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Media are gagging challenges to the Government’s Covid narrative


IN his skyscraper office high above New York’s Sixth Avenue, Roger Ailes, then boss of the Right-leaning Fox News, was justifying his channel’s slogan, ‘Fair and Balanced.’  

It was a well-rehearsed line. The rest of the US media, he said, were the liberal Left. ‘So we balance it  – and that’s fair.’ 

Later, an underling added that in America you chose the channel that best fuelled your own views. ‘It just depends on how you take your political medicine.’ 

On the flight home, I thought how fortunate we were in the UK, with a remit of impartiality in broadcasting; a duty to report fairly and evenly. Less than two decades later, I wonder what’s happened to those intrinsic values. 

In all my years around newsrooms, decent journalists have seen it as their right and obligation to seek out the truth, to scrutinise and determine the facts. But on Covid-19, mainstream news outlets have seemingly kow-towed to the Government line, following the ‘official’ science.  

Worse, opposing views been ignored, blocked or summarily dismissed as ‘conspiracy theories’ or ‘misinformation.’ This is not honest journalism as I know it, especially at a time when the Government has extra powers of control over the population. I was taught early that the more someone pushed for or against a story, the more it needed investigating. So what changed? 

It’s bad enough that Big Tech acts as the world’s censor, suspending or cancelling any accounts that carry unpalatable comments about the virus or the vaccines. But the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom has also muscled in.   

The authority instructed broadcasters to be alert to ‘health claims related to the virus which may be harmful; medical advice which may be harmful; accuracy or material misleadingness in programmes in relation to the virus or public policy relating to it’.  

When did it become the regulator’s job to determine debate on Government policy? In effect it discourages investigation of alternative views. And who decides what is accurate or misinformation anyway?   

Some media outlets have their own ‘fact checkers,’ but I’m not overly encouraged that BBC News has a Specialist Disinformation Reporter (the title hardly suggests impartiality) or that Sky’s Digital and Forensics team compiled an article that begins: ‘Covid-19 conspiracy groups who have attempted to undermine efforts to bring the pandemic under control are increasingly sharing climate change misinformation.’ 

The terms prosecutor, judge and jury spring to mind – and try as I might, I couldn’t find any hard evidence that so-called ‘theories’ were bunkum. They weren’t proven either, but that’s not the point. 

Maybe the root can be found in Event 201, a simulated global coronavirus pandemic exercise organised by the World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, in October 2019.  

Advice to world governments included ‘flood the media with fast, accurate and consistent information’ (some would say propaganda), while media companies, for their part, ‘should commit to ensuring that authoritative messages are prioritised and that false messages are suppressed, including through the use of technology’. 

We’ve certainly witnessed less-than-overt Government behaviour.  

In her best-selling book A State of Fear, Laura Dodsworth charts how proven psychological techniques influenced the Government in frightening and intimidating the population, ‘nudging’ us to comply over Covid. And how mainstream media acted as cheerleaders in weaponising that fear. 

It should make uncomfortable reading for any news executive.  

Our Government is supposed to serve us, not use fear tactics to bring us to heel. As an industry, we should challenge the narrative much more rigorously, starting with the numbers. At least the BBC carries the small print, that deaths are from any cause within 28 days of positive test. However, these quickly become Covid deaths on many daily score charts. It’s inaccurate reporting. Or should I call it misinformation? Or again, propaganda?  

Now the shame-and-blame game has shifted to the unvaccinated (I prefer vaccine-free), those ‘radical anti-vaxxers … spreading fake news’ according to Austria’s Chancellor as he introduced compulsory vaccination. 

When did it become acceptable to persecute people who stand up for that most basic of human rights, that of their own body autonomy?                                 

Why are we not outraged that our neighbours in the Netherlands, ordinary citizens, are shot by their own police? Or that Australians are beaten and shot by rubber bullets, or incarcerated in what has become a police state?  

Are we ready to accept such a reaction on the streets of London, Birmingham or Sheffield? What angle would the MSM take, police violence or mob rule? Which way would the scales dip? 

A recent protest, not widely reported, saw thousands of people marching through London; students, medics, teachers and ex-servicemen, of all ages and races, people with genuine concerns for their children and their democratic freedoms.                                                                                                                               

They seek the truth and nothing but the truth about the virus and, particularly, the safety of the vaccines. And they have deep convictions that the truth is not forthcoming from the Government or from broadcasters and newspapers. 

And that’s the point. If the media continue to stifle alternative views that flourish on various social sites, and continue to follow the censorial state narrative instead of encouraging healthy open debate, they are fuelling the very ‘conspiracies’ they seek to dismiss.    

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Mark Sharman
Mark Sharman
Mark Sharman is a former senior news executive with BSkyB and ITV.

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