The Loaded Language of the British Press

FOR the majority of the British media, the importance of presenting impartial news coverage is a key objective, but balance is now being questioned with the escalating violence in the Middle East.

As many times before, it is the reporting of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and murders of innocent Palestinians which has come under the closest scrutiny.

The death and destruction – especially the deaths of so many children – has appeared in brutal contrast with the relatively minor impact of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Moreover, Western media has been criticised for failing to cover the conflict in a fair manner and some media outlets, the BBC in particular, appear infused with a pro-Israeli bias.

Often it is down to the language used in such reports, which creates bias and distorts the view of the watcher or reader of the news.

The late Tony Benn said in his inaugural annual lecture in Bristol in 2006 that the BBC refer to the Palestinians as “Militants” but to the Israeli aggressors as the “Israeli Government”. Thus giving legitimacy to the Israeli side against the Palestinians.

Mr Benn said that in reality he believed the reverse was true.

In recent days we have seen the use of language challenged both between politicians and within the press.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron was repeatedly asked to apologise for labelling MPs who might vote against bombing in Syria as “Terrorist Sympathisers”.

It was a failed but oblique attempt to score points against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his historical support for Hamas and the IRA.

Quite an ironic choice of language from Mr Cameron, who once called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged as a terrorist!

During the House of Commons debate on bombing Syria we also witnessed an agreement between the SNP and many Conservative and Labour MPs to refer to ISIS as Daesh. In doing so it would lock away the word Islamist, used by so many of the national press and the BBC to describe terrorist attacks.

Biased use of language, with a nakedly political motive, is clearly poisonous.

Note how the single photograph of a dead Syrian child on a Mediterranean beach in September this year reshaped the way our press reported the Syrian refugee crisis.

The public outcry at that image was so immense that our newspapers started to refer to the hapless refugees by the correct terms rather than the “swarms of migrants” favoured by David Cameron and Nigel Farage.

But sadly that didn’t last and following the Paris attacks of 13 November these self-same Syrian refugees were being labelled migrants and potential terrorists by our press.

UK tabloids like the Murdoch-owned Sun that has compared immigrants to ‘cockroaches’ recall the dark days of the Nazi media attacking those they sought to eliminate, says the UN’s human rights chief.

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches,” said UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

He singled out an article by former gameshow contestant turned-commentator Katie Hopkins, published by the Sun, in which she wrote: “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

The comment piece was published just hours before a boat containing hundreds of displaced people capsized in the Mediterranean, killing 800.

“This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author,” said Zeid.

Zeid said the Hopkins piece was by no means a one off, but rather the result of “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion.”

“This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long,” he said.

Like the Sun, The Daily Express was also a prime culprit, he said.

“To give just one glimpse of the scale of the problem, back in 2003 the Daily Express ran 22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period,” he said.

“Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.”

And the use of language to load news reporting is used often in domestic situations.

The British press regularly use the adjectives “Far Left”, “Hard Left” and “Loony Left” to describe Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party, while referring to more right wing MPs as being “Moderates”.

Never do they seek to define what the word “Moderate” means or ever refer to David Cameron or George Osborne as being “Far Right” or “Hard Right”.

What we are observing is an adjectival degradation.

Every report, coming from inside governments or institutions outside is, if it contains some form of criticism, therefore “damning”, “devastating” or “scathing”.

Warnings, which most of the time were not heeded anyhow, are “stark”, differences of opinion between politicians of the same party are “dramatic splits”, developments are “alarming” – the consumer of the media is confronted with a permanent linguistic overkill.

Ironically, official language is evolving in the opposite direction, it is becoming more sanitised, cautious, bureaucratic and politically correct.

Remember how Tony Blair and his spin doctors rebranded the Labour Party as New Labour and Blair’s Labour as he courted Rupert Murdoch and the so-called Middle England vote in the 1990s.

For marketing and propaganda purposes he even banned the use of the word “socialist” or “socialism” among his MPs.

The final irony is that almost 20 years later the word “Blairite” is now a term of abuse among most Labour Party members and commentators.

Words matter!

 

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Author: seagullnic

Writer, editor, lecturer and part-time musician. Passions in life: my family, Bob Dylan, music of many genres, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, cooking plus good food and wine.

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