In the mid-eighties, David Hare and Howard Brenton joined forces and co-wrote a play about a South African newspaper magnate whose sole and contrived aim was to gain control of Fleet Street and the associated media, sound familiar? The fictitious character of Lambert Le Roux was created and based upon a famous tycoon whose empire stretched far and wide with influence over press, publications and politics alike, indeed his awesome and somewhat terrifying reputation preceded him.
I remember sitting rooted to my seat, and somewhat spellbound in the National Theatre on the South Bank intently listening to (Sir) Anthony Hopkins’s delivery of a lengthy and mesmeric speech, he playing the role of the main character. Hopkins commanded the stage; his demeanour was chilling, gripping and intense. The performance was described by one critic as that of “A clenched fist”, exuding all the menace and psychological tenacity of a man who knew he was in control, albeit in moral conflict with his appointed ‘puppet’ editor.
Hare and Brenton’s collusive writing was always regarded as ‘controversial and edgy’ and this particular piece of theatre was obviously closer to the truth than was comfortable. It is with this play in mind that I draw its timeless comparison to recent events. Never before has the ‘media’ had such control. It no longer appears to reflect opinion but to dictate it. The prophecy and foresight of the play has come to pass! “Whatever happened to clear and concise reporting?” I hear you ask. It appears to have suffocated in the swamp of social media with poorly written, poorly researched articles that are frequently circulated and recirculated unquestioningly.
In an endeavour to fill column inches, air time, blog spots and more SM space, it would appear that any topic is up for discussion, gain-say and sometimes irrational debate, therefore misinformation reigns supreme. In fact you would probably need a modern day artificial intelligence Enigma machine to decipher, decode and debunk much of the propaganda and nonsense which passes for authentic.
The wonderful irony of the Hare-Brenton play is, of course, the title, Pravda (Russian for ‘truth’). The truth however can be easily manipulated; in fact the Russians have recently been accused of such with their alleged cyber meddling techniques. Further ironically of course, the Soviet propaganda newspaper was named “Pravda”, and famously spread lies and misinformation to the people under Soviet subjugation. For many manipulating truth now seems to be the ‘soft weapon’ of choice – what greater way to unsettle a people or destabilise a nation other than feeding it false information (fake/alternative facts?), or shall we use the old expression? Lies! Yes, that is better – at least that is the accurate, definitive meaning of deliberate misinformation.
These days, the potential to whip up dissent and misery is invariably only a few hundred keyboard strokes away. I certainly have my own suspicions about some of the FB groups and websites which have been created. Indeed genuine, kind hearted, well educated people have joined these pages out of ‘mutual interest’ only to discover that perhaps their creator has a slightly different agenda to theirs and they undoubtedly feel ‘duped’.
Having identified the problem, it is now incumbent upon us to act as ‘Guardians of the Truth’. Being mindful of what we are circulating and thoroughly researching its content. In my experience it is a waste of time engaging with trolls and fanatics; to challenge any wild allegations, a simple dose of the facts is often needed, no comment, just historical and proven fact – using that tactic, a thundering silence normally ensues!
To counter some of the politically led, biased information being circulated, I have noticed that there are some new FB pages springing up; in fact I am beginning to feel the Cavalry may have arrived! There is FullFact for example; its sole purpose is to check statistics and claims made by politicians and the media in an endeavour to give a balanced report. We certainly need more prominent sites and pages like this which remain independent and produce accurate, untainted reporting before our history and democracy lies in tatters.
We all have our part to play – Long live the Pravda!