There is something strange about the media coverage of the Grenfell tragedy. The BBC is giving over acres of space to the pain and anger of the residents. The Guardian’s front page currently looks the The Canary, and in its Opinion section Jonathan Freedland, of all people, is saying Grenfell will “forever stand as a rebuke to the Right”.
He’s correct of course, but that’s not the point. The point is Freedland, the BBC and the Guardian are the “Right” now and have been for many years, in so much as they have been, until a week ago, staunch defenders of the rabid, fascistic and despoiling policies that have characterised the “liberal” agenda since Blair. They have approved illegal wars, mass murder, “austerity”, mass surveillance, the despoiling of the NHS, the deprivation of the weak and vulnerable. They believe the suffering of the poor and powerless is merely a necessary adjunct to social “progress.”
So, what is going on here?
Maybe the “liberal” media is seeing the light and realising the years of deprivation have gone too far? Maybe the Guardian suddenly really supports social justice and the welfare state? Maybe Grenfell will be a catalyst for real change, ignite the dormant sense of decency in our champagne “socialists” and left-of-centre opinion-makers.
Well, maybe. But it doesn’t seem like a good bet does it?
Maybe the media are bandwagon-jumping. Following the story, not creating it because the social tide is currently too strong to ignore?
This is a bit more plausible, but the BBC and the rest of the tame media can easily ignore a crowd of ten thousand marching through central London when it wants to. They do similar things all the time. If they didn’t want us to know about this upsurge of anger wouldn’t they simply not talk about it, just as they didn’t talk about the mass anti-war demos and didn’t cover the anti-austerity demos, and (mostly) didn’t cover the huge crowds Corbyn was collecting?
I think when the BBC’s front page looks like this:
when social unrest is televised by state-controlled channels and when line-toeing neoliberals like Jonathan Freedland are rebuking the “Right” we need to be a bit more sceptical than to simply assume the good guys are suddenly in ascendancy and the media has no choice to but to scutter along in their wake.
There are not many examples in history where major news events or catalysing moments just happened through spontaneous popular movements, with the press corps and establishment running to catch up. Mostly even seemingly spontaneous events have been planned and provoked or exploited by vested interests of one sort or another. “News” isn’t an objective entity. It’s created by the act of narration. If you don’t tell the story the story isn’t “news.” The only reason we ever know an event has occurred is because the paid scribes were detailed to tell us it did. The Peasants’ Revolt may have started as a social protest of sorts but it ended up as a PR exercise for the Divine Right of Kings, and the extant narratives make sure Richard II got all the best lines.
This is the reality of what the establishment-serving media is. It doesn’t exist to pass on facts, it exists purely to create narratives. We shouldn’t just forget that when the current narrative appears to serve decent interests or to tell some sort of truth. Because it probably isn’t ultimately doing either.
Does it matter in this case? Isn’t any publicity good publicity if it helps bring justice and help to the victims of the Grenfell tragedy? If May can be arm-twisted into handing over cash, and if the publicity helps make sure such events become less likely in the future, does it matter what agenda the media may be following
To an extent that is obviously true. And let’s hope some good does come from the publicity being given to the anger of the people in the streets. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question and remain sceptical when the wolf slips on his sheepskin.