A martyr too far…

“All the mainstream media do is lie…”

Says who exactly? From supporters of Donald Trump to the more ardent followers of Jeremy Corbyn, the belief that the media tells lies is now widespread.

Those with far-right views often shout the loudest, although those on the left can also make the same complaint. Many Corbyn supporters, for example, dismiss any notion of Labour having an antisemitism problem as a put-up job by the media – or “the lying media”, to quote Trump.

“All the mainstream media do is lie…”

Almost anyone from the quarrelsome congregation of modern life could have said those words yesterday, but in this instance it was Stephen Yaxley Lennon. And if you don’t know who he is, that’s because this far-right political activist prefers to be known by the self-invented persona of Tommy Robinson.

Yesterday, Robinson was released on bail after winning an appeal against a contempt of court finding.

He was in prison for live-streaming and commenting on two court cases while they were in progress. After the second instance, a judge in Leeds immediately jailed Robinson for breaching an earlier order. His release underlines that the rule of law must be applied fairly, and the Appeal Court ruled that Robinson had been jailed too hastily, and that more time should have been given to consider his case.

Sadly, in jailing this anti-Muslim rabble-rouser and stirrer of hatred, that judge in Leeds helped to turn Robinson into a far-right martyr, feted and financially supported by the extreme right in the US.

Yesterday, his supporters here and abroad proclaimed his release on bail as a victory for free speech, and proof that their man was innocent. But Robinson will face a further trial. He hasn’t been exonerated for his behaviour but told that there was a legal flaw in his conviction.

The trouble is, such finer points are lost in the shouting – a noise cleverly orchestrated by Robinson. One of many horrible ironies about this case is seeing Robinson proclaimed as a defender of free speech. Hardly a fitting honour for a man with such a narrow and twisted view of modern British life.

Coming out of court yesterday, Robinson harangued reporters, saying: “All the British media do is lie. I have a lot to say but nothing to you. I want to thank the British public for all their support.”

This statement reminds us that Robinson is a clever manipulator of the truth – right down to that chummy fake persona. As Tommy Robinson is a self-invention, perhaps the media he so despises should start using his real name.

Yet reporting about someone like Stephen Yaxley Lennon/Tommy Robinson is almost impossibly difficult, as shown his words, “I want to thank the British public for their support.” He doesn’t have the support of the British public, but of a noisy minority; and anyway many of his supporters live abroad and only see him as a hero because they have been fed a blatantly partial version of events.

“All the mainstream media do is lie…”

This view has been relentlessly promoted by Donald Trump to belittle and weaken the media – and neutering the media in this way, he thinks, stops what he regards as intrusive reporting into his affairs.

This elevation to ghastly sainthood of Tommy Robinson is one of the places that constantly decrying the media gets you in the end. It is also one of the unforeseen consequences of the internet, where the truth is whatever you want it to be. Trying to steer a straight journalistic line through that febrile world is a difficult business, but an important one.

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