Cummings’ media war was unsuccessful at best

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‘The government’s attempt to yet again villify the very people who hold them to account, illustrates a deeper problem with their version of democracy‘. Our Editor-in-Chief, Namitha Aravind, discusses the implications of this weekend’s proceedings.

A bank holiday to remember. And not even for the sun.

Indeed, if this national scandal had happened last year, and Dominic Cummings had acted above the law in a different kind of way, maybe he would have got away with it. Maybe the media would have been too consumed with the Brexit chaos. And maybe we, the people, would have been much too busy to take the time to pay proper attention.

Yet of course, the scandal didn’t happen then. It happened now, when all of us are sat at home in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic. A pandemic where many are making immense and heart-breaking sacrifices in the name of public health. Our mental and physical well-being is tested, our lives put on hold, and alongside all this, we are grieving a great loss.

Therefore, like the millions of people who tuned into his statement this Monday, I was eagerly and angrily awaiting clear testimonial, strong scrutiny, and (just maybe!) a resignation.

Of course, none of this happened.

Instead, an arrogantly late Cummings, whose personal press conference was an unprecedented move in the first place, read out a statement that created more confusion, rather than clearing him of any wrongdoing.

His convoluted explanation was funny at best- of course a drive with a young child can be done in lieu of an eye test- but damning and insulting at worst.

It was clear he had broken the rules of lockdown, undermining both the letter and the spirit of government guidance, which he himself worked so hard to develop. His insistence that his circumstances were ‘exceptional’ was an affront to the thousands of truly exceptional testimonies we’ve heard from key workers, single parents and those in dire financial need, all of whom somehow managed to follow the laws themselves.

And those across the political spectrum agreed.

Whilst the government attempted to undermine left-wing ‘campaigning newspapers’ (which newspapers aren’t campaigning?) for their incredibly well-timed and diligent journalism, they perhaps weren’t expecting the same backlash from The Mail and Telegraph, which are of course considered traditionally right-wing papers.

In fact, it was The Mail’s Jason Groves who provided the strongest questions of the day, addressing Cummings’ clear violation of the guidance, as well as his unabashed attack on the media.

Indeed, the government’s attempt to yet again villify the very people who hold them to account, illustrates a deeper problem with their version of democracy.

And we should be far from surprised. After all, this is an administration who’ve avoided media scrutiny in a range of inventive ways- blocking journalists from press briefings, skipping traditional broadcast interviews, and cutting them off when asked a question they’d rather not answer.

This is not acceptable. Because at the end of the day, our free press is a privilege.

Whilst we may disagree with some of their political perspectives and even interview styles, journalists gift us with digestible information and thought-through opinions that ultimately inform our own worldviews- with clarity that exceeds soundbite tweets. We need the press to challenge institutions where and when they can, and give a voice to the aggrieved and the ignored. We need them to challenge our own perspectives too.

Therefore, we must be careful not to accept media vilification in our country, and to challenge it when we see it. Or we risk allowing for the same damaging echo-chamber that Trump is tirelessly protecting.

The thousands of letters written to MPs, not only called for the SPAD’s resignation but also challenged his dismissal of the media reporting. Pippa Crerar, who led the team behind The Mirror’s exclusive reports of Cummings’ second trip, received plenty of praise and support for her work, and justifiably so.

So, if this weekend’s proceedings have taught us anything, it is the power of the media to bring the government, no matter how obstinate, to its knees. Whilst there may be no resignation letter in sight, nationwide disdain and disappointment in Johnson’s administration will remain for a long time to come.




Namitha Aravind

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