Saturday, 14 May 2016

The mainstream media sometimes get it right

Over the years I've written several articles criticising the mainstream press for their biased coverage and the way that they frame the political debate in order to create the impression that popular liberal and centre-left ideas (opposition to imperialist warmongering, renationalisation, serious action against tax-dodging) are radical, extremist or unelectable, whilst portrying failed hard-right Thatcherite economic dogma (the austerity con, privatisation of core services like schools and the NHS, tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich) as normal, necessary or even fundamentally unquestionable. However it is important to recognise that the mainstream media is not one homogeneous blob, and that elements of the mainstream media are capable of providing good political coverage. 

Even though huge numbers of mainstream journalists are perfectly happy to collect their pay packets for lazily churnalising press releases direct from Tory party HQ or some rotten Blairite thinktank, rather than doing anything resembling investigative journalism of their own, there are still journalists in the mainstream press who do a good job of holding the powerful to account.

One recent example of good work from elements of the mainstream media is the investigation into the massive electoral fraud that helped the Tories to win two dozen marginal seats at the 2015 General Election. The Daily Mirror exposed the way in which the Tories failed to declare expenses from their 2015 "Battle Bus" (the cost of the bus, hotels, catering ...) even though they explicitly admitted that the bus was campaigning for individual Tory candidates on their Twitter feed. Channel 4 News kept the public informed about the ongoing criminal investigations into Tory electoral fraud when the story was being studiously ignored by the news departments of other channels.

Of course independent media has also played an important part in exposing the 2015 Tory electoral fraud. I've posted several updates on it on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page, Éoin Clarke has covered it on Twitter, and without the campaign by the Canary to get people to contact their local police forces to report the Tory election fraud, it seems unlikely that at least police forces would be actively investigating their fraudulent over-spending.

As a result of the hard work of the Daily Mirror, Channel 4 News and various independent media sources, the Electoral Commission took the unprecedented step of  resorting to the High Court to demand documentation that the Tory party had been trying to hide from the electoral fraud investigation. Such a drastic step from the Electoral Commission must come as quite a shock to anyone who remembers their timid failure to properly investigate Britain First's extraordinarily dodgy fundraising activities.

After the Electoral Commission used the courts to demand the evidence the Tories had been refusing to hand over, Andrew Neil (a staunch Conservative and ex-Murdoch hack who now works for the BBC) took an interest in the story that most of the mainstream media seem intent on ignoring. Even though in the past I've been highly critical of Andrew Neil's biased reporting, he deserves some credit for (eventually) highlighting a story that few at the BBC or other mainstream news outlets seemed willing to touch.

The development of social media means that the mainstream press is under serious pressure from independent journalism like never before, but the idea that the corporate press will simply disappear to be replaced by hard-working independent journalists is a complete fantasy. The mainstream press will remain a powerful force for shaping the political debate. The important though factor is that it is possible for us to make the mainstream press better. If they get a lot of positive feedback, and a lot of shares on social media for running good investigative campaigns, they'd clearly be likely to invest more effort in producing that kind of journalism in the future.

If we want a mainstream media that does good investigative work and tries to hold the powerful to account (rather than lazily churnalising government press releases or pushing the hard-right propaganda favoured by sociopathic press barons like Rupert Murdoch, Jonathan Harmsworth and the Barclay Brothers), we need to demand it.

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