No, Boris is not the most ‘sinister’ threat to media freedom

And Labour’s authoritarians are no champions of free speech and accountability.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Share

We have witnessed plenty of bizarre things lately in the Through-the-Looking-Glass world of UK politics. Few, however, have been more surreal than yesterday’s spectacle of the illiberal, press-hating Labour Party and its media allies posing as champions of press freedom and free speech against the Tory government. It was almost as if Corbyn’s Remainer Labour had suddenly started attacking Boris Johnson for not being sufficiently pro-Brexit.

This all started when ‘the lobby’ – the elite group of accredited political journalists who cover parliamentary and government business – had a fall-out with Johnson’s advisers and walked out of a planned briefing. Since some self-important lobby scribes apparently believe that they are the news, this tiff was broadcast as if the barricades were going up at the end of Downing Street.

According to the journalists, the government blocked certain members of the press from attending a briefing. Labour and the even-less-liberal-minded Scottish National Party quickly denounced this as a ‘sinister’, ‘Trump-like’ assault on press freedom – ‘the cornerstone of our democracy’. All of which might make you wonder why Corbyn’s Labour stood in the General Election on press-bashing policies that promised to reduce that democratic cornerstone to rubble.

What happened on Monday was that, after the government’s normal morning press conference, 10 Downing Street planned a ‘technical briefing’ on trade negotiations with the EU for some political editors. The select group included pro-Boris newspapers such as the Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail, alongside anti-Johnson outlets such as the BBC and the Guardian. This was not the first time the government has held a selective briefing, and Johnson’s is not the first government to pick and choose which parts of the media it talks to.

This, however, took place in the context of rising tensions between parts of the media and the government. Johnson has barred his ministers from appearing on Today – BBC Radio 4’s flagship current-affairs programme – and reportedly banned them from socialising with political journalists. His team recently infuriated the lobby by committing the cardinal sin of moving their daily briefings from parliament to just up the road in Downing Street. The prime minister’s big ‘Brexit Night’ message to the nation was also filmed by his own Downing Street team and broadcast on social media, with the miffed Remainstream TV channels refusing to carry it live.

Against this background, some lobby members excluded from Monday’s meeting – from titles including the Mirror, the i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome and the Independent – showed up at 10 Downing Street and demanded entry to the trade briefing.

According to the Guardian, ‘journalists on the invited list were asked to stand on one side of a rug, while those not allowed in were asked by security to stand on the other side’. The horror, the horror. The invited journalists, including BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston of ITV News, then crossed the rug and walked out in solidarity with their excluded colleagues.

Now, let’s be clear: this was a stupid and unjustfiable thing for the Tories to do. No doubt they are right to look upon the BBC and the rest of the Remainstream media as political opponents more than objective reporters. But so what? Press freedom is a universal liberty that needs to be upheld for all, warts and all, whether we like what publications say or not. Staging such a public show of excluding some journalists made Johnson’s team appear petty-minded, petulant and proscriptive – hardly a demonstration of its claim to be ‘the most transparent government in decades’.

None of that, however, explains the hysterical reaction of the opposition parties and their media allies yesterday. Desperately groping around for something / anything with which to hit back at the dominant Boris, they have shamelessly tried to pose as champions of press freedom and free speech to accuse Johnson of leading us down the ‘road to authoritarianism’.

Labour culture spokesperson Tracy Brabin (no, me neither; apparently she used to be in Coronation Street and EastEnders), raised the lobby spat in the House of Commons, declaring that ‘press freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy and journalists must be able to hold the government to account’. A senior Labour source accused Boris Johnson of ‘using Trump-like tactics to avoid media scrutiny. If members of the Cabinet truly believed in freedom of speech, they would stand up to No10 and call out this disgraceful behaviour.’ SNP culture spokesman John Nicolson agreed: ‘It’s an approach to the press borrowed from Trump. It’s sinister.’

Invoking the dreaded name of ‘Trump’ is of course meant to suggest that there is something almost fascistic about the Tory attitude to media freedom. Yet if there is a truly ‘sinister’ threat to that lifeblood of democracy in British politics today, it comes from the likes of the Labour Party, the SNP and their elitist allies.

One of the few clear statements that the gormless Jeremy Corbyn made during the election campaign was when he declared that, ‘I ask our media, as good journalists, to just report what we say’. Corbyn’s Labour was outraged by the freedom of the media to ask awkward questions, reveal embarrassing truths and hold politicians to account. That’s why Labour promised to stage another ‘Leveson II’ showtrial of the popular press and to implement punitive laws to force publishers to sign up to Britain’s first state-backed press regulator since 1695. Corbyn once even dreamed of effectively nationalising the news, with state-funded media outlets promoting ‘public interest’ journalism – as defined by the authorities, not the public, of course.

In short, Corbyn said that if you want to read government-approved journalism in a state-sponsored media – vote Labour. What was that about authoritarianism?

Anybody who imagines this will change under a new Labour leader should recall that the apparent front-runner, Sir Keir Starmer, was the director of public prosecutions who launched the biggest state witch-hunt of journalists in a modern democracy. Dirt-digging Sun journalists were arrested in dawn police raids on their homes and spent years in limbo, before being cleared by juries who found them guilty only of doing their jobs.

The media must indeed be free to hold the Tory government to account, and we need to defend media freedom for all. But we also need to settle accounts with the more ‘sinister’ enemies of free speech in British politics, and not let Labour’s authoritarians get away with staging a phoney war for press freedom as an anti-Tory stunt.

Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Revolting! How the Establishment is Undermining Democracy – and what they’re afraid of, is published by William Collins.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Fred Mutton

7th February 2020 at 11:18 am

The media should be restricted to reporting only fact as news. Otherwise it is open to hijack (as has happened) and turned into a weapon of those controlling it.
The BBC has prostituted its Charter, accepts millions from Brussels and is free to carry out social engineering in accordance with the left wing views that it promotes. Weapons need controls and the media has been weaponised.

Ven Oods

6th February 2020 at 12:03 pm

The bit I don’t understand about this ‘spat’ is that limited briefings have reportedly been going on for years.
And, if some of the mainstream media are invited, how’s that ‘avoiding media scrutiny’?
Meantime, all the ‘solidarity’ between those invited and those excluded doesn’t square with the reports that some of them are bullying a young reporter from Guido Fawkes because he doesn’t act like they tell him he should.

Fred Mutton

7th February 2020 at 11:22 am

It is the start of the media war in this country against conservative views. It replicates what is happening in the USA and is a reaction by a very disappointed establishment.

Quentin Vole

7th February 2020 at 6:00 pm

‘Blonde man bad.’ Didn’t you get the memo? 🙂

firihol firihol

5th February 2020 at 11:43 am

My last month’s online earning was $21930 just by doing an easy job online. Easiest home based online job to earn extra dollars every month just by doing work for maximum 2 to 3 hrs a day. I have joined this job about 3 months ago and in my first month i have made $12k+ easily without any special online experience. Everybody on this earth can get this job today and start making cash online by just follow details on this website……….
HERE☛ http://www.hit2day.com

steven brook

5th February 2020 at 8:01 am

“BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston of ITV News, then crossed the rug and walked out in solidarity with their excluded colleagues” unless it’s a certain T Robinson trying to accurately report on stories the mainstream media are trying to suppress. For the last year Paris has been burning not that you’d know because it’s a nonstory, neatly tucked away with as little fuss as possible. Peston especially has given up on any kind of journalistic standards. We need to treat these arrogant high priests of information with the contempt they undoubtedly deserve.

domisit domisit

5th February 2020 at 6:22 am

Make $6,000-$8,000 A Month Online With No Prior Experience Or Skills Required. Be Your Own Boss And for more info visit any tab this site Thanks a lot…Start here>→→→→→www.mywork5.com

Neil John

4th February 2020 at 5:42 pm

If the presstitutes don’t like it they can always apply to the courts for access orders, rather like Rebel Media did in Canada, where most of the MSM is bought and paid for by Canadian tax dollars handed out by Trudope and his illiberal cronies, there it’s very much ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Jerry Owen

4th February 2020 at 5:35 pm

Good on Boris.. I’m beginning to like the cut of his jib.

NEIL DATSON

4th February 2020 at 5:23 pm

“A senior Labour source accused Boris Johnson of ‘using Trump-like tactics to avoid media scrutiny. If members of the Cabinet truly believed in freedom of speech, they would stand up to No10 and call out this disgraceful behaviour.’ SNP culture spokesman John Nicolson agreed: ‘It’s an approach to the press borrowed from Trump. It’s sinister.’”

Excuse me, but as one who doesn’t trouble with keeping up to speed on what foreign presidents are doing, can somebody enlighten me: has Trump actually made any sort of assault on the free media in the USA? I can’t imagine that he’d get very far if he tried to, as surely freedom of expression is guaranteed by the US Constitution in a way that it certainly isn’t guaranteed in the UK. I get the impression that he frequently tweets some 5 star rubbish, but so do many, many other people, although obviously most of them can only dream of irritating as many others as he does. I suppose – in the above quotations – one could just substitute the name ‘Beelzebub’ for that of ‘Trump’ and they would mean every bit as much or as little; though I don’t suppose the UK’s right-on, woke, Remainer types would find them anything like as chilling.

Forlorn Dream

5th February 2020 at 1:03 pm

Neil, when people say something is Trump-like they’re continuing the NPC chant of ‘orangeman bad’.

We should just ignore these fools, they lost to Trump and they lost to Brexit. They’re a very small minority of perpetually offended, increasingly shrill, idiots.

NEIL DATSON

5th February 2020 at 7:02 pm

Thanks for getting back to me, Forlorn, but my question was a genuine one. Can anybody who follows this site provide evidence that Trump has tried to suppress the US media? I suspect he hasn’t, but I’d like to be corrected if I’m wrong. It seems that these people might as well whine: ‘Mr X eats babies, just like Trump’.

Ven Oods

6th February 2020 at 11:58 am

I’d been led to believe that Trump’s middle name was Beelzebub, but, according to that judge in the Senate yesterday, it’s the rather more prosaic ‘John’. Disappointing conformism on the part of his parents, in my view.

Dominic Straiton

4th February 2020 at 5:12 pm

Hundreds of Millions of people all over the world have woken up to the fact that “facts” can no longer be filtered through the chosen gate keepers “truth”.Interesting times ahead. Much more interesting than the dull gatekeepers world.

Neil John

4th February 2020 at 5:41 pm

The approved ‘gatekeepers’ effectively controlled the press, issuing ‘press-cards’ recognised by the Police and other ‘authorities’ to those that were the established ‘safe’ press, to keep the mandarins of Whitehall happy anyone who stepped out of line got their card revoked. http://www.ukpresscardauthority.co.uk/

The thing they, and the unelected mandarins/Police, fear most is unrestricted citizen journalism telling the truths and tearing down the whole house of cards in the process, some of the MSM lie barefaced, most simply lie by omission…

Neil John

4th February 2020 at 5:03 pm

If the presstitutes don’t like it they can always apply to the courts for access orders, rather like Rebel Media did in Canada, where most of the MSM is bought and paid for by Canadian tax dollars spunked out by Trudope and his illiberal cronies, there it’s very much ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Jonnie Henly

4th February 2020 at 4:26 pm

It’s seems that Boris’ spat with the media is looked upon favourably by Spiked, whilst Corbyn gets the opposite treatment.

If you want to waffle on about fair, impartial reporting, maybe you should try it out for yourselves first.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 8:23 am

‘This was a stupid and unjustifiable thing to do’ … That’s in reference to the Tories little Jonnie, the article doesn’t look upon Boris favourably. The article is more a timeline of what happened.
Yet again you see something that doesn’t exist.. mommy gave you too much cocoa last night?

The Killgrave

5th February 2020 at 12:24 pm

Give little Johnny a break, he didn’t read that far into the article before he furiously typed his reply

Jonnie Henly

5th February 2020 at 2:09 pm

Oh dear Jerry, you think one backside covering sentence in the article balances it out?
That’s BBC level “balance” there, surely not even you can be this thick.

Back to the store for you.

Next time, read the whole article.

Jonnie Henly

5th February 2020 at 2:11 pm

Erm, I read the whole article. Twice.

Why are you such an idiot? I guess anyone with a name like “The Killgrave” is a bit of a child not to be taken too seriously.

Give yourself a break and don’t comment again.

Jim Lawrie

4th February 2020 at 4:22 pm

When churnalists misrepresent what one political party says so as to favour another, they are no longer part of the press and cannot expect to be treated as such. Boris’ action does not curtai press freedom. Rather, it makes room available for the free press to attend. He is bursting their bubbles and they don’t like it.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.