The media and democracy

The media this week has provided a very good example of how we have “managed consent” in the UK.

The media – across the spectrum – has had article after article about Boris Johnson having broken the lockdown laws which his government had just made by having parties in Downing Street. It is a dramatic and salacious story. Of course it matters that the Prime Minister of the country is not a cynical liar who makes laws for the people and breaks them himself. But, ultimately, this is a story about one man. He can go and be replaced with another (or a woman). It will make no difference to policy.

At the start of the pandemic the government had a deliberate policy of discharging elderly hospital patients into Care homes without testing them for Covid. This was after it was known a) that Covid particularly affects the elderly and b) it transmits asymptomatically. Amnesty International called this a “monumental scandal”. Tens of thousands of people died needlessly. Looked at objectively there is a clear case for charges of corporate manslaughter by negligence. You can find a few mentions of this matter in the press but not many. No newspaper that I am aware of led with the story for days on end or demanded resignations. Even when the problem is touched on it is sidelined as it were simply a “mistake” from which “lessons will have to be learned” rather than the true scandal it is.

Why has the personal scandal of Johnson’s misjudgements got so much coverage and the needless deaths of tens of thousands of elderly residents in care homes as a result of a mad policy (instituted to ‘save the NHS’ which was a self-interested political goal) got virtually none? One answer of course is that the sort of people who live in these care homes are from less well-off families. If it was the family members of the political and media classes we would probably see a stronger reaction – but then it might not have happened in the first place. But the main answer is this: the scandal around Johnson is froth. It doesn’t touch the system. It is about a ‘personality’.

The scandal around the Care Home Killings concerns the system. The decisions were made not just by one man but by a group of the most senior politicians in the country advised by a Committee of top scientists and no doubt approved of and executed by dozens of very highly paid public health bureaucrats. It was then implemented (some now say they had reservations) by profit-seeking care home owners and by NHS doctors, (who should surely have known better). Investigating this scandal would involve serious questions about the system – the whole Public Health bureaucracy, the role of profit-seeking businesses in providing ‘Care’ (i.e. the monetization of a social function of ‘care’), the factors shaping decision making in government (too much attention to appearances – in this case they were trying to avoid TV images of overflowing NHS wards) and last but not least the role of the media itself in not calling this out. These are substantive questions which if asked would necessarily call into question the nature of the the structures which we take for granted as part of our “democratic society”. No way are these questions going to be asked.

This is a good illustration of how the “free media” manages debate. Article after article about an individual’s misjudgement of which the only concrete result might be (but most likely not) that individual gets a fine. But faced with a real scandal touching the state bureaucracy, the system of private profit and indeed themselves the media will sideline it.

The method of “sidelining” stories is that they mention them. They understand that if they didn’t mention them at all that would look like suppression and would lead to more attention being given to them e.g. by dissident bloggers. But they mention them only to sideline them – to play them down. For example on this story readers may see one story and in that they might be told “it is one of the key mistakes that a future inquiry will look at”.

The political opposition in Parliament jumps to the tune of the media (or, more accurately, they are in synch with the media, playing the same game). So – they will leap up and down and “attack” Boris Johnson about his parties but the “totally avoidable” deaths of tens of thousands of innocent elderly people isn’t something they feel they need to call the government to account for.

And this is how “democracy” progresses. A show. While the state bureaucracy and for-profit sectors continue business-as-usual protected by the media.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer