People living in the Soviet Union had a wonderful phrase to describe the two biggest circulation state-controlled newspapers, Pravda (meaning “truth”) and Izvestia (meaning “news”). There’s no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia, was the oft-repeated expression. It is unfortunate that the mainstream media in the Western nations these days don’t have similar sorts of names, since it deprives us of an endless source of amusement in coming up with similarly apposite phrases about them.
It is, however, increasingly clear that on the great issues of the day, you are about as likely to find the truth in them as you would have done in Pravda, although I expect their sports and gardening sections are still relatively reliable. As for the important political and geopolitical issues of the day, I tend to imagine that on the walls next to the desks in the offices of many of these papers and broadcasters are the following instructions:
Rules for Reporting on Global Affairs
- Repeat Government line unquestioningly.
- If Government line is questioned, accuse those doing the questioning of being Bots, Kremlin-trolls and useful idiots.
- If the persistent questioning won’t go away and the Government line is seen to be contradictory and full of holes, bury the issue completely and start posing deep questions, such as “What will Meghan wear?” or “Is there a gender pay gap in midwifery?” or “How much sugar is really bad for you?”
The Skripal and Douma episodes have demonstrated this perhaps more than any others. First the Government line has been dutifully parroted by the media in a relentless propaganda campaign — no questions asked. Then there have been attempts to silence or ridicule those who didn’t bow to the parrots and who were asking legitimate questions — including the appalling treatment meted out to distinguished military men.
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