UK

UK Politicians Call 'Fake News' On Stories They Don't Like, Aping Donald Trump

MP leading inquiry opposes colleagues using term for 'journalism they disagree with'.

11/03/2017 10:07 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 16:44 GMT
DON EMMERT via Getty Images
Donald Trump twisted the phrase 'fake news', which has been adopted in the UK

British politicians aping Donald Trump by condemning established media as “fake news” is a “dangerous” trend that needs to be challenged, the MP leading an inquiry into the phenomena has told The Huffington Post UK.

Coined last year following the US election to describe 100% fabricated ‘news’ widely shared on social media, the phrase has since been deployed by the US President to damn critical media.

The term quickly crossed the Atlantic, taking root on social media. But it appears to have been increasingly used by British politicians in recent weeks when confronted with stories they dislike.

The habit appeared to reach a peak when Home Secretary Amber Rudd stated it was “fake news” to suggest the UK was not taking in child refugees after scrapping the “Dubs scheme”. In fact, it wasn’t the question she was asked - a classic political answer but given a modern spin.

Following the response, former BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson seized on its increasing usage.

“Sad to see Amber Rudd use ‘fake news’ to describe story she didn’t like (following the example of Jeremy Corbyn),” he wrote. “Language matters.”

Here’s a list of political figures who have accused the British media of “fake news”:

  • Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry
    Sky News
    Following Labour's embarrassing defeat in the Copeland by-election, the MP blamed 'fake news': “Word had got out that Jeremy (Corbyn) wasn’t in favour of nuclear power. That isn’t true. That’s what you call fake news."

    The Labour leader has a long history of opposition to nuclear power, including this speech in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
  • Home Secretary Amber Rudd
    Peston on Sunday
    Amber Rudd was quizzed by Robert Peston about the closure of the refugee scheme championed by Labour peer Alf Dubs, and whether it would be revived.

    She replied: “In your question it shows the role of 'fake news' is settling. The fact is we took 8,000 children last year into this country and settled them; 3,000 arrived unaccompanied and illegally and have been settled here. These numbers are large."

    To be clear, the 'Dubs scheme' was closed after taking 350 child refugees, when the expectation was thousands would be accepted.

    The numbers Rudd refers to are 8,000 children from refugee camps in multiple countries, and not necessarily lone children stranded in Europe - for whom the Dubs scheme was intended.
  • Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell
    Labour Briefing
    Jeremy Corbyn's right-hand man wrote for Labour Briefing that a ‘soft coup’ against the Labour leader was underway, with an alliance being formed by Labour plotters and journalists.

    He went on to claim journalists were running “fake news” that Corbyn was planning to stand down.

    The story stemmed from a respected reporter on Manchester Evening News, who said she had spoken to three sources, and made clear there was no suggestion he would quit immediately. The newspaper is owned by the Labour-backing Mirror Group. The Times report made the distinction clear.
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
    BBC
    Jeremy Corbyn accused the BBC of reporting “fake news” after he was asked about the reports he had made plans to quit.

    He told BBC One’s Breakfast the suggestion he had set a departure date was “absolute nonsense” and something from “I-made-it-up-yesterday.com”.

    “I am really surprised the BBC is reporting fake news. There is no news. There is no news,” he said.
  • Conservative MP Philip Davies
    Twitter
    The Tory MP was accused of “wasting time” and being a “shame on our democracy” by speaking for so long that new laws tabled by MPs would fail to be debated and voted on in time. 

    Labour’s Anna Turley was one of the most vocal critics, angered by having queued over-night three months ago to be given the chance to pass a bill that would have toughened up sentencing for animal cruelty crimes.

    In a statement, Davies told The Huffington Post UK: “I made it clear in my speech that I support Anna’s bill, however it had no chance of being debated whether I was there or not as it was 8th on the order paper.“
  • Trump aide Sebastian Gorka
    BBC
    British-born Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Trump, attacked BBC Newsnight's Evan Davis after the host mocked Trump for being “childish”, “narcissistic” and obsessed with expressing his campaign victory instead of leading the free world.

    Gorka hit back and claimed it was only “journalists who don’t like (Trump) and have an agenda” are the ones who think he is obsessed with his campaign victory.

    As their argument escalated, Gorka said: “You have just committed fake news, you are implying there is an intent to take action against the media.”
  • Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey
    Guardian
    Labour frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey addressed rumours that she’s being placed as potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn for leadership when pressed by the ITV's Robert Peston, and labelled them "fake news".

    She said: “It’s just so bizarre, Robert. I think we’ve got a leader, he’s been elected twice by the members of the Labour Party and I’m there to support him and make sure that he gets delivered as the next prime minister.”
  • Respect Party's George Galloway
    Twitter
    Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday attempted to flush out millionaire Chancellor Philip Hammond’s tax return by publishing a summary of his own.

    But it appeared to backfire when it was unclear whether the Labour MP included his top-up salary as party leader in his headline calculations.

    Journalists from many news organisations made inquiries to Corbyn’s press team about why the £114,342 he declared he earned in 2015-16 was tens of thousands of pounds short of what it should have been.

    Press handlers could not fully explain the discrepancy, only that the calculations had been handled by accountants.

    Only at close to 1am, when national newspapers had gone to press, did Corbyn’s media team explain a ‘public office’ income of £27,192.22 was included in the summary under a section marked ‘other pensions and retirement annuities’.
  • Ukip deputy chair Suzanne Evans
    Twitter
    Business Insider's UK Political Editor Adam Bienkov listed all the times UKIP has called for NHS privatisation, including in its 2005 manifesto when it said: "Private health insurance schemes similar to those in France, Germany and several other countries might provide a valuable supplement to NHS resources."

But one MP thinks politicians it is “pernicious” for politicians to use “fake news” for “journalism that they disagree with”.

In January, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs announced it was launching a probe into ‘fake news’.

Damian Collins, chairman of the committee, said the trend was “a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general”.

The Conservative MP told HuffPost UK he believed the term should be restricted to news stories that are “entirely fake”.

He said:

“We need to fight for a clear definition of fake news. This term should be restricted for news stories that are entirely fake, or where the key part of the story has been made up. It is pernicious for politicians like Donald Trump to use the term ‘fake news’ to include any piece of journalism that they disagree with.

“This deliberately blurs the lines, and suggests that fake news is in the eye of the beholder, rather than being something that can be clearly defined. When people then rightly call out websites that are pushing out fake news stories, the challenge could come back that all news organisation engage in fake news, so what’s the difference? This is dangerous.

“We need to call out real fake news when we see it, and challenge politicians who deliberately use the term ‘fake news’ to deride articles they don’t like.”

Tom Dulat via Getty Images
Damian Collins, the MP leading the parliamentary inquiry into fake news
We need to challenge politicians who deliberately use the term ‘fake news’ to deride articles they don’t like Damian Collins MP

Dr Philip Seargeant, of the Open University, is a linguistics expert who has argued using ‘fake news’ is now about about power rather than truth.

As well as a device to “undermine the legitimacy of the press generally”, he argues it’s also a “clever ploy for switching the focus away from the substance of actual reporting”.

He told HuffPost UK: 

“The term itself has certainly been taken up in certain circles as a way of dismissing legitimate news and the practices of journalists when people don’t like them. But it’s also become ideological coloured because of some of this use.

“It’s so problematic now - if not toxic - that people will think twice about using it in an unqualified form, unless they specifically want to align themselves with Trump and the position his administration is taking.

“Others will be frustrated about perceived media bias in certain contexts. But by using that exact phrase it comes across more as an excuse rather than a valid criticism of the coverage they’re getting.”

 
The idea that fake news is limited to new online media sites is a bit of a convenient fiction Stop Funding Hate

But the online campaign Stop Funding Hate, which has urged companies to cease advertising with the newspapers that it says publish stories demonising the most vulnerable, thinks some publications have a reputation for producing made-up news.

Richard Wilson, the campaign’s founder, points to how East European migrants in the UK being accused of “eating swans” has become a “modern-day myth”, and cites ex-journalist Rich Peppiat’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry how he was pressured to write entirely false stories.

He told HuffPost UK: 

“Our view would be that ‘fake news’ certainly is a real problem, even if it is sometimes misapplied – and that it’s important that we as a society acknowledge it and find ways to address it.

“In doing so, it’s normal that there will be debate and disagreement over how the term is defined, and what does and doesn’t count as ‘fake news’. But for anyone who cares about truth and accuracy in the media this is arguably a debate that is long overdue.

“The internet arguably makes the distinction between new and ‘traditional’ news sources increasingly arbitrary. The same fake news stories are appearing – and quickly being recycled – across multiple platforms across the world, some of them longstanding news sources like the Daily Express, and others very new ones like Breitbart.

“If it’s ‘fake news’ when Breitbart reports it, then surely it must also count as fake news when the same story appears on a more traditional news outlet. The idea that fake news is limited to new online media sites is a bit of a convenient fiction.”