Lies, hypocrisy and distraction: the British media toolkit

There’s something deeply wrong with the right wing British nationalist media – AKA the media – and it represents a serious threat to the future of democracy in the UK.

Last week we had a wall to wall obsession with a highly paid BBC presenter who had allegedly paid a young person under 18 but over the age of consent for explicit photos, and blanket coverage of multi-millionaires batting balls about a tennis court, a middle class sport that the great majority of young people will only be able to fund if they can find a wealthy BBC presenter to pay them a fortune for explicit photos. By Thursday we learned that the unnamed presenter in question was Huw Edwards and that the police had determined that no criminal offence had taken place. The media narrative swiftly pivoted from pearl clutching moral outrage to “poor Huw and his struggle with mental health issues.”

This story was first reported in deeply moralistic tones by the Sun newspaper. That would be the same Sun newspaper which often carried photos of naked 16-year-old Page 3 girls from 1970 until 2003. This means that possession of certain old issues of the Sun is now a criminal offence. Possessing these old copies of the Sun is literally a crime of indecency. But now the Sun poses as the great champion of moral standards, ‘scuse me while I boak.

The concern shown for the privacy of Huw Edwards and the concern for his mental health stands in very marked contrast to the treatment meted out to former Scottish Government minister Derek Mackay after it emerged that he had sent a teenager over the age of legal consent text messages calling him cute and suggesting that they meet up.

Derek Mackay was not alleged to have procured explict photos of the young person, and a police investigation determined that no offence had taken place. To be very clear, I am not condoning Derek Mackay’s behaviour, just because something is lawful doesn’t mean that it is right or appropriate, however unlike Huw Edwards Derek Mackay was not only publicly named, and no consideration at all was given by the media to his family, but he was also subjected to BBC presenters insisting that his position was untenable and supporting calls for him to be sacked immediately. Zero concern was shown for his mental health or his family’s wellbeing.

Likewise the media treatment of Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell, and former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie, as well as then SNP MP Michelle Tomson, has been markedly different from the concerns for the anonymity of Huw Edwards and the Conservative MP who is out on police bail while being investigated on an allegation of rape. All of the SNP figures have been publicly named, doorstepped, and subject to strident calls for their resignation yet none of them have been charged with any offence. There could not be clearer or more obvious examples of double standards.

In the case of Michelle Thomson, she announced eight months after allegations of “irregularities” in her property transactions surfaced that she had had no contact whatsoever with the police in connection with the matter, despite Police Scotland announcing in September 2015 that they were conducting an investigation and a media witchhunt ensuing. No charges were ever brought against Michelle Thomson and no offence was ever found to have been committed. But that didn’t prevent the media from publishing her name and conducting a feverish and highly public campaign against her.

While the Huw Edwards, moral panic was going on, the Conservatives were continuing to trash standards of honesty and decency in public life and all without the media appearing to notice or care. Rishi Sunak – Mr Integrity, Accountability, and Professionalism- managed to take time out of his busy schedule of ignoring the contemptuous antics of his former boss and predecessor to condemn the BBC for its handling of the Huw Edwards affair but so far has not been able to utter a single syllable about Boris Johnson being found to have lied to Parliament or about the seven Conservative MPs and peers who had colluded with him in a campaign of intimidation against members of the Commons Privileges Committee who were investigating his many and repeated lies.

Johnson has continued to lie and to treat democratic accountability with contempt, aided and abetted by a right wing media that continues to indulge him. Distracted by Huw Edwards and middle class ball batting, the media scarcely noticed that Johnson missed the deadline for handing over his old mobile phone and WhatsApp messages to the Covid Inquiry. Johnson and the Conservative Government claim that they cannot hand over the data because Johnson has forgotten the password. Allegedly the combined forces of the British Government are unable to access the data, we’re now deep into “the dog ate my homework” territory when it comes to Johnson’s excuses.

Mind you it’s not totally implausible that Johnson can’t access the data on his old mobile phone, it’s possible that he was using face recognition and now he can’t remember which of his two faces he originally used.

Meanwhile the right wing press continues to ignore Conservative wrong doing and to shamelessly gaslight the public about Brexit. According to the Express on Sunday the UK’s new planned trade deal with CPTPP group of South East Asian and Pacific countries is a Brexit boost worth £12 trillion to the British economy. However according to the Conservative Government’s own modelling, over the long term this trade deal could increase UK GDP by just £1.8 billion. That’s 0.015% of the figure in the Express headline, which must surely take the record for the biggest Brexit lie told by the British media, a field with a lot of competition. One Asian financial analyst told Sky News the impact was a “cosmetic” post-Brexit announcement.

A study by Bloomberg Economics published in January found that Brexit is costing the UK economy £100 billion a year, with the effects spanning everything from business investment to the ability of companies to hire workers. This new trade deal will not make a dent in that figure. The £12 trillion figure is in fact the combined GDPs of all the countries in the trade bloc. Joining that bloc certainly does not mean that those countries are going to devote their entire economies to the UK. The combined GDP of the EU is over £16 trillion but the UK walked away from that while the Express cheered, waved union flags and went on about migrants and Meghan and Harry.

The exact same lies, misrepresentation and distraction characterise the British media’s reporting of the Scottish independence debate, all wrapped up in a bundle of double standards, demanding that pro-independence politicians are subject to a level of scrutiny and accountability that is levels of magnitude greater than that given to the British nationalist right, and prioritising stories about the fitba and ferries over any news which is positive for the independence case. This is why support for independence is not higher than it is, yet it is a testament to the strength of desire in Scotland for a better country that half the population currently want independence despite a constant barrage of British nationalist propaganda that is only going to intensify in the months and weeks before the next General Election.


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