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See Emily play fast and loose with the facts


BREXIT has devastated stocks of integrity and competence in Britain’s newsrooms. The situation is so bad that flagships such as Newsnight could ‘crash out’ of journalistic standards without an ideal.

With impartiality disappearing, a run against Reithian values and objectivity has given rise to fanaticism.

Even our top broadcasters are falling from grace. Morale hit an all-time low recently when the great Emily Maitlis adopted the tactic of using evidence-free contention, stating that ‘doctors are worried about the availability of cancer drugs’ after Brexit.

What happened to the standard-bearers of journalism? A number of factors have worn them down.

The swell of new media channels created an over-supply of news outlets, which makes modern publishers and broadcasters put content before quality. With news a commodity and comment the cheapest word rate available, reporting is trusted to partisan pretenders unburdened by the old ‘legacy’ journalistic practices.

Context takes time to develop and conscience slows things down, but comment is free and content’s even cheaper.

Adopting the new tactics of churnalism, I spoke to a Fleet Street veteran. ‘Most of these kids couldn’t spot a story if they saw Kim Jong-un in the BBC canteen,’ he said.

Intense competition has brought about standardisation, meaning that the stories and running orders are identical across ITV, BBC and Sky. Some say news editors are colluding to fix the bulletins. The angles and the messages and timing are perfectly synchronised. Coincidence? Many don’t think so.

But is the Remainstream media capable of collusion? Is it capable of posing questions as a subtle form of mud-slinging? Is there a method to the mad ideas it constantly seems to be planting?

Another effort-saving is made on research. Many reports are based on anonymous contacts, such as Nick Robinson’s ‘People R Saying’ source, the Institute of Nameless Experts and the Court of Hearsay. These require no work at all.

Even Emily Maitlis, one of our top journalists, isn’t immune from the temptation.

Her claim that doctors are warning about drug shortages dates back to February, when a non-story entered the news echo chamber know as the Brexit Bubbler.

In February a former regulator put out a statement that the movement of drugs might be affected if Britain withdrew from the EU’s medicines regulator.

A BBC online reporter duly made the most extreme interpretation available, that the supply of cancer drugs could be affected. But at least he acknowledged that it was speculation.

The story then entered the echo chamber’s spin cycle – known in cyberspace as a Bleak Hole – in which all nuance, qualifying statements and caution were removed. Soon a would-be showbiz doctor took to Twitter to condemn that fact that Desperate Cancer Patients would be Denied their Drugs – and it was all because of Brexit chaos.

This ludicrous fabrication was soon debunked by other Twitter users. It was pointed out that nobody could possibly know what the outcome would be. Nobody involved in the drugs supply chain gave the story any credence at all. However, the damage was done. Those who desperately wanted to believe that Brexit was going to cause death had their story.

This explosive simulacrum doesn’t bear close examination and can be dismantled even by amateurs. However, it is a realistic-looking factsimile when flashed quickly and can appear authentic in the hands of a respected journalist such as Emily Maitlis.

However, who knows what long-term damage will be done to those who handle this volatile material?

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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