Do facts matter in an era of such political and legal uncertainty? Parts of the media clearly don’t think so…
By Bilal Mazhar
2016. The year of Brexit, Trump, populist nationalism across the Western world, and perhaps most ominously, a year which has ushered in a new era- the post truth age. Post truth politics appeals to our emotions, our fears and our anger. It thrives on rejecting facts, rationality and careful argument. Yet, quite ironically, it is the media that has enabled post-truth politics to thrive and dramatically shift the course of Western politics. News outlets exist to provide information to aid the public in grasping political and cultural developments. However, now we increasingly find the media to be a source of propaganda. Parts of the media categorically ignore facts and objective reasoning but are willing to persuade the general public through subjective, emotional narratives. The post truth age has arrived, and it’s dangerous.
From observation, an insightful case study of the post truth age derives from the case of R (Miller) -v- Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The High Court was asked to consider whether the Government was constitutionally permitted to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without authorisation by an Act of Parliament. The case has rightly received extensive media coverage and many in legal and academic communities are split on whether the Prime Minister has royal prerogative to invoke Article 50. The High Court ruled in favour of the Claimant and accepted the position that an Act of Parliament would be necessary in order to authorise the government in invoking Article 50.
However, the point of the article is not to re-litigate over the case, which the Supreme Court will now rule on. It is to reflect on the unprecedented, vicious and disturbing media assault upon the judiciary and its reputation. The Daily Mail branded the three High Court judges as, ‘ENEMIES OF THE STATE’ and The Sun and the Telegraph joined in to vilify judges for their reasoned ruling. Yet, in their brutal attacks upon the judiciary and the rule of law, the right wing media have quite aptly illustrated how misleading and fictional politics and political correspondence has become.
Only this summer, Brexit backing newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Telegraph wrote forcefully of the significance of Parliamentary sovereignty- indeed they said a vote for Brexit was a vote to bring back Parliamentary sovereignty. The EU was portrayed as a bloated, technocratic unlovable organisation that usurped Parliament’s supremacy. To quote Lord Bingham, in R (Jackson) v Attorney General, parliamentary sovereignty is seen as the ‘bedrock of the British Constitution’ and so, according to the right wing media, it would be a constitutional tragedy to accept and commit to EU supremacy. Whilst one may disagree with this argument, there is a degree of weight attached to such a stance.
Therefore, it now seems glaringly hypocritical that the very media outlets that asked for Parliamentary sovereignty now balk at the High Court ruling that quite bluntly endorses Parliament’s sovereignty. This hypocrisy is ominous. The judiciary is a valuable facet of any democracy. It is independent, objective and makes judgments based on laws passed by parliament. It is not a mouthpiece of the ruling government that interprets the law based on public mood and governmental pressure.
Parts of the media have reacted to the High Court ruling by vilifying the judiciary for going against the people. They have framed the narrative in a manner that suggests the judiciary is an institution which should be affected by public opinion. That is simply untrue. The judiciary’s role is to interpret the law, unbound by the pressures of government, media and the lay public.
If we continue down a path in which the media ignores facts, ignores fundamental truths and promotes the public to act on false or ignorant information, the shape and progress of our society is at risk. One need only look at President Elect Trump to realise being hypocritical, divisive and ill-informed is a recipe of success in attaining the most powerful job on the planet. The post truth age has arrived; it is time to kill it.