18October2018

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Blanket Silence: Corporate Media Ignore New Report Exposing Distorted And Misleading Coverage of Corbyn

If there's one thing we've learned in the 17 years since Media Lens began, it's that media professionals generally hate being challenged, critiqued or criticised. This fierce antipathetical belligerence underlies the corporate media's total refusal to mention, far less discuss, a recent damning report on how the corporate media have been misreporting Labour and its supposed 'problem' with antisemitism.

The report was published last week by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC), set up in 2011 in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, to promote debate about the media and democracy. The MRC coordinates effective action by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners, and is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, Professor of Communication and Media at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The urgent need for such a media initiative is highlighted by the disturbing reality that Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with just three companies in control of 71% of national newspaper circulation and five companies running 81% of local newspaper titles.

In the careful MRC study, articles and news segments on Labour and antisemitism from the largest UK news providers, both online and television, were subjected to in-depth analysis. The research was undertaken by Dr Justin Schlosberg, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media at Birkbeck, University of London, together with Laura Laker, an experienced freelance journalist.

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

'myriad inaccuracies and distortions in online and television news including marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered. Overall, our findings were consistent with a disinformation paradigm.'

In other words, the corporate media have been pumping out reams of 'fake news' promoting a narrative that Corbyn and Labour are mired in an 'antisemitism crisis'.

Out of over 250 articles and news pieces examined by Schlosberg and Laker, fully 95 examples were found of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In particular, there were (our emphasis):

• 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by news presenters or correspondents themselves, six of them on BBC television news programmes, and eight on the Guardian website.


• A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single -source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated value-based assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.


Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour's code of conduct on antisemitism were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1. Nearly half of Guardian reports on the controversy surrounding Labour's code of conduct featured no quoted sources defending the party or leadership.

This is, to say the least, totally unacceptable from any supposedly responsible news outlet. It is even more galling when it comes from the Guardian and BBC News, both with large global audiences, who constantly proclaim their credentials for 'honest and balanced reporting'.

Much recent corporate media coverage has focused on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of 'antisemitism'. Corporate media across the spectrum have argued that in refusing to accept the IHRA definition in total, with all of its accompanying examples, Corbyn has promoted antisemitism, alienated Britain's Jewish community and divided his own party.

Philip Collins wrote in The Times of Corbyn (our emphasis):

'He has, for some reason he cannot articulate, insisted that the Labour Party should be just about the only institution that does not accept the definition of antisemitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.' 

In July, a Times editorial stated of Labour's National Executive Committee (our emphasis):

'Instead of adopting a standard definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and endorsed by governments around the world, the NEC has amended it in unacceptable ways... Let there be no doubt: these are unconscionable and antisemitic accusations.'

In September, another Times leader opined (our emphasis):

'Labour's national executive committee will vote today on whether to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism. It is essential that it does. Governments and organisations worldwide have adopted the carefully worded text developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Jeremy Corbyn's hamfisted attempt to rewrite it, without consultation and with the apparent aim of protecting certain activists, shames his party.'

The Times added:

'British Jews are well placed to define what constitutes racism towards them, just as any minority deserves the last word in the debate as it applies to them. Gordon Brown has called for Labour to "unanimously, unequivocally and immediately" adopt all the examples. Anything less would mark a dark day indeed for the party.'

Noting that three leading British Jewish newspapers had declared that a Corbyn-led government would pose 'an existential threat to Jewish life in this country', senior Guardian columnist and former comment editor Jonathan Freedland asked:

'How on earth has it come to this?'

Part, but not all, of the problem, Freedland suggested, was (our emphasis):

'Labour's failure to adopt the full text of the near universally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including all its illustrative examples'.

He added:

'When Jews hear that the IHRA is not good enough, they wonder: what exactly is it that Labour wants to say about us?'

And yet, as the MRC report [pdf] makes clear, although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves. Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency - a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based - and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies. Moreover, academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by four leading UK barristers.

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

'Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.'

Nearly 50% of Guardian reports failed to include any quotes from those critiquing the IHRA definition or defending Labour's code of conduct on antisemitism. In fact, media reporting (our emphasis):

'effectively gave those attacking Labour's revised code and championing the IHRA definition a virtually exclusive and unchallenged platform to air their views. By comparison, their detractors – including a number of Jewish organisations and representatives of other affected minorities – were systematically marginalized from the coverage. Furthermore, Labour MPs adopting even moderate positions defending the code were subjected to far more aggressive questioning from interviewers than those adopting extreme positions attacking it.'

In a calm, methodical and rigorous manner, the MRC has exposed to public view the blatant anti-Corbyn bias of even the 'best' media outlets: the BBC and the Guardian.

Read more: Blanket Silence: Corporate Media Ignore New Report Exposing Distorted And Misleading Coverage of...

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