Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Donald Trump’s attacks on the truthfulness of the main stream media might have shocked the political establishment in Washington, but they have been a tried and tested ploy of South American revolutionaries – and were the weapon of choice for Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

Studies just published by the British Journalism Review and the Columbia Journalism Review explore the thinking behind the tactics of lashing out at reporters and accusing them of peddling fake news.

In his paper for the BJR, Nicholas Jones says Trump’s brazen assault on the veracity of journalists has been as calculated and carefully crafted as the abuse fired off three decades earlier by Scargill.

Words and phrases used by the NUM President in his sustained denigration of the main stream media were almost interchangeable with the tirades of the US President about the ethics of the leading American news outlets.

When Trump harangued reporters and television crews corralled in media pens to accompanying boos from his supporters, his attacks mirrored Scargill when he berated the British news media for supporting Margaret Thatcher.

 

When reflecting on the lasting impact of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, a struggle that has become so firmly embedded in the collective memory of political and industrial events of recent years, I am often tempted to hit fast-forward rather than press the play-back button. How would a year-long fight-to-the-finish that pitted the country’s strongest trade union against an all-powerful Prime Minister, play out three decades later? Given the revolution there has been in communication techniques, what would the chances be of success if there was a repeat of the grassroots revolt against the decimation of the coalfields and their communities?

What Shadows, Chris Hannan’s dramatic play about the build-up and aftermath of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, explores the fracturing of a family friendship, while nailing at the same time an important home truth about a politician attempting to manipulate the news media.

Seeing my mother make her principled stand in rebuking Powell for exploiting immigration, and then hearing her berate my father for having advised Powell on how to promote the speech, prompted some timely reflection on my part, a salutary reminder perhaps of my own culpability as a journalist. 

Hannan’s production, which had its premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (1.11.2016), has Ian McDiarmid in the lead role; George Costigan as my father, Clem Jones, former editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star; and Paula Wilcox as Marjorie Jones.

In my mother’s opinion Powell, to further his political career, had crossed an unforgivable line when he raised fears about Wolverhampton’s rising immigrant population, describing what he claimed was the plight of the last white woman living in a street near our home, a war widow who had been harassed by “wide-grinning piccaninnies.”

Broadcasters, like print journalists, are rightly being challenged by leading figures on the Remain side for the news media’s failure during the EU Referendum campaign to exercise sufficient scrutiny over the claims being made by Leave supporters.

Based on my 30 years as a BBC correspondent, from well before the 1975 referendum, I am in no doubt as to how viewers and listeners were short changed.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was always a clear divide during election campaigns between news stories and campaign reports.

Major announcements and developments were treated on their news value, as self-standing items, and any political ramifications were covered in separate balanced packages on the day’s campaigning, later in the bulletin on programme.

But in the 2016 referendum campaign the BBC’s news value judgement seemed to be totally awry.

Seeking political opinions from drinkers in the local pub, or from shoppers in the town centre, is a popular device for television and radio journalists and has always had its limitations, but never more so than during the polarised campaign leading up to the European Referendum.

Having spent many years myself collecting vox pops – a staple ingredient for any broadcaster out on the road – I know how unrepresentative these on-the-spot surveys can be.

Perhaps the greatest drawback is that such straw polls are often conducted in the late morning, or early afternoon, having to be completed ahead of time, ready for editing so as to be included in packaged reports to be transmitted in the early or late evening programmes and bulletins.

A major flaw in the practice is that most day-time shoppers or public house customers tend to be retired or self-employed, local tradesmen and the like, a sample that is invariably unrepresentative of the population at large.

This time constraint tends to exclude most if not all those of working-age who are unlikely to be either day-time shoppers or drinkers. The same problem arises on a general election polling day. Invariably TV crews dispatched to get early footage find that most of the morning voters leaving polling stations are pensioners.