have some real fake news

Here are the media outlets getting paid to push Tory coronavirus propaganda
Steve Topple, The Canary, May 30 2020

If you thought the BBC‘s track record on pushing out Tory government propaganda during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was bad, think again. Now it seems some corporate outlets, like the Guardian, have gone one step further. Because they’ve been publishing articles paid for by the government. The investigative website Declassified UK noticed something odd about certain articles from the corporate media. As it tweeted:

The Guardian article in question was paid for by the government. It does clearly state at the bottom:

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All in, all together is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also, when you click on the link under “paid for by” at the top left of the article, it takes you to GOV.UK’s main coronavirus page. But the Guardian wasn’t the only outlet publishing ‘paid for’ government content. The Evening Standard, of which former Tory chancellor George Osborne is editor, has done the same thing:

The Evening Standard‘s deal with the Tories was less clear. Because when you click through on the link attached to the phrase ‘in association with the UK government’, it says that page doesn’t exist. But it’s listed under “commercial“. Meaning this Evening Standard piece, marked as “news”, is also at least partially paid for:

The content from the Guardian wasn’t just a one-off either. Since May, when whatever deal it struck with the government clearly started, it’s published 11 of these paid-for articles. But what’s interesting about both it and the Evening Standard‘s paid-for content is that it’s the Guardian which seems less rigorous in what it does with these articles. The Guardian says paid-for content is:

used to describe advertisement features that are paid for and controlled by the advertiser rather than the publisher and are subject to regulation by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the Advertising Standards Bureau in Australia. This content is produced by commercial departments and does not involve [Guardian News & Media] staff journalists.

Whereas the Evening Standard‘s “in association with” content:

has been paid for by an advertiser, but it is controlled by the Evening Standard’s editorial staff. In some instances, an advertiser may provide funding for content that we already plan to produce… Alternatively, the advertiser’s funding could help us to produce content that would not otherwise have been generated. Advertisers can suggest topics and their logo will normally appear at the top of the article. However, we produce the content and decide whether to publish it. It must comply with our editorial Code of Conduct.

So, it seems the Guardian is effectively happy to take money for propaganda, no questions asked. Whereas at least the Tory-fronted Evening Standard has written the articles itself. But this practice of earning a few quid by happily ignoring critical analysis is not new. For example, the Dept for Work and Pensions (DWP) paid for a wrap-around front and back page ad in the Metro in 2019. They were later banned by the Advertising Standards Agency for being “misleading”. Meanwhile, the Evening Standard also has form on this. OpenDemocracy reported that in 2018 it signed a £3m deal with:

six leading commercial companies, including Google and Uber, promising them ‘money-can’t-buy’ positive news and ‘favourable’ comment coverage.

But it’s perhaps the Guardian which stands out as the worst offender of all these. Press Gazette reported that in 2018, while the paper ran articles critical of the Toads’ monarchical dictatorship, it also printed adverts paid for by it. The Gazette noted that:

Adverts for the Toad royal appeared online, including next to a comment piece by Labour MP Emily Thornberry on Wednesday… which was headlined: “Britain’s red carpet for the Toad ruler is shameless”. …The adverts featured a picture of the prince and a woman wearing a hijab in a car, with the line: “He is empowering Toad Arabian women.” It comes after he changed the country’s law banning women from driving.

In a bizarre twist of irony, the Guardian even ran an article later in 2018 reporting that Ofcom had banned the Toad regime’s TV adverts. The paper defended itself, saying:

The acceptance of advertising and sponsorship in no way affects our editorial position. We are free to, and often do, challenge the activities of companies and organisations that are also our advertisers and sponsors.

But it’s not so much about the Guardian‘s editorial independence, more its moral compass. As Andrea Needham wrote for Evolve Politics:

Not only have The Guardian accepted Toad money in return for printing three huge propaganda adverts for the Toad regime in today’s printed edition, they have disgustingly decided to print all 3 pro-Toad ads just before a full-page ad calling on the government to suspend arms sales to the Gulf state over Toad Arabia’s involvement in the horrific war in Yemen. The Guardian has chosen to play both sides, and it is utterly shameful.

More than shameful, the Guardian‘s double standards show it is happy to accept money from a human rights violating regime while also criticising it. Are these the actions of an outlet that truly believes in fighting for human rights? Or of one that will compromise its ethical standards to secure its own financial position? The evidence appears to indicate the latter. And with outlets like the Guardian now accepting cash for government coronavirus propaganda, the problem of ‘advertorials‘ just took on a whole, other context.

Declassified UK is part of something called The Daily Maverick:

New UK laws could criminalise journalism
Richard Norton-Taylor, Daily Maverick, 30 May 2020

QE2 travels to the Opening of Parliament last year. (Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA)

British journalists and their sources are facing an unprecedented assault on freedom of speech, including the prospect of criminal prosecution. Threats aimed at whistleblowers and journalists were evident before the coronavirus crisis struck, but went largely unnoticed. The government’s Queen’s Speech in December included plans for new “espionage legislation.” It stressed the need to combat “hostile state activity” and make the UK “a harder environment for adversaries to operate in,” an indirect reference to the poisoning in Salisbury of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. But it also insisted that the Official Secrets Act, drawn up in 1989, must be “updated” and confirmed that the Law Commission, the body that reviews the law in England and Wales, has been commissioned by the government to do this. Yet proposals drawn up by the Law Commission to review the Official Secrets Act pose major dangers. Whistleblowers and journalists could be convicted for revealing information about defence, international relations or law enforcement, even if it was unlikely to cause harm. They would make it easier to secure convictions by weakening the existing tests for proving an offence. Neither would someone revealing danger to the public, abuse of power or serious misconduct be able to argue that they acted in the public interest. In addition, maximum prison sentences on conviction, currently two years under the Official Secrets Act, would be increased. Moreover, it would not be a defence to show that the information had already lawfully been made public, unless the information had also been “widely disseminated.” How would that be determined? Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has warned that the Law Commission’s proposals could criminalise the release of a vast amount of additional information. Instead of applying, as now, to unauthorised disclosures “likely” to damage defence, international relations or law enforcement, he points out that it would be an offence to reveal information that the discloser should have realised was simply “capable” of causing such damage. Frankel says:

A whistleblower revealing information, or a journalist or blogger publishing it, would commit an offence even if there was only the remotest possibility of harm.

Douglas Hurd, the home secretary responsible for the 1989 Official Secrets Act, assured the public that the measure would not apply to “information of a general nature that might conceivably be useful in committing an offence, where the chain of circumstance is too long and too uncertain.” The Law Commission’s proposals would scrap this crucial limitation, Frankel warns. Importantly, officials who released information knowing that there was no realistic chance of harm would still risk prosecution, without any public interest defence. Furthermore, under the proposals, leaking information that anyone could obtain by making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request could be an offence. The Queen’s Speech included two other little-noticed measures that would bolster official secrecy. The government’s Environment Bill would prevent the proposed Office for Environmental Protection from disclosing information, including about suspected failures by public bodies and organisations to comply with the law. Under the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, a new body would investigate patient safety accidents or incidents in the NHS. But the disclosure of information held by the new Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) would be severely limited. The measure would remove existing rights of access to information under the FOI Act and the right of individuals to see their own personal data under data protection legislation. The Freedom of Information Campaign says :

The scope of this prohibition is remarkable. It applies to any information held ‘in connection with’ the HSSIB’s function that is not already published, whether or not it relates to an identifiable individual, whether or not it relates to an identifiable investigation and whether or not it is capable of deterring participants from speaking frankly to investigators, inhibiting investigators in reaching their conclusions or causing any other adverse effect at all.

The current crisis has exposed the government’s instincts to run for cover behind a wall of official secrecy. It has revealed what Frankel calls “an epidemic of secrecy”, insisting that “it is following scientific advice while withholding the advice.” It has only been leaks which have allowed the public to know the membership of the important SAGE group of scientific advisers addressing coronavirus and the report of a simulated influenza pandemic exercise in the NHS in 2016. At the time of writing, just 28 of more than 100 expert papers on the crisis have been published. NHS staff revealing shortages in protective equipment have been threatened with disciplinary action by their managers, who are themselves more likely to be responsible for those shortages. Instead of regretting, explaining, or justifying its decision to impose a quarantine on people returning to Britain after holidays or business trips, the home secretary, Priti Patel, and the head of the UK Border Force, Paul Lincoln, appeared at a recent joint press conference to revel in the prospect of being given new powers. But “Take Back control,” the cry of the Brexiteers led by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, takes on a whole new meaning as the government relishes the prospect of imposing more and more restrictions on the disclosure of information. The official appeal to “Stay Alert” to protect people from the coronavirus should now be adopted in the fight against increasingly oppressive official secrecy.

One more story from The Daily Maverick:

When Britain failed to protect Pindostan from a flu pandemic in China
Phil Miller, Daily Maverick, May 29 2020

HK was a British colony until it was handed back to China in 1997 (Photo: EPA)

As Pres Trump and right-wing figures in the UK increasingly blame China for rising deaths from Covid-19, a largely-forgotten deadly pandemic in the recent past shows that Covid-19 is not the first time that a virus apparently emanating from China has imperilled the West. The last flu pandemic of the 20th century, H3N2, killed an estimated one million people, including around 100k Pindos. The first reported case of the H3N2 virus occurred in Jul 1968 in HK, which at that time was a British colony. According to scientific protocol, the illness became known as the HK flu, a name which unsettled some British parliamentarians who preferred in Trumpian style to call it the “Mao flu.” The senior medical officer in HK’s virus unit, Dr Wai-kwan Chang acknowledged that the British outpost was “one of the few places which communicates freely with the Chinese mainland.” Once the virus reached HK, Chang said the international trade hub proved to be “an effective place for virus exchange with other parts of the world by air and sea.” Britain could have done more to stop H3N2. Rather than swiftly containing the virus, colonial authorities spurned a lockdown and failed to test, track and trace. The virus caught the colony’s rulers off-guard. They had been preoccupied with internal repression for much of the previous year. Anti-colonial riots rocked HK in 1967 when left-wing workers and students mounted strikes, protests and eventually a bombing campaign to demand reforms. Although HK would remain part of Britain for another 30 years, the riots did force colonial authorities to belatedly improve social housing and workers’ rights. But in the short term, their response was repression. Thousands were arrested as British troops, Gurkha mercenaries and colonial police struggled to regain control. In dramatic scenes, Royal Navy helicopters dropped raiding parties on to the roofs of buildings occupied by left-wing activists. In total, 51 people died. By Jul 1968, the authorities were facing another problem. Local journalists began to write about a strange new virus, a “heat sickness” or “summer heat,” with symptoms that were more commonly seen in wintertime. Travellers had also reported a rise of influenza-like infections over the border in China, however, Chang would later lament:

For various reasons, virus isolations were not carried out on arriving travellers to confirm these reports.

This failure to screen new arrivals meant that the virus was able to enter Hong Kong, where one million residents of colonial housing schemes had just 2.8m² of living space per adult. Chang regarded this overcrowding as a public health hazard, which contributed to the “explosive outbreak” of influenza. By Jul 24, HK had up to 300k suspected influenza cases. It crippled the economy. 40% of government clerks and more than half of workers were off sick, according to local media. Although only 22 people died in HK from the disease, the global ramifications were far worse. The WHO did not warn until Aug 16 that the virus was spreading further afield. British colonial authorities could have done more to limit the impact of H3N2 had they learned lessons from previous flu outbreaks in HK and implemented a compulsory notification system for new cases. As it was, only nine government clinics, which served a handful of the colony’s population, provided facilities for voluntary notification. The lack of mandatory monitoring meant the British authorities in HK struggled to keep track of the spread of influenza through their colony. Chang would later admit that the 6,214 cases reported for the month of July “represented only a small proportion of the affected people.” Day workers continued to turn up at factories and did not report sick unless they had “severe symptoms.” The authorities were also criticised for not closing public areas, which could have slowed the spread of the flu. However, they may have lacked political capital to take such steps after cracking down on public protests the previous year. This lack of internal action meant that by Aug 1968, the virus had spread through south-east Asia, including at an air base in Thailand, where 6k Pindo military personnel were deployed as part of the Vietnam war. According to the WHO, 13% of these Pindo servicemen caught the virus and 8% fell ill. Some of these troops returned home, allegedly taking the virus with them. The first recorded outbreak in Pindostan was among marines at a Drill Instructor School in California. Although the virus spread first among troops, most of those who died in Pindostan were aged over 65, according to the CDC. The first wave was the most deadly for Pindos, although over in England, it was a second wave in 1969/70 which proved most fatal, a frightening reminder as Boris Johnson ponders when to lift the lockdown.

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