Press freedom starts at home
Today is World Press Freedom Day (#WorldPressFreedomDay), which media organisations are rightly highlighting and celebrating. Via the BBC Media Centre, BBC Director-General Tim Davie stated:
“In the midst of the Covid pandemic, it is clearer than ever why people need access to trusted, impartial news. Trusted information is an essential public good, but many journalists around the world — including those from the BBC — are facing intimidation, harassment and hostility. Some even face threats to their lives and liberty. This growing assault on truth represents a profound threat to the health of societies and democracies worldwide. We stand in solidarity with journalists and other media organisations who continue to fight for truth and media freedom” — Tim Davie, BBC Director-General (World Press Freedom Day — Media Centre)
However, BBC News doesn’t seem to think that ‘trusted and impartial news’ about the Covid pandemic should extend to opposition to Covid politics, not least as it failed to cover the anti-Lockdown #LondonProtest on Saturday 24 April involving 10s of 10,000s marching through central London. And this despite having reported on just nine Extinction Rebellion ‘chisellers’ destroying the windows of the Canary Wharf HSBC building and Arsenal fans’ 1,000-strong only protest against the club’s owners.
You can check for yourself: search Twitter for Tweets from @BBCLondonNews including the word ‘protest’:
You will find many Tweets on the #KilltheBill protests. But the only one about the London anti-Lockdown protests are of violence, arrests, or other negative stories, for instance about demonstrators clashing with police.
As Wootton notes, it was not just BBC News which appeared to be engaged in a ‘media blackout’ but all the mainstream broadcasters, as well as BBC Radio, with the honourable exception of Sky News (YouTube) and the Associated Press (YouTube), which isn’t strictly a broadcaster.
More generally, many much smaller protests and vigils have been covered in BBC broadcast channels, including those related to the death of George Floyd, and the murder of Sarah Everard.
In an age in which protests are designed to get coverage — based on their visual distinctiveness, drama, and novelty — we should be aware that this gives undue influence to very small groups who may not represent a wider constituency, and we should not ignore more conventional protests in which an actual wider constituency takes parts.
Of course, outside lockdowns, demonstrations usually happen on a regular basis and may not be so newsworthy. But the fact that everyone on this demonstration was committed to it despite their breaking the law should make it even more newsworthy.
On World Press Freedom Day, in stating that ‘many journalists around the world — including those from the BBC — are facing intimidation, harassment and hostility’ the BBC Director-General was no doubt referring to those dictatorial and censorious regimes our fellow world citizens have to live under, from China to Iran, Russia to North Korea. He may also be referring to interference by foreign powers in the British democratic process (and only today BBC News was reporting attempts by Iran to influence the Scottish elections in favour of independence).
But the BBC and other UK broadcasters should look at themselves first and ‘cast out the beam out of thine own eye’ before they seek to ‘cast out the mote’ from others’. In the meantime, the case for new broadcasters such as @GBNews is being made for many, while others will turn away from the news, or retreat to the world of conspiracies.