Last month, the SKWAWKBOX published the findings of a landmark academic study that exposed entrenched bias across mainstream media outlets in their handling of the ‘Labour antisemitism’ issue.
The study was, of course, immediately attacked and ridiculed – but it was subsequently praised by nineteen leading academics in their field for its rigour, caution and method.
One of the worst culprits, the study found, was the Guardian – as bad as or even worse than the worst of the right-wing publications.
Now an open letter to the Guardian from one of the study’s author’s has revealed what has been going on behind the scenes – and the failure of the Guardian to engage with the criticisms or to fulfil its obligations.
The Media Reform Coalition’s (MRC) preface to the letter summarises the problem:
Both before and since publishing our research, which raised serious concerns about the Guardian’s coverage of antisemitism within the Labour Party, we have made strident efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with both editorial and public affairs staff. Unfortunately, these efforts do not appear to have born any fruit to date.
There has also been no reporting or commenting on our research, despite the significant public debate and controversy that it sparked. We nevertheless continue to hope and expect that a reflexive and considered response to the evidence will be forthcoming..
The letter, addressed to the Guardian’s “Reader’s editor” elaborates on the paper’s failure to respond to the criticisms or even attempt to refute them, in spite of weeks of effort on the part of the report’s authors to draw them out:
Dear Mr Chadwick
On 1st October I submitted a formal complaint in regards to the evidence of inaccurate and misleading coverage on TheGuardian.com of antisemitism in the Labour Party. This evidence was documented in a research report produced for the Media Reform Coalition which found marked skews in sourcing, false statements or assertions of fact, and a systematic pattern of highly contentious claims by sources that were not duly challenged or qualified in news reports. These problems were predominantly found in coverage of the controversy surrounding Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018.
Since the initial submission of my complaint, I responded in a full and timely manner to a succession of detailed email queries that you raised, culminating in a further submission of raw data for our research on 4th October. This bespoke dataset was put together so as to make it as accessible and easily navigable as possible, and to make clear the evidence that we found pertaining specifically to coverage on TheGuardian.com.
Having taken the time to respond to your queries in this way, I requested an indicative timeframe as to when I might expect a response. I note that on 1st October you stated that you had read the research report and on 5th October, in response to my request for an indicative timeframe, you stated that “When I have had an opportunity to look at the material I will be back in touch.” I have not heard from you since.
I also note that the Reader’s Editor guidelines state that “We aim to give a substantive response to your complaint within 28 days of receiving all the necessary information to allow us to investigate. However, this may take longer in more complex cases where more information is required, or where journalists are away or unreachable.”
Since I have received no requests for further information since 4th October, and have not been made aware of any other issues that may be unusually obstructing your investigation, I wish to raise additional concern about the apparent absence of a timely response to my complaint on this issue.
As you are aware, the research underpinning my complaint has been endorsed by a wide range of experts as well as public figures. It has sparked considerable debate on social media platforms and attracted significant attention from independent media outlets. Neither the Guardian nor Observer newspapers have reported or commented on the research. That is a matter of editorial judgement. But I’m sure you will agree that readers and members – as well as the wider public – deserve a timely and comprehensive response to the controversial findings. If any of the evidence of editorial failures is rejected, we need to know which aspects specifically and why. If any of the evidence is accepted, we need to know what kind of remedies will be applied to address the problems identified. Under the circumstances, anything less will inevitably give rise to further, and in some ways more fundamental concerns about the Guardian’s commitment to accountability, as well as the efficacy and integrity of the complaints process.
Dr Justin Schlosberg
For and on behalf of the Media Reform Coalition
(Republished with permission. Emphases added by the SKWAWKBOX)
Commenting on his reasons for going public with the letter, Schlosberg told the SKWAWKBOX:
We’ve done what we can to try to have a constructive dialogue in private and it’s produced no results, so now we’ve been forced to try this way..
What has followed since the report was published suggests that at least one supposedly reputable publication feels little duty and even less urgency to account for its editorial decisions and output, even when clear bias has been exposed.
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