I enjoyed, as much as anybody, Emily Thornberry’s ambush of Michael Fallon over his past cultivation of Assad. It is notable that the media themselves have interviewed Fallon continually during this election – he has been put out as May’s deflector shield – and no member of the media has ever mentioned it to him. Contrast that with the media’s treatment of Labour and SNP politicians.
I remember back further into Fallon’s past. 32 years ago, when I was the young occupant of the South Africa (Political) desk in the FCO, Fallon was a positive enthusiast for apartheid. Together with fellow St Andrews extreme Tory ideologue Michael Forsyth, Fallon was among those stiffening Thatcher in opposing all international sanctions against the apartheid regime, and opposing all British government interventions in individual cases of human rights abuse. I recall him arguing that apartheid South Africa had the “rule of law” and we should not interfere in its internal affairs. I recall him calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist.
Yet I do not recall any journalist bringing up Fallon’s past as a supporter of apartheid when he continually refers to Jeremy Corbyn’s association with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness as support for terrorism.
There are regulations in an election governing the broadcast media in giving equal time to political parties. But what they do within that time is not at all equal. On Marr, Fallon stated that a 1 billion dollar increased defence spending commitment would be met by “economic growth”. Marr let this go. Contrast this to the media ridiculing every single Labour spending proposal, routinely, as uncosted and “magic money”. It then became completely ludicrous when Fallon claimed a deficit of over 7 billion pounds in capital spending commitments would be met by “efficiency savings”. Marr should be congratulated on raising the issue in the first place, but there is no doubt that Fallon’s pathetic and risible retort would have been seized on and worried to death had it come from a Labour politician.
Just imagine Labour saying they were giving 7 billion dollars worth of equipment to the NHS to be met from “efficiency savings”. The media howl would be ear-piercing. Nick Ferrari would snap for hours and Andrew Neill would turn the sarcasm dial up to 11. But with Fallon, they just let the totally crazed claim slip. Obvious retorts like “if there are 7 billion pounds worth of efficiency savings in the defence budget, why haven’t you made them already?” were not deployed. Fallon went unchallenged.
Contrast this to Marr’s treatment of Nicola Sturgeon immediately afterwards. Her appearance on Marr this morning was a major part of the SNP leader’s allocated “fair time” by the BBC. Yet Marr chose to spend 90% of that allocated time on one single issue – school education tables – on which she is perceived to be weak. Sturgeon dealt with this very sensibly by saying that there is a problem with slipping basic numeracy and literacy, since the introduction of an ambitious new curriculum. This mistake had been acknowledged and was now being urgently addressed.
But Marr refused to move on. He asked question after question on this single point, and all his questions consisted of figures designed to prove that the problem existed, when Sturgeon had already said it existed.
What Marr was doing was simply adapting the favourite Tory attack on Sturgeon and refusing to discuss anything else, forcing Sturgeon to “admit” again and again that this problem existed, and not allowing her to talk about anything else in her allocated time. It was the starkest contrast to his willingness to let Fallon move on instantly from his ridiculous “efficiency savings” contention.
I could spend the next month blogging non-stop about instances of media bias, but I will just touch on one more because it is so startling. The Guardian has an “in-depth” account of the Tories winning a council seat in Ward 19 of Glasgow City Council. Incredibly, nowhere in the entire article do they mention that the election is under Single Transferrable Vote and the Tory got elected fourth in a four member constituency, and on the 10th transfer.
In fact I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the article has been deliberately written in order to create the false, indeed lying, impression that the Tories won this seat in a first past the post election. We have seen so much propaganda, across the entire media, of the “Tory surge in Scotland” that I suppose we are becoming used to it. But the fact remains that the 25% the Tories gained across Scotland at the local council election is the best they might achieve on 8 June, and is significantly below what Corbyn is regularly polling UK-wide. The media storm of “Tories take Scotland” propaganda, in the face of all fact, is unrelenting and deliberately designed to push and consolidate the Unionist vote.
Long term, it remains a happy fact that by pitching political choice in Scotland starkly between Toryism and Independence, there can only be one winner.
I have given up on expecting any honesty from the media. In future, I shall only blog on this subject when pleasantly surprised by an example of fairness or ethical behaviour in the media. I do not expect to do this often.