The Amanda Knox case is another blow to the press

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do.

News that Amanda Knox had been found guilty sent publishers into a spin. Nowadays we all want to be FIRST!!!!!, the irritating commenter who leaves their response first under a story, and first is everything, whether it's completely right or not. It was only a few minutes later, when those who had been patient enough to listen to the Italian translation of the whole verdict, realised that Knox was only guilty of libel, and not of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

It's embarrassing for the Mail Online, and others, who in their rush to publish, got it so badly wrong. It's understandable that a paper would have two versions of a story ready to go; and that legal teams and all other parties would provide quotes to the media based on both eventualities ahead of any decision. What isn't understandable is the making up of details: "She sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably", according to the Mail, but that never happened, because she wasn't found guilty.

In the rush to be first, sometimes something - anything - will do, and quality can suffer as a result. This sort of thing has always happened in newspapers since the presses began to roll - remember the photo of a grinning Harry Truman holding up a front page saying he had been defeated in the presidential election - and many are the times when papers will have a couple of versions of a story ready to go when they know what the outcome is.

Sometimes, mistakes are made, and that's the product of simple errors and incompetence rather than malice. All that said, the guessing of details about what might have happened really isn't good enough. If you don't know, don't say anything; don't guess at what might have happened and then get it tidied up once you've had half a million unique users piling in to the story. That sort of thing isn't going to restore trust in journalism after the recent scandals, regardless of whether it's an honest mistake rather than a malicious one. The overly rapid handling of the Knox case is another dent in the credibility of our press and their ability to be trusted.

I mention Knox rather than Raffaele Sollecito because the popular narrative with this story has never been about him. This has been, for better or worse, the tale of a not unattractive white American woman embroiled in a murder which may have had sexual elements to it; who even remembers what Sollecito looks like? Or that Rudy Guede is in prison, serving time for the crime? It has always been the story of Knox, or 'Foxy Knoxy' as the tabloids have lasciviously called her, based on a moniker she once gave herself online.

No wonder Kercher's family feel she has been forgotten in all the attention directed at Knox, and to a much lesser extent, Sollecito and Guede. Knox's face stares out from all the newspapers, on one occasion photographed so that her face was framed with a light above it as a halo, while the victim fades away into the background.

Who remembers Kercher's agony and her family's pain of loss? But that is the way of these things. The very least the tabloids so joyously feasting on the gory details could do would be to be as accurate as possible, if they aren't going to be respectful. But they can't even do that.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.