By Alex Welsford |
On Halloween, Boris Johnson visited Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge and was resolutely booed from the building.
On the way back to his car, the Prime Minister was followed by a group of people, one of whom – a medical student called Julia Simons – berated him for staging a “PR stunt” at the hospital.
The entire thing was caught on camera but none of the footage made it onto the news that evening. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all failed to include this detail in their reports of Johnson’s hospital visit.
Simons, who also criticised the Prime Minister’s lacklustre commitments to solving the climate crisis in her verbal attack said, in an interview after the incident, “I just came out of clinic, and I was told that Boris Johnson was coming … and I was told that I wasn’t allowed to ask him any questions, which I think is a really good sign this is a PR stunt.”
“…he knows that what he’s done is indefensible.”
She went on: “People who work in this hospital know the reality of cuts … they were all really angry to hear that he was coming here for a PR stunt because we know what cuts have done to our NHS, we know the NHS is being privatised, even if it’s not being explained in explicit terms.
“Jeremy Hunt literally wrote a book about how to privatise the NHS. And he [Boris Johnson] was scared to be asked questions by members of the general public because he knows that what he’s done is indefensible.”
Footage from the interview was used in an article on the Guardian’s website, and it was featured in its entirety in a segment on Novara Media’s #Tyskysour podcast on the same night. It was even used by the Daily Mail.
There is a phrase which describes what the UK’s three main broadcasters were doing by showing the footage of Boris Johnson wearing a white coat, sat in a hospital laboratory, and not that of NHS staff responding angrily to his surprise visit. The phrase is ‘lying by omission’.
Lying by omission is the act of leaving out important factual details in order to foster a misconception or misrepresentation of reality. It is done by print and broadcast media across the political divide, and throughout independent and mainstream journalism.
There is something deeply troubling about our broadcast media lying by omission about NHS staff confronting a politician as the nation prepares for a general election. This is especially true as Johnson seeks to make the NHS central to his campaign.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party launched their campaign on that same day. Jeremy Corbyn announced what he described as the most “radical” general election campaign in history. But instead of reporting on this event – the first official launch in this election cycle – journalists on Twitter chose to focus on the comments of one Labour MP.
On Emma Barnett’s BBC Radio 5 Live show, Lloyd Russel-Moyle said that he didn’t think “anyone in this country should be a billionaire”. UK journalists went into meltdown. How dare he say something so ludicrous?
These journalists failed to acknowledge that the wealth of a billionaire is so astronomically huge – 1000 times that of a millionaire – that there are only 151 billionaires living in the UK.
To put it in perspective, one million seconds is 11 days, and one billion seconds is 31 years. £1,000,000,000 is a lot of money.
The media also failed to mention that over 14 million people in the UK live in poverty, roughly one fifth of the population. Russel-Moyle absolutely had a valid argument, and it was missed entirely by our fourth estate.
Journalists regularly lie by omission in order to create an alternate narrative, separate from reality. This is especially true in their representation of the current Labour Party leadership. In 2016, the Independent revealed that over 75% of press coverage misrepresented Jeremy Corbyn and his views.
“…Johnson’s fake news machine”
Even more troublesome is the way in which the media is complicit in spreading falsehoods straight from Downing Street. In an article for openDemocracy, Peter Oborne last month accused UK journalists of becoming “part of Johnson’s fake news machine”.
“On the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme,” writes Oborne, “presenter Nick Robinson asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the investigation [into collusion between Remainer MPs and the EU]. Johnson gave credibility to the story when he declared there were ‘legitimate questions’ to be asked of the MPs.”
“But Robinson didn’t ask the obvious question. Was there an investigation at all?”
As Oborne goes on, we discover that there was indeed no investigation. Our Prime Minister misled the nation, and our supposedly impartial public broadcaster allowed him to do so.
Who knows what lies ahead?
The fundamental point, and something for readers to seriously consider, is that a healthy scepticism of print and broadcast media is a necessity now more than ever. Journalists are not always impartial. In fact, their editorial biases are often masked by what is only a myth of impartiality.
During elections, the media is required to give fair representation to all political parties. We saw what that looked like in 2017, when the Conservatives went into that general election 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls. With fair representation in the media, Labour cost the Tories their majority. Who knows what lies ahead?