Over the past week some Tory-supporting publications have published a string of completely false and ridiculous smears,calling Labour politicians traitors and linking them with Soviet bloc spies.
Let’s call these stories out for what they are – propaganda, not journalism. They are not worth the paper they are written on.
The source for these stories is a man who claims Czechoslovakian security services set up Live Aid. Documents do not substantiate his wild claims. In fact, the director of the Czech security forces archive says that historic records show the opposite to what he claims; that Jeremy Corbyn was not a “collaborator” and that the Czech official he met deliberately concealed his true identity.
Unfortunately, printing stories based on discredited sources, without any evidence, that are completely denied by the subjects of the articles, is not even a new development. We’ve seen it all before over the many years in which the right-wing press has done everything it can to discredit the Labour Party.
Neil Kinnock was vilified by the Tory press when he was Labour leader, but even he conceded the treatment of Ed Miliband by some papers represented a new low. It wasn’t enough for the Daily Mail to attack him or his policies, it decided to run a double-page spread labelling Miliband’s late father, who served in the Royal Navy, “the man who hated Britain”.
The screeching vitriol from the majority of the press that greeted Corbyn’s election as leader was unsurprising – but even those of us most acclimatised to their baseless, biased and politicised attacks were shocked to read the 13 pages of furious and demented anti-Labour coverage the day before last year’s general election, which labelled Labour “apologists for terror”.
Unfortunately for these newspapers, the years of slurs, of stretching the truth to breaking point, of completely one-sided reporting, may be creeping up on them. They do not wield the power they once did, their circulations are falling and people simply don’t trust them anymore.
The Sun, which was one of the main proponents of this week’s ridiculous story, was rated least trustworthy of all major news sources in a survey carried out by Ipsos Mori at the end of last year.
There is no doubt that social media platforms such as Facebook are disrupting the news industry. But they are not the only reason so many papers are struggling. Too many proprietors point the finger at Facebook and Google and blame the tech giants for their own commercial problems.
But the handful of proprietors who control 71 per cent of the national newspaper market need to face up to the fact that they have spent years undermining decent journalism in the UK by pursuing a partisan approach to news.
Some have accused Labour of mounting an “attack on the press” for describing these baseless smears as what they are. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are right to criticise poor journalism because it undermines good reporting – and we make no apologies for doing so.
Newspaper proprietors in this country abuse their power. It’s a unique kind of self-harm for a newspaper to print a story they know is poorly sourced, decide to run it regardless because it suits their political agenda, and pass it off as news.
There are many reasons for declining newspaper circulation but there can be no doubt the public is beginning to tire of the fact that too many papers routinely present smears, lies and innuendo as facts.