Last night’s edition of BBC Newsnight was nothing short of state propaganda

BBC Newsnight
Kerry-anne Mendoza

The foreign secretary has been caught on camera misleading the UK public and international community on the Salisbury poisoning. This is where the UK media should be applying pressure, asking questions and (in a decent world) forcing a resignation. Instead, the establishment media is vilifying the people doing that job, and backing Boris Johnson. BBC Newsnight showcased this hypocrisy last night.

State propaganda

What we know for a fact, is that Boris Johnson told German TV:

The people from Porton Down… They were absolutely categorical. And I asked the guy myself. I said, ‘Are you sure?’

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And he said, ‘there’s no doubt’.

The foreign office repeated his claim via its official Twitter account, and later deleted the tweet.

Porton Down refutes the claim, stating categorically that it could not confirm the nerve agent came from Russia. Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, told Sky News:

We were… able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent. We have not verified the precise source

This does not absolve Russia of responsibility. Russia and other potential suspects should remain part of an open investigation until authorities gather stronger evidence. What it does mean is that Boris Johnson misled the public. The question our media should be asking is: was this a wilful abuse of power?

That is not what’s happening.

Instead, when Jeremy Corbyn challenged the foreign secretary on the matter, Boris Johnson accused him of “playing Russia’s game and trying to discredit the UK”. And the media dutifully rallied to Johnson’s side.

BBC Newsnight

Last night’s BBC Newsnight was not framed around the fitness of Boris Johnson to be foreign secretary. Instead, the negative focus was once again on Jeremy Corbyn and the left being Putin’s ‘useful idiots’ for asking questions. Declaring an ‘information war’ afoot between Britain and Russia, the show concluded that those challenging Johnson have basically picked Russia’s side in that war.

Samuel Green, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, was invited on. He grouped Jeremy Corbyn in with the Russian state and its RT television channel, claiming:

As your report suggested, right, it’s not from the Russian perspective so much about getting people in the UK… to believe an alternative narrative. It’s about creating room for doubt in the official narrative.

This is a fairly accurate description of how Russian propaganda works. But it’s also an accurate description of how propaganda works full stop. Critical thinking demands that we avoid blind fealty to any individual or authority.

But what of Boris? The foreign secretary’s credibility and intentions were relegated to a side note. Former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind reduced the entire issue to an episode of ‘Hapless Boris’. He claimed the foreign secretary’s behaviour was unfortunate, but ultimately meaningless, saying:

It has not changed by one iota the solidarity of the international community condemning Russia…

I don’t think any harm has been done.

BBC Newsnight put no other take on the situation on the table. And viewers could scarcely believe what they were watching:

The media as one

And so it continued across the BBC. BBC News literally ran footage of Corbyn playing with a Russian doll during a segment on the poisoning:

During the BBC News paper review, Jane Merrick of The Times, New European and other outlets repeated the spin job unchallenged, saying:

Jeremy Corbyn is… taking the word of the Russian government rather than the British government. I think that’s quite worrying, actually.

https://twitter.com/alexnunns/status/981671538889035777

And the same spin was echoed by supposedly liberal journalists all day:

Make it stop

This wilful misrepresentation of the Skripal case is beyond bad journalism. It’s not any kind of journalism at all. It is propaganda, designed to pressure people into blind acceptance of the UK government’s official narrative, regardless of its authenticity or the ramifications of such uncritical obedience. Given the failures of the last 15 years, from Iraq to Libya, a rational person acting in good faith would view this case with a critical mind. That does not mean resorting to knee-jerk contrarianism like ‘the UK is bad so Russia is good’. It means exactly what it says: reviewing the evidence available, and interrogating that evidence along with the motivations and credibility of those producing it. The UK media is branding such basic common sense as tantamount to treason, again.

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