Like all good messiahs, Jeremy Corbyn is out to save us from ourselves.
Refreshingly, his latest sermon avoided damning the Israelites and instead admonished us to beware the sins of fake news and media monopolies.
Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, the other JC preached of his ‘desire to create a media where journalists and media workers are set free from elite control, whether the billionaire class or government, that’s holding them back from producing their very best work’.
Turning to the gospel of tax and regulation, Corbyn foretold of a state-owned British Digital Corporation, an extension of the BBC with its own social media platform; a windfall tax on Facebook and Google to pay for it; a right for journalists to elect their editor and for BBC staff and licence fee payers to appoint the Corporation’s board, unless they fail to appoint enough women and minorities, that is.
This would ‘empower journalists, audiences and readers and reduce the power of media bosses and owners in the private sector’. The money-changers would be cast out from the temple and editors required to seek headline approval from the tea boy.
Naturally, a Corbyn government would also implement Leveson II, another costly media probe motivated by politics and spite. Corbyn described the result of this sinister proletarian dictatorship as ‘a free, democratic and financially sustainable media’. Our old saviour spoke Aramaic; our new one is fluent in Orwellian.
Heathen that I am, I hear behind Corbyn’s platitudes about popular empowerment and media democracy the same contempt for a free Press that the SNP, Donald Trump and other rabble-rousers have ginned up.
Yes, some of his proposals are reasonable. Granting charitable status to struggling local newspapers would prevent more of them going to the wall. Scrapping the ministerial veto over Freedom of Information disclosures would be welcome.
And while the ‘digital licence fee’ he wishes to see levied on social media giants is impractical, there is a pressing case for levelling the playing field between heavily regulated traditional media and the online free-for-all.
But these were just baubles to prettify the central ugliness of his thesis, which is that a Corbyn government should put a free and independent Press in its place.
In recent weeks, this newspaper and others revealed Jeremy Corbyn attended a wreath-laying ceremony for one of the masterminds of the Munich massacre, shared a takeaway with the leader of Hamas, and said British Zionists ‘don’t understand English irony’. Quite what has convinced him of the need for media reform we may never know.
Lamentably, there is a market for grievance and Corbynism the biggest supplier. The news media has become a target and there are demographics for whom media-bashing isn’t just a sideline but an integral element of their worldview.
Scottish nationalists are sure the BBC is a Westminster-orchestrated conspiracy against independence, while Brexiteers and Remainers will assure you with equal fervour that the Corporation is pursuing the agenda of either Brussels or Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Everywhere you look, there is a fixation with ‘bias’. I was browsing a holiday site last week that promised ‘unbiased’ information on the best countries to visit. Had the Swiss been on bad-mouthing the French again?
Bias has been redefined to mean ‘facts I disagree with’ or ‘events I don’t wish to be reported’. To be unbiased now means telling people what they want to hear. No wonder enthusiasts of Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Donald Trump speak of them in terms earlier generations reserved for religious icons. These are people looking for revealed truth and that’s something journalists can’t give you.
We can marshal evidence and present facts but it is up to you to decide the morality of matters. We have a romanticised notion of journalists: the chain-smoking, hard-drinking mavericks of Hollywood movies, wearing out shoe leather as they chase down leads. Real-world hacks can hardly live up to the idealistic renderings to be found in All the President’s Men.
Even so, we fail more often than we should. ‘You have brought this on yourselves,’ some of you will mutter. Others will exclaim the words that make all good journalists cringe. Hillsborough. Phonehacking. Those were low points in British journalism but in both cases it was other journalists who exposed the facts.
The culture that produced those shameful episodes no longer exists but newspapers have struggled to regain the public’s trust. They have also had to cut costs amid free-falling advertising revenues while seeing social media steal their readers and pick their pockets. Five years ago, 59 per cent got their news from print media. Today, it’s 36 per cent, trailing behind social media on 39 per cent.
Yet only 12 per cent told the Reuters Institute they trust the news they get from social media. Cynicism drives us to favour lies that reinforce our prejudices over facts that challenge us. Corbyn and those like him understand this and have worked it into their political philosophy as well as their strategy.
The demagogues of the 20th century had to keep the free Press away from the people. Their 21st century inheritors have convinced swathes of the people to keep themselves away from the free Press.
The object is the destruction of objectivity. If facts become relative and contingent on political preferences, it will no longer be possible to say what is true and what is false. Some people say Jeremy Corbyn called Palestinian terrorists ‘brothers’. Others say it’s all just a Zionist smear campaign. Who’s to say, really?
For all our sins, democracies will not function without us. There is no ‘mainstream media’ and ‘alternative media’. There are only facts and myths. We give you heresy, they give you hymnals.
To the world, John McCain was an American hero; to John McCain, he was simply an American. The Arizona senator served his country in public life and in uniform but on Saturday the old airman made his final skim of the horizon. He was 81 years old.
Shot down over Vietnam, McCain was tortured in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ for five years but refused early release. Leave no man behind.
Beaten until he agreed to identify his squadron, McCain finally provided his captors a list of names. It was the Green Bay Packers football team.
He ran for President in 2008 against Barack Obama. McCain was the better man and would have made a better president but he stood no chance against historic cool.
In his passing, he leaves behind an enduring legacy. Courage has a name now and so too do dignity, honour and decency. Few men ennoble the American flag by serving under it and being buried with it. John McCain is one of them.
Scott Morrison, installed after a backroom coup over the weekend, is Australia’s fifth prime minister in ten years. Yet despite (or because of) its ever-changing governments, the economy Down Under is in its 27th year of uninterrupted growth. I reckon the Aussies are on to something. Maybe we should give it a burl and say ‘hooroo’ to Mrs May.
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