Post-truth Politics: Where does it end?

Sebastian Chromiak is Joint Editor in Chief of TPN and is an Economics and Politics student at the University of Manchester.

This time in 3 weeks we will know the result of the election, Friday the 13th will be a bad omen, whether that be for Labour, the Tories or the Liberal Democrat’s we are yet to see. The effects of this election will last for generations to come, both with regards to social relations because of Brexit if the Conservatives win a majority and the economic fortunes and quality of life if Labour succeed.

The more concerning development, in my opinion, has been the rise of post-truth politics. This is not a new phenomenon, politicians are among the worst trusted in our society and for good reason. Yet, our famed media industry used to call out, rigorously investigate and continually scrutinise those in power, no longer does that hold. Journalists overwhelmed by the amount of information in the digital age, are either not properly informed, or worse, afraid of calling out statements are underpinning this house of cards. Allowing politicians to dictate the debate.

It is not controversial to say that the electorate is now a victim of falsehoods on a regular basis, politicians regularly endorse statements that are disproved at a later date, often when it is too late. It is, without doubt, eroding trust in our institutions, one must only think back to the vile language used by Tory MP’s to describe our courts when a result on Brexit went against them.

Just yesterday on Question Time, once again an audience member was allowed to assert that his income of over £80,000 meant he was not part of the top 5% of earners in this country. Such a statement was met with applause, and will now be used as propaganda. This morning came to correct it, including BBC Fact Checker, who in fact said that it meant he was part of the top 3%. Most won’t come to hear of this and will just remember the statement and a host that was unable to correct such misinformation. Earlier in the week, a disproven policy that the Tories would only build 6 new hospitals, instead of their claimed 40, was met with a rant by Michael Gove and how Channel 4 was spinning it. Both examples baffle me.

Peter Oborne has claimed that BBC Executives are unwilling to call politicians out because it undermines trust in democracy. Quite how they have reached such a conclusion is frankly ridiculous. It is everything Orwell warned against, 2+2 is now 5 if Boris Johnson says so. Our polarised society deserves better. When someone is called out, it falls on deaf ears or worse people actively arguing against facts, the public is no longer there for persuasion, they are simply propagators of a position held by their respective political alliances.

The media now have an extremely difficult task in attempting to resuscitate this situation, we cannot reasonably expect that it will be fixed overnight, but the time since the referendum campaign should act as a lesson for all scholars on how democracy descends into darkness. Presenters need more information or different interview formats. Television media must once again act as a check and balance on power to ensure we restore accountability.

Other sections of the media industry must come under more effective regulation, for too long, newspapers have been able to print blatant and toxifying lies on their front pages. Such actions should lead to fines that would legitimately cause them financial difficulties to the point where they would be warned out of doing it again.

Social media sites need proper regulation from an independent body with lots of powers to ensure false information cannot be targeted at voters, and way from the political parties that so often use these sites to promote the misinformation.

Finally, politicians must commit to the restoration of proper standards, handshakes are no longer good enough. With the Brexit debate set to go well into the next decade, their rhetoric has consequences, one thinks back to the awful murder of Jo Cox, where standing members this time round have committed to fair debate, that is not based on division. This should have acted as a warning, yet instead, it has only intensified, they have been warned. Democracy dies in such times, it is a shame we have such short memories.

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