Monday, 10 December 2018

20 questions mainstream media should ask about the Institute for Statecraft scandal (but probably won't)


The Tory government has been caught red-handed shovelling over £2 million in public cash at a dodgy propaganda unit called the Institute For Statecraft which disguises itself as a charity for the purposes of avoiding tax.

A cache of leaked documents has revealed that this publicly-funded pseudo-charity has been interfering in the democratic processes and broadcast media outlets of our European neighbours, and furthermore the Twitter account they runwith the extraordinarily misleading name "Integrity Initiative" has repeatedly published highly partisan political attacks on the Labour opposition.

Here's a full article on the scandal with more details.

The mainstream media have been extremely quiet on the story, and don't be naive enough to expect to be hearing any BBC coverage of this scandal whatever.

However if we did have any kind of functional mainstream media (one that was intent on actually holding the powerful to account and asking incisive questions about their behaviour rather than generally running distraction for them and burying their scandals), here are some of the questions mainstream media journalists should be asking about the Institute for Statecraft scandal:
  • What is  UK-based charity doing meddling in Spanish political processes?
  • What is a UK-based charity doing bragging about "silencing" people on Serbian television?
  • Are the Spanish and Serbian governments aware that a UK-based (and UK government funded) organisation has been actively meddling in their states, and did they give permission?
  • What Key Performance Indicators have the Tory government set in regards to the £2 million+ in public funding, or is it just a "no strings" handout from the government?
  • Aside from the £2 million+ in government funding, who else is funding this pseudo-charity?
  • Were Tory government ministers aware ofInstitute for Statecraft's foreign interference tactics before the internal document cache was leaked?
  • Did Tory government ministers sign off on the covert political interference in other European states, or did the charity use public funds in this manner purely of their own accord?
  • Is this foreign meddling an abuse of charitable status, and how much do these clearly uncharitable political activities undermine public faith in what charities actually exist to do?
  • Is it acceptable for the governing UK party to lavish £2 million+ of public funds on an organisation that smears their political rivals?
  • Does a UK governing party actually have any legal responsibility to ensure that the public funds they're distributing are not used for the purpose of attacking their political rivals, and if not, why not?
  • Does the £2 million in government funding for an organisation that is interfering in other nations' sovereign affairs constitute evidence that the Tories are quietly privatising and outsourcing the functions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
  • If this was a right-wing pro-Brexit pseudo-charity (like the Institute for Economic Affairs for example) that was caught red-handed spreading partisan political smears and interfering in democratic processes, would award winning investigative journalists like Carole Cadwalladr be quite so keen to talk the scandal down and pivot criticism away from the guilty parties?
  • Have members of the "cluster" cells this pseudo-charity has set up received payment or incentives for their involvement, and if so how much? 
  • Have the MPs who have involved themselves with this pseudo-charity properly declared their involvement, and any payment or benefits, on the Register of Parliamentary Interests?
  • Is the colossal amount of money this government-funded pseudo-charity is flinging around on running seminars and foreign jollies (globs of between £20,000 and £60,000 for seminars and academies),  an absolute affront to decency at a time when disabled people, low-income workers, and literally millions of British children are being condemned to destitution by Tory austerity dogma?
  • Isn't setting up shadowy publicly-funded operations to spread online propaganda and interfere in the affairs of other European democracies exactly what the UK government accuses Putin and the Russian state of doing?
  • Even if we agree with this pseudo-charity's extraordinary use of public funds, isn't getting caught red-handed meddling in other countries affairs a massive display of incompetence from whoever signed off on this scheme at the Foreign Office?
  • Doesn't getting caught engaging in shady cyber-war activities and overseas political interference massively damage the UK's credibility when it comes to criticism of stuff like Russian propaganda bot farms, and Russian political meddling overseas?
  • Is it time for the Charity Commission to draw up new rules to prevent this kind of egregious political abuse of charitable status?
Aside from these specific questions, there's also the thought experiment of whether Jeremy Corbyn would be getting such an easy ride had he become Prime Minister and then set about pumping £2 million+ of public funds into a shady left-wing pseudo charity that smeared his political opponents at home and interfered in the democratic processes and broadcast media of our European neighbours? [if your answer to this thought experiment isn't "absolutely no way" then you can't have been paying much attention at all for the last three years have you?]

None of these are difficult questions to come up with, and any journalist willing to peruse the cache of leaked documents should be easily capable of thinking up plenty of other pertinent questions about this scandal.

However it seems unlikely these questions will be asked by most mainstream media outlets (and especially the BBC) because they undermine the prevailing mainstream media narrative that casts the Russians as the perpetual baddies because they spread propaganda and interfere in other countries affairs (which they do) and the Brits as the honest and trustworthy goodies standing firm against the nasty Russian threat (despite getting caught red-handed engaging in the same kind of propaganda tactics, foreign meddling, and geopolitical influence-mongering).

In fact the leaked Institute for Statecraft documents reveal the shady means by which this prevailing 'new cold war' mainstream media narrative is actually being spread, including the development of "clusters" of journalists working to spread the Institute's propaganda.

Half of the problem is that in order to question the Institute for Statecraft scandal, a lot of mainstream media hacks would have to question themselves and their colleagues.


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