A BBC journalist’s tweet sums up the broadcaster’s rancid attitude towards refugees

A dinghy with refugees in the English channel and the BBC Logo
Steve Topple

A BBC journalist managed to sum up in one tweet the broadcaster’s rancid coverage of refugees crossing the Channel. But the situation also points to a wider problem: how co-opted the media is, and how corporations co-opt politics for their own gains.

The BBC: scraping the bottom of the barrel

Both BBC and Sky News have faced criticism for their journalists’ conduct in recent days. Not least because both broadcasters have sent boats out to try and speak to the people in dinghies, in some grotesque, reality TV-like game of cat and mouse. And BBC political correspondent Chris Mason tweeted something which did nothing to dispel the notion his employer is more interested in voyeuristic trash telly than proper news.

Mason thought that using an exclamation of excitement/shock (“OOOF!”) was appropriate in the context of the refugee crisis in the channel. This context namely being the row that’s broken out between ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s and the Home Office. It came after the former tweeted a thread critical of Priti Patel and her department. Mason tweeted the Home Office’s response to Ben & Jerry’s. And it started with the “OOOF!”:

The BBC journalist’s over-educated brainfart continued:

Mason tried to explain his “OOOF” away – saying a government spokesperson “responding in the way they chose to” “doesn’t happen anywhere near as often” as corporate criticism of politics:

And again:

But his complete lack of self-awareness shone through in another tweet:

Mason is so entrenched in the Westminster bubble that he doesn’t even realise that one single “OOOF!” is comment in itself. You can almost imagine him screaming across the BBC newsroom in glee as the Home Office comment came in. Actually, you don’t need to imagine Mason wetting himself in excitement. Because he tweeted as much:

War and persecution are SO yesterday’s news cycle, after all. The Home Office getting catty with an ice cream company is a far bigger story.

Manufacturing consent?

But Mason could have tried a better analysis. Maybe one that looked at how government communication teams are now clearly so embedded in Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings’ far-right, dog whistle, Trumpian politics that hurling insults at an ice cream brand for pointing out facts on Twitter is the ‘new normal’. But he didn’t.

Instead, to him (and most Westminster journalists) the comms battle between the corporate capitalist government and a corporate capitalist ice cream maker is clearly more exciting than people fleeing war zones and dictatorships, risking their lives because they’re so desperate for a better life. It’s the same thing Noam Chomsky called Andrew Marr out on:

And it’s the same problem that Media Lens highlighted: the ‘five stages of mainstream journalism’:

Yet by that same token, a huge corporate capitalist brand taking down corporate capitalist government policy to score PR points is also the ‘new normal’, symptomatic of a wider problem. And it, too, stinks.

Ben & Jerry’s: the thin end of  the corporate capitalist wedge

The political right on Twitter has weaponised Ben & Jerry’s ownership by corporate giant Unilever against the left. Yet, while the reason for amplifying this fact may be wrong, the principle is correct. Ben & Jerry’s slamming the UK government is little more than effective PR: latching onto one part of the public psyche in order to improve brand reputation.

This same, skewed position can be seen in ‘green’ cleaning product manufacturer Ecover – owned by SC Johnson, an environmentally and ethically dubious multinational. Or vegan cheese VioLife, owned by an investment firm that also invests in meat companies. And then there’s serial corporate capitalist offender Nestlé, now making vegan foods. This is part of the real story: multinational corporate capitalists co-opting ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ movements in a bid to bolster their profit margins in a rapidly-failing ecological, economic, and social system. Because some are ones which also profit from war.

Ben & Jerry’s tweeting about the plight of refugees in the channel is peak 2020 irony and cynicism. Because, ultimately, it has investment management firm BlackRock as one of its shareholders – a company which profits from the UK-enabled disaster capitalism and dictatorships which put those refugees in the channel in the first place.

It’s all a game

Mason said that the situation in the channel and the Home Office / Ben & Jerry’s war of words is “not a game”:

Sadly, he’s wrong again. Because it is a game to everyone involved.

From him getting a ‘turbocharged’ news scoop; to corporate monolith Ben & Jerry’s trying to win over left-wing consumers; to the Home Office doubling-down on decades of racist propaganda to cover up government failings – it’s all one big game of chess. But the only people who’ll ever experience checkmate in this situation are once again the poorest and most destitute in our global society. Not that journalists like Mason seem to care. And Ben & Jerry’s certainly doesn’t.

So, we’re left with a paradox that seems impossible to rectify: who do we turn to when our public service broadcaster happily treats other members of our species like cannon-fodder, and corporations are feigning concern to boost their profits? Yet both are omnipresent in our lives? We need to turn to each other. Because in this corporate capitalist dystopia, we’re the only friends we have left.

Featured image via YouTube – BBC / Wikimedia – BBC News

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  • Show Comments
    1. They’re not refugees. Putting aside the fact that most are fighting age males from non war zone countries, they have passed through several safe countries to try and make it to the UK. Safety from persecution is not their aim. Handouts and benefits are. You know this, and the way the left wing pretends it’s anything but is insidious. That your voices of support are celebrity multi millionaires and subsidiary companies of massive multinationals like Unilever (looking at you Ben & Jerries) rather, than the working classes speaks volumes.

      1. Put the shoe on the other foot, you are now the son of a Syrian in a bombed out country your father says you have to leave there’s nothing for you here. Do you a) ignore him and languish in abject poverty b) take the meagre money he gives you and attempt to get into a country of which you know the language.
        People have to realise we (as in the UK) are culpable in this crisis, we bombed Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and assisted in the destruction of Yemen. You reap what you sow.

      2. Of course they’ve trekked through several countries before risking the channel to reach a cruel Tory infested s***hole full of closed-minded sycophants & useful idiots for a measly hand-out each week. That’s obviously what’s happening.

    2. A bigger problem revealed by that tweet is the BBC’s fawning attitude to this rancid government. What sort of journalist simply repeats blatant Home Office spin, as if it were fact?
      But let’s not fall into the usual trap of singling out the BBC, who at least often make a good stab at being neutral – unlike our truly rancid print media.

    3. When I first saw the govt response my initial reaction was onomatopoeic “OOOF”

      I honestly don’t see why this is such a big deal.

      It’s rare that any govt would respond in such a way that they did.

      Once upon a time they could rely on big business, lest we forget that B&J is owned by a multinational.

      It’s quite possible he was simply shocked by the govt response.

    4. Yes, we have to turn to one another, but that is what the system is designed to prevent. Who are we? There is a celebrity threshold in our culture: only celebrities get a hearing. The common folk don’t deserve to be heard because they haven’t proved themselves. The “meritocracy” ensures those with talent who make an effort get place and that permits them to participate. The rest have to keep quiet. The system rests on the false notion of fair distribution of rewards which implies that those who fail deserve to. That’s what the education system is for. It is a “ruthless machine for the elimination of the unworthy”. Lots of fuss over A Level results. What about the kids who don’t come through? They are the majority. It’s still a minority who take A Levels. Well, the failures deserve to fail. The poor deserve to be poor. And those who have passed the threshold deserve to be heard. That’s, partly, Chomsky’s point: if you see through the system, and those it fails are likely to, then you don’t get heard. We need alternative ways of talking to one another but they will do all they can to stop us. Money rules and by definition those failed by the system don’t have it. The unions were built by millions who pooled their small resources, but they are now hierarchical bureaucracies. We need to start again but build non hierarchical, non bureaucratic movements funded by small contributions from millions. They try to stop that by making Labour the focus. As if Starmer will change anything but his underwear. We are now in a context that whatever is not thoroughly radical is reactionary.

    5. No, I disagree. We really DO need corporates to start doing ethical, green and socially responsible things. Whilst they are doing it to get extra market and gain credibility it’s still the only way that these things can become mainstream in society. As the responsible products become more mainstream the old way is considered that – old. The old fashioned fades and withers. Like the move from paper to online. Can you even apply for a job on paper anymore?

      But I agree that this, and most other, BBC reporters are completely tone deaf and unaware of their own biases. Biases are something we all have. To deny that is even worse. And that is exactly what they do..

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