Media

TV eye

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi.*

When the New York Times recently published a prominent hit piece article entitled The Making of a Youtube Radical, it featured a collage of hate-filled internet bigots as its front splash. Dangerous demagogues like Jewish Nazi Ben Shapiro and openly gay (also Jewish) erstwhile Young Turk Dave Rubin were finally exposed to the light of civilised society. Other illuminati of the Intellectual Dark Web included such shadowy and menacing figures as gun toting Bill Whittle and the clearly deranged Stefan Molyneux, who earned himself no fewer than three mugshots in that montage. Now we know who the mainstream media really fears.

As the New York Times watches its bottom line swirling round the same drain that swallowed its reputation in 2016, it has been reduced to the kind of childish finger pointing and false equivalence which is rightly derided across the serious debating chambers of cyberspace. This desperate attempt to mix dissenters of every stripe into a synthetic moral panic around some sinister and imminent Alt Right threat (cue evil laugh) is a glaring admission of their own failure to engage and persuade. The once mighty media establishment has been reduced to the status of a young Dave Lister, who describes everything he sees as crypto fascist, despite not having the first clue as to what that obscure phrase even means.

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You've gotta hand it to the Yanks. They make the best cartoons by miles.

Over the past couple of years the American mainstream media has unwittingly produced an endless stream of hilarity, setting new standards for schemes involving ludicrously unlikely devices of destruction.

The first ground-breaking classic was the unprecedented hostile campaign the Democrat establishment and their media allies catapulted at Donald J Trump while he rallied his way towards the White House. In time-honoured tradition, that impossibly heavy mass of hysterical hyperbole completely missed its target, rebounded off a sceptical public and crushed the cable networks with a resounding crunch. Trump was elected President while the media's already dubious reputation was squashed flatter than a cartoon cat beneath a falling anvil. Thud!

Never the sort to let physics or practicality stand in their way, the US establishment tried again with its increasingly desperate and derided Russian collusion hoax, but that unstoppable snowball of scandal simply melted away as it rolled down from the top of the mountain, reduced to nothing more than a grubby ice cube in a small puddle. Splosh!

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Not before time, the public enquiry into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower has juddered into motion. Already we've heard several days of heartrending and tragic testimony from those who've lost loved ones in the most dreadful, almost unimaginable circumstances. These Commemoration hearings will perhaps bring some small crumb of comfort to those left behind to live with the crippling pain, anguish and guilt that always accompanies such a sudden and traumatic event.

But since when did a public enquiry become a fitting vehicle for these once very private and deeply personal parts of the grieving process?

Will these eulogies to the departed teach us anything about how this tragedy unfolded, or forewarn us against similar dangers in the future? Will they shed any light on decisions made long ago that formed the next link in this chain of catastrophe? I'd like to think so, but a tear-jerking tale of personal loss cannot advance our understanding of the events leading up to that terrible and unforgettable night.

This blurring of lines between the judicial and the personal is an unhealthy one, both for the victims of tragedy and for society at large. While friends, family and community might offer essential support to those directly affected by disaster, the public enquiry is designed to heal and salve the wider society. Its primary role is to establish exactly which variables contributed to the tragedy, and to honour the suffering of the departed by ensuring that we learn something valuable from their deeply unjust and untimely demise. We all feel a sense of loss and bewilderment after such a monumental event, and so we look to the instruments of State to provide answers and reassurance that never again will we tread that same path toward disaster.

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Maybe you've heard of it. It's the one where a bunch of too-clever-by-half wheeler dealers get caught out for tax dodging, and then start crying and blaming each other.

The proceedings inside Parliament's Committee Rooms are not known for producing outstanding satire, but there are always exceptions.

Earlier today, various BBC presenters including Kirsty Lang and Liz Kershaw were giving evidence on the widespread use of Personal Services Companies (PSCs) within that organisation. These companies have been increasingly scrutinised by both the press and HMRC over recent years because of well-heeled professionals using them as vehicles to minimise their tax exposure. It's a shame that the rest of us aren't permitted to offset the cost of our lunch or our daily commute, but I digress.

However, according to both Lang's and Kershaw's accounts, the situation at the BBC was entirely different. The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee heard tales of the taxpayer funded broadcaster forcing its presenters to set up such companies in order to avoid paying National Insurance on their salaries. It's unclear to what extent the presenters themselves benefited from such arrangements, but I've never heard of a Personal Services Company being formed to increase tax liability. If Christa Ackroyd's tax bill of £419K is anything to go by, then we're talking about a lot more than a couple of lunches and a few train tickets here and there.

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