J’accuse...! Paul Dacre and the Right-Wing, Europhobic Press

Sir,

Brexit and the rising political influence of fake news, AKA post-truth politics, stand amongst the most internationally significant events of 2016. In Britain, the latter has been integral to materialising the former.

The European Commission in the UK has helpfully collated and corrected untruthful anti-EU stories by the UK press - a phenomenon known as Euromyths - published from 1992 to during the EU referendum campaign.

It is a list which you bear at least some responsibility for and includes perhaps the most well-known Euromyth, alleging that the EU wanted to ban the retail sale of non-vertical bananas and cucumbers. You have also accused the EU of wanting to redefine Britain as a landlocked country despite it being an island, and imprison farmers for failing to provide pigs with toys to stop them fighting in sties. As Private Eye’s Ian Hislop recently noted, satire is difficult in a landscape beyond parody.

Most Euromythology has come from the likes of The Sun, The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph and the paper which you edit, The Daily Mail. Much of it might be amusingly ridiculous. But there is nothing funny about the dark and ugly side you have promoted, which has shamelessly scapegoated the roughly 3 million people from EU countries resident in the UK.

You have attacked immigrants and refugees as scrounging from the state with a non-existent ease and burdening public services, yet they are actually net contributors to the UK economy and are less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens. There are over 1 million of us living in EU countries, but after Brexit we will no longer be entitled to travel, study and work across the EU. What a waste.

Journalists shouldn’t be shy about scrutinising the powerful, true, but they should have a basic sense of responsibility and objectivity

Millennials, such as me, are said to be snowflakes, obsessed with the policing of language. But words have consequences. Brexit appears to have unleashed an outpouring of vile racist hate crimes. To ignore your role and the role of the vitriolic press in stirring up such prejudice would be wilfully ignorant (and ironically, senior Brexiteers have taken issue with the BBC reporting on the possibility).

EU migrants working as frontline staff in the NHS are reportedly voting with their feet. The NHS is already in a critical state, so how more severe will this become when the residency status of thousands of doctors and nurses from the EU stands in jeopardy?

The anti-EU press has twisted figures to exaggerate the burden of EU membership on UK coffers. But how will these supposed costs even compare to the prospect of a hard Brexit and the economic disaster of being us hurled out of the EU single market?

Michael Gove complained about being “sick of experts” while Boris Johnson garnered a reputation for bullshitting in his journalism career. The Tory figureheads of the official Leave campaign positioned themselves on the moral high ground above UKIP’s right-wing populism. But when it came to it, they resorted to Euromythology you promoted to win the day.

The morning after the Leave vote, Nigel Farage admitted that the figure of “£350 million for the NHS” after Brexit, plastered on the side of a socialist red bus, had been pulled out of thin air.

What is manifestly real is the up to £50 billion expense of leaving the EU, and the collapse in the pound directly impacting living standards, hitting the poorest households already struggling under ongoing recession and austerity. Again, words have consequences.

This is not to say that all Leave voters are adherents to xenophobic bigotry or that there are no legitimate criticisms to make about the EU as an institution. The left has plenty (though I imagine most “Lexit” backers will now be regretting their choice).

But we can’t pretend that a political decision driven by outright nonsense is compatible with a properly informed democracy. Journalists shouldn’t be shy about scrutinising the powerful, true, but they should have a basic sense of responsibility and objectivity. It’s the least that should be expected of them as self-appointed public servants.

To conclude:

I accuse you of wilfully promoting the distortion of facts to suit your right-wing, xenophobic agenda.

I accuse your journalists of failing in their duty to be objective and tackle the distortions of the Leave campaign.

I accuse your colleagues in the right-wing press of complicity in promoting Euromyths and monstrous bias.

George Orwell famously wrote that political language, when it has a maleficent intent, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." In the case of the vaporous justifications and plans for Brexit, our unfolding fate is as a nation fundamentally damaged and diminished.

Yours,

Jacob Richardson

With apologies to Emile Zola. We also accuse:

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

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