The Guardian

Venezuela Assassination Attempt: Maduro Survives but Journalism Doesn’t

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/08/2018 - 9:00pm in

Ricardo Vaz from IvestigAction Venezuela was rocked this past Saturday by an attempted assassination of President Nicolas Maduro, during a public event, using drones armed with explosives. But as more details started to become available, the coverage of the mainstream media actually moved in the opposite direction: one after the other they have looked to sow doubt on the events, using words such as “apparent” or “alleged”, focusing instead on the government using this “alleged” event to step up repression. In the end, it is hard to tell apart the media coverage from the statements of John Bolton, one of the more hawkish advisers to the US president. Although there are plenty of examples to choose from, we are going to focus on our personal champion of dishonest Venezuelan coverage – The Guardian. A quick search of Guardian headlines with “assassination attempt” shows that a qualifier such as “alleged” is never used. Be it Jacques Chirac, Guinea’s president, or even Saddam Hussein’s deputy, nobody had their assassination attempts questioned as a hoax to be used as a pretext to stamp out dissent. Such is the …

What “community standards” did these comments breach? #17

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/08/2018 - 1:00am in

The following comments – sent in by one of our readers, 0use4msm – were censored by the Guardian. Which of the well-publicised CiF “community standards” did they breach? Removed comments, posted under the opinion piece “Aggression, abuse and addiction: we need a social media detox”: The article was published at 6.00am yesterday morning – August 4th – its comment section was closed by 4pm. Screen shot of where they used to be: Do they “misrepresent the Guardian and its journalists”? Are they “persistent trolling or mindless abuse”? Are they “spam-like”? Or “obviously commercial”? Are they “racism, sexism, homophobia or hate-speech”? Are they “extremely offensive of threatening?”? Are they “flame-wars based on ingrained partisanship or generalisations”? Are they not “relevant”? If none of the above – why was it taken down? see our archive of censored comments. And if you see any egregious examples of the Guardian censoring its “free” comment sections – email us at, and send us screen caps if possible

If Trump wants to blow up the world order, who will stop him? op-ed in The Guardian

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/07/2018 - 9:22pm in

Even before Donald Trump drove to tears of dismay NATO’s leaders, Theresa May, the EU’s officialdom and Washington’s own ‘intelligence community’, the writing was on the wall: Trump is methodically dismantling a world order that he no longer believes to be in the interests of the United States’ ruling class.

Mon 11 Jun 2018 16.23 BST

Donald Trump’s early departure, and his subsequent refusal to endorse the G7 communique, has thrown the mainstream press into an apoplexy reflecting a deeper incomprehension of our unfolding global reality.

In a bid to mix toughness with humour, Emmanuel Macron had quipped that the G7 might become the … G6. That’s absurd, not least because without the United States, capitalism as we know it (let alone the pitiful G7 gatherings) would disappear from the planet’s face.

There is, of course, little doubt that with Trump in the White House there is an awful lot we should be angst-ridden about. However, the establishment’s reaction to the president’s shenanigans, in the United States and in Europe, is perhaps an even greater worry for progressives, replete as it is with dangerous wishful thinking and copious miscalculation.

Some put their faith in the Mueller investigation, assuming that Mike Pence would be kinder to them as president. Others are holding their breath until 2020, refusing to consider the possibility of a second term. What they all fail to grasp is the very real tectonic shifts underpinning Trump’s uncouth antics.

The Trump administration is building up a substantial economic momentum domestically. First, he passed income and corporate tax cuts that the establishment Republicans could not have imagined even in their wildest dreams a few years ago. But this was not all. Behind the scenes, Trump astonished Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat’s leader in the House of Representatives, by approving every single social program that she asked of him. As a result, the federal government is running the largest budget deficit in America’s history when the rate of unemployment is less than 4%.

Whatever one thinks of this president, he is giving money away not only to the richest, who of course get the most, but also to many poor people. With demonstrably strong employment, especially among African American workers, inflation under control and the stock market still buoyant, Donald Trump has his home front covered as he travels to foreign lands to confront friends and foes.

The US anti-Trump establishment prays that markets will punish his profligacy. This is precisely what would have happened if America were any other country. With a fiscal deficit expected to reach $804bn 2018 and $981bn in 2019, and with the government expected to borrow $2.34tn in the next 18 months, the exchange rate would be crashing and interest rates would be going through the roof. Except that the US is not any other country.

As its central bank, the Fed, winds down its quantitative easing program by selling off its stock of accumulated assets to the private sector, investors need dollars to buy them. This causes the number of dollars available to investors to shrink by up to $50bn a month. Add to this the dollars German and Chinese capitalists need to buy US government bonds (in a bid to park their profits somewhere safe) and you begin to see why Trump believes he will not be punished by a run either on the dollar or on government bonds.

Armed with the exorbitant privilege that owning the dollar presses affords him, Trump then takes a look at the trade flows with the rest of the G7 and comes to an inescapable conclusion: he cannot possibly lose a trade war against countries that have such high surpluses with the US (eg Germany, Italy, China), or which (like Canada) will catch pneumonia the moment the American economy catches the common cold.

None of this is new. Richard Nixon also confronted Europe’s establishment in 1971 while Ronald Reagan brutally squeezed the Japanese in 1985. Even the language was not less uncivilised – recall the summary of the Nixon administration’s attitude in the inimitable words of John Connally: “My philosophy is that all foreigners are out to screw us, and it’s our job to screw them first.” Today’s US aggression toward its allies is distinguished from those episodes in two ways.

First, since the 2008 collapse of Wall Street, and despite the subsequent re-floating of the financial sector, Wall Street and the US domestic economy can no longer do what they were doing before 2008: that is, absorb the net exports of European and Asian factories through a trade surplus financed by an equivalent influx of US-bound foreign profits. This failure is the underlying cause of the current global economic and political instability.

Second, unlike in the 1970s, Europe’s decade of mishandling the euro crisis has seen to it that the Franco-German establishment is now disunited and on the run – with xenophobic, anti-European nationalists taking over governments.

Trump takes one look at all this and concludes that, if the US can no longer stabilise global capitalism, he might as well blow up existing multilateral conventions and build from scratch a new global order resembling a wheel, with America its hub and all other powers its spokes – an arrangement of bilateral deals that ensures the US will always be the largest partner in each, and thus be able to exact a pound of flesh through divide and rule tactics.

Can the EU create a “Europe First” anti-Trump alliance, perhaps involving China? The answer has been given already, following Trump’s annulment of the Iran nuclear deal. Within minutes of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that European companies would stay in Iran, every single German corporation announced it was pulling out, prioritising the fat tax cuts Trump was offering them within the United States.

In conclusion, we have good reason to be appalled by Trump: he is winning against a European establishment that wallows in perfect ignorance of the forces undermining it and paving the ground for appalling developments. The onus falls on progressives in continental Europe, in the UK, and in the United States, to put on the agenda an Internationalist New Deal – and to win elections campaigning on it.

In my rare optimistic moments, I imagine an alliance of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and our Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, giving the Nationalist International led by Trump a run for its money. A few years ago, a Trump triumph in the US, Europe and beyond sounded even more farfetched than this. It is worth a try.

[For The Guardian’s site click here]

The not-so-free press

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/07/2018 - 3:30pm in

George Orwell famously said journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations. In a world festooned with PR exercises and reputation management, was Mr Orwell overly cynical, or was he well ahead of his time? With print media's business model in free fall, newspaper proprietors are increasingly desperate to find ways to ensure financial viability. The problem with this approach is that corporate interests can and often do trump the interests of readers. Joining us to discuss how free the UK press really is are the lecturer in journalism and media studies at Birkbeck College, Justin Schlosberg, and the editor of Open Media at openDemocracy, James Cusick.

The post The not-so-free press appeared first on Renegade Inc.

“Right to Die”, or Right to Kill?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/06/2018 - 9:30pm in

by Kit The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section makes for predictable reading this morning. John Harris says Brexit is bad and Corbyn is to blame, Shon Faye writes that trans rights are a class issue and Rhil Samadde going off on one about handshakes and Donald Trump. There’s nothing there about veganism or how Vladimir Putin causes global warming, but it’s still only early. Truly serious issues covered — None. Set-menu “liberal” agendas pushed — Several. Virtue signalled — Loudly and at length. The worst offender is Polly Toynbee, and that’s not really unusual: She thinks we should have a “right to die” law. The Gosport Scandal involved healthcare workers murdering patients with morphine, and Harold Shipman murdered patients with morphine. Polly thinks the best way fix this would be to make murdering patients with morphine legal. The logic is flawless. She outright dismisses the argument such a law could be abused with one sentence: The difference between unwanted death and assisted suicide can be encapsulated in one word: choice. And then does the same …

Gerald Scarfe Caricature of Menachem Begin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/06/2018 - 12:55am in

I found this caricature of the former Israeli premier, Menachem Begin, as a desert tank, on page 71 of Scarfe’s book, Scarfeface (London: Sinclair-Stevenson 1993).

I’m posting it as a rebuttal of the latest attempts to silence criticism of Israel, and particularly the censorship of cartoons commenting on Israeli atrocities and human rights abuses. Like the Guardian’s spiking of Steve Bell’s cartoon of Netanyahu and Tweezer having a chin-wag, while the murdered Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar burns in the fire. Or the German cartoon, which was censored for anti-Semitism, because its depiction of Netanyahu was held by the censor, Klein, to be like the Nazi caricatures of Jews. And then there was the case of Scarfe’s own cartoon of Netanyahu building his wretched wall to keep the Palestinians out a few years ago. Mark Regev, the odious Israeli ambassador, speciously claimed that because it showed Netanyahu building it using the blood and bodies of Palestinians, that it was somehow a reference to the infamous ‘Blood Libel’.

It’s all rubbish. None of these cartoons were anti-Semitic. And as Mike has pointed out, in these cases authorial intention have to be taken into account. Scarfe isn’t an anti-Semite, and neither is Bell, who has vigorously denied that there was any anti-Semitic intention in his cartoon. But the people making these accusations aren’t interested in whether they’re really anti-Semitic. They’re interested solely in using the issue of anti-Semitism as a convenient weapon for shutting down criticism of Israel.

I don’t know when Scarfe’s cartoon of Begin was published, but it was clearly a much freer time journalistically. It’s a comment on his militaristic character and period in office. And I’m very sure that there were no accusations of anti-Semitism, and it was accepted as ‘fair comment’. And looking at it, it is not very different in its intent and comment on Israeli politics as the others that have recently been censored.

How very different to today, where if you draw a cartoon that the Israelis and their supporters don’t like, you will be automatically libelled as an anti-Semites and your cartoon spiked.

It’s time this grotesque infringement of free speech and libelling of perfectly decent people stopped. Journalists should hold everyone to account, including Israel and its leaders, just like every other nation, without fear of defamation and censorship.


Israel Based Journo Shows How Censorship of Steve Bell Cartoon Plays into Hands of Real Anti-Semites

Last week the editor of the Groaniad, Kath Viner, spiked a cartoon by the paper’s Steve Bell for supposed anti-Semitism. The cartoon commented on the complete indifference to the murder of 21 year old Palestinian medic, Razan al-Najjar by the IDF shown by Netanyahu and Tweezer. Bell depicted the two having a cosy chat by the fire, in which al-Najjar was burning. This was too much for Viner, who immediately did what the Israel lobby always does whenever the country is criticised for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians: she immediately accused the critic of anti-Semitism. The cartoon was anti-Semitic, apparently, because al-Najjar’s place in the fire was supposedly a reference to the Holocaust and the murder of the Jews in the Nazi gas ovens. Despite the fact that Bell denied that there was any such intention in his work, or indeed, any overt references to the Holocaust at all.

Bell was naturally outraged, and issued a strong denial. I’ve blogged about this issue, as has Mike, and Bell’s denial was also covered by that notorious pro-Putin propaganda channel, RT. And an Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, has also come down solidly on Bell’s side and against censorship.

Mike posted a piece reporting and commenting on Mr Cook’s view and analysis of the case on Saturday. Cook is a former Guardian journalist, who now lives in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Cook praised Bell’s cartoon because of the way it held power to account, and indicted the powerful and their calculations at the expense of the powerless. He stated

In other words, it represents all that is best about political cartoons, or what might be termed graphic journalism. It holds power – and us – to account.

He then went on to describe how, by siding with Israel over the cartoon, the Guardian was siding with the powerful against the powerless; with a nuclear-armed state against its stateless minority. He then goes on to make the point that when criticism of Israel is silenced, the country benefits from a kind of reverse anti-Semitism, or philo-Semitism, which turns Israel into a special case. He writes

When a standard caricature of Netanyahu – far less crude than the caricatures of British and American leaders like Blair and Trump – is denounced as anti-Semitic, we are likely to infer that Israeli leaders expect and receive preferential treatment. When showing Netanyahu steeped in blood – as so many other world leaders have been – is savaged as a blood libel, we are likely to conclude that Israeli war crimes are uniquely sanctioned. When Netanyahu cannot be shown holding a missile, we may assume that Israel has dispensation to bombard Gaza, whatever the toll on civilians.

And when we see the furore created over a cartoon like Bell’s, we can only surmise that other, less established cartoonists will draw the appropriate conclusion: keep away from criticising Israel because it will harm your personal and professional reputation.

He then makes the point that doing so plays into the hands of real anti-Semites, and generates more:

When we fail to hold Israel to account; when we concede to Israel, a nuclear-armed garrison state, the sensitivities of a Holocaust victim; when we so mistake moral priorities that we elevate the rights of a state over the rights of the Palestinians it victimises, we not only fuel the prejudices of the anti-Semite but we make his arguments appealing to others. We do not help to stamp out anti-Semitism, we encourage it to spread. That is why Viner and the Guardian have transgressed not just against Bell, and against the art of political cartoons, and against justice for the Palestinians, but also against Jews and their long-term safety.

Mike goes on to make the point that we need to be more critical about the raving paranoiacs, who see anti-Semitism in Steve Bell’s cartoon, and also in Gerald Scarfe’s depiction of Netanyahu building his anti-Palestinian wall using the blood and bodies of the Palestinians themselves. This was attacked by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, as ‘anti-Semitic’, who claimed that it was a reference to the Blood Libel. It wasn’t, but the I apologised anyway. Mike goes on to say that there is no such thing as an unintentional anti-Semite, but authorial intentions are routinely ignored in these cases.

He then goes to state very clearly that as the authorial intentions of these cartoons weren’t anti-Semitic, Viner was wrong about Bell’s cartoon. Just as the Sunset Times, as Private Eye dubbed the rag, was wrong about Scarfe and Mike himself, as was the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And so are the people, who’ve accused Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and so many others of anti-Semitism. And in the meantime, Netanyahu gets away with mass murder.

Mike concludes

But Mr Cook is right – these attitudes only fuel real anti-Semitism among those who draw the only logical conclusion about what’s going on in the media, which is that the Establishment is protecting the Israeli government against censure for its crimes.

It suggests to me that all those involved in this charade have been creating problems that will come back to harm all of us in the future.

Now part of the problem here could be certain developments in anti-racism and postmodernist literary theory. For example, some anti-racist activists have argued that there is such a thing as unconscious racism, and have used it to accuse people and material they have seen as spreading or legitimising racism, but without any conscious intent to do so.

In postmodernist literary theory, the author’s intent is irrelevant. In the words of one French postmodernist literary theorist, ‘all that exists is the text’. And one person’s interpretation of the text is as good as another’s.

Hence, those arguing that the above cartoons are anti-Semitic, could do so citing these ideas above.

Now there clearly is something to unconscious racism. If you look back at some of the discussions and depictions of racial issues in 1970s popular culture, they are often horrendously racist by today’s standards. But they weren’t seen as such then, and I dare say many of those responsible for some of them genuinely didn’t believe they were being racist, nor intended to do so. And unconscious racism is irrelevant in this case too. The accusers have not argued that these cartoons are unconsciously racist. They’ve simply declared that they are, without any kind of qualification. Which implies that their authors must be deliberately anti-Semitic, which is a gross slur.

As for postmodernist literary theory, the accusers haven’t cited that either. And if they did, it could also easily be turned against them. If there are no privileged readings of a particular text, then the view of someone, who thought Bell’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, is no more valid than the person, who didn’t. Which cuts the ground out from such accusations. That argument doesn’t stand up either, though here again, the people making the accusations of anti-Semitism haven’t used it.

Nevertheless, their arguments about the anti-Semitic content of these cartoons and the strained parallels they find with the Holocaust, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are very reminiscent of the postmodernist texts the American mathematician Sokal, and the Belgian philosopher Bricmont, used to demolish the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism in their 1990s book, Intellectual Impostures. One of the texts they cited was by a French feminist arguing that women were being prevented from taking up careers in science. It’s a fair point, albeit still controversial amongst some people on the right. However, part of her evidence for this didn’t come from studies showing that girls start off with a strong interest in science like boys, only to have it crushed out of them later in their schooling. No! This strange individual based part of her argument on the medieval coat of arms for Brussels, which shows frogs in a marsh. Which somehow represents the feminine. Or at least, it did to her. For most of us, the depiction of frogs in a marsh in the coat of arms for Brussels is a depiction of precisely that: frogs in a marsh. Because, I have no doubt, the land Brussels was founded on was marshy.

But Cook and Mike are right about these accusations, and the favouritism shown to Israel, playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

The storm troopers of the right are very fond of a quote from Voltaire: ‘If you want to know who rules over you, ask who it is you can’t criticise’. Or words to that effect. Depending on whether the person using the quote is an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe, the answer they’ll give will be ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Muslims’.

Of course, their choice of the French Enlightenment philosopher is more than somewhat hypocritical. Voltaire hated intolerance, and in the early stages before it became aggressively anti-religious, the French Revolution stood for religious toleration. A set of playing cards made to celebrate it showed on one card the Bible with the Talmud, the Jewish holy book containing extra-Biblical lore and guidance, and the Qu’ran.

But by ruling that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the Israel lobby very much appears to show – entirely falsely – that the anti-Semites are right, and that the Jews really are in control of the rest of us. It gives an utterly false, specious confirmation of the very conspiracy theories they claim to have found in the works of the people they denounce. The same conspiracy theories they claim to oppose, and which have been responsible for the horrific suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

It’s high time this was stopped, and accusations of anti-Semitism treated with the same impartial judgement as other claims of bias or racism. And false accusations should be firmly rejected as a slur, and apologies and restitution demanded from the libellers.

RT Report on Steve Bell’s Cartoon Spiked because of ‘Anti-Semitism’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/06/2018 - 9:19pm in

This is a very brief report by RT on Steve Bell’s strenuous denial that his cartoon of Netanyahu and Tweezer enjoying a cosy chat by the fire, in which the murdered Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar is burning, is anti-Semitic. The report states that Netanyahu met Tweezer to discuss ‘Iran and Iran’. It was spiked by the Guardian’s editor, Kath Viner, Bell is quoted as saying

it should have been published as it stands, but if you are still obdurate that it should remain unpublished, then I feel a duty to my subject to try and salvage something from this fiasco.

The cartoon which replaced it shows Brexit secretary David Davis riding around parliament on a unicorn. It’s by Bell, but not signed.

This piece begins with an email from a Jonathan Cook, giving this as an example of the growing ‘mystification’ of anti-Semitism, and warning ‘What cartoonist is not going to reach the conclusion that it’s safer to avoid all cartoons critical of Israel.’

Cook’s right. This has absolutely nothing to do with real anti-Semitism. It’s just another smear to silence criticism of Israel, just like Mark Regev did to Gerald Scarfe in the I, and the German apparatchik Klein did last week to a German cartoonist for his caricature of Netanyahu. And which the CAA and its assorted allies, including the Jewish Labour Movement, have been doing to decent, anti-racist people for daring to criticise Israel and its brutal treatment and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

With his choice of prime minister, Italy’s president has gifted the far right – THE GUARDIAN

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/06/2018 - 6:38pm in

Italy should be doing well. Unlike Britain, it exports considerably more to the rest of the world than it imports, while its government spends less(excluding interest payments) than the taxes it receives. And yet Italy is stagnating, its population in a state of revolt following two lost decades.

While it is true that Italy is in serious need of reforms, those who blame the stagnation on domestic inefficiencies and corruption must explain why Italy grew so fast throughout the postwar period until it entered the eurozone. Was its government and polity more efficient and virtuous in the 1970s and 1980s? Hardly.

The singular reason for Italy’s woes is its membership of a terribly designed monetary union, the eurozone, in which the Italian economy cannot breathe and which consecutive German governments refuse to reform.

Since then, the pro-establishment government of Italy’s Democratic party implemented, one after the other, the policies that the unelected bureaucrats of the EU demanded. The result was more stagnation. And so, in March, a national election delivered an absolute parliamentary majority to two anti-establishment parties which, despite their differences, shared doubts about Italy’s eurozone membership and a hostility to migrants. It was the bitter harvest of absent prospects and withering hope.

After a few weeks of the kind of post-election horse-trading common in countries like Italy and Germany, the Five Star Movement and League leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini struck a deal to form a government. Alas, President Sergio Mattarella used the powers bestowed upon him by the Italian constitution to prevent the formation of that government and, instead, handed the mandate to a technocrat, a former IMF employee who stands no chance of a vote of confidence in parliament.

Had Mattarella refused Salvini the post of interior minister, outraged by his promise to expel 500,000 migrants from Italy, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, the president had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the idea of a European country deploying its security forces to round up hundreds of thousands of people, cage them, and force them into trains, buses and ferries before sending them goodness knows where.

No, Mattarella chose to clash with an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: his disapproval of the finance minister designate. Why? Because the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s rules, had in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of EU exit just in case it was needed. It was as if Mattarella declared that reasonableness from a prospective finance minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post.

Beyond his moral failure, the president has made a major tactical blunder

What is so striking is that there is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. No prudent finance minister would neglect to develop a plan for euro exit. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the German finance ministry, the European Central Bank and every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mattarella telling us that the Italian finance minister is banned from thinking of such a plan?

Beyond his moral failure to oppose the League’s industrial-scale misanthropy, the president has made a major tactical blunder: he fell right into Salvini’s trap. The formation of another “technical” government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Salvini’s party.

Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is, but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. He has already scaled the moral high ground with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”

If Mattarella takes solace from the fact that previous Italian presidents managed to put in place technical governments that did the establishment’s job (so “successfully” that the country’s political centre imploded), he is very badly mistaken. This time around he, unlike his predecessors, has no parliamentary majority to pass a budget or indeed to lend his chosen government a vote of confidence. Thus, the president is forced to call fresh elections that, courtesy of his moral drift and tactical blunder, will return an even stronger majority for Italy’s xenophobic political forces, possibly in alliance with the enfeebled Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi.

And then what, President Mattarella?

Yanis Varoufakis is the co-founder of DiEM25 (Democracy in EuropeMovement). He is also the former finance minister of Greece

Click here for the Guardian’s site

Book Review: Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity by Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/05/2018 - 10:25pm in

In Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of AusteritySteven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando explore how debates and discourses surrounding poverty and welfare have been shaped by the mainstream press in the UK. The granular content analysis offered by the book gives great insight into the normalisation of social inequality across the British media landscape, writes Matthew Hacke, and will be of interest to those looking to formulate a more ethical and inclusive journalism. 

Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity. Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando. Rowman and Littlefield. 2018.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The provenance of the British press is a key point of contention in current affairs. New media, and new modes of distribution, from Twitter to Breitbart, have restructured the way that most people consume news. This landscape, compounded by the collapse of the political centre, has shown traditional media institutions to be unashamedly partisan. Topics and figures such as Brexit, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are now inextricably tied to individual journalists and particular outlets as much as they are to policy or ideology.

In this sense, Poor News: Media Discourses of Poverty in Times of Austerity, edited by Steven Harkins and Jairo Lugo-Ocando, is an incredibly timely contribution. The news landscape has changed. However, in paradoxical fashion, the influence of the traditional press seems to have reached its zenith. This is most apparent in the mediation of economics and inequality to the public. Discourses on welfare and socioeconomics, as shown in Poor News, have been repeatedly defined and articulated by the traditional news media. Invariably, this process has demonised a significant subsection, if not all, of those in poverty.

Whilst avoiding detailed discussion of the modern media landscape, Poor News still provides a strong deconstruction of how debates on poverty in Britain have been shaped by the mainstream press. Its content analysis of a range of papers, including the Daily Telegraph, the Sun and the Guardian, is robust, offering a convincing exposé of how print outlets normalise social inequality, regardless of their political standpoints. What’s more, its granular approach to various sub-debates and issues will give great insight to researchers interested in ethical journalism, public opinion on poverty and the British media landscape.

Image Credit: (Mikey CC BY 2.0)

The central assumption of Poor News is that when reflecting on poverty, people ‘often choose to believe and share certain worldviews, despite the evidence and sometimes against their own personal experience’ (1). This, for Lugo-Ocando and Harkins, is aggregated by cultural apparatus, and newspapers play a key role in formulating these opinions. Therein, the extensive content analysis that grounds the majority of Poor News is an appropriate research methodology. For the most part, this analysis is split thematically, rather than by political standpoint or audience segment. This should prove useful for academics using the book as a resource to make arguments on a range of aspects of poverty in times of austerity. Moreover, this split makes certain that the book does not become too disjointed. As the authors demonstrate, tabloid opinion on poverty in the UK is worryingly one-voiced. Thus, different ways of thinking are just not prevalent enough in the source matter to warrant a split by standpoint or ideology.

Before embarking on their content analysis of contemporary tabloid media, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando offer an extensive contextualisation of British journalism, moving from its emergence in the industrial revolution to the present day. The grand narrative described here is twofold. Firstly, they trace a continued branding of journalism as impartial and crucial to fostering political accountability. Secondly, and more nefarious, they identify a distortion of this mission through stereotyping and attacks on the disenfranchised as a means of upholding the status quo. Specifically, this entails a demarcation between a ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor – and the subsequent demonisation of the latter.

At times, the rigorous historicism provided in the book’s opening chapters seems somewhat superfluous. However, it reveals itself as being integral to Poor News’s framework. Through tracking the chastisement of the poor and the close relationship between journalists and the wealthy throughout modern British history, Lugo-Ocando and Harkins are able to show that today’s partisan media is no aberration. Rather, its lack of impartiality and reactionary narratives on benefits, immigration and healthcare are modern manifestations derived from its fundamental establishment. This ultimately points towards the need for universal change, rather than minor reform.

Historical analysis roots out contradictions specific to the present too. Throughout Poor News, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando return to this distinction in the press between the deserving and undeserving poor, which is used to traverse a diverse range of issues including child poverty, the welfare state and housing. This offers particular insight into fuel poverty, an issue that disproportionately impacts on the elderly. As Lugo-Ocando and Harkins point out, this topic create a deadlock, insofar as the usual script on poverty is short-circuited by its subjects, the elderly, being conventionally categorised as a deserving group, and one ‘far more likely to buy a printed newspaper’ (89) as well. As such, the by-lines on fuel poverty display a curious ambivalence: devoid of ‘critical narratives’, but unwilling to offer any structural critique or solution either (90). Here, the longitudinal discussion proves crucial to shedding light on the motives and limits of the press, both political and commercial. These outcomes perhaps offer the most profound insight into the ambiguities and politicisation of discourses on poverty, and of the media establishment that voices them.

To be sure, the content analysis is excellent, and Poor News does well to effectively illustrate how mainstream tabloids play a ‘key role in framing how [poverty] issues are understood by the public’ (7). Yet, I feel that analysing a wider range of print news sources may have provided further evidence on the group-think that the authors aim to diagnose. Invariably, Poor News selects partisan outlets for its analysis. However, consideration of apparently impartial publications may have offered conclusive evidence on the extent of hegemony discussed throughout the text. For example, Harkins and Lugo-Ocando might have considered the London Evening Standard and the London Metro, two free newspapers that are published in the UK capital on weekdays. Both publications are keen to seem neutral, but the developer-friendly way in which they discuss often contentious urban regeneration projects is indicative of a certain ideological framing. The former, now edited by ex-Conservative UK Chancellor George Osbourne, could prove a particularly fruitful place to analyse the politicisation of consensus and ‘common knowledge’ on poverty in the British press. A discussion of how regional press either dissents from or endorses common opinion, as is briefly touched on in comparisons of the Scottish Sun and the Sun, could have offered further insight too.

Poor News is light on conclusions. The authors are reticent to ‘[extrapolate] our findings into universal claims, mainly because in some cases the media deal very differently with these issues in each society’ (3). Still, their analysis proves a strong framework for assessing cultural production across the globe and is particularly convincing, and relevant, to the political climate in Britain.

There is little doubt that the outlets discussed in Poor News dominate the debates on poverty in the British mainstream. The tragedy of this orthodoxy is that the poor are not only demonised, but also deprived of an opportunity to speak back. With the evidence and authority that Lugo-Ocando and Harkins offer, further research could seek to find ways to develop an inclusive and sympathetic journalism.

Matthew Hacke holds a Master’s with distinction and a First Class undergraduate degree from the University of Exeter. His interests lie in the digital humanities, and in projects relating to security studies, social inequality and war studies. Read more by Matthew Hacke.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.