The Sunday Times’ response to a government rebuttal which answered an article published last week, has been stonewalled by the Tories who, today, barred the Sunday Times from all future press briefings.
Toby Helm, the Observer’s Political Editor, revealed that the Sunday Times is now barred from asking questions at press conferences because they “dared to criticise the government’s response to the Coronavirus”.
The move is equivalent to the government sticking their fingers in their ears and going “nyaah, nyaah, nyaah,” political analyst Keith Webber said today. “Rather than address the Sunday Times, which picked apart last week’s Tory rebuttal to show that most of it was waffle and misdirection, they have simply censored the Sunday Times.”
The action is reminiscent of President Nixon’s censorship of the Washington Post during the Vietnam War.
When the Washington Post published real figures showing Nixon’s administration covering up the number of soldier deaths and misreporting on America’s position in the war, Nixon effectively gagged the paper rather than address the findings.
Webber said, “this is a very similar situation. You have a government telling the public we’re doing very well and everything is hunky dory while misrepresenting the true number of deaths and failing, on an institutional level, to act sooner and be more transparent.”
“When reporters call them out, instead of giving transparent and honest answers, accepting culpability or showing any level of regret for mistakes made, the government simply tells the reporters to shut up and behave themselves, or else.”
58,000 American soldiers lost their lives in the Vietnam war. 20,000 British citizens have lost their lives in this crisis and, before a vaccine is found, those figures are likely to become horribly similar.
“The parallels are uncanny,” Webber said.
The New York Times redressed Nixon’s draconian attack on the free press thanks largely to unanimity from other news outlets, all of whom published similar stories and refused to be gagged.
“Nixon was unable to bar the entire press,” Webber explained, “but the situation in Britain is different. We have a fractured press, largely entangled with the Tory government thanks to the role they played during Brexit and the 2019 election.”
Toby Helm said that rumours are now circulating among the press that if other papers support the Sunday Times in its expose, they will also be barred from asking questions.
Mike Galsworthy, the co-founder of Scientists for Europe and a media commentator on the effects of Brexit in the United Kingdom posted a tweet yesterday in which he warned the government against ‘picking a fight with the media’ and said the Sunday Times were ‘not backing down’.
Webber commented, “In an era where freedom of the press is rapidly being replaced by a sycophantic news service capable only of reprinting official government lines or even, as is the case with the Daily Mail and the Sun, actively supporting known lies in an effort to shift public opinion in favour of the Tories, the courage of one newspaper to call the government out on its handling of the Coronavirus is both historic and potentially seismic in its implications.”
“The Tories have become complacent in assuming the press is firmly on their side. But journalists, editors and reporters are also losing loved ones and demanding answers. This can only get worse and the government’s usual platitudes, lies and cover-ups make for a very thin veneer.”
“The next logical step for the government is to silence its critics, whether they do this by barring specific newspapers and media, or ‘cracking down on fake news’.”
Webber’s comments seemed particularly prescient toward the end of last week as the government announced plans to use members of the Armed Forces administrative wing to track down ‘fake news’ sources that misrepresent the official Coronavirus guidelines.
The sensible approach belies a much deeper level of censorship which gives the government power to shut down any site it labels as peddling ‘fake news’, among them news satire sites and even personal Twitter or Facebook accounts.
“Censorship of the free press is likely to get worse, particularly after the crisis,” Webber warned. “A lot of people will be asking a lot of questions and the government will do their best to rewrite history in their favour. They’re already doing it.”