Imagine the scene: far-right demonstrators barricade the entrance to a parliamentary hustings event and force police commanders to close it down over “safety fears”, subsequently leading to the silencing of the Labour Party candidate who couldn’t even make it into the venue.
At the speed of light, the story is beamed around the world on CNN, BBC News, Al Jazeera, ITV News, NewsCorp and Yahoo as every major world leader including Prime Minister Theresa May comes out to publicly condemn the failure of Britain’s democratic process. It is rightly used as a worrying example that if the fundamental functions of local democracy can be disrupted in such a devastating manner, and in a leading Western nation, then what is left of the basic freedoms we once held so dear? The freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association and the freedom to offend.
This is what happened on Tuesday evening. Just days before the Lewisham East by-election at an independently organised hustings event. And yet absolutely nobody in Britain, let alone in any other country, knows it even happened. Erased from history, it has been met not with domestic and international condemnation but rather with deafening silence or, at best, an indifferent malaise. Why would this be, you ask? Because the fascist agitators were not “far-right” they were actually far-left. And the victim wasn’t the Labour Party, nor another party on the so-called ‘progressive’ side of politics. Instead the victim at the centre of this extreme intimidation and violence was Anne Marie Waters and the party she leads: The For Britain Movement. The real victim, of course, was not Anne Marie or For Britain but every single one of us – particularly the millions of people not even aware of these unfolding events.
In the run-up and then the aftermath, one local newspaper News Shopper, provided the perfect metaphor for what is happening on a larger scale across Britain and the West. Here we detail how News Shopper, which has been beset by strikes, job losses and falling circulation in recent years, let the mask slip on its shameful coverage of the Lewisham by-election.
News Shopper’s local democracy reporter Bridie Witton was quick to attack For Britain supporters on Thursday for “hysterical, abusive, and sometimes threatening tweets” she received for her coverage of Tuesday evening. Perhaps her tweet referring to her coverage of “a basic news story” tells you all you need to know about her attitude towards impartial and truly independent and investigative journalism, when the incident she was referring to was actually a huge unfolding story in any truly objective journalist’s book. It’s also worth noting that these claims of hysterical, abusive and threatening tweets were not backed up with any screenshot evidence.
But Witton is adamant her journalism around the Lewisham East by-election is proof of how “independent reporters” are crucially important, so let’s look at some of the evidence.
Throughout her coverage leading up to the hustings, Witton and News Shopper refer to Waters as being from “controversial minor political party For Britain”. As you can see below, this subjective use of the word ‘minor’ is completely out-of-place in the compiling of a news story and is deliberately used to influence, and therefore mislead, the reader. Who decides what is a minor and what is a major political party? Not Witton, that’s for certain, and its use, particularly as it immediately follows another subjective word (‘controversial’), is just one instance where the publication would be in danger of breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice, namely clause i) and iv) under Accuracy, regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
In an article on 8th June talking about Waters being invited to the hustings, the newspaper mentions four people in the body of the article – three of which are in favour of ‘no-platforming’ the For Britain candidate including Mayor Damien Egan and Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft. Influential local councillors like former Tory MP Nicholas Bennett, who backed Waters’ right to speak in the comments section of their website, are given no platform in defending her right to freedom of speech or expression in the body of the editorial copy. Clause 2 of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Code of Conduct implores journalists to ensure information is “honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”. Is this a fair and balanced report? Is it fair to mention three prominent people versus just one defending her? You decide.
And then we come on to the night in question, which News Shopper covered by sending Witton to the hustings where she live-tweeted from outside as she was seemingly unable to get inside due to far-left agitators blocking the entrance as police stood by and watched.
But why, as you can see here above, did her live tweeting suddenly stop as soon as rumours surfaced that the event was being closed down by police due to safety fears? Surely, as a journalist, that is the beginning of a significant breaking local story? Not the end? Yet it was actively downplayed and then ignored on the social media feed of News Shopper’s supposedly independent reporter on the scene.
In her subsequent article summarising the hustings, Witton writes that police attended the event “amid fears of a clash between her supporters and protestors”. Yet, there is not one scrap of evidence that For Britain supporters were involved in the preparation or planning of intimidation or acts of violence. These far-left groups however, labelled “protestors” in her article, were very open in their aims prior to the event and were the only people causing provocation on the night. The phrasing of this sentence is disingenuous at the very best, deliberately misleading at worst.
The wider article quotes a tweet from Anne Marie Waters and then includes a statement from the police and the hustings organiser. It fails to include any condemnation of the event being closed down by any of the more progressive parties in attendance, such as the Women’s Equality Party who were very vocal on the night. It also fails to publish any subsequent editorial or comment piece condemning the closure of this parliamentary event due to aggressive far-left groups. Again, why? Surely this is a big local democracy story for any community newspaper worth its salt no matter what their personal opinions of Waters are?
And yet, despite this, Witton then runs an article straight afterwards entitled ‘Muslim man target of abuse at Lewisham East by-election hustings’. It includes a video of one man faintly shouting back at the chorus of abuse from the other side. “Islam: stop raping white girls,” he says in the general direction of the agitators. His statement, it is important to clarify, is statistically sound given that people following the Islamic faith are disproportionately involved in the gang rape of mainly vulnerable white girls in Britain at present. Indeed, data from Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) 2013 revealed that Arab and Asian men were responsible for 78 per cent of ‘Type 1 Group’ abusers which includes grooming gangs, despite the Muslim population being just 4-5 per cent of the overall UK population. That is a disproportionate problem, no matter what your politics are.
“Catford residents were left shocked by the scenes outside,” Witton writes as she describes local resident Samir Ibrahim “becoming a target of abuse” despite the man clearly shouting his factually accurate statement towards the general crowd and not at any one person. The whole article frames the “abuse” as coming from anyone other than the far-left groups present despite anyone in attendance or watching on the many live streams knowing that the exact opposite was true. The paper even quotes Mr Ibrahim, who is not pictured in the piece, as praising the same people responsible for closing down a democratic debate due to safety fears as he says: “I am honoured and proud they would stand up for us”. Does the newspaper detail any of the spitting on members of the public, the physical assaults and the verbal abuse directed by members of the left? Of course not.
Where there was shocking video evidence of abuse of a racial nature was inside the hustings where black man and UKIP Parliamentary candidate David Kurten was verbally abused and slandered as “racist” by another far-left agitator. His speech was suspended for several minutes as people of all political persuasions booed her off stage and the police were forced to intervene as she proceeded to provocatively tear up the name card of one of the candidates. Guess how many column inches News Shopper dedicated to this hard, documented evidence? How many column inches were dedicated to the video evidence showing ‘Stand Up to Racism’ members striking people with banners and trying to stop YouTubers from filming in a public place? You’ve guessed it – none, not a mention. Perhaps they innocently missed it? Or perhaps it was actively ignored?
And if there was any lingering doubt about News Shopper’s lack of journalistic impartiality then it was all but banished on Wednesday and Thursday, the day of the by-election, when their official Twitter account labelled Waters a “hate monger” and “serial political failure” as well as labelling its supporters “idiot bullies and bigots”. It also criticised all UKIP supporters too, while likening For Britain to a “UK Nazi Party” by saying: “When a party is set up by someone who was considered too nasty even for UKIP and had it scared of being turned into the UK Nazi Party, you just know what level of stupid its supporters are going to be.”
Perhaps the irony was completely lost on News Shopper’s editorial team, but in attempting to defend themselves from “brazen lies” all they have proven is that their biased and propaganda-driven reporting is indeed purely based on personal prejudices rather than impartial journalism. A shameful position for any self-respecting local newspaper to arrive at and an embarrassment to the profession.
But arguably News Shopper’s most laughable tweet – and that is quite something given that this wholly unprofessional outburst resembled a work experience students’ first disastrous attempt at social media – was the claim that they will “always stand up to thuggish and venomous lynch mobs”. The events outside Tuesday’s parliamentary hustings show this statement to be unadulterated, verbal diarrhoea – more accurate would be to say: we will always stand up to thuggish and venomous lynch mobs, as long as we agree with your politics.
If this is the state of local journalism in Britain then heaven help us all. And more people need to know about it.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain