Philip Whiteley's Blog

November 14, 2012

Lazy journalism, institutional sectarianism

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:44 am

The failure to operate even basic checks on the accuracy of the Newsnight story on child abuse has led to a crisis at the BBC and a bill for libel damages that will cost us licence-payers dearly. The scandal exposes two common behavioural flaws among left-leaning journalists: institutional sectarianism and equating investigation with scandal.

It beggars belief that left-wing tweeters Sally Bercow and George Monbiot would have exuberantly named a Labour politician being accused of the most heinous crime imaginable; or that the professional Murdoch and Tory-baiter Tom Watson MP would have aired his apparently false allegations behind the protection of Parliamentary privilege had it concerned a member of Gordon Brown’s team. It is possible he was referring to another case, but as one commentator put it, he ‘set the hares running’. Too often, the thought process is: ‘Only the Murdoch empire and the Tories can be nasty. We can’t be nasty. Therefore everything we say and do is correct and everything they say or do must be wrong, somewhere.’

I first became aware of the capacity for institutional sectarianism and dishonesty by the left, justified because the propaganda was aimed at right-wing targets, in Nicaragua in the early 1990s. Throughout the previous decade the consistent line by Guardian opinion-writers, the Labour left and trendy vicars was that the Reagan and Bush administrations were not really trying to establish democracy by undermining the Sandinista military regime, and that the Contra fighters supported by the USA were hired foreign mercenaries.

When I was living and working in Nicaragua in 1991, I met several wounded Contra fighters who were neither foreign nor mercenary – they were local campesinos. The new anti-Sandinista coalition was fairly elected, and their defeated opponents were allowed freedom of organization and freedom of expression. To be fair to the Sandinistas, some of their women’s groups that I visited did fantastic work in the poorer communities.

But the lazy equation ‘investigative = scandalous’, combined with institutional sectarian thought patterns, distorted coverage in liberal Anglo-Saxon publications. The headline: ‘Reagan/Bush hire mercenaries to undermine progressive regime’ is just so much sexier than ‘Reagan/Bush use military force but also promote parliamentary democracy in complex multi-dimensional struggle where progressive and evil forces are evident on both sides.’

To balance my report, one has to remember that some Conservatives can be just as partisan and opportunistic – for example, earlier this year some actively encouraged a strike by oil tanker drivers as they thought it would create bad publicity for the Labour movement and make their government look good.

Left wing/right wing sectarianism serves little or no useful purpose. It is about as helpful as the hostility between Montagues and Capulets or those who open their boiled eggs at the narrow end or the fat end. We just have to end it.

More on this agenda in the forthcoming book: New Normal Radical Shift.

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