Friday 13 July 2018

The concept of fake news is itself fake

The Times is stuffed full of articles today denouncing fake news and supporting regulation of social media. This of course is in the interests of the rich man who is the paper's proprietor, and his employees, so can be ignored - except that these sorts of arguments are one of the biggest dangers to free speech, and therefore freedom, in a world where the media are no longer controlled by a few people.

You see the same thing with the disgraceful campaign by left-wing English writer Peter Jukes for laws on privacy to restrain the press. His target, however, is the Murdoch press and other newspapers.

Fake news you have always with you, alas, and is part of the human condition. Fake news
can take the form, for example, of articles day by day arguing that mass immigration from
the Mahgreb into Europe benefits everyone. That is  sort of fake news is highly respectable.

Stories making Donald Trump out to be a dangerous buffoon, who has low approval ratings at home (he is actually more popular than Theresa May or President Macron, especially since he started imprisoning illegal immigrants) are misleading, but this is not what the mainstream media mean by fake news. Propaganda in favour of all sorts of unfashionable opinions is what they mean, not propaganda in favour of approved positions.

Further on in today's Times, Richard Spencer, reporting from Beirut, says that hundreds were killed in Deraa, before the rebel-held town surrendered to the Syrian army yesterday, as he says 'without a fight'. This is saddening, if they were not combatants, but how does he know, since he is not in Syria? He says that civilians 
'had feared the sort of bloodbath suffered by the people of eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta earlier this year' 
but what evidence does he have that civilians were murdered by the army in either place?
I read the papers and social media extensively when those two places fell to Assad and found no such evidence. I only read unsupported assertions by 'activists' working for the rebels who were often quoted as if they were objective sources. This is not to say that such murders did not happen and I know the regime is very cruel indeed. It is to say that, as far as I know, there has been no evidence. This is what I mean by fake news but this is certainly not what the great and good mean. 

In Deraa according to the Guardian "rebel civilian and military officials held meetings with Russia to discuss surrender, but were offered terms they could not accept. Russia demanded the handover of weapons and said anyone who had borne arms would face trial." America made clear to the rebels that they would not support them. I presume that at first they fought and then surrendered. 

What has been needed for years is an orderly surrender by the rebels on terms brokered by Moscow and Washington and involving all Syrian refugees returning home from Europe. Why is it not possible? 

Perhaps when Presidents Trump and Putin meet in a few days it will be.

Also on Deraa, here is the Israeli writer Jonathan Spyer, who says his information comes from good contacts with the rebels. He is a good journalist but he would not pretend to be neutral in the Israel-Iran, Sunni-Shia divide. This is fair enough but, tiresomely, he sees the conflict in terms of a fight for values when really it is very much more complicated and values have very little to do with it.

1 comment:

  1. Fake news you have always with you, alas,

    The British press has been peddling fake news for as long as the British press has existed. Witness the insane Russophobia they whipped up in the 1850s that led to the tragic farce of the Crimean War.

    And the press has always been the same everywhere. The American press used fake news to push the U.S. into the Spanish-American War.

    There never was a time when the press was impartial and responsible and moral. Journalists have always been cockroaches.