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A Magazine for Sheffield

Media: How Mainstream Media Has Failed Us

Two memories of my South Yorkshire childhood devastated my trust in the mainstream media as I grew older, and formed a viewpoint that I've maintained and lived for ever since: Britain needs grassroots, alternative media to enjoy a healthy democracy. The first memory was of the Battle of Orgreave in the summer of 1984. It was during the miners' strikes, when Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, using a scheme hatched by Tory Nicholas Ridley, were attempting to close coal mines and throw miners on the dole for daring to have unionised jobs under a regime determined to weaken workers' rights. The Ridley Plan detailed how police squadrons from the south would be brought up to northern mining towns to break the spirit of striking miners, fighting for their livelihoods with no alternative in sight. Sure enough, the plans were put into action and the police clashed with miners at Orgreave. On the BBC, footage showed miners throwing rocks at police, who seemingly retaliated on horseback, swinging truncheons at anything that moved, as evidenced by the now-infamous image of a cowering Lesley Boulton holding her camera as a mounted policeman swings a baton towards her. The reality was far worse. The BBC had edited the footage to paint a picture in direct opposition to the truth. The mounted police had in fact set about attacking the striking miners, who were the ones retaliating by picking up whatever they could find to defend themselves. Nonetheless, the miners may never have recovered from this kind of propaganda, and the rest, as they say, is history. The second memory is of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 football fans died, and the horrific images in the newspapers the days following, alongside claims by The Sun that the dying supporters' fellow Liverpool fans had not only caused the incident, but had picked their pockets and urinated on them. Again, none of this was true, and it later emerged that certain members of our very own South Yorkshire Police were far more responsible for the tragedy than had initially been revealed. But it didn't stop the ‘news’ paper presenting these appalling claims as facts at the time. Police officers have helped me many times in my life, for which I'll always be grateful. But I might be forgiven for my distrust in the police in my formative years as a result of these earlier memories. Irreparably damaged, though, was my faith in the mainstream media. Sadly, things haven't changed. In fact, they've gotten worse. The reporting of the build-up and actual invasion of Iraq was so poor that long-time investigative journalists like John Pilger have suggested that those reporters could be implicated in the legally questionable attack and the subsequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. 175 of the editors working for Rupert Murdoch's mass media network actively supported a war that so recklessly put our soldiers in harm's way, ruined Tony Blair's reputation, and sank George W Bush's approval ratings to the lowest since Harry Truman's in 1953. Murdoch's News International phone hacking scandal demonstrated the true depths to which many of these journalists are capable of sinking, illegally accessing the details of the grieving families of dead soldiers in addition to the phones of politicians and celebrities. Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” since he was in the White House, right at the top. But Murdoch escaped unscathed from the scandal, despite overseeing News International as part of his media empire. Recently we had the Rothermere family's Daily Mail claiming that Ed Miliband had a father who “hated Britain”. This from a family who befriended Adolf Hitler (‘Adolf The Great’, as founder Viscount Rothermere once called him) and whose newspapers supported the British Union of Fascists and the Blackshirts leader Oswald Mosley. The Daily Mail sent one of its journalists to the memorial of Ed's late uncle to dig for dirt. Today, their coverage is so far prejudiced and right-wing that it hasn't exactly distanced itself from the ideologies of its 1930s fascism, regardless of how many editions it sells through celebrity gossip, puzzle pages, sports coverage and a handy TV guide. More recently, a study by Cardiff University researchers found that in 2012 Conservative Party voices enjoyed four times as much BBC airtime as their opposition, even when taking into consideration the inevitable tradition of incumbents receiving more media coverage (when the Tories were in opposition, Labour were on the Beeb only twice as often as their opponents). So any ideas of BBC left-wing bias can be thrown away right there. In fact, again, the opposite is true. Journalist Michael Pollan once said, “I believe perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal. Fairness, however, is not.” Today, the British population is subjected to the policies of the most right-wing government since the Second World War, with a staunch pro-privatisation agenda. Half of all the Conservative Party's funds come from the banks that were bailed out to the tune of over a trillion pounds. The Tories haven't pushed them for repayment, instead conveniently transferring private debt into public pots, and moving public wealth to the private sector. This is no secret – it is made very clear in Conservative Party rhetoric. Even the BBC – that supposed bastion of true journalism – lets down its licence payers; by failing to press on the important issues, by failing to ask the challenging questions, and by failing to demand answers. They're not part of the solution, they're part of the problem, providing a platform for politicians to perpetuate myths that “there's no money left” when the rich have gotten richer as the poor suffer. In addition to setting up an alternative media organisation in SilenceBreaker Media, I'm planning a documentary that I hope will shatter myths and expose lies in the absence of responsible journalism holding power to account. Producing and distributing it will be a mammoth challenge, but one thing I do keep faith in is the belief that fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth. )

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