Sections of the newspaper industry, aided by broadcasters, are engaged in a ‘hyperdistortion’ effort to conceal the crimes of those in power, says Sam Bright

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The evidence is unambiguous. The Prime Minister broke the law – along with his wife, the Chancellor, and some 50 others under his command.

They transgressed laws forged by their own hand, designed to keep people safe during a deadly pandemic – at a time when vaccines were not available and the NHS was perennially at risk of being overwhelmed.

The Prime Minister also repeatedly misled Parliament and broke the Ministerial Code – claiming that no parties were held on Downing Street premises and then, later, that no laws or guidelines had been broken.

His popularity levels have tanked as a result, with the Metropolitan Police still investigating dozens more parties that took place during these periods of national lockdown.

Yet, according to some influential sections of the media, the country should bury its head, ignore its instincts and back Boris Johnson.

The front page of today’s Daily Mail repeats the Conservative script: “Don’t they know there’s a war on?” it bellows. “Boris was there for nine minutes. Carrie less than five. The birthday cake never left its Tupperware box. And last night the PM rightly apologised. As the left howls for resignations over Met’s £50 COVID fines.”

This is not an attempt to fulfil the principles of sound journalism; to present facts honestly and accurately. Rather, the Daily Mail’s front page is attempting to erase the facts and belittle public concerns through a shamelessly partisan narrative.

Lest we forget, this is the same newspaper that howled for Labour Leader Keir Starmer to apologise for drinking a beer with colleagues during a period of COVID restrictions. This is not journalism, but an effort to wage psychological warfare against the British public by characterising ideological propaganda as ‘news’.

This is part of the process of ‘hypernormalisation’, as described in these pages by Hardeep Matharu, whereby crimes and criminals are presented as an acceptable part of the political system – and it’s enacted through a process of ‘hyperdistortion’, the manipulation and subjugation of the truth by those tasked with cataloguing our national story.

One explanation for this rewriting of history, in the case of Johnson’s fine, may be the culpability of some journalists.

The Sun, a stablemate of the Mail in the right-wing press corps, has consistently neglected to cover ‘Partygate’ – perhaps because its deputy editor James Slack attended several of the parties in his previous role as Downing Street’s Director of Communications. Westminster is a shallow pool, in which right-wing politicians and journalists intermingle – compromising the objectivity of supposed truth-tellers.

Yet this state of affairs – tabloid newspapers acting as a form of indoctrination – is seen by the establishment as a normal part of the British political system.

Perpetrators are not hauled in front of the court of public opinion by their peers. The ‘lobby’ – the political reporters with access to the Palace of Westminster – are silent while those from the right-wing press act like courtiers to politicians in positions of power.

This trickles down through the system – the whispers between Conservative politicians and their companions in the media travelling to our television screens and radio sets, as broadcast journalists lean on the press to inform the day’s agenda.

Indeed, on various BBC programmes this morning, interviewers repeated the claim made on the front page of the Daily Mail – that the Prime Minister was ‘only at the party for nine minutes’.

While working at the BBC during the 2017 General Election campaign, I was part of a one-off experiment for the Today programme that involved featuring online publications in its daily newspaper review. In the 21st Century, it was seen as a radical idea to include online media in a round-up of the day’s news agenda. The BBC still has an old-fashioned, naïve view of Britain’s newspaper industry.

The truth is not the midpoint between a fact and a lie. Or, in this case, the midpoint between innocence and guilt.

The Prime Minister has been found guilty of committing a crime, but the BBC’s fixation on ‘balance’ involves platforming those who say it is not raining outside during the climax of a monsoon. Ultimately, our national broadcaster is therefore another (perhaps unwitting) element of the hyperdistortion process.

This doesn’t just apply to ‘Partygate’, but of course also to Brexit.

We have been told for years – by Vote Leave and its allies in the press – that the EU has blighted Great Britain and restrained its ability to succeed on the world stage. The EU Referendum was pitched as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remove this scourge, which the British public elected to believe. However, any attempt to report on the downsides of this seismic political, social and economic event is met with contempt by the right-wing press and silence by much of the mainstream broadcast media, in particular the BBC.

Through the ‘Partygate’ scandal, the media has proven itself to be one of the few barely-functioning pillars of British democracy. The story would not have been aired had it not been for a few tenacious reporters, notably at ITV News and the Mirror.

Parliament cannot meaningfully hold Boris Johnson to account without the active participation of the Conservative Party – nor can the Ministerial Code, which is ultimately enforced by the Prime Minister. The Met has dragged its feet over the affair, only persuaded to investigate the case by legal campaigners concerned that Scotland Yard was neglecting its duties. The judiciary has proven on multiple occasions that the Government has acted unlawfully – by proroguing Parliament and awarding crony contracts – yet there is no trigger in our democratic system that causes jeopardy for those found to have broken the law.

This is why we need a functioning, honest media – to hold those in power to account, which should surely be the mission of anyone in this profession. Yet, currently, instead of informing the public, parts of the media are waging a war against them.


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