BBC News presenter Clive Myrie will tonight blame the storming of the US Capitol in part on the country’s “toxic media environment with no rules” and warn of the risks of the UK following suit.
In a lecture in tribute to the late Sir Harold Evans, Myrie will point to the unregulated US broadcast media which allows opinionated hosts of Fox News, CNN and other US networks to claim climate change is a liberal invention or describe the President as an “obese turtle flailing in the hot sun”.
“Harmless banter maybe, except Tucker Carlson and Anderson Cooper are among the most popular television news hosts in America,” he will say.
“Between them, they garner well over a million viewers every night. Now that doesn’t sound like much but it’s a captive and engaged audience, more likely to vote, more likely to be politically active and more likely to be enraged.
“Captive audiences are the Holy Grail for advertisers – they’re loyal viewers with permanent eyeballs on your products. So your job as a news provider is to keep feeding these people what they want. More red meat.”
Myrie adds that it was “truly heartbreaking” when he visited the US last year to cover the presidential election to see the country “brought so low by a ‘beyond cynical’ politics in an ultra-toxic media environment”.
Myrie points to a study published last year that found BBC News was the most trusted newsbrand in the US, ahead of the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, ABC News and the New York Times.
The journalist will say the results “clearly suggest an ambition to be impartial, watched over by independent regulation, does make a difference for the better in helping to increase levels of public trust”.
But he warns an atmosphere of “silo thinking” and “the need to have your opinions reinforced rather than challenged” is “on the march” in the UK.
“I travelled around the country during the 2019 election campaign from County Durham to Southampton, Enniskillen to Pembrokeshire, and I came across people on the right who’d be very happy to get their news from a UK equivalent of Fox News, and some on the left who’d be very happy to watch a British equivalent of MSNBC.
“Some Brits want their own opinions reaffirmed too. They don’t want discussion. They don’t want debate.”
Ex-BBC journalist Andrew Neil is about to launch the new GB News channel, which says it aims to serve Brits who feel “poorly represented by mainstream television media”, and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK is planning to expand into TV with a series of streaming shows.
Despite speculation about GB News attempting to emulate the right-wing fervour of Fox News in the US, Myrie is expected to say Neil is “too good a journalist, with a reputation to protect, to want to be associated with a news channel that peddles conspiracy theories and propaganda – and in any case, Ofcom, the regulator, is watching.
“Impartiality rules and strong regulation, are the bulwark against the disaster of the American media jungle being replicated here, with its attendant detrimental effects on democracy.”
By way of example, Myrie points to the storming of the US Capitol in January which he will say was “partly the logical conclusion of a toxic media environment with no rules, promoting public distrust”.
“It was one consequence of a media free-for-all and was years in the making.
“And where there is a void of fact and truth and public trust, conspiracy theories can live and breed – even about a deadly virus, in the middle of a pandemic.”
Watch Myrie’s lecture, entitled “Lessons from the USA: Why British TV journalism needs to be fair and impartial” and supported by the Society of Editors and London Press Club, on Youtube at 6pm.