The absolute state of British journalism
Journalism in the UK is full of anomalies. The press is supposed to be free, balanced and impartial, but this emphasis on impartiality requires being neutral on everything, including glaring injustice. It’s supposed to be a pillar of democracy, but the most prominent journalists act as little more than mouthpieces for those in power.
While the mainstream media has a prolific influence on the views of the masses, those who rise to prominence within it are hardly representative of the population at large. British journalism, particularly in mainstream outlets (BBC, Sky, Guardian, etc.) remains inaccessible for the vast majority of aspiring British journalists.
Rather these outlets are gatekept by a ‘columnist class’ of “middle-class, public-schooled” Russell group alumni pushing an establishment agenda via client journalism. They maintain an Overton Window of acceptable discourse that keeps shifting evermore to the right, so that increasingly authoritarian and fascism-adjacent views and policies go unchallenged.
''I have only been able to claim that space within a movement for alternative, independent media in the UK. Smaller, reader-funded media outlets are filling a gap that poor and marginalised communities have felt for decades. And despite the best efforts of corporations like Google and Twitter, the internet has empowered us to challenge the mainstream narrative and actually hold the powerful to account.''
We saw the mobilisation of this columnist class against Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 General Election. We witnessed it again in the uncritical reporting of the government’s ‘Zero Covid’ strategy, accompanied by an effective media blackout on a pandemic that continues to rage on. And we see it repeatedly in a constant amplifying of right-wing, racist and gender-critical views as well as the pushing of a culture war agenda against ‘wokeness’ and ‘cancel culture’.
And it isn’t just the media outlets either. Mainstream narratives have been enabled and amplified by internet corporations that play a role in the dissemination of news. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – they’re all in it together.
Twitter, for instance, will mark tweets from Press TV as ‘Iran state-affiliated media’, but won’t mark tweets from the BBC as ‘UK state-affiliated media’. This is because while the media in Iran is heavily controlled by the state, the BBC, ostensibly, is impartial.
Yet anyone who follows British politics but disagrees with the Tories will notice the obvious pro-Tory government bias from the BBC and from journalists like Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Marr. ‘Balanced’ reporting is used as a shield to protect the government from both criticism and accountability.
As a Muslim woman and first-generation immigrant from Pakistan, my own journey into journalism has been a challenging one. People like me aren’t visible in mainstream British media. And in fact, it’s taken a long time for me to be able to call myself a ‘journalist’.
I have only been able to claim that space within a movement for alternative, independent media in the UK. Smaller, reader-funded media outlets are filling a gap that poor and marginalised communities have felt for decades. And despite the best efforts of corporations like Google and Twitter, the internet has empowered us to challenge the mainstream narrative and actually hold the powerful to account.
There are, of course, compromises that I could have made to advance my career in journalism, if that’s what I really wanted. I could have taken off my hijab and made my Muslimness less visible. I could have criticised the Muslim community, not for its betterment but to appeal to an Islamophobic audience. Or I could have become a neutral observer instead of a voice that’s critical of the establishment.
That last one in particular, more than my hijab or the colour of my skin, explains why I feel like the doors of mainstream media are closed to me, pretty much for good. Western media, much like academia, claims a position of impartiality and an avoidance of bias.
The reality, however, is that any form of content is situated within a socio-political and ideological context. It originates not from a purportedly neutral position but from the subjectivities of its human creator. It is more honest, therefore, to be open and transparent about your biases rather than pretending that you have none.
I do not believe that racism, inequality or injustice should be reported from a position of neutrality. This is reflected in my work. Being clear about my biases allows the audience the opportunity to judge for themselves the context of my arguments and then decide whether or not they agree.
Meanwhile outlets like the BBC, while claiming to be neutral on issues such as Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine, have already picked a side. Their silence on the British government's support of the Israeli state, and the government's complicity in human rights violations against Palestinians, speaks volumes. This, in turn, makes the BBC's claim of neutrality all the more disingenuous.
The BBC’s annual report for 2020/21 reveals that there were only 101 black staff working in News and Current Affairs, out of an overall total of 3,020, which is a lower proportion than the African and Caribbean population.— Media Diversified (@WritersofColour) March 13, 2022
It bears mentioning that notions of impartiality and objectivity are colonial constructs which originated in an attempt to create a Western hegemony over the production of knowledge. This hegemony persists today in Western academic institutions as well as mainstream media.
In early social science scholarship, the white man’s observations were imposed as objective, free of bias, and therefore universally applicable. And in doing so, these ‘objective’ observations were given a monopoly over truth. At the same time, the views of colonial subjects were dismissed as too subjective and therefore unreliable.
But in the information age, marginalised voices are flipping this narrative. They are seizing opportunities to make their truth heard. And they’re tearing down the notion of impartiality that mainstream media outlets hide behind in order to claim a position of authority.
Much to the dismay of these outlets and the establishment they serve, we can no longer be silenced - and people are paying attention.
Afroze Fatima Zaidi is a writer, editor and journalist. She has a background in academia and writing for online platforms.
Follow her on Twitter: @afrozefz
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.