A New Media is Possible

Peter Oborne’s scathing analysis of the lobby system, and the fake news agenda created by unattributed “No 10 sources” is an eye-opener and a courageous bit of journalism. The story spilled out onto Channel 4 News, but it’s really a major scoop for Open Democracy “British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine”). So it’s either a major story and badge of honour for crowd-funded new media, or an indictment of traditional journalism, either way it’s a sign of the times.

Oborn’s names names and pulls few punches: Nick Robinson on the BBC’s flagship Today programme is slated for engaging in No 10 fantasies about an investigation into ‘foreign collusion’ of Remain MPs that simply didn’t exist; BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s slated for being an accomplice-journalist and Robert Peston for effectively being a conduit to Dominic Cummings messages. The accusations are obvious and real and have hit home, provoking Peston to respond himself on Open Democracy.

In doing this Oborne is breaking the omerta and challenging his own employer at the Daily Mail.

The problem is what Scottish readers will recognise as Succulent Lamb journalism.

Oborne writes:

“This compliance is part of a pattern. Political editors are so pleased to be given ‘insider’ or ‘exclusive’ information that they report it without challenge or question.”

The easy access, the socialising and the tip-offs lead to exclusives and scoops and insider knowledge. The problem is that this becomes institutionalised. As a journalist you’re not paid to be pals with the powerful. But the back and forth between trusted journalists “the lobby” and the politicians goes deeper. Many politicians are ex-journalists: Nigel Lawson, Ed Balls, Ruth Davidson and Benito Mussolini spring to mind, but there are dozens of them.

This isn’t a surprise as the political elite and the media elite spring from the same social background, share the same schools and universities, and go to the same bars, clubs and restaurants. Creating a media that looked like the society it reports to would be a key start in changing the media landscape in Britain.

It’s hard to be tough in your interview if you grew up with the person, or if your dads friend owns the newspaper you work for.

There’s an irony that it took a traditional journalist to break the story.

If Open Democracy had run the story itself it wouldn’t have got half the traction. Not the old media-new media binary really works either. Only recently Guido Fawkes was successfully framing itself as ‘new media edgy outsider’ (even if it was a nest of far-right libertarian Tories). Now, as Oborne points out: “I haven’t cited the Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph or The Sun – all of them Johnson cheerleaders. Nor have I examined Guido Fawkes, which has transformed itself within a remarkably short space of time from an anarchic website challenging lobby freemasonry to the provisional wing of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party press office.” Guido, like Breitbart and Spiked present as radical libertine outsiders when they prop-up the powerful and routinely punch-down.

Celebrity Journalism

This client journalism is magnified by social media and the new cult of personality.

Robert Peston meticulously grooms his own brand, as have Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil before him. They have a book to sell or a vast salary to justify. The relationship feeds a chumocracy just at the time when institutions of democracy are most at threat and when the dark arts of propaganda seem to be merging with the newer arts of deep fakes and data manipulation.

This is not to say we should slay all journalists, deny ourselves the right to a credible public broadcaster or indulge in a frenzy of nihilism or paranoia.

We should separate the good from the bad, keep a watchful eye for deception and spin and create better more transparent institutions that can do the job needing done, because, as Oborne concludes: “… there is now clear evidence that the prime minister has debauched Downing Street by using the power of his office to spread propaganda and fake news. British political journalists have got chillingly close to providing the same service to Boris Johnson that Fox News delivers for Donald Trump.”

We knew the News Where You Are is frequently under-funded, trivialised or infantilised – but Oborne has thrown back the covers to reveal its frequently just passed-on whispers from the powerful to their pals.



Comments (11)

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  1. Blair Breton says:

    The corrosive part of this is it is not the press office at NO 10. It’s essentially the vote leave team, as coached by Steve Bannon

    1. Jo says:

      The point Oborne makes is that the official Number 10 Press Office isn’t involved here. The arrival of Cummings and Johnson has introduced new practices altogether that the Press Office isn’t party to.

      Unnamed sources at Number 10 are using established and prominent journalists working for established and prominent news organisations as vehicles to get their messages straight out into the public domain. Kuennsberg has been doing it for weeks. She tweets out everything they send her without researching the source or verifying the info.

      Peston is just as bad.

      Politics is a dirty business but right now journalism is heavily contaminated too.

  2. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    What’s new? This has been going on for years probably centuries, the only thing is that we now have the Internet and social media to allow us to be one step ahead of ‘FAKE’ journalists and they know it!!!

    1. What’s new? “we now have the Internet and social media to allow us to be one step ahead of ‘FAKE’ journalists”. That’s new.

    2. Jo says:

      I agree we’ve always had a certain amount of media bias. This, however, is quite different and even more sinister. Please read the full article by Oborne.

  3. Jo says:

    I’d already seen and read this article. More importantly I’d already noticed the change in the way Kuennsberg was reporting updates she was receiving from Downing Street before I read it. Part of me was relieved I wasn’t imagining things.

    Oborne’s interview on Ch4N last night was interesting. He actually named Kuennsberg and Peston. (Krishnan rushed to shoosh him!)

    The other thing he said in his article is that mainstream newspapers would not publish his article. Well, no one wants to upset the applecart and get thrown out of the snippet queue!

  4. Jo says:

    “This is intriguing from Media Guido, reporting that the BBC’s political editor has just gone into Downing Street to conduct an interview with Boris Johnson. Could the prime minister be about to announce that he will push for an election?”

    Here we are again, wee Laura, hastily summoned and goes running. I suppose it’ll be the usual format. She’ll forget her real purpose and, instead, just sit and simper at him like a teenager with a crush!

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I found Oborne’s piece rather clunky. You can find a more comprehensive and perhaps more punchy treatment of the subject in Medialens’ book Propaganda Blitz.

    Sucking up to power got Niccolò Machiavelli a demonic reputation, but he had the excuse of living in times where falling out of favour with the ruler could get you tortured (and he was), plus he did somewhat make amends for his autocrat-flattery by producing a larger work on his true love, republics. What are the excuses of this batch of stick-chasers and bark-echoers with their base spaniel fawnings? Instead of journalists we get courtiers.

  6. w.b. robertson says:

    once upon a time something would be”leaked” to a tame journalist who would file it to his newsdesk and it would be studied and weighed up. There would be time for questions and examination. Even “spiked”. in today`s instant news cycle the hot tip is immediately out on air. and the media pack pick it up and run with it. There is no answer to this 24 hour hectic merry go round. The reader/listener can only be advised to weigh everything up very carefully and asked themselves whether this rings true or whether there is some ploy afoot. No point in criticising today`s reporters …it is the system in the modern world and we all have to live with it.

    1. Jo says:


      I’m going to disagree and say we don’t have to accept it when it’s the publicly funded BBC right at the heart of it. These practices bring that organisation into utter disrepute. We can do something about that.

      I accept that privately owned media can do their own thing but the BBC, once upon a time, didn’t have that freedom. Yet, lately, it has lost the plot and gone quite bonkers when it comes to verifying sources who are by-passing the official Number 10 Press Office. Kuennsberg, their Political Editor is tweeting info straight out there from unnamed sources without anything being checked. That’s irresponsible and reckless.

      Right across the BBC’s News/Politics section, Johnson is being courted and challenges to all the stunts he is pulling are yet to emerge. They’re running, today, with his election date despite the fact that, under the FTPA, Johnson doesn’t get to fix that date!

      Kuennsberg’s colleague Katya Adler, ever eager to keep up with Laura, today put out the message that, “What the EU countries are thinking is….blah, blah.” when, in fact, that’s just her opinion! It’s not “news”, it’s what Katya thinks. I really don’t care what she thinks. I want facts.

      Tonight the BBC is trashing Corbyn and saying how Johnson has told him to “Man up!”. I say the BBC needs to man up and tell Johnson he’s the guy who has a lunatic in Downing Street who is controlling every move he makes. That’s why Johnson doesn’t stay in the Commons long. He needs to run back to ask Cummings what to do next!

      It’s all very well to say that we all need to weigh up what we’re fed in terms of news. What we also need to understand, however, is that in the case of the BBC, it is, allegedly, accountable when it comes to balance. WE fund it. Right now, what we’re getting is deplorable.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        I have to agree with Jo here. What kind of system is it where There Is No Choice? No Alternative? Not a democracy, anyway. If the BBC was a public broadcaster it would have public accountability, but here it is acting as a state broadcaster, apparently intent on undermining public confidence in politics itself, without being honest about how it devotes vast amounts of coverage to Westminsterized Party antipolitics, as if collective decision-making on policy and the creation of different constitutional arrangements was impossible, unthinkable.

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