Online abuse of journalists hits peak during 2017 General Election

Welcome to 2017. The year when the incompetency of political leaders is easily explained away as nasty journalists from the Planet Zog asking unfair questions, writes News Associates head of journalism Andrew Greaves. 

Throw in a bit of online trolling – casual racism, sexism and a bit of anti-Semitism for good measure – and you have yourself a political movement, 21st Century style.

Fake news is king, detail is sparse and ‘if you vote for us, we’ll work out the figures later’ appears to be the winning message.

Yesterday I think we hit peak #GE2017.

The levels of abuse thrown at Women’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett’s by Jeremy Corbyn supporters was nothing short of disgraceful.

Her crime? Daring to press the Labour leader on the cost of his party’s plan to offer universal free childcare should they win the General Election on June 8.

Now, I don’t know about you but I’m of the opinion that if you’re going onto live radio to push a specific policy, you should know the details.

It’s a cardinal sin for a politician – especially one who wants to be prime minister in just over a week’s time – to put themselves in a position where they are left floundering for the most basic of information.

The Twitter storm that followed saw hordes of rabid Corbynistas – including former BBC staffer and latter-day leftie mouthpiece Paul Mason no less – accuse Barnett of editorialising, throwing in her own opinion and being a Zionist.

Quite what Barnett’s religious upbringing – she’s described herself as being not particularly observant of her faith – has to do with the price of fish is beyond me.

But it does once again open up the ugly side of politics and, dare I say it, the ugly side of the Labour party. A side where the go-to insult for any journalist daring to ask awkward questions is ‘he/she must be a Zionist’.

That kind of makes a mockery of the report which effectively cleared the party of anti-Semitism and explains why only 13% of Jews surveyed by the Jewish Chronicle said they would be voting Labour.

Corbyn was quick to condemn those so-called supporters, as he so often is, but him and others need to do more to stop it. One way would be to get their own houses in order.

After the Diane Abbott car-crash interview a few weeks back, I’d have made sure I had the figures for the various policies I was pushing tattooed on a visible part of my body, not hidden away on an email on my iPad!

But 2017 appears to be the year when the hardcore supporters of various personality cults – Corbyn, UKIP et al – would rather take umbrage with decent, hard-working journalists than the leaders who represent them.

I’ve increasingly noticed on this campaign that those at the top of the main political parties are ill-prepared for even the simplest of interviews.

Word of advice to their advisors and spin doctors – our job is to ask the questions, your job is to ensure they can answer them. There’s no tricks, no traps, just a desire to get straight answers.

Often the old excuse of politicians being under pressure and ‘having a lot on’ is used to excuse such public faux pas. But what about the journalists?

People seem to forget that wherever politicians go, journalists are usually there too. Hours upon hours of travelling between rallies, campaign events and – increasingly less so unfortunately – walkabouts where candidates try to converse with ‘normal’ people.

Access to leaders has never been as restricted as it has been during this General Election campaign and after seeing some of the media performances of late, it’s easy to understand why.

People who put themselves forward for public life need to be held to account. It’s journalists’ job to stress test leaders so why won’t people accept that?

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has been attacked from all corners for her perceived bias during the last few months.

The left accuse her of being anti-Labour while last week she was booed and heckled at the launch of the UKIP manifesto.

One ‘supporter’ even screamed ‘crawl back down your hole’ at her when she dared to ask leader Paul Nuttall if his party was exploiting the Manchester terror attack.

There’s no doubting that journalists like Kuenssberg and the likes of Michael Crick, Robert Peston, Nick Robinson – high profile, tasked with asking tough questions of those in power – are an easy target.

I dare say they share my view that if both left and right are accusing you of bias then you must be doing something right.

But why should they turn up to work each day and take a bucketful of flack when they’re trying to hold the people we’re expected to vote for to account?

Oh, and the cost of that childcare policy? £5.3bn. I think…

Featured image courtesy of BBC News via YouTube, with thanks