Alright hold up. Hold up for a second.
Take a seat people. Are you seated? Good. Grab a glass of water. Have a sip. I’ll do the same. Then on the count of three, we’re gonna throw the rest of the contents in our faces, alright?
Because I’ve just seen a clip on Twitter, and I know I must be dreaming.
For those of you who don’t know, Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister, is currently visiting South Africa. It’s her first official visit to the African continent and she’s there to talk trade and investment. She has to do a lot of that right now, what with Brexit torpedoing the gargantuan suite of trade deals that Britain had with the EU. Replacements must be found. So she’s jetting around the world with her best friendly face on, doing the dance of diplomacy. The internet being what it is however, the part of Mrs May’s visit that is gaining the most attention at the moment is a different sort of dance. This one:
That clip is very White. Like, incandescently so. It’s so White in fact that it demands the one missing ingredient that it needs in order for it to make it The Whitest Thing That’s Ever Happened. Here we go:
By popular demand pic.twitter.com/j6J61frysQ— Patrick Smith (@psmith) August 28, 2018
Anyway. While that awful display may be the part of May’s trip that is generating the most buzz, my favourite bit is the one that’s causing within me the crisis with which we came in with above. You see, there are certain things that you take for granted as you move through this world. You wake up, and you just assume these things will be as they always have been. When you swing your feet out of the bed, you expect gravity to assist and the floor they meet to be solid. When you boil the kettle to make yourself a coffee, you expect the water that comes out of the kettle to be hot. These are things you don’t question; don’t even think about. They make up the bedrock of your reality, and you navigate your way through this life by anchoring yourself to these pillars.
One of those pillars is: The mainstream media will be useless in holding accountable those that it should. In Britain, it means the Tories getting an easy ride and a free pass, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour gets dragged over hot coals without pause. It’s just the way of the world. The mainstream corporate media is owned by a class of people whose interests align with political parties like the Tories, so why would they dissent, or give a voice to an actual opposition? No, for those vested interests, it’s best if they behave in a textbook minimising manner to any threat to their worldview. If we take Corbyn as an example, a wide-ranging London School of Economics study from a few years ago found that when it came to Jeremy Corbyn and the change he promised, the threat had to be dealt with appropriately:
Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.
All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.
Here’s a great video on the matter:
Indeed, once more from the study for emphasis: ‘All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy.’
It cannot be understated how much sway the media have in shaping public opinion. They set the terms and limits of debate, frame issues in ways that dictate policy, and protect the powers that be from proper scrutiny. They appoint themselves ‘adversaries to power’ but only really behave that way towards those that dare challenge the status quo. Whether it’s the more rightwing elements of the media and their brazen, cartoonish attacks against a leftwing alternative; or the more respectable, ‘liberal’ elements of the press who purport to be progressive but who work subtly against that progress becoming a reality, the result is the same. They will occasionally lob softball questions at establishment figures in a play acting display of challenge, but more often than not will simply act, as Chomsky termed it, ‘unofficial stenographers’ for the powers that be.
‘Twas always thus. Plus Ã§a change. Etc. Etc.
Which is exactly why this thing is absolute dynamite. Look at Channel 4’s Michael Crick here, actually doing a journalist’s job!
"What did you do to help the release of Nelson Mandela?"— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) August 29, 2018
Theresa May is questioned over her stance on apartheid in the '70s and '80s. pic.twitter.com/8ibJCvpp3k
Instead of indulging May’s anodyne soundbites, Crick actually asks real questions. Questions hearkening back to an era the Tories and May would rather sweep under the rug, when their official policy was one of hostility towards Nelson Mandela and the ANC—describing it as a ‘typical terrorist organisation’; a time when Thatcher expressed her desire for a ‘Whites only South Africa’ and her party opposed sanctions against the apartheid regime and in fact ached to keep apartheid propped up in order to protect valuable business interests. Instead of letting her speak without challenge and politely nodding along, he actually does his job! It’s incredible. I feel like I’ve glimpsed a parallel universe. Where’s the wormhole, how much are tickets, I want to live there permanently.
Because remember, this is what the British mainstream media usually act like when they should be challenging members of the establishment:
NEW: @BorisJohnson has just emerged from his home in Oxfordshire to offer journalists cups of tea. He repeatedly refuses to answer questions over his burka comments, insisting "I have nothing to say about this matter except to offer you some tea." pic.twitter.com/lUSPQOuUCF— Daniel Hewitt (@DanielHewittITV) August 12, 2018
So when the Tories have this in their past:
Theresa May called Nelson Mandela a hero today and yes he was. She is right.— Stephane Savary (@stephane_ulrich) August 28, 2018
However her party called him a terrorist and wanted him to be hanged as this Tory poster suggested. pic.twitter.com/xo8Uk38Ag6
She did nothing to protest against apartheid, she didn't boycott S African goods, she didn't challenge Thatcher & other Tories calling #NelsonMandela a terrorist. To those of us who did all those things it's nauseating to see #TheresaMay visiting Robben Island for a photo op https://t.co/O9Tqtvf96b— Jennie Formby (@JennieGenSec) August 28, 2018
And Michael Crick brings it up, imagine the possibilities! Imagine what the world could look like with actual journalists doing their job, properly questioning those in power, instead of cosying up to them, glowing with a sickly camaraderie born of belonging to the same exclusive club, and of striving to gain access and be liked.
The national media is riddled with unpaid internships - with no promise of a paid job after working for free - and ripoff postgraduate degrees are a critical gateway in. Most can't afford to do either which is why *the actual data* shows it's one of the most exclusive professions https://t.co/FTnkpF4Rh4— Owen JonesðŸŒ¹ (@OwenJones84) August 29, 2018
Imagine what the world would look like if instead, like Michael Crick there, the journalists actually asked questions, and then followed-up and didn’t let up on issues like, oh, I dunno:
- Where will this ‘extra Â£350 million per week for the National Health Service’ come from when we leave the EU that the Leave campaign made a centrepiece of their pitch?
- Why is the man in charge of that health service the one who wants to privatise it?
- Why have we sold Â£4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia just since their slaughter in Yemen began? Why are we continuing to provide material aid to this destruction and how many members of cabinet or their partners or friends or colleagues have shares in the arms companies building and selling these weapons?
- Why isn’t the causal link between man-made climate change and the insane heatwave that scorched Europe in summer 2018 bigger news? Why isn’t the fact that industrial capitalism is still hastening our freefall into climate catastrophe bigger news? Will our governments’ slavish devotion to these catastrophic orthodoxies be a part of the tale told by our grandchildren by candlelight in the shadows of our ruined world?
- Why wasn’t austerity, so furiously pursued by the Tories, constantly spoken of as what it was—an intellectually bankrupt theory of fiscal policy designed to appear as a responsible solution to crisis rather than the ideologically driven transferal of wealth from poor to rich that it actually is—instead of what the Tories wanted the public to think it was?
- How come the absolute shambles that the Tories are making of the Brexit negotiations are not being used constantly to question their ability to govern? When we go from the ‘sunny uplands’ that were promised to follow Brexit to Theresa May pronouncing that a no-deal Brexit ‘wouldn’t be the end of the world’, how is that not used to question their competency?
- Boris Johnson is a racist and a dangerous demagogue. Why is he still being treated as a charming British eccentric and allowed to be talked up as a potential future PM?
I mean I could go on and on and on.
I’m sure the media will go back to business as usual in no time, but for now: Thank you, Michael Crick, for a glimpse into what the world could be like if those hired to question and probe actually did their job. What a beautiful world that could be.
ðŸ¤”ðŸ¤”ðŸ¤” pic.twitter.com/D6j5UBx1fZ— Young Labour (@YoungLabourUK) August 28, 2018
For years there was a 24 Hour permanent picket of South Africa House in Trafalgar Square that Jeremy and I supported. I spent one Christmas Day there singing anti apartheid carols. This was at a time when the Young Tories & many Tory MPs were calling for Mandela to be hung. https://t.co/cGZINmU3SU— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) August 29, 2018