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Media Alert: Corbyn, Anti-Semitism And The Media

A round-up of the hottest takes from the best UK Indy Media


Media Alert is a weekly bulletin discussing issues impacting on the UK independent media and highlighting some of the best recent work from the sector.

It’s brought to you by The Media Fund, a co-operative of over 30 partners seeking to raise funds and advocate for quality independent journalism.


The Weeks Big Stories

Essential new from the frontlines of media politics

Corbyn, Anti-Semitism and The Media

A letter to The Guardian this week outlines severe concerns about the recent controversy surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism. The letter is signed by dozens of academics, which might lead some to dismiss it as the work of the much-maligned “liberal elite.” But quite a few of them happen to be Jewish, and their points are salient. The letter initially argues that:

“Dominant section of the media have framed the story in such a way as to suggest that anti-semitism is a problem mostly to do with Labour and that Corbyn is personally responsible for failing to deal with it.”

Few would deny that anti-semitism is a serious issue for Labour, the broad left (or elsewhere on the political spectrum.) Recently discussed evidence includes Corbyn’s 2012 Facebook post defending an artist whose work certainly contained some major anti-semitic tropes, and the appalling holocaust denial post shared by a local election candidate, with subsequent efforts of Labour Executive Committee’s Christine Shawcroft to oppose his suspension (she has now resigned her own position.) There are more instances besides, so the matter requires heavy-duty scrutiny and action.

However, a major question is whether the current agenda is being driven by people acting in good faith, with a primary concern of challenging bigotry and protecting victims.

Press Double Standards on Bigotry

It’s no secret that large section of the establishment and billionaire media have sponsored many forms of bigotry for a very long time.

In the old days the right used to scaremonger a great deal about Jews, a Daily Mail headline about “German Jews flooding in” being typical of countless instances.

The Mail, whose proprietor Lord Rothermere was a famous admirer of Hitler, clearly had a problem with Jewish people escaping Germany in the atmosphere of Kristallnacht and the run-up to the holocaust.

Following the fall of The Third Reich, anti-semitism developed a severe branding issue. Since then, media-led hatred has instead focused on people of colour, Muslims, Eastern Europeans and others (not to mention rancid homophobia).

But the relative un-fashionable nature of over anti-semitism didn’t stop BBC favourite Nigel Farage from riffing on the old trope of Jewish influence in the media late last year (not that he was ever pulled up on it.)

Nor did it prevent general media darling Jacob Rees-Mogg consorting with the Traditional Britain Group, home of Hitler apologist Gregory Lauder-Frost (“Poland asked for it from 1919 onwards”).

Rees-Mogg recently met with US far-rightist and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. However, he managed to avoid setting off weeks of headlines about links between the Tory Party and resurgent fascistic tendencies in the US.

Neither did Theresa May’s dinner with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre spark a string of Newsnight reports, despite the paper’s name being a byword for ceaseless bigotry.

And as the Guardian letter asks:

“Where are the columns condemning the links between Conservative MEP’s and right-wing parties across Europe in the European Conservative and Reformist Group, which trade on anti-semitism?”

Many more points could be made in the same vein regarding The Conservative Party’s links to overt bigotry. Unite the Union’s 2016 dossier details a litany of cases that include instances of anti-semitism. Currently, The Conservatives owe their very position in government to support form the DUP, a party with deep and virulent anti-Catholic and Irish roots.

It’s important to note, as the academics do in The Guardian, that this isn’t a case of Tu – Quoque “whataboutery”. Rather, we need to question the motives and machinations behind the furor:

“It is not “whataboutery to suggest that the debate on anti-semitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponize it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections.”

Another recent writer to The Guardian recently observed:

“It is patently obvious that criticism of Corbyn and The Labour Party on grounds of anti-semitism is being encouraged by individuals who – unlike the Labour leader himself – have rarely participated in the general struggle against racism.”

The Conveyor Belt Effect

Could there be a coordinated strategy targeting the Labour leader, involving the likes of right-wing blogger Paul Stains (better known as Guido Fawkes)? Stains was a leading noise behind the absurd recent claims that Corbyn had been used as a spy for the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia.

Some of the coverage has displayed the all-to-common low journalistic standards of relying on rumor, conjecture and limited sources.

The Guardian letter alleges that a narrow range of sources has often used so as to frame the issue in a very specific way.

Much of what is going on is a good example of the “Conveyor Belt Effect”: one part of the press (right-wing in this case) prints a story – the BBC shows cover it – then The Guardian feels it has to cover it. The Guardian covers it without any sort of critical slant, which essentially ends up validating the initial framing. Should liberals like the Guardian, accept that every incident the right-wing flags up as newsworthy is actually newsworthy?

Claims that large numbers of members had resigned due to the controversy represent a classic conflation of cause and correlation. In fact, lots of the many thousands of enthusiastic party joiners from Corbyn’s early time as leader are now at the time of their membership running our (there’s a month grace period where they are still considered members). As such, it’s entirely predictable that membership will drop between 12 and 18 months after a surge, just as it did with The Green Party.

Most recently, the sense that some groups of victims might be more politically useful than others has morphed into a sense in that some Jewish people are more politically useful than others.

Corbyn’s celebration of Passover in his constituency with the group Jewdas attracted a new round of criticism, led by Guido. Jewdas are supposedly bad new because their views might be considered left-wing – the wrong type of Jew perhaps (not forgetting the old far-right trope that Communism itself is a Jewish plot).

As Another Angry Voice comments, this kind of “good jew – bad jew’ analysis itself reeks of anti-semitism. Are the Jewish people and their centuries of persecution merely props to be picked up and discarded at the whim of fairweather friends who are so quick to persecute others?

The roots of anti-semitism are deep and pernicious, though current discourse on the topic often fails to score too high on the hear-light scale.

As Owen Jones recently wrote for Huck Magazine, a good place to start in tackling anti-semitism is via political education. Some of what has happened in The Labour Party highlights the necessity of such an approach, as does the often shallow mud-slinging nature of attacks on them.

Picks of the Week

Our hand-picked selections from some of the best independent journalism around

Richard Wilson Q & A (Stop Funding Hate) – Ethical Consumer

Stop Funding Hate have had enormous success in a short time, using consumer activism to persuade advertisers to pull contracts from hate-preaching papers like The Mail and The Express.

Find Ethical Consumer on Twitter @EC_magazine

Cambridge Analytica and Military Propaganda – Adam Ramsay, Open Democracy

With such a fast-paced news environment it’s vital that the Cambridge Analytica story isn’t quickly forgotten in the chum. There’s a deep and important story connected to their parent company. This insightful journalism by Adam Ramsay also covers key aspects of post-WW2 military propaganda.

Find Open Democracy on Twitter @openDemocracy

Centre For Investigative Journalism Summer School

This week’s last pick is more of a plug for the great CIJ summer conference event in June – the only UK investigative journalism event with an emphasis on teaching investigative skills.

Find CIJ on Twitter @CIJournalism


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