Nick Robinson: Here’s the main reason that people don’t trust political news
It would be easy to attack Nick Robinson for being a hypocrite in response to him getting uppity about fake news.
Afterall, he was responsible for one of the most egregious examples of the phenomenon I have ever witnessed on national television. A moment no supporter of Scottish independence could forget. When Alex Salmond provided a fairly comprehensive answer to Robinson’s question about the impact on Scotland of RBS moving its HQ to London in the event of a Yes vote.
In the resulting BBC news report, Robinson deliberately omitted Salmond’s thorough response and even suggested that the then First Minister had avoided the question.
In that case, it was Robinson and the BBC providing the fake narrative and it was the alternative media who exposed the truth.
Still, the reason for the lack of trust is not just that establishment media has, on occasion, been caught out blatantly bending reality.
The main problem the mainstream media faces is that it has made itself redundant by failing to perform its key function.
The Salmond/Robinson spat hinted at this bigger picture. As with most of what qualifies as political news, a sensationalist agenda had been spoonfed to the BBC by a partisan political source in the knowledge that the BBC would broadcast it verbatim without much regard for its actual newsworthiness. Salmond’s response was omitted because he provided a complex nuanced answer which showed that the RBS story was not significant enough to deserve the lurid coverage it was getting.
Furthermore, Salmond was punished for having the audacity to suggest that it was the job of BBC journalists to work that fact out before publishing.
Any coverage of politics that is worth its salt should be skewed in favour of the truth.
News media should investigate political claims to see if they carry any weight and if they choose to air them, they should thoroughly hold those views to account.
Nowadays, the majority of so-called balanced political reporting that I see follows the same pattern. The media will report a press-release, they will have someone on from a political party to expand on that press release and at some point, they will let another political party with an opposing view respond.
In most cases, it matters not a jot to the media if one or both of those sides are talking complete gibberish.
In the RBS case, even if Salmond’s reply had been broadcast, the balance it provided could never quell the alarm caused by the national broadcaster injudiciously spreading political spin that falsely suggested the banks will flee Scotland in the event of a Yes vote. There was a truth to the reason for the leak and the future consequences of what RBS were proposing. It is the job of the media to investigate and report something that is close to this truth. Otherwise, what service are they providing other than amplifying propoganda?
Robinson insinuates that fake news had a major effect on our two recent UK referenda.
I would counter that the failure of the mainstream media to be a proper Fourth Estate had a much more significant impact.
In the 2014 Scottish referendum, when all the major political parties were against Scottish independence, the BBC approach of press release driven journalism meant that inevitably there were a lot more anti-independence reports. Many of these stories were patently ludicrous, such as George Robertson’s post-independence global cataclysm or Manuel Barroso’s now painfully ironic assertion that it would be impossible for Scotland to join the EU.
In the case of the EU referendum, both sides received similar coverage because the political establishment was split on the issue. However, the same lack of judgement from broadcasters still poisoned the debate. Patently false claims such as the £350 million saving to the NHS were given legitimacy as was the worst kind of dog whistle lowest common denominator populism. Even now, more than a year later, we still don’t actually know what leaving the EU will look like and the media has to take some responsibility for this. All too often, chasing soundbites rather than facts.
In both referenda, the news media was culpable of helping politicians reduce extremely complicated questions to a level of simply choosing between two sets of grossly dumbed down and highly emotive narratives.
Robinson is right to say that lots of alternative sources of media are biased.
They all actually admit this. Yet often these sites are correct when they point out the inaccuracies of the BBC as the BBC is happy to spread nonsense in the guise of accurately reporting the spun political agenda.
If Nick Robinson wants to decrease the popularity of Wings Over Scotland and the Canary, then he would do well to start depriving them of so much easy ammunition.
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