THE RIGHT-WING PRESS LIES ABOUT LABOUR’S PLANS FOR A ‘GARDEN TAX’

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Glancing at the Tory-supporting press yesterday, one would be forgiven for thinking that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was out to rob the British working classes and do them out of house and home.

That’s the impression they surely wanted to give as they coordinated to scaremonger readers with the idea that Labour is planning to hit households what they have termed a ‘garden tax’.

Pretty much identical articles ran in The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express about supposed plans to replace council tax and business rates with a Land Value Tax (LVT) that it was claimed would treble the amount that households pay annually.

The articles cite analysis from unnamed Conservative Party figures that claim the plans – which would replace property-based council and business tax with a tax on land owned – would instantly lead to a 224% rise in tax bills for the average family.

What the stories are referring to is a couple of sentences on page 86 of the Labour Party manifesto under the section ‘Local Communities’ where the party talks about plans for local government funding and the potential for reform:

‘We will initiate a review into reforming council tax and business rates and consider new options such as land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term.’

So for a start, it’s not even a plan. The LVT will just be among considerations as part of a review into possible local authority spending reform.

But a bigger problem with the articles is that LVT has been totally misrepresented as a mechanism to hike tax rates up for ordinary families. But the likelihood is that the majority of home-owners wouldn’t see much difference in the amount they had to pay. LVT is a tax on the market value of the land rather than the property but, seeing as property value is based on land value, it would be unlikely to lead to much change.

The biggest difference with LVT is that it generates tax revenue on land owned that isn’t utilised, so it’s probably more accurate to term it a ‘land-owners tax’ than a ‘garden tax’. It would mean that landowners and developers would have to stump up on plots of land owned even if currently unused.

The papers mention that annual LVT could be set at 3% of land value (which makes up approx. 55% of property value). This would lead to a trebling of current council tax bills if true. But the amount that has been suggested for home-owners (in a policy paper by the Labour Land Campaign) is 0.85%, which is in line with current bills. A higher rate of 3% is suggested for large estates, second homes and business premises (which is in line with current business rates). There is a suggestion of raising the 0.85% rate over a 10-20 year period, while also reducing VAT and income tax rates so that the overall tax burden doesn’t fall on the poorest or average earners. For the press to state that LVT would lead to a trebling of bills for everyone is an outright lie.

LVT is seen by many as a more progressive and efficient form of taxation than the likes of council tax, as it generates more money from wealthier groups and encourages the development of unused space. It also means that the tax will be levied on landlords rather than tenants (although rents will probably be adjusted to account for this).

LVT has support as a method of taxation from the likes of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the free-market economic think-tank the Adam Smith Institute, as well as many on both left and right of politics as a more socially equitable form of taxation. Even Winston Churchill extolled the virtues of a land tax in a parliamentary speech as a Liberal in 1909.

However, like most ideas, it is not supported by all economists and political theorists. In 2005, the Institute for Public Policy Research published a report called ‘Time For Land Value Tax?’ which looked at both pros and cons of LVT.

The Tory press has rubbished the idea, even though it makes it into the Labour manifesto as a suggestion mentioned once, primarily because it can be used as another stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. Also, as it’s another tax measure that would hit the wealthiest hardest, it’s no surprise to see these four papers (whose owners have a combined wealth of £20 billion) denouncing it. As with Labour’s suggested raise in the top rate of income tax, it’s in these papers’ interest to scaremonger and make it sound as if ordinary people will lose out.

For more information on Land Value Tax, see here and here.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE BRITISH PRESS IS A STAIN ON THE COUNTRY’S DEMOCRACY

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Here’s the thing with media coverage of politics in this country. The broadcasting regulator Ofcom states three things clearly in its guidelines for political coverage on TV:

  1. News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.

  2. Significant mistakes in news should be corrected on air quickly.

  3. No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience.

All very sensible rules that are in place for a purpose – to prevent the broadcast media from abusing its power and exerting undue influence over the public.

Yet this system is rendered pretty much null and void by the complete absence of anything resembling the same rules for the British print media.

Bizarrely in this country, we have one rule for one medium and one rule for another. Regarding the three points above, newspapers continue to get away with:

  1. Frequent inaccurate reporting and no attempt at impartiality.

  2. Mistakes corrected months later (and often not given due prominence).

  3. Employing politicians and those with clear political allegiances as journalists (or in some cases, editors).

The bias in political reporting within the UK press is obvious to many people. The UK came bottom out of 33 European countries in a recent study on public trust in the press. Yet there seems to be no effort to do anything meaningful about it. The current main press regulator IPSO is laughably weak and ineffective. It doesn’t even cover all of the main UK press outlets, and many of those it does seem to be not bothered in any way by its puny sanctions. The worst three offenders – the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express – transgressed its rules 43 times between them in 2016.

This contrast between print and broadcast media is magnified during election time. Whereas TV channels are reminded to show extra care not just in reporting but in giving due prominence and airtime to political parties, the printed press ratchets things up a couple of notches and serves up an extra helping of bias.

The partisan nature of reporting is even seen as a thing of pride among some, with the nation’s best selling daily The Sun fond of boasting that it has the power to win elections for the party it throws its support behind.

Exactly how much influence newspapers have in shaping political opinion is open to debate. Some may say that in the age of social media, their influence is declining. Others may counter that social media has enhanced the power of these publications, with the ability to share and retweet stories broadening their reach (with the Mail Online site ranked 8th most popular global news site with 53 million visitors a month, and the Guardian 10th with 42 million).

While not everyone who reads a particular paper will share its political views, it’s fair to say that a percentage of people will be influenced. After all, if there was no correlation between these things, then the impartiality rules imposed by Ofcom wouldn’t exist.

So why can’t the printed press be subjected to the same regulatory checks as broadcast media? Surely if a political party proposed this, it would be a vote-winner with the public. Who wouldn’t want an honest, impartial press over a corrupt, partisan one telling people what to think?

The impartiality of the press benefits two groups in society – the owners of the newspapers guilty of impartiality and the political parties they support. The parties get a free form of advertising via the support, while the owners get to exercise unfair influence over political proceedings. While democracy gives each of us a single vote, press laws give newspaper proprietors an opportunity to steer millions of votes in a direction of their choosing.

While all of the main parties benefit from some form of support from the British press, historically it’s the Tories who have benefited the most (see table below). 4 of the 5 biggest selling dailies support the Conservative Party and this is strongly reflected in their editorial behaviour. The 6th and 7th biggest selling papers (Daily Star and Daily Express) are owned by Richard Desmond, who has donated over £1 million to UKIP. Labour and the Liberal Democrats enjoy more support among the lower-selling broadsheets, with the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror the only non-Tory paper in the top five. Critics who say that the British press is the most right-wing in Europe can point to these statistics to back up their views.

Newspaper owners are among the wealthiest people in society. The combined wealth of Rupert Murdoch (The Sun, The Times), Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail), the Barclay Brothers (Daily Telegraph) and Richard Desmond (Star and Express) is £20 billion. It makes sense for them to back political parties that are going to offer lower taxes for the highest earners and be favourable towards big business. If the papers can get away with it, you can’t really blame them for trying to skew results in their favour.

Seen in this light, the negative campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn in large sections of the press makes a lot more sense. A left-wing Labour government would be very bad for them. Labour has promised to raise corporation tax along with tax for the highest earners, so these billionaires stand to lose under a Labour government. Taking advantage of lax almost non-existent press laws to influence proceedings and make sure this doesn’t happen is a rational self-interested response.

But this article isn’t about being pro-Labour or anti-Tory. It’s about levelling the playing field and not giving one or other party an unfair head start. To do this requires one of two things – either new laws are introduced to bring the printed press into line with the broadcast media in terms of impartiality, or papers are forced to declare their support for political parties by printing their logo on each page so that it’s made clear to the public that they are little more than marketing pamphlets in terms of political coverage.

Until something like this happens, the UK press remains a corrupting institution that diminishes our democracy rather than being a positive symbol of it.

UK daily papers

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE CANARY SEEMS TO THINK THAT TO BEAT THE TABLOIDS, YOU MUST BEHAVE JUST LIKE THEM

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The left-wing news website The Canary proved today that it’s not above using the same tactics of misinformation and misleading as the right-wing tabloids it attacks.

An article was posted by editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza attacking The Sun for its front page headline yesterday in the wake of the terrible Manchester suicide bombing on Monday night.

MANCHESTER SET TO BECOME THE SECOND CITY TO BAN THE SUN AFTER ITS APPALLING RESPONSE TO THE CONCERT BOMBING, yelled the headline.

Great, you might think. It’s no less than the awful Murdoch-owned rag deserves. Reading the Canary‘s story, it appears as if the paper has been up to its usual opportunistic shit-stirring tricks.

As the country awoke to the dreadful news of 22 dead at a pop concert at the Manchester Arena, The Sun ran with a front page headline having yet another desperate ‘friend to the terrorists’ pop at Jeremy Corbyn. This time it was a supposed ‘Labour exclusive’ claiming that an ‘ex-IRA killer’ says Corbyn has ‘blood on his hands’ due to past associations with Sinn Fein leaders.

Several on Twitter were quick to condemn The Sun for what they saw as a despicable and cynical attempt to associate the Labour leader’s name with terrorism at a point when the emotions of the nation were running high. The Canary capitalised on this sentiment, accusing the tabloid of ‘naked manipulation of tragic events to serve its own political purposes.’

Now, far be it from me to defend The Sun. The article, like much of its Corbyn-centered output, is a half-baked one-sided character assassination designed purely to derail the Labour election campaign.

But the paper hadn’t been quite as callous as to try and cash in on the terrorist attack on Monday night. It had already gone to print by the time the bombing occurred. Its second edition front page yesterday morning carried the story of the atrocity (in typically sensationalist style which generated another Twitter backlash).

The Sun had actually published no fewer than five articles about Corbyn and the IRA on the night of the Manchester attack. But they had all been published online BEFORE the attack took place. Yes it’s true the paper was trying to stick the knife into Jeremy Corbyn yet again. But it was cashing in on an anti-Corbyn article written for the paper by ex-IRA man Sean O’Callaghan. The timing was coincidental.

A little bit of basic research from Ms Mendoza could have told her that, and only she will know whether it was a sloppy journalistic slip-up or a deliberate attempt at tabloid tactics. But her case isn’t helped by the fact that The Sun contacted the website to inform of the error. Rather than take the article down or amend accordingly, the article now carries an IPSO-lite correction at the end.

It’s a pity because The Sun can be adequately and accurately criticised for both the Corbyn/IRA articles and the crass and sensationalist way it covered the Manchester concert bombing, without misleadingly linking the two.

Some may say, who cares, it’s The Sun, the excuse for a newspaper deserves all it gets and is due a taste of its own medicine. But if you’re gonna take a critical stance against the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail, you should hold yourself to a higher standard than them rather than sink to their level. Not something that seems to bother The Canary. It calls itself the alternative but, just like the tabloids, is quite happy to lie about its enemies.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.