Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Effective propaganda

This is bad:
Cambridge Analytica’s managing director Mark Turnbull was secretly filmed by Channel 4 News describing how his firm operates.

He said: “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control.

It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘That’s propaganda’.”
But this is worse:
[Non-experts] will know very little about [the objective failure of Brexit] from reading the papers that campaigned so hard for Brexit in the first place. At best the information will be reported in a dismissive way with some reference to how economists always get things wrong... Against such reports will be a constant stream of comment and reporting extolling the imagined benefits of Brexit.

This propaganda could be countered by informed and informing reporting by broadcasters. Unfortunately, with the exception of Sky News, the standard of reporting by broadcasters on Brexit has been very poor. In particular the BBC treats Brexit like any other Westminster based issue, with an additional touch of nationalism. We hear a great deal from May, Fox, Johnson etc, with virtually no expert analysis of what the true state of negotiations are.

I’m not an expert on international trade, but because I read some of the now numerous people who write stuff on Brexit who are experts, or who have made themselves experts, I feel I am reasonably well informed. I have never seen the same level of expertise from the broadcast media. If I just listened to the BBC or read any newspapers bar two or three, I would know almost nothing about what was really going on in the negotiations...

...I also think this is not the first time in recent memory that the media has failed to accurately report what was going on and what experts thought. Before the 2015 election the media accepted the idea that getting the budget deficit down was the most important goal of macroeconomic policy, and that the economic fundamentals were strong. Few experts would agree with the former, and the latter was simply false.
The air time the BBC has allocated to repeating the demonstrable untruths and fantasies of the Brexit/austerity extremists, more or less unchallenged, has done more damage than anything a couple of dodgy tech firms could have managed. If you want an example of how to get propaganda past the public's radar without anyone thinking "this is propaganda", consider having a trusted public service broadcaster blandly reframe provable lies as legitimate points of view and objective policy failures as the story of a coherent plan coming together.