Make Orwell Fiction Again: The BBC and growing media manipulation

This blog post on media manipulation will be separated into two parts. The first will be on the background of Orwell and what led him to write 1984 and its reoccurring themes, and the second is how the BBC is acting as a media manipulator to favour Boris Johnson during the election campaign and the dominant ideology of Conservatism.

The Orwellian novel of 1984 states the reoccurring theme of ‘doublethink’ which is what happens in the setting of the novel, Oceania. Common themes that run through this novel is that of newspeak (the official language of Oceania, shortening down the meanings of words and making individual thought of the interpretation of words smaller and smaller). More themes that occur throughout the novel are that of thoughtcrime, in which individuals are punished if they have any negative thoughts towards the Party in Oceania. In short, it is clear that Orwell intended to write 1984 warning against the growth of the totalitarian states, which is what he was witnessing in Russia and Spain in the 1940s at the time.

Many academics have argued today that the now classic novel wrote by George Orwell predicted many trends that we see in modern day society today. For example, perhaps the recurring feature in 1984 of music and the proles (the proletariat, working class within Oceania) using music as their way to display implciit freedom and defiance as they sing the simple songs is more relevant that it was when Orwell was writing in the 1940s due to the rise in popular ‘pop’ music. Orwell also predicts the rise in modern technology, predicting what would have been known as However, perhaps no theme within 1984 is so prominent today than that of the institution of the Ministry of Truth listed in the book. Ironically, this is where the main character Winston works, and his job is to rewrite historical stories and facts in order to make them in favour of the Party. Any old stories are tossed into the ‘memory hole’ and the past is in short forgotten, with the new created stories automatically being accepted as historical fact. It is a propaganda machine which portrays every news story, past event and of the current in favour of big brother. The main task that the Ministry of Truth undertakes is to lie. It does not only erase historical events and make them in favour of the Party, but also changes education to make sure that the Party is shown in the most favourable light and to produce music that is simple enough for the proletariat to learn so they remain happy while singing these songs, not knowing they are oppressed. However, due to the main topic of this blog post being the BBC, the function that the Ministry of Truth undertakes to erase historical facts and to shape the dominant ideology in the positive light is what I will be focusing on today.

Part 2: The BBC and the disturbingly real media manipulation that has occurred in the general election campaign

The BBC is a very well known news institution. In the UK, it dominates the news coverage that is put out and is very well known around the world. Many individuals have notifications on from the BBC’s social media accounts or the application itself to keep updated with the developments in world news. In short, the BBC is hugely influential. And although it has not quite reached Ministry Of Truth levels of media manipulation as of yet, it is become damningly close to achieving these high levels. While the points I am about to list have been defended by the BBC or labelled as a mistake, it is extremely arguable that they ever were, and they have been committed to present the current Prime Minister in a more favourable light, which has diverged from the truth. Although it is accepted that no individual can be entirely impartial and journalists will always have their political leaning (as George Orwell himself once stated: consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan), the levels that the BBC have shown has gone quite beyond this. As a society, we expect news coverage to tell us the full story, especially about someone as important as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister but we are being denying this. In its replace is the ultimate amounts of spin being put on the BBC news coverage, favouring the Conservative party as best as it can. The two most prominent points will be discussed below.

Point One: the misuse of a video clip on Remembrance Sunday by the BBC

On Armistice Day this year, to put it simply, Boris Johnson turned up looking like a mess. His hair was ruffled and a complete mess, his jacket was flying in all directions about him. It is possible that if one did not know the full context of Johnson and the occasion, he would have been mistaken from a man who had slept on the London Underground all night after getting drunk. To make matters worse for himself, he laid the remembrance wreath upside down on the memorial, which is considered to be highly disrespectful to the victims and fallen soldiers of wars. Of course it must be remembered that not all of the United Kingdom’s population would have watched the Remembrance Sunday service which is broadcast on the BBC, either because they were at work or perhaps at their own remembrance memorials in their town or city. It would be expected, it would be in due course on Monday Morning after Remembrance Sunday that the BBC would show the same clip of Boris Johnson laying the wreath that was broadcast live? Even if they did not report anything explicit about the way he looked or how he laid the reef wrong, they would surely show the correct clip to give viewers coverage, to see their Prime Minister to take part in such a significant annual event? Right?

Wrong. In fact, the BBC used footage from 2016 of Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, and Theresa May was Prime Minister on their breakfast time show, BBC breakfast. This can be seen as Theresa May is standing next to Jeremy Corbyn, amount to lay a wreath which the Prime Minister lays at the cenotaph. This was picked up on by some, although it must be noted that many individuals may viewed this clip and not noticed that it was the incorrect one. How could they if they had not seen the original one? Seeing the Prime Minister as dishevelled would have provoked conversation, but seeing him as ‘normal’ or even ‘state-man like’ would not provoke conversation. It is custom within the United Kingdom. Not realising his true state that he turned up in, the individuals would go about their everyday life after viewing the clip on the news from 2016 unaware, not engaging in conversation and thus not turning their thoughts in a negative light towards the current Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. This is one way in which they have limited negative thoughts so the viewer will lose the ability to think independently, especially towards the government.

The BBC responded to these claims, and said that the use of the clip was simply ‘a production mistake’ in the editing and that they ‘apologised for the error.’ (Source: BBC Breakfast Twitter Account). Many have argued against this, including those who have an occupation in the media industry and have said that this was could not be passed as an unintentional mistake. They have argued for the footage to neat cut from the 2019 Remembrance Service as soon as Johnson is about to lay his wreath, cut to footage from 3 years ago and then neatly cut back again is very clearly intentional. It is very clear that the BBC want to portray Johnson in a certain light, and do this an employee (s) within the institution as gone out of their way during their work to find this footage from three years ago and edit it in, to make Johnson seem more presentable overall.

Point Two: the editing of footage from the Question Time Debate

More recently, during the general election campaign a BBC leadership debate took place on live television in which the leaders of the main political parties took it in turns to answer pressing and challenging questions from a live audience. Following on from the point described above, it is very unlikely that the coverage that followed afterwards through the editing of videos and bulletins that it would remain impartial. And sure enough, it was not. One particular woman in the audience during Johnson’s turn on the programme asked him if he believed that it was important for all politicians to tell the truth. Upon hearing this question, the live audience laughed. In the news coverage that the BBC broadcasted at lunchtime, they edited the laughter out from the audience and replaced it with a clapping sound effect. Let’s take this in the context of an individual who may have not watched the debate, but is instead watching it on the news to see the highlights broadcasted. It is no doubt that what the question that the woman asked on Question Time was a good question, but to hear the audience clap instead of laugh does not shift the focus onto Johnson consciously. If the audience were to laugh, this would be seen as directed to Johnson and may make the viewer think about why there are laughing and think of any times when they believe that Johnson has not told the laugh in the past. Overall, hearing the laughter would build up a negative image towards Johnson. Perhaps even hearing laughter with a image of Johnson is believed to have a damaging effect on the image of a credible, strong Prime Minister of our country. To cut this laughter out however, and to replace it with clapping limits the political consciousness of a viewer to become aware of the audience may be laughing at Johnson. They subconsciously see it as a good question, and a good question put forward only. Their mind is not driven to criticism or to the discourse of trust.

The BBC, once again responded to these claims about them editing the sound over the video clip of Johnson. They once again admit a ‘mistake’ and insisted that the decision was made for time pressures rather than political bias, in order to remove a ‘repetitious phrase by Johnson.’ Many have said that this type of media manipulation is similar to what Orwell drew inspiration from when he was writing 1984. They also said that this was not to mislead, but only due to timing issues of their lunchtime programme. Funnily enough, the exact same edited video appeared on their later programmes.

Whether it was the BBC’s intention to mislead or not, it cannot be argued that this had, and will continue to have a subconscious effect on the viewer. It is important to know that in such a question, about trust, what the live audience’s react was otherwise political consciousness will never be raised and questions of the elite in power will never be able to be answered.

I stated in my title of this blog ‘Make Orwell Fiction Again.’ This is a phrase that has continuously been used in modern society, and it stands for how the Orwellian 1984 setting should be left as fiction, and it should not manifest into our society. Although the BBC is continuing to resemble the Ministry of Truth of 1984, there is a key difference. There may be attempts in media manipulation, it may be scary, but the important task is to raise political consciousness and make people aware of how the media manipulates so they do not succumb so easily to the manipulation. Perhaps The Electoral Commission will take action against the BBC to limit their quite obvious political bias within the institution, perhaps they will not. But one thing is for sure: unlike with the use of the Ministry of Truth as a propaganda machine serving the Party in the 1984 with those who go against it being punished, we as a society can still see through this manipulation and change. Raise awareness before our thoughts become crimes.

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