Richard North, 03/04/2017  
 


It has been frequently observed, although not widely aired, that Brexit is showing up the ignorance and inadequacies of the politico-media nexus in a way that no other subject ever has, or could.

We are seeing the consequences of a retreat from European issues and from the complexities of administrative government which for so long have been handled by the EU and its predecessors that neither journalists nor most politician have any experience or knowledge of them.

One good illustration of this is the superficial treatment of the issues that will affect the Port of Dover and other Channel ports once Brexit is in place and, in particular, the recent letter from Jim Harra to Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury select committee.

Giving the game away, though, is the Independent. While the entire legacy media is obsessing about Gibraltar, it has its political commentator Matthew Norman write, with unusual candour: "The Brexit negotiations were getting boring – we needed a battle over Gibraltar to spice things up".

And that just about sums things up. At the limits of its capability to report on Brexit, the legacy media has finally got something it can get its teeth into: a nice juicy confrontation between the dastardly dagos and the proud Brits, coming to the rescue of the plucky Gibraltarians.

This sure beats the hell out of assessing the BIP capacity in the Channel ports of northern France, or any one of a thousand or more technical issues which are going to have a material effect on the success or otherwise of Brexit.

"Biff-bam" is what the British media does best – apart from political sex scandals. As long as they can fill their space quotas with lurid copy describing the next steps in a largely invented drama, it absolves them from the responsibility of doing any serious reporting.

And this, it would seem, is where we're going to be for the next two years, where the media indulge in displacement activity, giving massive coverage to every hint of confrontation, whether real or not, and flooding its columns with trivia and irrelevances. Anything will serve to avoid having to deal with the real issues, and the need to offer sober, accurate reports and analyses.

That is not to say that the continental media are very much better, or even at all better. The disease of trivia seems to have afflicted journalists throughout the free world, supported by a featherweight readership which often seems to have difficulty in telling "reality TV" from the real thing.

In many ways, it is hardly surprising that the media should go for the trivia vote – it is that which gets the clicks, and the clicks bring the advertisers and keep the rates high. And, after all, the media (mostly) are businesses, in the game to make money (unless, of course, you are the loss-making Guardian).

As regards Gibraltar, says Matthew Norman, taken out of context, it does not appear to be one of the major items on the roster of assets to be separated. It's the print of Guernica he bought on a weekend break to Barcelona, perhaps, or that antique copper kettle she picked up for a tenner at the car boot.

Roughly the size of a London park and with a similar population to Exmouth, he tells us, Gibraltar's economic relevance seems as negligible as its status as a UK enclave in Spain seems comically anachronistic.

But the he makes a fair point: "Symbolically, of course, it is more important than the bare statistics imply. To Spain, whose foreign minister was banging on about planting the Spanish flag on the rock within a few days of the Brexit result, the Union Jack's presence is an insult to machismo pride".

In that context, the fate of Gibraltar is important. And, as Pete points out, whether it is blue passports, or EU flags flying over public buildings, symbolism is a crucial issue.

The trouble with the media, though, is that it lacks any sense of perspective or proportion. Already, the restoration of the blue passport and the prospect of war with Spain over Gibraltar have had more space than was devoted to the outbreak of the Second World War.

But it is not only the quite disproportionate coverage, and its often speculative nature, it is the fact that this displaces coverage of serious matters, which then go completely unreported.

However, nothing in the short-term (or at all) is going to change this. The worse the papers get, the more they seem to preen about their "award-winning journalism", with individual journalists tweeting about "brilliant" articles written by their colleagues, which almost invariably turn out to be dross.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times devoted most of its News Review section to Brexit but, scrolling down the titles and their authors, there was not a single item there which was worth reading.

The TV news, similarly, has become unwatchable. There is little difference between the BBC and the commercial stations, other than on the BBC where we have to contend with the insufferably lightweight opinions of a Scottish female – a living advertisement for permanent separation and compulsory repatriation.

Nevertheless, there are things that individuals can do, and in my view should be doing. Every time someone posts a link to a legacy media piece on social media (or even these blog comments), they add to their hit rates and thereby aid them financially.

Refraining from posting links is a good start. Where I can, I will either post links to original sources, or agencies such as Reuters - or sites such as Euractiv, which still treat their readers with respect. And use of adblocker when visiting legacy media sites further restricts their ability to monetise visitors.

Where possible, issues covered by blogs and independents, should be given preference to legacy media and, where the media insist on promoting trivia, they should be ignored.

These are but small steps, but essential ones. From being a necessity, the media have become worse than an embarrassment. They trivialise events, distort priorities and poison the debate with misinformation, ignorance and stupidity, with many journalists so profoundly ignorant that they do not even begin to understand how little they actually know.

Above all, there is the arrogance to deal with as these people spread their ignorance in the certain belief that theirs is the one true word, and their lofty opinions, founded on ignorance, trump years of study and analysis. No more offensive in this field are the self-serving articles headed, "all you need to know … ".

The ultimate irony, though, was in seeing the Guardian having Peter Preston tell us: "We need hard facts, not tabloid bile, to find our way through Brexit".

He then has the nerve to assert that we need to find a daily with properly diligent reporters in Brussels, of course. We need the BBC – whether helped or hindered by round-robins of support – to stand tall. And we need to cross-check with the FT.

Says Preston: "Readers sucked in deep may come to bless Politico, the site where European politics gets pulled every which way. But, overwhelmingly, they'll also need journalism that digs out facts and sets them in context, information that explains rather than infuriates".

And there's the rub. These people are so bad, they don't even realise how bad they are. Completely lacking in self-awareness, and with no effective corrective mechanisms, they preen themselves on their own virtues, as the quality of their "product" deteriorates by the day.






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