‘BBC, Your Time Is Up…’ (2a/6)

In the first piece of what I announced as a six-part series, I promised that, on the way to producing my discussion of the Radio 4 broadcast Impartial Journalism in a Polarised World, I would analyse the blurb that someone at the BBC released to go along with the programme.

Me being me, I then set to work with a will … and what I found, of course, was that the little blurb — a mere four paragraphs, you may recall! —  was actually such a thicket of lies and manipulations that untangling it took several weeks and literally thousands of words. The resulting text, for all its impressiveness, is therefore far too long to be uploaded in a single posting (I know from my web stats that pieces of that length just don’t get read); so I have decided to release it in four digestible instalments: yes, each paragraph’s analysis will be presented separately.

The way I have opted to proceed is to begin each of these four instalments with a presentation of the original blurb in its entirety, so that everyone can immeditately see the relevant paragraph in its context and without being influenced by my commentary. After that, I keep reproducing the relevant paragraph on its own, with numbers added in parentheses to identify the points that I discuss immediately below. It’s a method I’ve used elsewhere, and it seems to work pretty well.

So here we go.

First, here is the full and complete text of the original blurb…

Polarised politics, cacophanous [sic] culture wars and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news at the click of a button. Can impartial journalism win out in a world of alternative facts and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy?

When radio arrived, it gave politicians the means of mass propaganda. Television brought us the politics of the soundbite and the twenty-four hour news cycle. But the digital age — unmediated opinion, unchecked sources — has put old-fashioned, impartial news itself under the spotlight. Are we — the BBC and others — any longer believed? Are we trusted? And what happens when we aren’t? Do democracy and digital sit comfortably together or is one currently winning at the expense of the other?

James Harding was editor of The Times and then took the helm at BBC News. After 2016, the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, he started to think that a different approach was needed, focused on slow news and opening up journalism. He set up Tortoise. In this noisy discussion, James and other journalists grapple with all of these matters, and attempt to navigate a digital future without losing our democratic past.

He’s joined by the political editor of ITN, Robert Peston; staff writer on The Atlantic, Helen Lewis; presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend, Mark Mardell; Talk Radio host, Julia Hartley-Brewer; and Gavin Haynes, editor-at-large of Vice UK.

And here is the point-by point dissection of just the opening paragraph…

Paragraph 1:

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(1) The moment someone in the UK’s media refers to ‘our polarised politics’, you know the lie-machine has been switched on. In ‘normal’ (i.e. power- and wealth-compliant) journalistic parlance, the term ‘polarised politics’ affects to describe a situation in which ‘divergent political attitudes’ have taken people all the way to ‘the ideological extremes’; as we see on this occasion, it is meant to conjure up the spectre of some new and awful thing (For the first time in my life, I feel politically homeless!‘) that we must all work to bring to an end (‘Politics needs to return to the centre-ground!‘) before even more terrible things happen (‘This extremism is making normal people turn away from politics!‘).

In reality, of course, the notion is an untruth from the ground up. What is causing the ruling-class commentariat to shriek about ‘polarised politics’ is really two things: (i) People who aren’t meant to have a voice are actually finding one; (ii) People who aren’t meant to have a meaningful political choice are finally presented with one. It really is as simple as that: before the democratising ‘double whammy’ represented by the growth of social media and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, all significant means of mass communication were overwhelmingly mouthpieces of state and corporate power, and all significant political parties were more or less openly exultant advocates of a society- and planet-destroying neoliberalism. And this status quo ante is what elite news media are now desperately trying to restore — by means of concerted attempts to demonise the humane, social-democratic left out of political existence while re-branding representatives of the authoritarian, omnicidal right as ‘the sensible centre’. Viewing these things in the correct light, we see that there is only one extreme here

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(2) Remember when the BBC considered it important to employ people with an ability to spell and/or proof-read? You do? Then you’re probably over 50

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(3) The flagging-up of ‘culture wars’ right at the start is, of course, entirely unsurprising. The provoking and highlighting of conflicts and hostilities that supposedly reflect ‘deeply held values’ is a major element in state-corporate media’s manipulative project: using talk of scarily ‘fundamental’ differences — in religious belief and custom, in attitudes to sexuality, and so on — as a means of goading one set of poor people into hating another set of poor people allows the owning and exploiting classes to continue their legalised larceny unmolested. In the language of psychiatrist Eric Berne, the media mogul says “Let’s you and him fight!“; thus it is that our newspapers pump out endless, inflammatory piffle about so-called ‘free movement’, ‘gender-neutral toilets’ and ‘the war on Christmas’; and thus it is that Nigel Farage — seven times unelected to Westminster! — is never absent from our airwaves: while he and his dog-whistle are happily enabling the white British pseudo-Christian poor to hate and blame the non-white, non-British, non-Christian poor, no-one is hating or blaming the class that actually created all their poverty. Once again, in other words, we see state-corporate media handing the public a set of narratives that facilitate precisely the kinds of anger and consternation that leave the accumulation of wealth and power magically unaffected…

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(4) At this point — and we’re still in the first sentence, remember! — a central plank of ‘mainstream media’ mythology is quietly put in place before us: the idea that we are the children and they are the adults; or, to put it in more specific terms, that you and I, left to our own (electronic) devices, will gleefully fall prey to all kinds of congenial untruth — and that only Serious Journalistic Professionals with elite accreditation and staggering salaries can keep us on the straight and narrow.

Here too, of course, the actual truth is the very opposite of what is officially presented. The most damaging purveyors of ‘unchecked, unchallenged news’ are the ‘mainstream’ outlets themselves. To some extent, of course, this is the product of various well-understood forces that inevitably tend to push modern media in the direction of what we might call ‘insufficient accuracy’. Most outlets, after all, are profit-maximising and advertiser-dependent; and even where they aren’t, there will still be a dependency upon subsidised, state- and business-sourced ‘news’ and the kind of ‘access’ that government departments and other institutions only grant in return for services rendered.

Over and above this, however, is the fact that the ongoing corporate enfoldment of both our ‘mainstream’ media and our ‘normal’ politics removes the distinction between supposedly separate players: just as the notionally democratic state increasingly functions as an arm of corporate power, so does the notionally independent media (and the BBC above all) act as an arm of state power. What is actually journalistically ‘unchecked’ is the material that goes to create the officially approved narratives in terms of which the public is to ‘understand’ the world; and what goes journalistically ‘unchallenged’ are those narratives themselves: the ‘mainstream’ media’s servile refusal to question a whole succession of manifestly fraudulent state-serving stories — from Salisbury to Syria and beyond! — should have made even the dimmest consumer realise that our official media’s ostensible purpose is not its real purpose. In the shortest possible words: while our ‘mainstream’ media outlets would have us believe that ‘fake news’ is something that only they can protect us from, the reality is that fake news is what they exist to create.

Thus we arrive at what the world of elite-serving news management sees as the ulitimate heresy: if you want actual journalism, you’ll need to turn to independent media. For, among the state-corporate purveyors of ‘news’, the necessity of ‘holding power to account’ has long since receded from view; and even the elementary commandment that ‘thou shalt not publish damaging lies’ has given way to the need to be an effective boot-boy for the private capital that is running the show.

Yes, I mean every word of this. The very day that I type up these paragraphs (8/11/19), the vile Johnathan Freedland and the ‘Politics Live’ blog of the faux-left, anti-Corbyn Guardian joyfully smeared solicitor Majid Mahmood — Birmingham Labour councillor and Labour Party candidate shortlisted to stand in Birmingham Hall Green — as a proven anti-semite … by confusing him with another solicitor of the same name who works in Luton. It would have been the work of a moment to make sure that they weren’t writing about the wrong person; but when a piece of savoury scuttlebutt fits the smeary narrative that a media louse is trying to project, who the hell bothers to check?

From the Guardian‘s ‘Politics Live’ blog, Nov 8, 2019:

Image

Image

For anoher example, let’s go back just two days — to The Times of 6 November. What did we see there? We saw a worthless ‘Times Investigation’ — really a shameless, anti-Corbyn hit-piece — that was so utterly uninterested in fact and chronology that its writers joyfully smeared the current Leader of the Opposition as having voted against the Falklands War — one of the British public’s favourite ‘feelgood’ conflicts — even though he wasn’t even elected as an MP until 14 months later. It would have been the work of a moment to make sure that they weren’t totally screwing up the timeline; but when someone’s little bit of ahistorical fantasy fits the smeary narrative that a media louse is trying to project, who the hell bothers to check?

‘Times Investigation’ [sic]. Click for a larger image.

[[[Insert (13 November 2019): And then there’s the BBC itself — whose massive resources, deployed worldwide, make it undoubtedly the most polished and effective lie-machine that has ever existed. And, as you might expect, the Corporation brings a special quality of its own to the category of ‘unchecked, unchallenged news’ — as you will have seen if you were watching the mass-audience show BBC Breakfast on the morning of Monday 11 November 2019…

The day before — ‘Remembrance Sunday’ — the BBC had presented its usual ‘live’ broadcast from Whitehall. This allowed people to see UK Prime Minister and apprentice children’s entertainer Boris Johnson looking dishevelled and hung-over as he stood before the Cenotaph with his coat undone and his shoes looking old and inadequately polished. Even more obtrusively, he then moved forward at the wrong time to lay his wreath, and rapidly had to move back again; then, when he did finally approach the step and put down the wreath, it was facing the wrong way — which meant that the inscribed label displayed the moving message:

ๅๅɐ sn ɹoɟ sǝʌᴉๅ
ɹᴉǝɥʇ uʍop pᴉɐๅ oɥʍ ǝsoɥʇ
ɟo ʎɹoɯǝɯ ๅɐʇɹoɯɯᴉ ǝɥʇ oꓕ

So, faced with this shambolic performance by the Tory Prime Minister whose Conservative government the Establishment is determined to keep in power at all costs, what did the BBC do when film of the event had to be shown the next morning? Answer: they showed a different clip entirely: what went out were the corresponding moments from the 2016 ceremony — in which a smarter- and fresher-looking Johnson (still close to the start of his calamitous two years as ‘Foreign Secretary’) laid a different wreath on a different spot without discernible mishap.

See what they did there…?

Needless to say, once this ‘fake news’ sequence began to be challenged — by members of the public communicating on social media! — the BBC put together an excuse that rested upon the idea that they’d pulled the old video from the archive to use in a ‘preview’ item, and then accidentally used it as a ‘news clip’ the next day as well; what they didn’t do was explain how the 2016 clip was cued up on the Monday without anyone noticing either its original label and date or the fact that it had the wrong people in it — not least the Queen (who doesn’t attend any more) and the now departed party leaders Theresa May and Tim Farron.  It would have been the work of a moment to make sure that the programme was using a video file that had the correct labelling on it; but when someone’s unnoticeably tiny ‘oversight’ will allow the vital bit of pro-Tory wicket-keeping that a media louse knows to be long-standing BBC policy, who the hell bothers to check?

See what they did there…?

And before anyone sends me a spluttering, Blimp-ish defence of our ceaselessly mendacious state broadcaster, let me mention something that I remember and you possibly don’t: when it comes to supporting and protecting this brutal and incompetent, ultra-neoliberal Conservative government by way of the serendipitous substitution of clips, the BBC has ‘form’. It isn’t that long ago (November 2017) that BBC Two’s ‘flagship’ news and current affairs sewer Newsnight — you remember: the show that once put a picture of Corbyn on an image of Moscow’s Red Square and made his hat look all Russian — used the old ‘substitution error’ to prevent viewers seeing a blistering response that Corbyn made to a budget speech by Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond. How did they do it? Answer: here too, they showed a different clip entirely. What the viewer saw was what had been Corbyn’s less impressive — and, in any case, irrelevant — response to Hammond’s earlier ‘Spring Budget’ (March 2017). And, before you ask: yes, here too it was people on social media who saw the fraud and blew it out of the water.

In case anyone can’t see the pattern here, I’ll tell you what it is. If a Tory does something that risks making them look bad, the BBC is there to prevent people seeing it. If Corbyn does something that risks making him look good, the BBC is there to prevent people seeing it. All clear now?]]]

This kind of ‘somehow, no-one checked’ manipulation and falsification — this tactic of ‘lie by ostensible error’ — is literally an everyday occurrence in our ‘mainstream’ media: they all do it, all the time, and with complete impunity. And the very people who do it then have the unmitigated gall to pretend that it is within the so-called blogosphere and the world of dissident and alternative media that the UK has ‘a problem’ with people ‘making stuff up to suit their political agenda’. And note, by the way, that even when this evil garbage is identified and deleted or apologised for, the damage is done: the original untruth, seen by hundreds of thousands — even millions — and perhaps further distributed by approving recipients all across the internet, reaches innumerable individuals who never hear about the retraction

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(5) Here we are introduced to another staple of modern media manipulation: the technology is dragged for a bit of blame. Or rather — and this is the significant bit! — only one form of technology is being lined up for a smack: no-one at all would be writing paragraphs like the above if all people had access to was the telly, and the only unchecked, unchallenged news accessible ‘at the click of a button’ was the BBC’s news — or the news of any other outlet (ITN, Sky, whatever…) where a state-corporate consensus imposes savage limits on the boundaries of the reportable. Yes, what they hate is the internet — and the way it permits journalism to be done and communicated by people who have not been employed and promoted on the basis of their proven readiness to work within elite-prescribed narratives. You will never find it stated as such in the complaints that ‘insiders’ pour out, but these people know perfectly well that the internet is to ‘elite control of narrative’ what kryptonite is to Superman.

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

Well, here we are in the second sentence; and if anything we have seen in the 21 words we’ve now read should make a reader’s eyebrows rocket up their forehead, it is the way the notion of ‘impartial journalism’ is suddenly plonked in front of us as if nothing in the world is simpler or more straightforward. Yes, this is the moment at which we realise that this entire project is fated to proceed on a bumpkin’s level of insight and a motor-dealer’s level of honesty.

Part of this absurd treatment of a complex and contested concept is, of course, the result of our text having been put out by the BBC: one of the Corporation’s most outrageous symptoms of irrational self-love is the way it has historically treated itself as something that is impartial by definition — as a result of, on the one hand, the license fee (which supposedly guarantees its ‘independence’), and, on the other, some sort of vague yet ingrained ‘public service ethos’ (which supposedly makes it stratospherically high-minded and idealistic).

 

 

 

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

 

 

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

 

 

Polarised politics (1), cacophanous [sic] (2) culture wars (3) and the advent of unchecked, unchallenged news (4) at the click of a button (5). Can impartial journalism (6) win out in a world of alternative facts (7) and the re-tweet echo chamber of Twitter (8)? If it doesn’t, what becomes of democracy (9)?

(9) The question is strictly meaningless. ‘Democracy’ in the UK cannot suffer any fate of any kind — because it doesn’t really exist. The UK is a shamocracy: however frequent the elections, however many the candidates and parties, the country remains an oligarchy owned by, and run in the interests of, a tiny minority that does not permit ‘democratic choice’ of any meaningful kind. What our writer is doing here is waving the imaginary flag of elite-serving myth (‘Oh, the Mother of Parliaments! How fortunate we are! We must do all we can to protect her!‘) in order to con the ordinary reader into feeling some kind of ‘powerful attachment’ to a state of affairs whose perpetuation benefits someone else entirely.

And, in fact, all that anyone needs to do in order to see right through the tottering walls of our pasteboard ‘democratic’ system is to recall the astounding, unprecedented, establishment-wide assault that has been mounted against Jeremy Corbyn since the day in September 2015 when — partly as a result of democratic reforms brought in by Ed Miliband — he was elected as leader of the Labour Party.

What Corbyn’s unexpected victory did was raise the terrifying spectre of UK voters being offered something close to actual political choice — in the form of a mild social democrat running a party with a policy platform of a basically Scandinavian or North European type. What is more, the fact that Corbyn’s election then generated a massive increase in membership — giving Labour the largest popular base of any party in Europe — made things even worse: the only thing that the elite fears more than meaningful political choice is mass participation in politics.

Prior to this development, the oligarchy was happy and secure in the knowledge that the British voter would only be presented with garbage choices: they could only vote for ongoing self-harm — as guaranteed by a party of blue Tories, a party of yellow Tories, a party of red Tories, and a party of purple Tories; and, whichever notionally different entity came out ahead in any given setting, the unchanging elite project — neoliberalism at home, neoimperialism abroad, and constant and unending fealty to the US empire and its Wahhabist and Zionist satellites — would continue to provide all the golden eggs that a greedy ruling class could wish for.

Hence the

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “‘BBC, Your Time Is Up…’ (2a/6)

  1. The Times example also highlights another phenomenon: it completely fails to consider the merit of the position it condemns. Although I would never vote Labour (the party is a hypocritical and spineless juggernaut that will assuredly outlast any decent individuals within it… better to exemplify the absurdity of “first past the post” by voting for a principled party with the right priorities, irrespective of its prospects of winning… given the climate emergency, the Green Party is the only viable option, I feel… whilst I disagree with some Green Party policies, it is the only longstanding party to have opposed Heathrow expansion, fracking, and Trident *consistently*), I agree with Corbyn’s historic (alas, no longer current) stance against Trident (I deplore nuclear weapons, and am ashamed to be a citizen of a country that maintains and proposes to use them for any reason… and besides, the UK’s nuclear arsenal is too small to have any strategic value in a geopolitical context where only two countries have big nuclear arsenals and the UK is inextricably allied to one of them) and against the manifold illegal military interventions. Indeed, the examples of interventions highlighted by the Times are some of the most controversial (the Iraq invasion was very unpopular at the time, and resulted in many high-profile resignations from Bliar’s (not a typo) régime… and of course, the Iraq invasion was, quite predictably, an unmitigated disaster that should have ended the career of any MP who supported it) and egregious (the Kosovo so-called “intervention” also involved the direct murder of thousands of Serbian civilians, including a deliberate attack on a media facility in Belgrade that killed more journalists than the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris (despite which it is the latter that is wont to be labelled the “worst attack on journalism in Europe in living memory” or such like), through a NATO-led bombing campaign — among the ordnance deposited by this campaign is unspent nuclear waste, which is responsible for an ongoing cancer epidemic in some parts of Serbia).

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  2. Mark, there appear to be several paragraphs of your text missing. Those dealing with points 6,7,8 and 9 do not appear on my screen. it’s a shame because what you have written is up to you usual brilliant and insightful standard. Respect!

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