Ignore the outrage of the right-wing press at Corbyn's warning to fantasist media moguls, writes Dawn Foster. They're just angry that the game is up.

This week the right-wing press have printed falsehood after falsehood about the Labour leader, and yet have still failed in their all out nonsense spy attack. Ignore their outrage at Labour's warnings, writes Dawn Foster. They're just angry that the game is up.

Within minutes of the Labour Party releasing a short video of Jeremy Corbyn criticising the ongoing media circus around the baseless allegations that the party leader had been involved in Soviet spying during the Cold War, the media hysteria kicked in. That Corbyn pointed out social media proffered a direct challenge to media supremacy meant “change is coming” was not an observation that the balance of power away from media oligopolies and towards the demos, but a ‘threat’ to press freedom.

Few Labour leaders had dared attack the press before, journalists argued, with a certain level of personal affront. This is partly true. In the twilight of his premiership, Tony Blair lashed out at the media in a speech, admitting the New Labour project had been too focused on winning support and pandering to the press early on. Ed Miliband tried to mollify the tabloid press by posing grinning with The Sun. Weeks later, their dogwhistle cover of Miliband struggling to eat a bacon sandwich with sufficient grace and dexterity showed such an overture had done nothing bar alienate his wavering base.

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Two headlines on the front pages of today’s Times and Sun do little the make the press’s case. The Times declare “Corbyn accused of wanting Soviet-style city to replace London”, with ‘commentator’ David Buik declaring the leader plans to “turn London into the last Soviet-era capital west of Pyongyang”.

Buik, apparently a man to be listened to, previously told The Telegraph he favours “curvaceous and buxom wenches of the highest quality”, so knows a thing or two about the modern age. While The Sun declare Corbyn “rattled” for releasing a video, with hammers and sickles framing the leader’s image for added effect, yet aren’t remotely rattled themselves that their flimsy story has been shown to be false at every turn. The horse is long dead, but the right wing press are still desperately applying paddles to its chest and checking for a pulse with no result.

The merest mild rebuke for the press and how it operates usually unleashes a similar level of histrionics. A truly free press should of course be free to publish stories without political interference, but must also be able to stand up such stories. The Corbyn/Spy story has repeatedly been shown to be utter bunkum, reliant solely on the ramblings of a fantasist, then once that source was debunked, piggybacking on the mooted existence of a ‘Stasi file’ that has been proven not to exist.

The press wield an extraordinary amount of power, to expose wrongdoing, but equally to trash reputations and ruin lives. Responsibility without checks and balances is simply unfettered power: that so many of our newspapers are owned by extraordinarily wealthy individuals who usually shun the limelight hands a huge amount of power to people who cannot be democratically held to account.

To understand the fury directed at Corbyn for challenging the press, the current culture wars surrounding free speech cannot be discounted: rarely a day passes without students being targeted by people with a huge media platform for voicing criticisms, or behaving as students always have in universities. Criticism of political views is conflated with attacks on free speech when people punch up: yet the fact that individual students have been plastered across the front pages of newspapers and misrepresented is never considered an attack on their right to free speech, despite the fact the implicit message is ‘challenge power, and we will open you to an avalanche of abuse’.

Student Lola Olufemi was subjected to a volley of racist and sexist abuse when The Telegraph printed her picture on their front page and incorrectly claimed she had demanded white authors were removed from the curriculum, rather than the reading list in her faculty be widened. Running hit jobs on individuals, as the right wing press so often do, is designed precisely to silence critics, and force vocal minorities to pipe down.

Yet, whenever the gaze is reflected, the tone changes: the consumer campaigns against advertising in the Daily Mail are endlessly called an attack on free speech, as is anything approaching mild criticism of incorrect and fallacious headlines in papers. A complaints system exists for printed lies, yes, but the process is heavily defanged, arduous, takes at least three months, and few consider it entirely independent. Most papers know they can get away with printing falsehoods, or exaggerating the facts on the ground, because the correction and apology are read by far fewer people, far later.

The stories are forgotten quickly, but the shift in public opinion is gradual, and integral to the hype machine. What can you do to fight back? Little, bar issuing your own messages, as Corbyn has done, and reading everything with a pinch of salt, looking for multiple corroborating sources, and distrusting anything that seems hyperbolic until it’s been verified by multiple outlets, with actual evidence.

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