Earlier this month, on March 2, the Society of Editors – “fighting for media freedom” – condemned ‘fake news’, warning that it “presents a threat to the traditional and professional media”. It is deeply worrying, the society’s evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee continued, “that inaccurate information passed off as fact prevents the public from making informed and evidence-based decisions.”
It went on: “At its core, ‘fake news’ is an assault on truth. It is the job and role of professional journalists and news publications to speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account. Accurate, independent journalism is essential to our democracy and it has to be paid for. ‘Fake news’ must not be confused with quality journalism nor should it be used as a means by which politicians and the powerful can dismiss accurate journalism, stifle debate or subdue scrutiny and legitimate discussion of issues they do not like.”
The society also stated that the problem is “not largely recognised to be a product of the UK mainstream media and that it is generally accepted that journalists in the UK strive to operate to the highest standards of accuracy and responsibility”.
Absolutely. After all, who wants a mainstream media among whose dominant titles is the kind of outlet which has shown itself to be undyingly partisan in favour of the most extreme wing of one particular political party, serially uninterested in the accuracy and political balance of the ‘news’ stories it publishes and, even by its own extremist standards, excelled itself during the Brexit referendum campaign with its racism, xenophobia, bias and lies. It was responsible for the sort of accurate, responsible, quality journalism represented by “Enemies of the people” (judges, one of whom was “openly gay”, ruling that parliament should have the final say on withdrawal from the EU); “Fury over plan to let 1.5M Turks into Britain” (which was untrue); “Migrant numbers hit new records” (also untrue); “Migrants spark housing crisis” (again untrue). And so on.
The same home of such ‘quality journalism’ has recently supported neo-fascist candidates in elections in foreign countries, such as Norbert Hofer in Austria. It has a long history of promoting quack medicine and running sensationalist health-scare stories, as well as uncorroborated health-cure stories, while continually attacking the NHS and incapacity benefit claimants (not to mention claimants of all other kinds). It adopts a high moral tone about sex, domestic life and children, yet its online version is obsessed with the perceived misdemeanours of major and minor celebrities, irrespective of the stories’ truth, and, while continually revelling in sexual peccadilloes, specialises in pictures that exploit and demean women of all ages (“Danielle shows off sculpted abs and perky bust”). It has been consistently anti-LBGT.
During the lifetime of the Press Complaints Commission, it was consistently the most complained about of the mainstream newspapers, though it was rarely censured, perhaps because its parent company was one of the PCC’s major funders. But in the first year of the media big-hitters’ pet replacement for the commission, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), between September 2014 and October 2015, it had more complaints against it upheld than any of its rivals.
Remarkably, this bastion of ‘Fake News’ was, on March 14, awarded the title of ‘Newspaper Of The Year’ at the ‘industry Oscars’. The judges said the winner (yes, it was the Daily Mail) “had its finger on the pulse of the national conversation … not only did it shape both the agenda and the narrative it reflected the temper of a large part of the country … the conviction of the paper’s commentary and campaigning was matched only by its energy … it is also never afraid to have a strong opinion.”
They went on: “It is the job of a newspaper to hold power to account and to forensically question and probe those who act in our name. The decision of the judges was that it dominated the narrative and produced agenda-setting and stand out coverage.”
It was quite a eulogy for a newspaper that rivals Breitbart for shameless distribution of lies, and one would have thought that the Society of Editors, bearing in mind that condemnation two weeks earlier of “inaccurate information passed off as fact [that] prevents the public from making informed and evidence-based decisions” would have had something to say about this remarkable decision.
Oh, er … yes, it did … It was the Society that made the award. Where is Alanis Morisette when you need her?
Well, she was probably crying into a milkshake at the news that a man who twice failed to get onto the graduate journalists’ training scheme at The Times, and thereafter showed not the remotest interest in or aptitude for journalism, had been appointed editor of the Evening Standard, London’s daily newspaper.
I’ll leave others to comment specifically on Little Georgie Six-Jobs, but instead point out how interesting it was that the story was ‘broken’ by the BBC’s media correspondent Amol Rajan, the former editor of the Independent, owned before its closure, like the ES, by super-rich-son-of-a-Russian-oligarch Evgeny Lebedev. Rajan is an economic neo-liberal, like his old boss Lebedev and his new boss, BBC head of news and current affairs, former Times exec and Rupert Murdoch gofer James Harding. At the ES, Osborne is replacing Sarah Sands, who has been recruited by Harding to take over as editor of Radio 4’s Today programme. Harding, whose right-wing coup at the BBC continues apace, is now also in the running to succeed Tony Hall as the next BBC Director General.
And people are worried about Murdoch taking over Sky …