Censorship in the Independent? & the problem with ‘balanced journalism’

I thought this couldn’t really be true. A number of comments I made on the Independent comments section have dissappeared in the last few days. I thought that they couldn’t really have been censored for political reasons but today one was definitely “moderated”. It seems another reader may have reported it and …. it vanished.

This is a quick list of the comments I have made which have vanished:

  • a comment on this article about Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. I suggested that the article was sensationalist and I argued that by going with a dosing regime which has not been tested the UK government is itself in effect skiping stage 3 vaccine trials (which is what the author said about Sputnik).
  • A comment suggesting that Matt Hannock, the Health Minister, was “still peddling the fiction that life will be back to normal in two weeks time”. (An easy to make case: a few days after Matt Hanncock promised that life would soon be getting back to normal his Chief Medical Office suggested that lockdowns might still be necessary in 2022). The article reported that Matt Hannock had “blamed the public for the uptick in Covid cases”; I commented that there might have a case to answer concerning the 18,000 totally avoidable (in the words of an Amnesty report) deaths of elderly people in care homes.
  • A comment that government scientists are spinning the untested and unapproved by the manufacturer vaccine regime by emphasising that they have data that it is 90% effective even after one dose – wihout mentioning the fact that this figure is only tested up to three weeks – not the 12 weeks they are proposing.
  • A comment pointing out that some UK journalists appear to think that US law applies to the UK – thus showing that they regard the UK as no more than a province of the US. This was on an article about Assange. This was my comment: “It is the last sentence of this article which is so telling. It explains that the Espionage Act does not allow a public interest defence. But wait. That is a US law. This phenomenon of UK journalists treating US law as applicable to the UK shows that they have fully accepted province status.” (I can’t now find the original article; the comment may have been made on a ‘live stream’ blog which has subsequently changed).

So – all of these comments have vanished.

What does the Indepependent publish? Well – Russia sensationalism – a media-as-entertainment genre in its own right (rather as the Roman authorities diverted the people with gladiator and wild animal shows) and government propaganda. For example; let’s consider the govenment’s decision to proceed with a highly controversial dosing regime for the Pfizer vaccine for Covid. The regime is controversial because it was not tested for in the Stage 3 trials and the manufacturer has specifically disowned it. The lead Covid doctor in the US has made it clear he won’t adopt it because it is better to follow the evidence. One senior virologist at Cornell commented that “British officials seem to be guessing”. (Another US scientist said it was “like going into the Wild West”). [1] The BMA has said it is “grossly unfair” that patients who had been given the first shot of the vaccine on the basis that they would get the second shot three weeks later – as per the manufacturer’s tested regime – have now been told they will have to wait 12 weeks. [2] The WHO has expressed the view that modifications to the tested regime should be the exception and then only up to 4 weeks. [3] I would argue that there really isn’t any case here; this decision by the British government breaks medical ethics, normal rules of trust and is dangerous. They have without any doubt acted in extreme bad faith. Even if you can’t understand that the simple fact of the weight of professional critcism should show journalists that this is at best a highly doubtful strategy. However; both the Guardian and Independent carried articles reporting on the UK government decision and sugesting that it was simply a pragmatic decision. The Indpendent quoted Dr Fauci but gave the last and definite word to UK officials. The Guardian’s Health Editor also mentions Dr Fauci but reassures readers that “That [mixing different vaccines] and the 12-week spacing are real-world responses to an epic crisis, in an attempt to give some immunity to the rampaging new variant of the coronavirus as quickly as possible to as many people as possible” [4]. This is, I think, known as balanced journalism. They take one critical quote then they go to an official government source, get the offical answer, explain that fully and hey presto – balanced journalism. Of course; this means that the official position is always well-represented and always gets the last word. Critical voices are allowed as just that – critical voices. Change would require that the crticial case be developed at the expense of the offical position. This is what you won’t get in the mainstream press. Critical voices are given airtime. This is necessary to give the illusion of freedom. But they are not taken further. So the official position is never seriously at risk.

And, at least as far as the Indepedent goes, they even apparently find it necessary to silence critical voices in their comments section.

Notes

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/world/dr-fauci-advises-against-the-british-approach-of-delaying-a-second-dose-of-vaccine.html
  2. https://www.bma.org.uk/bma-media-centre/bma-says-decision-to-delay-follow-up-dose-of-pfizer-vaccine-grossly-unfair-to-thousands-of-at-risk-patients-in-england-as-appointments-are-rescheduled
  3. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-who/who-recommends-two-doses-of-pfizer-covid-19-vaccine-within-21-28-days-idUKKBN29A26M
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/03/analysis-is-it-wise-for-england-to-mix-and-match-covid-vaccines

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer