Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Is it raining or not?

There is a long-standing piece of advice to young journalists which says that "If someone says it's raining, and another person says it's dry, it's not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the ******* window and find out which is true”.  Whilst I understand the need for journalists to make an attempt to provide balanced coverage where points of view differ, that should never extend to presenting fiction as though it were on a par with fact.  Yet that is exactly what we seem to be getting on a daily basis in relation to Brexit.
As objective fact, everyone knows that there are no ‘negotiations’ happening with the EU at present.  There are discussions, and the frequency of those discussions is increasing, but there are no negotiations because, as EU leader after EU leader has confirmed, the UK has presented no proposals which can be negotiated.  As this report suggests, “Johnson’s team are refusing to put forward a written proposal to Brussels at this stage for fear it will be rejected out of hand or publicly rubbished”, although “There have been reports that David Frost, the UK’s lead negotiator, is keeping a plan locked safe in his briefcase but the wording has not been shared with Brussels”.  Having a plan for negotiation which you won’t share with the interlocutors because you know that they can’t or won’t accept it is not ‘negotiation’ in any reasonable meaning of the term.  Yet still the media report – almost daily – the government’s claims that the negotiations are going well, as though something becomes a fact or gains credibility just because the government says it is so.  Here's a classic example, saying that "Boris Johnson’s claims to be conducting a Brexit renegotiation have come under fresh doubt".  'Fresh doubt'?  A more honest description would be 'fresh proof' that Johnson is simply lying.
It’s true, of course, that whilst “cheating is a way of life for politicians” (as the late, great Dai Francis once said to a group of us), the UK is not really accustomed to the idea that the PM and the government would lie systematically, demonstrably and repeatedly about anything and everything on a daily basis.  The same media are quite happy to report accurately on the lies emanating from the White House, but there remains a residual level of respect which somehow prevents them being quite so blunt and direct about the home-grown problem.  I’d just like them to start looking out of the window and telling us, honestly and truthfully, whether it’s raining or not.

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