Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Misreading the words

Reading the coverage of the decision by the ERG to set three tests for any amended deal that the PM manages to get from the EU, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why so much of the media has such a problem with doing honest and thorough analysis of what it reports instead of swallowing the spin.  The ‘three tests’ have been presented as though they represent a huge change in opinion which opens the way to allowing the ERG to support the agreement.  But I didn’t have to read past the first test (“...clearly worded, legally binding, treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides...”) to realise that these tests change absolutely nothing.  Indeed, if anything they represent a hardening of attitude, spelling out the group’s views in crystal-clear language.
Agreeing to accept and support a treaty only if there is another document over-riding its content is no agreement at all.  Agreeing that there is no need to re-open an agreed text for further discussion as long as that text is rendered inoperative by another document is playing with semantics, not changing position.  They are still asking for something which the EU27 can’t give them, even if it wanted to.  So why has the media fallen for it?
Parts of the media, of course, deliberately seek to mislead the public.  They’ve been doing it for years; I have zero expectation that they will stop any time soon.  But that doesn’t account for all parts of the media.
It could be simply laziness; much of what passes for reporting these days has become little more than printing extracts from rival press releases giving equal weight to them in the name of ‘balance’ regardless of whether there is any factual basis to what they say.  It could be that journalists don’t have the time or energy (or ability?) to critically read and analyse what they write.  I suspect both are at play to a greater or lesser extent.  But I also suspect that much of the UK media is so steeped in a UK-biased perspective on events that, like the politicians ‘negotiating’ on our behalf, they are simply unable to understand any alternative perspective and try and see things as others see them.
Time and again I have read or watched reporters talking about whether the EU is ready to budge ‘yet’, as though the whole issue of the ‘backstop’ and the integrity of the single market are just pawns on the board; things which can be sacrificed or adjusted when the political climate decrees it to be necessary.  That’s certainly the way in which most of the Brexiteers see things as they reduce everything to mere ‘transactions’ in which one thing can be traded for another.  But it completely fails to understand the importance which the rest of the EU places on the single market and the European project as a whole.
Does it matter that the reporting around this issue is so poor?  In itself, no; we can simply ignore the bias if we choose.  But what does matter is that the reporting reinforces the views of politicians who take the same viewpoint, mistakenly believing that, when they are reading their own views reported back to them, they are somehow reading an impartial and critical analysis of the situation.  And it matters more widely in that it reinforces the widespread belief that the problem is that those beastly Europeans are being horrid to the UK, leading to the demand that we ‘stand up to them’.  One of the few beneficial results of Brexit is the revelation of how poorly served we are by the media; the problem is that knowing about it isn’t the same as solving it.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

I completely agree with your views on media quality, - it is woeful.
I have only a little sympathy for the BBC, who have had to dumb-down on content and staff quality as money has not been increasing owing to government intervention, but they have not taken the logical decision to relocate their main offices and production out of the most expensive labour market; then these are the consequences.
The print media is also in dramatic decline and not able to attract the “top dollar” candidates and I always say, having met staff reports – they are the uninformed trying to inform, the uninformed.