Government report? Maybe not as such: “The new study, carried out by King’s College London for the Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism Lord John Mann”. Always helps to read the small print when Harpin is sounding off. So, what’s it about?
This snippet gives a clue: “parallels between editorial lines taken by the two sites and that of the extreme far-right online outlet Radio Albion”. Note that The Canary and Skwawkbox are presented as somehow equivalent to two outlets from the far-right (the other being TR News, home to fans of Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson).
Why partisan left-leaning sites are not equated with partisan right-leaning sites, like that run by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, is not told. The explanation for this “left-leaning on the one hand and far right on the other” approach will make for interesting reading. If it ever sees the light of day.
In the meantime, let’s see what happened when “Lord” John Mann opened his North and South. “Ahead of publication of the report, Lord Mann said: ‘Whilst not all such sites promote anti-Jewish racism, it is increasingly clear that some of them have content which is used as part of the reservoir of such hatred and the conspiracy theories that drive forward antisemitism’”. Didn’t he manage to dig up any anti-Semitism, then?
The purpose of this report is, it seems, to inform debate on online harm and hate speech. But Mann gives the impression he doesn’t understand his subject matter. Take this paragraph. “There needs to be parity between regulation of the media and newspapers and our failure to democratise the online space and ensure that alternative platforms do not act as echo chambers for hate, fuelling racism and inspiring real-world harm”.
Newspapers ARE media. What does he mean by “democratise the online space”? And if, by “media” he means Online Media, there is parity of regulation where The Canary and Skwawkbox are concerned: both are regulated by independent regulator IMPRESS - unlike most newspapers, whose regulator IPSO is in the press’ pocket.
But do go on, good “Lord”. “Those on the receiving end of the vitriol generated by the bias that some of these sites are riddled with should have a clear right of recourse to defend themselves and at a minimum a parity with newspapers and broadcast media”. Circular argument: vitriol and bias are assumed, therefore guilty. On parity, see above. Next.
“There must be a clearly defined and fair remedy for those impacted by content on these sites, with regulation underpinned by statutory enforcement powers and sufficiently strong sanctions”. Where was John Mann during the Leveson Inquiry? Was he asleep? Statutory underpinning was rejected by the party to which Mann has now hitched his wagon (the Tories) and if he wants that, he wants much more than parity with press regulation.
Mann concludes his supremely wayward rant with “Our democracy requires Jewish citizens and all others impacted to have the right to seek redress to defend their human rights through an empowered regulatory system”. This sounds for all the world as if he wants sites like The Canary to be held to a higher standard than the press, and to be subjected to far more rigorous sanctions. That is not parity. It is censorship.
Worse is the guilt-by-suggestion typified by “The report gives further detail on the way it believes Skwawkbox, which is edited by hard-left activist Steven Walker, has promoted the viewpoint that British Jews who support the state of Israel … are a corrupting influence on politics in this country”. “Believes that”. “Hard-left”. Some research this is.
As is attempting to create what are termed “parallels” between Skwawkbox and Radio Albion, “whose contributors include Jeremy Bedford-Turner, jailed in 2018 for inciting racial hatred”. One has to ask what remit was given to those compiling the report.
One might ask that question a little more loudly after reading “Assessing the output of The Canary, whose editor in chief is Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the study says that ‘accusations of antisemitism have circulated’ around the website ‘for some time’”. Oh well, might as well not bother going further, guilty as charged. Nod’s as good as a wink, eh?
The conclusions seem confused, too: “Dr Allington, the report’s author, added: ‘Government and civil society must encourage use of high quality, reputable sources of information at the expense of low-quality fringe sources,’ it said. ‘We need not be helpless in the face of hatred’”. He’s not read the Fawkes blog, then. Or right-leaning papers. Or listened to TalkRADIO. But he can make a false assumption (“low quality fringe sources”).
All that is left is for “Lord” John Mann, who “says that under current legislation, websites, unlike newspapers, are able to walk out of the regulatory body Impress if it begins to investigate them in advance of possible sanctions”. He missed Richard Desmond pulling the Express and Daily Star titles out of the PCC, because he didn’t like being investigated.
IMPRESS, for its part, has reminded Mann “News websites regulated by IMPRESS are part of the only officially approved system of press regulation in the UK, which provides easy redress for complainants through a complaints handling scheme and arbitration system that is outside of the control and influence of any publisher, politician or commercial interest”. Also, it seems IMPRESS was not contacted by Mann or the JC.
As for the accusations of hate speech, “Publishers regulated by IMPRESS are free to advance a partisan editorial agenda as long as content is accurate, avoids language that is prejudicial or pejorative and does not incite hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s religion or other characteristic that makes a group vulnerable to discrimination".
So IMPRESS has contacted the report author and “Lord” Mann to secure a copy of the report. After all, the two left-leaning sites concerned take regulation seriously enough to have joined a properly independent regulator, something which one might not have known by reading Mann’s diatribe. One hopes that there is some point to this report, other than going after The Canary and Skwawkbox for being of inconvenient thought.
That would amount to censorship. And I’m sure “Lord” John Mann doesn’t want that.
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