Saturday 22 August 2020

Questions of free speech, David Irving and Dalia Gebrial, the BBC and Sky


Dalia Gebrial, Novara's new champion

This may be an incoherent ramble, but I'm going to indulge myself nonetheless. And if you can help me out, please do. It's Saturday, and I've had a hectic week...


I've always been a hardline fan of free speech as probably the key component of a flourishing democracy. 

In my callow youth I was the kind who'd argue that, except for the obvious 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' type of things and death threats, pretty much everything should be allowed, from any political angle. I was more Spiked than Spiked.

I even held to that sacred principle on such things as Holocaust denial. I found it unfathomably extreme when some European countries criminalised it, even despite my knowing their early 20th Century histories. 

My logic? Such views will be out there in the world, so it's better to let bad opinions be exposed to the light of day, challenged and refuted. The disinfectant of truth would see them off.

To put it metaphorically: If a David Irving pops up, there'll soon be plenty of Deborah Lipstadts along to whack him on the head with facts and other proofs. 

Ah, it was quite easy to be naïve back then! This was the time before my beloved internet, when such people were known of, but little heard from due to a lack of easy opportunity. 

Poisonous books rarely got published and the slow-moving poison-pen letter was just about the only possible mode of trolling in those days.  

I simply wasn't aware just how many fools, fantasists, and feral beasts - and people with very strong feelings who aren't necessarily stupid or bad, just overly passionate and wrong and overly willing to distort the truth to get their way - were out there in the world just sitting and waiting for the internet to be invented to allow them to post their fact-free, assertion-heavy, often spiteful, frequently malicious and increasingly deliberately fake 'says on the world', and then have them liked and spread by thousands upon thousands upon thousands of others across the world. 

Many of these now travel so fast and carry so far and wide that they make Covid-19 look like a slouch, though - also like Covid-19 - they aren't quite an all-killing danger yet. 

That said, the number of shouty David Irvings of Untruth out there are now at the stage where they are threatening to outnumber the quieter Deborah Lipstadts of Truth.

I think we're on a precipice.

And alongside came all the academic, Marxist-inspired philosophies, taught widely in universities, that dumped on objective truth and said that 2+2 no longer needs to equal 4 if it's merely a power-derived construct. 

From them flowed a consequence: If it works against your nasty opponents to dismiss 2+2=4 and if you can make it seem a bad thing to even say that 2+2=4 then you win, despite being wrong. 

JK Rowling and others (maybe even the BBC's departing Dame Jenni Murray?), for example, have found that saying 2+2=4 in the transgender debate is a costly thing to do. 

Whole BBC programmes these days feature voices saying nothing other than that 2+2=5.


David Collier made me think about this in a piece he wrote last week about people perverting Wikipedia  - and similar sites - for political ends by adding malicious untruths to posts or changing quotes. 

Naturally, the Israel-loathing antisemites are among those at the forefront of doing this, and doing it with especial ferocity. (Antisemites, in particular, put Covid-19 to shame.)

Why wouldn't they though? It's so easy, especially if the guardians are sleeping.

The big question is: What happens if the truth-tellers are "outnumbered and outgunned" by the untruth-tellers? - something that, I think, is very much what's happening now.

In the case of Jews facing lies about themselves or about the State of Israel, he says it's now an "endless whack-a-mole game that Jews are left playing":

There are just 15 million of us – perhaps just 10,000s are in some way politically active online. We cannot mobilise an entire people. In the other corner are 100,000s, if not 1,000,000s – some part of online gangs explicitly set up to swarm and distort the truth.

Can Jewish people trust that they, and their friends and allies, aren't facing such steep odds in the world beyond social media - the world you'd hope actually matters - and that most people still don't attend to the pervasions of truth pumped out on Twitter, Facebook, the newer social media sites - and even the actually rather admirable Wikipedia?

And what if reputable mainstream broadcasters amplify the untruths and platform the untruth tellers, and even sympathise with some of them? (I'll refrain from mentioning Jeremy Bowen's recent rumour-mongering here). 

My naïve younger self would have thought that was a no-brainer: Bring 'em on, expose them, discredit them, job done. And behind that was the unthought-through assumption that the reputable mainstream broadcasters - however biased they might be - would somehow remain unstained by the poisonous authors and the poison-pen letter senders and their modern-day equivalents and be on the side of 2+2 equaling 4. 

But that seems not to be the case because the stain is spreading into the mainstream media, and at a startling rate in certain areas.

The moles that needing whacking are now pushing up hills on mainstream TV and radio and, being tolerated and increasingly sympathised with, are now - as a result - flourishing. 

Can you imagine a BBC 'reality check', for example, that debunks the anti-scientific nonsense promoted by BBC Teach that there are over 100 genders? Would anyone at the BBC dare? Safer to keep your head down and let the Emperor's new clothes be regarded as beautiful fabrics of truth, beyond question. 

Similarly, the 'nabka' nonsense about the birth of Israel has been encouraged by the BBC treating it as if it's "gospel truth" of what actually happened. The BBC is there every year marking it, giving it credence.

I continue to maintain a good deal of my early, unfettered enthusiasm for free speech and my hope that one day, somehow, soon, fingers crossed, very soon, the moles will be whacked more easily and kept underground - something amplified by the feeling that far more censorious BBC types might well agree with a lot of this - but my enthusiasm is being severely battered. 


There's been a related debate on my Twitter feed today about why outlets like the BBC and Sky give a tiny, extreme, dishonest, far-left site like Novara Media such a prominent platform. A newer, younger model of Novara's ubiquitous Ash Sarkar got trotted (or Trot-ed) out today on Sky News, namely one Dalia Gebrial:

Now, this is a different matter. Ash and Dalia won't be having their freedom of speech taken away if they aren't invited on the BBC and Sky on an over-regular basis, especially as they're part of a tiny, extreme organisation. They just won't be being given a platform way beyond what they merit - like nearly everyone else in the country. 

They should, in my view, be kept at a far greater arm's length than they are now (almost as far as Jayda Fransen) from the BBC's centre of gravity.

The distorting factor there is that the nice, moderate UK had a unique, peculiar, EU-referendum-influenced wobble in 2017 and let a far-left, terrorist-friendly extremist soaked in antisemitism come within a whisker of power (though he lost then, and lost far harder in 2019), thus moving the centre of gravity for a time towards a position the UK should never have come within a country mile of. It was a hellish lurch to the extreme-left, yet the BBC and Sky seemed to take it almost in their stride. 

It's time for the BBC and Sky to reassert their fetters on the far-left and treat it as they treat the far-right. 

Not that they will - especially given the influx of people who won't find Ash and Dalia or Aaron Pastrami at Novara Media beyond the pale because they think in a similar sort of way. 

As commenters occasionally ask, what are "we" going to do about that? Any suggestions, other than whacking more moles?


P.S. Others are having this very discussion today:

Kristian Niemietz: Get Corbo's commie kids off the telly. If you're doing a programme on communism - fair enough, get someone from the Pastrami Show. That's their topic. But why are these people always wheeled out as experts on absolutely everything under the sun? From legal matters to trade policy to foreign policy to history? It's bad enough to have someone from the New Economics Foundation talking about economics, which is like inviting someone who writes horoscopes to talk about astronomy. But there, I can at least see why you'd do that. They have "economics" in their name, after all. So fair enough. I'm absolutely not advocating credentialism here. I'm NOT saying that unless you have a degree in X, you shouldn't be allowed to talk about X. If you routinely write about X, then as far as the media is concerned, you're an expert on X. And that's absolutely fine. What I'm saying is that Corbo's commie kids constantly get invited to talk about stuff that EVEN THEY wouldn't claim to have any expertise in, and that they've never done any work on in the past. No matter how shoddy. There's just an automatic presumption that they're experts on everything. Some suggest that this is because most media figures sympathise with the communist agenda of the Pastramistas, but until proven otherwise, I'll stick to a more mundane explanation: The media just wants to be cool with the kids. And they know that the kids think communism is cool.

Mark: I disagree. We should, in the interests of free speech, give them equal air time. Then the public can really see what unbalanced arguments they put forward.

Kristian Niemietz: It's not a free speech issue. Nobody suggests they should be banned, or no-platformed. What I'm saying is that in a more rational world, there would be far less demand for commie nonsense. They should be standing outside of tube stations, trying to sell the Socialist Worker.

Mark: I think we're in agreement. My point was their arguments, when widely ridiculed by the bulk of the population, would ultimately dump them outside the same tube station.

Kristian Niemietz: Then you have a lot of faith in the general public, which I don't have. In 2017, they nearly put Corbo & Co into No. 10, and I'll never forgive them for that.

Mark Collard: Seems like there’s a good PhD dissertation to be had on the curious relationship between Sky News and Novara Media—what’s the nature of the relationship? How do Sky News staff justify their heavy reliance on Novara? What’s the impact of the relationship on public opinion?

Kristian Niemietz: Title: "The Daily Ash. How the much-despised MSM rolled out the red carpet for Corbo's cool commies".

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