Naughty and nice: the best and worst examples of journalism in 2023
Raymond Snoddy reviews great and intolerable examples of journalistic practice over the past year, from heroism in Gaza, Ukraine, and Hong Kong, to insolence at Fox News, Twitter, and GB News.
There really should be only one name on any list for journalist of the year.
It is that of Al Jazeera Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh, who has been working day and night to cover the disastrous events in Gaza and who learned live on air that most of his immediate family had been killed.
He faced up to suddenly becoming the story in the most tragic of circumstances, and continued to report despite later being injured.
Al-Dahdouh is, of course, just a symbol of journalistic courage under fire in Gaza, where it is believed that 97 journalists have already died following the Israeli attacks — the latest a radio journalist, Adel Zorob.
The fact that it is Palestinian journalists who have died is only due to the fact that journalists from outside are not allowed to enter Gaza.
From the safety of our desks we can only salute those who continue to report from Gaza and other war zones such as Ukraine.
Never was there a year in which the importance of reliable, trustworthy information was more vital, despite being often under threat from online platforms certainly, but also from politicians who really should know better.
Unfortunately some of the disinformation that has come from the Middle East conflict is the result of the activities of official spokesmen for the Israeli Government and the Israeli Defence Force.
A succession of such spokesmen seem to think if they talk fast enough and try to brow interviewers arrogantly enough the audience will not notice the thousands of civilians, particularly children, who have been killed in Gaza.
Notwithstanding the atrocities suffered by Israel on October 7th, a little more humility and greater acknowledgement of the reality of the Israeli war on Hamas on the civilian population of Gaza from official Israeli spokesmen would be less counter-productive.
Defending and attacking democracy
Newspaper proprietor of the year — even though it is a long time since he actually had a newspaper to own — is British citizen Jimmy Lai.
Lai, who founded the now defunct Apply Daily in Hong Kong and has already been in jail for five years, now faces a life sentence if convicted under draconian security laws imposed by China.
Lai could have lived a comfortable life abroad but remained in Hong Kong to publicly campaign for democracy.
By way of contrast, Rupert Murdoch chose to undermine democracy in the US by enabling, or at the very least doing nothing to stop, Fox News spreading the lie that President Biden “stole” the 2020 US presidential election.
The apparent motive? Surely it was fear of losing advertising revenue if the Fox audience were ever told the truth.
Fox News is, however, almost squeaky clean compared with dangerous lies and conspiracy theories still pouring out from unregulated online platforms.
A new survey shows that one in 10 of young Americans believe the Holocaust is a hoax, and no less than 23% of American 18-to-39 year-olds think the Holocaust either did not happen or the scale of it has been exaggerated.
Almost half of those surveyed by a Jewish charity said they had seen Holocaust denial or distortion material on social media.
Elon Musk, owner of X, formerly Twitter, did remove posts describing the Holocaust as “a fairy-tale” but campaigners claim similar material from accounts with as many as 100,000 followers has remained.
Musk, however, formally joined the dark side of the information wars when he decided to allow Sandy Hook shooting denier Alex Jones back on Twitter.
Jones repeatedly called the murder of 20 children and six staff at the Connecticut school a “hoax” acted out by actors, although under pressure of a massive lawsuit apparently now accepts the mass shooting was real.
Musk’s logic is still curious. He “vehemently” disagrees with what Jones has said but he has honoured the wishes of nearly 2 million who voted online to allow Jones back on Twitter.
Advertisers can ponder the Musk approach to those who spread disinformation and take appropriate action.
Broadcasting and Byline
The broadcasting channel of the year has to be the BBC World Service, a beacon of balanced, factual, international information even when it is heard in the middle of the night.
Long may it stay out of the clutches of the cost-cutters and the modernisers who are hell-bent on eviscerating Newsnight.
In such a competition there is only one candidate for the wooden spoon and that is GB News, which thinks that Tory MPs, or former Tory MPs, interviewing each other amounts to current affairs, if not actual news.
The channel celebrated the run up to Christmas by trying to raise money to stay on air while receiving its fifth Ofcom reprimand, in this case for its “Don’t Kill Cash” campaign because it did not offer alternative perspectives.
Multiple other breaches of rules arising from the same campaign are being investigated.
In any survey of the year’s news, special mention must go to Byline Times, which first disclosed in September 2020 that Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman were granted contracts worth more than £200m for face masks and medical gowns. The paper said the contracts had come from a VIP fast lane for Tory donors.
The small publication received legal letters insisting there was no connection whatsoever between the company involved, PPE Medpro, and the Baroness and her husband, and branded their work defamatory.
But over the weekend, in a tough interview with Laura Kuenssberg, the couple admitted that they had made £60m profit from the deal and said they had only lied to journalists, and that, after all, was not against the law.
The implications of the “car crash” interview will last well into 2024 and could well lead to prosecutions.
Stop treating those who deliberately lie with respect they no longer deserve
The overall lesson of the year is that the media has to be much more wary of people who deliberately lie — whatever great offices of state they have held; whether Trump or Johnson or a mere Baroness Mone — and stop treating them with the respect they no longer deserve.
Even if the lying is only lying to journalists; especially if they are only lying to journalists, who after all are proxies for the public and ultimately for standards in public life.
Finally, a shout-out to former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who has pursued with admirable determination allegations made by Nadine Dorries that BBC independent director Robbie Gibb tried to interfere in the appointment of a new chair for Ofcom.
As Rusbridger has said, all those involved have had a chance to deny the allegations but have not done so. As a result, he feels entitled to believe the allegations are true.
The BBC has made no real attempt to deal with the situation, and in an unfortunate start to his likely reign as new chairman of the BBC Samir Shah has merely dissembled in an unimpressive way.
The BBC and Shah should take urgent action on Gibb, and Rusbridger should stay on their tail until they do.
Truth in all matters, however small should be the watchword of all in the media — a motto that applies especially to public service broadcasters.