Why are so many journalists clamouring for a police state?

The media pressure for a total lockdown has become overwhelming.

Fraser Myers

In the age of Covid-19, the media clamour for a total shutdown of all public life, and for the police or army to line the streets, has become deafening.

At yesterday’s coronavirus press conference with Boris Johnson, journalist after journalist called for a lockdown to be put in place – or asked why one hadn’t been implemented earlier. The Daily Mail’s Larisa Brown set the tone. ‘People aren’t acting responsibly so when are you going to get tougher and bring in the police?’, she said. ‘Bring in the police?’, Johnson interjected, sounding aghast. Later in the evening, Brown tweeted approvingly of the Lebanese government’s military-enforced lockdown and curfews: ‘This is how Lebanon does it… #lockdown’.

Some journalists have become positively unhinged in their demands for a police state. Piers Morgan has been ahead of the curve, blasting the ‘covidiots’ who need locking up for their own good. The Daily Mail breathlessly reports that police could be on hand to break up anyone found outside in a group. Even left-wing journalists have discovered a fondness for the security state, calling on a government they usually deride as fascistic to wield the truncheon with more vigour. Even when the government’s expert advice says that now is not yet the best time to lock down London for the country to ‘flatten the curve’, the media narrative remains unchanged.

The broadcast media show endless footage of misery from Italy and Spain – two countries under heavy lockdown – urging us to follow their lead in shutting everything down. To avoid becoming like Italy, we must act like Italy, is the constant, confused refrain.

Meanwhile, countries which have presided over lower levels of infections and deaths without enacting the most stringent measures are steadfastly ignored. Japan was one of the first countries after China to be infected with coronavirus – two weeks before Italy. There has been no state lockdown or even any travel restrictions to foreigners, and only 49 people have died. Singapore also seems to have contained the virus without shutting down society, though it has closed its borders. The media could be pressuring the government for greater testing, greater NHS capacity and a more targeted approach, but instead, the overwhelming demand is for a lockdown no matter what.

Nor is any thought given to the devastation that a nationwide or London-wide lockdown will bring – not only to the economy and to liberty, but also to society and to solidarity. The media’s zeal for police crackdowns is not based on a sober assessment of the evidence but on hysteria and groupthink.

Johson’s apparent reluctance to institute a police state or martial law (though this could change imminently) is endlessly derided as reckless and overly ideological. For the FT’s Jim Pickard, handling the coronavirus crisis does not sit with the PM’s ‘libertarian’ instincts. Alex Wickham writes in Buzzfeed that the ‘prime minister has held deep ideological reservations about turning Britain into an effective police state, as some other countries have done’. The effect of this reporting is to say that there is something unusual or strange about not wanting to arrest people for leaving the house. The implication is that the most basic freedoms, which are enjoyed even under most authoritarian regimes today – to leave your house, to go to the park, to meet with other people without letting the state know your purpose – are laughable throwbacks to a bygone era of careless anarchy.

The dangers of this novel virus are very real and they present a huge public-health challenge. But we are also in serious trouble when the media lose all sanity and perspective, and treat our most basic liberties as dangerous and reckless threats to human life.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

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Comments

James Plevick

28th March 2020 at 8:55 pm

I doubt “the virus” is that serious. It seems like a new strain of flu, to which the elderly are particularly vulnerable. But they always are. This thing has got right out of control, thanks to media hysteria and the inability of parliamentarians to think things through. The King isn’t wearing any clothes.

Chester Minnit

27th March 2020 at 8:42 am

I swear mainstream jounalists like those at the BBC think they can control the country and it’s all because of 24 hour news. If Boris shut that down we’d go back to the old days when journalists had to find a brand new story every day. In the age of 24hour news they have no choice but to repeat the same stories every 20 minutes and that’s made them fat an lazy. Now they find a new story once every 3 months then bang on and on and on about analyzing every possible angle rather than investigating it. It’s why they’ve stopped turning over stones looking for villains and prefer to make members of the public weep on camera .

Chris Thorogood

26th March 2020 at 11:36 pm

The MSM hate us as we’re becoming less bothered by their fear campaigns. They like to think they’re in control. Narcissists. It’s time we were punished in their view. Piers Morgen gives us glimpses.

Simon Giora

24th March 2020 at 12:52 pm

“Even left-wing journalists have discovered a fondness for the security state”

I do like a writer with a sense of humour.

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25th March 2020 at 12:31 pm

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Noel Mac

27th March 2020 at 6:25 pm

Get lost

Noel Mac

27th March 2020 at 6:28 pm

Yes. I actually laughed out loud. For the controlling left a police state would be manna from heaven

James Knight

24th March 2020 at 12:11 pm

Piers Morgan is beginning to sound like an insecure, autistic child having an anxiety attack. Every time government advice changes, he squeals “yes, but what does that MEAN?”. He doesn’t seem to get that the government basically follow expert advice and that changes as circumstances change. And any new measure rely on support and consent of people to be effective.

Tony Benn

27th March 2020 at 5:39 pm

Beginning too?

Mark Bretherton

24th March 2020 at 11:17 am

Singapore and Japan are not really good examples to use. When the state says ‘Do this’ both societies basic instinct is to do as they are told, whereas the government says ‘Do this’ in an Anglosaxon/Latin society the general populace’s basic instinct is to say ‘Why?’ or ‘Make me’.

john wood

28th March 2020 at 12:36 am

I commute via Shinjuku station every weekday and it has been only slightly less busy. Subjectively I would say a combination of early gradual exposure, automatic doors, general good hygeine, sanguine behaviour, and personal and corporate responsibilty.

Ralph Musgrave

23rd March 2020 at 8:05 pm

Leftie journalists have long had a fascist streak: after all, they’re keen supporters of the religion whose leaders at the UN have for years tried to ban all criticism of the religion world-wide, much as Mussolini, Hitler etc banned criticism of Mussolini & Hitler.

Gee Jaybee

23rd March 2020 at 7:35 pm

COVID-19 is the gateway to complete state control that the authoritarian left dream of, convinced as they are that this the economic sustainment and stimulus packages we’ve seen are “socialism in action” and is leading us inevitably to a socialist Nirvana .

Gareth Edward KING

23rd March 2020 at 7:12 pm

In Spain with nearly 29,000 cases and 1,720 deaths 95% of the latter are patients over 60 years of age. Why should the country be locked down? ‘Confinement’ as it’s euphemistically called here is a curfew. For sure, the pólice are fining people for being outside for a range of very limited reasons. There are not pólice on every corner (in Madrid) but it seems not to be necessary as people do support the most draconian measures, including being between one and one-a-half metres apart from each other, which by its very reach precludes the most basic social contact. The curfew has been extended until April 11th assuming that congress votes it through Wednesday (the opposition PP has already said that it would). Why are the UK media calling for the imposition of these draconian measures? The trouble is, should the curfew be lifted in three weeks, what makes us think for a moment that cases shouldn’t suddenly arise again? Theres’s no reason to suppose that they wouldn’t, but which is worse? a lack of the most basic liberties? or a society being able to cope in a mature fashion with a serious disease? Those politicians that have recovered, and three come to mind: Ortega Smith (VOX), Irene Montero (UP) and her partner, vice president Pablo Iglesias (UP) should have the guts to shout down these meaures. Their implementation simply isn’t worth it.

Paul Duffin

23rd March 2020 at 6:49 pm

It’s no surprise that the media ESPECIALLY the left wing media has been calling for more draconian measures. It’s in their blood. Their accusations of fascism is simple projection, an acknowledgement of what they would do if they had the power. Whether it be censoring speech they don’t like or locking up people behaving in ways they don’t like it’s all the same, an authoritarian attitude coupled with a belief in “the Greater Good™! Ommmm”

Rob Newman

23rd March 2020 at 5:46 pm

I really cannot see why Spiked can’t let go of their glued-in defiance against liberty for a few months… It’s really not an argument against a lockdown. Fine, cite an economic argument, but liberty? I think we can ignore that for a few weeks…. And as for taking the choice of increasing NHS capacity versus not implementing a lockdown, well, my oh my, I didn’t realise Fraser, that there was a magic wand to suddenly increase numbers. As it is, if no action was taken, hospitals would be in some crazed scenario…. I am still waiting for Spiked to give a cogent argument against the lockdown, with viable insightful alternatives that would make sense, as opposed to rambling on about lack of personal freedom. There are a host of reasons why Japan numbers are so low, much more targeted in hotspots, (personal freedom abused though in doing this), and also…we don’t know yet if there will suddenly be an explosion in numbers. So hold your horses for using that place as an argument. it’s clear that Spiked are just simply way way in the deep end when commenting on Pandemics. I expected so much more from you guys. I await a better article that allows me to question my own bias. Daresay it will come. Ella? Tom?

Christopher Tyson

23rd March 2020 at 9:18 pm

If the state wants to deprive us of our liberties, surely you would agree that it’s not too much for citizens to expect that these measures will be coherent and proportionate? Surly citizens have every right to question these measure, the state is not omniscient and will not have anticipate all the possible consequences of its actions. Or possibly you believe in an infallible, all-knowing state?
A critique of the state is something that we should expect of journalists. The consensus amongst our journalistic establishment has been from the beginning, to castigate the government (in it’s laudable but short-lived attempt to be proportionate), for not going far enough. These journalists who will be self-isolating in their big houses, in their nice gardens, broadcasting from their home offices and studies. If Boris decides that the journalists are diluting or mis-representing his message, he might decide that they should all shut up for three weeks, and I would see his point, nonetheless I, as would spiked, would defend their freedom to report as they wish, however sanctimonious and conceited they are. It’s easy to be cavalier with other people’s freedoms.

Ed Turnbull

24th March 2020 at 8:03 am

History teaches us that once liberty is lost it’s hard to regain, and usually only at a cost of many bodies on the ground.

I caution you to heed the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

James Knight

23rd March 2020 at 5:34 pm

The demand for “clarity” is driven by fear and insecurity. If a draconian 1 month lock down would be the end of covid19 I think many would vote for that. The problem is it would not guarantee eradication of the virus and there is no end game.

NEIL DATSON

23rd March 2020 at 4:37 pm

I have one quarrel with this article: ‘Even left-wing journalists have discovered a fondness for the security state, calling on a government they usually deride as fascistic to wield the truncheon with more vigour.’ EVEN! What on earth is Fraser on? Do correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Labour Party go into the last General Election advocating controls on the press, because they wanted it to be compelled to publish ‘the truth’? Trying to imply that there is anything inherently ‘right-wing’, or indeed ‘left-wing’, about authoritarian government is, and always has been, a nonsense.

The careless use of the words ‘fascist’, ‘fascistic’ or ‘fascism’ for authoritarian is surely at the root of the confusion.

Iwan Hughes

23rd March 2020 at 4:15 pm

It must be terrible for journalists/ editors to be torn between wishing for more deaths (fear, panic) and more restrictions (riots, panic) as the most satisfying ‘News Event’. I think we ascribe altogether too sophisticated motives to our mainstream media; what they want is conflict, churn, and more of it, up to and including war and pestilence. I recall a Star Trek episode ‘Day of the Dove’, in which an alien entity invades the Enterprise which exists on the emotional energy of conflict, provoking fights on board, and with the Klingons. Eventually, Kirk starves it by laughing at it.

I think this is what we have here. For what it’s worth, I posted a similar comment under a story on the Spectator website, and it disappeared, although I can’t see that it infringed Comments policy.

David Webb

23rd March 2020 at 4:11 pm

Great article, Fraser. The media are not really reporting organisations anymore, but actual political campaigners, campaigning for their own policy changes. Boris should be holding press conferences, but merely giving speeches from Downing Street, with no opportunity for the press to set policy.

Neil McCaughan

23rd March 2020 at 3:13 pm

As with so many trades, journalism is now overrun with wimmin. Narrow-minded, conformist, unoriginal and authoritarian, as is invariably the case when women do men’s jobs.

KATHLEEN CARR

23rd March 2020 at 6:52 pm

This is the same media that has been supportive and enthusiastic for war from the Crimea to WW1, then is the first to criticize when things go wrong. The media is being very irresponsible at the moment -it is encouraging panic in the susceptible. Those who work in the media often live chaotic lives and would (and frequently do) sell their own kith and kin for a story-so not the sort of people to give sensible advice.

Neil McCaughan

24th March 2020 at 2:56 pm

Also true.

James Conner

23rd March 2020 at 1:54 pm

“Johson’s apparent reluctance to institute a police state or martial law… is endlessly derided as reckless and overly ideological. ”

But we all know he’ll do it eventually, just like he closed schools EVENTUALLY, and he closed pubs and restaurants EVENTUALLY. Why does he dither? every day he delays means more deaths.

Geoff W

23rd March 2020 at 2:57 pm

Just how many police and service personnel do you think we have? How cooperative do you think people will be?

A police state/ martial law isn’t likely to go down well. Put your brain into gear before havinga wild pop at Johnson.

James Conner

23rd March 2020 at 3:12 pm

We don’t have enough police to watch every motorist to ensure that they stick to the speed limit either, but the threat of sanctions against offenders is enough of a deterrent to mean that the majority of citizens behave responsibly. Of course a lot of people won’t like it, but that’s just too bad, because the alternative – doing nothing – will certainly lead to a collapse of the health service and many more deaths.

Try and give the subject some serious thought before deciding to keep your nose wedged up Boris’s arsehole.

NEIL DATSON

23rd March 2020 at 4:22 pm

Never fret, Geoff. It wouldn’t take the authorities long to recruit an army of Vigilante Snoopers if they decided to.

Neil McCaughan

23rd March 2020 at 3:14 pm

Is that dithering? It looks like a staged approach. But maybe I haven’t got an axe to grind.

Neil John

23rd March 2020 at 4:10 pm

It is, senior NHS consultants were briefed on the slow ramping up, and ‘nudge’, script 3 weeks ago, the government knew full well hard imposition wouldn’t work, especially with certain ‘groups’ until there were deaths. The ‘press’ are probably only following their version of the script.

James Knight

23rd March 2020 at 5:43 pm

Why does he delay and dither? He is following “expert” advice. Apparently you don’t like it. Or maybe you are one of those who “had enough of experts”.

jessica christon

23rd March 2020 at 9:18 pm

You called it and it came!

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