was a lie and that if they knew she attended they would have pulled her up on it. So I went further and asked why did a team of journalists clearly not research Ellman in time to call her out for the lie. They replied that the story was breaking that day and they didn't have enough time before that evening's transmission. I immediately went to the next level at the BBC Trust, flagging this previous response up as unsatisfactory, arguing that it suggests the BBC either do not care about reporting a story accurately because they're more concerned with having something to report (rightly or wrongly) that evening or they're colluding with persons who are out to discredit Corbyn. In other words, are you biased or just incompetent. Needless to say, that complaint got shitcanned too. I'm still waiting on Offcom's response.
All of which of course makes the guilty broadcast "journalists" - almost all of them - every bit as bad, sometimes even worse, than any of the print thugs.
Attempts were made on Politics Live (Grauniad) to bring this report to wider attention, without, for the most part, mentioning the special attention the newspaper received. Few escaped the moderators.
These findings are not a surprise, but great to have them confirmed by an academic study.
That said it has shown up a weakness in Labour. I know the establishment has stood shoulder to shoulder on this one and spared no effort in trying to destroy Corbyn, but just imagine - and God forgive me here - just imagine if
Alastair Campbell had been batting for Corbyn. Let's say he would have got a clear message across in the media.
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