Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Laura Kuenssberg’s apology for her tweet reporting the fake news that a Conservative aide had been punched in the face by a Labour activist was yet another illustration of the erosion in editorial standards that has resulted from cut-throat competition among journalists to be first with the news on Twitter.

By placing her trust in the truthfulness of Boris Johnson’s propaganda machine she had endangered the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and reliability.

As a BBC correspondent for 30 years I can speak with first-hand experience of the inherent dangers – and frustrations – of having to deal with media advisers closest to the Prime Minister who tend increasingly to speak exclusively to a handful of trusted journalists.

A record surge in the registration of young voters has given added potency to scare stories appearing in the Sun and Daily Mail that allege university students across the UK are engaged in “voting scams and frauds” ahead of polling day.

Brexit-supporting newspapers failed to make any mention of widespread appeals to young people to ensure they registered to vote before the deadline of 26 November.

But despite a Conservative press boycott, the campaign to achieve the widest possible franchise for polling day on December 12 was backed by regular reminders by celebrities, broadcasters, and other media outlets and their combined efforts did have a dramatic effect.

By the deadline, an extra 3.8 million people had registered to vote since October 29 when the election was announced. On the last day there were 659,000 registrations – a new record for a final day.

Governments in difficulty frequently announce unpopular decisions when the news media is saturated with coverage of a headline-grabbing story.

Space is usually very limited on such occasions and astute information officers hope their troublesome announcements will merit no more than a few sentences tucked away on an inside page.

Across Whitehall this routine has been imbedded within ministerial offices but the true masters of “burying bad news” are Brexit-supporting newspapers which have become so partisan these manipulative tricks are now an everyday occurrence.

Slavish support for Boris Johnson’s general election mantra of “Get Brexit Done” has necessitated the same finessing of what the Tory press presents as news – or dismisses as unimportant or leaves out altogether.

Liberal Democrats have grown accustomed over the years to press coverage that usually ignores their policies or belittles their party leader.

The traditional tabloid path – unless there is an incident that can be whipped up into a scandal – is to treat the Lib Dems as a footnote, meriting no more than a few sentences at the bottom of the page.

Jo Swinson has at least benefited from the recent moderation in language being used to challenge women in politics.

She has not been subjected to the full panoply of cruel jibes and crude headlines that were regularly deployed to ridicule her predecessors, Nick Clegg and the late Paddy Ashdown.

But whereas headline writers and her political opponents are on their guard to avoid sexist attacks, women diarists and columnists writing for the Tory press – sometimes known as the queens of mean – had no intention of expressing sisterly solidarity.

When reporting the televised debates that have made such a welcome re-appearance in the 2019 general election, Conservative-supporting newspapers have – to quote Boris Johnson – an “oven ready” recipe for delivering yet another demolition job on Jeremy Corbyn.

Whatever the reality of the confrontation that has taken place, the tricks of the trade of tabloid reporting can be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome: Corbyn trashed and humiliated, out punched and outclassed by Johnson.

Even before a debate has taken place, an anti-Corbyn agenda is trailed in advance: readers have been forewarned of the lies and evasions they can expect as Johnson puts the Labour leader on the spot.

Snap opinion polls of viewers are another device for strengthening the pre-determined narrative and headlines. Unfavourable results can be over-looked, or the surveys twisted to suit the story line.