Shorter print version: longer here

Opposing the normalisation of lies

RECURRING themes at the Byline Festival of journalism in August were crime, corruption, misinformation, dark money and lies, lies, lies.

rapper Lowkey at Byline 2019

Rapper and self-described "Mesopotamian maniac" Lowkey performs

A session led by City, University of London's Dr Paul Lashmar noted that Nick Davies and Carole Cadwalladr's revelations about phone hacking and dark money around the EU referendum haven't brought about the changes we would have hoped. But they've certainly inspired "a new generation of journalists" arriving in journalism schools. Such investigations have created "ripples... they inspire people".

We heard from Alistair Morgan about the murder of his brother Daniel - a private investigator killed with an axe in the unlit car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham 32 years ago. Alistair became a journalist in an attempt to untangle the "dirty mess" of his brother's death.

Five prosecutions and collapsed prosecutions later, a new inquiry is in its seventh year. We're no closer to the truth. Within months of Daniel's death his company, Southern Investigations, become the go-to for Fleet Street phone hacking. Alistair concluded that just as organised crime has its contacts among corrupt police officers, so organised crime and corrupt police officers also cultivate contacts in the media.

How can we save the BBC, asked festival co-instigator Peter Jukes. The panel concluded that while most BBC journalists are excellent, some showing extraordinarily bravery, there are let down by "craven" management. The BBC charter's requirement for "balance" doesn't work anymore: "You can't balance people who know stuff with people who don't know stuff," as is the case in "debates" on climate change.

One of many discussions on "the normalisation of lies" was led by Gavin Esler, author of Brexit without the Bullshit. He compared the "facts" most people had picked up going into the 2016 EU referendum with the 35-page explanatory booklet delivered to every home in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the referendum there on the Good Friday Agreement.

Analysing Trump lies has become an industry in the US: the Washington Post clocked 10,600 demonstrable lies by the President Trump up to this June - 12 a day, including weekends. But there hasn't quite been the same forensic investigation of serial lying in recent UK politics, with a startling lack of mainstream UK media interest in the Cambridge Analytica affair.

Compare today's serial liar politicians getting away with it to the trouble President George Bush (Senior) got into after breaking his "Read my lips, no new taxes" promise back in 1988. President Clinton's second term was mostly about the fallout from his claim "I did not have sex with that woman."

But by 2016 former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, campaigning for Trump's nomination, could say of the fall in crime nationally that "there may be some liberal statistics about how crime is going down, but that not how people feel."

Security advice from Mark Spy Blog included: don't all switch your phones off at once just before you go into your secret meeting. To security forces or industrial spies monitoring you, it screams "secret meeting!" Switch off your phones on the way to the meeting. Security folk going by train to Cheltenham for meetings at GCHQ apparently have written instructions to start switching off their phones at Paddington station.

All this and Pussy Riot too, who unfortunately took so long to set up for their gig that they pushed the programme past its strict 2am bedtime. Rapper Lowkey also performed, getting the audience to sing along: "Rap's not dead! It's at Byline!"