Campaign against Misrepresentation in Public Affairs, Information and the News

 

FULL MISSION STATEMENT

A growing problem of misinformation

Since the latter part of the 20thcentury, Britain has experienced growing misinformation within its mainstream media. British journalist Nick Davies analysed this in his ground-breaking book, Flat-Earth News (2008)[i], based on his 30-year journalistic experience and research he commissioned from the University of Cardiff School of Journalism.

One example highlighted in Davies’ book is the misreporting prior to the US and Britain’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, where large parts of the media, notably the Murdoch newspapers[ii] and the Observer[iii], served as a conduit for war propaganda. We can also cite the phone hacking scandal Davies started to uncover in 2006.  Since the 1980s newspapers had abused the privacy of many thousands of British people, but the extent of the problem only became widely known following the Milly Dowler revelations in 2011.  Since then, we continue experiencing misinformation on topics such as the behaviour and attitudes of Muslims[iv], and partisan reporting of politicians who tell lies[v].

Misinformation rose to a new high (or low as you may see it) in 2015 when, for the first time in decades, the Labour party elected a leader (Jeremy Corbyn) with a history of taking the plight of the Palestinians seriously.  This led to a sustained chorus of allegations, repeated throughout the mainstream media, that the Labour Party was antisemitic, and often that it was “institutionally antisemitic”.

The narrative issuing from the media was extraordinarily uniform, involving virtually all newspapers and broadcasters, from left to right, and tabloid to “heavy”; and continued up to and beyond the general election in December 2019.  The media also failed to report evidence, including hard statistical evidence, that belied that mainstream narrative[vi]. Nobody has denied the existence of some anti-Jewish prejudice in the Labour Party as in other parts of British society, but there is no body of evidence supporting the idea that it is a rampant phenomenon.

One can gauge the vehemence of this campaign from the behaviour of the Guardian, a newspaper that is supportive of the Labour party. During a 45-month period starting in January 2016, the Guardian published 1,215 articles about Labour and anti-Semitism, an average of around one per day[vii] and editorially supported the idea that there was rampant antisemitism in the Labour party.  A group of eight newspapers published a total of 5,497 such articles over a similar period starting in June 2015[viii], and it is likely that between 2015 and 2019 the British press published upwards of 10,000.  

The BBC contributed to the hue and cry, with journalists such as Laura Kuenssberg treating “Labour’s antisemitism crisis” as a fact rather than an allegation, and with a totally biased and unprofessional documentary entitled “Is Labour Antisemitic?”, that the Media Reform Coalition described as a “catalogue of reporting failures” both with regard to accuracy and impartiality[ix].  One of our founding members, the former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn, says that: “I have never in 60 years of journalism seen such a blatant and deliberate breaking of public broadcasting rules”.

 

We believe the chorus of allegations, which we henceforth refer to as the “antisemitism smear campaign" materially affected voting in the 2019 election.  We also note the existence of a sort of "journalistic apartheid", whereby the mainstream media reports people supporting the dominant narrative, while ignoring people on the other side of the argument.  The former group shown in LIST 1 below consists of prominent figures who are widely reported.  The group in LIST 2 are highly knowledgeable figures, with journalistic, academic and/or other backgrounds; however with one notable exception (Peter Oborne), they are relatively little known, and largely confined to specialist publishers and social media. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Some leading figures supporting the dominant media narrative on antisemitism

  • 5 Prime Ministers: David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

  • Jonathan Freedland, journalist

  • John Ware, journalist

  • Laura Keunnsberg, BBC Parliamentary correspondent

  • Margaret Hodge, Labour MP

  • Louise Elman, ex-Labour MP

  • Luciana Berger, former Labour & Lib Dem MP

  • Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

  • Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

  • Tom Watson, former deputy leader of the Labour Party

  • John Mann, MP (now appointed 'antisemitism Tsar')

  • Simon Scharma, Historian

  • Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party

  • Rachel Riley, TV presenter

2. Some leading figures opposing, or casting doubt upon, the dominant narrative on antisemitism

  • Jonathan Cook, former Guardian journalist resident in Nazareth

  • Asa Winstanley, journalist for Electronic Intifada

  • Ben White, journalist & author, https://benwhite.org.uk/about/ 

  • Tim Llewellyn, former BBC Middle-East correspondent 

  • Greg Philo, professor of communications

  • Jamie Stern-Weiner, PhD student at Oxford and author

  • Justin Schlosberg, researcher in journalism and media

  • Daniel Staetsky, researcher into Jewish affairs

  • Anthony Lerman, founded the Institute of Jewish Policy Research

  • Jewish Voice for Labour: various figures including Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi, Richard Kuper and Alan Maddison 

  • Robert Cohen,  Micah's Paradigm Shift blogspot

  • Peter Oborne, journalist, resigned from the Telegraph, 2015 

  • Tom Suarez, author & musician: http://thomassuarez.com

  • Tony Greenstein, Asvaz blogspot

What drove the antisemitism smear campaign?

 

It was a product of an alliance, or a marriage of convenience, between diverse but powerful interest groups all sharing the overriding objective of preventing Jeremy Corbyn getting elected.

For many years, a range of pro-Israeli organisations and activists have ruthlessly pursued British people who criticise Israel, using a range of techniques, including: 

  • hunting for past statements that are potentially “antisemitic” and wilfully misinterpreting statements that are not;

  • trolling on social media, and smearing through the mainstream media;

  • causing venues to cancel planned talks and events;

  • holding critics who have at some time shared a platform with someone accused of antisemitism to be “guilty by association”, and;

  • ensuring that those who seriously criticise Israel suffer expulsion from their political parties, or otherwise pay a professional price for doing so. 

 

At the same time, they sought to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, by pressing a wide range of British institutions to adopt the IHRA working definition as a disciplinary standard with which to clamp down on “antisemitic” behaviour. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, seen by Israel as a “strategic threat”, supercharged this activity and heightened media attention. 

 

What equally drove the antisemitism smear campaign from 2015 onwards was an array of British interest groups with interests at odds with those of Corbyn and his left-wing supporters, who seized upon the allegations of antisemitism to discredit them.  This included the Conservative leadership, the media conglomerates and elements within the security services, as well as right-wing elements within the Labour party who worked tirelessly to bring down their left-wing rivals. In addition to this, the US Government saw Corbyn as inimical to American interests and opposed his becoming Prime Minister.

The campaign to expose “antisemites”, and the moral panic and fear that it has created, has many features in common with Senator McCarthy’s campaign to expose “communists” in the State Department, Hollywood and even the US military, in the USA during the early 1950s.  We consider it to be one of the “big lies” of the post-World War 2 era.

 

The antisemitism smear campaign also illustrates the cynicism and hypocrisy of Britain’s press magnates.  Following the exposure of the hacking scandal, they have vigorously resisted Justice Leveson’s regulatory proposals on the grounds that they will undermine freedom of expression in the UK.  However, the media’s participation in the antisemitism smear campaign shows their newspapers peddling a uniform narrative, and systematically excluding those whose experience and evidence contradict it. 

 

Why are we campaigning?

We believe this misinformation and misrepresentation is having a disastrous impact on British society and its institutions.  It has compromised our ability to make rational decisions, notably with regards to our Middle Eastern wars. The antisemitism smear campaign is particularly pernicious, as it is corroding our civil liberties, freedom of speech and association, and creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.  Given the pressure and absence of balanced reporting, many people have opted to keep their heads down, or, in some cases, to align themselves with this warped narrative with a view to self-preservation or self-advancement.  In this way, misinformation and misrepresentation are undermining public morality and democracy in this country. 

Our objectives

 

We shall focus much of our effort on the antisemitism smear campaign, upon which we can complement the efforts of other organisations, and work on other topics where this makes strategic sense.

 

Various organisations, such as the Hacked Off Campaign, Open Democracy and Byline Times, already do much to expose misinformation and campaign for media reform but have kept a relatively low profile on the antisemitism smears.  They have, in practice, left this to organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), Labour against the Witch-hunt (LAW), Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP) and Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP).  These campaign tirelessly and professionally against misinformation but do so from their standpoint as Labour party supporters and/or non-Zionist Jews. 

We therefore think there is a “gap in the market”, that calls for an organisation that has no party-political or ethnic identity and treats the antisemitism smear campaign as an attack on us all. Indeed, we feel this will make it easier to bring on board people with a wide range of political beliefs who believe in fair play and see the antisemitism smear campaign as an abomination.

 

In the light of this, our objectives are:

  • to explain to the public the harmful impacts of the problems described above and act to bring them to an end, and:

  • to assist the wider struggle to render the mainstream and social media accountable to the public for the truthfulness of its statements. 

 

Regarding objective 1, we shall seek to maximise the support and active involvement of the public, and notably well-known people and role models whose endorsement will induce others to overcome their fear of speaking up. We shall, moreover, encourage members of all political parties to speak up on the issue and insist that their leaders act with integrity.   

Regarding objective 2, we shall wherever possible collaborate with other organisations like the Hacked-Off Campaign and Open Democracy, with a view to ensuring:

  • the public accountability of the BBC to which we pay our license fees;

  • much more rigorous and independent regulation of news media (with the possibility of breaking up the media conglomerates);

  • reining in the “dark money” that finances misinformation in the UK and the world[x], and;

  • toughening up law enforcement in all these areas.
     

Brief outline of organisation and activities
 

We shall be a membership organisation, and members will be asked to make a modest annual contribution to cover expenses.

 

Authority will be vested in the Annual General Meeting, and this will elect an executive committee of seven members who will be able to co-opt other non-voting members. 

 

We shall establish a website, a FB page and other social media accounts as and when needed. 

 

We shall reach out to a range of potential collaborators and supporters, both individuals and organisations, with a view to developing the campaign. 

 

We shall hold occasional online meetings with invited speakers.

 

We expect members to express themselves responsibly and sensitively in communications on social media or in public.

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[i]  See Davies, N. (2008) Flat-Earth News. Davies attributes the problem to the growing power of media conglomerates, cost-cutting, the consequent inability of journalists to fact-check most of their output, and the vertiginous rise of a PR industry providing ready-made stories, while pointing to a wide range of falsehood, distortion and propaganda.  An additional factor, increasingly evident since Davies published is the way the internet and social media has deprived newspapers of much their readership and advertising revenue. 

[ii] See this article.  In the recent documentary about the Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty (part 1) Peter Oborne speaks of Murdoch having access to Tony Blair all the time, and of being the leading cheerleader for the Iraq War,   Andrew Neil talks of Murdoch seeing his job as “keeping Tony Blair’s feet to the fire” and making sure Britain stood beside America when the invasion took place, and that in the week before the invasion, Blair spoke to Murdoch almost as much as he spoke to his Foreign and Defence Secretaries.

[iii] See chapter 9 on ‘the Blinded Observer’, in Davies, N. (2008) Flat-Earth News.  This was also the subject of the 2019 film ‘Official Secrets’ with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.

[iv]Information reported in a 2018 session of the Home Affairs Select Committee showed that British newspapers practically enjoyed impunity when inaccurately and tendentiously reporting about Muslims.  A more recent example is the case of Andrew Norfolk in the Times, as shown in this report by Brian Cathcart and Paddy French

[v] See Peter Oborne (2021) The Assault on Truth; Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism, London, Simon and Schuster. See also this excellent review by Media Lens.

[vi] See articles summarising the ignored evidence HERE and HERE

[vii] See article of Sept 2019 in the Daily Maverick.  

[viii] See Bad News for Labour (2019), p. vii. 

[ix] The Media Reform Coalition thoroughly documented misreporting on this topic by the Guardian, the BBC and other news outlets in this report, and the documentary’s “catalogue of reporting failures” in this bulletin.  

[x] This is a massive challenge, as may be gauged from Peter Geoghan’s book, and the earlier declaration by Roberto Saviano.