UK Tabloids – deceit and dishonesty

There is an old saying from the UK, coined for the tabloid newspapers. It goes:  one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The UK tabloids prove the correctness of that saying, day in day out. They do it by a combination of one or both of the following:

  1. Making Shit Up – inventing stories in whole or in part, or exaggerating events until they bear no resemblance to what actually happened
  2. Distorting events to fit them into an overarching narrative or worldview

(1) is the go-to tactic for tittle-tattle and titillation articles, especially about celebrities, the Royal Family and other public figures. Sex, drugs, money or rock’n’roll is usually in there somewhere.

(2) is the most common tactic when reporting on politics or governance.

At the present time, the tabloid newspapers are uniformly pro-Brexit. They were cheerleaders for Brexit from day 1. It fits their long-standing “we represent the Real People” positioning.

The problem is that Brexit, so far, has little in the way of good outcomes, and plenty of bad outcomes. Many of those bad outcomes are a direct result of the British government making poor decisions, and then trying to blame other parties for the outcome of those bad decisions.

Currently, the British government is having to try to dig itself out of a very large mess over the reality that the UK is now, as far as the EU is concerned, a third country. Meaning, the UK left the club and gave up the membership benefits. The UK now has to negotiate with the EU as a third country, and also has to negotiate with other countries without any support or backing from the EU.

One country the UK is having to try to negotiate with is Norway, over fishing rights. Norway is not in the EU, and because the UK is not in the EU, it now has no trading bloc on its side. This means that the negotiation is suddenly one of equals. There is no pressure on Norway to agree to any deal that it finds to be unacceptable. In other words, the UK has no real leverage in the negotiations. It has to take what it can get, not what it thinks it is entitled to. Unfortunately, as the article itself makes clear, the UK entered the talks with the idea that the previous arrangement with Norway when it was a member of the EU was unfair to the UK, therefore any new deal has to be more in the UK’s favor. That does not really work when you are asking for access to another country’s waters.

The UK and Norway just failed to agree on a whole host of issues related to fishing rights.

The Daily Express, one of the oldest UK tabloids, chose to report these events like this:

This is a classic example of lede distortion. The lede begins “Norway shuts out UK”. That is an accusation, which is not supported by the content of the next paragraph or the rest of the article. The paragraph states that the negotiations failed. Both parties failed to agree. If the UK knew going in that a failure would result in Norway no longer issuing fishing licenses, then that was predictable, and not exactly the fault of Norway.

There is no information in paragraph 1 on whether existing fishing licenses continue either. If they continue, and Norway stops issuing new ones, then it is not a “shut out” anyway, and the lede becomes deceitful, not merely deceptive.

This example is common practice in tabloid-land, where the entire business model is based on either enticing readers with juicy (read: salacious) details about something, or riling up readers by reporting something that inflames their emotions.

In this case, it was the latter approach. The lede is designed to point the blame on Norway, via the line “Norway shuts out UK” (boo! hiss! Big Bad Norway!) . The first paragraph does not align with the lede, but that is almost certainly deliberate. “negotiations fail” is a non-judgmental line. “Norway shuts out UK” is judgmental, and blames somebody other than the UK, which is the narrative that you need to continue with if you believe that Brexit was a good and just action. The Express began 2021 with other triumphalist headlines over fishing rights such as “We’re in charge now!”, a narrative that the UK was now going to be in control of all of its fishing rights.

Clearly, having a next door country say “sorry, but you have no rights to continue to fish in our fishing waters, we do not have to grant you any unless we negotiate it, and we don’t like the deal you are offering” conflicts with the “we have control” narrative.

The logical fallacy or myth, which is operative here, is that the UK controls all of whatever the Express thinks is “our waters” and “our fish”. It’s total bullshit, not just because of the reality that the UK has left the EU, but also because of the rules of UNCLOS, which the UK is automatically obliged to follow as a member of the United Nations. Under UNCLOS, the UK is legally obligated to engage in joint stewardship of fishing waters. This, by the way, is why the UK had to do a deal on fishing with the EU. Failure to do so would have opened the UK up to censure and possible sanctions underwritten by the United Nations.

The Daily Express is simply writing bullshit ledes to paper over the reality that the UK does not have “control” over its fishing waters. The sovereignty myth is, as will become increasingly obvious, colliding with modern global reality. Reality will win. In the meantime, we can expect to see more articles like this every day where the lede either does not match the article content, or where the article content is a distortion or a collection of bullshit.





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