Fake News and Alternative Facts

Perhaps it is a penalty of age that I tend to look back to when there were simple expectations of the media. It used to be assumed that there were basic standards to which all subscribed. For example, although a particular gloss might be put on an issue, the factual truth of a given issue was invariably agreed by all.

The media – before being reduced locally solely to a composite of advertising and entertainment – was expected to inform and, in the broadest sense, to educate.  It sought out the truth, even if it then added its own spin, and was also expected to exhibit some semblance of balance in the matters being covered. Sadly, in the post-Brexit, Trump-infected world of today, there is little resemblance of the modern media to that of yesteryear.

Both the Brexit referendum and the American presidential election campaign revealed how far we have fallen. Truth was irrelevant, whilst mendacity was the order of the day for gullible voters. Rather than hope, fear was force-fed to the people; and that remains the case. Tragically, the fear has been deliberately focussed on “the other”, whether it is Muslims in America, or Europeans in the United Kingdom. The specifics matter little as hate of other people is promoted as a common currency, along with fake news.

I thought of these general issues after reading a copy of our local comic, the “Echo“, one day last week .Two particular items were particularly indicative of how far that once successful newspaper  has reneged on its mission. Today, its only concerns appear to be making money for its owners, and thus ensuring its survival (but survival for what purpose other than to claw in more profits?) It fails to see how it would broaden its readership – and, hence, sales, thereby increasing advertising revenue – by recapturing its old investigative spirit.

The first item to catch my attention was the lead letter of the “Talkback” column (“Letters” to you and I). Now this tends to be a cosy little platform for the same names riding their personal hobby-horses. On this occasion, the letter was from a “Support Officer” (supporting what, for whom?), singing a paean of praise to Liverpool City Council for its work in preserving historic buildings (are they talking here of the bombed out church or the old Futurist cinema?). Amongst many things, the letter claimed an investment in excess of £672 million in the city’s historic buildings.

This is an intriguing amount to claim, but how has it been arrived at? Who at the “Echo” proof reads such claims on behalf of the administration? After all, this huge amount is flagged up in the context of a Euro-grant of about £325,000 for those buildings – a credible figure – but£672 million??

Too many people will be kidded by these figures, and lots of similar inflated claims, regularly given undue prominence and credibility in the “Echo“. Still, that appears to be standard practice for the title these days. They will print any claim, no matter how outlandish, and without any obvious fact check, so long as the story is put to them by, or on behalf of, any of the city-region’s major players, whether in the private or the public sectors.

The second item was yet another public relations exercise, this time on behalf of a young “developer” and a senior member of the city administration.  Like a number of similar “businessmen”, this developer has had a meteoric rise to millionaire status since Mayor Anderson took over the reins of power, and is no doubt appreciative of his efforts. The mayor is, you will recall, constantly telling us that Liverpool is open to business (I have never quite understood his meaning on this).

Anyway, the “Echo’s“ on-line version of this story carried the usual comments appended to it. One commentator – either very well informed or very foolhardy –posted an account of our intrepid young “developer“  being summoned to a meeting in a dockside warehouse with two very prominent local underworld figures. Within a very short period of time, this post was removed by “Echo“ staff. It goes to show how this media outlet can be vigilant when it either chooses to be, or is pressured.

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