Tag Archives: media

Global gaslighting

We are living in a world where the truth no longer holds any sway in the pursuit and consolidation of power.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sordid beginnings of Donald Trump’s America: in the run up to the election the lies were so blatant that it seemed impossible that anyone could take them seriously, but they were dismissed in the name of political rhetoric.

Now that he has taken the reins of the presidency, these lies have become an accepted technique amongst those heading up his regime. There are his tweets, of course – dismissed all too easily as the ravings of a lunatic – but these are given brazen validation by the claims of his team. Sean Spicer insisting that Trump’s embarrassingly small inauguration crowd was the biggest ever seen. Kellyanne Conway inventing a massacre to terrify people into accepting their draconian travel bans.

These outright lies are bad enough on their own, but when combined with accusations of fake news levelled at those who disagree, and the patronising, scathing delivery with which Trumps and his allies address their critics, this segues neatly into classic gaslighting – and gaslighting on a global scale.


Too many people I know – liberals, intellectuals, people concerned with truth as a foundation for society – are beginning to doubt their sanity. It seems almost impossible to believe that people in such positions of power can lie so brazenly and not get called out for it. This is, of course, part of the point – and is something which has been explored at length in publications as diverse as The Washington Post and Teen Vogue.

Something that I’m not sure people are admitting quite so openly is the extent to which this is happening on this side of the pond too. We all raged at the lies printed on the sides of buses during the Brexit campaign. We all shook our heads in disbelief as Michael Gove dismissed the opinions of experts, repeatedly calling into question the very value of expertise. Doctors rallied against Jeremy Hunt over the false statistics he used to support his calls for a seven day NHS. And then this week, when Jeremy Corbyn is still being hauled over the coals over his decision to whip his party into going against their instincts and vote in favour of leaving the EU, Theresa May sends a letter to the electorate in the run up to a crucial by election lying about both Labour’s clearly stated intentions and the voting behaviour of local Labour MPs.

Increasingly, as in the disunited states of America, our politicians refuse to acknowledge these untruths even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And even if they do, the damage has already been done.

The media, with its almost entirely right-leaning benefactors, whips up these lies into something bigger than themselves, and our democracy is left gasping for breath at the heart of it with no-one knowing what to believe any more.

Increasingly an ability to analyse the media and move beyond the role of unquestioning consumer is a vital skill – and yet Media Studies continues to be sidelined and ridiculed. The internet provides us with almost endless news sources, yet at both ends of the political spectrum these twist and subvert the truth: even if you want to question the status quo, to seek out some sort of integrity at the heart of it all, it is all too easy to get dragged down someone else’s rabbit hole.

And actually the reality of the direction our education system – and thus our society – is taking could not be further from harnessing that ability to question and challenge. Our childrens’ minds are being suffocated with pointless facts, their teachers’ creativity and professionalism stifled with the relentless drive of ever-increasing ‘standards’. Schools themselves are in very real danger of becoming nothing more than factories which churn out young people chastised into obedience and so desperate to carve out their own little place in the world that they will sacrifice all their dreams of a better world in order to do so.

We owe our children more than this.

We have to give our young people – our society – the tools to survive, morally and intellectually, in this post-truth world.

Of course this is not in the interests of those in power. As parents we need to act, to show the young people in our care that they are valued, they are important – and they are powerful.

So much of what is accepted – expected – in modern parenting is about championing compliance above all else. We need to fuel the fire in our children’s bellies, give them the strength and the confidence to be active members of society, and above all move away from the idea that it is by being ‘good’, and by doing what we say, that they are most valued, most loved.

It is pretty clear that, however much it might be painful to accept, our generation is not doing such a great job at building a society that we are happy to live in. I’d like to think, though, with thoughtfulness and care, that there is hope our children might.

Impartiality in our post-truth age

At what point, I wonder, will history judge us to have crossed the line?

There’s no doubt that this year will factor large in the curriculum in the years to come. Maybe as part of a wider module, one on the collapse of neoliberalism and the rise of the right. Or perhaps just all on its own: a year which, in its myriad of tragedies and political upheavals, will come to symbolise the downfall of modern society.

I have been trying to keep abreast of the news this week, but every time I read a headline or watch a report I feel like I have accidentally sidestepped into an alternate reality – one where the rules have all changed, and the values that I and so many others have fought to protect for so long have become obsolete.

I have found myself shouting at the screen, exasperatedly suggesting alternative ways of presenting things which would cut to the heart of what is actually going on.


Like when The Guardian suggested that Trump’s insistence that Farage would do a ‘great job’ as the British ambassador to the US put Theresa May in ‘a difficult position’. I mean, what? Since when do foreign leaders get a say in who is appointed as ambassador to their country? And since when would the government even consider a man who has failed in his attempts to be elected as MP no less than seven times? It’s absurd, even when you take party politics out of the equation, but the attempt to keep a distance, to balance both sides, makes it sound like Trump is being genuinely reasonable.

There’s the language being used to describe Trump too. BBC journalists have been referring to the president elect and his allies as ‘controversial’ and ‘populist’ – both things which sound pretty positive to disenchanted ears, and completely belittle the fact that he has publicly bragged of sexually assaulting women and has vowed to remove an entire religious group from the United States. In comparison Corbyn is regularly described as ‘hard left’ and ‘extreme’ – mainly as a result, it seems, of his desire to move towards a more equal society.

This comparison of the way right and left wing politicians are described is significant, especially when it comes to the BBC. For years the beeb has been attacked by conservatives for showing bias towards left wing ideals – though as someone who has closely followed both politics and BBC journalism for at least the last thirteen years this simply doesn’t ring true. Ironically most of the people I know who work for the BBC – and I know a few – largely share my political views. If you were just to look at the demographic of the broadcaster’s staff then an accusation of bias might hold some sway. But as they are educated, thoughtful professionals, and closely bound by the directives they have to follow – directives which ultimately come from the government, upon whom the BBC are reliant for their funding – they would not dream of allowing their personal views to influence their reporting.

There appears to be a fear amongst left-wing journalists of seeming to take sides – especially with the side they are, ultimately, on. And yet in their pursuit of balance, of attempting to appear impartial, very often the content that is produced leans heavily towards the right. Or at least towards the status quo, which with our current staunchly conservative government is very much the same thing.

I think the problem lies in the way in which this concept of balance is realised. I’ve experienced it first hand, in interviews for local TV news. For every opinion I expressed, there had to be one on the opposite side to counter it. So far so straightforward – except in reality it was more problematic.

There was a story on my work as a councillor exploring bringing refugees to Brixham, for example. In order to balance out my opinion (tentatively expressed as an elected representative) that this would be the morally right and appropriate course of action to take, the opposite view had to be shown – represented in this case by screenshots from the Facebook pages of the extreme right ‘Populist Party’ and ‘Refugees not Welcome in Devon’, pages which are full of racist bile (the latter has since been taken down). They both declined to comment, but their views were validated by being given that platform, and no doubt gave weight to the unease some local people were already feeling in the wake of the bombardment of scaremongering from the tabloid press.

I got into a discussion which reminded me about all this with an old friend on Facebook today. His argument was that we had to give a platform to these views, had to bring them out into the open, as otherwise they would just fester. We were specifically discussing Milo Yiannopolous, whose appearance on Channel 4 news made my jaw hit the floor when I saw it earlier.

He is charming, charismatic, persuasively condescending. And, like others who are part of the ‘alt-right’ movement, he views women, non-whites, people with disabilities as essentially non-humans, who have no right to be offended by the verbal attacks he perpetrates.

This is a view that no doubt resonates with many to some extent or other. And yet for Yiannopolous, and for others like him, you could substitute ‘neo-nazi’ for ‘alt-right’ and find it hard to separate out their views.

And I’m pretty damned sure we should not be impartial about that.

It is possible to argue, convincingly, that in a free press all of these opinions, however reprehensible, should be given air time in order for people to make up their own minds.

But we live in a society where the whole of our media is dominated by right-wing propaganda. Where the vast majority of headlines evoke fear through their demonisation of minority groups. Where the outspoken voices of the far right are not afraid to employ overt rhetoric in order to get their views across – where charisma and personality count for infinitely more than the facts at the heart of the matter.

It’s ironic, given that the ‘alt-right’ claim to be reclaiming facts over feelings. But in their post-truth universe spin trumps integrity – and that universe is emerging all too neatly out of our own.

Meanwhile our few remaining ‘respectable’ news outlets are too polite to play the game. They let people have their turn, they trust that the population will see through the spin to the immorality that lies beneath it.

And yet nothing about 2016 suggests that will be the case.

So when does it stop? At which point do these hate-fuelled, extremist views get recognised for what they are, and at which point do our journalists refuse to endorse them? To be impartial when faced with racism, misogyny and xenophobia is to condone it, to qualify it as a justifiable way of looking at the world.

But it is wrong. It is all so wrong. And one day people will look back on us, on the media we bankrolled and the news we accepted as truth, and they will judge us with the outrage and disgust that we deserve.


Writing Bubble

Inspiring teachers, inspiring change

When I was teaching, one of my favourite parts of the job was writing resources: designing activities, constructing lessons, developing whole schemes of learning. In a profession that regularly came under fire from different angles, it was a way of maintaining some semblance of control. And I enjoyed the creativity it required – the challenge of fitting all of the different external requirements into activities that I felt were genuinely a good use of my – and my students’ – time. Above all it was a way of ensuring that I could be the teacher I wanted to be – both in the content I taught, and how it was delivered.

As well as offering plenty of opportunities for developing different skills, the subjects I taught – English, Media and Drama – lent themselves well to exploring ‘issues’. I felt that a vital part of my role was engaging students in the world around them; opening their eyes to things they might not otherwise know about, and challenging the status quo. There was something very political about it, though not in the sense of trying to impose my views on others. What I strove to do was to get young people asking questions, to present them with a range of resources but equip them also with the tools they needed to find things out for themselves.

Though I’m extremely busy not teaching at the moment, the burgeoning refugee crisis we are currently facing has made me long to be back in the classroom. It really bothers me that the mainstream media presents such a narrow (often heavily biased) range of views, and that depending on the online circles people move in the (mis)information on social media can be even worse. And it bothers me too that with the avalanche of new demands teachers have faced in recent years they might struggle to find time to tackle these issues with young people.

So, as the most recent draft of my novel neared completion, I found my mind wandering to a scheme of learning I’d been involved in writing some years back. We called it ‘Refugees and the Media‘, and the focus was on trying to uncover the truth behind the headlines which were – at the time – often extremely biased against refugees and asylum seekers.


It needed updating, and reining back in after various evolutions, but I thought it might be one thing I could do to attempt to make just a small difference in the lives of the people who are affected by our misconceptions.

The title of this blog post might be ambitious, but it is this that I am attempting to do: to inspire teachers to use some of their time in the classroom to open up discussion around the way in which meaning is constructed in the media, particularly around refugee issues, so that they might inspire their students to think differently, and that through them we might begin to inspire change in our world.

I’ve decided to share the resources here on my blog. They’re not especially groundbreaking, and they borrow from a range of different sources, but they are comprehensively researched and tried and tested in the classroom. So if you are a teacher and you think you might be able to use them, then please do. And if you know anyone else that might find them useful, then please pass them on.

It’s hard to know how to make a difference these days – sat here at my keyboard rather than stood at the front of a classroom – but I’m hoping that this might just be one small way I can.


Writing Bubble

Why Gove getting down with the kids really gets my goat

gove selfie

Yesterday, despite the constant onslaught teachers are under at the moment and the disruption caused by Wednesday’s strike, teachers from 1000 schools nationwide found the time and energy to support over 30,000 students to take part in BBC School Report‘s News Day.

I love School Report. As an English and Media teacher, I was involved in it from its very early stages. It is a brilliant project to engage Key Stage Three pupils in the practical, hands-on application of the skills they’re learning, and from humble beginnings with a small group as an extra-curricular activity we built it into the year eight curriculum so that all students could benefit from what it had to offer. Through it, we were able to promote media literacy, creativity and current affairs. It encourages independent and collaborative learning, and provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to step back and act as facilitators rather than leading from the front. And this is where Gove’s involvement in yesterday’s News Day really winds me up.

These are all areas which, if Gove had his way, would be squeezed out of the diet we offer our young people in favour of more academic, traditional approaches to learning. And yet there he was, performing a ‘Wham’ rap and posing for a selfie to the bemusement and amusement of his audience of teenagers.

In 2008, I took a group of students to the Houses of Parliament to interview David Cameron, then leader of the opposition. Whatever my opinions of his politics, there was no doubt that he conducted himself appropriately: he was respectful and friendly as they took him to task over tuition fees, and politely declined to answer when the questions strayed into the personal. Unlike Gove, who ended up grinning like a goon as he tried to convince the kids that he was ok.

Quite aside from the fact that his mere involvement was astoundingly hypocritical given that his reforms stand to destroy everything which BBC School Report tries to promote, I can’t quite get over quite how insulting and disrespectful his behaviour was to hardworking teachers the day after tens of thousands of them were striking in protest against his decimation of the education system.

Because ultimately what this boils down to is propaganda – he was portraying himself as a man who just wants to have a laugh with young people and support their creative projects in schools when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. And the BBC – our supposedly impartial public service broadcaster – was doing everything it could to corroborate his story. The context of BBC School Report makes this even more galling: the learning materials accompanying the project emphasise the impartiality of the BBC, and there would have been a far larger audience than usual of impressionable young people to soak up the persona he was presenting.

There’s a darker side to this too: much as Gove was happy to expose the poor woman with whom he shared his first kiss to ridicule he clearly has no concern for the potential implications of sharing a selfie with a teenage girl. It seems that anyone in his path who might possibly help him advance his agenda is fair game.

I would like to think that teachers will be able to use Gove’s actions, and the subsequent coverage of them by the BBC, to illustrate the insidious way that propaganda works in our modern media machine, but I fear that with everything else going on they may not find the time.

But Gove, quite frankly, should be embarrassed. And the BBC should be hanging their heads in shame for such blatant manipulation of our young people at a time when their future has never looked so bleak.