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#FakeNews: An Impartial Inquiry?

by | Tuesday, 7th February 2017
The parliamentary inquiry into "fake news", or at least the Home Office, may have certain axes to grind.

UK Column News recently covered the launch by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee of an inquiry into the suddenly much-bandied-about concept of "fake news". 

The Committee is chaired by Damian Collins MP, who has in fact only assumed the top spot there in the past couple of months.

The Committee's announcement of its inquiry has sparked immediate international interest, such as in the leading Dutch broadsheet NRC Handelsblad, which lauds it as "the British getting serious about tackling fake news". NRC notes with no sense of irony that the Committee's chairman used to be an M&C Saatchi ad man and that he "has been arguing for some time that [news articles need] stamps of approval to establish [their] reliability". As NRC notes, the present inquiry is expected to lead to recommendations on legislation.

Mr Collins was in fact a Conservative Party researcher before a career of nearly a decade at M&C Saatchi, a company which grew in the John Major era out of Saatchi & Saatchi, which was the first advertising agency ever used in a poster campaign by a political party, namely Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives in 1979. The Saatchi brand has remained close to the Conservative Party ever since.

With all this in place, one is startled to find that the very same M&C Saatchi has reportedly contracted with Her Majesty's Government to issue counter-propaganda online against the growing alternative media, which increasingly finds itself stuck with the labels of "alt-right", "nationalist", "pro-Russian", "anti-British Values" and even "extremist".

Could it be that the Home Office already has a foregone conclusion that legislative change and/or kitemarks of government approval on "correct" news, perhaps both framed by M&C Saatchi lobbyists, are needed?

Readers who have examples to hand of the mainstream media itself engaging in fake news are urged to write courteous, focused, evidential submissions to the Committee on the matter, within the one-month deadline given, using the second link above. Another key need is for submissions to this inquiry to cite historical and/or overseas examples of the proper limits to government involvement in the news, which the Committee's leading questions appear to indicate are not well understood.

It is a very good idea to read the guidelines on preferred maximum 3,000-word length, numbered paragraphs and content not bearing upon matters before the courts carefully to stand a better chance of having any submission being approved for publication by the Committee.

My strong personal advice would be that readers ought not to aim for comprehensiveness but instead should write from the narrower authority of their own specialisms. Optionally, this could include judicious and sparing use of hyperlinks (preferably pasted in with the link as-is, rather than with a different descriptive label, since these can be lost in PDF conversion).

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