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Senior Labour Party figure Tom Watson has picked up the ball and run with it, announcing an inquiry into what he considers fake news, led by his colleague Michael Dugher. The fact that Dugher has written against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for both the Daily Mail and The Sun says all you need to know regarding their stance on the matter.
So, with this in mind, here are the winners of the inaugural Fake News Awards for outstanding contributions to manipulating media coverage and, on occasion, completely fabricating it as well.
Step forward The Sun and The Daily Mail: both of whom published as fact (then swiftly retracted) stories accusing Jeremy Corbyn of dancing his way to The Cenotaph using fairly-obviously doctored photos. Doctored photos supplied by one Steve Back AKA @PoliticalPics. It was The Mirror that outed this obvious fakery (which both the Mail and Sun promptly deleted).
*Cue drum roll and a brief burst of classical music*
Mr. Back, The Sun and The Daily Mail, it is my honour to present you all with our very first Phoney Award. Long may it haunt your ‘interesting’ attitude to little things like fact-checking, accuracy, honesty and journalistic integrity.
Next up we have both Tom Watson and the head of Watson’s proposed inquiry into ‘fake news.’ Yes, Michael Dugher, MP who has written for the Sun and the Mail and seems to have an axe to grind over the democratic election and continued survival of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. He, as head of this inquiry, would be expected to be fair and impartial. It’s fair to say that his own media employment history, his avowed loathing for supposed ‘fake news’ sites like The Canary and Evolve Politics, as well as his vehement anti-Corbynism, invite a certain scepticism.
Time for another drum roll and short snatch of classical music.
Mr. Watson, Mr. Dugher, you too are recipients of a ‘Phoney Award’ for your attacks on both your democratically-elected leader and especially for portraying yourselves as non-partisan while wanting to curb independent media for being, in your opinions, partisan. Your nominations are (as a great and, appropriately, entirely fictional character) once said,
‘Elementary, my dear Watson…’
In the broadcasting category, it’s an honour to present a Phoney Award to the avowedly-impartial British Broadcasting Corporation. Yes, that BBC, the BBC with the charter specifically devoting itself to objective, impartial coverage of all issues. The BBC that issued a very quiet admission that it had portrayed activists opposed to intervention in Syria as violent thugs. An admission it buried as far from public view as possible.
Speaking of the lovely Auntie Beeb, it wouldn’t be right to ignore the contribution of senior Beeb political journalist Laura Kuenssberg. After all, she was recently crowned ‘Journalist of the Year at the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards. That would be the same Laura Kuenssberg accused of clear anti-Corbyn bias, of not just reporting, but actually helping orchestrate the resignation of MP Steven Doughty with the intention of damaging Corbyn. The same Laura Kuenssberg under fire for endlessly using Twitter to spend more time attacking Corbyn than for a great deal else.
Ms Kuenssberg, BBC journalist, impartial media source and Journalist of the Year, here’s another trophy for your collection.
Of course, another way to manipulate media coverage is to ‘spike’ a story, to ensure it doesn’t reach the media in the first place. For that award, step forward Iain Duncan Smith (on whose watch this occurred) and the Department for Work and Pensions for their sterling contribution to ensuring that bad news ends up as no news by spiking as many stories as possible. Somehow for a department whose media people are devoted to hyping up successes and trying (ineptly) to conceal failures, it’s doubtful that they’ll want to acknowledge their victory here. Another one to be spiked..?
It wouldn’t be inclusive to ignore contributions from outside the UK. Foreign politicians and the mainstream press are every bit as unhappy about fake news outlets, after all. With that in mind, it’s a true privilege to present the inaugural international award to, no less, the Washington Post for starting the fake news ball rolling in the first place.
Finally, a special mention should go to recent contenders Slate. The people at Slate are concerned about fake news. So concerned, in fact, that they’re touting the introduction of their new ‘debunking tool,’ a Google Chrome extension that they say will automatically flag up fake news, disrupt its viral spread and point readers to what it calls ‘A reputable source that debunks the story in question.’ Quite who defines what is and isn’t ‘reputable’ isn’t made clear. Nor is it made clear what the bosses at Slate would do if they themselves published something later exposed as fake news. The non-mainstream media will probably, sooner or later, be inclined to ask.
[This article has been updated to include the fact that The Mirror debunked The Sun’s Jeremy Corbyn jig story before The Canary.]