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.


  1. hi Tom London,
    the reporting of Corbyn in the main stream media (TV , national press) is not about to improve any time soon. The people who own and /or control these organisations don't like him nor what he represents. Nor do they have a rule book by which they must abide when they are dealing with someone or something they have decided is a danger to themselves or their institutions.
    Great Britain has the “mother of all parliaments,” a long history of participatory democracy, free press and so on. It even has a world renowned corner in London where anyone can go and say whatever they like to whoever they like.
    Great Britain also ran one of the largest empires ever seen. In the conquered areas dissent, if tolerated, was never permitted if it questioned the fundamental fact of whether the conquered area wanted to be ruled by the conquering Empire. If such a situation was reached the gloves came off and the local recalcitrants were taught their place by fair means or foul. The Establishment / "powers that be" or however we should call the ruling class learnt how to run that Empire and taught its children how to run the Empire. You can discuss fringe issues or different ways of achieving the same objectives but you cannot question fundamentals that lie outside of the acceptable framework.
    As you say quite rightly Corbyn isn't banging on about Revolution or overthrowing the Monarchy but the boundaries are set out quite far and his railing against austerity and, more significantly, the neo liberal economic policies of the past 35 years, whilst not in itself transgressive, becomes a threat when said by a person, who, frankly, has a record of believing and doing what he says – and in this he is far more threatening than Michael Foot was back in ’82 -, and has got a huge potential audience listening to him.
    Now Corbyn hasn't seemed to have changed one dot in the last 35 years and there are others, and have been others who agree with what he says and say the same things. What has changed is that, through the blundering of the PLP in last year's leadership election - yet another example of post Blairite myopia to be added to the misreading of the situation in Scotland around the referendum, the non vote on last year's welfare bill and finally Brexit - Corbyn has been given the biggest soapbox one could imagine.
    British democracy isn't opposed to soap box orators if they stay in Hyde Park corner without a megaphone but they are not going to tolerate one who as head of the official opposition should be getting 50 % airtime on national TV and a fair amount of coverage in the national press.
    For a start they will not engage with what he is saying because they simply do not want that debate to take place and the best way to achieve that is to drown him out. Make him look stupid, weird, distort or misreport what he says, in fact anything that avoids having to discuss what he is actually talking about.

  2. Hi Tom,
    First up- a confession. I haven't read any of the academic reports so my comments are based solely on having read quite a bit of reporting on Corbyn and the responses of his supporters.
    I think a lot of people's disappointment arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of how news is reported. Firstly, the words and persona of a politician are not something that can be reported on objectively like the results of a scientific experiment. Unless the report just consists of the transcript of a speech then they have to be interpreted. Anyone whose views are outside of the mainstream will will most likely be having their words interpreted and sifted over by someone whose views are nearer to the mainstream- whatever that is at the present. Many of Corbyn's views are quite old fashioned. I can understand his proposals about collective bargaining for example- but that is only because I am over 50. A much younger reporter is going to wonder what on earth it is all about and why it is policy priority at this time with everything else that is going on. Only someone who is geeky about trade union law is going to excited about this.
    Of course you could argue that it is up to the reporters to process and present his arguments. I would disagree. A politician is trying to promote themselves and their ideas. The ball is completely in their court to doing this. I once did media liaison for a campaign on a local issue. Much of what passes for news is actually barely repackaged press releases. To get your story into the news you have to develop mutually beneficial relationships with reporters where you give them 'exclusives' and you have to give them your point of view typed up in media friendly soundbites accompanied with references. This is what I did very successfully and it what any political campaign has to do if it wants its story heard. Team Corbyn has disdain for the media and Corbyn has appointed a highly unsuitable media advisor in Seamas Milne, someone whose views are at the very leftmost extremes of the Guardian pages, and who is by all accounts disliked by many of his colleagues there. That is not a good start.
    As for distortions- there is no difference between writing media stories about Tony Blair's all too close relationship with George Bush and examining Corbyn's relationships with individuals and groups who have given support to terrorism. It is telling that he voted against the Northern Ireland peace agreement. Things like that cannot be ignored in someone who supposedly aspires to being prime minister.
    Then there is the personal factor. Journalists are human beings.There are many people who have personal reasons to dislike Corbyn before you even examine his policies. Jewish people may dislike him for having referred to Hamas as friends, Protestants will dislike him for having brought the IRA into parliament, commentators like Nick Cohen dislike him for associating with Islamists.People who love the monarchy (a significant part of the UK population especially in older people and working classes)will dislike his stance on Royalty.People who are in favour of Trident will dislike his pacifism.That is a formidable amount of baggage before you even look at his policies.
    For most people, however, Corbyn is a very odd man. He does not fit most people's ideas of a successful politician or someone who wants to win. He comes across as eccentric. That isn't an insurmountable obstacle if he was a good orator or communicator or a good leader. Unfortunately he isn't.
    Some people may use these issues as a smokescreen for criticizing him because they dislike him for being a socialist but I reckon most don't even get that far.