The BBC is at it again. Today there’s a story on the BBC news website entitled “General Election 2019: Adverts are indecent, dishonest, and untruthful.” The article tells us that a non-partisan body has been fact-checking the truthfulness of political advertising in this campaign by the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Brexit party.
What the research found was that 88% of the Conservatives’ Facebook adverts featured claims which were either incorrect or not entirely correct. The comparable figure for the Labour party was 0%. Meanwhile the Lib Dems featured hundreds of potentially misleading unlabelled graphs claiming that only the Lib Dems could defeat Labour, the Tories, or the SNP “in seats like yours”.
A fairer headline would have been – Almost all of the Conservative online adverts are lies. Instead the BBC preferred to run a headline which implied that all parties are equally guilty when in fact the Conservatives are responsible for the vast majority of the fake stories, fake reports, and false claims made in online political advertising. It’s a dangerous false equivalence, leading to the widespread anger and disatisfaction with politics and causing the public to be disengaged. That attitude of tiredness and scunneration only benefits the Tories. The fact is that not all politicians are just as bad. Not all politicians are like Boris Johnson. It just suits him for you to think that they are, because that legitimises and disguises the true unacceptability of his behaviour.
Although to be fair, this week the Conservatives did something truthful, albeit unintentionally. It tells you something about the Tories that the only time that they’ve managed to do something truthful and accurate in this campaign is when they’ve done so by accident. They released an online video of Boris Johnson based on a scene in Love Actually. In the advert, Johnson loiters in a dark alley at night in order to send covert messages to a married woman, while telling her to keep the fact she’s seeing him a secret from her husband. It’s the first believable image of his campaign. Although what the Tories might not wish us to remember is that in the movie, the woman chooses her husband, not the creepy stalker guy who stands outside her house with placards.
The placards didn’t say, although they should have, that 88% of what Boris Johnson says is a lie, and the rest is racist abuse. They didn’t say, “I might be your dad.” Neither did the placards proclaim that the deliberately tousled one is a habitual liar who hides from proper scrutiny, although that would have been true. They didn’t say that the forty new hospitals are as mythical as the £350 million extra a week for the NHS that was written on the side of the Leave campaign bus. They didn’t say that there would indeed be customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They didn’t say that Brexit won’t get done by the end of January even with a majority Tory government. They didn’t say “Don’t tell Andrew Neil that I’m here.”
The SNP is missing a trick if they don’t do a version of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, the famous video – one of the very first music videos – in which he stands in an alley with the lyrics to his song handwritten on placards. They could do a version fact checking all the many and manifold lies of this Conservative campaign. Although realistically a three minute long song is nowhere near long enough to cover all of them.
The UK politics are a moral cesspit in which lying has been normalised and compassion is dismissed with contempt. This sorry state of affairs has been brought about by a political system in which there are no adequate checks and balances on the power of the executive. The UK prime minister is effectively an elected dictator, moreover one elected on a ballot which is deliberately designed not to be properly representative. The result is that a prime minister can wield this almost unlimited power with a crushing majority in the House of Commons despite the fact that their party has received less than 40% of the popular vote.
In such a system the role of the media becomes even more important than it is in those democracies where the voting system is designed to produce a result which mirrors the voting preferences of the electorate, and in which there are effective checks and balances on the powers of the various branches of government in the form of a written constitution. Yet the media in the UK most commonly acts as cheerleaders for the reactionary, the right wing, and the xenophobic. Meanwhile the publicly funded BBC appears to believe that its role is to defend the status quo instead of calling out lies from the powerful.
You might have thought that in a General Election campaign where one of the most important issues is the trustworthiness of the main parties and their leaders, the remarkable finding that 88% of the Conservatives’ online advertising is a lie would be a news story worthy of having been plastered all over the headlines. You might think that it should have figured as the lead story on the BBC’s Six O Clock news, or at the very least it should have been one of the most important stories covered in today’s bulletin. Yet it didn’t even rate a mention. You might think that it would especially merit coverage as one of the most important stories in the main BBC news bulletin given the lies which the Conservatives have been spreading about Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s special advisor being punched in the face – an incident which did not in fact happen. That story was manufactured in order to deflect from the scandal of the four year old boy left on the floor of a hospital due to Tory cuts. Likewise the story being spread on social media that the incident involving the four year old was invented left wing propaganda was also unmasked as a lie.
So Tory lies are very much in the news today, but instead the BBC went with yet another attack on the Labour party. The lead story was the leaking of a private conversation with a Labour shadow cabinet member in which he expressed doubts about whether his party could win. Of course that’s a story, but the BBC chose to focus on that and entirely ignored the issue of Conservative lying.
One of the great ironies of this election campaign is watching Labour party supporters complaining about media imbalance and bias. Welcome to our world, here in Scotland we’ve had to deal with this for a very long time. In Scotland the imbalance is even worse. Out of 38 or so daily and Sunday newspapers in a country where the population is divided approximately half and half on the question of independence or the UK, only The National and The National on Sunday back a position supported by half the population. The BBC in Scotland sees its job as attacking the SNP and the cause of independence at every opportunity, and not holding to account those governments in Westminster that the people of Scotland didn’t actually vote for. Scotland is a twilight democracy, our democracy lives in the shadows, kept in the dark.
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