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Narrative control: Vaccines and excess deaths
Media's use of propaganda techniques to delegitimise MP Andrew Bridgen's speech on excess deaths signals role in shoring up government and corporate interests
When dealing with inconvenient information that contradicts the power structure’s preferred narrative, legacy media functioning as a propaganda arm have two options:
Don’t report it at all (i.e.: media blackout) or,
Delegitimisation through framing techniques.
On Friday 20 October, MP Andrew Bridgen delivered a speech to the UK Parliament on the subject of the UK’s sustained period of excess deaths, over half of which he said cannot be attributed to Covid.
After more than 20 attempts to bring this topic to a parliamentary debate, Bridgen was finally granted 30 minutes to discuss excess deaths. Addressing a chamber all but empty of the 650 MPs who serve in the House of Commons, he began,
“We have experienced more excess deaths since July 2021 than in the whole of 2020. Unlike during the pandemic, however, those deaths are not disproportionately of the old. In other words, the excess deaths are striking down people in the prime of life, but no one seems to care... Well, I care.”
In his speech, Bridgen gave a thorough rundown of the UK’s mortality situation, including flaws in the official data, lethal Covid care pathways, and safety concerns with the jabs, such as the recent revelation that the mRNA shots are contaminated with plasmid DNA at levels above regulatory limits.
The content of Bridgen’s speech is inconvenient to the official narrative that the government’s pandemic measures were necessary and appropriate, and that the Covid shots are safe and effective.
The continuation of this narrative benefits government and institutional officials who imposed the measures on the UK public, as it allows them to dodge accountability for their failures. It also benefits the stakeholders whose profits would be threatened if the public came to the conclusion that perhaps the pandemic measures and vaccine products were not so necessary, safe or effective after all.
In keeping with their role as partners with government and stakeholders in narrative control, legacy media have maintained a media blackout on the debate (Option #1). A Google search of keywords ‘Andrew Bridgen excess deaths debate’ brings up only fringe/alternative media hits.
The UK’s public broadcaster, however, is the exception. As live-streaming parliamentary debates is one of the BBC’s core services, it did not have the luxury of exercising narrative control Option #1, media blackout.
Instead, the BBC adopted Option #2, using framing to delegitimise Bridgen’s address. Throughout the live-stream, the BBC overlaid chyrons (i.e.: video captions) directly contradicting or undermining Bridgen’s statements regarding vaccine safety and efficacy.
‘NHS vaccines do not overload or weaken the immune system, including vaccines used for children’
‘Official NHS guidance states that government-administered vaccines are safe and often essential for public health’
‘The NHS says Covid-19 vaccines used in the UK are safe and the best protection from getting seriously ill with the disease’
Framing is like money. It’s neither good nor bad - it depends on how you use it. Framing is unavoidable to an extent, because journalists and editors must make decisions about what details to include or not, in what order to present them, and what the main theme of the coverage will be.
In a democratic (symmetrical, balanced) information environment, media professionals offset the inherent biases in their framing by striving for transparency and objectivity. This means parsing claims and counter claims, and declaring any biases that may confound the views being reported. This is done with a view to equipping the audience with the best available information from which to draw their own conclusions.
However, framing as a propaganda tool operates quite differently. The purpose of framing in propaganda is to instruct the audience what to think about the information being presented, rather than to parse the claims being made to determine their accuracy.
It’s easy to spot framing as propaganda in an undemocratic (asymmetrical, unbalanced) information environment because any information that threatens the interests of government and partner stakeholders is presented in a format that frames it as irrelevant and/or invalid.
Inconvenient claims are waved off as ‘baseless’ or ‘false’ without proper explanation. Instead, logical fallacies, such as the ‘appeal to authority’ (the NHS says…) or the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, feature prominently.
In the case of the BBC’s treatment of Bridgen’s speech, I am told by an anonymous Londoner that it is highly unusual for the BBC to use chyrons to essentially suggest that a speaker is lying during live-streaming of a parliamentary debate.
Usually, BBC chyrons will summarise what the speaker is saying (e.g.: ‘Starmer raises Corp Taxes in heated clash with Business Secretary’), or they can be more general (e.g.: ‘Commons debate the Online Harms Bill for the second time’).
However, this Londoner tells me, “They would never run a chyron of, for example, the Chancellor talking about how tax revenues have dropped since a tax increase, overlaid with a chyron saying ‘ONS forecasts indicate tax revenues are rising’, refuting his claim live.”
Accordingly, the BBC’s framing of Bridgen’s speech in the UK Parliament could be described as,
‘Rogue kook MP presents scientific information to Parliament that we know is false because the NHS said so. Blimey, what a lying cooker.’
The BBC’s overt attempt at narrative control in the live-streaming of Bridgen’s address to UK Parliament, coupled with a media blackout on the debate in the remainder of the legacy media, offers a hint about the formation of power structures in the UK.
In corporatist authoritarian societies, narrative control is part of the media’s broader role of manufacturing consent for government policies, and demand for the products of corporations.
This top-down model is antithetical to the bottom-up classical liberal democratic model, in which those in charge are supposed to govern by the will of the people. In this model, the media have the dual mandate of keeping the public informed so that it can vote appropriately, and using their cultural authority to keep the government in check.
There are consistent signs in the way that legacy media are behaving in the UK that, despite all the trappings of democracy, like parliamentary debates and elections, power is being exercised in ways that more closely align with an authoritarian structure. This has been particularly evident over the last several years wherever the interests of large pharmaceutical companies are threatened.
A macabre example of framing in the cross-over realm of legacy media content shared on social media platforms has been the labelling of confirmed vaccine injuries and deaths with the WHO’s assurance that Covid vaccines are safe and effective.
Of course, this phenomenon extends beyond the UK and the interests of pharmaceutical companies. With the atrocities on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border exploding onto the world stage this month, legacy media outlets have been accused by independent journalists, activists and academics of engaging in narrative control rather than framing the facts even handedly.
Recent government moves to exert further control over the information environment, including the UK’s Online Safety Bill, to hate speech bills in Ireland and Scotland, a misinformation bill in Australia, and the Digital Services Act in the European Union have prompted an international group to publish a formal warning and a call for a return to democratic principles.
The Westminster Declaration, signed by renowned media professionals, academics, policitians and public figures, warns, “increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms.”
In the context of this discussion, propaganda and censorship are twin forces in controlling the information environment in service of the interests of the powerful (and to the detriment of everyone else).
From the Declaration,
“Censorship in the name of 'preserving democracy' inverts what should be a bottom-up system of representation into a top-down system of ideological control. This censorship is ultimately counter-productive: it sows mistrust, encourages radicalization, and de-legitimizes the democratic process.
“In the course of human history, attacks on free speech have been a precursor to attacks on all other liberties. Regimes that eroded free speech have always inevitably weakened and damaged other core democratic structures. In the same fashion, the elites that push for censorship today are also undermining democracy. What has changed though, is the broad scale and technological tools through which censorship can be enacted. “
The Declaration argues that, “open discourse is the central pillar of a free society,” and that “free speech is essential for ensuring our safety from state abuses of power,” calling on government and tech corporations to uphold these principles, and for the general public to continue to fight for them.
Signatories of The Westminster Declaration and fellow proponents of a free and democratic information environment may take comfort in the public response to Bridgen’s speech.
Extraordinarily, loud and extended cheering from the public gallery came through the glass partition that separates the gallery from the chamber, indicating strong public interest and support for Bridgen’s counter-narrative message, despite the distinct lack of interest from Bridgen’s political peers.
The best efforts of politicians like Bridgen and signatories of The Westminster Declaration notwithstanding, legacy media are likely to maintain status quo as mouthpieces for government and corporate interests for the foreseeable future. Media literacy may be one of the best tools the public has to navigate an asymmetrical information environment to sort what is true from what is false.
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Artist’s impression of the excess death debate in UK Parliament, Friday 20 October 2023