Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Daily Propaganda

I watched yesterday's "Daily Politics" on the BBC, with increasing disgust.  It has been increasingly clear over the last few months that the BBC, as much as the other Tory media have set themselves the task of trying to override the democratic decision of 60% of Labour Party members, including a majority of all those individuals who were party members before the leadership election process began.  In just the same way that they set themselves the task of undermining Michael Foot, in the past, now they want to undermine Corbyn.

The Daily Politics has been one of the worst, in terms of more or less blatant propaganda, in that respect, for some time, which is not surprising, given that its headed up by one of Rupert Murdoch's previous hacks, Andrew Neill.  Yet, Neill was outdone by his co-host, on yesterday's programme, Jo Coburn.  TV presenters, often complain, with justification, that politicians do not give straight answers to the questions they put.  But, yesterday, Labour's Lisa Nandy did answer Coburn's questions directly, but Coburn continued to act, as though the simple and straightforward answer had not been given, because it clearly did not suit the propaganda line, she was trying to push.

That line was that Corbyn says he wants a kinder politics, but he had appointed Ken Livingstone to the post of co-chair of Labour's Defence Policy Review, and Livingstone had made some unkind words about Kevan Jones needing to see a doctor, for having questioned Livingstone's qualifications to fill that position.  Nandy pointed out that Livingstone had not been appointed by Corbyn, but by the NEC.  Not only that, but six other reviews, on other policy areas, had been established on the same basis, of the Shadow Cabinet Minister plus an NEC appointee, taking up the positions as co-chairs.

Despite this simple, and direct answer to the question, Coburn continued to proceed as though it was Corbyn who had made the appointment, which demonstrates that either she was not listening to the answer that had been clearly given to her, in which case that calls into question her own qualifications for doing that job, or else it demonstrates that she had heard the answer but didn't understand it, in which case that again calls into question her ability to do that job, because a political journalist should have done the research to know how these appointments are undertaken, or else be able to understand the explanation when its given to them, or else, it means that she heard, understood, but ignored the answer, in order to pursue a predetermined line of argument, that amounted to propaganda against Corbyn.  In which case, it again calls into question the qualifications for doing the job, but given the biased reporting of the BBC and the Daily Politics in particular, perhaps those are precisely the qualifications needed!

And the same thing happened on Newsnight, later in the day.  Livingstone was brought on to the programme to answer for his appointment, and to wear a hair shirt for his earlier ill-conceived comments.  Yet, no matter how many times Livingstone apologised for making those comments, Emily Maitliss continued to harangue him as though he had not already done so.  Then she too tried to make it an attack on Corbyn, again returning to the false claim that Livingstone had been appointed by Corbyn, rather than the NEC.

Because, nowadays, we have TV presenters who are paid in some cases, literally millions of pounds a year, and because they are now treated not as simply journalists, but as entertainers, and celebrities as likely to be seen on a dancing programme, or in a jungle, the actual news programmes themselves have become not a means of serious discussion of the news, but of entertainment, in which these presenters are the star performers.

So, Kirst Wark has perfected the art on Newsnight of drowning out the comments of anyone invited on to the programme with her own lengthy diatribes, and last night Maitliss did the same thing.  It was impossible to hear any response from Livingstone, because each time he spoke he was quickly interrupted, and instead of asking questions to Livingstone, Maitliss like Wark, simply treated us to a lengthy outpouring of her own views, which, of course, becomes the narrative the whole population is expected to absorb, as these unelected celebrities take on the job of forming public opinion, and drowning out the views of elected politicians, where they do not support that narrative.

More than ever, it demonstrates that the Labour Movement needs to establish its own mass media outlet.  We have the resources and the talent to do it.  There is no reason now, with the cheapness of the technology required, for the Labour Movement not to have its own, quality online newspaper and TV channel.  Tom Watson as deputy leader said that he would make digital information his priority. Corbyn and the NEC should mandate him to begin talks with the trades unions and the co-operative movement, to get on and establish our own mass media, without delay.

On the subject of Livingstone's comments about Jones needing to see a doctor, given that Jones had publicly spoken about his problems with clinical depression, then, as someone who has also suffered with depression, I think that Livingstone's comments were unwise, and he should have apologised for them immediately. But, let's be honest, in political and any other discussion, such responses are not at all uncommon. They have in many ways become part of the normal discourse, of debate.

That is not to say that its right, or that we should not try to avoid them, or that, when made, people should not apologise for using such expressions.  But, the reality here, is that Livingstone is being attacked, on this basis, in an opportunist manner, by people who see his appointment as an affront to the existing Blair-right dominance of the PLP, and decision making.  Livingstone has given them a hook on which to hang their opposition, and the simple thing would have been to just apologise, and move on.

The political opposition to Livingstone's appointment is really his opposition to Trident, and yet they have not used that argument, because they know that there is probably a majority in the new Labour Party that also opposes Trident.  Instead they have argued on the basis of what his qualifications in relation to defence might be.  In fact, later in the day they, including Jones who had first raised the matter, did not even pursue that, but only droned on and on about Livingstone's comments, even after he had apologised, for them.  That indeed was the line that Neill and Coburn also tried to push after they had made heavy weather of not understanding that it was the NEC not Corbyn who had appointed Livingstone.

Yet, that is a strange argument too.  What qualifications in defence does Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence spokesperson, and co-chair of the review have?  Are we only to have ex, or current military specialists to review such policies?  What military or other such qualifications did Butler, Hutton, Chilcott or any of the other judges appointed to head up the Iraq War, and other Inquiries have? Surely you do not need to have experience of any such area to chair a review of any area of policy, only an ability to be able to chair reviews, and to be able to call witnesses to it, to be able to collate and codify the arguments and evidence submitted to that review!

In that case, given Livingstone's long political experience, such as leading the GLC, including chairing many such reviews of policy, he does have a point that Kevan Jones' rather elitist comments questioning his ability to undertake that role, were also uncalled for, and that maybe he should consider that to the extent that it also called into question the right of the NEC to make such an appointment, it represented an attack on the Party, and brought it into disrepute.  Perhaps he should also be apologising for the comments made, because ignorance and biased reporting by the BBC is one thing, but a lack of knowledge of, or calling into question, the rights and duties of the Party's leading bodies is another.

1 comment:

David Timoney said...

I think the increasingly partisan and opinionated style of TV journalism reflects the influence of Fox News, and I don't think it coincidental that it is particularly strong at the BBC on programmes that have struggled with ratings, such as Newsnight and anything featuring Andrew Neil.

This desire to "spice it up" will be counter-productive in the long run as the Corporation's raison d'etre is (ostensibly) to provide content that is independent of commercial imperatives. I expect Tory stooges like Kuennsberg - it is the BBC, after all - but even committed Tories must despair at the technical incompetence of people like Maitliss and Coburn.