Monday, 29 April 2019

Lies = "truth": Crossing a Dangerous Rubicon

Opinion: The IPSO ruling that the Times' lies are "not inaccurate" is important for everyone.

The declaration, by IPSO, that a quote that was completely fabricated (as in made up from nothing) by the Times in relation to trans children, did not constitute inaccuracy, because it is a-bit-like-something-some-trans-activist-might-have-said, has a significance well beyond its relevance to the obsessive and hatemongering attacks on trans people by the Times. 

The fact that IPSO has judged that a completely fabricated quotation in the Times did not breach Clause 1 of its Editor's Code (which is about accuracy) has shown that, as a society we have crossed a dangerous Rubicon. Lies are now officially the truth. In effect IPSO has given the go-ahead for any newspaper to make up pretty much anything with complete impunity. 

Obviously this pretty much makes IPSO itself redundant. Ruling that a fabricated quotation is not an inaccuracy means that there really is no point whatsoever in complaining to them about anything to do with accuracy. IPSO is now just a fig leaf for an increasingly dishonest, right-wing and manipulative media. IPSO needs to be disbanded and an alternative form of regulation put in place, beyond the influence of the powerful media barons. The British media has clearly demonstrated that it cannot self-regulate and should not be allowed to again. The Press Complaints Commission failed effectively to regulate the media and IPSO, in a relatively short space of time, has demonstrated that it cannot either.

Just like the PCC, it seems that IPSO has become corrupt and shown that it exists only to serve the interests of the dishonest. One of the most basic elements of reporting the news as opposed to making it up, is getting quotations right. By fabricating this quote, which IPSO admitted the Times has done, the Times has breached the most fundamental basic rules of journalism, the fact that it has got away with it is what is of concern. Of course the Times may have got away with it in terms of not being censured by IPSO but it will rightly suffer from reduced credibility.  

Any society which cannot distinguish between lies and the truth, where fake news becomes the norm, and there are few, if any sources that can be relied on to tell obtain the truth, is a society where democracy can no longer function. In her interview for TED journalist Christiane Amanpour argued that the way to combat fake news was to trust only the proper media outlets. That is now no longer the case, at least in the UK.

At a time when newspaper circulation is falling and when trust in the media is at an all-time low, for IPSO to make such a judgement is highly significant for everyone not just for trans people. Indeed it is chilling in its potential. Editors working on behalf of powerful rightwing billionaires can lie quite happily now in the knowledge that IPSO will give them a free hand. 

Freedom of the press is crucial for a functioning democracy, that freedom is threatened by concentration of power in the hands of the billionaires who control it and direct its content for their own purposes. It is also threatened by lack of trust. The only way for that trust to be maintained is through a truly independent media regulator that rigorously upholds standards and is fully independent of the industry. 

Anything less is the road to totalitarianism.


Finally; and on a different note, it is significant that the case against trans rights cannot be made without resorting to dishonesty and fabrication. But beyond that - as the Times has demonstrated - it also cannot be made without systematically excluding trans people from arguing against its transphobic ideology and without severe selection bias in terms of what it decides to include and exclude. 

So one of the main take-aways is this: If the case against trans rights is so weak that it has to exclude counter arguments, carefully select its "facts" and when it can't do that, fabricate those "facts" it must be very weak indeed. 

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