The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is going currently through Parliament. If enacted into law this bill will a) give the police completely arbitrary powers to “give directions” to “to prevent the disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation mentioned in subsection …” caused by noise from a demonstration. In effect any demonstration which makes any noise (as most do) can be controlled or shut down by the police at will. A second important provision gives the Home Secretary the power to issue secondary legislation to define what “serious disruption to the life of the community” or an organisation is for the purposes of the 1986 Public Order Act.  This Act already gives police powers to restrict demonstrations. By allowing the Home Secretary to add new definitions of what constitutes “serious disruption” the power is created to allow the Home Secretary of the day to decide what is permitted and what is not. For example; if a vegan group decided to picket outside MacDonald’s to protest against their use of beef then the Home Secretary of the day could quickly issue secondary guidance which would define this as causing serious disruption to the life of the community or an organisation (MacDonald’s) and the police could, in effect, shut down the protest.
This represents a major break with an existing tradition which respects and protects the “right to protest” – a key part of British culture. In effect the Home Secretary and the Police can in future, if this becomes law, shut down any protest at will. The only protests which are outside of this control system would be a small silent protest held in the middle of a field (public land) miles from anywhere. This of course is what the liberal-progressive media incessantly denounce Russia for – not allowing protests – and so it is interesting to see how they report on this bill.
This is the Guardian reporting on how two (retired) police officers have voiced strong doubts about the Bill. To be fair to the Guardian they do give airtime to these two critical voices. Nonetheless they brush quickly over what the bill actually does with a simple “will afford new powers to officers to tackle protests, including measures aimed at static protests”. In reality new powers to completely block protests. All protests.
In the interests of balanced journalism the Guardian gives the last word to the Home Office. “It is wrong to claim these measures will stop people from carrying out their civic right to protest. People will still be able to protest, but they cannot be permitted to trample on the rights of local businesses and communities.” (and more). “It is wrong to suggest…” is a standard phrase of modern power. From the same lexicon as “It is only right…..”. This langauge is not the language of either morality or reason. It in fact references itself; power. A questions arises with ‘balanced journalism’; where is its limit? Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Imagine we are the Guardian reporting in Nazi Germany in September 1941 and the authorities have just ordered all Jewish people to wear yellow stars. Do we cite a couple of critics of this policy and then give the last word to Goering? Obviously not I hear them cry in indignation at the Guardian. So; we all agree. There is a limit. Where is it? My point is that the new Bill which massively restricts the right to protest and is being brought in by a Home Secretary who is on record as saying she doesn’t believe in protests, “I don’t believe in protest…”,  should be grasped for what it is; a watershed moment. The road to repression could be paved with balanced journalism if we are not careful.
Another example. This one is from the Independent. The article reports on the troubling Matt Hancock boasting about the “vaccine success story”. Apparently 30 million people have had a first shot. Hancock is of course trying to sell the vaccine success story in the hope that it buries all their earlier disasters such as the unnecessary 18,000 fatal casualties in care homes which his Department (and thus him personally) caused by releasing people with Covid into care homes. Hancock says “The vaccine is saving lives and is our route out of this pandemic. I want to say a massive thanks to the team”. I’ve noticed that this hiding behind ‘the team’ is part of his modus operandi. When his Department was found guilty recently of breaking the law about publishing government contracts he made a point of saying that “my team were working seven days a week, often 18 hours a day, to get hold of the equipment that was saving lives”.  He reminds me of a terrorist who has just killed dozens of innocent elderly hostages trying to smuggle himself out of the building by hiding amongst the ordinary staff who are leaving with their hands up.
The article is about this person who has direct responsibility for heaven knows how many avoidable deaths trying to manipulate the media narrative to make himself and his government look good. The immediate context is a dubious and unscientific vaccine programme which spaces out shots by 12 weeks – which has been explicitly rejected by the manufacturer of one vaccine and is contrary to WHO advice. The Independent writes: “The good news comes as the UK braces for a four-week reduction in vaccine supply caused by a delayed shipment from the Serum Institute of India…”. It isn’t ‘good news’. It is an attempt to manipulate the media narrative by someone who has rather a lot of questions to answer. The way the Independent simply parrots the ‘good news’ line is the same as the way that broadcasters in North Korea dutifully praise their leader. This is a small example but there are countless (I’m just short of time otherwise I would find more) of journalists showing that they clearly conceive of their role as being to broadcast the government’s message. This is more and more apparent these days – and has been especially pronounced since the start of the pandemic.
If the media is not resisting the slide into authoritarian corruption where is that resistance going to come from? At any rate the fact that the mainstream media is not resisting the slide towards authoritarianism should be setting off major alarm bells. Interestingly, (and to be fair to the Guardian they are reporting them) even senior police officers are beginning to notice that something is not quite right in the state of Denmark.