Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Don't let the press make divisions worse

Judging by their actions, it appears to be an article of faith among journalists that stories of splits and rows sell newspapers and get people clicking on websites.

Needless to say the rows within the Labour party over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and Trident, within UKIP and between the rival "Leave" campaigns, and within the Conservatives over EU membership, have given them a field day.

But although many of the rows in all these cases are genuine - the press didn't invent Corbyn's list of supportive and "hostile" Labour MPs, suspend Suzanne Evans from UKIP or make IDS resign - I have the distinct impression that the press are looking very hard for every "split" story they can find and some of them range from the greatly exaggerated to complete fiction.

As an example, a few weeks ago there was a story in the press that the PM was planning to sack Justice Secretary Michael Gove after the referendum. This was denied by an official Downing Street spokeswoman in the most categorical terms as "complete nonsense."

and I do not believe there was any truth in it.

Today the Mail alleges that the PM had a go at Dr Syed Kamall MEP, the excellent leader of the Conservatives and Reformists ECR group in the European parliament, over the possibility that Syed might support "Leave" (which he since has.)

But if you read the whole article and not just the headline, Syed dismisses the story with the words

'This conversation has been blown out of proportion by Chinese whispers. All of my conversations with the Prime Minister on the UK referendum have been civil.'

I have no special insight into these or any other stories, but I do know that contrary to the proverb there sometimes is smoke without fire, and not every story which appears in the press is true.

It is generally good advice not to assume that every story of splits and infighting or of what people have supposedly said must automatically be Gospel truth and not to let people searching for a story trick you into becoming cross with friends and colleagues.

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