If any piece of video can stand for the spirit of the times, then this fevered, resentful summer of 2017 could well be summed up in a clip of west London activist Ishmahil Blagrove, a film-maker and member of Justice4Grenfell, dispensing a furious dressing-down to a Sky reporter sent to cover the aftermath of London’s most catastrophic fire in generations.
Blagrove seethes with righteous anger. “Fuck the media, fuck the mainstream,” he tells the TV journalist to cheers from passers-by, all the rage and frustration of the Grenfell disaster directed for a moment not at the borough council that enabled it but at those who covered it. Then he makes a connection familiar to old footsoldiers of the left and increasingly popular with its new recruits. Everything is connected. “For two years, you’ve hounded and demonised Jeremy Corbyn,” Blagrove shouts. “You said he was unelectable. You created that narrative and people believed your bullshit for a while. But what this election has done is shown that people are immune. They’re wearing bulletproof vests to you and the other billionaires of the media owners and Rupert Murdoch and all the motherfuckers.”
In years gone by, this might have been ignored as a standard everything-is-wrong jeremiad against the iniquities of the system. Blagrove is, after all, a veteran of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner. But the clip went viral and clearly spoke to a wider audience . This summer, what was once a fringe analysis – that the media are not a complex collection of independent agencies holding the system to account but an elite-directed component of that system – finally moved into the popular consciousness.
After the bitter referendums over Scottish independence and Britain’s EU membership, after newspapers and TV failed to predict the successes of Donald Trump, Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, and finally with the nightmarish failure of policy and oversight that led to Grenfell, confidence in the media has taken a battering. And alternative voices are keen to undermine it further. From new, conspiracy-minded outlets such as the Canary and Evolve Politics to the “alt-right”, libertarian and hard Brexit conversations that cluster on Twitter, the loudest and most strident voices push a relentless line: you can’t trust the mainstream media.
It is not just the politically motivated who hold these beliefs. Judged on hard metrics, confidence in UK media has fallen noticeably in recent years. According to communications agency Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer survey of 1,500 Britons, the number of people who said they trusted British news outlets at all fell from an already low 36% in 2015 to a mere 24% by the beginning of 2017. The 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, published in June, found that just 41% of British people agreed that the news media did a good job in helping them distinguish fact from fiction. The figure for social media was even lower: 18%.
“It’s a serious problem for the profession,” says Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute. “The political legitimacy of institutions like the BBC and also the business models of newspapers depend on the idea that they offer something trustworthy. Healthy distrust can be a good thing but hardened cynicism is paralysing.”
He is worried that people are tending to judge the entire industry by its worst practitioners. “The danger is that the influential and the upper classes see journalism as too tabloid and populist, while working-class people think it pays little attention to people like themselves and their lives – and no one is happy.”
“It is beginning to feel like a culture war,” says Ian Katz, editor of BBC2’s Newsnight and formerly deputy editor of the Guardian. The “attritional decline” in trust that he has witnessed during his 25 years in journalism has accelerated sharply over the past few years, he says. Now, when Newsnight sends reporters and producers to cover the Grenfell protests or June’s van attack near Finsbury Park mosque, they are met with “extraordinary levels of hostility and suspicion”.
“At Grenfell, a lot of the reaction crystallised around the idea of an establishment plot to minimise the extent of the catastrophe,” Katz explains. “There was an elision of a whole series of things into the Grenfell disaster, including the perception that the media had failed to give Corbyn a fair crack. That hostility has become a proxy for wider, inchoate anger with the establishment in general and the press in particular.”
He’s talking about a new article of faith on the political left: that, in its attitudes to Corbyn, the media inadvertently revealed the truth about themselves. Instead of supporting Labour’s new leader, goes the narrative, liberal newspapers such as the Guardian and Observer, along with “state broadcaster” the BBC, set out to destroy him. When Corbyn did better than expected in the 2017 general election, this proved that the media were unequivocally wrong and the Corbynites were right. Questions of a journalistic duty to examine, or the separation of news and comment, or even basing your coverage reasonably on the past performance of platforms similar to Corbyn’s, were by the by. So was the point that Corbyn did not actually win the election. No matter – the liberal press had betrayed its readers and the MSM (mainstream media) had got it wrong.
“In terms of trust,” says Kerry-Anne Mendoza, a founder of one of the most controversial of the new media outlets, the Canary, “how would you feel when a newspaper has always been critical of austerity and neoliberalism, but when a politician appears who actually stands against those things, those same liberal left papers call his supporters ‘fucking fools’?” She’s using a single Nick Cohen column as a synecdoche for the entire liberal press, but it’s central to the non-MSM worldview that the media be perceived as a consistent unit. “When it came down to it,” she continues, “those liberal papers rallied to defend the system and that was appalling. That’s where trust fell down. People stopped trusting their motives. And people like us decided they didn’t want to put up with it any more.”
Veteran media commentator Raymond Snoddy says: “What we’ve seen this year is that ‘mainstream media’ has changed from a general description into a term of abuse. We’ve seen trust in media ebb and flow over many years but there’s been nothing like this before. There is now a completely different way of self-manufacturing and distributing news outside of the mainstream. These new outlets can be very diverse and exciting, but they exist outside any conventional sense of journalistic principles – of fact-checking and at least trying to get it objectively right.”
Like any perfect storm, this one has taken time to gather. When the News of the World was revealed in 2011 to have targeted phone messages belonging to the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, victims of the 7/7 bombings and many others, public revulsion was so overwhelming that it closed the paper. But recommendations for a new system of press control by the subsequent Leveson inquiry petered out and prosecutions connected to the scandal also proved anti-climactic. Though Rupert Murdoch experienced “the most humble day of my life” before the culture select committee in 2011, sections of the public felt that the press at large had got away with something, even if they couldn’t say exactly what it was.
This discontent with the media began to coalesce as Britain entered its current period of political chaos. The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 saw the BBC attacked from the left as well as the right for a change, with legions of “cybernats” on social media casting the corporation as a Westminster mouthpiece and demonstrating outside BBC Scotland’s Glasgow headquarters to demand the sacking of political editor, Nick Robinson.
“I don’t think my offence was sufficient to justify 4,000 [most estimates said 1,000] people marching on the BBC’s headquarters so that young men and women who are new to journalism have, like they do in Putin’s Russia, to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs,” Robinson would tell an audience at the Edinburgh international book festival a year after the demonstration. “Alex Salmond was using me as a symbol of the wicked, metropolitan, Westminster classes sent from London in order to tell the Scots what they ought to do.”
When Laura Kuenssberg took over from Robinson, the meme of the “Tory BBC” took hold and filtered into Corbynism. Kuenssberg became a lightning rod for the new left’s dissatisfactions, the target of a petition demanding that she be sacked and for routine, vitriolic accusations of bias towards the government. Instances that did not fit the narrative, including Kuenssberg’s frequent harsh questioning of Theresa May, were dismissed. For Conservatives used to their own adversarial relationship with the BBC, this was an unusual development.
“The current Labour leadership is used to being a backbench rebel movement, a protest movement,” say Mark Wallace, editor of ConservativeHome. “The scrutiny you face when pitching to run the country is of a different order and that’s proving uncomfortable for them. I think there’s a knowing element to the endless personal pursuit of Laura Kuenssberg as well. If you bombard someone for long enough, they might never actually surrender to you, but it may have a chilling effect on what questions they ask.”
Wallace doesn’t know a single Conservative MP or minister who feels they get an easy ride from Kuenssberg. “Politicians understand that they operate in a risky environment. They know that journalists can enhance their careers by asking tough questions and catching politicians out. That’s how it should be.”
In parallel with Corbynism, the EU referendum campaign and its aftermath had their own corrosive effect on trust in the media. In the press, the line between campaigning and reporting dissolved as rightwing titles threw themselves wholeheartedly behind Leave. TV coverage became a battleground. Leave campaigners claimed to have identified consistent pro-EU bias from the BBC. Remainers detected dangerous instances of false balance, most notoriously when a poll found that 88% of UK economists were against Brexit, only for their views to be set repeatedly against those of a single economist, Professor Patrick Minford, who said that Brexit would not damage trade and the UK economy. This and other coverage distorted the vote, say Remainers, by creating a misleading impression that experts were split on the issue.
“Economic and political truth isn’t discovered by a straw poll,” argues Wallace, a Leave supporter. “If one person’s right and everyone else is wrong, that single person is still right. I actually think the BBC made great efforts to be balanced during the referendum. The Ukip surge and the feedback they got showed that Euroscepticism was more popular than they’d thought.”
When the BBC says that it is criticised from both sides and so it must be doing something right, Wallace thinks it has a point. “There’s also the more reasoned critique, which is the unconscious bias that comes when you recruit people who look and sound like you and were educated in similar places to you,” he says. “The traditional flaws we see in the BBC might not come from intentional bias but an assumption that they are the sensible centre-ground, so how could anyone possibly disagree with them?”
As the Brexit dust settled, a King’s College London investigation, “UK media coverage of the 2016 EU referendum campaign”, concluded that “the implications of a divisive, antagonistic and hyper-partisan campaign – by the campaigners themselves as much as by many national media outlets – is likely to shape British politics for the foreseeable future.” In other words, Brexit poisoned the well of trust still further.
Across the Atlantic, the success of Donald Trump’s post-truth platform, where every criticism was dismissed as a politicised attack and all media but the most slavish were failing and lying, introduced the concept of “fake news” as a way to discredit and disempower the inconvenient mainstream media. Toxic to the American body politic, fake news is actually a rarity in Britain. “People who talk about fake news in the UK are guilty of fake news themselves,” argues Dominic Ponsford, editor of Press Gazette. “Manufacturing stories to further a political aim or to make money through clicks just doesn’t happen in the UK.
“What we do have is highly partisan news and coverage when it comes in our national press. What’s changed is that the Sun or the Mail are now amplified by social media to people who don’t necessarily read those papers.”
In other words, social media is showing us what always went on in the papers we never read – and convincing us that the press is getting worse and worse.
But if a British reader’s Facebook feed isn’t as full of fictional, manipulative stories as their American counterpart’s, the suspicion of fake news is still out there, degrading trust in what you see and read. “Fake news is a double-edged sword and a worrying concept,” says Nielsen. “It allows established media like the New York Times or the Guardian to market itself as an antidote to deliberate untruth. But the problem is that talking about fake news obscures the more dangerous story – which is that much of the public has very low confidence in the ‘non-fake’ work of professional journalists.”
All these threads of suspicion and system failure came together in the horror of Grenfell, which brought its own bad news for supporters of traditional media. If Brexit, Trump and Corbyn were failures of national media then this was a failure of local journalism – to investigate municipal mismanagement and prevent such disasters from happening in the first place. “The local press has experienced a devastating collapse over the last decade,” says Ponsford. “There are whole boroughs of London that don’t have any journalists covering them at all. Kensington and Chelsea would have had a dozen journalists based in that borough 25 years ago. There’s no one there now. That can only mean that the councils there are not being scrutinised.”
“The best journalism happens at a local level, there’s no doubt about it,” says Ted Jeory, whose Trial By Jeory blog and column in the East London Advertiser exposed the Tower Hamlets corruption scandal that saw Lutfur Rahman removed as mayor and banned from standing for office. “But morale is very poor and there’s a cultural shift in national papers at news editor level. You used to start on a local paper, learn how to knock on doors and be tenacious. Now, people are being recruited at national level and sometimes becoming news editors without having done any of that local stuff.”
The collapse of the local press also has ramifications for who work in journalism and how they approach the job. The path from local paper to national newsroom was once a viable career route for bright, working-class people who might not have been to university, but today a young journalist might enter the industry on a national paper’s website. And, says Ponsford, they might not leave the office at all in the course of a hard day’s Googling and content aggregation.
The need for a degree and the family wherewithal to survive in London on minimal wages mean that the diversity of the media pool, mostly based in the capital, suffers further. Working-class and minority candidates find it harder to get in. A 2016 survey by City University indicated that only 0.4% of working journalists are Muslim and only 0.2% are black, when almost 5% of the UK population is Muslim and 3% is black. A Sutton Trust survey the same year found that 54% of senior print journalists attended Oxford or Cambridge and 51% went to private school.
“It’s plainly the case that shows like ours could benefit from a greater degree of diversity,” says Katz, “not just ethnic diversity but of background, class and education. It’s a criticism that hurts because it’s got some truth to it.” Viewers need to see people on TV who look and sound like them if they’re going to be confident in what they hear. Katz describes an endless battle to ensure that Newsnight discussion panels are not solely composed of middle-aged white males. “If you were in here, you would see us with our heads in our hands looking at the guest list going, ‘This is ridiculous’.”
Some are less sure that belief in established media is in such steep decline. Emily Bell is a former editor of the Guardian website and now director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, New York. “We should be careful about exactly who is telling us that mainstream media is less trusted and why that narrative is circulated,” she says. “It’s often politicians like Trump or new media outlets seeking to establish their own credibility or propagandists or PR companies. It’s people with a vested interest. That doesn’t mean the media isn’t having problems. But is trust really declining or are we just being told that it is?”
She points out that less ideologically motivated audiences – “if you’re not a Corbynista or a Ukipper or a Trump supporter or a brocialist [a male socialist or progressive who downplays women’s issues], for instance” – are consuming mainstream media in greater quantities. In America, CNN is having a “spectacular” year in terms of viewing figures and advertising. “You might see a broken business model but you’re not seeing a diminution of consumption like you would if something was really becoming irrelevant or discredited.”
While Trump and the conspiracist alternative media push the narrative of fake news, the press has seen improvement on one of the most stringent measures of trust: would you give this organisation money? One executive at the Washington Post told Bell: “It’s fantastic. Every time Trump criticises us there’s a spike in subscriptions.”
“The more that media outlets multiply,” she says, “the more the phrase ‘the media’ becomes meaningless.” If you’re under 25, then Buzzfeed is possibly more representative of mainstream media than ITV and the Daily Telegraph, whose output you never consume. Do you trust Buzzfeed because it’s more accurate or because it conforms to your preferences? Bell thinks the focus on trust rather than quality is misplaced. “People trusted the media more when you only had the six o’clock news and Walter Cronkite, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that news coverage before 1975 was inherently more accurate or comprehensive than the best journalism today. In many ways it’s better now.
“No literate society should aim for 100% trust in its media. You want a reasonable scepticism without total cynicism. What you want,” she says, “is for people to question.”
Which is exactly what Kerry-Anne Mendoza would say the Canary does. Founded in 2015 with the aim of disrupting a predominantly conservative media landscape, the site has become one of the most shared and notorious of the new left news outlets. “Journalists should agitate against corporate or political power or the power of the wealthy, or frankly the power of the media, to produce balanced opinions,” says Mendoza. “I think it’s the central role of the press.”
Yet the success of the Canary is attributable less to conventional campaigning journalism and more to hyper-partisan coverage designed to confirm its readers’ prejudices. Describing itself as “fresh, fearless, independent journalism”, the Canary delivers a daily diet of vociferously pro-Corbyn, anti-establishment stories where news and editorial comment are indistinguishable. Its method of paying contributors is what sets its overheated tone: writers are paid a share of advertising revenue proportionate to the traffic that their news story generates, on top of a flat fee drawn from readers’ voluntary subscription payments. It is an innovative revenue share that has enabled several Canary writers to make a career from journalism. But it can only encourage them to seek maximum clicks via the most lurid headlines and to put the most alarming construction on the flimsiest evidence.
In Canary-world, an off-the-cuff comment by an unnamed Tory MP at an EU referendum party (“Who the fuck cares if sterling’s falling? You’ll be all right; I’ll be all right. It’s a revolution!”) becomes “The horrific, drunken response from a potential Tory leader after he realised Brexit will crush ordinary families.” Video of a police stop and search becomes “Watch six police officers humiliate a Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf”. And the decision of a constituency Labour party to send one not two delegates to the party conference becomes “Labour elites just crushed party democracy to ensure they choose Jeremy Corbyn’s successor”. Common themes are the persecution of Corbyn and the refusal of the mainstream media to talk about the stories that the Canary has uncovered. And its readers love it.
“All credit to the Canary for what they’ve achieved,” says Ponsford, “but I am alarmed when people hold them up as a paragon. A lot of it is good sensational political reporting but some stuff appears there which you’d never expect to see on any professional website. Some of the stories they run are plain batshit.”
Understandably, Mendoza vigorously defends her site’s editorial approach. “We felt the left had lost the power to tell stories,” she says. “If you’re going to have a conversation that’s big enough to change the country, then you have to speak to all of the people in a language that’s going to connect with them.” She is, in her way, an idealist.
But when I put it to her that the Canary has built its business by creating the most emotive stories often on the back of very little evidence, she makes an astonishing claim: “If a story is hyperbole, then often it won’t get shared on the progressive side of the debate. That sort of thing is more popular on the political right.”
This, in my experience, is flatly untrue. The MSM-doubting new left is absolutely addicted to overwrought stories, grain of truth or none. “If you over-promise and under-deliver enough,” Mendoza continues, “the readers will just walk away.” The success of certain Canary stories suggest that the opposite is true.
I ask her about some of the Canary’s most controversial items and whether it was responsible to publish them. In June 2016, the Canary ran a story headlined: “The truth behind the Labour coup, when it really began and who manufactured it (EXCLUSIVE)”. It claimed that the leadership challenge against Corbyn was organised by the Fabian Society and a PR company called Portland Communications, “a company organised, fronted and controlled by a plethora of apparatchiks of Tony Blair and the centre-right of Labour”.
Far from establishing a conspiracy, the story merely set out a series of unsurprising relationships between former senior employees of the Blair and Brown governments who had moved into lobbying. It added the names of a few betes-noirs of the left (Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell) and asserted in slippery language that the “coup” “appears to have been orchestrated” by the Fabians and Portland. There were no memos and no evidence of meetings, strategy or instructions for this scheme, only dark innuendo.
Nevertheless, the story spread across social media. Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, gave it credence on The Andrew Marr Show and one Portland employee received a death threat. Was it right for the Canary to create such a provocative story with so little basis in fact?
“I’m not willing to discuss it,” is Mendoza’s reply. “We put it to bed well over a year ago. That was an awful smear campaign against us and I don’t want to add anything further to it. It’s over.”
But it isn’t. There was no retraction and the Portland conspiracy still crops up in Labour forums.
I turn to another questionable Canary story: “A major media outlet just revealed who won the US election… a week in advance”. This item claimed that a TV station called WCRB had somehow inadvertently published the predetermined results of the November 2016 American presidential election. Wasn’t this story, based on a mere dummy graphic used for rehearsal purposes, inflammatory nonsense?
“Yes, it was untrue and we issued a correction,” Mendoza replies. “But let me ask you: how many corrections has the Observer published in the last few months? We are human beings and we make mistakes. Did we clean up the mess and make sure it’s clear to our readership? Yes we did and that’s what is important to us.”
I check the page after our conversation ends. The story is still up on the site, the only apparent correction a statement from WCRB, confirming that the graphic was indeed meaningless test data. Otherwise, its baseless speculation remains intact and live on the internet.
Mendoza is right. People do make mistakes. But a mainstream media site would remove every trace of a false story like this. Observer readers’ editor, Stephen Pritchard, said: “Kerry-Anne Mendoza appears not to be aware that the paper publishes corrections every week and has done for more than 16 years. These also appear online. Many more smaller corrections are made to web stories, each one carefully footnoted so the reader is in no doubt what changes have been made and when. It’s all part of a serious attempt to be open, transparent and accountable.”
If one story exemplifies how news and information move in the world of alternative news it is the tale of the Grenfell D notice. On 16 June, two days after the fatal fire, leftwing blog Skwawkbox wrote “multiple sources” had told them that “the government has placed a ‘D notice’… on the real number of deaths in the blaze”. The blog repeated claims that unnamed firefighters had seen up to 200 bodies in the ruins of Grenfell, far more than the official total so far of 30 dead (police now estimate there were 80 deaths in the block).
The story had everything: government conspiracy, evasion and callousness plus a wall of silence from traditional media. It duly received uncountable shares and furious denunciation across multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts. The only problem was it wasn’t true.
“Any professional journalist could tell you that this story didn’t remotely hold up,” says City University journalism professor George Brock, himself once a member of the D notice committee. “The D notice system is a voluntary one and it is inconceivable that any government would try to use it for this purpose. If they were foolish enough to try, it would be about 20 seconds before the story got out.”
Yet weeks after the story was debunked in a forensic takedown by Buzzfeed’s James Ball, and after Skwawkbox published a highly qualified “update”, again with the original false story intact, it was still being shared on social media as fact.
I speak on the phone to Steve Walker, the self-employed Merseyside businessman who runs Skwawkbox. For someone only recently unmasked and monstered by the Daily Mail (“it’s a bit of a badge of honour”), he’s surprisingly amiable towards a journalist he’s never met. Embarrassingly, the Mail had to take down its story when it emerged that “anonymous leftwing blogger” and “corporate CEO” Walker didn’t actually sell private mailing services to the NHS at all, but donated them.
Walker launched Skwawkbox in 2012 to write about the NHS, the welfare system and the state of the left, then found new impetus with the advent of Corbyn. “The people we’re trying to reach are what we call the outer parts of the Venn diagram,” he says. “Not the real dedicated people on the left, but maybe their auntie or their uncle who reads their Facebook page. With the right story, they’ll share it and spread the word.”
How could it have been right for Skwawkbox to spread unsubstantiated rumour at a time when riots were considered a genuine possibility? Walker’s response is that the story was caveated with multiple “sources say” and “reports have been received”, a defence that wouldn’t pass muster in elementary journalism school. “At no point did I say, ‘This is true’,” he argues. “That would be me spreading fake news if it turned out to be untrue.” But that’s exactly what Skwawkbox did. No reputable newspaper would “correct” a false story merely by placing an update at the top of the page, leaving the false story intact below and, by implication, still valid.
“Frankly, I don’t take any responsibility for people who can’t read the qualifications or choose not to,” Walker answers. “My obligation is more to the people out there rather than what the journalistic establishment considers the usual way of doing things. That story went viral because people said, why is nobody talking about what we are seeing on the ground? There’s already far too much suppression out there. People deserve the chance to make their own mind up.
“And,” he adds, “I’m still not convinced by the denials.”
Which raises the question: how can you make up your mind when your information sources are so polluted by fiction that even the people who spread them believe them? The response of self-defined insurgent media is: why observe the rules of the mainstream media when the mainstream media have failed us? If the authorities deny a story, well they would, wouldn’t they?
For professional journalists, this is a nightmare prospect: news and commentary devolving into a baseless cacophony where anyone can say anything and whatever is shared most will win. The truth will become what the most, or the loudest, people want it to be.
And yet, for all the chaos and uncertainty in the media, it’s worth remembering that we’ve been here before, albeit a long time ago. In the 1820s, the written press in Britain had become so elitist, complacent and deferential that dissenting journalists launched papers known as the “unstamped” because they refused to pay the newspaper tax. “My God, they were violently opinionated,” says Brock. “They made the Canary and Skwawkbox look restrained.”
Similarly, in the United States in the 60s, the cultural and political crisis of Vietnam brought on a slump in the credibility of a similarly stuffy and obeisant mass media. The journalism of the 1970s proved to have rather sharper teeth. Just ask Richard Nixon.
“What I’m saying is, mistrust in journalism is not an unambiguous disaster,” Brock continues. “It may lead readers and journalists to think more critically. I deplore it when alternative media present themselves as news channels when in fact they’re highly activist blogs with strong but narrow points of view. But they exist, and when you’re faced with something you can’t uninvent, you have to learn from it.
“In the last analysis,” says Brock, “professional mainstream journalists can always say, we’ve checked this out and it stands up.”
It’s an answer I hear from many professional journalists I talk to. The answer to bad journalism can only be good journalism, from the widest pool of professionals. Fund and deliver it in the most innovative ways you can, but let the material be its own advocate. It’s all you can do.
“The people who want to see journalism fail now have a bigger megaphone than ever,” says Bell. “But the good news is that the world is getting more complicated, so it needs good journalism.”
The mainstream media’s job is to remind the audiences of tomorrow of that fact. Trust isn’t given. It’s earned. And if there’s one basic truth that every storyteller understands, it’s that if you want to be believed, don’t tell – show.
Andrew Harrison is editor of the Remainiacs Brexit podcast; remainiacs.com
On the ground: Grenfell Tower locals on the media
Stacie McCormick, 55
My impression is that we have a speed of news right now that journalists are trying to keep up with and there’s a real lack of wisdom on everybody’s side. Journalism has a responsibility to society and great journalists have a responsibility to inform people and make news. I filter it the best I can by trying to read many different outlets, trying to find the wisdom when there’s a heck of a lot of misinformation. I’m a relatively responsible citizen and smart enough to judge when it’s extreme sensationalism, but there are always people who want to be entertained by media rather than informed. To blame any one outlet is dangerous and to lose trust is dangerous, too. If we forfeit the responsibility of the media to keep us from being abused by the structures of power, then we become victims instead of citizens.
Matt Dolan, 47
I have always been slightly suspicious of the media and over the last couple of years, the idea of responsible reporting, accuracy of news and fact-checking seems to have been pushed aside. For Grenfell, I don’t think all the facts have come out yet and I certainly think there are lots of things behind the story that people would like to see kept hidden.
I don’t buy newspapers but I read the news online. I fact-check by looking at a range of media sources, trying to piece together what I believe is the truth from various outlets. I tend not to share things on Facebook too much though, partly because I can’t trust it. I think there’s been a systematic attack on the media, making it so that no one believes anything except what they want to believe. That is the danger, I think, of either having dubious press outlets or of allowing people to make unsubstantiated claims.
Andrea Pucci, 28
I don’t read newspapers but I read daily news updates on my phone or find out news from other people. I think that fake news is easy to fall for because they make it so interesting – they’re trying to get an audience. I wouldn’t say that the media is all lies but people will play with the truth to [further] their own interests. The government always hides stuff, everywhere in the world, and it’s always to benefit someone.
Steve Williams, 33
People have definitely lost trust in the media because theyhave distorted the truth. I know a few people who lived there [in Grenfell Tower] who actually got out, and we know that there were hundreds of bodies. Clearly, with the way the fire took place, how can you then say there were only 80 people that died? That’s ridiculous. Hiding behind the truth is what’s causing the anger. It feels like there has been a major cover-up. When they’re doing the interviews, they’re not sending out the truth – it is being edited.
This editing is supporting the council as far as the public is concerned. That’s why a lot of people won’t do interviews – they won’t talk to the media. They’re biased, absolutely. It’s definitely about class, this would not have happened in the rich side of Notting Hill.
I don’t get my information from mainstream news sources, I get it from Twitter. There is no doubt in my mind that there has been a media cover-up [of the number of Grenfell Tower victims]. Everyone here knows there were 400-500 people living in that block. We know that you can’t confirm numbers until you’ve got identities – everyone knows that’s how it works. We’re not stupid. But that’s not what people were asking for. People weren’t asking for identities, they were asking for numbers.
I think that a lot of news publications stuck with saying they couldn’t confirm [numbers] because they didn’t have dental records etc. We just wanted a true indication, to be treated like humans. We shouldn’t always follow protocol, especially in these situations. It’s disrespectful.
Interviews by Jade Cuttle