Wednesday, 26 August 2015

British Media

For those who wonder how the BBC and the rest of the British news media work, the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal provided interesting examples of double dealing and cover up (see here and here). More telling for my purposes is how there is a systematic sidelining or downplaying of any information that is unwelcome to the political establishment. For example, this accounts for the way that Israel's aggression in Palestine is treated. There is ‘balance’ in the news reporting where an agitated Palestinian spokesman is given a few seconds to protest an Israeli crime, while a smooth Israeli diplomat is given ample time to distort the truth. This is predictable, but what nevertheless may be surprising is how the system works without any overt command from on high. With very few exceptions, the news media just ‘do the right thing’, whether it is reporting on Ukraine, Russia, Syria, what is going on with ISIS, or anything else that might be important for British political strategy.

Although the details have changed since George Orwell wrote the following paragraph in 1945,* his summary of the basic mechanism still looks apt:

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news – things which on their own merits would get the big headlines – being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

Ironically, here Orwell was complaining about his difficulty in getting his attack on the Soviet Union in Animal Farm accepted by publishers in the last year or so of the Second World War. Once imperial priorities had changed a little later, both that book, published in 1945, and his 1984 would form an important part of anti-communist propaganda.

Tony Norfield, 26 August 2015

* The quotation is taken from a Preface to George Orwell's Animal Farm. It did not get published in 1945, or in (many) later editions, and was first published in 1972 in The Times Literary Supplement.


SteveH said...

I hate watching or reading the British media but sometimes you have to just so you know they really are that biased!

The number of time Sky News have middle class layabouts sitting round a desk saying how absurd Corbyn is, well, I have lost count. And they get paid for that!

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