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Leading figures condemn ‘flawed’ media coverage of Labour’s anti-Semitism row

October 1, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Linguist and prominent intellectual Noam Chomsky – [Flickr]

The mainstream media’s lack of impartiality in its reporting of the row over alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party has been criticised as “flawed” by a group of leading academics and public figures. A letter in the Guardian pointing this out was signed by Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach, Brian Eno, Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and 21 others.

Citing a recent report by the Media Reform Coalition — “an independent coalition of groups and individuals committed to maximising the public interest in communications” — the signatories said that they have long had “serious concerns about the lack of due impartiality and accuracy in the reporting of allegations of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.”

The MRC report was based on 250 articles and broadcast news segments which found “95 clear cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms.” There exists, it said, a “persistent subversion” of conventional news values.

In relation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the letter noted that the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance.” Furthermore, “key contextual facts about the IHRA definition – for example that it has only been formally adopted by eight countries (and only six of the IHRA member states) – were consistently excluded.”

Read: Labour bows to pressure and adopts controversial code on anti-Semitism

During the row, news agencies like the BBC presented the IHRA definition as the gold standard definition of anti-Semitism which the international community has endorsed in full. This narrative has been pushed by the media, as well as the Conservative Party, to berate Corbyn, even though the reality of his anti-racist position is the complete opposite.

The overwhelming majority of countries have not adopted the IHRA definition, and even the Conservatives have not included the controversial definition in their rule book. Indeed, the Conservative code of conduct, Channel 4 News discovered, does not at any point mention “anti-Semitism” or spell out a definition of anti-Semitism, IHRA-approved or otherwise.

The published letter went on to say that flawed coverage was not adjudged on occasional lapses in judgment, but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party. The signatories stressed that it is entirely appropriate and necessary for major news outlets to report on the horrors of anti-Semitism, but wrong to present it as an issue specific to the Labour Party.

“Significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from anti-Semitism elsewhere,” they added, “including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.”